Are religious people less intelligent than atheists?

IQbyreligionA recent study by a team of psychologists at the University of Rochester concludes that atheists are more intelligent than religious people.

This is based on a review of 63 studies conducted between 1928 and 2012.  In 53 of the studies, religious people were found to be less intelligent than atheists and, in 35 of the studies, significantly less intelligent.  In 10 of the studies, religious people were found to be more intelligent, and, in only two, significantly more intelligent.

The three psychologists carrying out the review defined intelligence as the “ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience”.

Religiosity is defined by the psychologists as involvement in some (or all) facets of religion.

According to the review, other factors – such as gender or education – did not make any difference to the correlation between intelligence and religious belief.

The level of belief, or otherwise, did however vary dependent upon age with the correlation found to be weakest among the pre-college population.

The paper concludes that: “Most extant explanations (of a negative relation) share one central theme —the premise that religious beliefs are irrational, not anchored in science, not testable and, therefore, unappealing to intelligent people who ‘know better’.”

via The Independent.

I have the same kinds of misgivings about this kind of study as I do about studies purporting to show IQ differences among whites, blacks and Asians or between rich and poor people.  My first misgiving is the uncertainty about what intelligent tests measure, given that they change across the generations.  My second misgiving is that, whatever they measure, the results are distributed along a Bell curve, with most of the populations overlapping.  You really can’t tell anything for sure about the intelligence of an individual based on race or religion.

The UR study is behind a pay wall, but I did a little Internet research, and the range of differences seems relatively small.  That is what I take away from the results of the study summarized in the chart above.

I have a good friend who is both much more intelligent and much more religious than I am.  She has an understanding of thinkers such as Noam Chomsky, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell, which is far deeper than anything of which I am capable.  At the same time she is a much more spiritual person than I am.  She engages in meditation and other spiritual practices and gets a lot out of it.   I don’t do any of these things on a systematic basis.

I’m not sure which of us the UR researchers would consider the more religious person, because she is not a member of any religious group while I am a faithful attender of First Universalist Church of Rochester.

I suppose that if you define religion as acceptance of certain doctrines without question, then it is true that the more intelligent people would tend to question these doctrines and decide for themselves what they believe, while the less intelligent would tend to accept unquestioningly what they are told.  That is not my definition of religion, but it is a way that many people think.

A number of surveys show that avowed atheists and agnostics have a better knowledge of religion than believers do.

religiousliteracyCorrelation is not causation.  Maybe both religious affiliation and intellectual attainment are both related to other factors, such as social class or cultural background.

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Double click to enlarge.

Click on the following links for more.

Religious people are less intelligent than atheists, an analysis of over 63 scientific studies going back over decades concludes by Rob Williams in The Independent.  Hat tip to Jack Clontz for the link.

New meta-analysis checks the correlation between intelligence and faith by Akshat Rathi on Ars Technica.

The tricky relation between religion and IQ by Andrew Brown of The Guardian.

Religion Vs. Education Vs. Income by Barry Ritholtz on The Big Picture.

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