The Human Truth Foundation

Religion and Intelligence

By Vexen Crabtree 2007

#anti-religion #astronomy #atheism #belief #buddhism #christianity #education #god #intelligence #iq #japan #national_academy_of_sciences #nobel_prize #religion #royal_society #science #shinto #south_korea #stupidity #taoism #theism #UK #USA

The historical battles between religious institutions and science, such as those in physics, astronomy and biology, indicate there is something wrong with the religious approach to the study of reality. The underlying problem extends to negative effects on the individual intelligence of believers, and a related negative effect on educational achievements. Hardly any of the several-hundred Nobel Prize winning scientists have been Christians. Only 3.3% of the Members of the Royal Society in the UK and 7% the National Academy of Sciences in the USA, believe in a personal God. The more senior and learnéd the scientist, the less likely they are to believe in God. The children of highly religious parents suffer diminished IQs - averaging 7 to 10 points lower compared to their non-religious counterparts in similar socio-economic groups. As you would expect from these results, multiple studies have also shown that IQ is opposed to the strength of religious belief. 39 studies since 1927 (out of 43) have found that the higher one's intelligence, the less likely to hold religious beliefs.

The effect extends beyond individual countries and is visible inter-nationally. In countries where education is improving, younger people's uptake of religion is lower1,2, causing long-term trends towards secularisation. Countries with a higher rate of belief in God have lower average intelligence. All countries with high average intelligence have low national levels of belief in God. For countries where belief in God is over 80%, the average national IQ is 83 points. For those countries where stated disbelief in God (atheism) is greater than 20%, the national average IQ is 98 points. Instead of belief in God, countries with the highest IQs adhere to Far-Eastern atheist religions such as Buddhism, Taoism and Shinto.

1. Religion and Science

1.1. Bias When Searching for Truth

#astronomy #christianity #greece #religion #science

If you think you have the answers, you are less likely to search for the truth. If you are an engineer in ancient Greece who thinks that the microscope has proven that neurones work through hydraulic pressure, you are not likely to question this truth without very convincing evidence: your search has largely ended. Your background belief (as an engineer in this example) has primed you, and biased you towards accepting the hydraulic neurone theory. Those who believe that "God works in mysterious ways" and believe in miracles, magic and prayer, and that God makes the planets orbit the sun, are less likely to have enquiring minds about how such things work.

Copernicus (1473-1543)3,4, Kepler (1571-1630), Galileo (1564-1642)5,6,7, Newton (1643-1727)8 and Laplace (1749-1827)9 all fought battles against the Church when they published scientific papers that enraged the Church by writing that the Earth might orbit the sun, rather than the idea that it sat at a central position in the Universe. These and other scientists suffered torture, imprisonment, forced recantations and death at the hands of Christians7,10. The source of the Church's confidence was the Bible. Joshua 10:12-13, 2 Kings 20:11, Psalms 93:1, 104:5, Ecclesiastes 1:5, Isaiah 30:26, Isaiah 38:8, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 and Habakkuk 3:10-11 all contradicted the astronomers. It was not until 1979 that the Vatican "officially concede[d] that the Earth revolved around the Sun, and not vica-versa"6.

Without interference from theists, science would have been a thousand years more advanced than it is now. Aristarchus of Samos taught that the earth moves, in the 3rd century BCE3. But Greek astronomical knowledge was condemned and hidden by Christians (Ptolemy et al) in the second century. The Ionians discovered the truth about the Sun, the Earth and the stars11, but their era ended when their last great scientist, Hypatia, was attacked by a mob of Christians and burnt in 415CE. The center of science, the Alexandrian Library, was also burnt and destroyed. Although the Church did eventually lose the battle against astronomy, it still went on to violently impose dogmatic errors in other arenas of knowledge, such as biology. Thankfully, today, most mainstream Christians accept scientific facts in many matters and Christian organisations have much reduced power to hinder research.

"Christianity v. Astronomy: The Earth Orbits the Sun!" by Vexen Crabtree (2017)

American scientists are less religious than the American public generally [and] the most distinguished scientists are the least religious of all.

"The God Delusion" by Prof. Richard Dawkins (2006)12

Not only did their religion prevent them from thinking in the correct terms about basic physics, biology and astronomy, and not only did their atheist counterparts continue to search for truth while they did not, but their beliefs gave them a false confidence to actively punish those that disagreed. The whole series of battles between religion and science (which science has always won) shows us empirically and historically that religion suppresses science.

The stubborn stance against science and real-world knowledge in Christianity stems from the very founders of that religion. Take Tertullian, one of the great and powerful Christian speakers of very early Christianity, who in 200CE was defending Christianity against its critics. 'Before he closes his defense, Tertullian renews an assertion which, carried into practice, as it subsequently was, affected the intellectual development of all Europe. He declares that the Holy Scriptures are a treasure from which all the true wisdom in the world has been drawn; that every philosopher and every poet is indebted to them. He labors to show that they are the standard and measure of all truth, and that whatever is inconsistent with them must necessarily be false'13. And what a terrible legacy became of that mode of thought: it is only true if it says so in the Bible. The hallmark of ignorant, dangerous barbarianism and fundamentalism.

1.2. Non-Religious People Can Become Better Scientists


Richard Dawkins (2006) summarizes on the religious beliefs of Nobel-Prize winners, the members of the top scientific organisations in the USA and the UK, and finds that only a small percent believe in a personal God, even in countries where god-belief is extensive. Because those who do not subscribe easily to dogmatic lines of thought are naturally more inquisitive, they are the ones more likely to discover new facts about the world. This is perhaps why most scientists are atheists. A large survey confirmed that becoming a scientist does not lead to a loss of religious conviction14; but, those who are free from it are simply more likely to want to study the world objectively, and therefore to become good scientists. The less religious they are, the better they become at science.

Book CoverThe only website I could find that claimed to list 'Nobel Prize-winning Christians' came up with six, out of a total of several hundred scientific Nobelists. Of these six, it turned out that four were not Nobel Prize-winners at all; and at least one, to my certain knowledge, is a non-believer who attends church for purely social reasons. A more systematic study by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi 'found that among Nobel Prize laureates in the sciences, as well as those in literature, there was a remarkable degree of irreligiosity, as compared to the populations they came from.'52

A study in the leading journal Nature by Larson and Witham in 1998 showed that of those American scientists considered eminent enough by their peers to have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences (equivalent to being a fellow of the Royal Society in Britain) only about 7 per cent believe in a personal God53. This overwhelming preponderance of atheists is almost the exact opposite of the profile of the American population at large, of whom more than 90 per cent are believers in some sort of super-natural being. [...] It is completely as I would expect that American scientists are less religious than the American public generally, and that the most distinguished scientists are the least religious of all. [...]

The overwhelming majority of [fellows of the Royal Society], like the overwhelming majority of US Academicians, are atheists. Only 3.3 per cent of the Fellows agreed strongly with the statement that a personal god exists [...] while 78.8 per cent strongly disagreed [...]. There were a massive 213 unbelievers and a mere 12 believers.

"The God Delusion" by Prof. Richard Dawkins (2006)15
References 52 and 53 are duplicated at the bottom of this page.

2. Mass Education Versus Religion16

#agnosticism #atheism #education #religion_and_education

The better people are educated, the less religious they are2. In countries where education is improving, younger people's uptake of religion is lower2,1,17. Mass education is one of forces that works to undermine religious thinking2 and studies have found that a general "connectedness with god" is associated with lower levels of education18.

The more mysterious the world is, the more appealing religious answers are19. But the more we know about the world, the more we understand, the less likely we are to accept religious answers. People with minimal education are the most religious20, and also, the more religious a person is, the less they are interested in science21. Those with secondary or higher-level education are less religious20. Those with a degree in science are less than half as likely to believe in God as the general populace, and top-level scientists are nine times less likely22. This correlation isn't new and was also observed in ancient Greece by Polybius (2nd century BCE) who said that those who educate themselves know that "all this talk about the gods and the underworld is a myth"23.

A large poll in 2010 found that those who know most about religion include atheists and agnostics24, with religionists knowing the least. The more you know about the world, and about religion, the more likely you are to understand and accept natural and scientific facts about the world rather than accept religious answers.

For more, see:

3. Religion and General Intelligence

3.1. The More Religious the Parents, the Less Intelligent the Children (Persisting Into Adulthood)

There is a reason why god-believing adults rarely become scientists, and almost never become top scientists. Not only does theology and dogmatic religious assertions interfere with correct scientific thought, but, children of religious parents have on average, lower intelligence. This common-sense finding is not a one-off statistic, but part of an entire trend. The stricter the religious beliefs of the parent, the less the average intelligence of the child.

Sociologist Zena Blau of the University of Houston recently conducted a study of more than a thousand children in Chicago. [...] In 1981 Blau reported that IQs were lowest among children whose mothers have overly strict religious beliefs. Children whose mothers were from a non-denominational or non-religious background had the highest average IQs - 110 for whites, 109 for blacks. Children whose mothers belonged to "fundamentalist" religious groups tended to have IQs that were 7 to 10 points lower. According to Blau, these religion-IQ differences hold even when you take into account the mother's social class, current occupational status, and education.

"Understanding Human Behavior" by James V. McConnel (1986)25

This has a resultant effect on educational attainment:

It is easy to see how a cycle may emerge: If some people are prompted to adopt some religious beliefs, their children will have less IQ. They will therefore be more likely to take up religious beliefs more strictly. If they do so, their children will have even less average intelligence, and perhaps adopt even stricter religious behaviours. A cycle. This cycle would be most readily shaken by education imposed from without, on a national scale. Public education is a good defence against communities cycling into la-la land. Also, sometimes such as during the enlightenment, a general changing in culture can break the hold of specific forms of religious inhibition, and break the cycle. In the West, a gradual counter-cycle of individualism ended the dark ages and allowed the West's cultural ascent.

3.2. Religious Countries Have a Lower Average IQ

#atheism #christianity

All the studies so far have concentrated on individual measurements of IQ, and how they correlate with religiosity. In the West, this largely correlates with Christian religiosity. Because most of these studies are performed in the West, it is possible that secularism and atheism is correlated with higher intelligence simply because Christianity has a particularly negative effect on intelligence. To explore this further, we need to see if these trends exist in various cultures, where the background religion is not Christianity.

Scattergraph of national average IQ and national belief in god

Source: Lynn, Harvey & Nyborg (2009)26

A study of data for belief in God and intelligence across 137 countries was undertaken by Lynn, Harvey & Nyborg (2009)26, with the latest comprehensive sets of data available, which were mostly from 2004. The data shows conclusively that countries with a higher average IQ have less belief in God - they state that "in only 17% of the countries (23 out of 137) does the proportion of the population who disbelieve in God rise above 20%. These are virtually all the higher IQ countries".

For countries where belief in God is over 80%, the average national IQ is 83.0 points. For those countries where stated disbelief in God is greater than 20%, the national average IQ is 98.0 points.

Many of the highest-IQ countries are historically, and currently, associated with Buddhism, Shintoism and Taosim. Nearly half of the population of Singapore, which has the highest-recorded average national IQ, follow either Buddhism or Taoism. The next highest countries, Japan and S. Korea, have similar cultures to Singapore, although nowadays 50% of those in Japan do not state that they any religion at all.

Some of the least theistic countries are communist, or ex-communist, states where religion has been actively suppressed by government, and in these countries low belief in God does not exist alongside high national IQ, but, aside from those, most countries with low rates of belief in God have the best range of national average IQ.

3.3. The Exceptions of Minority Religions27

#buddhism #UK #wicca

Book CoverThere are exceptions to the general rule that religion is linked with lower intelligence. Some esoteric or obscure religions attract particularly educated fans. Sometimes this results from an anti-establishment source amongst students or adults, sometimes it is because a particular style of religion gains a very positive image. Buddhism in the UK once attained this status and a wide range of intellectuals flocked to newly formed Buddhist societies and the like. These were later criticized for misrepresenting Buddhism, in particular by omitting irrational and societal elements of it. A survey in 1998 found that nearly 75% of the followers of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (one of the largest UK Buddhist groups) had a first degree, compared to 11% of the rest of the population. A third of them also had higher degrees.28.

Wiccans tend to be much better educated than average. A UK survey by Pearson (2000) found "half of the Wiccans were university educated, seven had a masters degree, nine had doctorates, and one was studying for a doctorate. [...] Only one person was seeking employment"29. Needless to say, other authors have noted the same. The historian Ronald Hutton states that Wiccans display "a higher than usual love of reading and commitment to constant self-education" (1999)30 and J.B. Russell also notes that "most witches are relatively well educated" (1991)31.

Some minority religions attract a disproportionately intelligent following because they are hard to engage with, therefore, those that attach themselves to the religion are the types of people who commit strongly to their interests in life. In all cases, as such movements gain in numbers and diversify to include more types of followers, this initial trend diminishes.

4. The Benefits and Side-Effects of Questioning Beliefs32

#beliefs #christianity #epistemology #psychology #religion #science #skepticism #superstition #thinking_errors

Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned.

-- Anon.

There is a constant need for us to question our own beliefs, and the beliefs of those around us. It creates a healthy atmosphere of skepticism and intelligence, and prevents people from coming to unreasonable conclusions. The way our brains work means that we frequently misinterpret events and data, and in particular, we always think there is more rationality and evidence for our beliefs than there is. One of Friedrich Nietzsche's longest-lasting declarations was that "we are fundamentally inclined to maintain that the falsest opinions... are the most indispensable to us"33. This all matters because when beliefs become unquestioned, a community can become increasingly divorced from reality.

This is dangerous when individual leaders or belief-based authorities claim to be acting in accord with a divine principle, such as God's will. When it comes to disputes, religionists can come to deny any chance of compromise. In the adult world of democratic politics, compromise in disputes is what keeps things from breaking down: you give a little in one area, but have to give up in another. However, arguments based on differences in religion or belief often contain parties that believe the issue has universal, absolute and cosmic significance. They will not compromise on their position, and many ordinary believers state that they think that religious beliefs should be somehow beyond question34. Malise Ruthven in his book on fundamentalism warns that this is particularly dangerous35. It is how religious cults are formed. In extreme cases this leads to complete social rejection and the possibility of suicide cults, as has been seen many times in history for example with Charles Manson's followers and the 900 who died when the People's Temple suicided. These groups always start out with borderline, but common, beliefs and slowly become more delusional over time. Doctrinal intolerance based on faulty ideas led to the witch hunts and inquisition and the enduing massacres of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation as Christian movement warred against each other for supremacy, all sure of their own position to kill for it36. In all cases followers lacked an instinct to ask questions about the beliefs. It is religion that gains most when people cease asking deep questions about beliefs, and it is truth that suffers most. Thomas Paine famously remarked that "it is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry"37 and he argued that everything ought to be open to question as even prosaic beliefs can have negative consequences38. In the name of truth and common sense, do not let even trivial-seeming beliefs take hold without double-checking them, because once beliefs are trivialised, a slippery slope can take you down into madness!

"Why Question Beliefs? Dangers of Placing Ideas Beyond Doubt, and Advantages of Freethought" by Vexen Crabtree (2009)