Moral Low Ground

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Richard Dawkins: “Jesus Would Have Been An Atheist”

Renowned author, atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has asserted that Jesus Christ would be an atheist if he were alive today.

(Photo: David Shankbone)

The Raw Story reports that Dawkins, in an interview with Britain’s Guardian, said:

“I wrote and article called ‘Atheists for Jesus,’ I think it was… Somebody gave me a t-shirt: ‘Atheists for Jesus.’ Well, the point was that Jesus was a great moral teacher and I was suggesting that somebody as intelligent as Jesus would have been an atheist if he had known what we know today.”

Could this be true? After all, despite the fact that less than 10% of scientists believe in ‘God’, plenty of very bright people do believe. This may suggest that people could be genetically predisposed to believing in a higher, supernatural power.

Scientific studies that seek to determine whether or not non-believers are more intelligent than believers generally conclude that they are, but often not by much of a margin. “The intelligence–religiosity nexus: A representative study of white adolescent Americans,” conducted by Helmuth Nyborg of the University of Aarhus in Denmark, for example, found that atheists scored about 6 IQ points higher than those who subscribed to”dogmatic persuasions.” But when broken down by denomination, Episcopalians came out on top, with an average IQ of 113. Jews followed at 112, then atheists at 111 and agnostics at 109. At the lower end of the spectrum, Baptists had an average IQ of 102 and Pentecostals scored 101.

Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science, published a study in the March 2010 edition of Social Psychology Quarterly in which he asserted that more intelligent people were “significantly more likely to exhibit social values and religious and political preferences that are novel to the human species in evolutionary history.”

“General intelligence, the ability to think and reason, endowed our ancestors with advantages in solving evolutionarily novel problems for which they did not have innate solutions,” Kanazawa reasoned. “As a result, more intelligent people are more likely to recognize and understand such novel entities and situations than less intelligent people, and some of these entities and situations are preferences, values, and lifestyles.”

Kanazawa argues that humans, by default, are hard-wired to be conservative, since caring about genetically unrelated and physically distant people was, until recently, a much less pressing concern than looking after one’s close inner circle of family and friends. Religion, Kanazawa says, is the result of conservative human paranoia.

“Humans are evolutionarily designed to be paranoid, and they believe in God because they are paranoid,” he wrote, adding that this paranoia served humanity well early in our evolution when extreme vigilance was a necessity for survival.

But back to Jesus. The life and teachings of Christ, assuming what we know about him is accurate, certainly do not match that of a conservative of the day. I used to have a T-shirt that raised many eyebrows. It read: JESUS WAS A JEWISH LIBERAL. Why that shirt caused so much controversy is beyond me. After all, Jesus was a Jew. And his philosophies were certainly liberal for two thousand years ago. It can definitely be argued that Jesus thought outside the box and that he, to quote Kanazawa, “exhibited social values and religious and political preferences that were novel to the human species.”

But is Dawkins right? Would Jesus be an atheist if he were alive today? One has to set aside dogmatic and supernatural– dare I say superstitious— beliefs, the most obvious one being that Jesus is the son of ‘God,’ the very embodiment of ‘God’ himself as explained (somewhat confusingly) in the concept of the Holy Trinity. From this superstitious point of view, it’s impossible that Jesus could ever be an atheist because he is ‘God.’ But from a moral-philosophical point of speculation, it is quite possible that if Jesus was armed with today’s scientific knowledge, he could reject Biblical assertions which, after all, are very easily disproved.

This whole thing is a rather fanciful exercise in conjecture that can’t be proven one way or the other, although one answer sure does seem to make more sense than the other. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

To watch the Guardian interview with Richard Dawkins, click here

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