Religion and Intellect
By WILLIAM PRENTISS
“Real religion cannot be opposed to intellect.” — Leo Tolstoy
A perennial question plaguing thinkers, believers and thinking believers concerns the relationship of faith, reason and intellect. Does faith in the unseen require blind trust, or can it be predicated on things understood in the natural? Are faith, reason, and science mutually exclusive of one another?
I lie here day after day, unable to speak, thought to be in a coma, but I can hear, think and believe. What do I believe? I believe life is not fair, or I wouldn’t be the victim of a vicious, senseless beating. I believe our world is a frightening place, spiraling ever downward. But, I also believe there is a God and that He is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. I am convinced He keeps an incredibly complex world—one largely unaware or unappreciative of his preeminence— juggling toward eternity.
Can I prove this? Not empirically. Yet, the splendor of nature, the improbable order in the universe, the complexities of the human body, and the uniqueness of a flower that blossoms today and wilts tomorrow, all point toward intelligent design.
“If God, the object of our faith, is higher than our understanding, and if you do not understand Him, it does not mean that you should not use your intellect trying to understand Him.” — Fyodor Strakhov
Faith need not be antithetical to the exercise of human reason, but the greatest reasoning capacity of the brightest person alive would be insufficient to completely understand God, who says He always was, is, and always will be.
“Do not believe that in religion you cannot trust your intellect. The force of our intellect must support the foundations of every real faith.” — William Ellery Channing
All the magnificent complexities of the visible and unseen world we live in cause me to ask why, when, how, whom? If not God, then who? How out of some not-provable big boom did order come into existence? If a junkyard explodes does a fully functioning computer manifests itself out of the rubble? Can the sun really shine long enough on a frog’s ass to cause a wart or bump to evolve into an intricate eyeball? Does a brain develop with the capacity for memory and reasoning apart from a rational, catalytic genesis?
“In order to understand the truth, you should not suppress your intellect. On the contrary, you should purify your intellect, exercise it, and intellectually try and test everything which we can possibly put to the test.” — Tolstoy
In addition to Tolstoy’s daily devotional today, Sis read Psalm 34:8. She really seemed to believe I could hear her today! And, she was right! “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”
How could God be good if something bad happened to me and to others, who are much more enlightened than I? I don’t understand why my tragedy occurred, but I do know I now know Him much better than I did, if I ever really did know Him at all.
If He is God, then He matters: if He matters, then having a relationship with Him is imperative, and I am eternally better off knowing Him than not knowing Him. Oh, that I could share Him with others who don’t know Him. Maybe one day…
MORNINGS WITH TOLSTOY consists of the inner reflections of a man in a coma, the victim of a senseless beating. He can only hear, and no one knows this, but maybe his sister. Sis reads three devotional pieces daily and the internal dialogue reflects his response to them.