Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Intelligence and Character

Recent Facebook conversations have made me decide to lay out my thoughts about things like intelligence and (moral) character.  I have been of the opinion for a while now that things like intelligence and character are usually determined by more than one belief or stance.  For instance, someone can believe something incredibly irrational and immoral (like black people are inferior to white people) but still be an intelligent and good person.  This is because intelligence and character are fuzzy concepts that are composed of numerous qualities.  I think it would be a mistake to try to pin a person’s intelligence or character down to just one thing they believe or their stance on one issue.  This kind of thinking doesn’t account for the incredible complexity of people.

One consequence of this view is that things that are often considered insulting by people should not be considered insulting.  People tend to get offended when things they to believe get harshly criticized and called things like irrational, stupid, idiotic, bigoted, hateful, or any number of negative terms.  One reason for this offense is that people think that you are saying that they are irrational, stupid, an idiot, a bigot, hateful, ...etc.  The reasoning behind this is that only irrational, stupid, et al. people believe irrational, stupid, et al. things.  I don’t think this is a reasonable position to take.  I think it’s pretty obvious that intelligent and good people can have irrational and bigoted beliefs.  Many people hold bigoted beliefs against gay people for one reason or another, but the simple fact that they hold this belief may not make them a bad person.  That one aspect of their character might be bad, but it might be balanced out by their other extremely good qualities.

Creationism is something that is pretty obviously irrational.  There are no good reasons to accept creationism in favor of evolution.  There are many people in the world who believe in creationism, and there are quite a few of them who are obviously intelligent and many that could be considered rational.  The fact that they hold one, two, three, or even more beliefs that are not rational or intelligent does not necessarily mean that they are not intelligent or irrational.  Some may very well be, but there are other things that should be considered before this judgement is made by themselves or anyone else.

I think I’ve made a good case in this piece why people should not be offended when others used harsh and negative terms to describe (like stupid, irrational, or bigoted) beliefs or views they hold.  These qualities are not determined by one thing.  Good and smart people can hold irrational and bigoted beliefs.  People are incredibly complicated, and this is just one outcome of that fact..