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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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.

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