Monday, 11 July 2011

Intelligence as a barrier to understanding Christian Truth


Intelligence - the abstracting, systematizing ability and preference - is a barrier to understanding Christianity (to understanding The Truth).

Intelligence is also a disposition to heresy and apostasy.

As an elite of intellectuals have become leaders of The West - so they have imposed abstract modes of thinking on society, and made simple apprehension of Christian Truth less and less possible.

(And made it low in status; such that those who achieve real understanding are seen as simplistic, ignorant and child-ish rather than admirably child-like.)


I believe that abstracting, systematizing intelligence is useful in many situations, especially in gaining power over other people and over nature (which may be used as a force for Good, or Evil); but intelligence is a barrier to understanding Christian Truth.


Intelligence plus pride in that intelligence often proves to be an insuperable barrier to understanding Christian truth - perhaps it is the hardest barrier of all to overcome.

Modern Western society (ruled by intellectual elites) is precisely characterized by these attributes: intelligence (ie. abstract systematic understanding) plus invincible pride in this intelligence.

Since these elites fill the minds of most of the populace most of the time via public administration, educational institutions, and the mass media; and since the social institutions (law, health services, the military etc) are structured internally and in their communications by abstract systems - then it is unsurprising that The West is the least religious society ever to exist.


Used as a ruling principle, intelligence is a psychological illness and a social pathology: evidence for which is the loss of basic biological imperatives such as reproduction and self-defence.

Intelligence ought to be a tool, not a ruling principle.



The Crow said...

Intelligence is a tool, useful for problem-solving, as opposed to problem-creating. It is not meant to be used for everything, all the time.
True intelligence involves being able to subordinate the intellect to intuitiveness. It has an off-switch!
In such an intellect-free state, the Divine becomes clearly apparent, whereas the engaged intellect is completely unable to detect it.

The Continental Op said...

I've noticed that really intelligent people expect--no, demand--that they have understanding on all things they are interested in. They need rational explanation for everything, or it's just foolishness to them, they cannot accept mystery or that something is simply inscrutable to them.

I was thinking about Job and God's challenge to Job in Job 38-41. I believe that God's reply to Job's demands is, in a nutshell, "If you were God, I could explain it to you. But you're not." And that's it.

I've seen intelligent young people struggle with the origin of evil, as though it were something within our ken. I don't think it is, and God's challenge to Job applies, but many intelligent people are put off by this. By golly, God ought to explain it! That he doesn't is a cause for a grievance against God; no mysteries allowed! If I can't understand it, it doesn't matter!

I have a suspicion that this attitude has something to do with the origin of evil.

Alex said...

Belief in the existence of God - the God that Christians worship - is possible on the basis of entirely rational arguments.

But to understand and evaluate a rational argument presupposes some higher order mental ability that might be called 'intelligence'. Rational arguments appeal to the intellect and may be followed without recourse to intuition.

On the other hand, perhaps some Christian truths can be perceived by intuition. Others remain an impenetrable mystery - like the doctrine of the Trinity. However, to claim that intelligence is a barrier to the understanding of Christian Truth is either a paradox or an unreasonable proposition.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Alex - well, there is a lot of empirical evidence of an inverse relationship between IQ and religiousness - both within countries and between countries (I have confirmed this for myself in some small unpublished surveys).

Indeed, if you take into account the devoutness of religiousness, and the orthodoxy of religion - the only religion with average IQ above the average that is also devout and orthodox is Mormonism - plus maybe Orthodox Jews, but I am not sure about that, and secular Jews have higher average intelligence than Orthodox Jews.

Of course I agree that high intelligence it is not an absolute barrier to Christian Truth (I mean under modern conditions, obviously), but I feel sure it is a very significant barrier.

Bonald said...

My suspicion is that intelligence makes it more likely that one will conform to the ruling ideology, whatever that is. If nothing else, it means you'll get a bigger dose of it at the university and from regular reading. And you'll be more consistent in your application of the ruling idealogy: not a half-assed liberal like the mainstream "conservatives", but a pure liberal, casting off the "unprincipled exceptions" that give a measure of sanity to the less intellectually scrupulous.

PatrickH said...

James Chastek at the very intelligent(!) blog Just Thomism had a post recently where he talked about how Saint Thomas said that faith is more certain than science, but that faith begins with a movement of the will based on the sense of some good involved, specifically NOT on the basis of evidence sufficient to convince the intellect. This from Thomas Aquinas, surely one of the most intelligent Christians who has ever lived. Yes, intelligence is a barrier to faith, because faith cannot even get under way without an assent of the will necessarily made without sufficient evidence. Intelligence aborts the process of conversion before it can even begin. Intelligence does have a place...and that place is later.

Brett Stevens said...

Is the problem intelligence, or that the person using the intelligence is not using it toward an end of answers, but to make themselves look grand?

The most intelligent people I know transcended their intelligence. These are separate from "partial intelligences" who are people who are really good at one particular thing, but not particularly good as critical, analytical or transcendental thinkers.

Kristor said...

But aren’t there too many brilliant counterexamples to the proposition that intelligence simpliciter is a barrier to faith? It would seem to me that the real barrier to faith is pride, in strength of any sort. I would bet, for example, that there is an inverse relation between physical health or comeliness and faithfulness, just like the relation between IQ and faithfulness. Any sort of personal strength is a temptation to pride, and thus to a willful misprision of reality such as Paul spoke of in Romans. My sensei used to tell me, “you’ve learned just enough aikido to be a danger to yourself; your cockiness will get you into trouble.” It’s the besetting sin of the sophomore. The sophistical, intelligent sophomore has realized that despite what he used to think when he was uneducated, and despite what his parents and pastor told him, there is really no mountain over there. The sage realizes that the mountain is not only over there, but is far more real and concrete than he had ever suspected when he was a child – that, indeed, the mountain is the ens realissimum.

Gave Ruth said...

I'm not sure why we are talking about intelligence as a problem. Every issue raised has had it's root in pride.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GR and @Kristor -

My feeling is that it is the novel qualities of an intellectual meritocracy - the social system - which has led to the particular kind of unbelief experienced nowadays.

So this is not really about the isolated intellectual as a person - if the person ever *could* be isolated from the social environment.

No doubt, if an intellegent individual were put into a corner and 'forced' to confront the questions they might change their mind - not so much to be converted, which must be a choice, but at least to recognize the incoherence of mainstream atheism. However, the same applies to political correctness - obviously it could be refuted, but modern society never provides - indeed prevents - the kind of situations where refutation might occur.

So, while I of course agree that pride is at the *root* of it - not intelligence - there is a special and new problem about being ruled by an intellectual elite who have the vast apparatus of the mass media, educational system and civil administration under their sway - they fill life with their mode of thinking, displacing all others. The intellectual elites inhabit and engage with this discourse 24/7.

A further factor is that modern intellectuals are micro-specialists - and as such they make no attempt to develop an understanding that is coherent overall - merely their own little segment. In practice, this means that errors become irrefutable, since the only admissable evidence is from incommensurable micro-specialized discourses.

Gabe Ruth said...

Come off it, man! Are you trying to tell me that intelligence is a liability not only in perceiving truth, but in seeing official lies for what they are? The meritocracy encourages people in the belief that they are the elite, the modern gods, creating pride in the "accomplishments" that earlier generations would scoff at. The treatment of intelligence as a virtue is a symptom of pride. All the angels were given great power, but Lucifer was proud. He thought he could do it better.

You can make an argument that intelligence makes you more susceptible to pride, but I think that's a rather hopeless attitude. I'd say being able to walk makes one more susceptible to sin also. Sort of Manichean if you ask me.

The inability of the modern to feel shame at playing the flute so well is a problem, but not an indictment of intelligence any more than of musical or other ability.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GR - "Are you trying to tell me that intelligence is a liability not only in perceiving truth, but in seeing official lies for what they are? "

Yes, that's it. Seems very obvious to me. It this not your experience?

Gabe Ruth said...

Maybe you are thinking exclusively of the elite. I am thinking of normal people (for which I may be excused, as they make up the majority).

Here I think the problem is associating credentials as a direct consequence of intelligence, and the lack of them as a lack of intelligence. The most intelligent person I have ever met (pretty subjective, I'll admit) was a machinist I worked with. As absent minded as they come, but a complete autodidact. So good-natured that I am certain the dirty subject of politics never troubled his mind. He was an observant Jew. This man's intelligence was put to the proper uses because of native humility. I have no idea if he ever reflected critically on his beliefs, but I can't imagine that he labored under the assumption that anything he learned about the physical world had any bearing on supernatural reality. It is the belief in the completeness of this world that is the problem, the belief that we know it all, or are in the process of finding it all out. In a word, pride. And even if you succumb to the pride of the moderns and think you know it all, does it take more or less intelligence to see that you in fact do not? Flattery is a terrible thing, but do you think you are being more or less intellectually rigorous since your conversion?

Luke Lea said...

Comments are closed? What's the deal? thanks