Study Finds Atheists More Intelligent Than Believers

Richard Dawkins

Well, as it turns out, atheists have one more thing to be smug about.

(Where is your god now?!)

VIA Yahoo

Religious people are less intelligent than non-believers, according to a new review of 63 scientific studies stretching back over decades.

Previous studies have tended to assume that intelligent people simply “know better”, the researchers write – but the reasons may be more complex.

The studies used in Zuckerman’s paper included a life-long analysis of the beliefs of a group of 1,500 gifted children – those with IQs over 135 – in a study which began in 1921 and continues today.

Even at 75 to 91 years of age, the children from Lewis Terman’s study scored lower for religiosity than the general population – contrary to the widely held belief that people turn to God as they age. The researchers noted that data was lacking about religious attitudes in old age and say, “Additional research is needed to resolve this issue.”

As early as 1958, Michael Argyle concluded, “Although intelligent children grasp religious concepts earlier, they are also the first to doubt the truth of religion, and intelligent students are much less likely to accept orthodox beliefs, and rather less likely to have pro-religious attitudes.”

A 1916 study quoted in Zuckerman’s paper (Leuba) found that, “58% of randomly selected scientists in the United States expressed disbelief in, or doubt regarding the existence of God; this proportion rose to nearly 70% for the most eminent scientists.”

The paper, published in the academic journal Personality and Social Psychology Review, said “Most extant explanations (of a negative relation) share one central theme—the premise that religious beliefs are irrational, not anchored in science, not testable and, therefore, unappealing to intelligent people who “know better.”


24 Comments on "Study Finds Atheists More Intelligent Than Believers"

  1. I’ve consistently tested with an IQ over 150, and yet although religion is obviously at best an agreed upon shared delusion to foster social binding, I never the less believe the evidence points toward a grand designer of some sort; call it what you will, but Im most definitely not an athiest. Additionally, the article frequently and without abandon interchangeably uses the notion of religious belief and belief in some sort of god as if they are one and the same… a not so intelligent mistake.

  2. Antediluviancurrent | Aug 14, 2013 at 4:57 pm |

    Bravo, you’ve figured out the world couldn’t be created in six days. If it wasn’t for the geniuses of 21st century white middle class atheists, we’d still be stuck with dumbies like Thomas Aquinas and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

    • Rhoid Rager | Aug 14, 2013 at 7:03 pm |

      And Tolstoy,and Kierkegaard

    • atlanticus | Aug 14, 2013 at 8:03 pm |

      I was just recalling how I don’t exactly consider myself a genius for questioning at age 8 how God could exist forever with no beginning or end if everything has a cause…that seems like a logic flaw that most children should be able to grasp.

      In fact, it requires a more refined intellect to comprehend exactly what is meant by such a statement (since God-or-no-God, the issue still arises with the question “but, what was *before* the Big Bang?”)

  3. I imagine this will change. After all, if a view is a majority view (theistic or not) then its adherents are going to include the least questioning. They will then drag down the average.
    1958 and 1916 were definitely times when the majority, popular and unquestioned view would be theistic.
    My own list of awesome smartest people tends to include people like Wittgenstein, Polanyi, Jim Henson and Neil Gaiman (in chronological order). They are all probably atheistic (with the exception of Jim Henson perhaps) but they resist easy classification. They deeply rely on theology to express their ideas.

  4. sveltesvengali | Aug 14, 2013 at 5:49 pm |

    That’s all fine and good, but intelligence can’t be measured on an objective basis.

    Sure, examiners can agree upon a set of standards which define it based on their subjective opinions, but there’s no obvious empirical definition for what constitutes intelligence that doesn’t merely constitute a monopoly on opinion.

    If we’re talking about old age here, “wisdom” might be a better baseline term than “intelligence”.

    • Justin Thomas Easter | Aug 15, 2013 at 3:17 pm |

      meh…. we can’t necessarily quantify intelligence to an exact certainty, but these methods have been tested and verified for a long time. they have merit beyond a mere “monopoly on opinion.” if anything is completely out of the realm of measurability, it’s wisdom.

      and thus, i call bullshit.

      • sveltesvengali | Aug 17, 2013 at 9:37 am |

        “Wisdom” is admittedly an opaque term, but I think I took it to be synonymous with “experience” in this context, which is more readily quantifiable and not entirely left to the bias of the examiner. To illustrate this, if the scientists involved in this study had factored that their test subjects became atheistic from the accumulation of life experience (ie. via aging) rather than just on the basis of their intelligence, it might have been more readily verifiable.

        Even this kind of a study is still on shaky standing, since, from the outset, they used IQ as a determinent for choosing their test subjects. IQ, in short, is always a reflection of what a given set of examiners and, often by extension, society at large tends to politically subscribe to. Assumptions in IQ tests are formed on the basis of what is deemed socially convenient at any given moment, which raises a whole new set of questions: what kind of IQ test were they using? Does that IQ test in c. 1921 favor the same skillsets that current IQ tests do? Most importantly of all, why did the initial examiners decide upon it to form the criteria and means of adjudication for who participated in the study?

        If this doesn’t peak your attention, then one can merely point out the differences between contemporary IQ tests, and see how political bias may be pulling the strings of how participants are judged in the backdrop: for instance, a Raven’s Progressive Matrices places more value on STEM skillsets than, say, a Stanford-Binet intelligence test (pay no attention to the underlying paradigm behind the curtain) and the way intelligence is valued in the Chinese educational system is more consistent with a chi-squared k=3 on this graph (marked in teal here: than the Bell Curve grading system generally utilized in the American educational system, which is (ostensibly) supposed to yield more k=2 and k=1 results. This disparity in standards necessarily reflects a disparity in values, and hence a lack of any empirical consensus for what constitutes intelligence in the first place.

        In short, what I largely meant was that, just because there’s a consensus on what “intelligence” constitutes among this group of examiners, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily empirical and/or not mired in politicking and unverifiable gobbletygook.

  5. Q: How smug does old Dawkins look in the photograph above?
    A: Not quite as smug as he looks on the cover of the book he’s holding…

  6. I can’t help that RAW’s “what the thinker thinks, the prover proves” applies to the process of arriving at the results of such studies.Atheists tend to be just as mired in their own beliefs, ideas, thinking as theists.

  7. Don’t think it has as much to do with atheist being more intelligent as it does with all of the bottom-feeder religious institutions tailor made for the tragically stupid.

  8. jasonpaulhayes | Aug 14, 2013 at 9:00 pm |

    A persons access to information is as important as anything when it comes to rational thinking.

  9. hvaiallverden | Aug 15, 2013 at 3:23 am |


    The scientific comunety is becomed a group of old grumpy farts, that in the end even trys to silence the critics or dilut everything they dont like with this kind of moronic statments, based on 63 people even more moronic scientific “belife”.

    Shitt IN, shitt OUT.

    What a bunch of simple bollongny.
    They are loosing this fight and they know it, this is a desperat atemt to quell anything that have or is in oposition to the bollocs thay have served us for decades.
    Like the Fraudelent AGW, like ignorance of Fukushima/Fallujah.
    Like the even more fradelant monetary poicy and finaly, a riggid controll on anything, scientificly to maintain their bassis, the status quo.
    No, scudrels, this is pure manure.

    To the evolutionistas, and the AI people that belive a bucket of transistores is Intellegent, well, they never will be, the only thing that can make them intellegent, is the way we do the processing, not the language.
    This, is the objection to the current missconseption on Intellegence.
    The day a PC can make this, its the day they can atleast be creible regading the use of the word Intelegnce and all this can imply, and the use of information.
    Not a second before.


  10. Rus Archer | Aug 15, 2013 at 11:43 am |

    my iq has really enriched my life

  11. Jim McMillan | Aug 15, 2013 at 5:04 pm |

    Is the conclusion any surprise? One explanation for the claimed increase in believers as people age might be the decay of brain power as people age. Maybe there is a threshold for addled.

  12. No way! Really?
    People who prefer empirical evidence over wishful mythic thinking are….more intelligent?
    Who could have seen that coming?
    I’m so so surprised. Who would have guessed it?

  13. THEUNSEENofNOTISH | Aug 15, 2013 at 9:43 pm |

    I see this to be true, given that even in such scientifically directed religious practices, such as those put forth by Crowley and Robert Anton Wilson, to reference my literary guides, religious zealotry and delusion can overtake all sense of reality and cause war on all levels. That is not a spirit doing that, but true psychosis when it causes unjustified violence proven by physical reality. Its how we check and stay grounded.

  14. CrazedLeper | Aug 16, 2013 at 7:07 pm |

    Seriously? Richard Dawkins is the “picture of intelligence?” Why not the crack of my ass?

  15. Anthony Neilsen | Aug 22, 2013 at 8:30 am |

    The researchers noted that data was lacking about religious attitudes in
    old age and say, “Additional research is needed to resolve this issue.”

    They’ve been doing this study since 1922 and they didn’t think to take data on this matter as they went! They are definitely genii!

  16. Anthony Neilsen | Aug 22, 2013 at 8:31 am |

    As the Bible says: Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. and They worship the created rather than the Creator.

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