Can a Smart Person Believe in God?

Contrary to the slanders voiced by arrogant atheists, we who believe in God are in very distinguished company indeed.

Excerpted from Can A Smart Person Believe In God? with permission of Nelson Books.



It is the stars as not known to science that I would know, the stars which the lonely traveler knows. --Henry David Thoreau



Can a smart person believe in God? The only reason the question even needs asking is this: persons identifying themselves as atheists, agnostics, humanists, and secularists-a total of less than 1 percent of the population, according to the City University of Mew York's 2001 American Religious Identification Survey-tend to see themselves as Marines of the mind: they are the few, the proud, the rational materialists.

Boasted the nineteenth-century American politician and atheist Robert Green Ingersoll:

"For ages, a deadly conflict has been waged between a few crave men and women of thought and genius upon the one side, and the great ignorant religious mass on the other."

In Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, best-selling author Anne Lamott describes how she became a born-again Christian. It wasn't easy: it involved overcoming a sixties childhood dominated by sex, drugs, alcohol, and snooty secularism:

None of the adults in our circle believed [in God]. Believing meant that you were stupid. Ignorant people believed, uncouth people believed, and we were heavily couth. My dad was a writer, and my parents were intellectuals who went to the Newport Jazz festival every year for their vacation and listened to Monk and Mozart and the Modern Jazz Quartet. Everyone read all the time. . .We were raised to believe in books and music and nature.

Atheism and its attending superiority complex are especially rampant among certain leading scientists. In an article titled, "Scientists Are Still Keeping the Faith," published in the April 3, 1997 issue of Nature, Edward Larson and Larry Witham revealed that about 40 percent of all American physical scientists believe in a personal God (presumably, still more of them believe in a non-personal God). Considering science's widespread reputation for being godless, that's a pretty sizable fraction. But in a subsequent study, the authors discovered that among members of the National Academy of Sciences-science's high priests-a mere 7 percent believe in a personal God.

During my years at Harvard, I recall a physics professor teaching undergraduates about the seminal contributions of the early twentieth-century Cal-Tech physicist and Nobel Prize-winner Robert Millikan. Millikan is renowned for his brilliant and historic oil-drop experiment, in which he discovered that every electron carries an indivisible electric charge. It's too bad, lamented the Harvard professor, that Millikan, a devoutly religious man, was such a "low-brow" (his exact words) when it cane to his personal beliefs.

If you believe in God and the importance of intelligence and education and civility, how do you respond properly to such haughty atheism? For starters, by recognizing that for all their superior airs, atheists are really no different from you and me. Like us, atheists believe in something they can't prove scientifically.

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