Intelligent People Have Less Need for Religion

smartTempting it is to say a creationist is less intelligent than an evolutionist. It seems obvious to us only a deluded fool would believe the Earth to be 6,000 years old–or that the bible is literally true in all respects. Intelligence like most aspects of humans is neither clear cut nor linear. There are many kinds of intelligence and many obstacles to intelligence in spite of it.

A study that is going to be misunderstood by many concludes the more intelligent you are the more secular you are.

“The relation between intelligence and religion is negative,” Zuckerman said. “It was very early in the study that we realized that.”


A professor can’t remember where his care keys are ever. A genius can’t remember to tie their belt. A computer uberGod doesn’t think of checking the power cord when the PC won’t boot. A car mechanic can’t get his computer-enabled TV to work. A linguist of 20 languages can’t cook rice. There’s something deeper than the facile dumb or not going on here.

“It is truly the wrong message to take from here that if I believe in God I must be stupid,” he said. “I would not want to bet any money on that because I would have a very good chance of losing a lot of money.”

Rather, Zuckerman and co-authors Jordan Silberman and Judith Hall write that more intelligent people may find certain basic needs — “functions” in psychology-speak — fulfilled outside of religion. These functions include self-esteem, a sense of community and a sense of purpose, among others.

“We say it is possible that having a high level of intelligence provides similar functions to what religion provides” for people who adhere to a religion, Zuckerman said.

Self esteem, a sense of community, and a sense of purpose. This is an emotional intelligence and not factual intelligence. It is also an intelligence of birth and birth family. Whether introverted or not, intuitive or not, compliant or not, what room there is to be different than genetic disposition is cast by where and how you were raised.

The study also concludes that more intelligent people are less likely to believe in God because they are more likely to challenge established norms and dogma. They are also more likely to have analytical thinking styles, which other studies have shown undermine religious belief.

This implies a link between authority and intelligence. Less authoritarian types are less likely to accept whatever dogma they encounter. They are more able to discern what makes something true or not possibly because they desire to see dogma as false and look for corresponding support.

“The functions we cover imply that in many ways religious people are better off than those who are nonreligious,” he said. “There are things about self-esteem and feeling in control and attachment that religion provides. In all those things, there are benefits to being religious, and that is the take-home message for those who are religious.”

Tempting it is to say religion was only created and continued to enhance power but that is not true. It does and did provide a way of dealing with impulse control, community etc. With less work.

The conflict occurs when other factors invalidate the credibility of the religion. If a stranger or outsider joins and notes “why the stars are not holes pecked into the blanket that covers the world” but rather it is the homes of gods and a chariot pulls the sun across the sky and at night is safely in its stable, there is a basic disagreement over the source of comfort and social concord that leads to social cohesion.

“This kind of study points to a very clear issue for believing Christians,” he said. “We do not draw support for our faith from scientific reports. Anyone whose faith is shaken by the claim that research proves that higher intelligence leads to lower levels of religious belief has a misplaced faith.”

In the example above, either it’s the birds or the chariot. What on Earth can support either conclusion in the absence of tools to verify either observation?

Perhaps, someone climbs the highest mountain and sees there are no birds at altitude and says birds can’t fly that high so something else created the stars. Either one has to assert there are special birds that can or the cause is not true.

It doesn’t take the either/or of science or faith to make contrary claims. Within science or faith one can use more or less evidence to support a claim.

Lillian Daniel is a Congregationalist pastor and author of the recent book “When ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ is Not Enough.” She said many intelligent people are comfortable with “the metaphor and mystery” of faith.

“It’s not that intelligence leads to atheism, or education leads to loss of faith,” she said. “But I think there is a certain peer pressure as one moves up the educational ladder to dismiss all religion as fundamentalism. It’s one of the last acceptable biases in an environment that prides itself on being open-minded.”

Empathetic people, those who read and enjoy fiction a great deal, are more likely to allow symbol and metaphor as they encounter in their books over and over again. Empathy affects their observations.

Extreme rationalists and extreme empiricists can both lose it. An extreme rationalist can build an entire universe from axioms and not even care whether it relates to reality. An extreme empiricist can insist there is no reality whatsoever when it is not being sensed.

John Henry Newman, Catholic cardinal, wished to increase education for all levels of society and penned an early support of university education believing that more education will inevitably lead to greater understanding of both god and the Catholic church’s role in it.

Modern education and intelligence have been redefined to encourage inquiry, questioning, verification, and independence of thought. When you look at medieval scholars especially Jewish and Muslim you see an extraordinary breadth of aligned support. The intellectual contortions made to support their dogma is profound, brilliant and creative.

Whether science and religion are clubs (social groups) with all of its humanistic socializing structure is less important than the cultural role of intelligence and knowledge within the club as stated above by how faith trumps science.

From an evolutionary view a society that must meet changing inputs is going to show more rapid adaptation versus a society that exists in a more static environment where the rewards are more consistent over time. At some point meta-analysis will get sophisticated enough to show this in greater detail.

You can see this happening now in the US. During colonization independence and individuality benefited and were rewarded. With greater communal infrastructure and scalable means of industry and work, conformity and creative alignment are being rewarded. The polarization we see now is a reaction to this change exacerbated by economic pressure due to declining wealth.

So, no, I don’t think creationists are stupid and atheists are smart categorically. They have different goals and definitions of intelligence.

Jim Newman, bright and well

About Jim Newman

Jim Newman is a philosopher. When I was young I wondered what was the ultimate truth. How should I behave? What makes it all work? I was intensely curious to know what it all means. It was enlightening to realize there is no ultimate truth, but nevertheless sufficient and necessary turth, and that meaning was a meta analysis of living one’s life. In this sense my work has been living large. Living and experiencing life has made me learn many things. Building boats, motors, houses, electronics. Raising animals. Teaching. Writing. Photography. Drawing. Knitting. Sewing. Cooking. Music. Painting. Hiking. Aboriginal living skills. All material aspects of reality that seem irrelevant until you realize they allow you to experience more. My epiphany came when I read Christopher Hitchen’s “Letters to a Young Contrarian” and I felt vindicated in my many meals of sacred cow.
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