Are atheists more intelligent than religious people?

New study sparks angry reaction


There was a time when religious leaders used the highest authority of all – that of God – to condemn and ostracise those who rejected the faith. In the 21st century those who wish to denounce religion have adopted the same tactic. The highest authority is no longer God but that of Science. And sadly the rhetoric of science has been usurped and turned into a weapon to morally condemn religious people.

It has just been announced that a meta-analysis of 63 ‘scientific’ studies have concluded that people of faith are less intelligent than atheists. Outwardly the study, titled 'The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity: A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations', published in the Personality and Social Psychology Review, bears all the hallmarks of a rigorous scientific monograph.

Atheists looking for an argument can now say “research shows”. However experience suggests that the relationship between “research shows” and the truth is often as dodgy as that between the claim ‘God said’ and what actually occurred.

As everyone who has looked at attempts to compare the intelligence of different groups knows such studies are fraught with methodological difficulty. Intelligence itself is a contested concept and it is far from evident what is measured in these studies.

Attitudes towards cultural values are mediated through a variety of influences that are relational, context specific and whose meaning becomes lost if it becomes quantified and reduced to numbers. Any attempt to establish a causal relationship between personal belief and raw intelligence is likely to be an exercise in forced abstraction.

At most what the majority of papers reviewed in this analysis show is that because smart people spend more time in education and because high schools and especially universities tend to be secular institutions they will produce proportionally more atheists people than those who drop out. Secularism and atheism is part of the cultural script of higher education to which a significant minority readily conform.

Smart kids who don’t go to university are more likely to retain their religious affiliation because they are expected to conform to different values. And secular researchers are likely to discover what they already suspect which is a co-relation between their values and high levels of intelligence.

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