Religious People are Less Intelligent? (RJS)

Religious People are Less Intelligent? (RJS) September 5, 2013

A new article appeared early in August – The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity: A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations – published (as most articles are these days) online before print in Personality and Social Psychology Review. The authors analyzed 63 studies in the literature published over some 80 plus years (from 1928 to 2012). Because the studies analyzed are primarily western, most of the religious belief studied is Christian, although a few appear to look at Jewish individuals. The general conclusion is that there is a negative correlation between religious belief and intelligence as measured by IQ. The article itself requires a personal or institutional subscription (and is long (30 pages) and rather ‘academic’ (some might say ‘dull’)), but you can see the abstract through the link above.

This article has been getting some press, much of it in the UK, some in the US, with headlines designed to be provocative. The story in the Daily Mail gives a taste …

Atheists ‘have higher IQs’: Their intelligence ‘makes them more likely to dismiss religion as irrational and unscientific’

  • Research found those with higher IQs more likely to dismiss religion
  • Another drawback to being religious, or at least Christian is losing out on top jobs

Atheists tend to be more intelligent than religious people, according to a US study.

Researchers found that those with high IQs had greater self-control and were able to do more for themselves – so did not need the benefits that religion provides.

They also have better self esteem and built more supportive relationships, the study authors said.

On this side of the ocean The Huffington Post got into the mix as well (no surprise here):

Religious People Branded As Less Intelligent Than Atheists In Provocative New Study

What might explain the effect?

Scientists behind studies included in the review most often suggested that “religious beliefs are irrational, not anchored in science, not testable and, therefore, unappealing to intelligent people who ‘know better.’”

But the researchers who conducted the new meta-analysis say the answer is a bit more complicated. They suspect intelligent people might have less of a “need” for religion.

“Intelligence may also lead to greater self-control ability, self-esteem, perceived control over life events, and supportive relationships, obviating some of the benefits that religion sometimes provides,” study co-author Jordan Silberman, a graduate student of neuroeconomics at the University of Rochester, told The Huffington Post in an email.

The message these reporters intend to convey is quite clear — if you are smart, you will not need religion and will not be religious. Religion is for the poor, helpless, ignorant and unintelligent. (More on this later.)

In contrast one of the most reasonable responses was on Atheist Revolution, where a number of limitations were pointed out, including:

Studies relying on large sets of aggregate data are informative in understanding group trends but tell us next to nothing about individuals. That is, the results of such a study – no matter how big or how well done – cannot reasonably be interpreted as suggesting that a particular religious person is any less intelligent than a particular atheist.


Finding a negative correlation between intelligence and religiosity is certainly interesting, but is a far cry from indicating that religious belief somehow causes people to be less intelligent.

Correlation is not causation. Nor does it do much good to discuss the mean of a large distribution. There is, for example, some support for the claim that boys (on average) are better at abstract mathematics than girls (on average). But the distribution of ability is broad. I am willing to bet that, whatever the averages may be, I am better at math than most of the males who read this post (hint: I teach graduate level quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics among other things). I expect there is also evidence for a correlation such as that shown to the right where dog lovers are normal, and cat lovers above average – although I admit I made this one up as an example. Likewise, both religious believers and nonbelievers span pretty much the entire range of IQ. The difference in the mean is rather small, and it is not wise to make too much of it.

Another good response was posted by Jordan Monge in the web only edition of Christianity Today as well, Why Intelligent People Are Less Likely to Be Religious:

Unlike previous studies that tried to explain the data by suggesting that smart people simply see past religion’s claims, these researchers, led by University of Rochester psychologist Miron Zuckerman, tried to identify other social factors in play. Nevertheless, the hype about their conclusions is overblown, and all of us—the religious and the non-religious—should be wary of placing too much weight on their findings.

Rather than the result of a causal correlation, the researchers’ findings on religion and intelligence seem to fit inside a particular cultural narrative. In the U.S., we assume that intelligent people grow up, then reject faith. Faithful teenagers go off to secular colleges, stop attending church, and become skeptics. As individuals situate themselves in this narrative, the story becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I am not sure she is right about the cultural narrative though. Or let me clarify, I think the results will be used to push and justify the cultural narrative she describes. Certainly the two articles I quoted above, from the Daily Mail and The Huffington Post, seem to use it to justify the cultural narrative that intelligent people (if they are honest) will reject religious faith.

I think the reality is complex, however. And the meta-analysis of all of these studies is almost certainly correct. On average religious people are less intelligent than non-religious people.

Why is this?

As Christians we need to have an answer. Studies like the ones discussed here are powerful cultural ammunition.

The authors of the paper offer several possible explanations:

(1) Perhaps Atheism is a form of nonconformity. Intelligent people are less likely to conform. They have the confidence and desire to walk a different path. Thus they are more likely to resist religious pressures.

(2) Intelligent people tend to adopt an analytic (as opposed to intuitive) thinking style, which has been shown to undermine religious beliefs. Analytic thinking causes one to question everything and look for coherent solutions. The thinking pattern that makes a person good at physics can also make it difficult to accept some of the claims of religious groups. (I am an analytical thinker.) I am sure this plays a role. Cognitive dissonance is quite real when one is confronted with some of the more exacting claims of inerrancy and young earth creationism for example. Part of what I do on this blog is to think through, and foster a conversation around the various issues that impact faith and reason.

(3) Intelligence is also correlated (on average) with self-control, self-enhancement, self-esteem, secure attachment, and better jobs. On average, intelligent people may simply see themselves as having less need for religious belief. Self assurance eliminates the need for God.

I think this last reason plays the largest role, and as a Christian I don’t find it surprising at all.

Speaking to the rich man:

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:22-25)

Wealth, power, self-esteem, self-sufficiency … intelligence. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

I could go into more detail, and bring up a large number of other passages of scripture both Old and New Testament, but this is enough to get us started. Jesus dined with sinners and outcasts and saved his strongest criticism for the wealthy and powerful for a reason. I think that, on average, religious people are less intelligent because it is the poor, the weak, the brokenhearted, the oppressed, the powerless who realize that they cannot go it alone and are willing to turn to God.

I think this is also a large part of the reason why there are more women than men in the church.

If there is no God (as the atheist claim) this can be rationalized as an adaptive evolutionary trait and a coping mechanism.

If there is a God – the God revealed in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament – this is exactly what we should expect … on average.

Reason and intelligence need not turn us away from God and his kingdom, but wealth, self-reliance, self-confidence, and power often will.

What do you think?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at]

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  • Alastair J Roberts

    I posted some remarks on this research a few weeks ago here.

  • jeffstraka

    I’m sure there are numerous reasons why people become atheists. For me, it was simply a result of taking the study of religion and Christianity all the way “down the rabbit hole” without “applying the brakes”.

  • We in Western society tend to judge people by their level of intellect and academic credentials. And, I would say that we as Protestants are guilty of this too, perhaps more so than our Orthodox and Catholic brothers.

    But, I am glad that the Twelve disciples were just ordinary men with no degrees and probably were likely not the sharpest tools in the shed. And yet they had an intellect that was far greater than most people in the world. I think it speaks to the fact that a person does not have to be highly intelligent to be wise. On the contrary a person can be very intelligent, but lack wisdom. After all, intelligent people have been known to do very stupid things.

    But, the question is posed: Who are the people who are truly making an eternal impact upon our society and doing the things that really matter most to the human condition? Is it the Mother Theresas or is it the Stephen Hawkings? Is it the obscure Christian man feeding the homeless in Phildaelphia or is it the Richard Dawkins? Is it the uneducated Christian woman in India who is feeding and grooming the untouchables in her country or is it the Albert Einsteins? Is it the man who dropped out of high school who is now building homes in the slums of Honduras or is it the man with five PhDs giving lectures all day?

    Human intelligence is good. After all, God created it. But, as with many things, intellect, reasoning, and intelligence can often become idols that we strive to attain, often at the expense of wisdom, love, and grace. Intelligence can be cold, unforgiving, and impersonal. While wisdom, love, and grace can be warm, inviting, and life changing.

    Which of these should we as Christian value most? And, should we really concern ourselves about how atheists and humanists view themselves over us?

  • Adam

    I think there’s more to the social link as well. How enjoyable is it for the intelligent to socialize with the non-intelligent? There are studies in the education field that show people with more than 2 standard deviations in intelligence generally do not get along very well.

    Also, how many people who are “religious” actually live in a manner that represents their belief and how many believe because that’s how they grew up? I think there are plenty of studies that show most US christians live extremely similar lives to all the other religions around them. It’s hard to tell by lifestyle who is christian and who is not.

    So, taking the intellectual requirements of the scientific fields (which pretty much exclude lower intelligence) and combine that with the social realities. I think what we get is a view of a cultural divide and a sense that both sides are more exclusive than they think they are.

  • fjgates

    When I first came across this study I had two thoughts. 1) It seems likely that there is a correlation between above average IQ and an above average access to institutions where the indoctrination process skews toward an atheistic worldview. 2) The ill conceived embrace of anti-intellectualism by much of protestantism over the past few centuries, ipso facto, has resulted in a more “populist” body-ekklesia.

  • josenmiami

    (I teach graduate level quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics among other things). YIKES! That is serious stuff!

    There could be one more reason. People with higher I.Q.s tend to pursue higher education in larger numbers than people with normal I.Q.s I assume. In general academia is not highly congenial to religion. The I.Q. is probably correlative but not causative as you point out.

  • NateW

    I think your analysis is spot on Scot, insofar as we are talking about those who are truly committed to following Christ. Those whom our natural wisdom judges as least will be greatest, and last shall be first.

    If you think about it, the subtext behind the conclusions here is a little disturbing. “Religion” should be rejected because those who are “less intelligent” embrace it. Why? Who says that intelligence is the ultimate attribute? Perhaps another study could say that religious people tend to be more empathetic and emotive than non-religious people. Who’s to say that this isn’t a better reason to be religious than intelligence is to be non-religious? It all comes down to what god you have set up beforehand. The modern (and post-modern) god seems to be intellectual elitism with humility playing the role of devil.

  • Dorfl

    I think the implied reasoning is just that intelligence is, among other things, the ability to figure out what’s actually true, implying that if intelligent people are less likely to embrace religions then the factual content of those religions is less likely to be true. That’s why intelligence is a relevant attribute, but empathy and emotiveness are not.

    That said, I don’t think it’s a very good argument against religion. I can’t see any way to have a productive discussion around the argument ‘intelligent people are more likely to believe X, therefore X is probably true’.

  • AHH

    RJS hinted at this, especially in #2 above, but I want to say it more explicitly. One must really think about what is cause and what is effect.

    I think high IQ tends to be correlated with inquisitive minds, asking questions, not accepting things on rote authority, wrestling with questions that don’t have easy answers, and seeing shades of gray instead of just black and white. Unfortunately, these qualities are unwelcome in a lot of the Evangelical church, at least here in the US. So people with those qualities who grow up in the church tend to leave, and those who grow up outside the church are repelled by it (sometimes for real factors, sometimes because of stereotypes with less than 100% basis in fact).
    I think this same mechanism is one part of the reason why fewer scientists are Christians than in the general population.

    That said, I also agree about another mentioned factor, that those who are “smarter” are more tempted to think they can figure out their own lives and don’t need God.

  • LoudGuitr

    I find this no more surprising than to say that smarter people don’t believe in alchemy or astrology as much as others.

  • NateW

    “I think the implied reasoning is just that intelligence is, among other things, the ability to figure out what’s actually true..”

    Yeah, I guess that’s the assumption I think is a bit dubious. Intelligence is great for discerning technical/mechanical/theoretical knowledge but there are many things that it is powerless to know. I could explain every minute biological detail about my wife, down to the atomic level, to someone, but doing so wouldn’t mean that you could say that you know her.

    I just think that there are realms of deeper truth that intelligence has nothing to do with. Truths like these are only found by those who seek to love perfectly rather than know perfectly.

  • Levi

    This certainly fits with Mark Noll’s thesis that the church has largely failed at loving God with our minds. Large swaths of the American evangelical church forces thinking people away by insisting that they check their brains at the church door. To put it bluntly, highly intelligent types have much more to lose in that bargain than simpletons, so they won’t take the deal.

    Inerrancy, young-earth creationism, and the like are presented as foundational to Christian belief. Reject those and you reject God, so you might as well be an atheist (so goes the argument).

    Highly intelligent, analytical people who have interests in the “big questions” also tend to be more attracted to philosophy than theology. (There are of course highly intelligent Christian philosophers — Alvin Plantinga being a huge exception that proves the rule.) There is much more room for inquiry and the only thing that won’t be tolerated is sloppy argumentation. But again, there is a thread of evangelical Christianity that is strongly suspicious of philosophy because it takes arguments about morality and the existence of God seriously.

    My own experience bore this out. In college I started as a Microbiology major, then switched to Philosophy about halfway through. At my home church, well-respected members confronted me and asked how I “reconciled” my studies with Christianity — at different times and for both majors! As if microbes or philosophy were both somehow in conflict with Christian belief and needed to be harmonized.

    I would be interested to see if the data can demonstrated whether this thesis holds water — does the trend persist across all religious belief equally? Is it more pronounced for individuals holding fundamentalist beliefs (eg. young-earth creationism, inerrancy)? Or is it the case that God really did choose the foolish to shame the wise?

  • Joey Elliott

    1 Corinthians 1:19-21 comes to mind:

    19 For it is written,

    “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

    20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

  • seba

    It would be terribly hard to show Jews as less inteligent than atheists since they still hold most noble prizes as a nation/religious group.

  • Joey Elliott


    The efforts of many, including Matthew Lee Anderson, whose book was reviewed on this blog:

    And Tim Keller, who recently tweeted per his long standing perspective:

    is going a long way to combat what you mentioned about the quality of asking and wrestling with questions being unwelcome in Evangelical churches.

  • Tom F.

    “(2) Intelligent people tend to adopt an analytic (as opposed to
    intuitive) thinking style, which has been shown to undermine religious
    beliefs. Analytic thinking causes one to question everything and look for coherent solutions.”

    Yep- this. This is me. But this just doesn’t work. Forget about the hot-button issues, in any given sermon I experience non-coherence at least once. To some degree, I have to remind myself constantly that not everything is going to cohere. I’m trying to remind myself that the purpose of a sermon and hearing scripture is not ultimately about creating a coherent system, but about hearing from God and discerning God’s will. Its tough, though. Good thoughts.

  • Jordan Ashley Monge

    I agree that this study will be used to justify the narrative and noticed that in the articles you mentioned. That’s why I wanted to write about how the study could be interpreted, and suggest other plausible explanations besides the standard “smart people reject religion because religion is dumb” explanation.

    Here’s my issue with your explanation: other data also shows that college-educated people are more likely than their less educated peers to be religiously active. ( All that self-control really makes it easier for you to get up early for church on Sunday morning, apparently. People who go to college are now more likely to stay religious than their peers who dropped out of high school.

    So if it’s really just an issue of camel + needle, well, somehow these college kids today are really missing the memo. You are far from the first Christian I’ve heard to propose this as an explanation. But it’s frustrating because it’s almost always done with a dismissive tone. “Well, what else do you expect? Jesus warned us – it’s harder for a camel… There’s just not much we can do about it.” This is the sort of attitude and easy answer that has allowed the “smart people reject religion because religion is dumb” cultural narrative to flourish, even as the college educated are becoming more religious than their peers.

  • Dorfl

    I both do and don’t agree with this:

    “Intelligence is great for discerning technical/mechanical/theoretical knowledge but there are many things that it is powerless to know. I could explain every minute biological detail about my wife, down to the atomic level, to someone, but doing so wouldn’t mean that you could say that you know her.”

    I think you are using a very limited definition of ‘intelligence’. Imagine an incredibly perceptive psychologist, who within a few minutes conversation with someone could learn things about them that you or I wouldn’t imagine even after knowing them for years, but who has trouble with basic arithmetic and loses chess games within four moves. I wouldn’t hesitate before describing that person as being highly intelligent, despite their complete incompetence in STEM fields.

    That said, your definition of intelligence is probably closer than mine to what most of the studies cited actually measured. As far as I know, there still is no consensus about whether ‘intelligence tests’ actually test ‘intelligence’ for any definition of the word broad enough to be useful.

  • Dianne P

    Really? WHICH of these should we value most? I’m thinking… all of the above.

  • RJS4DQ


    I am aware of the data showing that youth who go to college are more likely to remain in the faith than those who do not.

    But the real point is in my cat-lover example. We are talking about a displacement of the mean in broad distributions. So the question is “why is the mean displaced?” The cultural narrative that intelligent people know enough to dismiss religion doesn’t get that. A lot of intelligent people are, in fact, religious.

    I think there are a number of factors at play – and a major one is the pride of self-reliance. Cognitive dissonance is another – much of what Veritas does helps with this one. We need real conversations.

    In your piece you allude to your experience at Harvard (and link your earlier story about your conversion). I’ve not been to Harvard – but I did my graduate work at Berkley, and have spent all but three of the last 32 years as graduate student, post doc or faculty at top ranked research Universities. (The missing three years were at a good research University, but not one that makes “top ranked” lists.) My analysis isn’t intended to be dismissive. It comes from my experience interacting with people, including my peers and colleagues. If you think I’ve missed something, what is it?

  • RJS4DQ


    I tried to respond to this earlier today – but connection problems with disqus lost the comment while it was “saving.” (Hah!)

    I think the social pressures play a significant role. The peer pressure can be intense. But then the question becomes “why the difference leading to this social pressure?” Why is academia not congenial to religion?

  • Joshua Swoyer

    More intelligent people tend to go to college, and take it more seriously. Most courses you take in college, whether that be biology, or English, tend to push more atheistic principals. In the sciences they will tell you miracles are impossible, that evolution is not just a strong theory, but a fact. In the liberal arts they tend to push a more philosophical liberal outlook. They’ll tell you there is no such thing as absolute truth, and generally assault the moral principles of faith. It’s no surprise to me that a higher percentage of people that go through college would be atheists compared to those who aren’t.

    On top of this you have to ask yourself, when they are examining religious individuals, what kind of religious individuals are they looking at? While Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:19 “If in this life only we have hope in, we are of all men most miserable.” Many religious LEADERS of our time will tell you that it doesn’t matter if our faith is true, because it makes them feel better. Christianity is not intended to be a religion of blind faith, but many seem to think so. It seems obvious to me that an analytic thinker would immediately be turned off by this sort of outlook.

    Certainly an interesting prospect. While the media seems to be claiming it’s the fault of the religion itself (no reasonable person could believe these things), and scientists doing the study seem to think it’s an issue of lifestyle, I might argue that it’s more the fault of the churches and education. Of course, it could be something else entirely, or all of the above.

  • Dorfl

    “In the sciences they will tell you miracles are impossible […]”

    I’ve spent the last five years studying physics. So far, the subject of miracles hasn’t come up once.

    “[…] that evolution is not just a strong theory, but a fact.”

    That one is true though. The theory of evolution is a theory and a fact, just like the theory of relativity, the theory of classical electrodynamics or quantum field theory. A person who thinks ‘theory’ and ‘fact’ are mutually exclusive is confused about what the word ‘theory’ means when used in a scientific context.

  • Mark Kennedy

    Possible Explanation #2: “Intelligent people tend to adopt an analytic (as opposed to intuitive) thinking style, which has been shown to undermine religious

    I disagree with the language in this assertion. I don’t think analytical thinking is as much nurture (voluntary adoption by the individual) as it is nature (that they are born with that cognitive disposition).

    As a corollary, it also seems to me to have become true–perhaps due to the influence of the Enlightenment–that analytical people have been allowed to define what ‘intelligence’ means, and so ‘analytical’ is thought to be ‘intelligent’, while intuitive, evaluative,synthetic, and collegial ways of thinking about problems or living ones life are seen as unintelligent, or at least less intelligent. The authors of this study seem to merely presuppose the superiority of analytical thinking, a whopper of an assumption.

  • Joey Elliott

    Who voted this down? What in the world?

  • AHH

    I would observe that the stereotypes and suspicion toward higher education and science expressed in the first paragraph of this comment, which seems to be a common narrative among conservative Evangelicals, is a significant contributor to intelligent and educated people feeling unwelcome in the church.

    Not that there isn’t some truth to claims of hostility to Christianity in secular universities. But such broad-brush stereotypes are not helpful. Like RJS, I got my PhD in a scientific field at Berkeley. Those were years of good growth in my faith, and none of the classes I took there (or as an undergratuate at a different state school for that matter) assaulted my faith.
    Of course some people feel that their faith is assaulted if they are taught the facts about the age of the Earth or about common descent of creatures, or about literary aspects of the Bible, but that feeling is the fault not of the universities but rather of churches ill-preparing people.

  • Andrew Dowling

    First off, AHH is competely right. The worries of “indoctrination” at educational institutions not only goes against everything we know about how beliefs are formed in humans (the influence of professors/teachers is miniscule), but shows the exact anti-intellectualism that pervades evangelical/conservative Christianity (as well as conservative religion in general . . see their counterparts in Islam).

    A few issues with the limitations cited at that website. The comment that “Studies relying on large sets of aggregate data are informative in understanding group trends but tell us next to nothing about individuals.” Ummm, that can be said about almost any study ever done in history (unless the entire population is included in your sample size). The whole point is that it demonstrates a relationship.

    “Finding a negative correlation between intelligence and religiosity is certainly interesting, but is a far cry from indicating that religious belief somehow causes people to be less intelligent.” ??? Did anyone in the study say that religion causes less intelligence? I think the whole point inferred is that less intelligent people are more attracted to religion.

    And you are honestly going to pretzel-twist Jesus’s saying about the rich man to extend to intelligence?? “Unless you give all that you have to the poor . . .and stop reading all of those books and questioning things, thall shall not enter the Kingdom” I don’t think so. Jesus was talking about riches in terms of MONEY and wealth but of course we spiritualize all of Jesus’s sayings about wealth away b/c THAT would be too much, so let’s widen the tent of riches to include smarts . . .my goodness.

    I am not ashamed to say I believe in a higher power, but I think the results of the study are fairly accurate. The theology offered in most churches is black and white; critical thinking is told to check itself at the door and its not an issue for many b/c they don’t WANT to question at Church; Sundays are their time of security and stability. The churches are following the whims of the marketplace in many instances.
    It’s not religion per say, but a certain (and popular) brand of religion that causes the displacement

  • Andrew Dowling

    I would bet money the more conservative/fundamentalist the church, the lower the IQ/education level on average.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “And yet they had an intellect that was far greater than most people in the world.”
    Huh? The disciples are continually portrayed as unable to comprehend even basic messages or follow basic directions in the Gospels . . intelligence is certainly not a trait the text extolls of them.”

    Also, I agree IQ isn’t everything. but you are setting up a false dichotomy between science/intelligence and ‘godliness.’ Doing things that matter most to the human condition? The sciences through modern medicine and vaccines have alleviated and prevented more human suffering than missions in India ever did. They aren’t fighting against one another.

  • Hello Scot, don’t worry about that for this study is incomplete an not really meaningful :=)

    I believe it is completely fallacious to compare atheism with non-atheism and draw the conclusion that atheism is more likely to be true.

    What would be really interesting would be a new study not comparing atheists with non-atheists but the numerous groups out there with each other.

    1) reductive materialists
    2) non-reductive materialists
    3) non materialist naturalists
    4) deists
    5) pantheists
    6) conservative Christians
    7) progressive Christians
    8) liberal Christians
    9) conservative muslims
    10) taoists

    and so on and so forth.

    To a large extent, I agree with what you said about religion.

    While I believe that materialism is false, I don’t really know if there is a God or not, but I hope on him.

    Lovely greetings from Germany

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

  • RJS4DQ


    I had this 1 Cor. 1 passage in an early version of the post. It is one of several that came to mind as I was thinking about my reaction to the study. I’ve also written on the passage in the past (Is Science Merely Wisdom of This World?). It definitely relates to this post today.

    (One of the things I dislike about Disqus is the ability to put down votes on comments. It just degrades the whole conversation. I have no idea why someone would put a down vote on this one.)

  • Susan_G1

    I didn’t vote this down and don’t want to, but some people don’t like answers in the form of Scripture verses. I wouldn’t take it personally. People down vote for all kinds of reasons, including that they are being curmudgeonly.

  • Susan_G1

    Andrew, you would lose that money in this town….the biggest church is a fundamentalist church, and we have a tertiary medical center in town, which means a disproportionally large number of physicians here… and a lot of them go to the fundy church.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Have you inquired into the religious orientation of Nobel prize winners that are identified as Jewish?

  • ThisIsTheEnd

    Social pressures to become atheist? I’m not American but I find it hard to believe that American atheists, living in one of the most religious countries in the West, are responding to atheistic social pressures

  • Abib14

    Why is this study even necessary? Why can’t science simply believe the word of God? Why can’t science simply read Matthew 11:25-26, and believe Jesus? This study should not come as a revelation, rather this study merely confirms that it is the will of the Father that spiritual things are hidden from the wise/intelligent,

    At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

  • Dorfl

    Science can’t simply read the Bible and believe Jesus for the same reason as it can’t simply read the Qu’ran and believe Muhammed. What allowed science to take off in the first place was the realisation that “It says so in this book, and they couldn’t print it if it wasn’t true” isn’t a reliable method for getting knowledge. You actually has to test your ideas against the real world to see if they hold up.

  • Abib14

    Perhaps, perhaps not, I don’t know.

    How would science test the Sign of Jonah. It’s the only sign the Lord Christ Jesus gave us. One either believes that Jesus was in the heart of the earth for 3 days and 3 nights, or doesn’t believe. It’s as simple as that really, there is no way for science to test in the real world whether or not Jesus was in the Garden Tomb or not.

    I tend to think that science puts itself on a pedestal and tries to usurp the authority of the Almighty by placing science above the Lord. Reading Scripture, science reminds of the Pharisees and Sadducees of antiquity, in that both tempted God by testing Him.

  • Dorfl

    “How would science test the Sign of Jonah. […] there is no way for science to test in the real world whether or not Jesus was in the Garden Tomb or not.”

    Well there you have it. This explains exactly why science can’t simply read the Bible and believe.

  • Andrew – Yes, the disciples are portrayed as bumbling fools in the Gospels. But, I’m speaking more about the disciples AFTER Jesus had departed from them. When they were left on their own and went to the outer reaches of the world to proclaim the Gospel. There was indeed something different about them from the time when they were with Jesus until they were on their own. Even a cursory look at their writings throughout the pages of the New Testament attest to their high level of intellect.

  • High human intellect vs. godly wisdom? I would choose the latter over the other.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Do you want your doctor to use analytical thinking to confer a diagnosis or just use his intuition?

  • Andrew Dowling

    I know there are exceptions. (how big is your town?) Still think my theory would hold up under a wide study.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “How would science test the Sign of Jonah. It’s the only sign the Lord Christ Jesus gave us.”
    The Gospels don’t even agree with each other on this. Is it one sign, per Matthew? Many signs, per John? Or no signs, per Mark?

  • Phil Miller

    Most people, even those in highly analytical fields end up using a combination of both. But intuition and analysis aren’t really at odds with one another, either.

  • Abib14

    So how does science test the Sign of Jonah? How does science prove that after 3 days and 3 nights in the heart of the earth He was raised?
    Would science dodge the question by asking another question(s)? Why wouldn’t science delve into Scripture and try to discover why these differences exist before exalting science as the final authority upon discovery of these variances?

    Brothers Andrew & Drofl, have been down this road many times and I’m ending my participation in this dialogue. Nothing will be gained for the Glory of God as long as science tries to usurp the Authority of our Lord Christ Jesus. Science will never recognize without scientific proof that with God all things are possible … and yet again science proves to be a mostly faithless lot in not believing what can’t be seen. Amen.

  • Dorfl

    I’m honestly not sure what just happened.

    As far as I could see, this conversation consisted of Abib14 asking a question, answering their own question and then flouncing off.

  • Susan_G1

    14, 257 in 2010. Includes med students and residents in all fields, researchers, all specialties, etc. we are swimming in docs!

  • Susan_G1

    Andrew, as a physician, this is an interesting question, and one that I am able to answer to a degree. “Gut instinct” is a very important part of assessing the patient. To be honest, analytical thinking comes in when the gut fails you. Usually I can tell what’s wrong with a patient in the ED within 30 seconds or so, often less. The rest of the time is spent on proving the diagnosis (the rest of the history, exam, tests) writing out and disproving a differential diagnosis list for the insurance companies and lawyers.

    The truth (I would guess) is that with all the education and every patient one sees, a process of storing information of all kinds occurs, where as an inexperienced doc, a lot of it is analytical thinking, test results, etc. until one sees so many people, the brain just sorta bypasses all those neuronal pathways of analysis and goes straight for the end result and a gut response is triggered.

    I don’t want to turn you off of docs, but it’s maybe 5% of patients that I say, huh, what’s going on here? and have to start using the brain in a more deliberate manner. While all patients are equally important, it is both harder and more rewarding to have to use analytical thinking to solve (if I can) the problem. If I can’t solve it, I need to call in a specialist.

    If you wonder how representative I am, that’s fair. If you wonder how good I am, I’ve never been found at fault in internal or external QA, I’ve never been named in a suit, and have generally out-performed specialists who disagreed with my diagnosis. Yet I know arrogance is a dangerous thing, and approach almost every patient with an open mind. (some are just no brainers.)

    Not to belabor the point, but in some patients that have stumped me, I’ll be taking a walk or having a conversation when the diagnosis just presents itself in my head in what would appear a random fashion. That’s the capacity of the brain to work in a silent manner.

  • Andrew Dowling

    But the ‘gut feeling’ you are talking about is based on past experiences/knowledge which was ultimately gained through analytic thought (the storing of info as you say, and you’re example of a more inexperienced doctor). One can’t have a sound intuition without the foundation of it resting on prior analytical thinking.

    As an experienced doctor, I as a patient would lend credence to your gut instincts because I assume at some point in your life you hit the books and thought through the causes/relationships of disease, body mechanics etc.

  • Susan_G1

    absolutely. But I suspect that is the basis for a lot of intuition in many fields.

  • Susan_G1

    My only problem with this is my general suspicion of IQ tests and what it is they exactly (but not without bias) measure. Also, meta-analyses are helpful for amassed numbers but tricky for methodology. If the conclusion is accurate, I’d guess self-sufficiency is the greatest contributor.

  • tyler

    i do agree with most-or-all of this article, but i think there’s a lot you missed from coming at it from a solely religious perspective. obviously you aren’t claiming to have listed all possible causes but there is at least one big one that i think you missed.

    i think it’s a possibility that atheism makes one more intelligent, rather than vice versa. this is as broad strokes as the study you write about, of course, but i think it is possible. many faiths encourage a deep understanding of history, scripture, and tradition, but many–possibly many more in fact–inadvertently or not encourage a faith of the ‘shut up and believe’ variety. where the stereotypical believer’s justification for pretty much anything can acceptably* boil down to ‘because god said so,’ the typical atheist has no such justification and must resort to cobbling together a philosophy of ethics from scratch. in a culture that is predominantly religious, it is a rare atheist that manages to avoid the inevitable accusation of amorality–just look at the comments on any blog post about atheism and measure how far down you go before someone with a permanent caps lock asks something to the effect of ‘well where do your morals come from if you don’t believe in god???’ naturally, this tends to push the question of ethics and morality to the forefront for most atheists, whereas the typical theist will tend to assume the answers are self-evident. while not all atheists may be motivated to spend time researching these questions, i do not doubt that a large majority of them do. this kind of self-motivated research is practically guaranteed to raise a few iqs.

    *obviously there are plenty, plenty of folks of a religious bent that ponder the deep ethical questions of our time (patheos is a shining example of that), but there’s a reason the phrase ‘god said it, i believe it, that settles it’ is so popular.

  • Susan_G1

    Science isn’t religion just as mathematics isn’t literature. Your question doesn’t take into consideration that they are completely different fields. The Bible wasn’t meant to tell us how to predict earthquakes, and science doesn’t tell us if Christ existed. Literature doesn’t tell us how solve a quardratic equation, and mathematics doesn’t present us with complex moral choices.

  • Thursday1

    Be sure to read through the comments section, as there is lots of good back and forth there.

  • ThisIsTheEnd

    It’s interesting to see so many atheists cast doubt on the validity of the findings. Can you imagine how believers would react if the study conclusion was opposite?

  • Dorfl

    I really don’t know how most believers would have reacted in that situation, but I think it is interesting that even PZ Myers just reacted to the metastudy by picking apart the studies it’s based on:

  • ThisIsTheEnd

    Hey Dorfl, thanks that’s exactly what I had in mind. A wise man knows what he doesn’t know. I think this applies more readily to atheists and hence the general push back against the findings.

  • Donalbain

    Certainly not Mother Theresa.

  • Donalbain

    False dichotomy. Jews can be atheists.

  • Lyra Belaqua

    I am one that gave a down vote because all scripture verses make me want to do is quote “Twilight” to the poster. Quoting scripture is not supporting an argument. Use your own words, don’t plagiarize, even though we don’t know the name of the author(s) when it comes to the bible.

  • jim


    Why do you feel the need to choose between intelligence and wisdom?

    I really don’t think you have to choose. But I’m curious as to why you feel that we must.

  • Joey Elliott


    That is absurd. I will never support an argument without Scripture. The relevancy of the passage I quoted to this topic is obvious and important.

  • Dan Arnold


    I can see why someone would vote this down. When a verse is quoted like this, with no context or commentary as to how it pertains, it’s as if the author of the response is saying, “the Bible supports me and not you. God says so!” It becomes nothing more that verse-bombing. The commenter may find it obvious but I personally fail to see how Paul’s reference to the “matter of the cross” necessarily pertains here and I think your post from last year backs that up.

    Instead, as a commenter, why not explain why you do or do not think it applies. What circumstances that Paul is addressing are applicable to the post? How does the scandal of the cross relate to intelligence? At least then there is something to interact with.

    Shalom uvrecha,

  • Susan_G1


    If you are truly surprised that you were voted down, and you want to know why, you have received three answers here, all of which concur. Arguing that that’s an absurd reason to down vote you seems like an inefficient use of your grey matter. Do you want to know why you were down voted, or do you want to be right? They are not the same. “A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel…” Prov. 1:5

    Anyway, you know that the internet is a funny place, and you can’t please everyone (or be right) all the time.

  • Susan_G1

    I admire your integrity to answer this. I’m not sure, however, that you are not carrying prejudice against people who believe in Scripture. You’re on a Christian blog site after all. To expect people to behave according to your beliefs here is, well, unproductive, like doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…” Prov.1:7

  • Adam Redwine

    It has been consistently my experience that those in the medical practice are disproportionately religious relative to their similarly-scientifically educated peers. I personally know a hand-full of doctors who are creationists but I don’t know a single physicist who is one.

  • Susan_G1

    The author of this blog is a physicist, as is at least one of her readers, and they are Christians. Furthermore, I was a molecular biologist and an agnostic before becoming a Christian. I personally know two well-known, well respected molecular biologists and one physicist who are creationists as well.

    My anecdotes are not really so different than yours, but anecdotal evidence is only that: anecdotal.

  • Adam Redwine

    I said that I did not know a single physicist who is a creationist. Based on the context in this article, it seems that the author is not one of those. Take, for example, the line “Cognitive dissonance is quite real when one is confronted with some of the more exacting claims of inerrancy and young earth creationism for example.”

    Yes, anecdotal evidence is indeed only anecdotal, which is why I qualified my statement as “my experience.” Your experience, however seems to conform with mine. Even if you do not consider yourself a creationist, the scientifically-educated creationists you know favor those trained in biology (if not medicine) two to one. Of course, my statement was only offered as corroboration of your claim of greater fundamentalism among the medical community which makes me wonder, why exactly are you trying to offer counter evidence?

    Also, I’m very curious who this “well-respected” physicst who is a creationist is. I don’t know of a single well-respected scientist who is a creationist let alone a physicst.

  • Susan_G1

    My apologies. I reacted to an unexpressed (but I thought implied) inference that physicians were less intelligent than other people in applied science. My experience is shaped by the fact that most of my colleagues and a disproportionate number of friends are physicians. I can only imagine what I would know today if I remained in research.

    Why is a physisist creationist more surprising that a molecular biologist creationist? Both require a “simple” characteristic: good compartmentalization.

  • Adam Redwine

    Being in a family of more physicians than I can count on one hand, I assure you that I did not intend to disparage. It seems true that compartmentalization is a key factor in creationist beliefs, but high level physics typically makes that exceedingly difficult as part of the whole point of the field is to pare everything down it’s absolute minimum.

  • Susan_G1

    And being a molecular biologist requires a knowledge of genetics that almost guarantees evolution. 😉

  • Lyra Belaqua

    Hi Susan, nice to hear from you. I actually explore a lot of avenues on Patheos (though I’ve been absent of late).

    In regards to your response, I understand where you’re coming from being on a christian blog but holding my beliefs, so thank you for bringing that up. I understand many people find meaning and peace and rationale in scripture, which I do not. So next time perhaps I will ask them to explain why they posted that one.

  • Lyra Belaqua

    Agreed. I just read this article from Alternet stating religious people are more depressed, and while for a moment it was satisfying, I can’t say if it holds much validity. And summing one group up as less intelligent or more depressed doesn’t help in the long run.

  • Susan_G1

    Lyra, I’m sorry. I look at my answer now and regret it. I don’t like answers strictly based on scripture either. I think others have pointed out, it smacks of 1) it says so in the Bible, so it’s right, and 2) it presumes others don’t know or haven’t read scripture.

    I do not want to bully you or shape your answers. Please accept my apologies. I will try to be more graceous in the future.

  • Lyra Belaqua

    I accept your apology, though I think it is unnecessary. You had a good point and I can learn from it in the future.

  • ThisIsTheEnd

    Thanks. That’s really counterintuitive. Like you I find it hard to believe. If anything I would’ve thought it’d be atheists who’d trend towards depression. (At least outside of Communist or quasi – communist regimes). Religion provides certainty, community, a cosmic narrative etc, etc. But if the study is correct then maybe more believers wrestle with faith than I thought? But again I find it hard why that would lead to depression.

  • Lyra Belaqua

    But if you think atheists are prone to more depression because they don’t get their sense of community or certainty from a church, are you factoring in that they get these needs fulfilled elsewhere?
    Are these studies factoring in family history, traumatic incidences, and taking into account a large enough portion of the populaton? In most or all cases it appears not. Some in the USA only surveyed middle-aged married women who attended church, that’s hardly sampling the entire pool. The UK study may have been slightly more thorough, but hardly ground-breaking.

  • ThisIsTheEnd

    Oh sure I’m just thinking out loud! Yeah the community that religion provides can be found elsewhere but I don’t think quite as readily. Plus I’d in mind personality type. The thought of being surrounded by people who think just like me is soul destroying. So weekly meetings? Nah. Flying solo may make one more prone?

  • Lyra Belaqua

    Yeah, personality type would be huge. And I definitely agree always being surrounded by like-minded people could be soul-crushing, quite frankly it just gets boring. After a while it’s like, “soooo, which topic should we cover for the 3rd time?”. It should also be mentioned that some people, depending on the company, feel more alone in a group of people than when they’re by themselves (myself included).

    So if someone is making the claim that “this” group is more likely to get depression, they really need to factor in personality type & current life conditions. Who knows, maybe they’re just being hit with a ton of things at once, and someone *thinks* it’s because of their beliefs or lack thereof.

    But just pondering on your statement that the resources found in a religious community are available but harder to find outside of one: wouldn’t that make those that find it rather resourceful?

  • ThisIsTheEnd

    Yeah. More resourceful, more resilient, find niche in society = Well being?

    Less resourceful, less resilient (give up easily), no stable community = depression?

  • Lyra Belaqua

    Possibly. But depression is a b****h because it doesn’t always just pop up during rough times. I think resiliency has a lot to do with it (A LOT a lot), as well as community, but it’s more than just being down. I think there’s another internal factor that’s missing from the equation. Hope? Big picture focus?

  • ThisIsTheEnd

    Interesting. Atheists love science but what does it say about human nature? Your memories are probably false, your senses are easily fooled, your body reacts milliseconds before your conscious mind, your sense of self is an illusion. You’re secretly racist, sexist. Humans are irrational, our short-sightedness is causing climate change, rapid extinction etc, etc

    I love it. But hardly comforting is it?

  • Lyra Belaqua

    Why would I want comfort in the search for truth?

    Why would I expect training for martial arts to be easy? In many cases I WANT my body to react before my conscious mind. That’s why a student drills over and over, until the desired movements simply happen. I expect and accept failure and pain and hardship for the simple fact that it is a part of life. I accept happiness and success and attribute reaching them because I know what un-happiness is. I don’t always like it, and it’s not always easy, but discomfort is when I learn the most.

    Heraclitus once said something to the effect of “the only constant is change.” Change can be extremely uncomfortable. I see no reason to believe in a deity that’s hypothesized to exist in the minds of humans just to make life easier or more comforting. While believing in a deity may help someone feel connected to something bigger than themselves & give them a purpose, the scientific method has shown just how small we are, how little we truly know. But at least it strives to know truth & doesn’t shy away when hard questions are asked. It keeps searching. The cumulative efforts of millions of humans searching for truth of ourselves, the planet, our universe, our origins. Stories are nice, but I’d rather have answers.

  • ThisIsTheEnd

    Umm, OK but our conversation was about why atheism could lead to depression, and facing up to humankind’s position in the universe is, I feel, less comforting than the idea of a loving God. I agree with a lot of what you’ve said but my atheism only answers one question “Does God exist?”. Everything else, truth, beauty, art, politics, sexuality, rationality etc, doesn’t flow from my atheism. But I’m a Brit, religion is a twitching corpse here and in much of Western Europe, so I’ve never had to think much about my atheism.

  • Lyra Belaqua

    Re-read your previous post. While it’s true, atheism is the conclusion that gods don’t exist and nothing more, I think I got hung up on science being loved and being atheist provides no comfort, and translated that to “ergo it’s better to believe in a god and have comfort, even if it’s false.”

    I live in the US where religion is rampant & oftentimes I see it used as a crutch for why someone can’t do something (“it’s gods will”), or why birth control should be an opt-out decision by a manager, or why you’re such a horrible human being with no morals unless you believe in exactly the same god and story line as they do.

  • ThisIsTheEnd

    I feel for you friend, I’m lucky in that U.K. Christians are more interested in helping the poor than bashing people over the head with a Bible. Strange as it may seem most are pro-choice, economically left, pro-SSM and accept evolution.
    What’s it like in the big cities/ coasts? I can’t imagine people are bothered if you’re religious in NY, LA, SF etc?

  • Lyra Belaqua

    I think most WANT to help, but they think helping is proselytizing. Thankfully I know many nice, generous Christians who are more concerned that others are having basic needs met instead of talking down to them.

    Big cities I think it depends. Southern US is definitely more religious, but beyond that my general knowledge of where these areas are is pretty weak. I now live in the middle of the US, but in a fairly secular area which is pretty great.