The following article was first published in the Alaska American
Atheist newsletter (Feb. 1991). The subject relates (however
tangentially) to recent discussions on alt.atheism and talk.philosophy
about the negative correlation between intelligence and superstition.
Mr. Herman is a well-read, articulate, erudite and intelligent
individual who grew up in Iceland in a non-religious household. He
holds opinions that quite often go against the common grain and his
letters to the editor are usually soundly denounced and excoriated by
I will see that he receives copies of all responses to this article,
and will invite him to respond.
Atheists are Special
by Harold Herman
Does exposure to reality and knowledge scare people into myth and
fantasy? Is the door to reality and the real world open to only a few?
Cornell University science professors say yes to both questions.
Science students were asked at the beginning of a course which theory
each subscribed to, creation or evolution. Then, after the course had
been completed, the same students were asked the same question.
Always, at the end of a science course, there were more creationists
than at the beginning. The implication is clear: The average student,
wading deeper and deeper into reality, became frightened and retreated
to suck the religious pacifier.
Ex-astronaut James Erwin is an example of an individual finding himself
over his head in reality. His scientific education, plus the dramatic
personal experience of standing on the moon, looking at the earth,
caused him to retreat to a primitive level of Christian fundamentalism.
Seeking to disprove what he saw during his experience on the moon, he
began a series of expeditions to Mt. Ararat, looking for Noah's Ark,
injuring himself seriously twice. He exhausted himself on the lecture
circuit trying to erase what he had learned and experienced.
Obviously, the door to the real world of the freethinker and/or atheist
is open only to the atypical few, perhaps 10% of the population. Of
this minority, only one percent have the moral courage to stand up and
America is a modern, developed country where literate people are
exposed to and have access to a steady wealth of knowledge of every
variety, yet are as steeped in myth, superstition and ignorance as the
population of China. A noted anthropologist from China spent six years
in America trying to find out why. He found it puzzling that
Americans, swamped with material from various media, free schools, free
access to great libraries, high standard of living, etc., were as
ignorant and superstitious as the mainland Chinese.
For the typical American, intelligence, education and experience do not
provide paths to the real world of the free-thinking atheist. In my
opinion, the ability to side-step or free oneself from religion is
congenital. The atypical mind, like talent, is an accident of birth,
not something learned.
Our "mission" should be defined according to the above realities. We
need to find our own kind and be available and visible to those who
have the gift (key to the realm of the freethinker) but have yet to
From: email@example.com (Torkel Franzen)
A fine article! But is it any different from the proclamations of
people belonging to various religious sects who claim that they alone
have the courage to face the facts? All this "superiority" business is
very silly. Among atheists, as among people who like their eggs hard
boiled, you find the usual assortment of idiots, geniuses, and just
plain ordinary people.