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Why are religious people less intelligent?

5 April 2010

A nice guy nailed to a tree.

I find this very interesting: statistically speaking, intelligent* people tend to be less religious and religious people less intelligent.  Several studies have found a negative correlation between IQ and religious belief.

Now, why is that?  Are people with a lower IQ more prone to become religious?  If your view of the world is slightly dimmer than the average persons, it would perhaps make sense to be drawn towards believing in deities – someone or something to explain all the stuff that’s going on.  And if that’s true, how about the flip side?  Would more intelligent people be more likely to ’see through’ religious beliefs, and turn to science for explanations?  Perhaps, although I doubt it’s the only explanation. 

Or is it an educational thing?  Highly educated people have, more often than not, a higher IQ than people with lower or no education.  So are religious people less likely to pursue a higher education?  And would that explain the statistics?  There are indeed fewer religious people in academic circles than in the rest of the population.  So, if a country has a higher proportion of academics, they would have a higher percentage of non-believers.  Again, this could be part of the explanation.

To further complicate the matter, we need to consider that IQ is only one measure of intelligence.  There might be several types of intelligence (visual, verbal, logical, musical etc), and there are some studies that hint at a positive link between emotional intelligence and religiosity.

My personal view is that we’re all inherently religious (all known human societies are highly religious, after all), but as our understanding of the world grows we are given the opportunity to ‘ascend’ beyond religious beliefs.  Religion, in my eyes, is just a substitute for when in our childhood our parents were ‘gods’ who knew everything and could deal with any problem.  As we grew up and realised this was not the case, we felt a longing for someone or something to take over that comforting role.  This would also explain why some believe in a loving and caring god, whilst others believe in a strict and punishing one.  The gods of our religions are our substitute parents, and we’d choose to believe in one that represents our own parents as closely as possible.  Or, if you’re smart, not to believe in them.

* Intelligence is represented in this post by the measure of the intelligence quotient (IQ)

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Imar B Lever permalink
    24 April 2010 11:36

    The idea that religion is a substitute is interesting, however, whilst probably partly true, is unlikely to be the whole truth. Throughout life we find role models, how we judge/evaluate these role models would probably be subjective and based upon our life experiences to that point in time. What I suspect has happened is that some very popular chap – unlike Gordon Brown, captured the hearts and minds of the people, and in doing so scared the living daylights out of the then current administration. (read Nick Clegg)
    The administration – like many political parties hi-jacked this latest FAD and created a policy initiative called religion. After subtly crafting a manifesto- aka bible, they released it for all to review. Unfortunately, like all good manifestos they strive to offer something for everyone – however, in this party you can only take part if you subscribe to the whole.
    Quite how well this theory parallels your comments about low IQ’s will be played out on the 6th May, unfortunately though, history has clearly shown that strong religious bias = low IQ, USA – George Bush – 2 TERMS!!

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  2. 5 February 2013 00:12

    Because they’re religious. Duh.

    Frankly, I’ve always (well, not always, having grown up in the uber-religious and conservative Bible Belt, as a child I made to feel absolutely terrified to NOT believe) found the premise of Christianity to be preposterous and offensive. God is omnipotent, but in order to forgive us our sins, Jesus (who was God, but as a human, sort of) had to die in a most gruesome and unpleasant way? That’s like telling my younger son, Yeah, you messed up, and I’d really like to unground you, but first your brother is going to have to suffer for what you did.

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    • 5 February 2013 01:18

      God seems awfully petty, don’t you think? And very touchy about who believes in him or not. Almost like… and I’m only speculating here, obviously… he doesn’t really exist, and if you don’t believe in him, his power over you disappears.

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  3. Aino permalink
    16 July 2013 12:46

    Very interesting, from many different perspectives. I buy that agnostics could have a higher IQ than the strongly religiously biased, but in which basket do we put the dogmatic atheists? It should logically follow that holders of any strong belief fall in the lower IQ category if critical thinking be the virtue that saves us from the evil of ignorance. Also, in light of what you wrote I find it slightly ironic and very amusing that the church was one of the first institutions to provide education in our societies. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you…

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  4. 16 July 2013 13:00

    Quite. There was always a conflict in how much the scientists (priests, I guess, if only by title) within the church were allowed to study, and what subjects that were deemed proper. Mostly it ended up with nonsense like how many angels can fit on a needle’s head. But yes, some of the more prominent scientists worked from within the church, like Mendel for instance.

    Even so, I rather have the current academic world, where scientists can focus on studying what they find interesting or what needs studying. Not that the current system is perfect, mind.

    As to the dogmatic atheists, I don’t know. There are a lot of science groupies and Richard Dawkins fans out there, this is true. And you don’t get automatically higher IQ just by stop going to church, but as long as people are willing read and learn I’m happy.

    It’s the grey masses of non-thinkers I’m worried about; the easily stirred, emotionally driven people, eager to get upset about something and even more eager to blame someone else for it. I don’t trust people that don’t like to think.

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  5. 14 July 2015 04:03

    Thank you!

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