Atheists are more intelligent than religious people

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.

25 responses to “Atheists are more intelligent than religious people”

  1. Daz says:

    We find Richard Lynn’s claims that some human beings are inherently superior to others repugnant

    Which doesn’t make it less true. Some are more intelligent, some more athletic, some seem to have better spatial awareness. The list goes on.

    That said, the link he’s showing seems to be more between education, rather than intelligence, and religiosity.

  2. Csesznegi says:

    Richard Lynn is one the bravest scientists of our day. He has the courage to tell the scientific truth even if it upsets people obsessed with political correctness. Csesznegi

  3. Matt Westwood says:

    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.

    Of course religion is fucking primitive, you shithead.

  4. SB#Yr Ortega says:

    Of course more intelligent children are immune from religion. Mine being one of them. It shows up about 3rd grade when they are forced to pronounce the pledge of allegiance.

  5. Matt Westwood says:

    Oh goodness, another poor benighted soul who lives in the United States of Headfuckery. EMIGRATE. You won’t regret it.

  6. Marky Mark says:

    can attest to this as a former catlick, the more I educated myself the less I believed. Though my parents could not afford to send me to college I educated myself in chunks over the years when time permitted, as well as finance. So my loosing of religion was more like the weaning off a tit. I also think that my un-required interest with history and astronomy added much above a typical college education, as I read many books on the subjects on my own.

    But I do have a well-educated childhood schoolmate who is a teacher and still practices the catlick ways. Though I know he questions it at times and has said so, he could not be considered atheist or agnostic as he raised his children with the same religious beliefs. I think there is something to ones “spatial awareness” as was mentioned by Daz. This friend and I went to the same CCD classes as children and as a child the whole talking snake story was had for me to swallow, where he was into it all right away.

    Analytical thinking has always been present in my thought process and it may have something with spatial IQ as to overall IQ. I think there are many believers with high spatial IQ’s that do not have the resources, or right material presented, to give them a chance to make a logical decision about religion.
    And this I believe is why the religious right here in the US has infiltrated our political and corporate landscape, as their goal is to destroy public education and limit the information being presented that questions all religion. Even going as far as to alter history in public school books as they are doing in Texas.
    Once they privatize our public education as they are trying to do, I can assure you that the religious right will scoop up all the contracts on education and we will be heading back to the dark ages…Matt,So what country do I move too?

  7. Matt Westwood says:

    Come to Britain. We have battles to fight, but they’re so much more tangible than religious ones. The religiosi are losing the war here.

  8. Marky Mark says:

    Thanks for the offer Matt, and the language would not be a barrier, but I was thinking of a Pacific or Caribbean Island. Even if they worship a Sun God, it would be a more logical and safe place to be. Should they invite me to their place of worship I could just shrug my shoulders and so “No understando”, and they would porb leave it at that.

  9. Robster says:

    Good! there can be no doubt that religious belief is silly, that people that subscribe to it have been the victims of a nasty fraud. People who are gullible tend to be less intelligent, so it could be said that religious people simply have to be intellectually compromised to accept the nonsense. There’s no argument, I mean talking snakes? as if, virgin birth? Hardly, coming back to life after three days on a stick? Don’t think so. It’s supremely silly and obviously so.

  10. Matt Westwood says:

    In Britain, one does not ask a colleague or neighbour to accompany them to their place of worship. It’s not considered a conventional social thing to do. People’s beliefs (or lack of them) are considered their own business. And if they were to do so, a simple “No thank you, I’m an atheist” works as an adequately polite response. I have never seen outright anti-atheist discrimination (although if your boss is a committed Christian you might have a bit of difficulty getting taken seriously) and such is jumped on as hard as racism and sexism.

  11. Russell JW says:

    Yes, it’s certainly amazing how easy it is to play the race card, it’s the default straw man argument.

    “God” is a remarkably vague concept these days, when people say they “believe in God”, the question is, how do they define ‘God’. I doubt if most people’s ‘God’ is the personal Christian/Judaic/Islamic deity that takes an interest in humanity-it’s more like the ‘god of the gaps’ in human understanding. So, characterising all believers as barking mad religiots is unjustified.
    Research by evolutionary psychologists suggests that religious belief is an artefact of behaviours that improved our ancestors’ chances of survival.

    I spent 6 years at a religious school and can’t remember ever being a believer, I probably just don’t have the gene for religion.

    I’d like to believe we atheists are smarter than believers, however the psychology of religion is probably far more complicated than a simple correlation between IQ and atheism. Let’s do the research.

  12. Georgina says:

    “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.”

    As an atheist vegetarian, with an IQ higher than room temp., I object to Giles Fraser’s assumption that skin colour has anything to do with intelligence. IQ actually measures the ability to:
    reason independently,
    reach correct conclusions from incomplete evidence and extrapolate the results of one’s actions, (for which I hope one then takes responsibility).

    Mr. Fraser’s logic resembles the comparison of the greenness of sprouts and cabbages.

  13. angelo ventura says:

    You won’t persuade anyone saying “We`re more intelligent than you”.

  14. Matt Westwood says:

    Sadly not. Stupid people are usually too stupid to know just how fucking stupid they are.

  15. berlake says:

    I, personally, can see why the intellectual “elite” might be atheists. Many will have come across the major scientific and philosophical themes of the Enlightenment era and beyond; and most will have been convinced by the epistemological and metaphysical arguments which are the fruit of an empiric orientation towards reality testing.

    But what many average “atheists” seem to fail to grasp is the fact that (and the following is merely my view, though one born of a good deal of research) most “religious” people have misinterpreted the real messages inherent in the major religions.

    For anyone with the intellectual capacity to ponder the apparent premises of many religious doctrines and principles, it rapidly becomes clear that they cannot possibly be tenable on the grounds of simple logic or of outright moral absurdity. But does this really mean that there isn’t a more intelligent approach to the ontological, metaphysical and, ultimately, epistemological questions which are raised by the main themes of religions?

    I believe what many religious people might object to (however unconsiously) about atheism is the fact that leads one into absurdity. It answers nothing about the ontological status of our objective experience, except to affirm its facticity; and it assumes this facticity to be “reality.” All the materialist/positivist/empiricist etc. consequences which follow on form this are taken for granted as a first premise. However, it is only experience with gives us any impression of our universe at all, and religions – at heart – are founded upon the reported experiences of a transcendent “somewhat” which has the nature of eternal (timeless) and infinite (non-spatial) being, from which all of our relative or empiric exeprience is seen to be derivative.

    Now, I realise that these “religious experiences” are often poorly explained or may perhaps even sound ridiculous, but they contain the seeds of something cross-correlative (do some research if you haven’t already, and you’ll see for yourself) which points towards a basic harmony underlying our ordinarily differentiated experience of the universe. It is this harmony which, when consciously apprehended, is designated “God” or the many other names which have been suggested. It is prior to all of the conceptual notions upon which we attempt to build our pictures of it, and consequently cannot be subject to the criticisms born of those limited (necessarily) concepts.

    Anyway, what I’m really trying to say is that the really intelligent thing to do would be to reach some clarity regarding the gound upon which an individual builds their assumptions about reality. It’s not enough to inculcate “science” anymore. Science is merely a premise based upon the apprehension of our collective experience by our capacity to analyse its interrelations. The “matter” of science is no less mysterious in its origins and its ultimate nature than ever was the “God” of theism. And, as many religious people instinctively feel, no doubt, it ultimately undermines the very faculty of “knowing” upon which we base our interpretations and assumptions of anything, including our scientific understanding. Thus the absurdities of a pure atheism are born, and the only resolution to them is to “tough it out” or to look to some future scientific omega wherein the ansers are finally made intelligible. But so what? If there’s only this blind, unconscious and apparently meaningless whirl at the heart of everything, a whirl within which solar systems eventually die and species become extinct, who cares? Is it all about the future?

    “God” is not in “heaven” somewhere else, waiting for our after-death souls to be revealed so that he can decide whether we qualify for his eternal club. “God” is whatever is here and now; seen and unseen; known and (as yet, for most of us) unknown. “God” is life itself, living itself as itself for itself. And it is ever beyond its own apprehension of itself.

    It was worth a try…


  16. Graham Martin-Royle says:

    Pure deepity!

  17. Rational says:

    Matt sounds awfully arrogant, I wonder what he does for a living ?

    Anyway, being atheists doesn’t necessarily make you smarter. Intelligence is both genetics and experience. Let’s take math for example. An intelligent person in physics would be someone who is better than average in the subject. It doesn’t matter if he/she is religious or not. Why ? Because, if you’re religious, when you do physics, you don’t bring your religious belief into it. Most religious persons phase out their beliefs when it comes to Science.

    They accept that their religion deals (most of the time) with the supernatural (what transcends this world) and that sciences deal with this world. It’s irrelevant if their religion is true or false because when one deals with science he/she knows not to bring the supernatural into the equation. Moreover, it is impossible to verify if a supernatural world does exist. A religious person must know that. You simply cannot sense or interact with whatever is beyond our universe. Just like we can’t imagine a 4th spacial dimension (not talking about time) or the many dimensions string theory deals with.

  18. Matt Westwood says:

    “Being atheists doesn’t necessarily make you smarter” is the most stupidly egregious confusion of cause and effect I’ve seen so far this month.

    No, you intellectual midget, being smarter makes you an atheist.

    I rest my case.

    Oh, and since you ask, I’m a mathematician, physicist, software development management consultant, freelance writer and part-time musician and poet.

    What do you do to justify your futile existence?

  19. barriejohn says:

    Where the fuck did he get the pseudonym Rational?

  20. Daz says:

    Moreover, it is impossible to verify if a supernatural world does exist. A religious person must know that.

    They only seem to ‘know’ that as a fall-back argument when they find trying to present ‘evidence’ gets them shot down in flames. Until then, they’re fine and dandy with claiming that it’s verifiable.

    And I’d still contend that it’s more likely to be educumacation than intelligence that has the most effect.


    Has anyone noticed this article has been posted twice, btw, with different addresses?

    The other one has the root-directory plus:

    while this one has the root directory plus:

  21. Dave says:

    Wow. Were the IQs of the specific academics tested before drawing the conclusion that academics have higher IQs?

  22. Matt Westwood says:

    Probably. And it would have registered as stratospherically higher than yours, Dave.

  23. Ryan says:

    Professor Lynch is right. It’s an oversimplification to say that smarter people are less religious, even though of course that is satisfying to less religious people to hear (and insulting to religious ones). There may be a positive correlation between IQ and lack of faith, but obviously it’s much more complicated than just that.

  24. lightroom55 says:

    Dear everybody, I see that we still consider the aspect less important in a human being, the “qualification” through a simple measurement like the one expressed at the beginning of this piece.
    Love do not recognize any of this aspect and less that it is expressed in therms of Life. Let’s add another subject: Simplicity.
    On that ground we can meet each other and the chance to meet brothers and sisters without any distinction about personal choices. I’m not “engaged” within any existing group, not in therms of religions or political or organization of any kind but I feel to be part of this, less complicate, reality. What shall I earn in creating “distance” from each other. This work was programmed since long time ago by our “advisers” and the result is whatever is daily in front of our eyes.
    Would be more productive for everyone to realize where is a place to be with my Tribe (we are not too many, about 12x elements.
    Love & Light to everyone out there! Lightroom

  25. Robert Morris says:

    Assumption or fact? Causation or correlation? This article seems to make the assumption that academics have higher IQ’s. I’m not so sure that is a valid assumption though it may suit some academics and make them feel good about themselves. (There is a saying, Those than can, do. Those that can’t, teach.) Even if the average IQ or intelligence of those with more education is higher than the general population, that does not prove that a higher IQ is the cause of less religious belief. Could it be the additional years of dogmatic anti religious teaching and indoctrination these people are exposed to that explains this difference? Colleges and universities are notorious for indoctrinating students against religious belief and I suspect that it is more difficult for people of faith to advance in many of these institutions. This, not IQ, may explain more of the difference in religious beliefs between “intellectual elite” and the general population. When judging intelligence or who belongs to the group intellectual elite, which of the seven measures of intelligence are used? Some of the best mathematicians and logical thinkers are pretty incompetent by other measures of intelligence. I don’t think it is racist to raise a question of correlation between IQ and faith. Free thinkers should feel free to question anything. However, I believe Richard Lynn may be letting his own bias affect his conclusions. Dogma, whether religious or institutional/educational, can get in the way of true understanding.