Tuesday, 13 January 2009

A List of Idiots

“They are idiots — intelligent people don’t do God”, [1] says some fellow, whose proposition has inspired me to compile an incomplete list of idiots in the West from ancient times to the present day: — Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Albertus Magnus, William of Ockham, Roger Bacon, Jean Buridan, Nicolaus Copernicus, Francis Bacon, Giordano Bruno, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, René Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Robert Boyle, Gottfried Leibniz, Isaac Newton, Giambattista Vico, Thomas Bayes, Carl Linnaeus, Leonhard Euler, Roger Joseph Boscovich, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Joseph Priestley, Immanuel Kant, Karl Friedrich Gauss, Michael Faraday, Charles Babbage, Adam Sedgwick, James Clerk Maxwell, Gregor Mendel, Asa Gray, Louis Pasteur, William Kelvin, Miguel de Unamuno, Charles Pierce, Albert Einstein, Alfred North Whitehead, G.K. Chesterton, Arthur Eddington, Kurt Gödel, Georges Lemaitre, Frederick Copleston, Werner Heisenberg, Carl Weizsäcker, Henry Margenau, Fred Hoyle, John Eccles, Charles Hartshorne, Charles Townes, Stanley Jaki, Freeman Dyson, Edward O. Wilson, John Lucas, Michael Dummett, John Polkinghorne, Francis Collins, J.J. Haldane, John Barrow, Alvin Plantinga, Chistopher Isham, Saul Kripke, . . . — omitting of course such wavering, agnostic or mystical half-wits as Charles Darwin, Erwin Schrödinger, Paul Davies, etc. Yet there is something that makes me uncomfortable about this list. I cannot quite put my finger on it, but I have an uneasy feeling that at least some on this list are not idiots, or not when compared to anyone who would claim them to be such, which, if true, must lead me to affirm the falsity of the proposition that theists are idiots. I have even the inkling — the radical nature of which I almost dare not acknowledge — that anyone who believes that theists are idiots must be an idiot. But, as I say, it is only a feeling, and a somewhat unfashionable one too.


[1] “Yeoldetifosi”, commenting on Dave Hill, “Voice of Unreason”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 13th January 2009; original emphasis. (I have picked it as an example of the kind of pronouncement commonly made amongst the “new atheists” — i.e., those loud-mouthed ignoramuses and ideological crackpots led by a bog-standard scientist with the philosophical acumen of a standard bog who yet somehow appears to his followers as a fount of genius.)

25 comments:

Jan said...

I have only two problems with that list.

One, most of those men were mathematicians. Math has very little to do with God, so those men's fields of expertise would not lead them any conclusions about the nature of God.

Second, while yes, most of those men should be considered intelligent, they all lived in times where atheism was widely shunned and rarely heard of. With
the advancement of human knowledge where it is, who knows what their opinions might be.

I'm sure that the quote you mentioned was probably not intended the way it is taken. What is probably meant is that the nonexistence of god is so obvious to that person that they cannot perceive of anyone of intelligence who would disagree.

TGGP said...

Everyone should just shut up and run an analysis in the GSS on WORDSUM and confidence in the existence of God.

dearieme said...

James Clerk Maxwell, if you please.

Blimpish said...

Jan: the non-mathematician Socrates can hardly be accused of bowing to the opinions of the day. That there have been great Theist artists is surely not disputed (cf. ...the Renaissance).

TGGP: if 'intelligent people' split 50:50 between Theism and Atheism, and the more numerous 'unintelligent people' split 60:40, then Theists' average WORDSUM score will be lower - but the comment "intelligent people don't do God" is falsified.

Deogolwulf: have started blogging again.

Deogolwulf said...

I beg your pardon, Dearieme. I shall change it forthwith.

TGGP, funny you should mention shutting-up. I have been considering that as my best option. The more I think about it, the more it appeals.

Jan, first: most of them are not mathematicians, though those who are are not thereby precluded from the only question under advisement: idiocy in its relation to theism. Second: the list need not have included mathematicians; a list of non-idiots can be compiled without them. Third: one can be a mathematician and be able to think beyond mathematics. It is even rumoured that some of them are able to tie their own shoe-laces. Fourth: we are not talking about what some of them would think if they were here today, but only what they did think. Fifth: almost half in the list are here today or died in the last hundred years. Sixth: it is difficult to see what advancement in empirical knowledge could persuade them differently, being that a belief in God is largely non-empirical and that the greater degree of atheism nowadays is more a shift in cultural and metaphysical attitudes than the result of scientific knowledge. The main argument for atheism -- usually being some form of the argument from evil -- is one that has not changed much. Apparently senseless death and suffering in the world were evident to the ancients, medievals, and early moderns, perhaps even more so than they are to us. It is true that another argument has come to prominance: the argument from lack of empirical data, but, as concerns those who did not encounter this argument, it far from evident, given their intelligence and their non-acculturation by hyper-positivism, that they would find such an argument compelling. Seventh: to reiterate, the post was about the claim that theists are idiots. Eighth: as regards your point about the quote, you should consider a career in public relations.

Deogolwulf said...

Welcome back, Blimpish. It has been two years or so, hasn't it?

TGGP said...

Blimpish:
That's just why Yeoldetifosi should have shut up and used the GSS rather than making blanket assertions.

The Scylding said...

I find it quite hilarious when some wag somewhere blusters forth in assailing Belief in the Omnipotent, or any sort of Deity for that matter. The ignorant bluster of such is often self defeating, because these types of arguments can so easily be made to turn around and consume themselves, like some mystical snake.

But I must say that I do despair at the modern atheist - like our friend Jan here, they do seem frightfully uninformed - or maybe, they are only informed by the populist-atheist media, which is entertainment driven, and cannot conceive of such outlandish practices as fact-checking and critical analysis of the logical implications of their own arguments. Where are the Sartre's, Russels and Nietzsche's of the modern world?

Blimpish said...

Deogolwulf: closer to 3 years I think - Spring '06 was the last time.

elberry said...

Wittgenstein. He could do maths but i believe is better known as a philosopher.

Other non-mathematicians: Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, TS Eliot, Milton, Blake, Dante.

Underground Dude said...

Augustine, Dante Alighieri, Jonathan Swift, John Dryden, Samuel Johnson, Hillaire Belloc, Maurice Baring, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Roy Campbell, Oscar Wilde, Paul Verlaine, Graham Greene, Joris-Karl Huysmans, André Maurois, Malcolm Muggeridge, John von Neumann, Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel, Evelyn Waugh, Gene Wolfe...

Jan said...

Well, I apologize for my apparent or actual ignorance. While I disagree with the original quote, because I have experienced intelligent members of both persuasions, I also disagree with the argumentum ad populum that is associated with such a list.

Then again, I'm just a stupid atheist. Or I'm not an atheist at all. We shouldn't assume anything.

Underground Dude said...

That's cute, we can make atheists have crises of faith too?

Jan said...

Right.

I love how no one except Deogulwulf has responded to my argument instead of either belittling my acumen or completely disregarding what I say.

The fact remains that it does not matter whether I am an atheist or not, all that matters is logical clarity. My faith either way cannot be shaken by such a trivial list. The only thing such a list proves is that you either have an astonishing knowledge base of theistic scholars, or are very adept at using Google to find what you want.

Underground Dude said...

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

The names I dropped aren't "theistic scholars"; they were men of letters who possessed intelligence, refinement and imagination enough to see beyond black and white reason and rudimentary notions of logic.

As some old chemist once said, those who believe that religion and science are opposites know nothing of either.

Deogolwulf said...

Jan, you may well be right that such a list proves little beyond the utterly banal, that is to say, that it merely shows to be wrong a proposition the wrongness of which should be obvious to everyone. You may well wonder why I spent a little part of my day compiling a list demonstrating what ought to be obvious to everyone. I myself wondered at the seeming pointlessness of it. Yet, despite my general dislike for George Orwell, I have always liked his saying that there are times when it is necessary to restate the obvious in the face of dumb enthusiasm. It is now quite common to hear the claim that theists are idiots. I get the disturbing feeling that what begins as a dishonest polemic comes actually to be believed by enthusiastic ignoramuses, or at least operationally believed, if I may call it such when people behave as if they believe something to be true yet have little corresponding mental depth or content to their thoughts. As regards such people, it is almost as if the behaviourists were right.

Mr Dude, I was hoping to say that it is a shame that you have given up blogging, but since comments are disabled at your blog and since you have given no email address, I shall say it here: a shame. Still, no doubt there are better things to do with your time.

Underground Dude said...

Deogolwulf,

Thank you, but it was for the best. The blog had a limited lifespan. Maybe I'll start another someday.

By the way, if you click on my handle, an e-mail can be found in my profile. I suppose now it isn't needed anymore, but I wouldn't mind receiving messages, and the occasional correspondence can be worthwhile.

Serendipity said...

One name missing from your list:

Milford Crabtree

Jan said...

Fair enough. As long as the list is only meant to show that, it works. No more objections.

Anonymous said...

I hope you're aware that for a long time you had to profess belief in God even if you really didn't think so. You'd get burned at the stake otherwise.

Akaky said...

Didnt the Monty Python guys settle this question 30 years ago? God exists by two falls to a submission. What more proof does anyone need?

The Communist Manifesto said...

The Communist manifesto
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=5EMqMgx03iM

Larry Teabag said...

They all believed in God? Must be true then!

Or perhaps the deeper meaning of this post is the revelation that some comments on the internet are not entirely sensible. Blow me down!

Mike Flynn said...

Perusing this much later: Did you mean John Lukacs when you wrote John Lucas? The former is a noted historian.

Deogolwulf said...

Mr Flynn,

I meant J.R. Lucas, the philosopher. (I don't know why I didn't write "J.R. Lucas", since he is better known that way.) John Lukacs is an interesting chap. I notice scientists are overrepresented on my list, which after all just happens to be of those who popped into my head on the day.