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1. Anti-Intellectualism is less about aptitude than  attitude.

“Anti-intellectualism is a disposition to discount the importance of truth and the life of the mind.”
—Os Guinness

2. Anti-Intellectualism is a problem in the Western world.

“We live in what may be the most anti-intellectual period in the history of Western civilization.”
—R. C. Sproul

“. . . Americans are the best entertained and quite likely the least well-informed people in the Western world.”
—Neil Postman

3. Anti-Intellectualism is a problem within evangelicalism.

“I must be frank with you: the greatest danger confronting American evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism. The mind in its greatest and deepest reaches is not cared for enough.”
—Charles Malik

“The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”
—Mark Noll

“. . . the Christian Mind has succumbed to the secular drift with a degree of weakness unmatched in Christian History.”
—Harry Blamires

“The contemporary Christian mind is starved, and as a result we have small, impoverished souls.”
—J. P. Moreland

“Our churches are filled with Christians who are idling in intellectual neutral. As Christians, their minds are going to waste. One result of this is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer Christian faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith.”
—William Lane Craig

4. Anti-Intellectualism is not virtuous.

“God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers.”
—C. S. Lewis

“Intellectual slothfulness is but a quack remedy for unbelief. . . .”
—J. Gresham Machen

“At root, evangelical anti-intellectualism is both a scandal and a sin. It is a scandal in the sense of being an offense and a stumbling block that needlessly hinders serious people from considering the Christian faith and coming to Christ. It is a sin because it is a refusal, contrary to Jesus’ two great commandments, to love the Lord our God with our minds. Anti-intellectualism is quite simply a sin. Evangelicals must address it as such, beyond all excuses, evasions, or rationalizations of false piety.”
—Os Guinness

5. Anti-Intellectualism should be resisted with Godward passion and intellectual consecration to the Lord.

“We must have passion—indeed hearts on fire for the things of God. But that passion must resist with intensity the anti-intellectual spirit of the world.”
—R. C. Sproul

“The Christian religion flourishes not in the darkness but in the light. . . .  [T]he true remedy [of unbelief] is consecration of intellectual power to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
—J. Gresham Machen

“What is today a matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires. In that second stage, it has gone too far to be combated; the time to stop it was when it was still a matter of impassioned debate. So as Christians we should try to mold the thought of the world in such a way as to make the acceptance of Christianity something more than a logical absurdity. . . . What more pressing duty than for those who have received the mighty experience of regeneration, who, therefore, do not, like the world, neglect that whole series of vitally relevant facts which is embraced in Christian experience — what more pressing duty than for these men to make themselves masters of the thought of the world in order to make it an instrument of truth instead of error?”
—J. Gresham Machen

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29 thoughts on “5 Theses on Anti-Intellectualism”

  1. Bruce Russell says:

    The pulpit has become a prop in a variety show.

  2. Kim Pettit says:

    Hi, Justin. Loved the quotes on anti-intellectualism, but was sad to note that not a single woman was represented among those you quoted. I believe the push toward anti-intellectualism is exacerbated among women in evangelicalism, and would like to see a follow-up post addressing this… Thank you.

    1. Rachael Starke says:

      Kim,

      I dont’ fault Justin for not including any women leaders/writers in the list because the few that exist aren’t widely known/published/read outside of the little TGC ecosystem. And that’s precisely the problem. I had exactly the same thought as you about the harm anti-intellectualism has done to women in the church. (I think the rise of the “sanctification through mothering and homeschooling” is actually a huge symptom/overreaction, not a positive response.) But until men in the church develop a stronger passion for strong / deep thinking even for themselves, there’s no way that they’ll have a vision for proactively, intentionally calling women in the church to develop the same. Women who have this vision on their own more often than not are marginilized, or at least, that’s what I’ve experienced.

      I’ll stop or this comment will become a genuine rant/whining session, and I just had to repent of doing that yesterday! :/

  3. Proposed:

    6. Anti-intellectualism is often a gross overreaction fueled by what is sometimes intellectual snobbery.

    I don’t, however, know of any good quotes to put here.

  4. Bruce Russell says:

    Notice that the music of the age is Rock: A completely sensual genre.

    1. Doc Mike says:

      Not if you listen to Pink Floyd.

  5. anaquaduck says:

    Malachi 2: 1- 9 has some significance regarding the above quotes. From a broader perspective though, Havergal sums it up nicely in the hymn “take my life & let it be”

    Appreciating how my intelect ties in with my heart & life has had its ups & downs in my life & some people seem to be more inclined & gifted in that area also.

  6. AJG says:

    R.C. Sproul’s first quote is perhaps the most ironic statement I’ve ever read given that he’s a YEC. Talk about an anti-intellectual position…

    Christians, particularly the Biblical inerrantist variety, are among the most anti-intellectual people on the earth. Despite scientific, historical and archaeological evidence that all point to the Bible being wrong in most of what it states, Christians tend to ignore said evidence simply because it contradicts established dogma. The inability – or more specifically the refusal – to change one’s mind when presented with strong evidence that contradicts previously held beliefs is the hallmark of an anti-intellectual.

    1. Bruce Russell says:

      AJG:

      We have strong evidence. God has shown it to us. Keep looking, He will show it to you too.

      Bruce

      1. AJG says:

        What you want to be true does not constitute evidence. It’s just faith.

        1. Bruce Russell says:

          AJG: You have trouble accepting the Biblical teaching on the past? Imagine your trouble accepting the Biblical revelation of the future. Focus on the resurrection of Jesus. If God can do this, what else can He do. What if you find at your death that this life was a mirage, a shadow of the true?

          1. AJG says:

            Focus on the resurrection of Jesus. If God can do this, what else can He do.

            Why should I focus solely on Jesus? I’m constantly told by TGC writers that the Bible is inerrant; that without Adam and Eve that the Gospel falls apart; that Noah, Jonah and Moses were all real historical figures; and that obvious errors in the Bible are not really errors as long as we redefine the word “error” to mean something completely different than the standard English definition. This is what I mean when I say evangelical Christianity an anti-intellectual. There is no amount of evidence that will ever change the minds of evangelical Christians. That’s willful ignorance and self-deception. Why would anyone want to spend their lives denying reality?

            Regarding the resurrection of Jesus: I spent most of my life focusing on it, trying to force myself to believe it, and finally freeing my mind of it. A claim as remarkable as a person being raised from the dead requires amazing evidence in order for someone to take it seriously. The evidence cited by Christians is hardly amazing and I would argue does not ever meet the standard of evidence.

            What if you find at your death that this life was a mirage, a shadow of the true?

            And that’s the trump card always played by the Christian: fear of what comes after death. What if you find out that Allah is actually God and will punish you for foresaking him and following Christ? Heck, what if the traditional Catholic view is true that anyone outside the Catholic church is damned? Everyone thinks they have the truth, including me, of course. There is little reason to pick one religion over any of the others. At least the naturalistic view of the world has the wealth of evidence on its side. All religion, including Christianity, has to offer is philosophical speculation based on supernatural assumptions.

            1. Bruce Russell says:

              AJG:

              I miss these discussions.

              As a teenager I wanted desperately to believe that my sins could be forgiven, but I thought I needed a lobotomy to accept the tenets of the Christian faith. How could I reject evolution?

              Well, I have an advantage in these things, Jesus actually showed me His resurrection power by saving me from a trajectory of misery and death.

              So I then attacked the intellectual problem of how the Bible hangs together. When you get inside it and accept its presuppositions, what does it really say and how does it say it? If you do this you will find the most profound literary work by far in history…that is if you allow its types and shadows to be fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ inaugurating an Eternal Glorious kingdom. Yeah you have to believe in the supernatural. Yeah you have to wade through the myriad foolish attempts at explaining and implementing Scriptural admonitions. But if you seek to really understand and then trust Scripture, textually, epochly, and canonically, you will find yourself a friend of God and a trusted few, and very much a solitary figure in the world.

              Bruce

    2. anaquaduck says:

      Your evidence AJG is probably better phrased “interpretation” as you also display a bias in the name of intelect & what you believe it is & isnt.

      Coming to faith in Christ doesnt mean throwing out your intelect & ability to think…that is a deception,to be sure.

      1. AJG says:

        Your evidence AJG is probably better phrased “interpretation” as you also display a bias in the name of intelect & what you believe it is & isnt.

        Interpretation is what you do with evidence. You craft the best possible explanation given the evidence before you. Ancient texts of dubious origin do not constitute evidence, and when they stand in opposition to physical evidence, they should be relegated to myth. Heck, when the text contradicts itself (was there one pair of each animal on the ark or was it seven pairs clean/one pair unclean), it should be viewed with suspicion.

        Empirical evidence is the only kind of evidence that we can regard as true (if anything can be regarded as true). When you have mutiple lines of empirical evidence that point in the same direction (genetics, anthropology, archaeology, geology, astronomy), you have confirmation that you are on the right track.

        1. anaquaduck says:

          So the science world is all in harmony with evidence ? Not likely.Its one thing to claim evolution, another to get cohesion & consistancy…

          In refrence to Gen 7 maybe its 3 pairs of 2 & one for sacrifice.

          I dont buy the all things are relative thing, my life & soul is on the maker & the certainty of Scripture.

        2. CPS says:

          AJG,

          What empirical tests have you done to verify the statement that “Empirical evidence is the only kind of evidence that we can regard as true”?

    3. Non-Christians, particularly the Biblical errantist variety, are among the most anti-intellectual people on the earth. Despite scientific, historical and archaeological evidence that all point to the Bible being right in what it states, non-Christians tend to ignore said evidence simply because it contradicts established dogma. The inability – or more specifically the refusal – to change one’s mind when presented with strong evidence that contradicts previously held beliefs is the hallmark of an anti-intellectual.

      Other people can make assertions too. Given that a comment thread isn’t a very good method of arguing all the evidence out there, your comment isn’t very helpful. While the origins science is highly debatable, the archaeology is fairly accessable, plentiful, and actually verifies the Bible. While we don’t have archaeological evidence that verifies everything, nothing that has been discovered is contrary to what is actually written in the Bible and much that has been discovered actually validates Biblical references that some scientists once doubted (sans evidence, of course).

      But that begs the question also. Evidence without revelation has an inherent epistemological uncertainty. Most people don’t realize this because they haven’t thought much about the philosophy that grounds the scientific method. Predictability is observable, measurable or testable, and repeatable, but only within a measure of liklihood established by initial assumptions. So the best we can say is that a scientific conclusion is only likely. At worst, we should note that the assumptions can make a likelihood questionable because they can make the likelihood that the likelihood is valid immeasurable.

      1. AJG says:

        While the origins science is highly debatable

        No, it really isn’t debatable. There was no Adam or Eve. Humans evolved from lower forms of life. It is written in the genetic code of every eukayrotic cell in your body. You simply refuse to accept it. Every day, science reveals more evidence that evolution is a fact. This isn’t going to get better for you. I’d estimate there are about 50 years left before orthodox Christianity accepts that evolution is as real as the heliocentric model of the solar system. Once that happens, Christianity will adapt or it will fall.

        the archaeology is fairly accessable, plentiful, and actually verifies the Bible.

        It absolutely does not. Modern archaeology has destroyed the view that Israel conquered Canaan, for example. The Bible as archaeological model is dead. There is zero archeaological evidence for a migration of one million Hebrews from Egypt. Nothing in the historical record and no artifacts recovered despite a millenium of searching for them.

        Predictability is observable, measurable or testable, and repeatable, but only within a measure of liklihood established by initial assumptions. So the best we can say is that a scientific conclusion is only likely.

        Of course. Science never proves anything with 100% certainty. However, it is in the business of disproving a lot (e.g. that there was ever a single human pair or that the earth is less than 10,000 years old). BTW, where did the Neaderthals come from? Why did they become extinct when it seems thay were nearly as intelligent as homo sapiens?

        1. As I’ve already demonstrated two can play the assertions game, but I won’t. I just wanted to point out that all you are doing are making baseless assertions. I can turn every statement you just made and make assertions to the contrary and we haven’t gotten anywhere. All anyone has to do is research it honestly and they can see past your assertions.

  7. Watertown Parson says:

    This here is sum of the best stuff Ive read for a long long time. Its hi time we git back to books and learnin like the Pureitans. They were smart. And we shud be smart too, like the Pureitans.

  8. Dean Davis says:

    It was Luther, I believe, who said (of unregenerate man) that the mind is a whore.

    A little over the edge, perhaps, but basically true: In the end, the unregenerate mind will always sell itself to the god it has chosen to worship; it will always prostitute logic and the love of truth to its lover, just so payment is made and the lust that truly dominates the life is satisfied.

    Because of residual sin in our members, Christians are not above such intellectual prostitution. The primary concern, then, should not be simply to use the mind, but rather to make sure we use it submissively and in loyal service to the Word of the God we say we love.

    I worry, Justin, that some of the men you quote here protest too much; that they may be having a little affair with the god of intellectual acceptability; that they are not fully faithful to the God whose Word will always elicit the scorn of the world (especially the Academy), and contempt for those who dare to believe , proclaim, and defend ALL of it.

  9. Gary says:

    Love this post. Too many Christians today are simply not capable of doing anything other than parroting whatever their favorite celebrity “pastor” says. If you challenge them on a statement, they just stare back at you, at a complete loss for words.

    Memo to the masses: Answering back with “well, so and so celebrity pastor said it, so that’s good enough for me” is not a good counterpoint.

    1. Bruce Russell says:

      Ignorance works against both faith and obedience.

  10. Dan Glover says:

    AJG, you said: “There was no Adam or Eve. Humans evolved from lower forms of life. It is written in the genetic code of every eukayrotic cell in your body. You simply refuse to accept it.”

    No one commenting here would argue with the scientifically observable fact that human genetic material and that of animals is very similar. However, to observe this fact and then deduce that this similarity of genetic material is due to evolution from a common source is not fact but theory, pure and simple, as it has never been observed. Another plausible theory is that the genetic material of humans and other species are similar because they were designed by the same Creator who chose to use the same building materials. My living room floor and my kitchen cabinets are both made of oak but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they both evolved ultimately from my neighbour’s book shelf. I tend to think they are similar because they are different products that were all made from the same type of tree.

    You also said: “Every day, science reveals more evidence that evolution is a fact.” This statement has become a slogan or creed of evolutionism, and most people who pronounce it are just accepting on faith and repeating something they heard a prominent evolutionist say…I’m guessing this is so in your case as well, AJG, but I may be wrong. This is a common assertion made by evolutionists, but these so-called “evidences” for evolution are only evidences to those with the requisite intellectual precommitments and who hold to atheistic and anti-creationist pre-suppositions. A creationist could just as easily look at new facts and interpret them through our lense as evidences for our own position. Your come-back would be that we are just blind to the facts, but we are looking at the very same facts, just interpretting them differently. Let’s take the fossil record, for example. An evolutionist comes across a fossil of a species that no longer exists and sees evidence for an intermediate or transition species, something between what used to be and what we have now. He/she has no way of proving this assertion, however, because the actual process of transition has not been and cannot be observed. A creationist looks at the very same fossil of a species that no longer exists and sees evidence for a species that God designed and created but which is now extinct. The evolutionist and the creationist can agree on the fact that the fossil represents a species that has died out. However, the evolutionist has a much harder time because he has to further prove that it was a transition species whereas the creationist can stop at saying that it is evidence for a species that is no longer in existence.

    Whenever I listen to Dennetts, Dawkins, Harris, etc., their arguments are not from evidences to conclusions but from conclusions to evidences. Dawkins begins with the assumption there is no God and then reads all the data (and pseudo-data) through that lense. That isn’t science, that’s philosophy and it’s philosophy poorly done. Examining the the world around us, there is reasonable warrant for belief in a Designer or Creator since our experience of reality teaches us that complexity, order, high functionality and interdependency don’t normally occur by accident and ultimately out of nothing.

    One question for you that I’ve yet to hear satisfactorily, or even plausibly, answered by an atheistic evolutionist: Where did matter first come from and how did it first become animated with a life force? (Dawkins says perhaps aliens first brought life to earth. Ok, so he rejects God but thinks aliens are plausible. Where’s the factual evidence for that? Hopefully you’ve got something a bit stronger to submit.)

  11. Paul says:

    Great quotes! I’d add Spiritual Mindedness by John Owen to the list. You can find a summary of the first few chapters from it here: jamesmirror.com/2013/01/17/tests-spiritual-mindedness-john-owen/

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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