Are Bible-bashers scientifically stupid?

6: bible nerdIt never used to be like this. Sir Isaac Newton, one of the influential scientists to grace the Earth would be horrified. An outspoken Bible-believer, Newton believed that his observations of the Universe made the existence of God irrefutable.

How times change.

New Atheism’ is the increasingly popular movement within top science thinkers. Its advocates say that religion should not be tolerated and ought be actively criticised. There is many a scientist who would argue an atheistic world view with all the fervour of Newton: Biologist Richard Dawkins likens a religious education to child abuse; Chemist Peter Atkins forcefully argues that religion is for those of ‘adipose’ minds (i.e. brains containing only fat).

But how much truth is there in idea that religion results in ignorance of science and logic? New research would suggest not very much…

Our Survey Says: Christians don’t understand science

Better educated folk are less likely to believe in God – a long established fact.

A 2008 knowledge and belief survey of 1,727 US residents sought to find out more. Testing respondents’ scientific knowledge whilst quizzing their theology, the survey conclusively showed that fundamental Christians had a lesser understanding of basic science and logic.

So case closed: Religion = Scientific Stupidity?

Not quite.

A recently published analysis of the data (reference below) takes a closer look and reveals that religious teaching probably isn’t the main cause for these differences. Political scientist Zigerell discovered that most of the differences are explained by socio-economic reasons: Those from poorer backgrounds are more likely to be Christian. And those from disadvantaged backgrounds invariably know less about science because of fewer educational opportunities.

Biblical teaching undermines exam performance

But it doesn’t stop there. Zigerell went on to make one more fascinating finding:

Teasing apart the data further – even after social factors were compensated for – fundamental Bible-believers still scored slightly less well on the science knowledge test.

And Zigerell’s proposed reason is compelling: Christians did considerably less guessing. When literal Bible believers came across a question they didn’t know the answer to, rather than having a guess (and possibly getting it right) they were more likely just to leave it blank.

Well, the Bible does teach honesty after all…


Thanks for reading – feel free to comment below…



Zigerell, L. (2010). Science knowledge and biblical literalism Public Understanding of Science DOI: 10.1177/0963662510391723

21 responses to “Are Bible-bashers scientifically stupid?”

  1. Hmm. What about the numbers of scientists who believe in God Dr Stu? The Colleges of Oxford and Cambridge are full of them – and there are some very eloquant apologists who are giving the Richard Dawkins of the world a need to keep running to try and keep their viewpoints afloat. I would suggest that once one understands ‘science’, and can see small enough to try and get your head around the amazing level of design and interaction that is required, just to make a functional drop of blood, the most logical explanation is that there is a Higher Being who has designed us.

    I do not have sufficient faith to be able to believe that random chance accidentally resulted in millions of evolutionary steps all syncing themselves at once, to create something as complex as a kitten. For those Atheists who can, respect!

    • I suppose it all depends what is mean by the term GOD .

      Is it he. she , it? Does” it” look like you? Are you so good looking ? The perfect speciment ? Or is it your wishful thinking affected by personal preferences, for personal benefit ? If we have a belief / faith in some devine, higher power, why does it have to have a specific shape and form, an possibly insecured so as to threat and order that we shall worship “it” and not any other God than “it” ? Is there a competition ? What makes this one so special ? Why could not our GOD be a plasma like substance, if a substance at all, why could it not be a Force, some type of energy , or simply be our own self awareness and acceptance which ousiders try shape, manipulate to their liking ? Why does He speak just in English – I saw the movies , I have the proof !

      Bible bashers do not need to be scientists, they can be completely ignorant to science, they just need to question and be sceptical about the reason why specific writings were compiled in a book called Bible, with interpretations, translatiosn making it an interesting read. Of course the World was not created in seven days… should we believe perhaps in a billion, trillion, has it started with our Earth , or with a big ” Boom or Bang “? Where do Dinosaurs fit, since not saved on the Noah’s Arch ? By the way if birds, small innocent mammals were being punished, drowned in the mighty flood ( think : the flood by an over flown two rivers- the rest of the Earths surface ignored ? What abourt the sea creatures, fish, mammals – they must have had a ball during the mighty flood.

      No, they are not stupid, stupidity and religion have little correlation, religious people always follow the smarter, more clever, sometimes fanatically obsesed with their believes people, who use theirs intelect , fear and the threat of the divine power for nown benefit , for their often sometimes disgusting purposes.

    • “the most logical explanation is that there is a Higher Being who has designed us.” you say Alice? Well, he did a pretty shit job mate! Perhaps He could explain why all His loony zealots are so insistant on killing each other in His name? (Which I personally feel is a great thing……a kind of natural selection, and when they are all done, only us more evolved atheists will be left and we can start running the world properly)

  2. It’s tricky to have discuss religion without falling into entrenched positions.

    I have to say that as an atheist, I do envy the automatic belonging and social support some of my Christian friends derive from church – it’s not something I’ve found outside of religious communities. It’s not a rational argument for the existence of god, but it does tempt me to pretend from time to time.

    Without wanting to challenge Alice on a sensitive issue, I hope that she recognizes that the wonderful complexity of the world is a powerful argument against atheism (no god), but in no way supports Christianity, or any other religion in particular.

    • I would agree that the complexity and intricacy of the universe does not support any religion – but I did not say it did. All I am saying is that the most logical explanation for the arrival of this amazing world, is that someone cleverer and bigger than us/the world, probably made it.

      You may have heard the analogy of someone walking in a wilderness, and they stub their toe. Looking down, they find a spanner. Their first thought is, ‘someone dropped this’. Why is this? why don’t we think, oh look, something new has evolved? I would suggest that as we are designed, we can instantly recognise something else that has been designed – the chance of something, even as simple as a spanner, ‘just becoming’ is in our experience, infintesimally small.

      It doesn’t really matter whether or not we believe in someone/thing bigger than us – if they are there, we’ll find out eventually. Our not believing in them does not make them go away.

      • And our believing in them doesn’t make it true.
        The reason you know the spanner is designed is because you know what human design looks like. It’s cold and made of metal, and there isn’t plenty of it lying around in wilderness. Because the spanner has those properties, you infer there was a designer. And here’s the catch: you’ve seen humans design things, that’s why you can infer this in the first place. Have you seen the designer of nature working on his designs?

  3. Tim, it’s tricky to discuss anything without being categorized.
    I don’t feel the comfort and social support offered by religion an important one, and I suppose that is so because the community I belong to isn’t as connected to religion and as close knit. Most of my friends, while passionately defending religion and observing all the major tenets, aren’t exactly seeking pastors’ advice or visiting the church more than on average once per two weeks. I think it isn’t as much about religion as it is about community. To make it perfectly clear, I don’t deny that religion offers support.
    The only place where I find complexity a powerful argument is in sayings like “Complexity is incredibly amazing, I think we should try and find something more about it.” Complexity is a weak argument for the existence of god and/or the supernatural. It is slightly more difficult for atheism, but if I were asked how complexity can come out of what seems to be chaos, I would point to self organization. This might not be the ultimate solution, but it’s good enough for me.
    Alice, nobody I have ever met has enough faith to, as you and many others put it, believe “random chance accidentally resulted in millions of evolutionary steps all syncing themselves at once, to create something as complex as a kitten”. I have yet to meet a serious person who would suggest that is possible. I do, however, believe on hard evidence that random chance coupled with non-random natural selection over a period of time, not at once, create something as complex as a kitten.
    I think I might answer your question. Scientists who believe in god/higher power are not addressed in the post because the data comes from 2008 US General Social Survey. I’m not entirely sure where are you going with your question, but I think you are trying to assert the existence of god because many scientists believe in it. (Un)fortunately, most scientists between the collapse of Rome and the Renaissance were Muslims, and before Christianity many believed in Greek and other gods. Is the god you’re asserting a shape-shifter?
    I respect your beliefs, but not the arguments you’re making, so don’t take this response personal.

    • What is so funny is that this is really very simple – a single living cell is so incredibly complex that for it to have evolved in any way, at all is a scientific and mathematical impossibility. This can easily be understood, just by using the primary tools of science, logic and observation. To put this in some sort of context – random chance, strike of lighting, primordial goo and voila – the city of New York, with all of its interactive, dependant systems, sub systems, micro subsystems. The most basic single building block of life is in reality – that stunningly purposeful, functional and irreducibly complex. There is just now way round it! I myself being convinced challenged government scientist and atheist, that if he could prove otherwise he could have the deeds to my house. He immediately skipped off to the natural history museum, spent days and hours going through text books, his own university notes. He wanted more than anything to prove this stupid Christian wrong. He was unable to do so and this is his field. In spite of this he still believes our ancestors were monkeys.

      • Three things:

        Abiogenesis. “a single living cell… to evolve[]… is a scientific impossibility”. Can you describe the law of nature which strictly prohibits a living cell to evolve? By prohibit I mean the same kind of thing which prohibits observing anything but Galilean speed transformations for a small Lorentz factor. Evolution isn’t the answer because evolution happens only to life, and abiogenesis is chemistry.
        “…and mathematical impossibility”. If you have determined how life can originate, we can discuss probability. Otherwise, this is superfluous. So, make up your mind: is it completely impossible (scientifically, if you like), or just so improbable it can’t be done?
        A lightning strike on certain gasses can produce amino acids. But it can’t produce life. Nobody says it can. Also, primordial goo is vague. Unless you have something more specific than that, say its content, nobody can determine whether life could have formed in it. If you want to prove something is impossible, then you should have data to back it up. I’d like to know what you observed to reach the conclusion that this is impossible.
        And please answer this: “The most basic single building block of life is in reality – that stunningly purposeful, functional and irreducibly complex” what? DNA? RNA? Amino acid? Lipid? Carbohydrate? Something else? What is this basic block of life you speak of?

        Evolution. You have a piece of land, some Dutch bought it from the natives. A few settlers arrive/are sent, and a village is created. Then the village grows, becomes a town. New Amsterdam. The British buy it from the Dutch and rename it to New York. More people come, and the town expands. Other areas nearby are inhabited, and soon they become incorporated into a big city. With new technology different buildings are built, and new governments enforce different laws. That is how New York became what it is today.
        Evolution is very much different from this, but there are parallels which you ignore. Firstly, you need a piece of land and men to live there to make a city; you need something alive to make evolution happen. Secondly, evolution, just like city construction, takes time.
        Now, as for irreducible complexity. There is no way men could erect skyscrapers like the ones you see in New York! Some parts of construction are too heavy. Even if 1000 men tried, there is no way they can lift long iron rods so high in the air, for instance. What did I forget to mention?

        Incompetence. I didn’t bother to go to Wikipedia and check anything out for this reply, much less spend time in a natural history museum. Unfortunately for you, the incompetence of a scientist doesn’t change facts. Have you checked those?
        I don’t think you’re stupid, but I do think you’re wrong. Don’t take this personally, I think I’m wrong often.

        Bonus: our ancestors were monkeys, and so are we. The thing is, no living monkey today is our ancestor. They’re something like cousins, but not really close. A chimp you can see today and yourself both share grand-grand-grand-…-grandparents. If you think they aren’t, provide the explanation why and evidence that supports your claim. Oh, and while at it, you need to incorporate existing evidence, like retroviral nested hierarchies, other DNA evidence, the fossil record and other things in your explanation.

        • Again, this is not my field – but here goes: According to cell theory – a single living cell represents the most basic building block of life…. and it is to this that I refer.

          Evolutionary theory pre-supposes that the existence of the first living cell was initiated by some random infusion of energy, triggering a chemical reaction, which over time evolved to what we term as life – or again… the first living cell. Some problems with this are – the huge complexity of a simple living cell – the multitude of interdependent systems that would need to appear fully formed in-order for it to function…. not to mention how it’s going to re-produce itself before it dies…..oh too late.

          My use of the word ‘impossible’ relates to the use of statistical probability. The application of which – when applied to those scenarios put forward – quite easily demonstrate impossibility. The only issue will be – what is that number to the power of.. that you will need to be convinced?

          I recommend you get yourself a copy of John Lennox’s book God’s Undertaker….. just Google him if you need more info.

          • All right, a single cell is the fundamental building block of life.
            I have studied the basics of cytology some time ago, so I know something about cells. For instance, prokaryotic cells have thylakoids for photosynthesis, where eukaryotes (some of them, like algae and plants) have mitochondria. Also, prokaryotic ribosomes are 70 Svedberg, while eukaryotic are 80. And prokaryotes don’t have a nucleus, whereas eukaryotes keep their DNA protected inside one (pro – first, primitive, eu – real, karyon – nucleus). Very important differences, I’d say. You know, almost sounds like eukaryotes evolved from prokaryotes.
            At any rate, your claim is still not specific. Do you mean a single plant cell, a single fungus cell, a single human cell, a bacterium cell (eubacteria or archaea)…? All of these are different.
            Argue if you will that the simplest one of these is complex, and that they need all of the intricate interdependent systems to function. Consider this: their ancestors don’t need to be as good as them, they can function slightly worse. And so on. How do you know that there are no simpler, more primitive substitutes that could do the job of today’s “machinery”, albeit worse? How do you know the ancestor of the first living cell wasn’t able to grow reproduce and keep some sort of metabolism, no matter how crude, without all the organs of a today’s cell? There’s a scenario on YouTube which suggests that: /watch?v=U6QYDdgP9eg
            When it comes to statistics, I’m cautious. What are you applying this probability on? For instance, you can apply it on the emergence of life on Earth-like planets, or any planet, or certain circumstances… In each case I’d accept a different improbability. For instance, assuming there are a billion billion planets in the Universe, I’d say we’re lucky if the odds for the formation of life on any planet is one in a hundred thousand billion billion.
            One more thing. What evidence do you have that magic (the hand of god, design, or however else you wish to call it) was involved in the process? Staggering improbabilities only suggest that, but do not support it.
            Since you are passing recommendations, I suggest (aside from the video) the second chapter of The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. If I remember well, that is.

          • Indeed , it is the best sometimes to stick with what we know about within our field, or we chance looking pretty ignorant. Success ! You did .

            However you must be either brave, or just an ignorant trasspasser, taking a chance another farmer will chase you out of his field with a pitch fork.

            Thanks for the suffestion : proof of God can be Googled ! Search GO ….They both are under Go.

            Respectfully, the seeker of truth.

  4. Where do I begin? It’s hard to know how to comment as the subject area is so big and complex. I won’t write in detail as I don’t have a few months spare, however, for further consideration of the reader I would raise a few points.

    First – understand the difference between correlation and causality. Studies show a correlation between level of education and belief in God. However, it doesn’t follow that one causes the other. It is not unreasonable to assume that a subjugated population denied access to information other than that provided for and ‘sanitised’ by their state are likely to both believe what they are told (in the absence of contradictory information) and lack education. If the study included the population of say North Korea, an atheistic country for now, you would probably get very low belief in a god and equally low average IQ. Pull that in and instead of a trend with increasing IQ = lower belief in God you get a new trend that suggests increasing IQ = more diverse views.

    Second – consider all the results, not just those that have been presented. Based on the same data showing that increasing IQ = reduced likelihood, one could also argue that in the best educated country more than 80% of people have faith in some form. The same study and the same set of results, but presented to support a pro-faith argument (not that I think it makes much difference either way).

    Third – think about what the hypothesis is, and the study that has been done. Does the study actually answer the question asked? Does the interpretation go beyond the results of the study? The studies listed above consider a range of very different cases – those with faith of some form, literalist bible believers, and fundamental Christians. And that is without even beginning to consider how scientific intelligence has been measured which is dubious at the best of times. Certainly in the case of the latter two (literalists and fundamentalists) you’d have to question the impact of individual psychology, as well as the belief. Would the same be true of other (I say this without wanting to sound rude) obsessive personalities? Would you get the same results for die-hard sport supporters, or dyed-in-the-wool political supporters. If so would that suggest it is character rather than belief that is key?

    Fourth – be very wary of scientists speaking out on controversial issues – especially when it is not within their subject area. Research funding grants are typically dependent on a scientist having a good publication track record, and the ‘success’ of the publications is typically measured by looking at how well referenced they are (it really is, even if all the references are saying “this study is a load of …”). It is all too easy to get a bit of self promotion a long list of people who have referenced your work if you write about something current and controversial.

  5. Wholly interesting stuff – many thanks for the comments thus far 🙂
    I think Phil makes some excellent points about the nature of such research and why caution should be exercised in over-interpretation of the results. Regrettably, I have seen such research cited by the Atheist community as evidence that religion breeds intellectual ignorance. Clearly, (and hopefully this was communicated in the post) this would be an over-extrapolation of such results.
    With regard to the compelling and ensuing debate over Christianity, and the arguments for and against intelligent design, I generally adopt something of a ‘fence-sitting’ stance:
    a) Many of the biblical stories (e.g. Noah and the Arc) do not stand up to scientific scrutiny – Brain Dunning’s excellent skeptical discussion: is an excellent example (as an aside, his weekly podcast is well worth a listen)
    b) It is, by definition, impossible to prove or disprove the existence of a higher, divine power. One can always argue that God is ultimately in control of events, that he designed existence in such a way, that he orchestrated evolution, etc, or even that he chose to ‘change the rules’ (i.e. the laws of physics, etc) at times in the past – to allow miraculous events to occur. I do not however ascribe to Hawking’s view that modern science has rendered the existence of God unnecessary. I think the Ancient Greeks and many societies believed as such (although I’m no historian, so I may be wrong about the Greeks) in the absence of modern scientific understanding.
    c) When an individual has become convinced of a connection with a higher power (e.g. through a powerful personal experience), they are wholly unlikely to be dissuaded from the ‘truth’ of their personal experiences – regardless of the logical arguments that a non-believer presents to them. Likewise, attempts to justify an individual’s personal convictions (e.g. Christianity) on the basis of scientific reasoning will inevitably be wholly unsatisfactory. I always thought that a belief in God was on the basis of ‘faith’. Faith is a decision that is surely something that is outside the realm of scientific reasoning.

    • Hi Dr Stu – it is infact entirely posible to prove in the exitence of a higher power. Using biblical prophecy, statistical probability – this being further supported through accepted methodology for establishing a body of evidence. Eg: approx 300 mesianic prophecies in the old testement (who the messiah will be, where he will be born etc..) the OT being fully authenticated through the finding of the dead sea scrolls. Then (and as recorded by secular historians) approx 2000 years ago an itinerant carpenter from the backwoods of israel, fullfills 100% of these prophecies and has the greatest impact to world history than anyone before or since …. including Elvis. When you apply statistical probablility for one man to fullfill 100% and then go on to change the course of human history – for him to not be God does actually become that improbable for it to reasonably be considered impossible. Indeed a good friend of mine covered this for his maths degree thesis – actually entitled ‘Mathematical Proof for the Existence of God’ for which he received a 1st.

      On the issue of faith – where on earth was the understanding born that faith is something to be accepted blindly, without logic or reason? I came to faith because I saw broken lives made new, blind eyes opened, drug addicts instantly delivered – it was then entirely logical to extend my ‘faith’.

      Having said all of that – I’m under no illusion that anyof this will make the blindest bit of difference – it’s like ghosts… unless you’ve seen one yourself, you can in no way accept that they exist.

      • I have some engagements right now, so probably more later, and just a few short lines:
        I agree with Dr. Stu and Phil B. Research can be abused, and it’s sometimes hard not to grab an opportunity. This excuses no one, though. Rigour.
        Mike, it’s interesting to see how thoughts of a higher power suddenly leap to either Yahweh or Jesus. The Bible is a very unreliable source of historical information, and those “prophecies” are not remarkable. Not all were fulfilled (I can think of several), and besides, the authors had old books available. Isn’t it possible that they deliberately made Jesus more divine?

      • ‘Mathematical Proof for the Existence of God’ for which he received a 1st ?

        Was it 1st for the effort ? 1st for composition ? 1 st for abstract thinking ? 1st for thinking out of the box ?
        Was the tester a priest, a religious person or a Marxist, a person with all marbles ….a completely neutral person, or was it an award by a group of unbiased J. witnesses.

        If proven mathematically why was it not shared with the scientific community, experiment repeated under set controls and math accuracy verified, hypotheses tested to P=1 which would change the course of our thinking,
        So if God our Big Daddy exists, where is a mathematical proof the Junior and the Spook have a mathematical explanation, significance ? Is your good friend still in the math business ready for another 1st ?

        Out of curiosity and notb to be unkind, was 1st on a scale 1-10 ( 10 being the best ? )

        The good thing with mathematical proofs is you cannot call me a sceptic, for I accept math as a proof, that is a good Math.and not hypothesis and theories.

        My hat down to your “good ” friend , as the term ‘good’ was so important to your history changing posting.

        • Insults are not really a credible form of argument – the Darwinist or even atheist camp often afford themselves this on the assumption that you have to be stupid to believe in God – and therefore they have a right to adopt a superior mocking tone. I like what Saint Paul said as recorded in the book of Romans: ‘the fool has said in his heart ‘there is no God – as the evidence is all around, so people are without excuse’. Or even … and I am being somewhat provocative here – the late Barry Smith, teacher, international speaker and author who said ‘these people will not be in Hell more than 5 minutes before they change their minds’…. so .. two can play at that game – if indeed that game is to be tiresomely and borishly perpetuated.

  6. Lets look at 10 Commandments.

    Is it just possible they were written for the protection of the majority of small, weak, and sick so that the strong big, agressive , powerful , the bully type , would obey, and not steal from them, kill them, covet their wife etc . -commandments 5, 6,7,8, 9, 10 out of fear, based on obedience & adhering to 1,2,3 & 4 ?

    Just because some things remain unexplained, unproven, with no supportive evidence does not mean they are devine and unnatural. While order, balance and harmony do exist, they are a result of billions of years of sometimes unique physical, chemical interactions. If an entiry existed which would have created it all- whaterver that means- owuld that entity made you in “its” image .

    Human beings, are weaker than the most animals and too week physically & unable to defend themselves – no sharp , big teeth, no claws no hair to protect from cold/ heat, too slow to run away from predetors, with a back bone so poorly designed for walking upright the most of us suffer of lower back problems, sense of smell much poorer than the most animals, eye sight far poorer than most birds and insects,
    hearing to hear just a limited range of wavelenghts, immune system so poor we catch more colds than a house mouse. To survive we had no choice but to depend on the more developed computer like organ, we call a brain which we harbour in our skulls. Brain, which our weak, slow legs carry around to get to places of oportunity to sustain our lives by solving problems, with ability to figure how to self distruct, so succesfully interfere with the established harmony and order around them and take selfish actions , and being so ignorant t they can destroy it all.

    Human beings preaching they are created in HIS image, but on a 24 hours clock have existed in “His” image for just a few seconds, bit boasting & claiming the unsuccesful creatures, such as Dinosours ( the creation of a Devil ? ) were a failure, since they have died ou, t while they had existed on the same 24 hour clock, and managed to strive for several hours.

    On the other hand true believers find comfort in their beliefs , and it is probably more comforting to believe someone is looking after us, taking care of us, so long as we act the prescribed way…in a way I envy them….that is if they really hold their beliefs and are true to them , rather than playing a game to gain advantage over others..

  7. It’s easy… there are 3 kinds of people on this earth; those who can add, and those who cannot, with the 3rd “half” being those who understand the dinosaurs and people inhabited the earth at the same time…like Sarah Palin said!

    God I can deal with, because it’s just too awesome. Jesus, maybe, but there just far too much of a coincidence with all of the previous religions. It’s like God couldn’t get it right so it created the Catholics. Nah.

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