Why Atheists Are More Intelligent Than the Religious
Humans are designed by evolution to believe in God
Published by Satoshi Kanazawa

Burning bush

It is natural to believe in God, so more intelligent individuals are more likely to be atheists.

Religion is a cultural universal, and its practice is observed in every known human society.  However, as I explain in earlier posts (Why do we believe in God?  Part I, Part II), recent evolutionary psychological theories suggest that religiosity may not be an adaptation in itself but may be a byproduct of other evolved psychological mechanisms variously called the “animistic bias” or the “agency-detector mechanisms.”

These theories contend that the human brain has been selected to overinfer agency – personal, animate, and intentional forces – behind otherwise natural phenomena whose exact causes cannot be known.  This is because overinferring agency – and making a Type I error of false positive – makes you a bit paranoid, but being paranoid is often conducive to survival.  In contrast, underinferring agency – and making a Type II error of false negative – can result in being killed and maimed by predators and enemies that were incorrectly assumed not to exist.  So, evolutionarily speaking, it’s good to be a bit paranoid, because being paranoid can often save your life.  Religiosity – belief in higher powers – may be a byproduct of such overinference of agency and intentional forces behind natural phenomena.

If these theories are correct, then it means that religiosity – belief in higher powers – may have an evolutionary origin.  It is evolutionarily familiar and natural to believe in God, and evolutionarily novel not to be religious.  Consistent with this reasoning, out of more than 1,500 distinct cultures throughout the world documented in The Encyclopedia of World Cultures, only 19 contain any reference to atheism.  Not only do these 19 cultures exist far outside of our ancestral home in the African savanna, but all 19 of them without an exception are former Communist societies.  There are no non-former-Communist cultures described in The Encyclopedia as containing any significant segment of atheists.  Nor is there any reference to any individuals who do not subscribe to the local religion in any of the ethnographies of traditional societies.

It may therefore be reasonable to conclude that atheism may not be part of the universal human nature, and widespread practice of atheism may have been a recent product of Communism in the 20th century.  So belief in higher powers is evolutionarily familiar and natural, and atheism is evolutionarily novel.  The Hypothesis would therefore predict that more intelligent individuals are more likely to be atheist than less intelligent individuals.

Once again, analyses of large representative samples from both the United States and the United Kingdom support this prediction of the Hypothesis.  Net of a large number of social and demographic factors, including education, more intelligent individuals are more likely to be atheistic than less intelligent individuals.  For example, among the American sample, those who identify themselves as “not at all religious” in early adulthood have a mean childhood IQ of 103.09, whereas those who identify themselves as “very religious” in early adulthood have a mean childhood IQ of 97.14.

Religiosity

Even though past studies have shown that women are more religious than men, the analyses show that the effect of childhood intelligence on adult religiosity is twice as large as that of sex.  Remarkably, childhood intelligence has a significant and large effect on adult religiosity even when religion itself is statistically controlled for.  So it appears that more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to be atheists than less intelligent individuals, and the Hypothesis provides one explanation as to why.

Comments
  1. Lloyd Miller says:

    You seem to ignore the fact that religion has a collective and normative function within the tribe to enhance tribal solidarity and rule conformance based on a false perception of “higher powers.” No doubt susceptibility to religion evolved for this purpose as well. The problem for atheists, and I am one, is how to replace this source of human behavioral control/limitation. Communism was a gross failure in this regard. Also, I am not convinced that Communists are very intelligent. Marx didn’t even bother to understand the economic science of his own day, jumping to the conclusion that an economy could be run by “scientific” planning without autonomous individuals and groups competing under the rule of law.

    • A-theism just means the lack of belief in god or gods.

      What atheist individuals actually believe, revolves around other factors, education, culture, intelligence, social programming, emotional imperatives and so forth.
      These have nothing to do with a-theism per se, since atheism is the default state of the human mind whilst theism is an introduced aberrant state, one enforced or introduced by group-think, brainwashing or socio-cultural programming.

      Like racism, the term a-theism is itself a term that ought not exist, but was a necessary reaction to popular cultural delusions, most of which stem from the millennial curse of theism and the irrational forms of anti-freethought thinking it has spawned, the Crusades, Inquisitions, Suicide Bombers, Communism, Fascism, Nazism, Maosim and so forth.

      Karl Marx was more intelligent than pragmatic. But he understood theistic mind programming and mental conditioning adroitly.

      “The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is
      religion.

      Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

      The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

      Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.”

      — Marx, K. 1976. Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Collected Works, v. 3. New York.

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