Are atheists more intelligent than religious people?

Are atheists more intelligent than religious people? Quite possibly, on average.

Tom Chivers comes to the conclusion that even though evidence suggests atheists might be more intelligent than religious people it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are smarter.

[T]he internet is currently interested in a meta-analysis, published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review, which finds that atheists have a higher IQ, on average, than the religious. They base this on a review of 63 studies, but, as the authors say, this news isn’t new. The evidence has been around for a while.

There are several reasons given, including a suggestion that the more intelligent you are, the more likely you are to need empirical and logical reasons to believe something; and, interestingly, that the things that religion does for people (helping them to delay gratification for greater future reward; providing an “anchor” in their life in hard times) intelligent people have less need for, because they use other methods. It’s an interesting study. 

What it isn’t, however, is something for atheists to crow about. Because, you see, you don’t get to say “Woo hoo some people who don’t believe in the same thing I don’t believe in are on average more intelligent than a different group of people who are”. Or, rather, you do get to say that, but it’s not very much of an achievement. (Also, there’s a whole debate about IQ and its culturally biased weighting towards abstract reasoning, which is fascinating – see the Flynn effect – but too long to get into here.) There no doubt is a tendency for there to be more atheists towards the top of “intelligence space”. But it’s nowhere near strong enough for us to be able to make any inferences about the specific religious individual in front of us.

TL;DR: while you and I might be atheists, and atheists might be more intelligent (on average) than religious people, that doesn’t mean that you and I aren’t thick as four short planks. Just try to bear that in mind.


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  • Bunswalla

    Well, we know how to spell “than” so I guess, if that’s the measure, yes we are.

  • Andrei

    Of course the people who design the tests are for the most part atheists and are by their own definition therefore intelligent.

    Of course dump one of these “intelligent” test designers in the Kalahari desert with a bushman companion and it will be them that looks dumb when compared to their smart native companion

    • Bunswalla

      Do you think they’ll be suddenly rendered without speech, Andrei? I hardly think so.

    • LabTested

      the same could be said if you or I got off an airplane in Guangzhou. How dumb would we look compared to the locals. What is your point?

    • Not Mark Richardson

      you forgot to call them faggots

  • Michael

    I wouldn’t say more intelligent, more rational perhaps.

  • Jmac

    Proverb of the Day: The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”- Proverbs 14:1

    • Rodger T

      That`s about as meaningful as ; the idiot says ,”mine is the one true god”

      We can all quote mine bullshit.

    • SteveWrathall

      Unbelievers will be tormented forever with fire. When their skin is burned off, a fresh skin will be provided. Koran 4:56

      • James

        Sounds like Mohammed spent some time with my Mother-in-Law.

        • HtD

          Yes, when he’d finished with his child-brides

  • Agent BallSack

    Let me see, one crowd believes in a mythical sky fairy, the other crowd hypothesise we are descended from apes. They’re about even in nutjob territory, I surmise.

    • DangerMice

      I understand the theory is not that we descend from apes, but that apes and humans have a common ancestor

      • LabTested

        and one of the theories can be tested by science

        • philbest

          And disproved…..

          • Bunswalla

            Really? Do tell.

          • philbest

            Let’s not divert this thread onto an argument about whether evolution is scientifically proven. There are other forums for that and volumes of writings. I’d just comment that looking at both sides, belief in evolution requires massive leaps of faith about things that are impossible to prove, or unproven as yet, and that makes it not science. Most people accept evolution without ever having thought of the impossible challenges there are to it. Like how did a species survive at all as its fins were “evolving” into legs, through millennia during which it had appendages that were neither fin nor leg? How did the womb evolve over millennia, and how did the species in which it evolved, reproduce meanwhile while the womb was evolving? I find the “answers” to questions like these unconvincing and certainly not scientifically objective or provable.

      • 4077th

        That would be Winston Peters right? He is after all a living dinosaur.

        • mike

          Love it!

      • SteveWrathall

        “Other apes” and humans

    • rangitoto

      Humans are apes taxonomically. It’s kind of weird that people object to being classified as apes but not mammals. Karol Linnaeus who was the founder of modern taxonomy declared: “It is not pleasing to me that I must place humans among the primates,
      but man is intimately familiar with himself. Let’s not quibble over
      words. It will be the same to me whatever name is applied. But I
      desperately seek from you and from the whole world a general difference
      between men and simians from the principles of Natural History. I
      certainly know of none. If only someone might tell me one! If I called
      man a simian or vice versa I would bring together all the theologians
      against me”

      • Lou

        See what you did now BallSack! Now all the “clever” atheists will be out in force telling us humans are apes and quoting other clever atheists out of context.

        I’d rather be created.

        • rangitoto

          Linnaeus wasn’t an atheist.

        • Agent BallSack

          My job here is done ☻

          • rangitoto

            You pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

        • mike

          By your magical sky being?

        • Dumrse

          Cremated has the m in it.

    • Andrew Wheeler

      Humans are apes

    • Orange

      It would be a much more entertaining analogy if you could define theism correctly instead of the typical misrepresentation by describing something like polytheism. Edit: I agree with the main point though, and that is people can’t hide from religious association by calling it atheism.

  • cows4me

    So atheists may have a higher IQ, they may also have a bigger then normal ego along with an arrogant belief they know it all, pride comes before a fall.

    • Rodger T

      I can`t possibly accept that hypothesis without empirical evidence to back it up. ; )

    • mike


      Atheists will accept proof of a God if there is any… I haven’t met a religious person yet who will accept proof which goes against their doctrine.

      Who’s got the bigger ego again?

      • LabTested

        Yes. Us atheists get up every morning saying I don’t believe in Taniwha or other stone age religions passed down through time. I know it all, now where are the effn car keys

        • Harry B’Stard

          God knows! Perhaps the Taniwha ate them.

          • rangitoto

            The Taniwha will tell you where the keys are if suitable koha is given.

        • philbest

          Don’t you think it’s funny, though, that as a nation abandons Christianity, they stop building roads where Taniwha might be disturbed?

          There’s a very good debate on YouTube between Christopher Hitchens and Denis Prager, where Prager makes the point that secular academics are guilty of perpetuating far more irrational nonsense (by way of political correctness) that obviously, objectively, empirically, scientifically is “not so”, than Christianity. Hitchens barks “give us an example”, Prager responds, “there is no difference between men and women”; and Hitchens, to his credit, grins and says, “touche”.

      • Yes because faith does not require proof.

        • Rodger T

          I don`t suppose you would take it on faith that Lenny knows whats best for the city and Shearer knows whats best for the country?
          Or would you need evidence?

          • For that no faith is required. I know for certain, with empirical evidence that would NOT be the case.

          • Bunswalla

            perhaps true for Lenny, for whom there is some evidence, but you have no empirical evidence for Shearer, since he’s never had the chance to run the country. Fortunately this one will never be resolved because he’ll never get the chance.

        • Not Mark Richardson

          faith is an IQ test all in itself

      • Orange

        I’ve met many religious people, including atheists, who have accepted “proof” or “evidence” that went against their doctrine and helped to convince them towards faith in Christ. Reason aids faith while not replacing it. This is a normal part of life. You cross a bridge when you have reason to trust it, not because (and despite) you know all the reasons the bridge is an illusion or will self destruct as soon as you touch it. Reason is a normal part of faith – “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.” It is possible to have faith without reason – I think that’s where many atheists are – but that’s leaving a very important aspect of life to the powers of Loto.

  • tarkwin

    God only knows.

    • dumbshit

      the non believer quote
      “f–k knows I don’t”

      • tarkwin

        I prefer the Blood Sweat and Tears version ” Swear there ain’t no heaven pray there ain’t no hell”.

  • Jman

    Studies like this are invariably junk science, designed to get the academic who published it some publicity while being quite useless for any practical purpose.

    Given the range of different measures of “intelligence” and the range of different belief systems that could fall under the word “religious” it’s not actually possible to measure such a thing (IMHO).

    I’m an atheist myself and I can be quite disdainful of some of the malarkey that some religious types believe in, but then some of the smartest people I’ve ever known have been religious.

    • In my experience the most religious people i know are atheists, set on proselytising their belief…yes it is a belief…to all.

      They are the happy hand-clappers of non-religious…and just as bat shit crazy.

      • Lion_ess

        If you say so .. feel free to sing along ..
        ……Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare
        Hare Rama, Hare Rama
        Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare

      • TOR

        Sorry WO, Atheism is not a belief system or religion, it is actually a lack of a belief in any god. Most of the atheists I know are not happy hand clappers but rather quietly live their lives and respect the rights of people to believe in whatever they want to (no matter how crazy it seems)
        Everyone except scientologists that is, they’re all batshit crazy

        • Brendon Taylor

          “quietly live their lives and respect the rights of people to believe in whatever they want to”
          Sounds very much like Christlike behaviour to me. I wonder where that type of atheist learnt that behaviour from?

          • Bunswalla

            Obviously not from Christian teachings, which kind of disproves your theory that for good to exist there has to be God.

            Hoist by your own petard.

          • Brendon Taylor

            Peoples behaviour is not only influenced by what happens in their own lives but those values & examples that have been passed down through generations.

        • Intrinsicvalue

          Atheism is the belief that there is no god(s). This cannot be proven, so it is a belief. Adherents of this belief write books, they hold meetings, they advocate collectively, they even follow a certain dogma (secular humanism), albeit with denominational variants. For all intents and purposes, atheism is a belief system.

          • Bunswalla

            It’s clear that you don’t have a clue what atheism is. It is certainly not the “belief that there is no god(s)” In fact it’s the opposite – a lack of belief that there are gods, and a view (entirely sensible in my opinion, but as an atheist I’m brainier than most) that in order for belief in gods to exist, you need to have some proof or evidence.

      • Muffin

        I think agnostics are the smartest, ( I’m one) I just couldn’t care either way…. Just stop knocking on my door on sat mornings.

      • HtD

        “Atheism Is a Religion Like Abstinence Is a Sex Position” Bill Maher

  • Harry B’Stard

    The great thing about being an atheist is the only tithe I have to make is to my whisky collection

    • Rodger T

      Amen to that ,brother!

  • James

    The argument is more along the lines that the average IQ of a large group of atheists is higher than the average IQ of a large group of religious people.
    But that you are unable to use this to then say that any particular atheist is more intelligent than any particular religious person for a number of reasons. Firstly that there are a broad range of IQs within each group from thick as pig shit to super brain boxes; and secondly the design of IQ tests does not necessarily measure intelligence equally across all people.
    It is like saying that the average IQ in the Americas is higher than the average IQ in Africa and then using this to say that blacks are therefore less intelligent than whites. The first is definitely true but the second does not necessarily follow; and everybody knows from American reality shows that there are some very stupid white people out there!

  • JC

    Sadly I’m not allowed to be an Atheist because I don’t believe in Global Warming.


    • mike

      No no… you’re mistaking atheism (which requires critical thinking) with loony-ism otherwise known as the cult of Weasel Wussell.

  • Jimmie

    The Achilles heel of the atheist is the finality of death.

    You can grizzle and argue about the existence or otherwise of God, mock happily concepts of creationism, scoff heartily at proven religious hypocrites, even loftily consider that the average church goer has the equivalent intelligence of the average plank of wood.

    However death is one issue that every atheist must face. Is it final or a doorway to the hereafter?

    Science cannot answer this question therefore the die hard atheist must take a ‘step of faith’ and declare that death is final and there is no experience beyond death.

    This cannot scientifically be proved either way so when the atheist is on their death bed and their life is slowly draining away then they are faced with the question: Am I wrong??

    As to the unwavering belief in the scientific method I give you two words:
    Global Warming.

    • James

      If I die and discover that there is an afterlife then I’ll happily admit that my hypothesis about there being no afterlife was incorrect.

      Do I think that I’ll be on my death bed wondering if I’m wrong? No, as I am perfectly content for this to be it – my philosophy is to live your life to the full, try and make sure that the world is a better place when you leave than it was when you arrived, and that your offspring are set up to do the same.

      I have no issues with being wormfood; but would I like there to be a heaven? Of course. I just can’t see how there can be one as there is no evidence for one.

      As for global warming you’ll find that isn’t the scientific method but an absolute corruption of the scientific method as falsifications are routinely ignored.

      • Jimmie

        Sounds great James however the little russian roulete question in that faint possibility of an afterlife is will it be a pleasant or unpleasant experience?

        As for your statement about global warming – you prove my point.

        The ‘scientific method’ is not the empirical absolute prover of truth and fact that many would believe simply because the scientists who employ it are human.

        They are just as fallible in twisting their particular scientific prognosis to further their own ends and financial position as the most rabid preacher.

        So are you any different from the religious follower in that you are relying on the accuracy or otherwise of a scientist providing unfettered scientifc ‘truths’ like a church goer does when hearing a sermon being preached.

        • James

          I have no idea how the scientific method has anything to do with the existence of God or not. The scientific method basically says, “come up with a hypothesis, test it, analyse your results, and review how they compared against the hypothesis”. There is plenty of room in science for the existence of God – indeed a couple of the people that I read geology with at university are now vicars.

          The reason for this is that the existence of God (or not) is essentially an untestable matter of faith. The atheists that I know simply do not believe that God(s) exist(s) – in the same way that you believe that a God exists but not every other God that mankind has worshipped (or, as I used to, that every other God was simply a different aspect of the one, true, God).

          The existence or not of God falls out of the scientific method as it is untestable. And, should I ever see evidence of God’s existence and am able to test said evidence to my satisfaction, then I will happily admit that my hypothesis that there is no God is incorrect. Will you? Or will you make excuses, like climate “scientists” do, that explain away any evidence for a lack of God?

          As to whether any afterlife, if it were to exist, would be a pleasant or unpleasant place I refer you to my philosophy above. I can’t see how any just maker could see issue with “try and make sure that the world is a better place when you leave than it was when you arrived, and that your offspring are set up to do the same”.
          Indeed my belief is that “heaven” is what you leave behind – so do good in life and you leave heaven for your offspring, do bad and it is hell. This pretty much ties into the basic pillars of every theistic faith, it is just that mine is an atheistic faith.
          If any God is so petty that the fact that I didn’t worship him/her/it throughout life and didn’t / did eat pork, shellfish, etc then is he/she/it really worthy of worship? Surely actions should speak louder than words to any all powerful, omnipotent being?

      • Ducky

        It is like you are hedging your bets both ways. You either win or you loose, Bible says, ” if you are lukewarm, you will be spitted out ” .”you are either a believer or you don’t”. End result: when Judgement day arrives who knows?

        • James

          I disagree that I am hedging my bets; it shouldn’t be the bible or fear of going to hell that makes you want to be good – it should be a desire to leave the best possible world for the future. And I think that this is one of the areas that many religious folk misunderstand atheists as they are somewhat afraid of us due to us having no “eternal” ramifications for our actions; but we do have them as today’s actions will have knock on effects for our offspring and humanity as a whole.

    • TOR

      Meh, to an atheist an afterlife is like finding money down the back of the sofa when looking for the TV remote

      • Jimmie

        Not exactly. Think about it. If there is an afterlife then is it fair that everyone who dies goes to a really nice place to live forever?

        Would it be fair for kiddy fiddlers and child killers to live in tranquility for eternity? (Jo Stalin/Jim Jones/Hitler?)

        So perhaps if the afterlife is real then there may be a good place and a bad place that you may end up in and there is some kind of standard or rules that states who goes to the good place or the bad place.

        Then you gotta ask the question: who sets the rules and should I look into it just in case it might be important?

        • TOR

          There is no proof of an afterlife but if I imagined a world where there was one, what makes you think it would be fair, life on that world certainly isn’t and the thing that is supposed to be in charge of it all is a psychotic megalomaniac with the power to break all laws of space and time
          Makes great science fiction

  • LesleyNZ

    But atheists are believers in their atheism. I don’t think they are brighter. Watch this. Atheists defending their belief. Evolution vs. God

  • philbest

    There was a U.S. study a few years ago that broke people down into more categories than “atheists” and “believers”.

    It concluded that atheists were first equal most intelligent along with “evangelical” Christians. Generally, the bigger the religious “establishment” a person was connected with, the less intelligent they were. Catholics were below all other Christian denominations identified.

    It has often been noted by specialist historians that a disproportionate number of the scientists and innovators and entrepreneurs of the enlightenment era, were “dissenting Protestants”. This is probably the category that could be said to apply to the Founding Fathers of the USA and a high proportion of the early immigrants. They put in the Constitution that “The State shall not establish a church” because they disagreed with established churches, not with Christianity.

    It is not belief in God that makes people stupid, it is “establishment” mumbo-jumbo.