Why does it seem like the smartest people are the ones who reject Christianity? Dr. Michael Kruger explains the factors that influence our beliefs and decisions, arguing that Christianity is the truth, even if those around us reject it.
When it comes to intellectual challenges to the Christian faith, one of the most common questions I get from people, and this is true for college students and just about anybody who’s a Christian in our modern world, is they say, “Why does it seem like the smartest people are precisely the ones who don’t believe Christianity?” That’s a very common question I get. This is particularly acute on the college campus because the average Christian student on a college campus will be taking their classes over time and realize, “Wait a second. My professors are really smart. They know a lot more than I do. In fact, they know much more than the average person in the world does. These are some of the brightest people on the planet with multiple degrees and all these credentials, and they seem to be precisely the ones who don’t think that Christianity is true. They are exactly the ones who seem that Christianity doesn’t make any sense to them.”
So why does it always seem, one might wonder, that the intellectual elites are the very ones that end up rejecting the faith? That can haunt you after a while. It’s like a little sliver in your mind. If you don’t eventually have an answer to that question, it can begin to make you think, “Well, hold on, maybe Christianity is just for people who don’t think very much,” or that Christianity is for people who aren’t very smart or whatever. I know that becomes a problem in our mind.
People Aren’t Neutral
The Bible makes it clear that people aren’t neutral when they investigate the world.What is the answer to that problem? Why does it seem like the smartest people often are the ones that don’t believe? What you have to realize is the way knowledge works. We tend to think that people form their beliefs in a way that’s sort of purely scientific, that what a person ends up believing is just because they put on the white lab coat, and they analyze the data, and the data led them some way, and they reach a conclusion. It’s all very mathematical and scientific and so on. If people really operated that way, then you could probably count the number of people who believe a certain thing and conclude that, “Well, I guess the majority of what people believe should be right, because most people just act scientifically, and they collect data, and they reach conclusions in a very straightforward way. Therefore, if I’m in the minority, something must be wrong with me.” But what if knowledge doesn’t work like that? What if people don’t make decisions about what they believe in that fashion?
People Use Worldviews to Make Conclusions
Well, the Bible makes it very clear that, in fact, people don’t think that way, that people are not neutral, that they’re not a blank slate, that they do not reach conclusions just based on the data. They actually make conclusions also based on their hearts, based on what they want to accept, based on the way they view the world. Paul is very clear in the book of 1 Corinthians that the natural man doesn’t receive the things of God because they don’t make sense to him. There’s already a built-in sense in which when a non-Christian is faced with the evidence for the Christian faith, they don’t see it. They won’t get it because it’s spiritually discerned, as Paul says. So there’s already a sense that the Bible makes it clear that people aren’t neutral when they investigate the world.
But it’s not just that Christians have said that, even non-Christians have said that. Many years ago, a very famous scholar by the name of Thomas Kuhn wrote a book called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. He made the case basically that science doesn’t work the way you think it does. Science doesn’t work just by collecting data and reaching conclusions. Rather, he says that science works in light of what he called “paradigms.” Scientists collect data, interpret data, and reach conclusions from data within a system, within a paradigm, within a grid. So it’s not neutral; it’s conditioned by the paradigm they start with. It’s only after the data becomes so overwhelmingly against the paradigm that paradigms are flipped and scientific revolutions take place. Kuhn’s point was simple: people don’t collect knowledge and reach conclusions in some sort of purely scientific, unbiased way, but they do it based on their worldview.
The Truth is Still the Truth
Just because most people around you may not believe doesn’t mean that what you believe isn’t true.That’s really one of the major lessons here that we need to take away as believers: it’s not as simple to say that someone believes the evidence or doesn’t believe the evidence. People operate in the world based on worldviews, and worldviews condition what they’re willing to accept, what they’re willing to believe, what they’re willing to affirm. That should remind us that even if most people reject the faith around us, it really has nothing to do with whether what we believe is true, because people reject things or accept things for all sorts of reasons.
Really, the best example of this, and by way of illustration, is really C. S. Lewis’s wonderful book, The Magician’s Nephew. In that book, there’s a famous scene where Uncle Andrew is in Narnia, and yet Uncle Andrew doesn’t believe in any magical things. He starts hearing Aslan singing, and he thinks to himself, “Well, lions don’t sing. Lions can’t sing.” And so instead of hearing Aslan singing, he reinterprets the evidence as just noise and gibberish. Lewis in the book makes the point that what you’re willing to accept, what you’re willing to believe, actually tends to have more to do with where you already stand and what you already have in your heart than what’s really going on in the world. That’s a great illustration for us. So be encouraged today. Just because most people around you may not believe doesn’t mean that what you believe isn’t true.
Dr. Kruger’s forthcoming book addresses intellectual challenges to the Christian faith that students face in college. This episode was originally published as part of a corresponding video series.