Scripture, Intelligence, and the Quaking Foundations of the Western World
Ironically, how much more so does Schuon's statement apply to the godless, whose god is none other than himself!
I once read a remark by Ken Wilber -- I think it was Ken Wilber -- who said words the effect that the people who tend to be the most interested in religion are the brilliant and the dim.
Now, before getting all offended, let us stipulate at the outset that when it comes to intelligence, not everyone is above average. Obviously, half of the population is of below average intelligence. I am hardly an elitist in this area, for there is no correlation whatsoever between intelligence and decency or goodness. There are plenty of smart people -- say, Jimmy Carter or Noam Chomky -- who are perfectly wretched human beings. Our universities are filled with smart and bad people -- for I count as "bad" anyone who arrogantly propagates poisonous ideas such as multi-culturalism, moral relativism, tolerance (in its present bullying and totalitarian connotation), victimology, and the general stance of absolute relativity that absurdly denies transcendent truth.
Yesterday while driving home from work, I caught a bit of the Michael Medved show. His guest was the famous atheist Sam Harris, who has written the bestseller The End of Faith. He is a perfect example of Wilber's dictum, because this man was so intellectually banal, such a metaphysical yahoo, such an adolescent drone, that it is no surprise that he cannot raise his intellect to religion. But, in the American way, he has turned his infirmity into a virtue, and is no doubt making a small fortune in the process.
While Harris was blathering, I was wondering what sort of narcissism -- for there are many kinds -- made him think he had the authority to speak with such confidence on a subject about which he literally knows nothing -- indeed, by his own acknowledgment. For to claim "a-theism" is nothing more and nothing less than a frank confession of ignorance of any ontologically real domains that transcend the senses. So what? Why would one argue with an atheist, unless their atheism is accidental and not obligatory? For to try to convince an obligatory atheist of the reality of God would be as pointless as trying to explain to a blind man why he should not wear brown shoes with a tuxedo. Would a scientist waste a single moment debating an ascientist?
(I'm trying to imagine "debating" a God-impaired person such as Harris. The first question I would ask is, "What personal knowledge do you have of God?" Since he was raised in a Christian culture, he probably has some fidelity to truth in spite of himself, so he would likely give his honest answer, "None." I would then say that I'm sorry to hear that. "Would you like to have that experience, or are you dead-set against it?" "Oh, dead-set against it, because God is a delusion. That's my whole point." "I see. You are not complaining. You are boasting. In that case, I cannot debate you. I am, however, licensed to analyze your cosmic narcissism." "No, I don't believe in psychoanalysis either. It too is a delusion. The so-called mind is simply a meaningless side effect of our neurology that has been naturally selected for purely random reasons." "I see. I think I understand. You are saying that man is not actually intelligent, since an intelligence that cannot know truth hardly deserves the name. If so, why is your nervous system making any assertions about anything -- much less everything? Say, you don't seem to have a very developed sense of irony, do you?" "As a matter of fact, my next book is on irony. It is also a delusion.")
A few days ago, Charles Murray had an interesting editorial entitled Intelligence in the Classroom: Half of all Children are Below Average, and Teachers Can Do Only So Much for Them. Murray points out that with all of our approaches to the problem of education, one vital factor is curiously left out. In fact, it is not even discussed -- as if it were taboo. What is it? Intelligence. Hard to believe that we have an entire educational establishment that does not take intelligence into consideration, but we do... wait, maybe that's not surprising, since the educational establishmet has been completely dominated by leftist activists for decades... In any event, Murray writes that
"Hardly anyone will admit it, but education's role in causing or solving any problem cannot be evaluated without considering the underlying intellectual ability of the people being educated.... Our ability to improve the academic accomplishment of students in the lower half of the distribution of intelligence is severely limited. It is a matter of ceilings. Suppose a girl in the 99th percentile of intelligence, corresponding to an IQ of 135, is getting a C in English. She is underachieving, and someone who sets out to raise her performance might be able to get a spectacular result. Now suppose the boy sitting behind her is getting a D, but his IQ is a bit below 100, at the 49th percentile.
"We can hope to raise his grade. But teaching him more vocabulary words or drilling him on the parts of speech will not open up new vistas for him. It is not within his power to learn to follow an exposition written beyond a limited level of complexity, any more than it is within my power to follow a proof in the American Journal of Mathematics. In both cases, the problem is not that we have not been taught enough, but that we are not smart enough.
"Now take the girl sitting across the aisle who is getting an F. She is at the 20th percentile of intelligence, which means she has an IQ of 88. If the grading is honest, it may not be possible to do more than give her an E for effort. Even if she is taught to read every bit as well as her intelligence permits, she still will be able to comprehend only simple written material. It is a good thing that she becomes functionally literate, and it will have an effect on the range of jobs she can hold. But still she will be confined to jobs that require minimal reading skills. She is just not smart enough to do more than that."
Murray points out that it would be nice if we knew how to raise intelligence, but we do not. Instead we just ignore it, and move on to the false assumption that educators can educate everyone, and that either they or the students just need to try harder. But it won't work -- unless, of course, you reduce standards, which will merely give the illusion of working. In fact, this is what we have done, to such an extent that most any idiot can obtain a PhD in the humanities -- especially psychology!
At the same time, our system produces very intelligent people who obtain PhDs in some narrow scientific field (or even in contemporary philosophy, which has become so parochial and specialized), who then assume that they are fit to opine on metaphysical matters far beyond their gifts. This is how we end up with a Daniel Dennett or Sam Harris -- who are analogous to someone with an above-average or even superior little flashlight trying to illuminate the cosmos. Such a person will tend to conflate the realm of what they see with the realm of what can be seen, the latter being a bit larger, to say the least.
Although we cannot increase the intelligence of a single person within his lifetime, there is strong evidence that intelligence does increase in the species as a result of various evolutionary factors. I posted on this a few days ago, quoting Arnold King, I mean Kling, who wrote that "average IQ has been rising steadily in many countries for most of this century. Average IQ's in Britain may be more than two standard deviations higher than they were a hundred years ago, which says that the average citizen today would have been in the top 5 percent of intelligence early in the 20th century."
Again, this is an astonishing statement if it is even close to the truth. I don't know if you know what a standard deviation is on the IQ scale, but 100 is average, so half are above, half below. The standard deviation is 15 points, meaning that approximately 68% of the population will have an IQ that falls between 85 and 115, while 95% will fall between 70 and 130. Now, someone with an IQ of 70 is what we used to call a "moron." Below that came "imbecile" (IQ between 20-49) and "idiot" (below 20).
If Kling is correct, this means that as recently as 100 years ago in the West -- let alone primitive cultures -- the average person may have been more or less of a... a moron. Being that geographical space is developmental time, it does not surprise me that Charles Murray showed in The Bell Curve -- and as a result, had to endure scurrilous charges of racism from evil-hearted liberals -- that IQs are significantly lower in undeveloped nations -- the so-called "third world."
Now, back to the problem of scripture. Scripture is intended for all men. Right away, I think you see the problem, because "all men" includes morons, imbeciles, idiots, and even secular leftists. Here is the task before you. You are God. You are to write a book that contains the essence of Absolute Truth, so that man may save himself from himself. But it must be addressed to all men, for all time. Can you do it?
Of course! You're God, aren't you? You can do anything!
Thus, until relatively recently -- miraculously, I might add -- scripture did speak to all men -- the supernaturally brilliant, the sublunarally stupid, the primitive, the modern, the literate, the illiterate, kings and slaves. Even now -- I don't have the exact number, but I imagine that, much to Harris' dismay, scripture does still speak deeply to at least two thirds of a very intellectually diverse population, probably more. However, there is no getting around the fact that it no longer speaks to some. The question is, do these people know something we don't, or are they simply lost in the land of the "unknown unknown," not knowing what it is that they do not know?
As I said at the outset, religion does a more than adequate job of reaching the brilliant and the subnormal. What it cannot do -- what it was never designed to do -- is reach people who improperly use their God-given intelligence to replace Truth with an elaborate doctrine of falsehood. And yet, scripture, in its wisdom, certainly anticipates such individuals, making many sly and ironic references to the proud know-nothings who are "wise in their own eyes." We know what happens to the barren soul of such an individual, for whom it will be too late once the darkness cometh when no man can work. But what would become of the culture that collectively rejected Truth? I think scripture provides the answer to that as well. And it is "not pretty," as they say.
We are at something of a historical crossroads, although, truth be told, history -- both individual and collective -- is always at the Crossroads. Back to the question that started this series of posts. Yes, you could say that the story of God "destroying the world" is allegorical if you like. But make no mistake: one way or another, the destruction will come if we ever successfully unmoor our great civilization from its Judeo-Christian foundations. We're halfway there. Do you feel the shaking?