For Real, What Is Intelligence?

Conventional wisdom says we must ask the right question to get the right answer. So when I spotted a Chicago Tribune column asking, “If God’s so intelligent, why is every last thing on Earth so messed up?” I almost choked on my salt and pepper potato chip. In the article entitled “God’s Imperfect World”, the Trib’s Perspective Editor questioned all kinds of Divine creation—from cats, dogs, and human body parts, to underwater creatures:

God filled the oceans up with such a creepy collection of unlikely things you would never go to the beach again if you could see some of them gathered in one place. I’m talking bug-eyed fish with teeth like needles and marshmallow-size glow-in-the-dark lures hanging from their noses.”

Chicago Tribune editorial

Quite graphic, huh? Ironically, a few hours later, I stumbled upon an online news report announcing the discovery that crocodiles’ immune system kills HIV. By studying the reptiles’ blood, Australian scientists hope to develop powerful drugs to combat the disease in humans. And we thought they were all about the shoes and handbags. Who knew? Even that toothy, bug-eyed fish probably has a powerful healing role to play in life’s theater. In fact, scientists say that only a sponge does not grow or contribute to the evolutionary chain.

It intrigues me that this obviously observant journalist has never noticed the mathematical precision with which everything in the Universe seems to operate. It’s so precise that scientists can measure the distance between planets and the speed a planet rotates, predict when one will cast a shadow over another, and forecast the path of comets.

We debate the creative nature of God vs. Intelligent Design as if they are mutually exclusive. I’ll say it again: We must ask the right questions to get the right answers. How about asking, “Why do I think God has a body or acts like a male human? What evidence is there that God lives in a faraway place? Why do I believe that there is imperfection in anything God creates? Is it possible that my vision of God is too myopic?”

And the biggie: “Is it possible that God is Divine Intelligence?” One well-known source describes God as a Being with hands, feet, and other human body parts, then alternately describes God as Spirit. We know that Spirit has no human body. On some pages, God is described as jealous; on others, God is described as love. But we know that love is not jealous. On some pages, God is described as forgiving; on others, “He” is vengeful and punitive.

This is all so confusing, and it forces us to choose which God to believe in: the one who promotes war or prefers peace, the God who reacts with uncontrollable wrath, unspeakable violence, vengeance and sadism when we don’t do precisely what “He” wants us to do, or the God who grants free will to all, and allows us to learn from the consequences.

Let’s face it, some of us–OK, most of us–learn by doing, not by lecture. Free will and consequences teach us why the rule is golden. Someone can command you to do unto others what you would have them do unto you. But after you discover that whatever you do will be done to you, you will actively choose to treat people the way you’d want to be treated. Is there any question that God is intelligent?

Isn’t it fascinating that some of us would rather believe that God is the absence of intelligence (or worse, satanic and tyrannical) than to entertain the notion that ancient scribes who wrote these horrible legends about God were capable of human error? Their vision of an intervening being who answers some prayers, and not others, forces us to believe that God will help someone pass a barber’s exam or win a football game, but will not lift a “hand” to shield children about to be attacked by pedophiles or murderers. What’s that about?

We’re admonished not to ask questions, but the All-Powerful God has nothing to fear from our questions. The All-Knowing God is not threatened by our questions. The Unconditionally Loving God is not outraged by our questions, and certainly not insecure about our search for Truth.

I don’t know about you, but it seems more prudent to question our intelligence about God than to question whether God is intelligent. Really.