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Regis Nicoll Christian Blog and Commentary

A Matter of Intelligence

  • Regis Nicoll
    Regis Nicoll is a Centurion of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He spent 30 years as a nuclear specialist, and is now a freelance writer who writes on current issues from a Christian perspective. His work regularly appears on BreakPoint online and SALVO magazine among other places. Regis also teaches and speaks on a variety of worldview topics, covering everything from Sharing the Gospel in a Postmodern Generation to String Theory. He currently serves as lay pastor of Hamilton Anglican Fellowship (www.hamiltonaf.org) in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
  • 2009 Jul 18
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The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Psalm 111:10)

Are religious believers intellectually challenged? You betcha, according to a raft of much-cited studies in free-thinking circles.

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.” More recently, a 2008 Gallup survey found that 73 percent of college-educated individuals profess belief in God as compared to 88 percent of those with no college.

Among scientists religious belief is much lower. A 1999 issue of Scientific American reported that 40 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 the religious skeptic is that really smart people (like him) don’t believe in God.

As professor of psychology Richard Lynn sees it, belief in God “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. One group rising to the challenge is (who else?) the “Brights” (an epithet that betrays an arguably heightened self image).

Brights are individuals who embrace naturalism with the aim of “undertak[ing] social and civic actions designed to influence a society otherwise permeated with supernaturalism.” One of their supernovae is Richard Dawkins. In the preface to his bestseller, The God Delusion, 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.”

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

A while back, a friend posed the question: “Can a person who flunks the test to the most basic question in life (Is there a God?) be considered intelligent?” I thought it a very 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 source.

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,” a 1994 piece published in the Wall Street Journal and 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. Rather, it 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 exhibit true intelligence, while a person who orders his life after an incongruent worldview could be said to exhibit artificial intelligence.

THE GREATEST MYSTERIES

Recently, Live Science published the 10 greatest unsolved mysteries in science. Unremarkably, half had to do with the question of origins. I say “unremarkably” because questions about how things like the universe, life, and consciousness came to be are beyond the reach of a discipline that admits only naturalistic explanations.

For example, one of the mysteries is “what drives evolution?” Given the staggering complexity of the biological world, evolutionary scientist Massimo Pigliucci wonders “whether natural selection is the only process” involved “or whether there are other properties of matter that also come into play, “ adding, “I suspect the latter will turn out to be true.” The proposition that life is the purposeful product of intelligence is not entertained. Until it is, scientists will be forced to cover their ignorance with theories that would make H.G. Wells wince.

In a lengthy exchange I had with one of the Brights some time ago, I was informed that, unlike the “God hypothesis,” naturalism is free of untestable, unfalsifiable placeholders. To which I politely pointed out that his worldview brims with placeholders—whimsical theories sustained by nothing other than the will to believe, linked together with all the tensile strength of an angel’s halo.

I explained that the most advanced 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—even one in which God (gasp!) exists. 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 12 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.

A tip-off to the non-specialist is 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 emergence, memes 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.

THE INESCAPABLE ANSWER

My bright friend 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 hopeless task of explaining the existence of art, music, literature, poetry and language.

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 has rediscovered the one worldview that lines up with the way things really are. In his words, “It fits!” And that is an intelligent discovery.

“I think only an idiot can be an atheist. We must admit that there exists an incomprehensible power or force with limitless foresight and knowledge that started the whole universe going in the first place.” (C.B. Anfinsen, 1972 Nobel Prize for Chemistry)