Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 4, 1961

The Faith Versus Intellectualism - ( I )

David Edwin Harrell, Kingston Springs, Tennessee

(Editor's note: This is the first installment of the lecture delivered by brother Harrell at the Florida Christian College lectures this spring. We commend this material to you for most careful reading; for the church of our Lord is certainly not immune to the swirling cross-currents of contemporary thinking. Much of the loose, inchoate materialism now appearing among our brethren is no doubt their attempt to harmonize the traditional and long accepted standards of our fathers with the "intelligent faith" which they think our age demands.)

From time to time mankind has dangled over the bottomless abyss of the unknown. The meaning of life and death, the meaning of what we see and what we are, create in us wonder and awe and fear. It was to this panic-stricken, heart-throbbing inadequacy of many that Jesus of Nazareth appealed nearly two thousand years ago when he said: "Let not your heart be troubled: believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you." This is an answer. It can give purpose to life; it can soothe the agonies of death with meaningfulness. Involved in the answer is an unwavering commitment by the Disciple. He accepts his teacher as the Christ; he accepts His teaching as the word of life; he follows His instructions with uncompromising humility and subjection. He lays hold on the faith. His motivation is faith, a motivation not irrational, and yet not a demonstrable necessity. We believe in and follow Jesus Christ not because we must but because we choose to.

There are other faiths which men have and do appeal to for answers to the great unknowns of human existence. They have their strengths and weaknesses. There are others here tonight better equipped than I to deal with the merits and faults of these misguided systems of faith. They are not within the bounds of my discussion. On the other hand there is another method which has been used to discover the answer to the unknown. Throughout history some men have turned within for truth rather than without. They have turned from faith to reason.

The word "intellectualism" has been used for about the last sixty years to describe a quality of mind which reached its zenith during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and which has since been repeatedly and seriously challenged. A standard definition of the word is: "the doctrine that knowledge is derived from pure reason." So the core of intellectualism is that attitude toward the solution of the problems of reality which accepts reason as the sole method of discerning truth. Although we generally equate "intellectualism" with academic training and sophistication, the companionship of these qualities is not inevitable. The truth of the matter is there are uneducated intellectuals and educated anti-intellectuals. An intellectual is marked by his attitude rather than by what he knows.

In the modern history of the Western world, intellectualism, as we know it today, is a fairly recent phenomenon. The unique development in modern intellectualism has been the marriage of science and philosophy. In the years that followed the Renaissance the long-kept secrets of nature and man's cosmic relationship in this life seemed to be certainly falling before the accelerating march of science. Galileo, Decartes, Bacon, and finally Newton dug into the secrets of nature with a new objectivity and scientific method which yielded rich results. It seemed that the whole universe was simply a complex mechanism which operated according to inalterable rules — rules which were rapidly coming to the knowledge of man. The culmination of this movement came in the eighteenth century which has been labeled by historians the "Enlightenment" or the "Age of Reason." It seemed that with a diligent application of reason man would eventually unlock all the secrets of nature — not only physical, but moral and social as well. If all the world operated according to set laws the only thing needed was for rational human beings to discern these laws and act in accordance with them. The perfect society would be formed on this earth according to the sociological rules of nature and the perfect man would be created when humanity learned to live according to the physical laws which dictated.

The impact of the enlightenment on religion was enormous. Some of the leaders of this intellectual movement became atheists who no longer saw the necessity of a God in such an optimistic and well-ordered world. Others became Deists who acknowledged the presence of a distant and impersonal God who simply created the universe to operate according to certain irrevocable laws and then withdrew from His creation to let it run its course. But perhaps most important in the area of religion was the attempt by professors of revealed religion to accommodate findings of rationalistic science within their system of faith. Under pressure from the onslaughts of all-powerful science, which was to an increasingly materialistic world the only obvious truth, religion retreated into the twentieth century. Whenever it did, or seemed to, conflict with the dictates of absolutest science, it yielded ground. By the middle of the twentieth century "liberal religion" has become the pliant tool of intellectualism. But the confident intellectualism of the enlightenment was itself fighting a losing battle for survival by 1900.

During the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century a new scientific revolution unparalleled in human history took place. Although the revolution proceeded in many areas of scientific investigation simultaneously, the two most outstanding figures who emerged were Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud. The result was the dethronement of absolutist science. The philosophical impact of Einstein's theory of relativity was immense. While such venerated physical principles as the law of gravity were granted to be legitimate tools for the solution of certain problems, they were repudiated as absolute cosmic truths. Indeed, it was asserted that man cannot evolve from his unique experiences in time and space any fundamental laws equally applicable in all the conceivable space-time relationships in the universe. What Einstein represents in the physical sciences, Freud represents in the social sciences. Not only was it impossible to set down a perfectly rational set of rules for men to live by but, according to Freud, man himself was largely irrational — motivated by deeply hidden animalistic drives. In short, by mid-twentieth century, while television, cosmetics, space-travel and atomic explosives continued to hold the mass of mankind spell-bound by the power of the age-old medicine man with the scientific method, scientists knew that they no longer had all the answers — the heavenly city of the eighteenth century intellectuals had crumpled.

Twentieth century man has been beset on all sides. He is the child of two world struggles (each a war to end all wars), of brutality, mass slaughter of populations and devastation of nations. His world includes the same inconsistencies of wealth and starvation; the same shocking social illnesses that have always plagued mankind. If he lives longer than men did a century ago, he still suffers, has pains, dies, and more and more is driven into the twisted world of insanity. If he is more educated and sophisticated than ever before, he still murders, lies, rapes, and haft... If he lives in the midst of technological miracles that give the common man the opulence of a medieval king, he is the victim of a science run mad — with the power to destroy without the knowing of the meaning of it — with the power to make live but not the knowledge of how to do it. The full cycle is run. The twentieth century man can rejoin the first century Jerusalem Jew as the Roman legions approached; the fourth century Romans as Attila the Hun swept into the Italian peninsula, the tenth century Franks as the wild Norseman encamped outside the walls of Rouen — he is humanity in Despair; he knows FEAR.

The collapse of the scientific rationale for modern intellectualism left a moral vacuum in twentieth century thought. The shell-shocked disillusioned man of the 1960's wants answers — as man always had — and the intellectuals have no answers. A world under the threat of destruction will no longer wait for the dignified and relativistic philosophers of the Aristotelian Society of London to debate the subject: "Is there a moral end?" Intellectualism has retreated. We live in an age of intellectual compromise.

The intellectual climate of mid-twentieth century American is essentially a compromise between intellectualism and faith. Existentialist philosophers and neo-orthodox theologians have renounced the tyranny of reason and with roots going back to the Danish thinker, Soren Kirkegard, have concluded that all truth must ultimately come by a "leap of faith." The search for anchors in a turbulent world is one of the fundamental characteristics of twentieth century western thought. This craving for authority is vividly demonstrated by the resurgence of American religion in the past few decades. Organized religion in America has made tremendous gains in the twentieth century and a larger percentage of Americans are affiliated with a religious group today than at any previous time in the history of the nation. President Eisenhower emphasized this new passion for religion when he said in a recent speech: "Our government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith — and I don't care what it is."

The President's remarks also betray the character of the new faith that has evolved in America. It is not the old faith — but as Ashley Montague an eminent spokesman for modern thought, put it, it is a "new-old faith" or an "intelligent faith." Twentieth century American religion has deposited itself in some kind of half-way house between enlightened intellectualism and dedicated faith.

(Concluded next week)