The crutch of intelligence

Recently I was engaged in an online exchange of ideas regarding atheism. I’d met Benj of Atheista.net at a bloggers’ get-together in Manila last week, and checking his blog last night, I was regaled by a lengthy treatise on intelligence and belief systems.

I respect Benj and I wouldn’t insult his intelligence by engaging him in a battle of wits to try and win him over to “my side”. And I know he respects me as well. We have amicably agreed to disagree. I do agree with him on one point, though: intelligence can be a bane to the intellectual.

We think too much, consider too many angles, and are therefore encumbered by our own intelligence from embracing what’s in fact plain to grasp for the … uh … less intellectually inclined.

Does this mean that people who believe in God are not intelligent? I don’t think so. Intelligence and faith are not mutually exclusive. However — and I think this is what atheists do not quite comprehend (or cannot accept) — faith does entail being blindly believing. We have no empirical proof of God’s existence whatsoever, and yet we believe in His presence. This is at the very core of Christianity (and perhaps of Islam and Judaism as well), that we put trust in a Supreme Being whom we cannot see or touch.

Writing this, a thought crept into my mind: Why? Why do I believe even without any shred of evidence of God’s existence? Is my belief simply a product of conditioning, upbringing?

Admittedly, I’m Catholic because I had no choice in the matter. However, my belief has long since been reinforced because I have experienced God. When I was in high school, I attended Mass almost everyday, and when I’d pray to ask for something and then receive it, I’d feel this inexplicable warmth all over my body. I lost this religiosity in college, for several reasons.

When I was a little older, I had a very tumultuous episode with my parents, and I was desperate for a resolution to the problem. Nobody could console me (nor my folks). After years and years of ignoring my faith, I turned back to prayer. I prayed as fervently as I knew how… and then, that soothing warm feeling I used to get back then came rushing back. No answers came with the warmth… but I gained a renewed strength to face my problems.

I’ve had other experiences that have made me more resolute that God does exist, but that was the most significant for me.

One other. There is an imagery that I employ whenever I try to explain to people why I believe: the universe. Can you imagine the universe as having a limit, a boundary? Let’s say it does. But if it does have a boundary, what’s beyond? Although I know infinity is also difficult to fathom, can you imagine that there’s absolutely nothing beyond?

What about life? After death… what? Will we just cease to exist completely after we die? Or do we move on to a different plane of existence?

Is it mere human arrogance to claim that we will transcend this fleshly manifestation? Is it misguided anthropocentrism to believe that we have a higher purpose beyond this lifetime?

I have no answers. I only have my faith, one that is very personal. Faith, after all, is a journey, not a destination.

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67 Responses to “The crutch of intelligence”

  1. benj says:

    Well, believers can be intelligent – but they suspend that intelligence in certain areas for convenience. How I wish I could do that. :)

  2. Blogie says:

    No, Benj. You assume that we suspend our intelligence in certain areas for… convenience? Wow, this is a whole different thesis in itself!

    Benj, is it difficult for you to believe that truly intelligent people could actually believe in God?

    Here’s another idea: Spirituality is not necessarily a matter of convenience or catch-all for those who believe. In fact, just to be simplistic about this, I find it inconvenient to have a religion or a belief system based on faith. I believe in God, yes, but it is far from being a convenience. You think I believe because it makes me comfortable? It doesn’t. It makes me happy and fulfilled, but it doesn’t make me feel at ease. Having faith in this world of materialism is a constant struggle. But, again, this is another topic altogether.

    Alas, we cannot “turn off” being intelligent. We can, however, redirect the brain power to more productive pursuits — and both theists and atheists can do this equally well, ceteris paribus.

  3. Mindanao Bob says:

    Hi Blogie – I am a believer. I also like to think that I am intelligent. Often in my life I have found that intelligence makes faith more difficult, it’s almost a curse. I have found myself, at times, wavering in my faith due to the intelligent side of me creeping in and trying to convince my faith side that it is wrong. It’s a struggle at times to be an intelligent believer.

    That’s my experience anyway.

  4. benj says:

    “Benj, is it difficult for you to believe that truly intelligent people could actually believe in God?”

    Well, it is for me, Blogie. But I know a lot of intelligent people who seem to be religious – or maybe pretend to be religious.

    I’m innately biased to things that are real and not just mere assumptions. :) That’s why belief is not really a choice. From where I’m coming from, I have the predilection to question everything that sounds illogical (and this just about covers everything about the existence of god and let’s not even get started with religion). The idea just doesn’t appeal to me and that’s not something you choose. I think what we prefer is different from what we choose. Preference will always be what it is regardless of whether we have a conscious effort to believe it or not.

    Yes, faith is personal – but it’s not universal. Not all people have it. I don’t have it. I’m just not wired that way. I am grounded to things that are real and I don’t add random fairy tales to ease the burden on anguish on my life.

    By the way, I loved the paragraph about the universe. As a kid, I would always imagine the universe expanding – and I racked my brain thinking what the hell it was expanding on. wahahhaahaa

  5. Blogie says:

    @Bob — I know exactly what you mean. Especially in the Philippines, where religion is often fanatical or ritualistic, the practice of faith can sometimes go against one’s intellect.

    @Benj — Like I said, I’m not trying to convince anyone to my interpretation of God or to my faith. But pls try and review what you’ve said here (and in your own post) re intelligence and faith. IMHO, it’s a misconception. I’m sure you’re familiar with this common misconception against atheists: that atheists are prone to do bad things because they don’t believe in a higher power. That’s ridiculous, right?

    Glad you liked my universe imagery. You know, to me, the contemplation of the universe is analogous to spirituality. But that’s just me. wink

  6. micketymoc says:

    I think I get what benj is saying about faith and intelligence – in this context, “suspending one’s intelligence” is not the same thing as “being unintelligent”.

    Several examples come to mind: transubstantiation, for instance, or the assumption of Mary, or the infallibility of the Pope. There is nothing outside the Catholic context to support any of these things; evidence can’t be found for these things. Intelligent Catholics find reason to believe these things, and it doesn’t make them less intelligent, only that their standard for truth doesn’t stop at empirical evidence.

    Do atheists believe that believers are less intelligent? I can’t speak for benj, I personally think a lot of intelligent people can fall into the trap of holding on to beliefs that aren’t supported by evidence, but that doesn’t make them less intelligent, only human.

  7. Blogie says:

    Moc, your 1st paragraph goes without saying.

    Now, truth and evidence. For legal and scientific matters and such, even believers will adhere to standards set by authorities. For faith, however, we hold ourselves to a different standard, one that is not dictated by empirical data. We do not need physical evidence to believe. This is not human frailty, and this is not a lapse in intelligence, either. It is a choice and a conviction.

  8. BongSeg says:

    Please guys don’t stop. It’s like watching the old star trek. god i miss Mr. Spock lol

  9. Blogie says:

    Oh here’s another bone for you — I believe that we are not alone in this universe. My evidence? The universe! As Carl Sagan said (popularized by Jody Foster in the movie “Contact”): If we were alone, it would be such a waste of space.

    I wonder how the Church would rationalize it when that day came, first contact?

  10. drew says:

    I know a lot of people who cling to religion to explain everything happening around them. They quote Bible entries, verses, teachings and whatnot like textbook. More often than not, I’m thrown off my chair. But to say that they’re not intelligent because of that is a stretch. See, my mom is religious. She prays the rosary a lot. Like on trips together, she prays for our safety, and I love her for it. She’s ain’t dumb, but I can see that in this crazy world, her religious conviction is what keeps her sane. Diplomatic ba? big grin

  11. BongSeg says:

    Blogie, I hope that happens in my lifetime. I really can’t wait to refer to myself as “human being” haha

  12. Blogie says:

    One more thing I’d like to share, btw. I posted this in a comment on Atheista.net.

    At the Ateneo de Manila, I had a Psychology professor who also taught one of the required Theology subjects. She was brilliant and very engaging. One day I asked her, ‘How do you reconcile science and God?’ Her answer: “I don’t.”

  13. micketymoc says:

    So what’s the difference between my first paragraph (“goes without saying”, you said), and Benj’s assertion? What makes my position obvious, and Benj’s objectionable? Did I miss something?

    Also, while authorities are respected in scientific circles, their words aren’t simply accepted on face value. Scientists cannot dictate by fiat, as the Pope does. In science, one’s statements are constrained by consistency with the evidence. Wishful thinking and ad hoc explanations are not acceptable reasons to believe.

    I’m not sure I understand how belief can be “a choice and a conviction”. Surely you don’t believe something becomes true because you believe in it? Or do you mean that you choose not to test your beliefs?

  14. benj says:

    Blogie: I bet the church (and every other relligion who chooses to proselytize) would claim that we are god’s chosen people – ala ze Jews. They would try preaching to the aliens too! Yay!

  15. Blogie says:

    Funny thought occurred to me after reading drew’s comment… A businesswoman, who does well in her neck of the woods, goes to church. Before she steps inside, however, she switches her brain off, then proceeds to hear Mass. big grin

  16. benj says:

    You already know what Im going to say.

    Religious and spiritual beliefs are not subject to the same litmus test that is used for virtually everything else. that’s where the ‘switching off’ part comes in. :)

    Oh noes, this discussion is getting a real bad spin. :( again, i never said that those who believe in god are dumb.

  17. Blogie says:

    @benj — LOL!!

    @Moc — It goes without saying that what benj said did not mean “being unintelligent”. Duh! wink

    Here you go again with your beef against the Catholic Church. We aren’t in the Inquisition anymore, my dear cousin. “Wishful thinking”? That’s below the belt already — the Church issues statements that are a notch more intelligent than that!! razz

    So what if I chose to believe and have a deep conviction in it? Why does that bother you? I don’t impose my choices on you, do I? But, yes, I do test my faith and my beliefs. Read my post again and, when you’re back in Davao, ask me why I believe. And I will tell you (without trying to convince you, fear not).

    Reminder: this post is about intelligent people having faith, and the regard of atheists of the matter. This is not about whether or not God exists.

  18. Blogie says:

    Pahabol…

    Belief is a conviction and a choice: my meaning in this is, I do not continue believing in God solely because I was baptized into the faith. I choose to believe, based on what I’ve experienced and considered and reflected on. (If I had been brought up a Baptist, I’d still be a believer now because of my own life experiences and because of this choice I’m talking about.)

  19. cams says:

    hi.. have u ever read st thomas’ summa theologica?
    sometimes man becomes so proud through intelligence. ironic, right?

    why i think that God exists? well i think it would be much difficult for me to prove why he doesnt?

    first.. talk bout life.. talk about the universe and all creation.. before everything started to exist, there should be that one thing that was already present that time.. then they say that force was neither created nor destroyed right? then where did it come from? who is the source of all that force and all life..

    i think just the fact that we live, we are able to breathe, eat sleep and wake up in the morning proves that there is God.

    God reveals himself in nature and to study nature is to study god.

  20. Blogie says:

    @Benj — I know you didn’t mean that.

    I agree! Not the same litmus test. But why that is so is a whole different discussion that we can continue here, if you like. (Let me just stretch my legs…)

  21. Blogie says:

    @cam — Thanks for your comment. However, it’s sentiments like that that atheists will never accept (and will pounce at). Right, Benj?

  22. Aldrin says:

    there’s nothing wrong with it, either atheist or a believer. the thing is, all of our concepts or whatever that could satisfy each other’s ego, is just a starting point of unravelling this great mystery. kahit ano pa ang ikot ng ikot sa kung anong concept, wala pa rin.

    the issue of “freedom” could again be defined here and would again be linked to some philosphers’ concept. until now,wala pa rin and the rest, offshot of what they have started. nakakapagod ang pag define ng kung ano man. nagiging pointless na kasi dahil nasabi na ng maraming beses.

    so, i still believe na kakain ako after this…Gigutom ko ug binasa. hehe

  23. benj says:

    @Blogie: That type of argument (i.e. cam’s) is the type that proves that belief CAN BE retarded. That is the most unintelligent way of arguing the point. And yes, it does make my blood boil. Gross. I can’t believe I’m in the same species.

    i think just the fact that we live, we are able to breathe, eat sleep and wake up in the morning proves that there is God.

    Oh my non-existent god.
    I dont need further proof that Im more intelligent than this person.

  24. Blogie says:

    @Aldrin — LOL! Mao gyud! Maayo gani wa ka gi-nosebleed… big grin

    @Benj — Be nice wink
    (“Oh my non-existent god” ROFLMAO!!!!)

  25. benj says:

    Sorry, I hate it when people try to degrade the discussion by DUMBING it down. :(

  26. BongSeg says:

    Apparently some of us are not aware of our delusion? *wink*

  27. Blogie says:

    @BongSeg — Now that’s scary…

  28. benj says:

    @Blogie- most people are – they try to pass of those types of assertions (see comment #19) as if they make sense. At least you’re aware that what you believe appeals to you because of certain reasons that are not necessarily universal.

  29. BongSeg says:

    @ Benj – Mismo.

  30. micketymoc says:

    Dearest cuz, try not to read a nonexistent “beef” into my statement. I was simply stating a fact that draws a distinction between “authorities” in science and “authorities” in religion. In the former, force of authority only comes with prolonged contact with empirical evidence. In the latter, no such constraint exists.

    Is the latter consistent with a suspension of “intelligence”? I wouldn’t say that, I would say that the latter suspends critical thinking, meaning it refuses to hold religious beliefs to the same standard as, say, belief in oxygen or belief in the nervous system.

    My stand is: there’s no reason to have double standards where evidence is concerned. I think we do truth a disservice if decide to hold faith to less strict standards of proof.

    O ayan, on-topic naman, di ba? :)

    P.S. “What if I choose to believe and have a deep conviction in it? Why does that bother you? I don’t impose my choices on you, do I?”

    For the record, your belief doesn’t bother me, and I don’t mean to impose my choices on you by simply asking questions. That’s all there is to it, questions. You write about something on your blog, you keep the comments board open, that means I can ask you a question, right? You’re free to ask me anything on my blog, I hope I’m not mistaken in assuming that you likewise grant me the same privilege.

  31. Blogie says:

    Comment all you like, cuz — it is an open blog. (I’m open! hahaha!)

    I was just reacting (which I shouldn’t do). It’s just that, statements like this are uncalled for: “Surely you don’t believe something becomes true because you believe in it? Or do you mean that you choose not to test your beliefs?” You know me better than that.

  32. cams says:

    well im a med student myself and the more i study, the more i learn about the human body and life, the more i believe that there is God. why? that’s me e. well im not forcing my beliefs on u benj. but just try to listen to ur own words. i dunno to what type of species u belong as well. but since you can type and react to posts here, i guess you are human. lol.. if that’s ur belief then so be it. why are you so mad? i respect that. i have my own opinion, you can have yours. i just find it wrong that you attack someone and call a person dumb just because he or she has his own say. it’s really funny and your blood boils cause i believe in God? im not convincing you to believe in god and thats it. you say im dumb? well take a look at yourself and try to findout who made you and where you came from. masama ang masyado bilib sa sarili. :) peace

  33. micketymoc says:

    I apologize if you were offended, I felt the question was an appropriate follow up to this: “For faith, however, we hold ourselves to a different standard, one that is not dictated by empirical data. This is not human frailty, and this is not a lapse in intelligence, either. It is a choice and a conviction.

  34. micketymoc says:

    Funny, benj is a med student too, but it’s led him to quite the opposite conclusion. Buhay nga naman.

  35. Blogie says:

    @Moc — Nah, I wasn’t offended.

    But, it wasn’t a good follow-up question, IMHO. You didn’t get the point, you see. My point was, I chose to believe; my faith wasn’t rammed down my throat. You, on the other hand, chose to attack my statement by way of the backdoor. wink

  36. benj says:

    someone is trying to reconciling god and anatomy now.
    WOW THAT’S INTELLIGENT.

    masama lalo ang sobrang tanga kagaya mo. You don’t know the first thing in logic. wink

  37. benj says:

    Sorry Blogie, I have an extremely low tolerance for stupidity and atrocious logic.

  38. BongSeg says:

    Whoa. Guys easy now. Can we agree to be disagreeable without getting nasty? I believe we can.

    At the end of the day it all boils down to respect at each other’s point of view.

  39. benj says:

    Sorry BongSeg. Btw, I checked your site- WICKED! :)

    I’m just peeved to easily with “see how beautiful the world is? = the xtian god exists” type of agurments. hehe

  40. cams says:

    @benj:i’d rather be a fool and have a God.. ;P rather than be a fool who acts as if he knows everthing in the world..
    we are just the same. both of us, we dont have concrete evidence that God does or doesnt exist but still we have our own beliefs.. that’s faith e. to ea his own. sino ba makulet satin dalawa?
    its really difficult to debate about religion. we can never really question if the other person believes on one thing or not e. it’s impossible to force our beliefs on others e. but then according nga to atheista, with proper dialogue, i think we can reach a common ground here..

  41. Aileen Apolo says:

    I think it is impossible to find a common ground between the two. I strongly disagree with the statement that one stops being intelligent when he believes that there is a supreme being. It’s faith, it’s a personal experience and I agree with Blogie’s professor that one doesn’t reconcile science and religion. It’s been a debate for hundreds of years now and I can say a lot of things about why you should believe, but then I don’t want to get embroiled in such a discussion. We now live in a free world and one can choose to believe or not, why do we have to keep defending out choices?

    I was actually thinking about these things yesterday at church and was curious about why some people don’t believe? Does everything have to be logical? Do things have to be explainable? If so, where did everything start anyway? Well, we could probably have lengthy discourses about these things, but… I think I’d rather keep my faith and spend my time on more important matters.

    I believe and you don’t, let’s keep it at that. Peace.

  42. Blogie says:

    @cams — “according to atheista”… are you referring to Atheista.net? That’s benj’s blog. wink

    O benj.. tinamaan ka ano, pre?

    @BongSeg — Ay… ayoko maging disagreeable… naliligo naman ako ah, ‘tsaka presentable naman akong manamit eh… hehehe!

  43. benj says:

    ^I don’t know everything. And I’m not scared to continue to be that. I do not resort to believing in fairy tales like you do.

    You on the other hand USE YOUR BELIEF IN GOD as an encompassing TRUTH to cover up for all the other things YOU DONT KNOW. That is what you don’t get.

    The belief in god is also arrogance in the sense that in the end, there still has to be a human-like construct and being to have been responsible for everything else that has happened and existed.

  44. micketymoc says:

    I didn’t see “compulsion” coming into the question: just that I couldn’t grasp how belief x can be a “choice and conviction” but not be “dictated by empirical data” at the same