Is Religion Anti-Intellectual?
Should you believe in a God? All the discord and vitriol in our culture boils down to how you would answer. Border walls, gay marriage, abortion, national defense, school choice -- where you stand on these issues and the myriad others comprising our daily tussle is for the most part defined by how you answer this question. Your answer, yeah or nay, draws a very hard line.
The professional philosopher John G. Messerly begins with this question in his recent Salon piece, “Religion's smart-people problem: The shaky intellectual foundations of absolute faith.”
Dr. Messerly’s answer to the question he poses is not surprisingly a resounding no.
He begins establishing the foundation for his argument by citing statistics showing only 14% of professional philosophers and a mere 7% of members of the National Academy of Sciences hold any religious beliefs. Unlike earlier ages when belief in a Creator was overwhelmingly accepted, the discoveries of modern science and philosophical progress have rendered the idea of an immaterial intelligence as the ultimate source of the universe to the very fringe of intellectual discourse.
Messerly’s great lament is that while the highly educated have relegated traditional belief in a creator to nothing more now than cultural mythology, the masses haven’t followed. Religious belief still remains widespread despite all the pontificating to the contrary by the academy.
In sounding like an attempt to excuse the ineffectiveness of materialism to eradicate religiosity, Messerly cites a couple of reasons for such societal intransigence. First, homo sapiens has a genetic predisposition for religious beliefs and practices. Through natural selection, religion provided an advantage to survival such as “social cohesion and cooperation.” (Is this not a good thing?)
He then cites social dysfunction and lack of an effective social safety net as driving functions for religious beliefs. Messerly reduces religion to simply a coping mechanism for the stress caused by poverty, incarceration rates, income inequality, teenage births, abortions, corruption, etc. Could he be interpolating from the old adage, “there’s no atheists in foxholes”?
Messerly then goes on to insinuate (though he admits no causal relationship has been established) that the best countries to live in have the lowest rates of religious believers. Oh yes, he cites the UN’s list of the 20 best countries to live in and the countries at the top of the list like Norway, Australia, Sweden, and Canada are also the least religious. The rating is said to be established by GDP per capita, education, and health. Honestly, I don’t trust any data coming out of the UN (does East Anglia ring a bell?) and maybe they put Norway at the top specifically because they are the least religious. Religion tends to get in the way of world government, you know.
From this data Messerly then summarizes by writing, “There are good reasons to doubt that religious belief makes people’s lives go better, and good reasons to believe that they make their lives go worse.” I think he was stamping his feet as he typed this in.
Messerly then turns to affirming the “overwhelming body of evidence of biological evolution.” It’s pretty obvious that he is in over his head in affirming really anything associated with scientific evidence. He just asserts with no premises in support, which probably satisfies your typical Salon reader. And what he affirms, the standard unguided natural selection acting on random mutation assertion of the materialists, is just so twentieth century.
The evolutionary theory that the Messerlys of the world just accept is being steadily dismantled. Darwin’s theory has been totally refuted by the fossil record. Search the web for the Cambrian Explosion and judge the evidence for yourself. The transitional forms that Darwin insisted must exist for his theory to become law are nowhere to be found. Science has been looking for 150 years now and the record is a sparse as it was when Darwin expressed doubt in his own theory.
Of course, Darwin had no idea of the existence of DNA and its role in protein synthesis. Today we know an enormous amount about the genetic code and its role in biological life. We understand what it does, but we have absolutely no idea how such a sophisticated set of instructions and their sequencing could have self-assembled through natural unguided processes. The most brilliant software engineers in the world cannot begin to duplicate the eloquence we see in the DNA code. It clearly displays the earmarks of intelligence to those willing to see.
Messerly continues by smugly asserting anecdotal evidence that the more educated one becomes, the less likely one will attain or retain religious beliefs. I actually concur in this sense, the more time you spend in the rigid, censoring, intolerant, secular academy, the more you will be conditioned to conform with the naturalistic party line. Just mention “intelligent design” in a college faculty room and see what happens to your prospects for tenure, department chair, or even continued employment. Thank you, Ben Stein.
Messerly then turns to fideism in his final attempt to discredit religious belief. He essentially asserts that there really is no sound evidence to support belief in a supreme being. Therefore, religious followers are reduced to living by unfounded fairy tales. He then attaches the claim that “your beliefs affect other people, and your false beliefs may harm them.” Kind of chillingly suggests the need for religious censorship, does it not?
Let’s take a look at some of the evidence that secular science has provided us about our existence:
- The universe had a beginning. At some point in the finite past everything that comprises the universe sprung into being. Prior to this nothing existed. Not even quantum vacuums. Something caused the universe to spring into existence. The highly speculative multiverse does not help secular arguments here.
- The physical properties of the universe are set to values so precise that it is virtually impossible to have happened simply by chance.
- Biological life is infused with information. Information in the form of specified complexity a la DNA, only comes from a mind.
There’s far more to cite but I’m running into a word limit.The question, then, is what’s the best fit to this data, this evidence? That it all happened by chance or is an intelligent agent involved in creation?
John G. Messerly needs to set aside his naturalistic fideism and take a hard look at the real evidence uncovered by secular science before accusing theists of unfounded belief.