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LINK Why Are Atheists Generally Smarter Than Religious People? | HuffPost

I recently saw a post about relationship between atheism and intelligence and then came across this article discussing this correlation.

"For more than a millennium, scholars have noticed a curious correlation: Atheists tend to be more intelligent than religious people.
It’s unclear why this trend persists, but researchers of a new study have an idea: Religion is an instinct, they say, and people who can rise above instincts are more intelligent than those who rely on them.....

What's your take?

Aralt 7 May 31

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I doubt atheists are any smarter than others. Everyone likes to bandy about articles suggesting that their "in-group" is smarter - whether it be Democrats, Republicans, whites, ...

Also I doubt there is any scientific evidence going back "for more than a millennium" that demonstrates a statistical correlation between faith and intelligence.

Another factor is that every group or culture defines intelligence the way they want to define it. I remember, years ago, reading an Isaac Asimov essay on how elusive it is to really pin down what constitutes intelligence. OUR culture defines it as the ability to reason through questions having to do with logic and even math.

So if you take natives from some tribe in the middle of nowhere that has not had contact with the outside world, they - if they could even take our test - would all be classified as complete idiots, even though they've managed to survive on their own for thousands of years. Conversely, if they had to define intelligence it might have to do with how quickly one can locate dung beetles, or who can find just the right branch from which to make a bow. And of course Einstein himself would be classified as an idiot by their standards.

All of that said - yes, those who cling to a particular religious doctrine have a blind spot in their reasoning that makes them appear less intelligent, and certain areas that value religion more may de-value education a bit, again causing a discrepancy. But I suspect that if you were to use some regression tools to factor out things like religion and lack of education we'd find that raw brain power is similar between believers and non believers within a given culture. Just my hunch.

Fins Level 4 June 1, 2018

Sure they’ve got the potential to educate themselves n break out of the regressive behavior stifling their intelligence, but if my aunt had balls she’d be my uncle. If that’s how he decided to identify. ? I do think intelligence quotient is more malleable than people think. But ya don’t get credit for it unless ya take advantage of this fact.

@Fins -- I tend to agree with your hypothesis (hunch) from personal experience with some individuals who were quite religious, but also highly intelligent. I also think that there is probably no or little difference between the demographics of either group of a substantial nature. That we, as a cross section of our society, are made of the same stuff. That I consider this to be probably true or at least a close approximation is not a positive thing when it comes to the religious. Why? Because one is then forced to ask the uncomfortable question of how it is they are able to ignore facts in deference to an apparent fiction? What mechanism allows them to accept patently absurd notions?

So, on the one hand, I allow that they are at least an equivalence to those who have left religion behind in favor of evidence driven considerations, but that they operate in opposition to the evidence as presented. There is little in my mind worse than the condition of willful ignorance.

Thank you for your informed and well reasoned reply. I got a lot from it.

@evidentialist I think it was in the book "The Road Less Traveled" that the author (M.Scott Peck) tries to explain how folks can engage in this "willful ignorance"... and if I recall he essentially uses the metaphor of the old explorers who did not have good maps of the world. So whenever an expedition returned from some place, they would create newer more accurate maps based on what they had discovered and that information would slowly find it's way to other explorers. So there was a continual process of "updating your map" based on new information discovered about the world.

So we too as humans when we are young continually "update our maps" when we get new information about the world - that is we form a belief system and world view and keep revising it as we get older. But Peck points out that it is often an uncomfortable and difficult process to revise our beliefs, especially the more firmly held and important to us they are. So some of us reach a point where we just don't WANT to go through the effort of resolving conflicts and revising or even tearing down and rebuilding our beliefs. Others, when faced with conflicting information (such as the Bible says the Earth is 6,000 years old, but science insists it's much older) learn to live with the mental conflict without even attempting to update their map. Peck contends that these types of behaviors - refusing to update our map - are the seeds of mental illness.

I can't remember the whole discussion, but I remember that it was insightful and a useful metaphor.

@Fins -- Again, I agree in a general sense with what you just said, but I suggest that it goes a bit deeper than just not wanting to rearrange their map. Many have found a form of security unattainable elsewhere for them. It is what grounds them in this world. I find it rather odd that one can obtain one's grounding in the real world based on a fictional other world wrapped in the arms of a deity in a happyeverafterlife.


Are atheists necessarily more intelligent, or are religious believers just better at ignoring the cognitive dissonance involved in not applying their intelligence to one particular area of life?

In fact, for some, it may require even greater intellectual gymnastics to justify the logic-defying beliefs they hold; for example, the young-Earth creationists who go to enormous lengths attempting to "explain" the fossil record in terms of an Earth that's only 10,000 years old with all the species created at the same time. They must be smarter than me, because I can't understand a word of their "explanations"... whereas with my much lower intelligence, the evolutionary history of a 6.5 billion year old planet is fairly easy to comprehend.

Those who detect a trace element of sarcasm in this comment may be correct, but the gist is sincere. Christian intellectuals, for instance, do a lot of hard work trying to understand 3 deities who are still 1 deity, where the Father is also the Son, who sacrificed himself to himself so he (who is also himself) wouldn't have to send us all to hell. They are way smarter than me, if they understand that.



Huffington Post as the source?
I'd take that data with a grain, or two, of salt.

With HP, I'd take the entire salt mine, thank you very much! LOL


I believe Atheist are not more intelligent than religious people, religious people deliberately act, or feel obliged to act dumber than atheists in order to show and parade their faith in their imaginary friend, imaginary enemy, the flying guys with wings, the red anally fixated guys with pokers and their book of bronze age fairy tales.
It is generally more about being socially acceptable than actually being religious.
Nine times out of ten once they stop being so farcical it turns out they were pretty much on an average with everyone else intelligence wise.


I have two cousins who are dumb as posts--not being unkind, but they are semi-literate and have the logic of sheep, maybe.

They are both on Facebook and it hurts my brain and my eyes to read their posts. They are both deeply devout Christians who believe in the flood and all of the miracles. They are extremely childlike in their faith and if as children they had been told that faeries exist, they would still believe that faeries exist. Their reasoning skills do not allow them to move beyond their simple faith.

My older sister is also a deist and used to be fairly fundamentalist. A few years ago, she shocked me when she said that evolution was a fact, adding how could it not be? Now she thinks that Adam and Eve, the flood, etc., are myths. Although she still believes that a god exists, she now says that no one understands the nature of that god. She's a LOT smarter than my cousins.

I have known smart people who believe in a god, but they take The Bible with a boulder of salt.

And though I have encountered some fairly dense atheists (most of whom I have "met" on this site), most I have met are fairly intelligent.

It is about reason and examination of the facts and they myths.

It slays me when believers state things like "No one can understand the nature/mind/plan of God" If they can't understand it, then how do they know that they can or cannot understand? These logical potholes are hit out of sheer necessity, nothing else.

@GuyKeith Spot on! If they cannot understand it, then how do they know that I am wrong? Oh, wait--because I disagree with The Bible. Oh, wait--but even they say that there are passages that they do not understand.

And if I were to say anything to my cousins, they would respond, "Well, I ain't smart, but at least I'm goin' to heaven." It gives them solace and being heaven will make up for what they did not have in this world.


About that opening line:

Here is where they get their opening line.

Notice that the author jumps from three quotes which he interprets as saying atheists are smarter (but can be interpreted as saying nothing of the sort) straight to 1920 with nothing in between

So "widely remarked" comes down to 1 quip from greece (none from rome) and two quotes from the bible. (Let that sink in; he is claiming the bible says that the religious were fools and the skeptics were wise)

And a "millennium of correlation" talks about a 1 quip from greece and 2 bible verses and then we fast forward to 1920.

Does anyone bother doing the research on these sorts of things or, like the theist, just because what is written reaffirms your belief, you'll believe it blindly?



I’m not sure what the point is. Is it an argument for the doctrine of atheism? If so it is a very poor argument. Is it just an ego boost? Are atheists insecure in their stance and need emotional support? Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem like a very intelligent approach to me.

There have been some extremely intelligent people who have advocated for the presence of a higher intelligence in reality. One such is Christopher Langan, said to be the smartest man ever tested.

I believe we would be better off if we didn’t isolate ourselves into these camps of us vs. them. No one knows anything anyway except superficially. Can’t we just get along?


Simple minded people tend to gravitate toward supersticion and ritual. Thinking outside of the box makes them uncomfortable because it is a very difficult thing for them to do. Organized religion provides the continuous, predictable, known quantity which the simple minded require in order to be able to function on a daily basis.


Well, as an atheist, I'd like to believe it's true, but I'm agnostic on this topic. 🙂


I would imagine that people attending public universities tend to be more secular. I doubt that atheists are smarter but that education as taught in public universities tends to make people question beliefs more than people that don't strive for higher education and this would skew the opinion that people who succeed tend to believe less. Of course those same secular universities try and teach kids to rise above their instincts and think both rationally and creatively.

gearl Level 7 June 1, 2018

I am an atheist and I do not think I am smart.

IAS1 Level 5 June 1, 2018

If you're smart enough to question your own intelligence you are already smarter than most theists.


Trends are interesting, but there are always exceptions to rules. Also many people that claim to be religious, in my experience, are not true believers, they're just there because they're part of the herd, or it gets their kids into the right school.
I think it's dangerous to look down on people, which in the context of this site I think this post promotes. I don't think it's helpful for us as people to segregate, we achieve much more if we can put aside differences and find common things to work towards.
Sorry, perhaps it's because I'm tired,(may delete this post tomorrow), sleep time for me now!

Please don't delete your post. It's beautiful.


The apostle Paul laid out the reason for the lack of wise ones in the faith at 1 Corinthians 1:26-30:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

The odd thing about this is Paul himself was very intelligent and he practically gave us Christianity as we know it today.

In my years as a Christian, I found my fellow Christians to be very proud of their lack of wisdom by human standards. I didn’t find that lack of wisdom by human standards was any indication of wisdom in spiritual matters. Perhaps I shouldn’t make judgment; call it an observation.


"For more than a millennium, scholars have noticed a curious correlation: Atheists tend to be more intelligent than religious people." -
A millenium are 1000 years. 200 years ago there were almost no atheists and certainly no scholars who could measure their intelligence.
If atheists are more intelligent today, it is because of education. People with higher education tend to be less religious. If that is just a correlation or if there is some causation behind the scenes .. the jury is still out.

I disagree. Atheists have always been numerous but only relatively recently has it been safe to be open about non-belief. For instance, many of the Founding Fathers were clearly not theists but forbore from saying so explicitly.

@Gareth That atheists have always been numerous is your myth. If they really had been numerous, they would have published books or papers secretly (la littérature clandestine" in France, for example) - like some of them did, but they always knew that the were catering to a small number of like-minded brethren.

Here is what he said. Notice that he jumps from three quotes which he interprets as saying atheists are smarter (but can be interpreted as saying nothing of the sort) to 1920....

So "widely remarked comes down to 1 quip from greece (none from rome) and two quotes from the bible. (Let that sink in; he is claiming the bible says that the religious were fools and the skeptics were wise)

And a "millennium of correlation" talks about a 1 quip from greece and 2 bible versus and then we fast forward to 1920.

Does anyone bother doing the research on these sorts of things or, like the theist, just because what is written reaffirms your belief, you'll believe it blindly?



Atheists aren't saddled with religious mumbo jumbo crutches. Free to think with an unbridled mind .


I don't believe that religion is even the least bit instinctive. I think the explanation is rather simple. Those intelligent enough to withstand indoctrination do.

d_day Level 7 June 5, 2018

Because we seek the truth


With the older religious, this study shows increased brain damage for religious. []


Apples & oranges, that's my take. I am sure there are intelligent and dumb cookies at both sides of the fence


The meta-study upon which this is based is flawed and the fact that people (mostly atheists) believe in it is just another example that confirmation bias is a commonality across all belief and unbelief systems. After all, the majority of medical doctors (hardly dullards) and nobel prize winners in science (hardly unintelligent) are/were theists, a slap in the fact of this conclusion and if we wanted to go there, we would claim that theism is in fact more intelligent than atheism... yet that claim isn't, nor should be, made... or should it if the statistics back it up? hmmmmm

Here is a Cornell University statistician making short work of why the meta-study is flawed.

"Zuckerman cobbled together over sixty studies. Their Table 1 shows that the mechanism to measure IQ was different in different locations. The proportion of males varied from unknown, to low, to 100%. The measures of religiosity differed at different locations. Religions were also hugely different (is it the same to believe in animism as Protestant Christianity?). The samples, particularly in developed countries, were college kids, but elsewhere more non-college and precollege people were used. The lowest sample size was 22, but most were a hundred or so, with one topping out at over 14 thousand. And we already mentioned the widely disparate years the samples were taken.

. Data of every flavor was observed, data that should not be mixed without an idea of how to combine the uncertainty inherent in each study and in how, say, kinds of IQ measurements maps to other kinds of IQ measurements. In other words, data which should not be mixed, because nobody has any idea how to make these corrections."



It's just a thought, but I believe that we have looked
Behind the curtain.


I think it may be true to assert that those not steeped in dogma are more open to learning and increasing knowledge, whereas those that are religiously devout or observant are more prone to practicing their beliefs at a comfortable level for them, and not engage in ongoing pursuit of knowledge, resulting in spiritual discomfort and hard questions. Those that do pursue knowledge whilst having a deep faith based belief system, are on the path to be free of their blinders. The accumulation of knowledge both respectively destroyed and created who I was and who I am. I have no doubt that it will continue this process all my days.


I honestly don't see a great deal of difference overall. Atheists may have a slight edge in average intelligence, but there are many individual exceptions. I've seen atheists, who while not believing in gods, believe in myriad superstitious and magical falsehoods.

JimG Level 8 June 6, 2018

It may be the case that the conditions for intelligence are simply more in sync with Atheism than the conditions for religion. Religion thrives in a soup of economic depression and environmental degradation. Atheism seems to thrive in affluent societies that are economically strong and not as dependent on environmental degradation. Perhaps there is hope for a religion free world if we can fix the problems of the world with green technology.


I wonder if there are any atheist Trump supporters? That would explain a lot! ?

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