Atheism and intelligence

There’s some research out there concerning correlations between intelligence as psychometricians understand it and atheism. I’ve come across (thanks to Prem Dhanesh) another example: “Average intelligence predicts atheism rates across 137 nations,” by Richard Lynn, John Harvey and Helmuth Nyborg. The abstract:

Evidence is reviewed pointing to a negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief in the United States and Europe. It is shown that intelligence measured as psychometric g is negatively related to religious belief. We also examine whether this negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief is present between nations. We find that in a sample of 137 countries the correlation between national IQ and disbelief in God is 0.60.


One way to think of this sort of research is as confirmation of the prejudice of nonbelievers that being smart works against believing in fairy tales. Still, some caveats apply, aside from the obvious one that this is just one study that I’ve happened upon, and that as a non-psychologist, I am not in any position to tell whether this research is good or not. One important point, for example, is that, as Keith Stanovich points out in his excellent What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought, intelligence and rationality can be associated with very different skills. Psychometric intelligence is, I am inclined to think, oversold and overrated.

So I think I’ll let research like this increase my SQ (smugness quotient) a bit. But not too much, especially if I remember what a complete idiot I’m also capable of making myself.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University