Smart People

Copyright carljohnson

At the Philosophy Talk blog, they ask how it is that smart people can still believe in God. I take “smartness” to be an attribute of people just like “tallness” is. Some people are smarter than others just like some people are taller than others. Being tall or short or smart or dumb may offer certain advantages in situations and disadvantages in other situations. A tall person might make a better basketball player than a short person (maybe not) and a smart person might find her way out of a corn maze** faster than a dumb person (maybe not).

But anyways, what kind of question is that? Well, as it turns out, the author of that blog post wasn’t really asking if smart people can still believe in God, he was asking if modern people can still believe in God (I assume there were smart people around thousands of years ago). I don’t really have much more to say – I just thought it was a funny question to ask.

I guess I will say one thing. At one point the author says that arguments for God “are all demonstrably invalid and incapable of compelling rational belief in the existence of god.” This isn’t true. There are plenty of valid arguments for God. What I would say is true is that no arguments for God are demonstratively sound. And I don’t think arguments themselves can be compelling. You or I can be compelled by an argument to believe something, but arguments themselves aren’t either compelling or not compelling. Whether they are compelling depends on the background beliefs, among other things, of the person reading the argument.

Some arguments there is wide agreement about whether they are sound (any simple syllogism will serve as an example). Most arguments I would label as “possibly sound.” A person wouldn’t be unreasonable to accept them or reject them (or, it would be reasonable for a person to accept or reject it). A lot of God arguments are this way, I believe. So I think the worst that can be said about God arguments is that they may or may not be sound and you may or may not be reasonable to accept one or more of them.  But that doesn’t seem very bad at all.

Like the author of the blog post, I don’t know a lot of people (theist or atheist) who wait by their mailbox each month waiting to see if the next round of philosophy journals tells them if it’s okay to believe in God or not. This might suggest that the whole lot of us are irrational buffoons. It also might suggest that people realize that arguing for God’s existence is like arguing for your brother’s existence. Maybe your brother exists, maybe he doesn’t – but it isn’t the sort of thing you argue your way to.

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