Why Aren’t More Intellectuals Believers?

Studies have shown that atheists tend to be smarter than Christians. Why?

“God’s alright when he isn’t making bears eat children, you know?”

I didn’t. But this was just one of the arguments that would be lobbed at me by my new atheist friend, Tyler.

Tyler used to believe in God. Though I didn’t know him at the time, his theology degree and sleeve of artfully ambiguous Christian tattoos suggest he took the whole thing pretty seriously, so when we began discussing his recent de-conversion, I paid attention.

We considered the aforementioned story from 2 Kings. Elisha curses a group of boys for calling him “baldy,” so the Lord sends bears to maul a few dozen kids. After debating how feasibly the story could be implemented in a Rogaine commercial, I conceded that it seemed a bit harsh.

Is this intellectual approach to Christianity a faith killer?


We talked about how a loving God could allow the immense suffering in the world, discussed Balaam and his talking donkey, and crunched some numbers on the six-day creation.

As Christians, it’s easy to view this approach of picking apart Scripture and doctrine as cynical and unhelpful. For many of us, our experiences with God are enough to cultivate genuine belief. For others, the thought of accepting something as true without being certain of it’s intellectual credibility seems absurd.

But is this intellectual approach to Christianity a faith killer?

The University of Rochester recently published a review of decades of research demonstrating that “religious people are less intelligent than non-believers.” A summation of 63 studies on the subject, the Rochester report cannot be dismissed by the religious community. We must recognize as an objective fact that people with higher IQs are turning to atheism.

Atheist author Richard Dawkins points out that, according to a survey of the National Academy of Scientists, only 7 percent of American scientists believe in a personal God.

So why aren’t more of our best and brightest minds believers?

It’s a complex question, but I have two theories. First, there is an incredible bias against theism within higher education. In 2009, Dr. Brent Slife published a study of this “pervasive, implicit bias,” and demonstrated ways that the anti-God mentality is a systemic part of academia.

The result of this bias is that the most intelligent people (since they are likely to attend college and grad school) are exposed to tremendous negative pressure from both mentors and peers regarding their beliefs.

Secondly, I believe the present Church culture in America is unfriendly to intellectual scrutiny.

I have experienced firsthand the judgmental glares of church ladies who didn’t take kindly to me polluting their potluck fellowships with tough theological questions. Once the conversation gets messier than the Sloppy Joes, it’s time to wrap it up with the catch-all “His ways are higher than our ways,” or “If we knew everything we wouldn’t need God now, would we?”

This has to stop.

We must stop pretending that Christianity doesn’t make any claims beyond our personal experiences with God. The it’s-not-a-religion-it’s-a-relationship rhetoric sells short what Christianity is—a series of significant truth claims.

Yes, if accepted as true, these claims are simply the jumping off point for a profoundly intimate relationship with a powerful, loving creator. But when we discourage members of the body of Christ from challenging the status quo or even the fundamentals of our faith, we limit their own discovery of truth. By testing the claims of Christianity, we substantiate them in our own hearts.

If what we believe about God is true, no genuine discovery can ever contradict it. If we are to bolster the perception of Christianity in an increasingly secular world, we must welcome the skeptics, and we must be willing to answer their questions. We can be confident that the same God whom skeptics are trying to disprove designed the minds that seek to disprove him.

Still, the atheist seeking a dialogue is not the biggest issue here.

A fact we must face with American atheists (since their growth has been primarily in the last two decades) is that most of them were raised in Christian, or at least theist homes. Thus, these disproportionately intelligent people are rejecting Christianity based on their experience within the Christian community.

What attitude do we have toward other Christians who question the fundamentals of the faith? Typically, we tend to view them as less solid in their walk or unconnected to God. This mindset is incredibly damaging.

You Might Also Like

If our belief in God is rooted solely in the shallow soil of human emotions, this shallowness will be evident in the fruit that our faith produces.


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. So let’s examine the reality of this calling. I believe the faith of children carries with it two significant qualities. The first is that kids are remarkably uncynical. The skepticism that plagues our generation is a learned trait, one that desperately needs unlearning.

Secondly, they are annoyingly inquisitive. An inquisitive mind asks why the sky is blue. It asks why the grass is green. It asks why Arrested Development got cancelled but George Lopez still has a successful career. There are some things we will never know, and that should drive us crazy.

The Berean Jews were commended in Acts because they “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed.” How far we have come from church leadership that commends those who question their teachings!

As followers of Christ, we must not only make the Church a place that is open to the questions of others, we must ask tough questions ourselves. Our faith should be based on what we are certain of, not just on how we feel. If our belief in God is rooted solely in the shallow soil of human emotions, this shallowness will be evident in the fruit that our faith produces.

We are not called to blind faith. We are called to let the Spirit “guide us to all truth.” And when you know the truth, the truth will set you free.

Top Comments

Tim Edmonds

1

Tim Edmonds commented…

My journey has progressed from a child-like acceptance of the Bible as literal truth, to a re-adjustment of my interpretation of the Bible, which enables me to maintain a degree of intellectual honesty in my belief system. Human beings vary a great deal in intelligence, experiences, education and acquired knowledge, but, I believe, God is so much bigger and better than any of us, that He can reach any person, despite their experiences and intellect.

When I was a child I read the Bible like a story book and accepted it word for word. In my teenage years I was fortunate in that God revealed himself to me in a very powerful way, imprinting belief deep into my soul. Later in my early 20s God intervened in life threatening circumstances in a last minute, miraculous fashion. These events gave me confidence in the truth of a living God and the Christian message.

As I have become better educated I have modified the way I perceive the Bible. I trained as a biologist, and despite my desire to believe in the Genesis story, it became apparent to me that the evidence for life evolving from simple to complex forms via common descent is overwhelming. From a logical and mathematical perspective, I don’t believe that life could start and evolve without input from an intelligent creator, but, evolution by common descent is a cold, hard fact. As I scrutinized the Old Testament further, I observed that many of the stories included major logical errors, and some appear to be plainly impossible.

For example, how did Noah retrieve species from all corners of the globe, how did he keep animals with highly specific requirements alive when today’s modern zoologists still struggle, how did today’s endemic species disperse to their current restricted habitats without leaving any trace of their dispersal from the Middle East? My personal view is that the flood story recalls a real event from human history which was a regional flood rather than a global flood. There is evidence for a massive flood in the Mediterranean region at the end of the last ice age, and perhaps this is the event recorded in the biblical flood story, or perhaps not.

I now believe that the Old Testament, rather than being the literal word of God, is a collection of stories that have been handed down, generation to generation. How much these have been modified it is impossible to say. As in most examples of Middle Eastern storytelling, these biblical stories include some examples of wild exaggeration and fable. I do believe that God has directed His people to pass on these stories to us today for our inspiration. Within them we find examples of moral guidance and advice for living, we also find historical facts and real stories from historical persons, but along with these, are examples of hyperbole, excess and fantasy. Every human culture has fantastic creation stories to explain life and our existence, so why would the Jewish people be any different?

Jesus plainly believed the Old Testament stories to be true, and why wouldn’t he? He was raised in a culture that accepted scripture as total truth. He was taught this from a very young age, so, naturally, he would believe them to be accurate. He did not have the benefit of a 21st Century science education. If Jesus had been raised in today’s cultural environment, I very much doubt that he would have accepted all of the Old Testament as literal truth. Some may say that Jesus, being God in the flesh, would have had the benefit of total knowledge. My answer to this is that it is probably impossible to encapsulate total knowledge within a human brain, and, I believe, God intended Jesus to live as any person does, by naturally acquiring information by trial and error, and via education from within his community. I don’t think God would have given Jesus any unfair advantage over the rest of humanity. Jesus probably would not have had the benefit of unlearned knowledge, unless as part of a specific directive from God for a specific purpose. Although Jesus says in the New Testament that all scripture is God’s literal truth, I believe this to be an artifact of his cultural education within the Jewish community of his time, rather than a proof that all scripture is God’s literal truth.

Does this take anything away from the Christian message? Not in my opinion. God is still very real; the Christian message is still true. I have been very fortunate in that God has shown Himself to be very real to me by intervening in my life at various critical moments. If I had not had the benefits of these ‘proofs’ I probably would have discarded the entire Bible as fable. I know from personal experience that God can do the miraculous, so I don’t have a problem believing in Old or New Testament miracles, but I can't differentiate between genuine Old Testament miracles and Old Testament fables. Which is which, I do not know.

It is easier to accept the Bible as God’s word if you do not have the benefit of a scientific education, but it is also possible to retain faith in Christ and be intellectually honest. At the end of the day, it comes down to choice; atheists choose to close their minds to the existence of God because they want to; theists choose to open their minds to God because they want to. The level of education you have and your intellectual capacities are not critical to you following or rejecting faith in Christ, although they may determine how well you relate to the wider Christian community.

Jerome Haltom

22

Jerome Haltom replied to Michaela Diamond's comment

Theories do not become laws in science. They are different things, meant to characterize something in a different way.

But yes, uncertainty is the hallmark of science. Scientists are pretty much aware of this.

I think you're really misscharacterizing why scientists tend to lean towards atheism here, and that's misunderstanding is shown by your last sentence. Science does not take faith. Nor does science "create" things. Science is a process that humans do.

You see, we are aware that science does not deliver certain knowledge. But here's the part I think you're missing, and it's the really important part:

We also do not need to have certain beliefs.

You see, if science cannot deliver certain knowledge, then any certain belief is unjustified. That's why it doesn't take faith to be an atheist: you simply need to attune the degree of belief to the degree of evidence. At which point you have a belief which exactly matches that warranted by the evidence. No faith required.

If the evidence says that something is 95% likely: then you should be 95% confident in it. If the evidence says it is 60% likely, then you should be 60% confident in it.

Faith differs from that. Faith is believing in something out of tune to the evidence. If there is no evidence for or against something: then the degree of belief should be 50%. An exact "I do not know" position.

And being in an "I do not know" position regarding God is enough to make you an atheist.

219 Comments

Stephanie

38

Stephanie commented…

I think that the all-too-popular idea that intellect and faith are mutually exclusive is a bit weak.

I have been on both sides of the coin...raised in a bible belt Christian upbringing, spent college escaping my negative church experiences by clinging to the intellectual side of myself. I asked the hard questions in philosophy classes, and I questioned everything. As an adult, I realize that there were still deep questions that even the most scientific or philosophical answers never satisfied. All in all, my search for intellect brought me back to God.

I get it, though. I honestly (this is going to sound mean or condescending, but I don't mean it that way) don't think the average mind can handle the reality of reconciling both truly deep philosophical/scientific thought and the true depth of Christian beliefs. Unfortunately, I happen to have learned my IQ at a young age, so I know I'm in the top few %, and I find it hard to reconcile the complexity of science/religion. So, how can I expect all others to do what, at my best as an intellectual, I struggled to do?

eupheau

3

eupheau commented…

i passed this article on to a friend because i thought it was kind of funny. he said something like "yeah . "there is an incredible bias against theism within higher education." just like there's an intellectual bias against santa claus and the tooth fairy. i'm not trying to be mean. if you have faith because of some magical, supernatural personal experience, then good for you. if you try to bring logic into it, then it's a losing battle intellectually. BTW congrats to stephanie on her superior IQ. how's that working out for you? :)

Erik Blosser

12

Erik Blosser replied to eupheau's comment

Hello eupheau. I also am an atheist and it was a hard won battle to think clearly about things which I unthinkingly believed since childhood. But I have to say, it was comments like yours that made the process a lot longer and more difficult than it could have been. Atheist comments which belittle their opponents without really explaining any reasons are just a turn-off for believers (at least they certainly were for me). When I was a believer, I just interpreted it as tactic which someone would use if they didn't have any legitimate points that they could make. So that's the interpretation you are risking. Maybe that's not the effect you were going for, but words like "magical" and "tooth fairy" only make people angry unless you explain a point behind them.

Mark Wade

7

Mark Wade replied to Erik Blosser's comment

Thank you Erik.
Zeal towards one's belief is admirable. A condescending answer leaning more towards hatred helps nothing

eupheau

3

eupheau replied to Mark Wade's comment

so sorry, i really didn't mean to be condescending. i can see why it can be read that way. i didn't mean to belittle anyone. my use of "tooth fairy" was just to point out that when you exclude rationality from your discussion, the place where one draws the line becomes arbitrary. i don't know what "zeal towards one's belief is admirable" means in this context. if your belief is irrational, is that still admirable? also, i'm not sure why erik seemed to assume i was an atheist? curious.

Erik Blosser

12

Erik Blosser replied to eupheau's comment

Whoops....too much assumed by me! Also, rereading my comment, it also sounds a bit harsher than I intended.....I guess thats a danger of these types of forums. In answer to your question, I saw some of the ideas (like tooth fairy and santa claus) which I came across as arguments against God in the atheist literature. So I assumed a bit much....but I see now how you comment could be taken differently (it seems many people believe for non-logic based reasons). I guess all I was trying to say is that, while I agree with the arguments behind some of those words, they also seem to be designed to have an anger-inducing effect on believers and don't serve much purpose at all if the idea behind them is not explained. I just know from my experience that when I read someone like Dawkins on religion (I like him very much on evolution), while I agree with most of his points....I would never suggest his book to a believer because his word choice and tone can sound so mocking (whether he realizes the extent or not). So anyway....sorry for the overreaction, it just hit nerve.

eupheau

3

eupheau replied to Erik Blosser's comment

yes, what i meant to point out was that if someone claims to have had a private, supernatural experience they are stepping beyond logic and reason and it's really not worth discussing. the paul on the Emmaus road idea. it's entirely subjective and therefore outside of debate. it's when believers start trying to use reason to justify faith that things become malodorous.

John

1

John commented…

Love the point you made about children being naturally inquisitive. I remember being interviewed for an internship position at my church long ago and I mentioned that faith without questioning isn't faith; it's gullibility. They countered with the childlike faith thing. I immediately told them that of the eight consecutive summers I'd been a counselor at church camp, I'd never met a kid who didn't ask questions and hoped I never would. Ironically, however, it was my own questions that led to a years-long process of my own deconversion. I liked your article. More people should read it.

Melissa

24

Melissa commented…

Is it just me/my computer, or is the formatting/software of the comments section really messed up? I'm enjoying and learning from people's discussions and comments, but there's no organization--comments aren't numbered, the replies don't line up in order, and things seem to get eaten or disappear. It really hampers the ability to have any meaningful conversation.

Bethel Place Int'l

26

Bethel Place Int'l replied to Melissa's comment

We're new on here ourselves, and I was actually wondering if there was any type of notification system, I can't find any kind of account management. Many of our posts do not appear in any sort of comment section...there are just three visible, so if you don't remember the articles title you have no way of conversing with anyone if they reply...it's just luck :0) if you stumble across a replying comment, I guess.
A couple addition features like 'following' ability and 'like' tabs seem easy to add, but maybe Relevant is not concerned with being relevant in that manner...or maybe it a cost factor.
I have posted many posts and my number is still at 11 or 12 and conversations I have been in just disappear as you stated. I have also seen that....they were in the framework of the article and appropriate ...nothing offensive...so yeah, I get your post...I'm definitely with you on this one...:)

Jim van Ommen

11

Jim van Ommen replied to Bethel Place Int'l's comment

I think that intellectuals or any other person for that matter do not become believers by his or her intelligence, but by responding to God’s love, reading His word and become His followers.
As followers only, are we exposed to the ultimate wisdom of God which is not terminal like ours and which is not Earth bound.
The dictionary meaning of the word intellect includes the ability of the mind to come to correct conclusions about what is true or real. I think at this point is the parting of the ways; letting pride come between us and God is probably one of the main reasons why not more intellectuals are believers. The pride that tells them they have the capacity to know and understand all there is to be known, what is true or real, that there is no purpose in life and that we have no need of the Creator and Sustainer of this universe if there is one. That limits the intellectuals understanding of our being to the body and the mind and denies our spirituality.
Some intellectuals may well have done what the Bible suggests and that is to first of all count the cost of following Christ, and so far have not plucked up the courage to make that commitment.
If intelligence or wisdom is so important to us lets heed the words of the man who not only asked God for wisdom, but who was also granted great wisdom, King Solomon:
Proverbs 3: 5-7
5. Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6. in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.[a]
7. Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil.

Bethel Place Int'l

26

Bethel Place Int'l replied to Jim van Ommen's comment

Jim...the initial stage to be considered is the Love of God. His love can not be revealed by intellectual discernment, it is a spiritual revelation.
We come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ....and the truth that God so loved the world that He gave us the Prince of peace...we have peace that the world can not have...it is peace that passes all understanding.
We can seek wisdom , we can ask..yet there will be things we will never know fully....1 Cor.13:12 "For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

Bethel Place Int'l

26

Bethel Place Int'l replied to Bethel Place Int'l's comment

Interesting timing...the school our children attend for gifted students, are having all the students and staff watch and develop the principles that are presented in this video...Excellent!
The Power of Belief - Mindset and Success:
http://youtu.be/pN34FNbOKXc

Erik Blosser

12

Erik Blosser replied to Bethel Place Int'l's comment

This comment is meant for Melissa and Bethel Place about disappearing posts.....I cant tell who I'm actually responding to.

I've found that if there is an initial comment with lots of replies, some of the replies appear to go missing. However, it seems you can get them back if you click on the "Comment" word in a reply header, for instance, "Melissa"'s "Comment". Unfortunately, I had trouble viewing all the comments at once in some sections that had lots of comments...so its kind of frustrating.

Adam John Stout

1

Adam John Stout commented…

I've always assumed that the average IQ of atheists is higher than that of Christians (or highly religious people).In the same way, it doesn't surprise me that rich people are less religious than poor people and men are less religious than women.

I don't think Jesus was surprised either.He basically said as much.He comes for those who know they are sick.Typically, the academically challenged, the poor, and the weaker sex (at least as the world has viewed women) will be the first to recognize their helplessness in a violent, sin-sick world.They are the ones who more often sense a need to appeal to a higher power.

Jesus' main opponents were the rich, (very intelligent) religious leaders, and self-sufficient people whose spiritual antennae were down.
Rich and poor, academics and minimum-wagers are welcome to come to Jesus for healing, yet Jesus himself said (in Luke 4):
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."

I am happy to consider myself poor, dependent and unintelligent when it comes to understanding how the Spirit of God moves.But I cannot fully explain it.

Mark Wade

7

Mark Wade replied to Adam John Stout's comment

Good for you brother!
But let's not allow "intellect" to be defined by mere men.
"the faculty of reasoning and understanding objectively"
Regardless of where one stands before God...the definition applies...for dishwashers and rocket scientists.

Please log in or register to comment

Log In