Belief is not the death of intelligence


This post is taken from my main blog, To Dwell and Never Leave. It opens with an essay I wrote during practice for an exam, then expands upon it. I chose to duplicate the post here because I believe it provides a good foundation for what we’re going to cover here.

“Belief is the death of intelligence,” Robert Anton Wilson claims. Since he is making this statement, Wilson presumably considers himself to be an intelligent person. In fact, the audience would quite likely agree that he seems to believe what he is saying. Although this quote sounds witty and clever to the casual ear, intelligent people quickly point out that Wilson himself has neatly contradicted his own statement. Beliefs are inescapable, but belief and intelligence are not mutually exclusive. Together, belief and intelligence provide the foundation of any argument. Using intelligent reasoning, a prepared person can defend his beliefs excellently. Belief is not the death of intelligence; rather, they benefit each other.

Beliefs surround us at every moment, but so does intelligence. From “personal” beliefs and opinions, such as which flavor of ice cream is best, to beliefs upon which we build our lives, beliefs are part of life. To escape belief would be to cease breathing. However, intelligent people also exist. Numerous scientists, mathematicians, and inventors fascinate the general population. Ask any person from the street if the world contains anyone more intelligent than him, and he will either quickly affirm the statement or proclaim himself to be the most intelligent of all humans. Either way, he has demonstrated belief in intelligence. Obviously, both belief and intelligence exist, and it is possible to possess intelligent, informed belief.

Since belief and intelligence are both present in the world, they can work hand in hand to allow a person to make a decision. Using his intelligence, one may seek out reasons to either believe or disbelieve something presented to him. During a politician’s speech, any listener may take note of claims the speaker makes and research them later on. Rather than taking the speaker at his word, this intelligent listener chooses to seek out the facts. When he has done this, the listener is better equipped to make an intelligent decision about what he will believe. Instead of intelligence and belief being opposites, when used properly, they compliment each other.

Actively using intelligence, a well-informed person can defend her beliefs. Belief cannot be defended with more belief, but logical reason provides excellent support for one’s belief. If someone claims that ereaders like the Kindle are forcing hard copy books into extinction, she must be able to defend her statement. If she merely states this belief without any intelligent argument to back it up, no one would have any reason to change their beliefs to align with hers. If, however, she cites scientific studies which provide graphs of sales figures from the ebook and physical book markets, she competently defends her belief and provides a reason for others to believe the same. Armed with intelligence, people are equipped to defend their beliefs.

Certainly, belief is not the death of intelligence. Instead, intelligence benefits belief. The world is full of fine examples of intelligent people who themselves hold myriad beliefs. Because belief and intelligence are both in existence, they can cooperate to form solid arguments. Putting intelligence into practice, well-prepared people can carefully defend and proclaim their beliefs. Without belief, the world would have no subjectivity. Without intelligence, there would be no reason to believe any one person over another. Indeed, belief and intelligence interlock in everyday life.


When you first read the quote I opened this essay with (the quote I was told to either support or defend), what did you think? If you’re like me, your first reaction was to think “Well, that’s a low-down thing to say” and get a little riled up, because you believe things and you consider yourself to be at least a semi-intelligent person. You probably didn’t actually see the self-defeating statement for what it was, though. I didn’t at first, either. However, within thirty seconds of my first thought, I saw the flaw in reasoning contained in this short sentence. Probably by the time you got a few sentences into reading my essay, you saw it too, and were smiling ruefully. How did I not see this before?

Don’t beat yourself up too hard. At the beginning of this year, I wouldn’t have seen it either.

So much of apologetics is learning how to think. It’s not just learning all the right arguments or being able to cite the most scientific sources. In fact, you could have every Answers in Genesis magazine memorized in its entirety, and you still wouldn’t be able to have a very good discussion of what you believe. Why? Because knowing a boatload of facts won’t teach you how to have a discussion with someone. Being able to point out the holes and assumptions that radiometric dating relies on won’t do you any good if you can’t see through to the core of what someone is saying and where they’re coming from.

How did I quickly spot the underlying error in the quote? The answer is simple: Practice. Throughout my entire course on worldviews/apologetics, I was given example after example of something someone might say that would sound good, but actually turned on itself. Ever heard the one about absolute truth? It goes something like this:

Person A: There’s no such thing as absolute truth. What’s true for me isn’t necessarily true for you.

Person B: Are you absolutely sure? I believe in absolute truth.

Did you see how that statement contradicted itself? If there was no such thing as absolute truth, how could Person A say with certainty that there was no such thing as absolute truth? It just doesn’t work.

In upcoming posts, I’m going to be working through with y’all more of how to do this sort of thinking. But as I close this introduction, let me drive this point home: Belief is not the death of intelligence. Don’t let anyone tell you that by believing the Bible, you’re “against science” or believing “a bunch of fairytales.” You are perfectly capable of having intelligent belief–of having intelligent faith.

Your faith is reasonable. Know it, believe it, defend it.