Are Atheists Generally Smarter Than Religious People?
by Dr Jerry Bergman
In a recent article at Live Science, Laura Geggel asks, “Why Are Atheists Generally Smarter Than Religious People?” She claims that “For more than a millennium, scholars have noticed a curious correlation: Atheists tend to be more intelligent than religious people.”[i] How they could know this, since IQ tests and other means of measuring intelligence were only developed at the start of the last century, was not answered. Another problem is many kinds of intelligence exist, such as doing well on paper and pencil tests, or on performance tests, for example. Also, there exist intelligence in other areas, such as music IQ, math IQ, abstract conceptualization IQ, verbal IQ, personality IQ, even emotional IQ,[ii] and, according to some authors, 120 different kinds of IQs.
Geggel continues, “researchers of a new study have an idea: Religion is an instinct and those who can rise above instincts are more intelligent than those who rely on them.” This conclusion vastly oversimplifies reality. As a professor, I have worked with, and have known, a large number of very intelligent people. In my experience, when it comes to the origins issue, creation vs. evolution, this generalization is certainly not true. Emotions and irrationality commonly surface fairly soon in these conversations, making rational discourse difficult, if not impossible.
The article points to a meta-analysis of 63 studies that supposedly found religious people tend to be less intelligent than nonreligious people.[iii] According to this study, “the association was stronger among college students and the general public than for those younger than college age”.
This association likely has a lot to do with education indoctrination. More intelligent people are more likely to go to college and, as a result, they are frequently exposed to anti-Christian, or at least anti-theism ideas as well as pro-Darwinism beliefs. The reason has been documented by Stanford Educated Attorney Greg Lukianoff, who is President of an organization fighting censorship in colleges called FIRE. In short, he found that campus intolerance of free speech and censorship is primarily directed at Christians. He adds that a chilling discovery was that Christian groups are disproportionately more likely to be threatened on campus, adding: “If you told me twelve years ago that I, a liberal atheist, would devote a sizeable portion of my career to defending Christian groups, I might have been surprised. But almost from my first day at FIRE, I was shocked to realize how badly Christian groups are often treated.”[iv] He then reviewed some of his experiences, noting in the last few years
dozens of colleges across the country threatened or derecognized Christian groups because of their refusal to say that they would not “discriminate” on the basis of belief. These colleges included, to name a few, Arizona State University, Brown University, California State University, Cornell University, Harvard University, Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Princeton University, Purdue University, Rutgers University, Texas A&M University, Tufts University, the University of Arizona, the University of Florida, the University of Georgia, the University of Mary Washington, the University of New Mexico, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Washington University.[v]
One major contributing factor to this intolerance—as reported by a 2007 study from the Institute for Jewish and Community Research—is that, of all groups, “faculty hold the most unfavorable feelings toward evangelicals.” The study added that only one group elicited high negative feelings among faculty, namely evangelical Christians:
faculty hold the most unfavorable feelings toward evangelicals
Only 30% ranked their feelings toward evangelical Christians as warm/favorable, with only 11% feeling very warm/favorable, the lowest ranking among every other religious group, and 53% said that they have cool/unfavorable feelings toward evangelical Christians. Faculty feelings about evangelicals are significantly cooler than any other religious group, leading Mormons as the least liked religious group by 20%. These negative feelings are noted across academic disciplines and demographic factors.[vi]
Another study found that an amazing 71 percent of all faculty believe that America
would be better off if Christian Fundamentalists kept their religious beliefs out of politics … [only] Twenty-four percent disagreed and 5% were not sure. The public agreed, but at far lower percentages than faculty—54% agreed, 39% disagreed, and 7% were unsure. … About 92% of liberals agreed that fundamentalist Christians should keep their religious beliefs out of politics, as did 66% of moderates, and 23% of conservatives.[vii]
One reason for the censorship is many people feel, as Professor Karl Giberson wrote, that “Young Earth creationism is a threat to American survival.”[viii] This and similar articles amount to hate literature and have produced the perception that the censorship is fully justified. Ironically, Giberson teaches at Stonehill College, a private, non-profit, co-educational, Roman Catholic Liberal Arts college located in Easton, Massachusetts founded in 1948. Lukianoff found from his work defending free speech that on college and university “campuses today, students are punished for everything from mild satire, to writing politically incorrect short stories, to having the “wrong” opinion on virtually every hot button issue, and, increasingly, simply for criticizing the college administration.” Here are some examples. One student was
punished for publicly reading a book; a professor labeled a deadly threat to campus for posting a pop-culture quote on his door; students required to lobby the government for political causes they disagreed with in order to graduate; a student government that passed a “Sedition Act” empowering them to bring legal action against students who criticized them; and students across the country being forced to limit their “free speech activities” to tiny, isolated corners of campus creepily dubbed “free speech zones.”[ix]
We should be asking whether America would be better off if atheists kept their own anti-religious beliefs out of politics. The study also found that, whereas a
majority of faculty believe ethnic or religious minority students at their institution are reluctant to express their views, seven percent of faculty very often “perceive that ethnic or religious minority students at [their] institution are reluctant to express their views because they might be contrary to those held by faculty,” another 14% said fairly often, and 38% said occasionally—a total of 59%. Only 30% said never or almost never, and 12% did not know.[x]
The researchers in the study quoted above assumed that nonreligious people were more rational and thus better able to reason that there was no God, but instead “found evidence that intelligence is positively associated with certain kinds of bias.” This bias blind spot occurs when people cannot detect bias, or flaws, in their own thinking. Ironically, “a larger bias blind spot was associated with higher cognitive ability,”[xi] This conclusion agrees with my review of academia and the intolerance against evangelical Christians, and may be one reason why studies indicate theists score lower on tests compared to those with more advanced education, especially in the sciences.
[i] Laura Geggel, Senior Writer | June 5, 2017 study published May 16 in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science under the title “Why is Intelligence Negatively Associated with Religiousness?” Springer International Publishing. http://www.livescience.com/59361-why-are-atheists-generally-more-intelligent.html.
[ii] Sally Bennett. 2017. Emotional Intelligence. Geneva Publishing
[iii] Miron Zukerman, Jordan Silberman and Judith Hall. 2013.The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity: A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 17(4) 325–354
[iv] Greg Lukianoff, 2012. Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of the American Debate. New York: Encounter Books, p. 163.
[v] Lukianoff, 2012, p.169.
[vi] Lukianoff, 2012, p. 12.
[vii] Gary A. Tobin, Ph.D. and Aryeh K. Weinberg, 2007. Volume 2: Religious Beliefs Behavior of College Faculty Institute for Jewish & Community Research p. 10.
[ix] Lukianoff, 2013 pp. 4-5.
[x] Gary A. Tobin, Ph.D. Aryeh K. Weinberg 2007. Volume 2: Religious Beliefs Behavior of College Faculty Institute for Jewish & Community Research, p. 11.
[xi] West, Richard F.; Meserve, Russell J.; Stanovich, Keith E. 2012. Cognitive sophistication does not attenuate the bias blind spot. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(3): 506-519. September.
Dr Jerry Bergman is the author of 40 books and monographs, and is also a science professor and public speaker. He is a frequent contributor to Creation-Evolution Headlines. See his Author Profile and previous articles here.
Additional comments from the Editor:
Dr. Bergman has two books in print on the persecution of creationists and Darwin skeptics, and a third is coming soon. In the Introduction to the second volume, Silencing the Darwin Skeptics: The War Against Theists (Leafcutter Press, 2016), Kevin Wirth points out the arrogance of many Darwin defenders (pp xv-xvii). After quoting Richard Dawkins, who had blasted the eminent physicist Freeman Dyson for being insufficiently intolerant of religious people, Wirth comments:
Dawkins parrots a familiar refrain: no one who comes from a different field of science is qualified to offer an opinion worth contemplating. Militant Darwinists have no patience with those who disagree with them. It aggravates them to no end to have to listen to what they consider to be foolish prattle. They want dissidents to be silenced and removed from the conversation – and they want it to happen yesterday. And they are often not content to just distance themselves from dissidents, but instead often go after them with the intent to do harm. Dr. Bergman’s work makes this painfully obvious.
We encourage our readers to see the evidence for themselves in Dr Bergman’s alarming books: Slaughter of the Dissidents (Vol. I, 2008), Silencing the Darwin Skeptics (Vol II, 2016), and Censorship of Darwin Skeptics (Vol III, due out this year, which will contain my JPL experience). We see the same insufferable arrogance and intolerance in Laura Geggel’s article (see David Klinghoffer’s response in Evolution News & Science Today). During the Inquisition, authorities dressed heretics in dunce caps before burning them at the stake. The comparison is apt. —David Coppedge