Why Aren’t More Intellectuals Believers?

ThinkerA recent article by David Denison looked at the question of why few intellectuals are Christians. He noted that, according to a survey of the National Academy of Scientists, only 7 percent of American scientists believe in a personal God. Denson argues for two primary reasons for this tendency. First, there is a tremendous bias against theism within higher education; and second, the American church culture is unfriendly to intellectual scrutiny.

I would agree with Denson’s assessment on both points, but I would take his conclusions a bit further.

While I would agree that there is strong anti-theist bias in higher education, I believe this merely reinforces the tendencies already present in highly intelligent people. When I talk to intellectuals about Jesus Christ, the common answer I get goes something like this: “I’m too intelligent to believe in God. I used to believe in God, but now I’m much too sophisticated in my thinking for that.” What I hear is pride and arrogance. Almost all of the highly scientific non-believers I talk to have a tendency to place their trust in their intelligence. They see God as a crutch for the unintelligent. Paul addresses such thinking in Romans 1:

20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools…

Scientists study the physical world, which they should see as God’s handiwork. However, because many highly intelligent people trust their intelligence above all else, they choose to ignore or explain away the very obvious creative design found in the natural world. Intellectuals really aren’t any different than anyone else. Athletes rely on their athleticism; the wealthy rely on their riches; those in power rely on their position. When a person has a lot going for them, it’s difficult to realize that they need anything other than themselves, and it’s easy to reject the truth.

One of the online responses to Denson’s article demonstrates another reason why many intellectuals reject God. Tianhe Yang commented:

I think the reason why people who seek higher ed, especially in scientific and theoretical fields, tend to be non-religious is simply because logic and the scientific method play such a vital part in how we think. Faith, in almost complete contrast, is, by definition, believing in something without all of the necessary evidence.

First of all, let’s get a common misconception of science out of the way. Science is not about “knowing stuff” – it’s a process of 1. constructing a hypothesis to explore, based on current knowledge, 2. testing that hypothesis and broadcasting the results to the greater community, so that other scientists can 3. try to disprove your results from as many angles as we can think of, until we aren’t able to disprove it, at which point it becomes added to the list of theories that form what we know about the world (which is constantly changing).

An important thing to note is that nothing can be absolutely known, because we don’t know the methods, nor do we have the resources, to test everything completely.

Every atheist I talk to about the Christian faith gives me the same reason for not believing: There is no evidence for the existence of God. The flaw in their thinking is that they believe the only way one can absolutely know anything is through the scientific method. They reject any other kind of evidence. Since God is not observable and testable, they argue, there is no evidence for God’s existence. However, there are many things that people know – or claim to know – that are not subject to the scientific method. For example, scientists know their senses are basically reliable, but there is no way to test this, because if their senses were not reliable, they could not reliably make the observations necessary to test whether their senses are reliable. They presuppose that the universe is real, and not imagined, but this cannot be tested. The scientific process itself cannot be tested and proved by the scientific process – there is no way to test the hypothesis that observing and testing a hypothesis produces truth.

There are many kinds of evidence other than scientific evidence, including historical evidence, testimonial evidence, metaphysical arguments, anecdotal evidence, logical arguments, and others. Most scientific intellectuals that I have talked to reject all of these, except the scientific process. The problem is not that there is no evidence; the problem is that there is no evidence that they will accept. Demanding physical evidence for the existence of God is a category error fallacy. A category error is “a type of informal fallacy where things that belong to one grouping are mistakenly placed in another,” or where “a property is ascribed to a thing that could not possibly have that property.” If someone says, “My gerbil is a Republican,” they are committing a category error – a gerbil cannot be a Republican. Only people can be Republicans. Gerbils do not belong to the category of things capable of being a Republican. The Biblical God is not a physical Being. He is not part of the natural universe. By definition, God is supernatural (super- “Above; over;” natural “Present in or produced by nature”). God is in a totally different category than the natural universe. When someone demands physical evidence for the existence of a non-physical Being, they are committing a category error fallacy. It would be like demanding DNA evidence for the existence of dark matter, or asking for a beaker full of intelligence.

EinsteinScientists are trained to use the scientific method to test theories. This is absolutely appropriate for gaining knowledge of the physical world. The category error fallacy is in trying to apply the scientific method to non-physical concepts. Because the scientific method plays such a crucial role in how many intellectuals think and work, it’s often difficult for them to think in any other terms.

Is the American church culture unfriendly to intellectual scrutiny? Unfortunately, for the most part, the answer is yes.

Most preachers and church teachers tell their congregations what to believe, but seldom go into any depth as to why any of it makes sense. Most Christians can tell you that Jesus was crucified and died, then rose again, and that if one asks Jesus into their heart, they will be saved; but most cannot adequately explain how they know this is true. They cannot explain fairly simple questions, such as why Jesus is the only way to salvation, or what it means to “ask Jesus into your heart,” much less more difficult questions about the supposed conflicts between science and the Bible, alleged Biblical contradictions, or why God allows pain and suffering.

1 Peter 3:15 says, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” The vast majority of American Christians can’t even coherently share the Gospel, much less taking the time to prepare themselves to be able to defend the Gospel or answer the difficult questions that intellectuals ask. Far too many Christians are intellectually lazy. As Denison puts it, “Christ’s call to have a childlike faith has been bastardized to a point that encourages blind acceptance of whatever we happen to have been told.” For intellectuals, blind acceptance is unacceptable. Scientists are rightly taught to think critically. If logical, valid reasons aren’t given for the truth of the Christian faith, most intellectuals will dismiss Christianity as nonsense. Unfortunately, very few Christians are prepared to give a reasoned, logical defense of the Gospel.

FaithReasonEvery person is born a sinner, separated from God. Every human being needs Jesus Christ to be saved from their sin, to have relationship with God restored, and to avoid Hell. While it may be easier for less intelligent people to admit their helplessness to save themselves, God loves scientists and intellectuals just as much. It is imperative that believers prepare themselves to always be ready to give a logical, reasoned defense to everyone who asks about the truth of Jesus Christ. While it is true that the Gospel must be received by faith, faith should not be “blind” faith devoid of any evidence or reason. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This does not mean faith and reason are mutually exclusive; rather, faith is absolutely consistent with evidence and reason, but extends beyond what we can see, test, and logically comprehend based on evidence and reason alone.

Christians are not called to a “blind” faith. We are called to diligently study and allow the Holy Spirit teach us to all truth. We are called to share the truth with all people, including intellectuals and scientists, in a way they can understand and embrace, so that they may know the Truth, and so the Truth might set them free.

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7 Responses

  1. Every Catholic priest is a university-trained intellectual.

    Science, in fact, was made possible by Christian intellectuals.

    Atheists are anti-intellectual since atheism itself cannot be proven through reason.

    Atheists, in fact, deny that atheism even needs an explanation.

    You can’t get more anti-intellectual and dogmatic than that.

    So the notion that Christianity has a brain shortage is a bigoted, atheist lie.

  2. I agree that Christians should own their faith and be ready to provide answers for what we believe in. However, not every Christian is as interested (or adept) in delving into the intricacies of evolution theory or other scientific studies. In your opinion, is that acceptable?

    • Brian,

      Great question!

      There are many things that God calls Christians to do that not every Christian is as interested (or adept) in doing. Many Christians either don’t want to or don’t know how to share the Gospel, yet Jesus commanded that we “…go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” Many Christians are not good at dealing with interpersonal conflicts, or don’t really care if others are angry with them, yet Jesus commands, “if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

      In 1 Peter 3:15, God commands us to “…always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…” He doesn’t say, “If you want to, …” or “If you’re gifted in this area, …”

      My concern is that too many Christians use, “I’m not good at this,” or, “I don’t want to,” as an excuse to be lazy and not obey God. Too many Christians don’t care about reaching the lost. Too many Christians don’t make the time to study God’s Word in depth, and to learn how to relate God’s Word to their 24/7 lives. Too many Christians can’t defend the Gospel, because they haven’t bothered to learn how to defend the Gospel. Too many Christians are lukewarm in their faith. I know; I was that way for far too many years.

      Not being interested is no excuse. Neither is not being gifted. Moses wasn’t interested in leading the people out of Egypt, nor was he adept at speaking, yet when he obeyed, God did miraculous things through him. My opinion is that my opinion doesn’t matter. God has told us that we are to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you.” Either we seek to be obedient to God in this area, or we are being disobedient to God. God doesn’t require our interest or adeptness; He only requires our that we trust and obey.

      Please don’t take this as my saying that I’ve got this perfectly myself. I spent years as a Christian ignoring God, and I still am learning to obey in many areas. What’s important is that I’m seeking to learn obedience to God in those areas of my life that He has been bringing to my attention, rather than making excuses and refusing to obey.

      Not everyone is going to be a gifted apologist. Yet, all Christians are called to always be ready to defend the Gospel.

      • Thanks for answering the question with a lot of insight. I do believe we should move towards obeying the command as best as we can. I’m just a bit unsure with “how far we can actually go”. Some people have spent their entire life’s work on a specific topic. It goes to show how much information and research is out there. But it also shows the value of community where more knowledgeable people can help when we don’t know enough. You’re right though, let’s not make it an excuse to be lazy. Thanks for the insights, Rich!

  3. I believe that our pastor has put it best! it’s time to stop thinking so much with our head and start feeling with our hearts again. The pastor and I have both have advanced degrees in our chosen fields. I believe in the scientific method but also believe in my heart that there has never been and never will be enough knowledge in the human mind or group of human minds to ever match God’s creation skills. Scholarly knowledge has become a tool of devil to blind intellectuals who should be humbly thanking God for the knowledge he has given them and use it for His good and not personal gain. Only then will we truly understand “purpose and meaning” in our lives. Christianity is not about man’s religious laws but about your personal relationship with Jesus – God’s Son.

    • Jammie,

      I feel it is dangerous to base our faith on “feeling with our hearts.” Jeremiah 17:9 puts it this way: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?” It’s also dangerous to base our faith on our own understanding. Rather, it’s critical that we base our faith on a straight-forward understanding of God’s Word, without letting our hearts or our minds get in the way. Both our hearts and our minds are sinful and limited. The Bible is the very Word of God. We cannot trust our hearts or our minds, but we can absolutely trust what God has said to us through the Scriptures.

      This doesn’t mean we are to ignore our hearts and minds. The goal is to allow God to change our hearts and minds to conform to His Word. When sharing the Gospel with non-Christians, it’s critical to help them understand that Jesus Christ came to heal the deceitfulness, emptiness, and brokenness of our hearts, and that the Gospel is intellectually rational and reasonable.

      Thanks for commenting!

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