“A very warm welcome to Zingcreed, a “Christian/Atheist” blog where I tentatively examine and express my opinions on a large number of religion-related topics. My diatribe usually targets the Christian faith because it’s the one I know most about, and was most involved with before I became an atheist. But I’m wary of throwing the baby out with the bathwater (title of an early Post) – there could be something there: a residual Jesus from whom the world can learn some wisdom? Or maybe I’m being overly optimistic and wasting my time? Why not follow the Zingcreed Quest and see where I end up!” Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.

“Jesus had a lower I.Q. than you.”

No-one measured Jesus’s I.Q. of course, and at first sight this heading sounds preposterous.

But bear with me.

Prometheus Press in the US is a long established atheist publishing house, which produces some very thought provoking books. Every time I’m in one of the larger London bookshops (Foyles or Blackwells in Charing Cross Rd, or  Waterstones in Gower St) I look for their latest titles. At the moment I am all agog at the latest  brilliant, but heavy,  writings of John Loftus (“Why I became an Atheist. A former preacher rejects Christianity” 2012), Victor Spenger (“God and the folly of Faith. The incompatibility of Science and Religion” 2012), and the book which is the source of today’s musings: Matthew McCormick’s  “Atheism and the case against Christ” (2012)(p.97) If you want to be a better Christian, read some atheist books! (and, if you want to be a better atheist read some atheist books as well!)

McCormick is discussing the early Christians’ ability to judge whether Jesus really rose from the dead or not. It is in this context that he asserts that the IQ of the people claiming to have observed the resurrection is highly relevant. He defines IQ, then goes on to show how it varies according to various factors. He applies his findings to Jesus as well as to the Apostles. Let’s look at the detail.

“A person’s Intelligence Quotient is a very general mental capacity that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings – ‘catching on’, ‘making sense’ of things, or ‘figuring out’ what to do.” (i)

Factors influencing a person’s IQ

  • culture
  • schooling
  • family
  • nutrition
  • home environment

These factors can account for as many as 18 points of IQ. IQ is not a stable inherited trait as once thought.

We are getting smarter!

IQ s increase by 3 points a decade, and the tests are constantly renormalized to keep the average score at 100. The reasons for the rise are :-

  • greater access to more information, e.g. on the net;
  • the cultural environment is actually raising our intelligence independent of increased information. We can solve problems, reason critically, and employ cognitive strategies better now than we used to.

Projecting backwards, it would seem the average person 2000 years ago would be less mentally able than the average person today. (Even if we do not assume a steady downward slope in the projection.) All because the factors listed above play such a large role in making it possible for people to actualize the potential they have for being smart.

Jesus and the other founders of Christianity…

…would on average have had distinctly worse reasoning abilities, would have been less able to comprehend complex ideas, and would have had a worse comprehension of their surroundings. If they thought they saw ghosts or miraculous supernatural events, who can blame them? They can’t be faulted for not knowing what we know and not having the critical reasoning capabilities we have. Nor should we assume the claims they make about these events are false because they were less intellectually able. But it does bear on our assessment of these early Christians’ reliability. We should not assume that if they were satisfied Jesus was resurrected then we should be satisfied too. Were the original believers sufficiently thoughtful, reflective, objective, critical,  and smart to figure out the truth? The reasons and reasoning that led them to believe might not be sufficient for our believing.

Would you readily accept as gospel truth the utterances of someone today who only had an IQ of 60? Would they really be reliable sources? The people transmitting the resurrection story to us were most likely equipped with less than ideal reasoning skills and cognitive abilities. It will upset some, but really, the facts about their mental capacities are relevant to our assessment of their reliability. We can’t assume they were just like us. (ii)
This has obvious implications for Christian believers today. Their faith should not be merely a security blanket; it should welcome new insights and acknowledge the positive role the atheist critics of religion can play.

(i) Gottfredson, Linda “Intelligence and how to get it” Norton (2009)
(ii) McCormick, M. “Atheism and the case against Christ” Prometheus (2012)

Related Zingcreed Posts:
Jesus’ dark side
Small dark ugly and illiterate – the real Jesus?
Jesus’s 17 authentic pearls of wisdom

In the pipeline: The Resurrection

[256, indexed & linked, t&c]

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