Friday, December 19, 2008

Intelligence is Inversely Related to Religiousness

Believers have frequently attacked atheism on the grounds that it must be mistaken because so many intelligent people accept the claim that God is real. Then a list follows. The implication, if there’s an argument here at all, is that by not believing, the atheist asserts that all of these brilliant people are crazy, or at least mistaken. But surely, so many people who are so smart couldn’t be so wrong. Or something to that effect.

The fallacious appeal to authority is clearly a problem in these arguments. There’s also a great deal of confirmation bias going on. We can find lots of smart people, like Ptolemy, who believed that the Sun orbits the Earth, or like Aristotle who believed that the four basic elements of matter are earth, air, fire, and water. So specific appeals to individuals and their beliefs won’t tell us much about what’s reasonable.

But if we were to take a broader view of what smart people think on the whole, could that give us some leverage on the question of what is most reasonable to believe? It won’t settle the matter of course. Belief trends among smart people can be just as mistaken as Aristotle’s earth/air/fire/water scheme. But one would be foolish to disregard what the most educated, intelligent, and thoughtful people in the human race thought was true. If there are significant trends in what they take to be true, that should count as substantial justification for all of us. That’s a large part of what justifies the rest of us in believing that smoking causes cancer, or that oxygen is real, afterall. Which views are justified are, in part, a function of the social-epistemic context. One’s standards of justification and background information are tied, in part, to what the people around you think. Aristotle wasn’t irrational, just mistaken.

In a recent meta study in Intelligence (“Average Intelligence Predicts Atheism Rates Across 137 Nations”), Richard Lynn, John Harvey, and Helmuth Nyborg identified some telling conclusions:

1) Worldwide, there is a substantial negative correlation between intelligence and religious belief. That is, as intelligence goes up, religious belief goes down.

2) Furthermore, there is a significant decline of religious belief with age among children.

3) In the 20th century, as the intelligence of the population has gone up, religious belief has gone down.

In their discussion, the authors cite several familiar explanations from the previous surveys for why the correlation exists:

Frazer, in The Golden Bough, concludes that “the keener minds came to reject the religious theory of nature as inadequate. . . religion, regarded as an explanation of nature, is replaced by science.”

Kuhlen and Arnold argue that “greater intellectual maturity might be expected to increase scepticism in matters of religion.”

Inglehart and Welzel assert that people in the pre-industrial world have little control over nature, so “they seek to compensate their lack of physical control by appealing to the metaphysical powers that seem to contrl the world: worship is seen as a way to influence one’s fate, and it is easier to accept one’s helplessness if one knows the outcome is in the hands of an omnipotent being whose benevolence can be won by following rigid and predictable rules of contact. . . one reason for the decline in traditional religious beliefs in industrial societies is that an increasing sense of technological control over nature diminishes the need for reliance on supernatural powers.”

The authors also note that the United States is anomalous “in having an unusually low percentage of its population disbelieving in God (10.5%) for a high IQ country.”

It is no accident that disbelieving God comes with increased information and increased IQ. The correlations are too robust for that. And the explanations for the correlation here are at least plausible. So data shifts a burden of proof onto the shoulders of the believer, particularly the one who would cite a list of smart believers to defend their position.


Anonymous said...

Something came from nothing.


Jon said...

To steve martin:

Not all atheists believe that something came from nothing, many believe that "something" aka "the universe" always existed, while some hold an open mind about that, while some think that it does. For my part I believe that the universe always existed rather than came from nothing. But, that's a different debate. It's not best to assume or generalize a metaphysical viewpoint without giving credence to alternate views.

Teleprompter said...

To steve martin:

Well, sometimes it's best to say "I don't know". Because I don't know how the universe originated.

But on the other hand, to presume that the universe was created from nothing by a deity for which we have no evidence of existence, is beyond credibility.

I believe that we don't have all the details of the universe ironed out yet. Theists believe that someone or something created "something from nothing" through supernatural means. Now which view makes more sense to you now?

Jon said...

At the same time :::Player Piano::: - I do agree with you in many respects, however, also we have to judge the view that some theists believe that the universe was not created by a "supernatural means", for via the universe 'was and always will be' due to the view that the "God" is natural and so hence that the universe is and always has been via "it" in a strange naturalistic theistic sense, but I admit that I am not sure how that follows metaphysically/physically (just assuming the two are the same in a Spinozian sense). I do not agree with that for other reasons - so I am on your side on that, just not the exact meta-physical reasons.

So, in part I must agree with you, but at the same time a strange naturalistic theist may maintain that there is no difference between nature and "super-nature", and that it is all the same process (which I do not agree with in specifics). It is like asking "what is nature?" and "what is super-nature?" --Or, that the the universe was "created" by a deity, but NOT from nothing.--

For it was created by something: namely "a part of a
God from itself". Which admittedly I do not agree with for other reasons, but that is another avenue for the theist which we must give reason to discount.

And, the universe could not have been "created from nothing" period. Because Any Form of "created from nothing" is metaphysically/physically 'problematic' whether theist or atheist."

But I am open to rebuttal - and am about to crash out after working 24 in 32 hours, thanks all. - Jon

Teleprompter said...

Jon: you are saying that some might believe that the universe is entirely natural because it is part of "God" that is natural, or because the universe is an expression of a divine nature or natures? Then why make any special differentiation if your "God" is simply nature? Or am I missing something?

Also, I agree that it's nothing but problematic to say that anything "came from nothing".

Jon said...

I'm just saying that some theists will argue for god in a way that is consistent with naturalism. But, I disagree with that for other reasons.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't expect you guys to believe.

Hey, at heart, I am a non-believer.

I'm only a believer because He makes me after day, and each time I slip into unbelief...He brings me back home (the Good Shepherd).

When Christ showed up in this self-obsessed, idolatrous world, 2000 years ago...they hated Him and put Him to death.

We still hate Him. If He showed His face again, we would want to kill Him again.

But He actaully loves His enemies (unlike us) and gave His life for us that we might live again.

Now that's love.

And it's also that no man can prove, nor does he have to. But when this love and forgiveness finally grabs a hold of you...there is no going back to the same old life.

No, we don't want to believe in Him or love Him...but He wants us.

Thanks all!

Eric Sotnak said...

steve martin wrote:
"We still hate Him. If He showed His face again, we would want to kill Him again."

Why? Because of the ideology he taught? Are believers or non-believers more likely to kill people over differences in ideology?

If Jesus came back and preached an ideology of which I disapproved, I don't think I'd want to kill him. If he came back and molested my kids, or flew an airplane into a building full of people, maybe then I'd want to kill him.

Anonymous said...


I didn't mean to do the actually killing, but to contribute to the attitude that gets Him killed.

Whenever real goodness comes forth in the world it is attacked by those who feel threatened or shown up or exposed by that goodness. The presence of God exposes our selfishness.

That is why we would kill Him, and also because He is of God and we hate God.

Eric Sotnak said...

steve martin wrote:
"Whenever real goodness comes forth in the world it is attacked by those who feel threatened or shown up or exposed by that goodness."

I disagree. So far as I know, no one has attacked this example of real goodness, for example:

"...we hate God."

Who does? I don't hate God. I don't think anyone posting on this blog hates God.... Unless you do -- if so, why?

Matt McCormick said...

I posted this comment to Steve Martin a while back. It got ignored. Now, after lots more theo-babble, it seems even more relevant:

Here's a challenge for you: can you give a description of God and some of these metaphysical claims about him that does not employ any of the jargon, or insider cliches, or boiler-plated poetic theology? That is, can you say any of this stuff without presuming so much background and acceptance in your audience that it's true or even makes sense? I think that would be useful for you and the people who are trying to understand you because otherwise, you just sound like a cult member whose consciousness has been completely co-opted. Then, if you can make these claims without all the theo-babble, can you offer some non-circular, non-question begging grounds for the rest of us to think the claims are true? That is, do you have any grounds for believing the doctrine besides appealing to the doctrine itself? It's not a unreasonable request--your audience wants to know why you believe, not just hear empty platitudes. And you should satisfy yourself that there are some reasons to accept this stuff and dedicate your life to it that are independent of the doctrine itself.

Think of it this way: imagine a non-believer, in response to legitimate questions from you, just kept saying things like:

"The vast nothingness IS WHAT IT IS, and nothing else."

"The non-existence of God has revealed itself in the righteous, perfect, impersonal absence of God."

"The nothing manifests itself in the hearts and minds of humans, not in arguments or reasons."

"The Non-God is the Non-God, glory be to its absence!!"

Do you see what I mean? From an outside perspective, this sort of talk just sounds insane.

None of this will convince you, I suppose. But I think for your own sake it would be really helpful if you could see that when you say stuff like, "I'm only a believer because He makes me after day, and each time I slip into unbelief...He brings me back home (the Good Shepherd).


When Christ showed up in this self-obsessed, idolatrous world, 2000 years ago...they hated Him and put Him to death."

you sound like your mind has been taken over by a cult. That's the kind of mindless obsession and dedication that leads people to strap on bombs. You put the rest of us in danger by promoting this kind of nuttery.


Anonymous said...


That's was a great story, very heart warming...and good.

But the kind of goodness of which I speak is not the kind where we act, but rather the goodness where One would lay down their life for an enemy.

The only totally selfless act done for the sake of those that would kill Him.

When Jesus was approached and asked, "good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus replied, "Why do you call me good? There is no one good but God."

We can always find some good here, but it is good on a different level. I thank God for it...people are helped when people show compassion and kindness.

True goodness, the type of which Christ showed on the cross...can only come from God.

Jon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jon said...

To Steve: A problem comes up when people believe that they know what a God thinks in the specific written doctrines. I don't believe in God, but assume that I do for a sec, I would believe that a God would not only be selfless as you say (unless you view God in an Aristotle way - but we won't go there) but also obviously the three omni features.

So, how does that fit the Biblical version? It does not if you read with an open mind. How to account for some of the apparently evil things that Jesus says and purports to believe? That would be strange to go against the literalism to the point of anti-reason. Jesus states that all of the old pharisees and prophets are speaking the truth. So how does one account of Moses giving legitimacy to slavery for one small example? That is contradictory, don't you think. Unless your not a literalist of course. But, then if you are not a literalist then your arguments become not as solid or straight forward due to the nebulous form on non-literalism. Think about what a Muslim thinks when they read the Koran - they might have the same exact enthusiasm that you have - or a non-theist religious person for that matter (some random Shaman for example that has no belief in an omni-God. Anyway, why not ponder that?

Anonymous said...


Excellent points.

I am not a literalist/fundamentalist with respect to Holy Scripture (the Bible), but I do believe that the message of the Bible is infallible.

I believe the bible to be like Jesus Himself, a product of man and of God.

I don't know where Jesus said things that were evil.

He did say a lot of things that people didn't like.

Here's my take:

We are stuck in our selfishness (sin)
God cannot have sin in His realm, but nevertheless wants the creature, which He made in His own image, to be with Him and live with him for eternity.

So He became incarnate as a man, Jesus, and was killed to pay the price for our selfishness and to forgive us.

To the non-believer it is just a story. To the believer it is a story that they are now included in and is more real than reality.

I appreciate the opportunity to give you my take on it.

Like I've said before, I do not jump all over people for not believeing, since that is what I am, at heart. It is only by His grace that I believe, and that I continue to believe, against all evidence to the contrary.

Jon said...

Thanks for your reply Steve, but you know I cannot agree with you. And obviously I can give plenty of rebuttals back (and so may you),but you have not rebutted my points concerning how non-literalism is the most reasonable option or how it is that a person can choose from fundamentally differing interpretations. Maybe you avoid that topic? But hey, the conversation is sometimes stimulating even if I do not get the good rebuttal that I wish to seek which can enlighten me more.

Anonymous said...


Sorry about not explaining my stance on Biblical inerrancy and interpretation.

I've been running around with work, chores, you

That people have such different takes on the bible is quite normal. Since the bible is a product of God and man, the trouble of course, comes from the man end of the equation.

Often people fail to do theology and take literal, wooden, understandings that may be in opposition to an understanding with a proper theological understanding.

While I do not believe that every jot and tittle of Holy Scripture fell from Heaven wrapped up with a bow, I do believe that the overarching message is infallible and the Living Word of God.

This response will require a lot of explaining.

Headed to bed now, but I'll try and give more details tomorrow.

Thanks for allowing me the delay.

And I actually love talking about this subject.

Anonymous said...

I do not think that there is an increased intelligence with skepticism. I used to think this when I was an atheist no doubt. But it dawned on me that my skepticism was so easily construed. I learned in theory of knowledge that global skepticism can be impossible to beat. That is, playing the role of the skeptic allows for raising of the bar of evidence. I believe that atheist do this with the topic of God. However, theist may also do this with claims of other god(s) contrary to their belief. For this reason I believe that skeptics may be perceived as more intelligent. But lets shit the topic and the athiest becomes ordinary. No doubt theist have a lot of work to do to defend their position. But this exhausting defense is not evidence for a lower IQ.

That being said, I believe that atheism is too simplistic. It relies on prima facie criticism that stems from a kind of global skepticism. But I think things in life are not so easily explained and skepticism in general may be an attractive safety position.

The quote below I believe addressing the simplicity of skepticism.

A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion.
Francis Bacon

Anonymous said...

Oops I meant to say "shift the topic" LOL

Anonymous said...

I think creating something from nothing is completely logical given the powers of a God.

M. Tully said...


You wrote, "The quote below I believe addressing the simplicity of skepticism.

'A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion.'
Francis Bacon"

Well, here's a quote right back at you:

A little critical thinking inclineth man's mind to attempt to find the mind of God, but depth in bringeth men's minds to conclude he doesn't exist.

Apparently Bacon may well have agreed with me. He wrote that one of the causes of atheism was, "...learned times, specially with peace and prosperity..."

I believe he also commented on how atheistic societies tended to be more civil.

Bacon was certainly a man of his times, but at heart he was an empiricist and pragmatist.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tully. I guess I could just modus tollens your view as you did mine and somehow prove a point? I wasn't interested in Sir Francis Bacon's view but rather the possibility of atheist skepticism lacking depth of analysis.

Also. I am not sure there is any reason to think atheist societies are more civil. History says Stalin's atheist society was pretty brutal. But such talk seems quite superficial i.e. atheist society vs theist society or theist colleges vs secular (atheist?) colleges. If this is the kind of evidence that atheist need to rely on to make their case for superiority than I think my point of atheism simplicity has some weight.

That being said, I was an atheist throughout my undergraduate schooling and after reviewing my previous criticisms I have concluded that my skepticism was superficial. The more I studied philosophy the more I realized how tenuous it is to deny metaphysical claims on the basis of proof and/or physical evidence. In the end we only have arguments to determine what constitutes reality - what constitutes evidence etc.

Anonymous said...


"In a recent meta study in Intelligence (“Average Intelligence Predicts Atheism Rates Across 137 Nations”), Richard Lynn, John Harvey, and Helmuth Nyborg identified some telling conclusions:"

Helmuth Nyborg

Nyborg is a controversial figure among the Danish public for his research on topics such as the inheritance of intelligence and the relationship between sex and intelligence. His article in Personality and Individual Differences, in which he reports a 5-point average IQ difference in favour of men,[2] has led to strong reactions in the Danish public and academia, for example in an editorial by the Danish newspaper Politiken.[3]

Nyborg has also made controversial statements regarding religious beliefs and ethnicity in relation to intelligence. He has concluded, through research, that white people tend to be more intelligent than blacks and that atheists tend to be more intelligent than religious people

Richard Lynn (born 1930) is a British Professor Emeritus of Psychology[1][2] who is known for his views on racial and ethnic differences and who is also well known among Neo-Nazis and hate groups.[3] Lynn says that there are race and sex differences in intelligence


Anonymous said...


Religiosity and perceived emotional intelligence among Christians

M. Tully said...

Hey Carlo,

The first part of comment, as you concluded, was that can pick and chose what to quote from Bacon to support different theological positions. Not so much so when looking into his thoughts on epistemology.

I find your conclusion on the utility of empiricism in metaphysics interesting (I myself am not what anyone would call philosophically inclined so you may need to simplify things for me). So let me pose this hypothetical to you. Through careful study and argument you have come to the ontological position that phenomenon 'A' does not, and indeed cannot exist. Then later phenomenon is demonstrated in the laboratory. Subsequently, others repeat the processes and confirm the existence of the phenomenon.

How do you reconcile this ontological dilemma?

Teleprompter said...


What exactly is an "analist"?

Animist? Atheist? I'm not even going to consider the other possibilities...

By the way, criticizing what you perceive to be a dubious study only to reference what I consider to be a dubious study is a strange tactic indeed. One would think that you'd have learned the lesson of your own critiques, no?

Brigitte said...

I find this argument from other people having lower IQ very disturbing. To me it represents a kind of demagoguery and a very low form of ad hominen attack, unworthy of the "reason" that is supposedly reigning here.

Why not round them up and gas them all and improve the gene pool.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.