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On Religion, Science, and Sanity

In The Beginning

The inception for this article began with a post by a talented software engineer on X. His assertion was that in his own professional circle, he did not see a correlation between theism and intelligence. While he didn't make a claim in which direction he expected the correlation to point, let's put words in his mouth and say he expected to find less theism among those he considered more intelligent.


I'm not here to argue whether such a correlation exists, or about the rightness or wrongness of any aspect of it, but rather to explore what may have led to that thought, and maybe come to an understanding for why we humans behave as we do as it relates to theism and atheism.

A Requisite for What Follows

The mind, no matter who it belongs to, is awash with contradictions, and it doesn't like change. In fact, it often digs even deeper holes to hide those contradictions when challenged. This is true of me, you, and everyone else who has ever lived.

It's All Semantics

Here's how I think of religion as an atheist: Humans have been trying to figure out how to make sense of life and how to get along in this world for their entire history. Given the existing knowledge for the period in which they lived, they have created innumerable ways to explain it. I usually think of religion as the psychology and science of the time. It's how people organized their world in the best way it made sense to them.

It is in that spirit as well, that I, an atheist, organize my world around science. While I'm sure many would deny it, this is also a "faith" in a sense. I am not omniscient and therefore cannot know the absolute truth of existence and the universe, so I put my faith in things I can measure and observe, and the rest make my best guess at when I have to.

Disproving the Negative (And Why it Probably Doesn't Matter)

Invariably, every argument for one side of the other will point to the "gaps" and contradictions in the opposite side as evidence for its own correctness.

As it relates to our daily lives and how we conduct ourselves in general, this is likely not a distinction that makes any material difference.

A theist places these unknowns in the hands of a god, while an atheist says that they're simply unknown. Unless you're about the business of attempting to prove a thing, this is a distinction without a difference.

Consider this thought exercise: assertions about non-existence cannot always be proven. Here's an example:

Unicorns don't exist.

In this example, one must consider the case where unicorns do not, in fact, exist. But how would that be proven unless you have absolute knowledge of everything -- in other words, you'd have to be God.

Opportunities To Learn

I used to get together weekly with an informal group of religious friends for bible study. My agreement with them was that we would not attempt to proselytize each other one way or the other, and that my motivation for joining was not too far off from theirs -- I find stories, parables, and the like to be valuable ways to express human experiences in a very relatable way. Different ways of thinking about things can lead to revelations one may not have otherwise seen.

About the Title and Other Reading

The title of this article was inspired by the seminal work of the scholar Alfred Korzybski, called Science & Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics. Here's a blurb from Wikipedia describing the general idea presented therein:

Korzybski maintained that humans are limited in what they know by (1) the structure of their nervous systems, and (2) the structure of their languages. Humans cannot experience the world directly, but only through their "abstractions" (nonverbal impressions or "gleanings" derived from the nervous system, and verbal indicators expressed and derived from language). These sometimes mislead us about what is the truth. Our understanding sometimes lacks similarity of structure with what is actually happening.

Anyone interested in the subject matter of this article might also be interested in a book by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., a Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Harvard, called The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and The Meaning of Life. While the two did not argue directly having lived at different times, they both wrote extensively on those topics, and it's those writings that make up the debate. It's a fun and very interesting book to read.