F Rosa Rubicondior: Why Religious People Find Atheism and Science Hard To Understand - Study Shows Atheists Are Generally More Intelligent Than Religious People

Saturday 16 March 2024

Why Religious People Find Atheism and Science Hard To Understand - Study Shows Atheists Are Generally More Intelligent Than Religious People

Why Are Religious People (Generally) Less Intelligent? | Psychology Today

One of the frustrating things about trying to debate with religious people in the social media, especially fundamentalists and creationists, is that they seem to have difficulty understanding simple logic such as the idea that the only reason for belief is evidence or the fact that lots of people believe something doesn't affect the truth of the belief.

There is also the impression (actually, it’s more than an impression, it seems to be a characteristic) that they think ignored evidence can be disregarded, so they will never read an article showing their beliefs to be wrong.

They generally seem more easily fooled by, for example, believing that an internet source supports them, when it is almost a rule that a link to a science paper provided by a fundamentalist will always say the opposite to what they claim it says, or that the ridiculous parody of science they've been fed by a creationist disinformation site such as AnswersInGenesis.com that no sane person would believe, is actually what real scientists believe. They have simply swallowed a lie and didn't see any need to check.

So, why do so many fundamentalists come across as limited in their ability to assimilate information and use it as the basis for opinions, other than an arrogant assumption that their beliefs must be true because they believe them, so no evidence is required and any contradictory evidence can be dismissed out of hand as 'wrong' or 'lies' or part of a giant conspiracy, and why do so many creationists came across as having the thinking ability of a toddler with a teleological view of the universe where even elementary particles are sentient and need to be told how to behave and which rules they must obey?

A meta-analysis of 63 earlier studies showed a statistically significant negative correlation between IQ and religiosity.

The 2013 report, by Miron Zuckerman and Jordan Silberman of Rochester University, NY, USA together with Judith A. Hall of Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA, the body of which is annoyingly behind a paywall, was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review and lists three possible reasons for this correlation.


A meta-analysis of 63 studies showed a significant negative association between intelligence and religiosity. The association was stronger for college students and the general population than for participants younger than college age; it was also stronger for religious beliefs than religious behavior. For college students and the general population, means of weighted and unweighted correlations between intelligence and the strength of religious beliefs ranged from −.20 to −.25 (mean r = −.24). Three possible interpretations were discussed. First, intelligent people are less likely to conform and, thus, are more likely to resist religious dogma. Second, intelligent people tend to adopt an analytic (as opposed to intuitive) thinking style, which has been shown to undermine religious beliefs. Third, several functions of religiosity, including compensatory control, self-regulation, self-enhancement, and secure attachment, are also conferred by intelligence. Intelligent people may therefore have less need for religious beliefs and practices.
In summary, the three reasons the researchers identified are:
  1. Intelligent people are less likely to conform to religious dogma.
  2. Intelligent people are analytical rather than intuitive and analytical thinking tends to undermine religious superstitions.
  3. Intelligent people have less need for religion because their self-esteem and life-style needs are conferred by intelligence - which enhances understanding through learning.
Learning, especially learning science, is hard and takes effort; it is far easier to stick to simplistic views and pretend that faith is a better route to knowledge and understanding so you can pretend to know or understanding things better than those clever-dicky scientists. A low IQ also enhances the Dunning-Kruger effect where the ignoramus over-estimates his/her understanding and level of expertise, imagining themselves to be leaders in the field while have minimal knowledge of the subject.

The paper was the subject of an article in Psychology Today by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic Ph.D. who fleshes out those three reasons for the negative correlation between IQ and religiosity:
  1. Intelligent people are generally more analytical and data-driven, and formal religions are the antithesis: They are empirically fluffy and their claims are often in direct contradiction with scientific evidence, unless they are interpreted metaphorically – but maybe intelligent people are not that keen on metaphor. Another way of putting it is that people with a high IQ are more likely to have faith in science, which isn’t religion’s best friends (yes, yes, I do know about Einstein’s quotes).
  2. Intelligent people are less likely to conform, and, in most societies, religiosity is closer to the norm than atheism is. Although this interpretation is based on extrapolation, it still makes sense. First, smarter people tend to be less gullible. Second, in most societies, religious people outnumber atheists and agnostics — though global levels of religiosity have been declining, and there is substantial cultural variability in religiosity levels.
  3. Intelligence and religiosity are “functionally equivalent,” which means that they fulfill the same psychological role. Although this intriguing argument contradicts points 1 and 2, it deserves serious consideration. Humans will always crave meaning. Religion – like science and logical reasoning – provides them with a comprehensive framework or system to make meaningful interpretations of the world. At times, religion and science are in conflict, but they can also act in concert, complementing each other to answer non-falsifiable and falsifiable questions, respectively. The authors conclude that some people satisfy their desire to find meaning via religion, whereas others do so via logical, analytical, or scientific reasoning – and IQ predicts whether you are in the former or latter group.
If the correlation found by this meta-analysis is true, and there is no reason to think it might not be, then it goes a long way to explaining the behaviour and sheer stupidity of most of the fundamentalists you're likely to encounter in the social media. It could also explain why so many of them also hold far-right views, support Donald Trump and his Repugnicans, have fallen for the QAnon conspiracy theories, think COVID-19 was a hoax and are antivaxxers.

The worry is that people who can believe absurdities can be persuaded to commit atrocities.

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