A Century-Long Debate: Are ‘Intelligent’ People Less Likely to Hold Religious Beliefs?

A Century-Long Debate: Are ‘Intelligent’ People Less Likely to Hold Religious Beliefs?


Brain drawing (Wikimedia)


Over most of the past century, researchers have been trying to determine whether there’s any link between religion and intelligence. The studies haven’t all come to the same conclusion, but a group of researchers led from the University of Rochester decided to look at a large number of them combined to see their results — and they found that most studies pointed to the same thing: that highly intelligent people tend to be less religious, and that highly religious people tend to be less intelligent. At least, that seems to hold true when it comes to the traditional definition of “analytic intelligence,” which focuses on puzzle solving, learning, and abstract thinking.

To reach their conclusions, Zuckerman’s research team analyzed 63 previously published works that compared religion and intelligence. The vast majority of those — 53 in total — found the two had an inverse relationship. To the research team’s leader, Miron Zuckerman, the common finding doesn’t come as a surprise. “You have to realize that this relation is not new,” Zuckerman told The Verge. “Studies from 1928 found [this].”

Even so, the reason for the link remains unclear. Zuckerman and his team can’t say for certain why it occurs either, but they theorize that high intelligence may drive people away from religious behaviors. They pose three major possibilities for why that might be happening: First, intelligent people have been found to be less likely to conform to social pressures, such as religious rhetoric. Second, intelligent people tend to prefer analytic — as opposed to intuitive — thinking, making them more likely to look for scientific evidence. And third, they think that more intelligent people simply may not need the benefits that come alongside religion, such as help with self-regulation and self-improvement.