The “evolution of the mind” and Christian cognitive dissonance

Over at The Jesus Blog, Anthony Le Donne posted an interesting thought on why Christians can have such cognitive dissonance about evolution: it has to do with the “evolution” of the mind in the general culture over the last century and how some patterns in Christian thinking aren’t coming along for the ride.

Le Donne is playing off an idea moral philosopher James Flynn (Are We Getting Smarter?: Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century) that today’s average IQ scores are much higher than at the turn of the 20th century. Of course, there are all sorts of factors that might account for this shift, but Flynn focuses on one I’ve never thought about:

We live in a far more complex world than earlier generations, and so

we’ve had  to develop new mental habits, new habits of mind.  And these include clothing that concrete world with classification and introducing abstractions that we try to make logically consistent, and also taking the hypothetical seriously.  That is, wondering about what might have been rather than what is.

Apparently, if you tested people back then by today’s norms, they would average an IQ of 70, on the cusp of mental retardation. Conversely, people today measured by earlier standards would average an IQ of 130, genius level.

Le Donne comments: “Flynn suggests that 21st century people are beset with a world of abstraction and thus our abilities to classify, infer by analogy, and problem solve are beefier than our grandparents. His thesis is generalized. He is appealing to studies of averages and average folks.  Of course, we can all come up with exceptions to this rule.  But Flynn’s point about the average person’s moral imagination is hard to deny: we emerged from cultures that had very limited intellectual and ethical horizons.  Moreover, we were suspicious of fancy new ways of rationalizing.  If it wasn’t ‘common sense’, it was suspect.”

Le Donne asks: “So what happens when an entire generation of Christians are given better mental floss, more avenues for exegesis, and unprecedented access to a Yale-quality education?  It should come as no surprise that the result is cognitive dissonance.”

Read Le Donne’s post and watch the embedded video by Flynn carefully. They are making no value judgment but observing a trend. Maybe older more “concrete” patterns of thinking–which are the patterns many Christians are raised with–are not adequate for what our minds are required to process now?

Food for thought.


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