The Smarter, The Less Religious?

Several statistical studies shed light on this controversial question.

The intelligence construct  is one of the great triumphs of scientific psychology and, at the same time, a subject that generates great debate and controversy. 

When religion is included in these types of discussions , the mix is ‚Äč‚Äčexplosive. Especially if you start from a meta-analysis published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review, whose conclusions point to the fact that the most intelligent people tend to be less believers than the rest. At least, that’s what the statistics show.

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How does the study was realized?

This research is an analysis of a multitude of studies already done on intelligence and belief in religions. In other words, it is a kind of summary in which a conclusion is offered that encompasses the results of many investigations that deal with a similar topic.

Specifically, to obtain the results, 63 studies were selected that address a common theme from somewhat different methodologies: the relationship between the intellectual quotient (or, in some cases, performance on exams) and the degree to which people believe in a religion , in various parts of the planet. With these data, the scientists synthesized all the information obtained about the different variables and compared the results on both scales.

The results

Of the 63 studies, 33 showed a statistically significant negative correlation between intelligence and religiosity. That is, in these investigations a general tendency had been detected for the most intelligent people to be less religious. In another 10 cases, the correlation was positive, since they revealed an inverse trend to that of the rest.

Why is this happening?

The researchers propose three explanations, although none of them has been put to the test (since that was not the aim of the study).

The first explanation highlights the fact that the most intelligent people are also the most curious and most likely to question certain rules and thought patterns imposed from outside. In this sense, it is easy for someone with a high level of IQ to reject certain ideas from the religious tradition and prefer to “go it alone” when it comes to explanations about reality, especially if in the society in which live religious orthodoxy is very strong.

The second explanation relates high intelligence to the tendency to think logically and base one’s beliefs on empirical tests. That is, the smartest people would tend to resist ideas that cannot be rejected or validated through traditional logic and analytical thinking.

The third explanation, and perhaps the most interesting, arises from the idea that, although religion has been useful for humanity throughout great stages of our history, there are more and more people whose mental capacities make it unnecessary. belief in an afterlife. That is, intelligence is replacing religion in the functions that it previously fulfilled: to provide an explanation about the world, to give an orderly and predictable view of reality, and even to generate well-being through self-esteem and a feeling of fit. in society.

Does that mean that if I am a believer I am less intelligent?

Not at all. This research is still a meta-analysis whose objective is to detect statistical trends, which means that only patterns are described that are visible in a very large number of people.

Furthermore, there is something that always has to be taken into account: correlation does not imply causality. This means that less believers may be statistically smarter simply because, for social and economic reasons, they tend to live in richer societies than the rest, which means that they have enjoyed a better quality of education and health than the rest. Intelligence, remember, does not exist in isolation from the physical world, and if it cannot develop well due to a context full of deficiencies, this will be reflected in IQ tests.

However, it must be taken into account that in this meta-study the influence of three relevant variables was isolated when looking at the relationship between religiosity and intelligence. These variables were sex, education level, and race.

Bibliographic references:

  • Zuckerman, M., Silberman, J and Hall, JA (2013). The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity. A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 17 (4), pp. 325-354.

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