General Question

El_Cadejo's avatar

Why does it seem like atheists are generally smarter than theists?

Asked by El_Cadejo (34524points) October 28th, 2008

It just seems as ones intelligence increases the likelihood that they believe in god decreases, as well as the inverse

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

40 Answers

blastfamy's avatar

Atheists usually arrive at their beliefs after actual thought. Many people and people are stupid will defend religion. Atheists usually already qualify as smart enough to come up with their own opinions.

Hobbes's avatar

Here is the link to the study which linked a decline in religion to a rise in intelligence, and also noted that those who attended University are more likely to be non-believers. Note that this is not a personal attack on theists: those who believe in God may be very intelligent (many members of the collective are both Theists and very smart), but there is a general trend which indicates that non-believers (including Agnostics, I think) tend to be more educated than believers – that is, you will find a higher percentage of intelligent, educated people in the Atheist community than you will find in the Theist one.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

I’ve been thinking along similar lines, but I’m not so sure I would put the cart before the horse. I think that as intelligence increases, you are more likely to favor independent thinking over collective thinking, and are therefore more likely to question the premises that traditional religion are based on, and are more likely to either be agnostic or atheistic.

Traditional religion seems to me to appeal to people who are more comfortable with collective thinking.

Being agnostic or atheist doesn’t mean you’re intelligent by default, but having higher intelligence makes it more likely that you don’t accept organized religion.

joeysefika's avatar

Well i know you said generally yet I feel the need to voice this point. I know someone who is a Christian yet an absolute science and maths whiz. He has his faith yet most of his life is based around science, maths and coding. He has christian values, he goes to church, he doesn’t swear or drink. Not all those who are religious are less intelligent than those who are atheists or agnostics.

augustlan's avatar

I’ve always wondered about this, but never wanted to offend anyone by asking about it. Is there a similar relationship between intelligence and liberalism? Might as well jump in with both feet now! I feel like there is, but have not seen any proof to back it up. Again, this is a generalization. I know both religious people and conservatives who are very intelligent.

asmonet's avatar

That’s yeah, kind of offensive. At first glance. I know many, many people who have very high IQ’s who are steadfast theists. And I know more atheists who are on the low end of intelligence. However, I recognize that this might just be my experience. I’ll be reading that study, thank you Hobbes.

As for blastfamy, well, I found that more offensive than the question by far.

Mtl_zack's avatar

maybe point A doesnt cause point B, but instead, point C causes point B. you can say that people eat less ice cream because the leaves start to turn red and fall. this is false. what actually happens is people eat less ice cream because it gets colder. the first example is false causation. so, just because someone is religious, doesnt mean he will be stupid.

shadling21's avatar

@augustlan – Ooooooooh. Them’s fightin’ words.

@blastfamy – There is a difference between organized religion and personal faith in a superior being.

There is indeed a correlation between higher education and atheism (as Hobbes pointed out). I think that it’s all about exposure – those who attend universities and study abstract ideas are bound to come across ideologies that oppose their current belief system (if they have one). Some find God in university, but it seems that more people find atheism.

Please note that “intelligent person” is not exactly synonymous with “university graduate”.

EDIT: Holy cow, 9 observing members??

delirium's avatar

**lurk, lurk**

asmonet's avatar

**high-fives delirim in the shadowy corner.**

Nimis's avatar

bloop bloop

Bri_L's avatar

They have less to study without religion?

El_Cadejo's avatar

@mtl zack your implying that i said being religious makes you stupid, and being atheist makes you smart. Thats not what i was asking at all. I meant as far as atheists and theists are concerned as a whole. I know you cannot generalize any one person by the group, people will always go against the stereotype. But i asked as a whole are atheists smarter than theists.

susanc's avatar

To be a smart theist is to have to think very carefully indeed. It requires a sophistication most atheists aren’t obliged to develop. Atheism can too easily be just a big fat simple “no”.

by the way, I’m really, really not the Other JackAdams.

laureth's avatar

In the past, people attributed the things they did not understand to the action of a deity. For example, they didn’t necessarily know why the Sun went around each day, so Apollo in a chariot (or Ra in a boat) were the most likely reasons they could think of to explain this great unknown thing.

As time went by, we gradually learned about more things from observation rather than conjecture. We learned why the Earth goes around the Sun and that it’s not a big chariot, so fewer people believed in Apollo, for example. And now that we’ve explored things like string theory, black holes and the Big Bang, we have more explanations for real things and less is attributed to “well, we just don’t know, it must be God.” If you look at the religions that are still believed in great enough numbers, they’re Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and “Nonreligious” – most of religions there seem to be the less direct ones with a somewhat aloof, mysterious godhead that could be responsible for things like the Big Bang, as well as being the sort of religions that tie a culture together and less likely to be given up, even if people understand science.

In other words, as we’ve become more educated as a species, religions have dropped off the map as people didn’t need them anymore, or were converted into one of the Majors. We’re shedding Gods left and right, and while some people will always need their religion, someday they may become the minority. As explanations are found for more and more phenomina, the less we need a God to pin things on.

Harp's avatar

Intelligence and questioning go hand in hand. Faith and questioning have an uneasy relationship.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

@Harp, so true. Except for the Jesuits. I find some of the factions within the Catholic church fascinating. You get a lot of divergent thinking that you don’t often see in other denominations.

fireside's avatar

I’d say that part of it has to do with the methods and availability to “recruit” new members. Most religions have a strong component of assistance to the poor and sometimes uneducated. This leads to a lot of conversions in less educated areas of the world.

Until recently, Atheists primary domain had been universities. I would say that their methods involve just as much indoctrination as any religion with members approaching educated people and saying, “hey, you’re smart. here’s some facts. be like us”

If you consider that religion is primarily about the heart and not the mind, then trying to draw a correlation between the two is almost as disingenuous as saying hey, it seems like people with brown hair are more likely to be religious because there are so many of them.

deaddolly's avatar

I think athiesm (for me anyway) comes after years of questioning and finding answers that make no sense. I’m a more realistic person; I must see to believe. To me the bible is a work of fiction. So, possibly, athiests are more into deep thinking, rather than not questioning and following.

jholler's avatar

I’m impressed. This thread went in a totally different direction than I expected it to. I’m also glad to see the difference between organized religion and faith recognized.

Bri_L's avatar

I wonder what the connection is between atheism and intelligence is with regard to parents.

That is to say, people who are atheist are really smart but whose parents are religious.

Or People who’s parents are really smart atheists, but who themselves are religious and smart.

combinations of that nature.

deaddolly's avatar

As for me, my mother was a devout Catholic and raised me in that fashion. She never questioned the church. My father was Lutheran, but never went to church a day in his life. Both of my parents never completed high school.

syz's avatar

Nice thread.

(I was going to add comments, but my thoughts have been much more eloquently expressed by other here – hence all of the lurve).

Knotmyday's avatar

As a caveat, remember that “intelligence” and “wisdom” are not synonymous; not to say that they are mutually exclusive. Necessarily.

I know many intelligent people who haven’t (as my Grandad liked to say) a “lick of sense.”

One’s intelligence doesn’t necessarily reflect their belief system.

deaddolly's avatar

@knot don’t you think tho, that those with less intelligence/schooling tend to be followers, instead of leaders or instead of asking questions and forming their own conclusions?
I tend to see inquisitative ppl as ppl who step outside the box and ask questions.

Bri_L's avatar

@deaddolly-But, if you don’t ask the right question, you never get around the road blocks that years and years of intellectual roadblocks can’t resolve.

Intelligent men who said we would never see a computer that was smaller than a room, could now be handed one without even knowing it.

cwilbur's avatar

To address the original question directly: I think it’s observer bias.

Most of the people you see are not outspoken about their religious beliefs. So when you run across an outspoken atheist who wants to convince you of the correctness of his beliefs, you’re likely to run into logic, reason, arguments—things that are associated with intelligence. When you run across an outspoken theist who wants to convince you of the correctness of his beliefs, you’re likely to run into arguments to authority and emotion—things that are associated with a lack of intelligence.

And I think this is because the less-intelligent atheist is likely to believe that way for the same reason as the less-intelligent theist, specifically, a gut feeling, not subject to argument and not really possible to share. Also, theism is still the default assumption in most communities in this society, so someone who has not examined his or her beliefs critically is unlikely to identify as an atheist. Meanwhile, the more-intelligent theist is likely to realize that the experience of faith and religion is subjective and personal, and is likely to realize that you cannot argue someone into subjective belief, and so not proselytize.

So if you count only the people who mark themselves as atheists or theists by their behavior coming to your attention, you’re probably counting a lot of intelligent atheists and stupid theists. If you looked at a more random sample, you’d probably find that the situation was more balanced.

jholler's avatar

That sounded pretty smart…are you an atheist? ;-)

lapilofu's avatar

@cwilbur: There have been scientific studies that have given much the same conclusion as presented in the question—notably the one Hobbes mentions above, though there have been various others as well—so the evidence is more than just anecdotal.

deaddolly's avatar

@bri I think asking any questions…and keeping up with the questions can get you past anything. It’s once you think you have all the answers that your in trouble.

Bri_L's avatar

@deaddolly – what do you mean? How does that make you feel?

Just kidding. I totally agree. Any scientist or person for that matter that makes statements of absolution seems kind of silly to me.

wondersteph's avatar

I have found in my experience that atheists are much more open-minded than others. If you sit on the sidelines or in the middle in most religions, then you’re deemed worthless, so most people are devout one way or another and don’t open their eyes and minds to different ideas.
One of my best friends is atheist and he is probably one of the smartest people I know because he is willing to listen, accept, and digest things he hears when debating these kinds of things.

Bri_L's avatar

@wondersteph -

First of all Welcome to fluther!

Second, here is why your worthless….. just kidding. I just wanted to say I like your answer.

cwilbur's avatar

@jholler: in fact, I am not. Make of that what you will.

@lapilofu: there are enough reasonable alternative explanations for the trends that are noted in the study Hobbes linked to that I’d have a hard time seeing it as conclusive about anything—it really sounds like little more than an atheist with an axe to grind and some facility with statistics.

jholler's avatar

@cwilbur: that little punctuation thing at the end of my sentence was supposed to be a wink emoticon…it was a feeble attempt at humor.

Knotmyday's avatar

Dolly- while most leaders are intelligent, some are just stubborn (and dumb as the proverbial box of rocks).

I agree that an open mind and willingness to challenge preconceptions is an admirable quality- but one due as much to temperament as to intellectual capacity. ‘Course, one could also argue the difference between being smart and being clever as well…if you could even find someone to argue semantics on Fluther. we don’t do that here, no sirree

laureth's avatar

cwilbur: (Paraphrasing) Re: “Intelligent atheists frame their arguments in terms of logic and reason, where Theists argue based on authority and emotion.”

That’s a very interesting point, and it reminds me of an article I read recently about how Conservatives vote based on the character of their candidate and how Liberals vote based on the issues espoused by their candidate. Combine that with how Conservatives are more likely to be ruled by fear and it becomes understandable as to why Theism/Conservatism and Atheism/Liberalism have a remarkably high correlation.

fireside's avatar

There are many millions of people who were raised on one faith, questioned it, studied other religions and made a transition. There are also many millions of people that have advanced degrees that still believe in God. I guess they are all foolish and unquestioning because they still have a basis for faith in their lives?

My personal faith has nothing to do with a lack of questioning or study. No religious tradition can accurately express what guides me, but some come close and atheism is not one of those.

But maybe I’m just dumb

From the study Hobbes posted:

Dr David Hardman, principal lecturer in learning development at London Metropolitan University, said: “It is very difficult to conduct true experiments that would explicate a causal relationship between IQ and religious belief.

“Nonetheless, there is evidence from other domains that higher levels of intelligence are associated with a greater ability – or perhaps willingness – to question and overturn strongly felt institutions.”

So does this mean that Smart People are actually Anarchists?
or would it be dumb to try and draw correlations between apples and oranges?

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

@fireside I don’t think that at all. There is a wide range of belief, from spiritual to dogmatic. I believe that people who question faith, and come back to, in some form or another, have a personal reason for doing so. It’s entirely possible to be spiritual without being fully aligned with organized religion, or to be aligned with organized religion with caveats. A good book that come to mind is Mortimer Adler’s How to Think About God.

fireside's avatar

Thanks Alfreda, that was interesting. I had to pause in the middle and search fruitlessly for the transcript somewhere in a normal font.

That discussion reminds me of the Higgs field that scientists are looking for now.
Interestingly, Baha’is believe that science and religion are one.

Religion and Science are inter-twined with each other and cannot be separated. These are the two wings with which humanity must fly. One wing is not enough. Every religion which does not concern itself with Science is mere tradition, and that is not the essential. Therefore science, education and civilization are most important necessities for the full religious life.
Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 28

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