The Stupidity of the Intelligent

Statue on top of an ancient building next to St. Nicholas' church in Ghent, Belgium. Photo by Ulrik De Wachter

Recently I was listening to a lecture by Dr. D.A. Carson on Romans 3:21-26, “The Center of the Whole Bible.” In his background to the text, he reminded his hearers that for the previous two and a half chapters, Paul had been building an argument that there is no excuse for a denial of God—culminating in a series of references to the Old Testament in Romans 3:10-18:

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of asps is under their lips.”

“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

“Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.”

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

The beginning of this argument, though, is found in Romans 1:18-23 which reads:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 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. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

“Claiming to be wise, they became fools…” That’s a powerful statement, isn’t it?

My old pastor would often lament the reality that people today are educated beyond their intelligence. We have access to more information than any culture in the history of man, but little wisdom.

Dr. J. Budziszewski is the author of several books including Written on the Heart, The Resurrection of Nature, The Nearest Coast of Darkness, True Tolerance and What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, and a professor of Philosophy and Government at the University of Texas at Austin.

He knows this reality all too well.

In fact, he wrote his dissertation on it—opposing the idea that we had any inherent sense of morality at all.

“Claiming to be wise, they became fools…”

Here’s what Dr. Budziszewski says about his experience:

I have already said that everything goes wrong without God. This is true even of the good things He’s given us, such as our minds. One of the good things I’ve been given is a stronger than average mind. I don’t make the observation to boast; human beings are given diverse gifts to serve Him in diverse ways.

The problem is that a strong mind that refuses the call to serve God has its own way of going wrong.

When some people flee from God they rob and kill. When others flee from God they do a lot of drugs and have a lot of sex. When I fled from God I didn’t do any of those things; my way of fleeing was to get stupid.

Though it always comes as a surprise to intellectuals, there are some forms of stupidity that one must be highly intelligent and educated to commit. God keeps them in his arsenal to pull down mulish pride, and I discovered them all. That is how I ended up doing a doctoral dissertation to prove that we make up the difference between good and evil and that we aren’t responsible for what we do. I remember now that I even taught these things to students; now that’s sin.

It was also agony.

You cannot imagine what a person has to do to himself–well, if you are like I was, maybe you can–what a person has to do to himself to go on believing such nonsense.

St. Paul said that the knowledge of God’s law is “written on our hearts, our consciences also bearing witness.” The way natural law thinkers put this is to say that they constitute the deep structure of our minds. That means that so long as we have minds, we can’t not know them.

Well, I was unusually determined not to know them; therefore I had to destroy my mind.

I resisted the temptation to believe in good with as much energy as some saints resist the temptation to neglect good. For instance, I loved my wife and children, but I was determined to regard this love as merely a subjective preference with no real and objective value. Think what this did to my very capacity to love them. After all, love is a commitment of the will to the true good of another person, and how can one’s will be committed to the true good of another person if he denies the reality of good, denies the reality of persons, and denies that his commitments are in his control?

Visualize a man opening up the access panels of his mind and pulling out all the components that have God’s image stamped on them. The problem is that they all have God’s image stamped on them, so the man can never stop. No matter how much he pulls out, there’s still more to pull. I was that man. Because I pulled out more and more, there was less and less that I could think about. But because there was less and less that I could think about, I thought I was becoming more and more focused.

Because I believed things that filled me with dread, I thought I was smarter and braver than the people who didn’t believe them. I thought I saw an emptiness at the heart of the universe that was hidden from their foolish eyes.

Of course I was the fool.

[from the article, Escape from Nihilism, by Dr. J. Budziszewski]

Powerful words to consider. Now some questions:

  1. In what ways to we place our intelligence over biblical wisdom?
  2. When we are confronted by this truth, how will we respond?

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  • Keystone

    In a post titled “The Stupidity of the Intelligent”, the photo shows a statue in Gent, Belgium. You may want to make that town “Ghent” instead.

    From this small example, you can see that not all stupidity is by design; we are human and have failings….among them keyboarding.

    The online wit called Despair, Inc. classifies Stupidity too.
    Quitters never win, winners never quit, but those who never win AND never quit are idiots.”

    That came to mind as I read this self-absorbed author (not the blogger).
    I found his circular logic maddening.
    If I knew a convict always stole money, he would not be my accountant.
    I do not authorize known pedophiles to watch my children.
    Stores that sell shoddy goods at exhorbitant prices may fool me once, but fail to have me as customer twice.

    Thus, a man who proclaims his doctoral dissertation led students astray, and admits this as SIN, kind of loses me as a reader of his subsequent thought.

    Indeed, the word picture of ripping his mind out, from any part not stamped by God, gave me an indication of his mindlessness.

    I recall reading of a gal wondering about the center of things. Her dad cut a grape on the table, and she peered at the center.
    He told her it was NOT the center, but the outside of the inside of the grape.
    So, he cut each part anew, and she observed the “center”.
    He told her that again, this was not the center, but each piece reflected the outside of the inside. One could cut forever and never reach the center.
    Yet, we KNOW there is a center in there.

    There is nothing wrong with exercising one’s intelligence.
    Indeed, this allows us to stop crawling, stand up, and walk.
    It allows us to talk, communicate, and exchange ideas.

    There is nothing wrong with Biblical wisdom. I have met people with biblical wisdom who have never opened a Bible. Just this week, my librarian and I were in discussion on Jesus Christ. We had a mutual book on Misquoting Jesus. He read the book to see the flaws inherent in Christ, while I chose the misquotes to see the flaws in man. Misunderstanding one another, he finally wrote me a note (I am deaf) to explain he is an atheist. We had been the best of friends prior to that knowledge; I left the library remaining the best of friends with this man anew. Our knowledge and intelligence told both of us different things with the same facts.

    The Bible is replete with stories of “God revealed this or that”; or perhaps “God opened their eyes that they may see”.
    Or the scales on their eyes were removed that they may see.
    Aparently, we need to give God a little credit for making everything under the heavens beautiful….in it’s own time.

    Intelligence is not a prerequisite to Biblical wisdom. Indeed, the thief on the Cross who recognized Christ in his final moments went to Paradise. This man lacked intelligence, for he committed crucifixion worthy crimes, and was crucified accordingly. This is not intelligent.
    Were he steeped in Biblical wisdom, the crimes would NOT have been committed.

    The variable that put one thief in heaven and one thief in hell was neither intelligence or Biblical wisdom. It was DISCERNMENT.

    The author writing above in the post quote, lacks discernment.
    He may be full of Biblical wisdom, and his tank topped off with intelligence, but discernment is not his forte in any way.

    As for intelligence, I have read this blog and recognize it in the author, but if I were a new reader this day, question #1 would make me question that as it is written:
    “In what ways to we place our intelligence over biblical wisdom?”

    This is clearly meant as “In what ways DO…” not “In what ways TO….” so anyone with intelligence can still get the message within. But a newbie to this site may consider a city in Belgium and flaws in later questions as reason to never return for intelligence, nor Biblical wisdom.
    THAT person would lack discernment, and discernment is the key variable this post need look at.

    The Road to Emmaus found two disciples walking an entire day with the Risen Christ. They gabbed their laments; He gabbed the Scriptures.
    When confronted with Truth all day long, nothing whatsoever happened.
    So they invited this “stranger” with Biblical wisdom and intelligence to continue the discussion at dinner. Christ said okey-dokey to that.

    He gave thanks to the Father for the bread, blessed it, broke it, and DISAPPEARED. The disciples now knew Christ was alive and ran through darkened streets to tell their best buddies the news.

    But what was the determinant here? The speech all day long gave insight, but not revelation of a risen Lord.
    The TRUTH was walking next to them all day, as surely as the Truth stood before Pilate a few days earlier,….only to have Pilate stare Him in the face and utter “What is Truth?”. Neither group recognized Truth, despite staring it a few feet away.

    Christ always gave thanks to the Father, prayed, and blessed His meals.
    Discernment did not come to the disciples because He disappeared (though it would take that action to awaken our musty churches of the 21st century).
    It was the discernment of how Christ always did the same action at all meals that He did at the Emmaus meal that allowed the disciples to discern the Truth of the Risen King.

    The Alpha to Omega of the Bible does not change. Yet over 3,000 “Christian” denominations is growing to over 5,000 in the next 10 years, Apparently, biblical wisdom is as fungible as intelligence to allow such variance.

    What if the Emmaus boys had watched the disappearance and shut up?
    What if they watched the blessing and prayer form and sealed their lips to all?
    The story and its effectiveness would die; disciples would too.

    Both disciples had intelligence as they were chosen by the Father to be among the Twelve for the Son. (“I have taken care of those you sent Me, dad”).
    But the power of God was made perfect in their weaknesses, from Peter’s denial, to Thomas’ doubt, to Philip just never “getting it”.

    The key response to confrontation of TRUTH, whether via intelligence or biblical wisdom, or revelation by God Himself, is to embrace TRUTH and be transformed forever. One must forgive themselves, and all others, for in forgiving, we become more and more in the image of God as we were designed.
    Few people discern the importance of forgiveness. Most believe life is for taking all you can get. Life is not for taking; life is for giving, er…forgiving.

    I picked up a Bible, in Lancaster, PA once, that I thought was Ebonics as I read, but found it to be a Hawaiian pidgen version.
    It was opened on the altar to the Book of John:
    “God loved all da peopo so much, He gave His one an ony boy to die fo us”

    An intelligent person would see the misspelled words there.
    A biblical wisdom person would see John 3:16 in full essence.
    A discerning person would see Truth, and meet God in the process.

    May your eyes be opened to Him at all times, without the need to cut a grape, break bread, disappear, or the myriad ways needed to convince our varying intelligences that “HE IS”.

    Ps. If I keyboarded and spelled wrong anywhere above, I made no dissertation on intelligence!
    Forgive me.

    • Aaron Armstrong

      Thanks for the catch, Keystone. Turns out there are two spellings :)

  • Keystone

    I am not a spelling or grammar dictator. Please do not be offended by the point out. It was part of my commentary and NOT a critique of spelling by you Aaron. I tend to despise those who insist of a specific form of grammar (our community has a “who” versus “Whom” nut that weighs in every time and drives us nuts).

    As long as the meaning can be derived, it just doesn’t matter.

    Put another way, As lnog as the maennig can be drvieed, it jsut desnot mtater.

    Have a great evening with that baby! And early Happy Mother’s Day to your bride. I think that holiday flies in Canada too. :)

    • Aaron Armstrong

      Definitely not offended. I’ve been learning at work that I can’t proofread myself and catch half the mistakes I make, so I’m always happy to get whatever fixes I can in.

      Thanks Keystone! That holiday does fly here, although I’m waiting for it to be renamed “Female caregiver’s day” in the name of political correctness and tolerance 😛