12/28/2012 02:00 pm ET Updated Feb 27, 2013

The Nature of Intelligence

We find ourselves in the midst of a season of gift-giving. Everyone ponders what they could possibly give their friends and family that they would appreciate.

As human beings, our deepest appreciation is for things that nurture our deepest qualities. And there is no deeper human quality than intelligence.

In our fast-paced, high-powered society, good-sense intelligence is being replaced by artificial intelligence. We are accomplishing more than ever before because we have to think less than ever before.

And yet this explosion of accomplishment is not creating a happier society, only a busier one.

How can we re-learn and re-teach the art of fine intelligence? And wouldn't that be a meaningful gift to offer a person you care about (such as yourself)?

This article offers one way to do it. While this covers the subject of intelligent discussion of faith, the premise holds true for all unreasonable and thus unhealthy skepticism.


What is the intelligent response upon hearing something new? Is it to automatically doubt the veracity of this new piece of information or flatly reject it because you have never heard it before?

Of course not. That is not an intelligent or constructive reaction.

Imagine an explorer returning from a distant land and reporting facts you've never heard before. Would you doubt him? If someone comes back from Australia and tells you he saw a unique animal that carries its babies in its pocket, would you respond, "I've never heard of such a thing. I'm too intelligent to believe that"?

The explorer is telling you he's discovered something you have never encountered. How can your objection be, "I've never heard of or seen such a thing"? Is that really an intelligent response?

The healthy behavior when confronted with information you've never heard before -- and know nothing about -- is to assume it's true and that you've just learned something new. To be skeptical is a limiting habit, a learned behavior that can come from being lied to.

For example, when someone says, "G-d created the world," a common reaction is rejection: "I can't believe that."

Why? Why can't you? Do you have information that points in another direction?

If you do not have an intelligent objection, the sensible reaction is not to doubt the new information, but to assume it's correct.

To reject an idea, a belief, or an argument on the grounds of never having seen it yourself is counterproductive. Why? Because seeing and hearing new things is how you learn new things! We need to rethink our whole attitude towards how we perceive and process new information.

There also seem to be an unhealthy obsession and demand for proof. If I say G-d gave the Torah at Mount Sinai, the automatic reaction will be, "Can you prove that?"

Why do we need proof? What's the objection? Do you know for certain that G-d was in Cleveland that day? Does He need an alibi?

Whenever a certain discipline becomes popular, people begin to view everything through the prism of that discipline. When psychology became popular, everything was interpreted through the lens of psychology. (Are you angry with your mother?) When politics is front and center, anything being discussed has some kind of political implications. People often take one idea and make a lifestyle out of it; it doesn't work.

At the beginning of the last century, science became a god. To establish a scientific fact, you have to test it repeatedly to see that you get the same result.

When science became a god, life became a science. Now, everything has to be proven; everything has to have evidence. (My mother loves me, but where is the proof that she's my mother?)

But life is not lived in a laboratory.

What we have to introduce to young people is: That what we've always known to be true is true. What is wrong with that? Why does that need to be fixed? Would you ever say, "My mother claims to be my mother and she acts like my mother and I want her to be my mother, but I need proof"?

If an idea has been popular for 5,000 years, it would be foolish to say, "There's no such thing." Saying that an absence of proof somehow proves that something does not exist is nonsense. There is no intellectual discipline that focuses on what does not exist. Not having a proof does not prove anything.

Intelligence does not work that way.

If you have a reason to disagree, present your reason. If you have no reason to disagree, be excited that you've learned something new. That's the healthier approach.

Generally, when you speak to people who consider themselves atheists, they end up saying something along the lines of "OK, maybe there is some kind of G-d, but I can't believe He'd be bothered by what I eat!"

If you ask: What is G-d? What do we know about Him? Why does He care what we eat? Those are valid questions. Now you're starting to make sense.

Now we can have a conversation.

Content for this article was taken from a video on Rabbi Friedman's website to view it click here.