Intelligent Believers 

Rossecorp asked about the finding that belief in a traditional God is less prevalent among the highly educated and intelligent than among the less intellectually advanced. The implication of this finding, of course, is that Christian (and other religious) belief may be less wise or rational than its alternatives. What do we make of this? 

I'll offer a few initial lines of thought from a Christian viewpoint. The first may be more of a distraction than a help in some senses, but it needs at least a mention. That is that the matter of intelligence is fraught with all kinds of psychological, sociological, and methodological pitfalls. To see that this is true, one need only look at the kinds of responses generated when a researcher points to purported evidence that Blacks' average intelligence is less than that of Whites or Asians. The best response to these purported racial differences is to view persons as individuals rather than according to stereotypes. An analogous response in the area of religious belief is this: to determine whether Christianity is wise, rational, or intelligent, examine it according to its arguments and evidences, not its sociological average profile.

It must be pointed out as well that many extremely bright people have been Christians. Jonathan Edwards, theologian, has often been called the brightest mind in American history. More recently, the distinguished scientist Francis Collins converted to faith in Christ. These are but two of many, many examples.

This still does not explain, though, why Christian belief is relatively underrepresented in some settings. For this, there are both sociological and spiritual reasons. First, the sociological:

1. There is evidence that the secular academy is not very welcoming to Christian belief; thus Christians may select themselves out of academic professions and even advanced education.

2. Christians themselves, in the 20th century in the West, were not entirely supportive of advanced education. There were at least two distinct reasons for this (I use the past tense in the belief and hope that this is currently changing). One was an action-oriented mentality that eschewed the delays caused by advanced education. It was, "Let's go reach the world for Christ!"--with an eschatologically-charged short-term mentality. The other reason was a defensive posture taken in the face of attacks on Christian belief from higher criticism and scientism. Christians today are recognizing that both of these attitudes are unnecessary and unhelpful, and in at least one field, philosophy, Christians have become a very significant academic force (One quarter to one third of professional philosophers in the United States are Christian theists.)

3. The third sociological reason is a prelude to the spiritual reason that follows: God is for the poor and the humble. There is an intellectual prerequisite for entry into advanced academia; there is no such prerequisite for entry into Christian faith. One can be very intelligent or not very school-smart at all and still be a Christian. Faith is granted by God's grace.

The related spiritual reason is found most clearly in 1 Corinthians 1:18-29 (NKJV in this quotation):

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: 
      "'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, 
      And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.' 

"Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

"For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence."

God calls us to humility and worship before him. If Christian belief were reducible to human wisdom, it would inevitably lead to pride: "We believe in God; so obviously we're smarter than you are." I'm firmly committed to the belief that Christian belief is the most rational and evidentially supported worldview, but I also know it cannot be reduced just to that, and that there is room to take an alternate position if one wishes. If someone does not want to believe God was behind the so-called anthropic coincidences, he or she can take refuge in believing in virtually infinite multiple universes. Rational/evidential debate can support belief in God, but it cannot cause it, because it is clear that faith is a gift granted by God, "that no one should boast."

So it doesn't particularly frighten me to hear that a lot of intelligent people deny the Christian faith. That's been part of the plan from the start.  

Posted: Tue - October 31, 2006 at 04:28 PM           |

© 2004-2007 by Tom Gilson. Permission is granted to quote up to two paragraphs of any blog entry, provided that a link back to the original is included or (in print) the website address is provided. Please email me regarding longer quotes. All other rights reserved.

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