“I am the most ignorant of men; I do not have a man’s understanding. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.”—Agur, son of Jakeh ( Prov. 30:2–3)
News travels fast. Within hours of its publication on American Vision, my critique of the “Brights” caught the attention of the movement’s founders. Brights, if you didn’t know, are people who espouse a naturalistic worldview devoid of any supernatural influence, while claiming this does not make them atheists.
In an e-mail to American Vision president, Gary DeMar, Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell asked to run a rebuttal to “Putting on a ‘Bright’ Face.” In particular, they wanted to correct the “urban legend” reflected in my statement, “[T]he very term, ‘Bright’…suggests that those who hold a different view, like theism, are something less than bright: Maybe, dull?” To the contrary, say Geisert and Futrell, their organization has no intent on demeaning the religious beliefs of others.
Pardon me, but that’s a little hard to swallow. Unlike other worldviews whose labels only suggest their source, the “Brights” suggests their quality.
Take Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity or atheism, for example. Logically speaking—knowing nothing about them but their name—all one can say about non-believers is that they are not Buddhists, not Hinduists, not Christians or not atheists. Following the same line of logic, someone who doesn’t align with the Brights must be “not bright.” It’ll take more than inventive rebuttals and well-crafted rhetoric to pull Geisert and Futrell out of their syllogistic quicksand.
At any rate, Mr. DeMar agreed to run their response, provided it came from Daniel Dennett or Richard Dawkins—two of the Brights’ most prominent mouthpieces. The co-founders declined—no surprise—saying that their luminaries were “too busy to respond to errors in articles and essays.”
Too busy? If my article misrepresented their organization, how best to correct it than by a statement from one of their most recognizable figures? They know better: their media darlings are strident atheists who make no bones about their opinions of those who don’t share their naturalistic views. As Dawkins bluntly put it, “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).”
The Brights may have given atheism a new, welcoming face, but underneath the brimming smile is a clenched jaw and grinding teeth. Thanks to Gary DeMar and American Vision, the Brights are discovering that few are being charmed by the “emperor’s new clothes.” May God be praised!
After I shared this experience with some colleagues, one mused, “Can a person who flunks the test to the most basic question in life (“is there a God?”) be considered smart?” I’d say that’s a good question.
It all depends on what we mean by “smart.”
When we talk about being “smart,” what we’re referring to is “intelligence.” Unfortunately, there is no unanimous agreement on what intelligence is. As someone once quipped, intelligence is whatever intelligence tests measure.
According to standard dictionary definitions, intelligence is associated with the ability to learn and use knowledge to affect one’s environment. 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 in 1994:
“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.”
If so, intelligence is inextricably connected with our worldview: the mental model we use to understand the world and our place it—or, as stated above, for “making sense of things.” While this depends on rational aptitude, it also depends on our capacity (and willingness) to accept and apply what reason tells us.
Accordingly, individuals who operate from a worldview congruent with the way the world works exhibit “high” intelligence, as compared to those who embrace other worldviews. To put it genteelly—those who embrace a faulty worldview, either because of aptitude or capacity, are operating on “artificial” intelligence.
Grounds for confidence?
On the intelligence scale, naturalism would seem to have a lot going for it. Just consider the breathtaking achievements of naturalistic science over the last century: in a blink of human history, horse carriages and Gatling guns gave way to space shuttles and nuclear warheads. Indeed, modern researchers have been quite successful in harnessing nature, all without appeal to the supernatural. Among the so-inclined, this has done much to bolster confidence in the high intellectual ground of naturalism.
If our world is a cosmic machine operating exclusively by materialistic principles, that confidence is well founded. (Of course one should wonder where all those laws governing rational order came from in the first place.) But if there is more to it; if there is a supra-natural dimension interwoven in the fabric of the universe, their glaucomic perspective will inevitably lead to disappointment.
As I have often written, everyone has a worldview—a belief grid through which they sort out the big questions of life: Where did we come from? Why is there evil? What is the “good life”? And, is this all there is?
Although the answers to these questions have been known from the beginning—as Paul makes clear in the opening of his letter to the Romans—man has always failed to come to grips with them.
When Eve took the fruit, she exchanged what she knew to be true for the artificial intelligence of the serpent: God doesn’t give life, he withholds it by restricting your freedom; evil is caused by ignorance which, by the way, God promotes by refusing you the knowledge of good and evil; the “good life” is not living under the thumb of a cosmic tyrant, it’s to be your own God; and that Divine judgment stuff—just empty threats.
This twisted worldview quickly led to bloodshed—of animals, whose skins God used to cover Adam and Eve; and of Abel, whose brother descended further down the self-serving path of his parents. Before long, evil became so virulent that only a boatload of fauna and handful of people escaped the hopeless infection that culminated in the Flood.
From that time forward, the story has been the same. Whether by a homicidal brother or a suicide-bomber, artificial intelligence has left its scarlet imprint on the course of human history.
While naturalism is rightly credited with the technological marvels of modern society, it is also responsible for history’s most extensive atrocities. It has been estimated that the communist and fascist regimes of the last century resulted in the deaths and “disappearances” of over 100 million persons—more than in all previous centuries combined! If the casualties of two world wars are included, the cost in human life approaches 200 million.
The unimaginable scale of those horrors was the direct consequence of visionaries whose ideologies were thoroughly naturalistic—a worldview the Brights call “strikingly wholesome.” Incredible!
With no transcendence and no God, power is law and that power is the State. Although the State exists for the good of society, society is made up of individuals who have no existence beyond this life. And since the State lasts for many generations, maybe centuries; the interests of the individual must give way to the State, including allegiances to all competing authorities like God and the church.
In step with the artificial intelligence of the serpent, the 20th century ideologues also believed that evil was the product of ignorance. Misdeeds are not committed by people who knowingly choose wrong but by those who, following their natural impulse, don’t know any better. As little more than genetic robots programmed by the laws of nature, individuals are not morally accountable for their actions. When they step out of line they don’t need punishment, they need pity and … “education.”
Twentieth century history unveils the logical trajectory of naturalism. If nothing exists but matter, energy and the natural laws governing them, then everything—from body type and hair color to behaviors and thoughts—is a matter of physics and chemistry. It is a fully deterministic world in which free will, independent action and ultimate meaning do not exist; only our instinctive passions and the “conditioning” tools needed to redirect them in “healthy” ways.
It is little wonder that this “strikingly wholesome” worldview gave us the gulag, gas chambers, and killing fields. If that’s “bright”, I suspect more than a few of us would prefer to remain “dull.” “Intelligence must follow faith, never precede it, and never destroy it.”—Thomas a Kempis