Religious apologists like to say, “Some very smart people believe in God.” This is misleading. Here’s why.

Imagine we’re talking about quarks. Someone says, “Some very smart people believe in quarks.” If we don’t fret over the exact meaning of the word ‘believe’, this statement is uncontroversial. Professional physicists, who spend all their time studying the microscopic constituents of matter, believe (speaking loosely) that some of those tiny things really are quarks (as specified by complex mathematical formulas).

Now, when we call the people who believe in quarks “smart people” we mean that they know a lot about the world that quarks belong to: the world of subatomic particles. But when we say there are “smart people” who believe in God, we can’t possibly mean that they know a lot about the world that God belongs to. No one knows about that world. There is universal agreement on this point, even in theology. So when we say that “there are smart people who believe in God,” the phrase “smart people” must mean people who are smart about other things—particle physics, for example, or genetics, or whatever. But being an expert on particle physics or genetics does not qualify you to talk about God. By definition, no one knows anything about God. You might be smart about other things, but you’re not smart about God.

This is why “some very smart people believe in God” is a misleading statement.

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