A Smart Person With Daft Beliefs

PZ has a
post
today about how intelligence and atheism don’t always go hand in hand.

Intelligent people who are indoctrinated into a faith can build marvelously intricate palaces of rationalization atop the shoddy vapor of their beliefs about gods and the supernatural;

A perfect case in point is
this post
in the “On Faith” section of Thursday’s Post by John Mark
Reynolds. The bio says he’s a professor of philosophy at Biola
university. So we have an apparently intelligent, apparently educated
person in the 21st century who writes things like this:

Satan’s existence is suggested by human experience and the Bible and is confirmed by reading the Washington Post. The Post is almost surely not a particularly diabolical organ, but it does report the news, and the news often shows signs of the demonic.
[…]

Religious experiences can be confusing partly because we misunderstand them, but partly because some spiritual beings are deceptive and malevolent.
[…]

Nobody save a prophet can look at the Post and be sure what God or the Devil is doing at any given moment or in any given news story. God’s providence is inscrutable in its complexity, but rational, while the Devils work is manifestly irrational and thus difficult to discern.
[…]

The irrational, wicked, continuous, and destructive hatred of the Jewish people has a bloody and sordid history. Anti-Semitism has sponsored so much wickedness that it is reasonable to suspect diabolical force behind it.
[…]

Satan exists with his demons and he is intent on destroying as much that is beautiful as he can. We need not fear him, but cannot ignore him.

In other words, here’s an intelligent, educated, respected man who
believes in a magic man with a personality more one-dimensional than
any Saturday morning cartoon villain’s who causes trouble because…
well, because he’s a bad guy. A man who can look at an obvious fairy
tale and rationalize his way into thinking that it’s real.

When Alan Moore
retconned the adventures of Miracleman,
it was interesting and entertaining. At least both he and his readers
knew that both versions of Miracleman were just stories. Here, it’s
just sad.

I’ll give Reynolds props for sticking around and participating in the
comments. There, he
writes

I should add that the argument (roughly) is that:

1. We have reasons from private experience to think the Devil exists.

2. We have reasons from religious literature to think that the Devil exists.

3. The existence of the Devil seems consistent with human history and in fact helps explains certain events.

Therefore: it is reasonable to think the Devil exist.

Except, of course, that 1) private experience is often suspect. 2)
Just because some people who wrote a book a long time ago believed in
devils does not make it so. 3) If you’re predisposed to see evidence
of the devil’s work in world affairs, of course you’re going to see
it; it’s called confirmation bias.

When we hear about Africans who believe in witchcraft, we shake our
heads in dismay that such superstition still exists. We laugh at
Icelanders who believe in elves and fairies.
Is there any reason not to put Reynolds’s magic man in the same
category as those beliefs?

(Tip o’ the fez to Fez.)

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