Atheists are more intelligent than religious people

Writing in the Freethinker (July 2008) Chris Barker argues that there is nothing racist about suggesting that atheists are more intelligent than believers.

IT was bound to happen. When Professor Richard Lynn claimed last month that people with higher IQs were less likely to believe in God many of those outraged by his assertion quickly tried to give his words a racist cast.

Professor Lynn, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Ulster University, said many more members of the “intellectual elite” considered themselves atheists than the national average. A decline in religious observance over the last century was directly linked to a rise in average intelligence, he claimed.

Professor Lynn, who has provoked controversy in the past with research linking intelligence to race and sex, said university academics were less likely to believe in God than almost anyone else.

A survey of Royal Society fellows found that only 3.3 per cent believed in God – at a time when 68.5 percent of the general UK population described themselves as believers. A separate poll in the 90s found only seven percent of members of the American National Academy of Sciences believed in God.

Professor Lynn said most primary school children believed in God, but as they entered adolescence – and their intelligence increased – many started to have doubts.

He told The Times Higher Education magazine:

Why should fewer academics believe in God than the general population? I believe it is simply a matter of the IQ. Academics have higher IQs than the general population.

Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQs tend not to believe in God.

He said religious belief had declined across 137 developed nations in the 20th century at the same time as people became more intelligent.

But Professor Gordon Lynch, director of the Centre for Religion and Contemporary Society at Birkbeck College, London, said it failed to take account of a complex range of social, economic and historical factors.

Linking religious belief and intelligence in this way could reflect a dangerous trend, developing a simplistic characterisation of religion as primitive, which – while we are trying to deal with very complex issues of religious and cultural pluralism – is perhaps not the most helpful response.

Dr Alistair McFadyen, senior lecturer in Christian theology at Leeds University, said the conclusion had

A slight tinge of Western cultural imperialism as well as an anti-religious sentiment.

Dr David Hardman, principal lecturer in learning development at London Metropolitan University, said:

It is very difficult to conduct true experiments that would explicate a causal relationship between IQ and religious belief.

Nonetheless, there is evidence from other domains that higher levels of intelligence are associated with a greater ability – or perhaps willingness – to question and overturn strongly felt institutions.

Writing in the Guardian (June 12), Giles Fraser asserted

Little wonder Dr David King, coordinator of the watchdog group, Human Genetics Alert, has said ‘We find Richard Lynn’s claims that some human beings are inherently superior to others repugnant’.

The same thought applies to women with blond hair, to people with darker skin, or to those of us with religious belief.

I don’t much care if people think I’m thick because I believe in God. But what’s really nasty here – and it’s a part of a growing phenomenon – is the way religion is being used as a subtle code for race.

Belief in God is alive and well in Africa and in the Middle East and declining in western Europe. Writing about the intelligence of religious believers has, for some, become a roundabout way of commenting on the intelligence of those with darker skins whilst seeking to avoid the charge of racism. Religion is being used with a nod and a wink, cover for some rather dodgy and dangerous politics.

The debate between believers and nonbelievers … is not made any more civil by the addition of this unpleasant inflection. Which I why believers and unbelievers … ought to unite against this way of thinking about our differences. The only question worth debating is whether the claims of religious belief are true or not – or morally objectionable or not. And Richard Lynn’s research does nothing to help us here.

I do not believe for a moment that it is racist to point out that, in those countries where religion dominates the lives of its citizens – countries whose populations are mainly of a darker hue – social, economic and technological progress is virtually at a standstill.

This paralysis exists not because these people are stupid, but because religion has served to crush innovation and entrench primitive thinking. There can be no doubting that these people have been stupefied by religion masquerading as knowledge.

The only cure for this boils down to proper education, free of all religious influence.That the decline of religious belief across developed nations in the 20th century led to more intelligent populations is indisputable, and I have no doubt that, if religion were to give way to better education in Africa and the Muslim states, the same trend would be observed there.

Now let me draw your attention to in interesting statistic. Twenty percent of the world’s population – that’s two out of ten people – are Muslims. That’s a Muslim population of 1.4 billion people. But out of this huge population, only six Muslims have ever won Nobel Prizes.

They were Anwar El-Sadat (1978, Peace); Abdus Salam (1979, Physics), who, as a result of internal squabbles within Islam in Pakistan never got the recognition he deserved in the Muslim world; Najib Mahfooz (1988, Literature) and Yasser Arafat (1994, Peace), whose prize led to the resignation of Norwegian, Kaare Kristiansen, a member of the Nobel Committee. He protesed that the prize was being awarded to a “terrorist.” The remaining winners were Ahmed Zewail (1999, Chemistry) and Shirin Ebadi (2003, Peace).

The world’s Jewish population, on the other hand, totals around 13-million. Yet out of this comparatively tiny number, 165 Nobel Prizes have so far been awarded to Jews.

To suggest that this is the result of Jews being more intelligent than Arabs would, of course, be racist. But to conclude that Jews put a far higher value on a mainly secular education, rather than on religious indoctrination, is certainly not. Nor is it racist to point out that Asians in the UK from a Hindu background perform far better in the academic sphere than those who are Muslims. Again, an example of education triumphing over religion.

It should also be pointed out that, when religion is allowed a foothold in areas in which it has no legitimate place, the results can be extremely damaging, as the United States is now starting to realise.

Chris Mooney’s concern about this trend prompted him to write The Republicans’ War on Science, in which he reveals that science and scientists have less influence with the federal Government than at any time since the Eisenhower administration.

The book points out that, in the White House and Congress today, findings are reported in a politicised manner; spun or distorted to fit the speaker’s agenda; or, when they’re too inconvenient, ignored entirely.

On a broad array of issues – stem-cell research, climate change, missile defence, abstinence education, product safety, environmental regulation, and many others – the Bush administration’s positions fly in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus. Federal science agencies, once fiercely independent under both Republican and Democratic presidents, are increasingly staffed by political appointees and fringe theorists who know industry lobbyists and evangelical activists far better than they know the science.

This is not unique to the Bush administration, but it is largely a Republican phenomenon, born of a conservative dislike of environmental, health, and safety regulation, and at the extremes, of evolution and legalized abortion.

In his book Mooney ties together the disparate strands of the attack on science into a compelling and frightening account of the US Government’s increasing unwillingness to distinguish between legitimate research and ideologically driven pseudoscience.
It is the religionists (assisted by muddleheaded, pc-constrained liberals and leftists) who are quickest to equate anti-religious sentiments with racism, because they know that, by playing the race card, they can effectively stifle a debate they would rather not have because it is one they can never win.