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Regis Nicoll Christian Blog and Commentary

Regis Nicoll

Regis Nicoll's weblog

From Why There Is a God and Why It Matters by Regis Nicoll:

The problem of our time, to riff off of G.K. Chesterton, is that “The truth hasn’t been tried and found wanting, it’s been unheard and left untried.” Witness the new wave of atheism that has been sweeping over the cultural landscape over the past couple of decades. At the vanguard are Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens whose anti-God books have become popular best-sellers. In the preface to his book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins made no bones about his goal: “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.” In similar vein, my hope for this book is that unbelievers who open it will be believers when they put it down, and believers who open it will be more confident in their beliefs and better equipped to give voice to the truth. While Dawkins and his ilk take pride in claiming that their beliefs are based on reason and facts, not faith and just-so stories, beneath the patina of intellectualism is a blinkered commitment to (that is, faith in) their own just-so stories. Thus, breaking the spell of unbelief starts with dismantling intellectual barriers that have been erected to block out the light of truth. To equip the reader to do just that, this book, written for expert and layman alike, addresses truth from the ground up: from nature of knowledge and the knowledge of nature; to the competing narratives of naturalism and theism in explaining the origin of the universe, life, morality, and the metaphysical questions of meaning, purpose, and significance, and the role faith plays in all explanatory accounts and how God -- in particular, the Christian God -- is the “explanation” that best fits the facts, notwithstanding the age-old problems of evil, suffering, and injustice. Read more here.

From my book "Why There Is a God and Why It Matters" from Amazon, now available in paperback and eBook

A Matter of Intelligence

Are religious believers intellectually challenged? According to a raft of studies popular in free-thinking circles, yes.

After compiling dozens of surveys conducted over a 50-year time span, researcher Burnham P. Beckwith concluded in 1986, “Among American students and adults, the amount of religious faith tends to vary inversely and appreciably with intelligence.” According to a 2008 Gallup survey 73 percent of college-educated individuals profess belief in God, compared to 88 percent of those with no college.

Among scientists, religious belief is much lower. In 2009, Pew Research reported that 41 percent of scientists believe in God. Other studies found that belief in God was held by 7 percent of National Academy of Science members and only 3.3 percent of UK Royal Society fellows.

What this means to religious skeptics, like Richard Lynn, is that really smart people (like him) don’t believe in God. Lynn, a professor of psychology, believes it is “simply a matter of IQ” – the higher the IQ, the greater immunity to religious belief. That puts the burden upon bright folk to “break the spell” of religion by lighting a candle in the “demon-haunted world” of superstition.

A while back, a friend asked me, “Can a person who flunks the test to the most basic question in life, ‘is there a God?’, be considered intelligent?” It’s good question, because what we “know” about our world, human nature, life’s purpose, moral ethics and just about everything else hangs on what we believe about their origin.

But what is “intelligence?” Surprisingly, there is no unanimous agreement on what it is, except, as someone once quipped, “intelligence is whatever intelligence tests measure.”

From a survey of standard dictionary definitions, intelligence is associated with the ability to learn and use knowledge. The American Psychological Association calls it, “[The] ability to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning, to overcome obstacles by taking thought.” But perhaps the most comprehensive definition is found in “Mainstream Science on Intelligence,” endorsed by 52 researchers:

“Intelligence is a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Ratherit reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—‘catching on’, ‘making sense’ of things, or ‘figuring out’ what to do.”

Defined that way, intelligence is inextricably connected with worldview: the mental model we use to understand the world and our place it. Problem solving and affecting our environment depend on the rational ability of our mind to make “sense of things,” but they also depend on the non-rational capability of our heart to apply the “sense” our mind has “made.”

Consequently, a person who orders his life according to a worldview that aligns with the way the world really works, could be said to possess true intelligence, while a person who orders his life after an incongruent worldview, could be said to demonstrate artificial intelligence.

In a lengthy discussion I had with a self-proclaimed atheist, I was informed that, unlike the “God hypothesis,” naturalism is free of untestable, unfalsifiable placeholders. To which, I politely pointed out that naturalism brims with placeholders, whimsical theories sustained by nothing other than the will to believe.

I went on to explain that these theories grew out of the unsettling recognition that we inhabit a Goldilocks planet, one in which life teeters on the edge of non-existence.  Scrambling to account for these “just right” conditions, desperate theorists trotted out the multiverse, an infinite manifold of universes that guarantees the existence of our hospitable home, and every conceivable (and inconceivable) one as well.  But that’s not the half of it.

The very existence of the multiverse depends on the quantum field – a gossamer fabric of reality comprised of neither matter nor energy, but "potentiality."

In this wraithlike realm virtual particles continuously pop in and out of existence in such a way that the universal laws of conservation are not violated -- except, that is, in a singular event that occurred over 14 billion years ago. By a process called inflation, one of those "particles" defied the sacrosanct laws of physics by materializing, then exploding at such an expansive rate that it gave birth to all the matter and energy that would become our fledgling universe.

 

Even the baloney-detectors of laymen should peg out when leading researchers like Alan Guth present this narrative beaming, "It is said there is no such thing as a free lunch. But the universe is the ultimate free lunch." Sad to say, such cognitive dissonance among authorities is far from the exception.

Indeed, when other gap-fillers like emergencememes and macro-evolution are added to account for biological life, thought, and the encyclopedic information in the genome, the narrative of naturalism reads more like a Brothers Grimm tale than Newton’s “Principia Mathematica.”

My interlocutor responded, “Regis, but the speculative theories about the multiverse are there for a reason… We can either try to work out what's going on by proposing bold new ideas about the construction of the entire universe... Or we can say: "God did it." I mean, what is the alternative?”

Precisely, what is the alternative?

A whiff of jitteriness oozed from his question -- for the inescapable answer is “There is no alternative.” Either the universe is the thoughtful creation of an intelligent Designer, or the fluke product of some pre-cosmic, unintelligent essence. If we reject the Designer because he is unyielding to our empirical methods, we are left with a scenario that depends on a host of things that are, likewise, unyielding -- not to mention the task of explaining the existence of art, music, literature, poetry and language as creations of our neuron impulses.

Discussing his re-conversion after a 20-year sojourn in atheism, English writer A.N. Wilson confesses “I was drawn, over and over again, to the disconcerting recognition that so very many of the people I had most admired and loved, either in life or in books, had been believers.” What’s more, the complexities of our humanness forced him to reassess, on an intellectual basis, the materialistic dogma that love, music, and language are artifacts of unguided, unintelligent evolutionary processes.

Wilson recounts a conversation with a fellow materialist that underscored the uncritical, unexamined tenets of the “faith.”

After chatting about their common difficulty in remembering people’s names, Wilson’s friend offered “It is because when we were simply anthropoid apes, there was no need to distinguish between one another by giving names.” Wilson writes “This credal confession struck me as just as superstitious as believing in the historicity of Noah’s Ark. More so, really.”

Turning back from the sirens of atheism, Wilson returned to the faith he had left decades ago, with the conviction “that we are spiritual beings, and that the religion of the incarnation, asserting that God made humanity in His image, and continually restores humanity in His image, is simply true. As a working blueprint for life, as a template against which to measure experience, it fits.”

After years in the wasteland, A. N. Wilson rediscovered the one worldview that lines up with the way things really are. In his words, "it fits!" It is an intelligent discovery that begins with considering the true nature of things.


 

Preface to "Why There Is a God and Why It Matters," available at Amazon here.

There was a time when it was nigh impossible not to believe in God. It wasn’t because of man’s irrational fears and superstitions, as atheist critics like to spin it, but because of nature’s rational design.

For most of human history, the intelligibility of nature pointed to an inescapable fact: an eternal, uncreated source (the uncaused Cause, Yahweh, Logos, Nature’s God) brought the universe into being with a rational structure that made knowledge possible.

By the 18th century that fact led to a methodological system of inquiry that liberated knowledge from the limits of natural philosophy and the errors of alchemy and astrology. Ironically, it also opened the way for disbelief in the thing that made true knowledge possible.

It wasn’t long before the sweeping successes of the Scientific Revolution produced a shift in conviction from nature’s God to man’s mastery over nature. And with that, a certain script emerged: God is unnecessary, man is his own savior, and the unlimited powers of science and human reason will place civilization on the inevitable march to progress.

Over the last century, the story line, while having limited success over everyday folks (the vast majority of people today still hold religious beliefs), has exerted considerable influence over cultural-shaping institutions: the scientific establishment, the mainstream media, the arts and entertainment industry, education, and the courts and legal system.

The result has been an erosion of societal support for religion, making religious belief harder to maintain. Since 1960, the number of people who poll “no belief in God” has risen over fivefold from 2 to 11 percent, and those with no religious affiliation have increased eightfold from 2 to 16 percent[i]

At the same time, Judeo-Christian norms have been eclipsed by a secular moral census; religious liberty has become ever more tenuous; and the social pathologies of divorce, out-of-wedlock births, non-marital sex, co-habitation, single parent homes, abortion, and sexually transmitted diseases have burgeoned.

How we view these developments and the world in general, ultimately hinges on our views about God: his existence, his character, and our relationship to him.

While most Christians know what they believe about these things, too few would be able to summon up anything more than a self-referential, “bible-says-so” if challenged. They may believe with all their heart that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose from the dead 2000 years ago, but when pressed by a naysayer they withdraw or go silent because they have never examined the reliability of the historical record, nor considered how they would articulate a winsome response to someone who deems the bible a work of man rather than the word of God.

In the preface to his book, The God Delusion, atheist popularizer Richard Dawkins makes no bones about his goal: “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”

In similar vein, my goals for this book are that 1) unbelievers who open it will be believers when they put it down, and 2) believers who open it will be more confident in their beliefs and in their ability to give them voice.

Get "Why There Is a God and Why It Matters," here.

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