Atheists smarter than religious believers - study

Reuters / Antonio Bronic
Religious people are likely to be less intelligent than their atheist counterparts, a study claims. The analysis, which looked at almost a century of data, found a negative correlation between high IQs and religiosity.

Professors Miron Zuckerman and Jordan Silberman, from the University of Rochester, looked at 63 studies in the field carried out between 1938 and 2012. In their paper, entitled “The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity: A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations,” Zuckerman and Silberman drew the conclusion that the majority of studies found that more intelligent people were less likely to subscribe to organized religion.

Out of the 63 surveys, 53 showed a negative correlation between intelligence and religiosity, while only 10 displayed a positive one.

They found that infants with higher intelligence would be more likely to reject religion. Furthermore, older people with above average IQ are less religious, the study suggests.

“Our conclusion is not new,” Zuckerman said. “If you count the number of studies which find a positive correlation against those that find a negative correlation, you can draw the same conclusion because most studies find a negative correlation.”

He noted that what set his study apart was the emphasis on statistical analysis.

The paper defines intelligence as the capacity for analytical thought, problem solving and the understanding of complex ideas. In this way, it assumes that subscribing to a set of religious ideas not grounded in science and reason would repulse an individual with above average intelligence.

"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',” the study concludes.

Other factors such as gender or education have no bearing on the correlation between intelligence and religious belief, the study says. However, the study suggests that individuals with a higher IQ who reside in predominantly religious communities were more likely to resist dogma, because they are less inclined to conform.

Not representative?

Despite the ample statistical analysis, the study hits a few stumbling blocks. Firstly it only takes into account analytical intelligence, disregarding creative and emotional intelligence. Moreover, it could be argued the study is not representative, as over 87 per cent of the participants involved in the various studies were from the US, the UK and Canada.

Also, the predominant religion is the study is Protestantism, while other beliefs are not investigated.

The academics only looked at two studies that investigated the relationship between religiosity and intelligence in other cultures, namely Japan and Latin America.