Posted by: sponyak | September 16, 2010

How Religion Appeals to Intelligent People (Much to the Consternation of Atheists?)

The naturalist philosopher John Shook, Vice President and Senior Research Fellow at The Center for Inquiry, has written a not-so-wonderful piece lamenting “ignorance” on the part of both atheists and religious folk.

The usually-reliable Shook really missed the mark on this one… he begins:

“Atheists are getting a reputation for being a bunch of know-nothings. They know nothing of God, and not much more about religion, and they seem proud of their ignorance.”

This opening statement can be attacked on so many levels, we won’t even go there… or should we?

“They know nothing of God”… well, who really does? And to the atheist, God is a non-entity… how much is to be learned about nothing? How about the common “moving the goal posts” argument that “God is unknowable”?

“…and not much more about religion”… a canard to end all canards. Mr. Shook conveniently forgets that many atheists & agnostics, including many here in the Cleveland Freethinkers group, once upon a time had more religion than many of them would care to admit. There is also the problem of many atheists possessing more “knowledge of religion” than your everyday American Christian.

“…and they seem proud of their ignorance”… I don’t think so. We are proud of the ability to think for ourselves, and proud of the fact that we have not succumbed to any form of religious dogma. Does disinterest in “looking further” into religion equate with ignorance on the atheist’s part? Since atheists reject the central concept of religion- which is the existence of a God- what exactly would the atheist expect to “learn” there?

Shook goes on to say; “To listen to the loudest atheists, you can hear the bewilderment…”

Who are these “loudest atheists”? Does he mean the perennial whipping-boy of theists and accommodationist non-believers alike, Richard Dawkins? Let’s face it, folks… there are “loud” atheists all across the United States now, and we intend to get louder. Is it Mr. Shook’s intention that we should just keep our non-theistic views to ourselves, and let the religious set the framework for “debate”? To John Shook’s credit… are we atheists “bewildered” that so many people here in the 21st century still adhere to Dark Age mythologies? In a word, yes. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t understand the reasons behind the persistence of religion and all its dogmas.

Especially bothersome is Shook’s statement; “… And they just can’t believe how a thing like religion could appeal to any intelligent person.”

Contrary to Mr. Shook’s assertion, we atheists have a very good idea as to how (and why) religion can appeal to intelligent people. Some of us just wish it wouldn’t…   🙂

How religion can appeal to intelligent people:

1) their religious worldview was instilled since early childhood, and it is the only worldview they have ever known. Intelligent person or not, religion continues, in adulthood, to provide a “safe haven” of sorts that is perceived to keep one safe from all the real, nasty things in the universe, such as bad stuff happening, death, exploding galaxies, etc…

2) they sought guidance in religion, and they found it… at least they THINK they found it, and it stuck. How outrageous the claims of said religion are, doesn’t seem to matter.

3) despite lack of empirical evidence, they NEED to believe in something “above and beyond” the natural universe, which is beautiful but harsh and unfortunately includes death as part of its reality. Many intelligent, science-minded people choose to believe in God and the “afterlife”, and have no internal conflict because their “rationality” and their “faith” are held separately.

Any other ideas as to why religion can appeal to intelligent people? You can post them in the comments below…

Mark Tiborsky

The Cleveland Freethinkers




  1. Nice post.

    So atheists are “ignorant”, eh? How about churches having to include “secular” (i.e. REAL) lessons in science and history in their “curriculums”, in order to maintain their “tax-free” status.

  2. Great post. My brain almost exploded when I read that first paragraph of his article at The Huffington Post, and you picked it apart beautifully.

  3. Thank you, DangerAardvark- yeah, when I read John Shook’s first paragraph, I was hoping it was satire!

    To John Shook’s credit, he has written a lot of other pieces which were much more grounded. But sorry, Mr. Shook… your latest HuffPost article is a real stinker.

  4. TeeCee52, they would surely scream about their “freedom of religion!”, but none the less that’s a pretty good idea 🙂

  5. The following paragraph is, “This reputation is a little unfair, yet when they profess how they can’t comprehend God, atheists really mean it. To listen to the loudest atheists, you can hear the bewilderment. And they just can’t believe how a thing like religion could appeal to any intelligent person.”

    I think Dr. Shook, got it right. When he wrote…
    “The discipline of atheology is quite capable of matching these theologies with its skeptical replies, so atheists need not be intimidated. Taking theology seriously enough to competently debate God should not be beneath atheism.”

    I think he got it right.

    M. Orel

  6. any time there’s 2 people in a group, there will be a contest for superiority

    seems like we’re a rather insecure species

  7. God isn’t real. We need to be assertive when stating how reality actually is. The moment you allow a theist to try to get you to entertain their assertions, the conversation breaks down because its no longer based on facts.

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