Monday, August 22, 2011

The Morality of Intellectual Simplicity

David Warren, a Canadian journalist for the Ottawa Citizen, wrote this intriguing paragraph in a recent column:

There are some issues that are too simple for intelligent people to understand. Most moral issues are like that. The problem isn't distinguishing between right and wrong. That is not always as plain as day, but usually it is. The problem is finding a way to justify doing the wrong thing. And once you think you have found it, the people still arguing for doing the right thing may be dismissed as "simplistic."
He was contrasting competing economic theories and, while he may or may not be right about his conclusions, he accurately describes a real phenomenon.  Often human beings use their intellect to justify evil. Paul tells us much the same thing in Romans 1:21-23:

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
The unregenerate heart leads us astray. Self-proclaimed wise persons behave foolishly. They turn their God-given ability to think and reason toward useless ends as they pursue evil instead of God’s glory. Their thinking becomes futile. Like those Warren writes of, their intellect is turned toward exercises in justifying evil.  Intellectual sophism presents a labyrinth of complex arguments to reach a rather simple conclusion: reject God and His authority for your life.

Does this mean that we as Christians should reject intellectual endeavors? The criticism leveled by the secular humanist is that Christians are intellectually bankrupt. We are fools who fail to understand sophisticated, nuanced arguments.

But our critics have presented us with a false dichotomy. I do not have to choose between the futility of human-centered reasoning or the vapidness of a mindless, zombie-like Christianity.

The problem that Paul describes in Romans 1 and to which Warren alludes is not that people are being intellectual. Intellect is a gift that has been given by God to be used.  The problem is the fallen nature that attempts to utilize that intellect, oftetimes to construct complicated arguments advocating rebellion against God.

It is not as though the intellect exists outside our person or is a tool impervious to the biases of our selves. Our intellect is twisted. Our pride causes us to turn our intellect away from self-introspection of deeply held beliefs and direct it toward defending our prejudices and attacking others. Our intellect is wielded by a mind that has been shaped and modled by this current world and its thought patterns. Indeed, those who are heralded as “revolutionary thinkers” are often those most enslaved to the mores and thought patterns of our time.

The answer lies in the gospel. The redeemed mind can be renewed (Rom 12:1) and set itself on things above not on things below (Col 3:2).

My encouragement to you is to engage your mind. Think critically. Think carefully. Challenge your old thought patterns. But do all this not in your own pride but in submission to God as He reveals Himself in His Word.


Bill said...

"But our critics have presented us with a false dichotomy. I do not have to choose between the futility of human-centered reasoning or the vapidness of a mindless, zombie-like Christianity."

That's a great statement there Dr. Bennett. I enjoyed that.

Dan H said...

Your encouragement to engage the mind is one that should not be overlooked. As the new atheists make attacks toward Christianity, especially in the secular and sometimes religious educational institution, elementary apologetics can reassure the believer that they haven't been lied to. Understanding the depraved mind from which false arguments originate, knowledge of what the Bible REALLY says, and good old critical thinking can weather a storm of deceptive arguments. Preparedness for these arguments before the professor touts them can't hurt either.

Anonymous said...

"Our intellect is twisted."

So True:

·Romans 1:28-31 - And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being... without understanding

·Titus 1:15-16 - to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled

·Ephesians 4:17-18 - So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart

·Jeremiah 10:7-8,14 - For among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You. But they are altogether stupid and foolish. Every man is stupid, devoid of knowledge

·Genesis 6:5 & 8:21 - Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually... from youth.

·Proverbs 28:26 - He who trusts in his own heart is a fool