Intelligence and Religion

Get Smart (

I just read this article about Intelligence and Religion after being directed there by a journal entry of thespook.

The initial polls shown are interesting. I find it curious that so many people find religion and science at odds with each other. I think any good scientist would recognise the danger of stating anything in absolutes, especially if they presume that science infers that there is no god – something that really can’t be tested. If that’s what they want to believe then that’s what they’re going to believe, I don’t see how any magazine or statistician can infer anything other than proportionally fewer scientists believe in god than the general population from that data.

These studies have consistently found that the lower the IQ score, the more likely a person is to be religious.

I’ve heard an accomplished scientist disregard IQ tests because they’re culturally biased. Apparently many years ago racists in America tried to exclude black people from school on the basis that they were too stupid. At that time a sampling of black people performed slightly worse in the test than white people. Then they went a step further and got a sampling of Asians to do the test. Woops! Asians performed slightly better than the white folk and they realised they had to re-think their reasoning.
Completely tangential, the official scale for those scoring under 70 on an IQ test is (descending) border-line, moron, imbecile, severe idiot, and profound idiot. Classy huh?

There’s many studies listed in the article. It’s good that they’ve tried to get a wide sampling, it’s a shame that they date from 1927-1980. Most of the studies seem to be during the 60s or before. Who can possibly claim that there was equal opportunity for education at that time and that people being educated were representative of the population? To add to my scepticism, several of the studies seem to have used sample sizes of 100-300 people. That’s hardly statistically significant.

In counter to their observations of successful and “more intelligent” people not believing in God they said:

A possible counter-argument is that intelligent people tend to be more successful than others. The lure of worldly success and materialism draws many of these intellectually gifted individuals away from God. After all, who needs God when you (apparently) are making it on your own?

However, this argument does not withstand closer scrutiny. Most of the studies outlined above describe the religious attitudes of students, who have yet to enter the working world, much less succeed in it. Some might then argue that the most intelligent students are nonetheless succeeding in school. But “success” in school (for those who may have forgotten!) is more measured in terms of popularity, sports, physical attractiveness, personality, clothes, etc. Grades are but one of many measures of success in a young person’s life — one that is increasingly becoming less important, as many social critics point out.

I agree that grades (in High School) are not necessarily as important as they might once have been (although I think their perceived importance is increasing again), but does that mean it’s because of the other things listed above? I have noticed a large push in New South Wales to get people trained in trades and industries. Perhaps the move away from judging people by their grades is because people are recognising that there are more kinds of “intelligence”. What would you do without builders, plumbers and sparkies? Maybe they don’t seem like the ‘sharpest tools in the shed’ (as a gross generalisation – I have an “intelligent” friend who went into building), but would you trust yourself to fix the wiring in your wall or a broken shower drain? Do we really think that memorising facts (which is essentially what exams test for) is that important?
Perhaps an apparent difference in grades would be because “religious” people think it’s important to study the Bible/Qu’ran/Torah as well as school books? (Possibly a weak argument, but I think the comparison between test scores is pretty weak in itself.)
I also said “in High School”, because my college doesn’t have much emphasis on looks, sports and clothing at all. If you’re not getting the grades you’re not that cool and probably shouldn’t be taking up the position that someone else could have taken and appreciated.

This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive rebuttal or a defense of religious people (of intelligent Christians I know too many to count). It’s just a warning to not believe everything you read – especially studies that use arbitrary numbers to prove a discriminatory point.


  1. says

    Is there a relationship between int. & religion? I don´t thinks so. It is a question if you want to beleve it or not. They are stupid people with and also without religion.

  2. says

    Given the length of this post your comment seemed a bit random – like you’d only read the title and commented (if you did that’s silly, don’t do that). However, you make a really good point, I’ve come across many stupid people that are obviously not religious, perhaps if you wanted to compare statistics you would compare the percent of people considered intelligent that are religious to the percent of “stupid” people that are religious or not (as opposed to scientists versus the general population). As I’ve already said though, measures of intelligence are arbitrary anyway.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. says

    I agree, Kristen, that the studies in this article, numerous though they may be, are in many ways dubious. But this is nothing new – “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
    “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
    Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Corinthians 1:18-20). Paul goes on pointing out that many so-called “wise” people, in their wisdom, reject the one through whom real wisdom comes.

    Having said that, one thing the Bible maintains is that trust in Jesus has no correlation to intelligence at all – God chooses both Mensa members and profound idiots to be integral members of his Kingdom, which could indicate why few studies have been done on the other side of the debate in question.

    The Bible also maintains that one’s worth is not seen in measures such as intelligence, earning power, level of education or even carpentry skills. One’s worth is wrapped in the fact that the Creator of the universe sees all his creation as worthwhile enough to be redeemed by Jesus, irrespective of shoe size, hair colour, thesis topic or even our sinfulness. Just as the Bible suggests wariness with money, we should thank God for intelligence, but also acknowledge that anything which pulls us from him has gone too far.

    That’s my two evangelical cents,

  4. says

    I was thinking of that very passage when I was thinking about all this, but either forgot to look it up, or decided that if people think religion is a fairy tale then they won’t care what the bible says anyway.

    I agree, thanks for the succinct, God-centered response. 😀