Belief and 'g'

  (28 June 09)
  by Greg Spearritt

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, associate professor in the department of behavioural and applied sciences at Texas A&M International University, Christopher J. Ferguson, dismisses Howard Gardner's influential theory of multiple intelligences. There’s just one intelligence, says Ferguson, ‘g’, and either you’ve got it or you haven’t.


One must assume that the vast majority of medical students have it. Yet a surprising number of those I’ve known personally have had a conservative, even fundamentalist, approach to religion.


I’ve thought the idea of multiple intelligences might help to account for this: maybe lots of med students are ‘logical-mathematical’ thinkers instead of ‘verbal-linguistic’, for instance. Medicine requires ingesting and regurgitating a large quantity of facts, where an Arts degree demands critical analysis and synthesis of ideas. Perhaps the critical thinking skills required to question received religious doctrines are just poorly developed in many of these students.


Ferguson argues that the ‘multiple intelligences’ theory “fundamentally conflates intelligence and motivation”. So perhaps the intelligent, educated students who read sacred texts literally are simply motivated to do so in ways that over-ride the application of their intelligence to their beliefs.


Whatever the answer, belief, and religious belief in particular, is a complex phenomenon. There seems to be a lot more going on than ‘g’.




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