Give me Wisdom! A Reflection on a”Scientific”Report that Calls believers less intelligent than Athiests

By Shubert Ciencia  Licensed under  CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
By Shubert Ciencia Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

It would seem, according to how some people measure intelligence, that those of us who believe in God rank as “less intelligent” than those who do not. A recent report in the “Mail” (a U.K. paper) reports this “fact” as the result of extensive and scientific IQ testing and summarizes what I would call the rather “non-scientific” conclusions of the researchers.

You know the usual drill when I comment on texts. The text of the original report is in bold, black italics, my remarks are in plain red text. I am excerpting a longer article.

The full article by Daniel Bates is HERE. – However,  be forewarned, there are a lot of unchaste and risque photos often appear in the margins of this “news”paper.

Reporter Bates begins:

Atheists tend to be more intelligent than religious people, according to a US study. Researchers found that those with high IQs had greater self-control and were able to do more for themselves – so did not need the benefits that religion provides.

OK, so lets just stipulate that IQ tests are a common way of measuring at least some aspects of intelligence. Of course having a high IQ is no guarantee that one will necessarily navigate life well.

I do terribly on IQ tests, and tests in general. But I do a pretty good job of navigating life. My “smarts” are more verbal and less numerical. I love etymology, I also have a more keen sense of  paradox and symbol, and the mystical connections of many apparently dissimilar things. Not bad strengths for a preacher, teacher and occasional writer.  Of course this type of  “smarts” is less easily measured  in IQ tests, since this sort of intelligence is harder to quantify.

But OK, lets just stipulate that IQ tests have some validity in measuring a certain kind of mechanistic and basic intelligence.

But then our intrepid reporter goes on to claim that the “science” shows that atheists had “greater self control.”  Now honestly, how did they measure that? I am going to guess that “self control,” at least as defined by our reporter, has little to do with what most of us traditionally meant by the term. 

I would tend to think that the term means things like drinking in moderation, not being given to wild carousing and fornication, having authority over one’s emotions like anger and love, being moderate in behavior, frugal in spending,  and so forth.

But something tells me that this understanding of self control has little to do with our author means, or what the “scientists” he claims to reference mean. For it is clear that the modern, and I would add secular and increasingly unbelieving West,  is collectively given to almost every excess and lack of self control: drinking, fornication, pornography, addictions, fornication, carousing, overspending, excesses of every kind. And did I mention fornication?

Of course our intrepid reporter does not define what is meant by self control or how it is measured. But how anyone can connect our modern secular (unbelieving) culture to greater self control is puzzling, to say the least.

Again, I realize that I am among those of lesser intelligence, as a believer, but the correlation between atheism and self control seems to be an inverse one to this observer. In other words, as atheism and secularism have increased in the West, self control has demonstrably decreased during that same period. Just a simple analysis of the debt crisis shows that. Add divorce rates, addiction rates, STD rates etc. and the picture of low self control is consistent. There are many reasons for this but an inverse relationship seems the logical conclusion than to assert unbelievers ipso facto have more self control.

Similar puzzlement arises at the observation that atheists “do more for themselves.” First of all, what does that mean? It is true that Christian believers speak of depending on God. But this does not mean we expect God to be some sort of divine butler. Rather it means that we attribute our strength to God and seek his grace to do our work.

But theology aside, I must say I am mystified at the claim, however it can possibly be measured, that atheists “do more for themselves.” For again the evidence seems (to this admittedly less intelligent believing observer), that as atheism and secularism have risen, so has socialism, wherein increasing numbers expect the central government to do more and more for them.

What evidence is there that (globally) unbelievers and seculars do more for themselves? The big picture suggests just the opposite and correlates the nanny state with increasing secularism and unbelief. Maybe they don’t turn to God, but the State sure has grown.

I realize that the growth of socialism is not wholly attributable to unbelievers. But again I remain puzzled at any claim that anyone, or any group is “doing more for themselves” these days. The whole trend is away from personal responsibility, as it is from self control.

They also have better self esteem and built more supportive relationships, the study authors said.

Here too I would have loved for our intrepid reporter to have asked the “scientists” how “self esteem” is defined and then measured. I do think that Christians may test lower in this area, not because we actually do lack self esteem, but because we have a traditional language that emphasizes humility.

Many modern notions (not all) of self esteem are far too close to simple “pride” and we believers will  be less likely to affirm vague modern notions and statements like: “I feel good about myself…..I like myself just the way I am…” If our tendency to caution regarding pride makes us “less intelligent,” then so be it.

As to “supportive relationships” again, please define. I suppose this could include anything from bowling leagues, to labor unions, to group therapy, and 12-step programs. But how would I know, since the term is undefined. I wonder if “Church” counts, because, frankly that is my biggest source of supportive relationships. I have a funny feeling the testers don’t consider “Church” to be in the realm of “supportive relationships.”

The conclusions were the result of a review of 63 scientific studies about religion and intelligence dating between 1928 and last year.

Notice these are called “scientific” studies. But again many of the claims, at least as reported, are presented in very vague and non-scientific language. Might I even say some of the claims are metaphysical?

Honestly are terms such as “self-control,” “supportive relationships,” “self-esteem,” “benefits,” “do more for themselves” scientific terms at all? Calling a study “scientific” does not make it so.

All the terms above contain a priori  and metaphysical judgments about what is good or not good. And while there may be some methodologies from the social sciences at work, most people have (sadly) reduced the word “science” and “scientific” to the physical sciences. And thus to speak of atheists  being more intelligent that believers as being “scientifically” demonstrated is misleading because it is not how most people use the word today.

The judgment of this scientific study is filled with many non-scientific  judgments about things that cannot simply be quantified, measured or compared. There are complicated social realities at work.  Words such as “better” worse” “esteem” and so forth bespeak a more Metaphysical stance.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for metaphysics, but calling a report “scientific” that indulges in so many metaphysical concepts and judgements is not how people use the word “science” today. As such it is misleading to call this report a “scientific study.”

So finally here comes the money quote:

In 53 of these (studies) there was a ‘reliable negative relation between intelligence and religiosity’. In just 10 was that relationship positive. Even among children, the more intelligent a child was the more probable it was that they would shun the church. The University of Rochester psychologists behind the study defined religion as involvement in some or all parts of a belief. – Vague, to say the least.

They defined intelligence as the ‘ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience’.

Also vague. For example define “ability.” Some people are “genius” at intuition, others at analysis of data, still others are said to have empathic abilities, emotional intelligence, photographic memory and so forth.

Also define “comprehend,” and who gets to say something is complex? For some a Bach fugue is complex but a car engine is easy. For others it is the reverse. etc.

Vague, vague and more vague.

So, if you’re going to call me stupid or even less intelligent, I want clearer parameters.

In their conclusions, they said: ‘Most extant explanations (of a negative relation) share one central theme – the premise that religious beliefs are irrational, not anchored in science, not testable and, therefore, unappealing to intelligent people who ‘know better’. –

Well I guess it takes one to know one. For as we have seen, this study commits the very errors it claims we do. But at least we admit to being in the realm of metaphysics and do not claim to be able to measure things that defy simple measurement. The arrogance of this final quote is so bold as to require little response, res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself).

And perhaps a final thought from yours truly. I want to say that how ever some one wants to regard my intelligence compared to theirs, or my group (believers) compared to theirs, I will probably take little real offense.

For, at the end of the day it is not so much intelligence that I value as wisdom. Intelligence has its place, and is nice to have. But intelligence is a human thing. Wisdom comes from God and as such is a greater gift. And wisdom need not depend on a lot of formal education. I have met some very wise people who had little formal education. I have also met people who were highly educated, but possessed of little wisdom. I have also met every combination in between.

Wisdom pertains to the things of God, to heaven and our final goal. To be wise is to discover God, to learn of Him and know Him, It is to know also, who I am in God, to grasp the meaning of my life and to move steadily toward my goal of the upward calling in Christ. Wisdom is infused by God who is able to grant it to the simplest and undereducated, or to the most intellectually astute.

But Wisdom is always gift. Intelligence, how ever we adduce it, too easily leads to pride. But Wisdom requires humility and thrives only on it. To be wise is to know that I know only very little, no matter how high my intellectual ranking among men. For as St. Paul once boldly said,

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength….But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:26-31)

So you may call me stupid, or less intelligent. You may call me a fool, but at least add that I was a fool for Christ.

Oremus: Intelligence has its place, but above all Lord, give me your wisdom. Indeed, you have hidden from the learned and clever, what you have reveled to the merest children. Thank you Lord for holy Wisdom. Thank you.

71 Replies to “Give me Wisdom! A Reflection on a”Scientific”Report that Calls believers less intelligent than Athiests”

  1. I can see on average that atheists would be more intelligent, they are such a small minority… But that doesn’t mean choosing atheism will make you smarter, and I can’t deny that the absolute most intelligent people I have ever met all do believe in God. What always bothers me is that atheists cannot prove that God doesn’t exist, so they take a leap of “faith” to hold onto their belief, agnostics I can respect, the atheist I cannot – unless it is one who has never even thought about whether or not God exists, but then that person would never identify themselves as an atheist.

  2. Among believers in a Supreme Being were Plato, Socrates, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Michelangelo, William Shakespeare, Copernicus, Galileo, Sir Isaac Newton, Voltaire, Louis Pasteur, Leo Tolstoy, Mozart, and Beethoven.

    1. Some high IQ atheists: Walter Block (economist), Aristophanes (Ancient Greek writer), Isaac Asimov, Anton Grigorevich Rubinstein (founder of the Russian Conservatory), Auguste Comte (philosophy), Barney Frank, Mme. Marie Curie (science), Mark Zuckerberg, and the list goes on.

      @ed james
      “…atheists cannot prove that God doesn’t exist…” Of course not. Any first year student of logic learns quickly one cannot prove a negative. Believers don’t do logic. That’s one of the reasons they have low IQs.

      Can YOU prove a god exists? Try 1 Kings 18, the whole nine yards. Burn the bull. Ditto for the Msgr, give it a try. Heck, go for broke and have Papa Jorge Bergoglio try it. Show those heathens who follow Baal just what’s up. Your almighty did it once, why not a second time? All it would take is just a little fire from heaven and the earth would hit its knees. If the pope can’t do it??????
      I KNOW it will not happen because there is no supernatural sky guy. All the excuses you can conjure up still do not prove a god. An excuse is an excuse is an excuse. To quote Yoda, “Do, or do not. There is no ‘try’.”

      And that’s why atheists have superior IQs.

      1. I hope your list was not intended to trump Michael’s! Really?!

        Go and read Aquinas or Kreeft for proof that God exists. Your a priori judgement that you know God does not exists only proves that even if he were to tap you on the head and say “hi”, you would not recognise him as your starting premise is also your conclusion.

        Incidentally, why not add “Yoda” to your initial list if “it” is such an inspiration for you?!

      2. Part of the problem lies in the word proof, which philosophers and theologians like St. Thomas and other pre-cartesians defined more as a “demonstration” Most today, use a postcartesian dubium and mean by the word proof “absolute” proof, as in mathematical certitude.

        So logicalanswer may well object because he hears the word proof in the postcarteisan sense. I am not so sure that that you can get away with saying you are being asked to “prove a negative.” If you are an atheist your are making a positive statement: “There is no God” and I am within rights of asking for your proof of that. If you were a mere agnostic who struggles to conclude that there is a God, I think you are better grounds in making objection that you “can’t prove a negative.” But Atheists make a claim of positive fact: “There is no God.” And for that claim I request proof.

        As for me, the existence of God is demonstrated philosophically by the existence of highly sophisticated design in the world and cosmic order, and also that reality has intelligibility. Since effects have causes, design, bespeaks a designer, order, one who orders, and since things are intelligible, hence there is one who impressed this intelligibility or logike on what is made. This one I call God.

        Now my claim is that this demonstrates (from the Latin demonstrare – meaning “to show”) since the word “proof” as currently used is largely inaccessible to human reason due to the radical post-Cartesian doubt.

        This Postcartesian template that permeates modern thinking, along with the tendency to nominalism, severs our connection to reality by claiming we conceive of form by mere interpretation and craft reality, rather than receive form based on observation and discover reality. Many today even go so far as to deny that form exists at all. Hence in effect we live in our minds and have pulled up roots for the real world as a datum, or given.

        1. One of the usual kinds of questions in Mathematics is to offer a “proof” of some proposition. Over the years what has been acceptable as a “proof” has become unacceptable to later Mathematicians. It’s a funny world! It’s a bit like Pilate’s question to Jesus “What is truth?”
          We are told that ignorance of the Law is no excuse in a Court of Law. We are expected to know, at least in a rough fashion, just what the Law declares.
          So it will be when the atheist faces Jesus when he is judged on how he has spent his life. The proof of the existence of God is all around us. Order does not come from disorder. Existence does not come from a void. The atheist just has to be willfully blind. Hardly a proof of intelligence!

          1. If I may just add a little to what I wrote above. It is often said by the Military that there are no atheists in a fox-hole. It is also true that there are no atheists in hell…as they have found out the hard way.

          2. If I may be yet another pain in a particular place on this one!!!
            One of the greats of Mathematics was Renee Descartes.
            He argued as follows:-
            From Logic, there either is a God or there is not a God.
            Probability is expressed as being nearer to Zero if it is improbable, but nearer to One if it is more probable.
            If there is no God then there is no heaven and there is no hell. When we die, it matters not whether we are an atheist or a theist, the outcome for both is the same. We simply disappear. We are all equal then.
            If there is a God then heaven and hell exist. For an atheist the probability of heaven is either exactly zero or near to it. For a theist the probability of heaven is nearer to One than to zero.
            Logically then, atheism is a very, very bad bet. It is illogical to be an atheist.
            What’s that about intelligence?!!!!

      3. Logical means what? Here is the ultimate stumbling block for those who seek wisdom (i.e intelligence) Christ rose from the dead. The Resurrection is answer. It is the answer because, men and women gave their lives so as to not deny Jesus Christ as the Son of God risen from the dead. The witnesses to Jesus and his claims of being God could have easily denied the event in order to save their lives. They could have produce the corpse and spared themselves and families the agony of being skinned alive or burnt at the stake. Will you lay your life down for a lie or something that you half believe? I venture to say none of will. There is no trumping death. And only God has the power to defeat death. Jesus foretold his death and resurrection, and it came to be. He demonstrated that he has the power and authority to back up his statement.
        He is the LOGOS

          1. I noted also that Logical Answers had to identify most on his list as no one has really heard of them and those
            we have, well, Barney Frank says it all! Anyway, these lists are really just silly as they are not reasons, logical
            ones, for holding to Truth. They are supportive but not proof and can simply cancel each other out if one goes
            far enough. Common sense is what matters most, not intelligence, as measured by tests. Most people I know with a high IQ have success in an academic atmosphere but trip over their own feet and often appear *dumb* in the real world of life. It is common sense no one has ever cared to measure …because the ones most likely to do the measuring don’t have it!

      4. “I KNOW it will not happen because there is no supernatural sky guy. All the excuses you can conjure up still do not prove a god. An excuse is an excuse is an excuse. To quote Yoda, “Do, or do not. There is no ‘try’.””

        These kind of ‘arguments’ rather show how ignorant and stupid atheists are.

        There are many theist geniuses as well

        Just one example: Cauchy, one of the greatest mathematical geniuses. Actually polls show that most great mathemathicians were believers.

        “And that’s why atheists have superior IQs.”

        That’s debatable and there’s more to intelligence than ‘high IQ’. IQ only tests for some aspects of human intelligence.

        Many atheists might have a high IQ, but, ljust ike Dawkings and Krauss, they are incredibly inept and stupid when it comes to understand things outside their fields (look at their pityful attempt at methaphysics…)


        Polls can be manipulated… I guess you ‘smart atheist’ did not know that. Or that ‘correlations’ do not necessarely mean a causal relation between two things.

        For exapmle one could find out that most scientists are blond and say ‘blond people are smarter’, in reality that would be only an apparent correlation.

        The TRUTH is that such polls are often selective. Many scientists are believers, but polls always seem to targer certain groups.
        Like some polls showed that most scientist in the national accademy of sciences are atheists… but that is only a small percentage of scientists and a borad survey shows much different results. (about 50% of scientists are believers, no necessarely theists, in fact.)

        And I am speaking from experience. I have a PhD in physics and a BSc in biochemistry.

        The correlation between accademia and atheism does not only depend on IQ but also on propaganda. In the 20th century Logical Posotivism was hammered in the brains of studens.
        Today as well many college professors to that, pratically brainwashing students with flawed arguments, lies and half-truths about religion.

        Take Dawkins: his books agains theism are painfully flawed and full of nonsense, yet m any ‘smart atheists’ do not even realise all the ‘BS’ it contains.

        “Atheists tend to be more intelligent than religious people, according to a US study. ”

        A GOOD question is: who did the study, how were the ‘samples’ selected, etc…

        Also I couls sat ‘Only theists are smart, says US study’… and indeed I am sure someone in the US could come up with statistics that show that.

        That is why one must be very careful with statistics.

        For example MANY scientists in the US are indians (from India, not native americans) and most of them are Hindu. So one coulse say ‘ many scientists are Hindu’.

        Many scientists are also chinese and perhaps buddhist or atheist.

        As you can see thje reliegeous affiliation is often NOT something that depends on IQ or intelligence in general but on BACKGROUND.

        It depends on:
        – colture (a person in an Islamic country will be most propbably a muslim.)
        – family (was the famili religeous or not)
        – friends (how did people around the person influence him)
        – education (how did teachers affect him. Many teachers are not shy about atheist propaganda these days and many students in the first and second year are incredible suckers for what professors say)
        – experiences (some experiences can have profound effect on someone. Take Darwin, he lost his faith because his daughter died, not because of his IQ or evolution, it was an EMOTIONAL response).

        Indeed, focusing on the last point, most atheists are “emotional atheists”… even the New Atheists more often than not base themselves on some emotional foundation rather than a rational one… OBVIOUSLY, rational foundations of atheism are actually very weak as the better atheists also understand.

  3. This stuff is hysterically funny to anyone who has ever heard the adolescent crudities the Dawkins and co pass of as analysis of history and philosophy, let alone theology.

  4. Isn’t the Daily Mail a tabloid aimed at the lower-middle class market?

    I’d strongly recommend taking everything it says with a whole bag of blessed salt, or better yet, not paying attention to it at all. This tabloid has given us sparkling gems for headlines such as, “Welcome to our new lizard overlords: Study suggests alien worlds could be full of super-intelligent dinosaurs.”

    Read more:
    Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

    In other words, Monsignor, the Daily Mail is really not worth your time or talent. All you need to say is that it’s a tabloid, and then save your energies for responding to criticism from more credible sources.

    1. Yeah, I don’t know much about it. But its out there. A lot of stuff pops up from them. But at bare minimum it serves as a good illustration of how the word “scientific” is bandied about today.

      1. Me again Monsignor!
        The Daily Mail in the UK is something of a rag.
        There is one journalist who writes in it on Sundays. His name is Peter Hitchins. He had a brother called Christopher Hitchins. His brother is now dead. He died of cancer. Christopher was an avowed atheist. Peter is an avowed theist. They did fall out over this but towards the end they came closer together. They both had the same upbringing, the same genes, the same milieu. Was one more intelligent than the other? Not on your life!
        Peter Hitchens column is very well worth reading. He talks absolute sense. Try googling “Mail on Sunday” and see what Peter Hitchens has to say.

  5. Anyone who’s interested in studying the relationship between religiosity and those personal characteristics that contribute to the common good (such as IQ), read Charles Murray’s "Coming Apart."  Among other things, what Murray shows is that as religious practice declines in communities with lower IQ people, really bad things start to happen.
    On a lighter note, I was relieved to know that those smartypants sportscar drivers are nasty people, according to the Auto editor at the Wall Street Journal: "BMW Drivers Really Are Jerks, Studies Find"

  6. Elwood P. Dowd: “Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be’ – she always called me Elwood – ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”

  7. I’ll chime in on a contrarian note here. I’m religious now but was an atheist. I think this theses may be true because intelligence like wealth predisposes one toward arrogance or what the study calls self esteem. It’s way too easy to think oneself is better than others, especially if you’re bright and on top of the world academically.

    1. David, I think you hit it on the head when you point out that the atheist is arrogant. As stated elsewhere I believe immature/adolescent is an accurate description too.

      Your agreement with the thesis that atheist may be more intelligent I think misses the underlying point of the article in that they measure intelligence regarding the physical sciences only. It’s as if, because a philosopher is not good at calculus, the philosopher (e.g. Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas) is unintelligent. A basic mistake of undervaluing other fields of study beyond the physical sciences.

      1. I’m just saying it’s possible that the atheist group has higher IQ (this is a testable claim) – although IQ is not that crucial to success and measures computational ability rather than emotional/social ability. But mainly I thought it critical not to engage the “I’m better than you” claim and rather the state the real issue: the self centered nature of the atheist world.

  8. Perhaps the study makes more sense than I was originally inclined to concede. After all, as Msgr indicates toward the end of his post, the chief sin of the intellect is pride, arrogance, self-sufficiency–consider the sin of Lucifer who was the most intelligent creature. Pride opposes wisdom–and religious submission and the sincere belief that we are completely dependent upon God.

  9. What I mean is that by confusing the gifts of God with your own worth, the especially bright are prone to pride. Intelligence, like all the gifts of God, is not earned but it can be readily perceived as a basis of self worth and if you listen the atheists you can hear the condescension. Intelligence like any gift can be used well or poorly; it’s all in the application. If I use my intellect to mock and humiliate others it’s very similar to using wealth for only personal pleasure. It’s selfish and subject to judgement. Ultimately even the greatest human intellect will be humbled by His supreme mind and then he/she will be seen for a fool.

  10. Thank you for quoting 1 Cor 1:26-31. I know I am not smart by the world’s standards, in fact I have a terrible memory and so never did well on tests. But it is the Wisdom of God through the Holy Spirit that helps me, it is He that guides me in everything.

  11. You write well Monsignor – I didn’t add anything to it, except a “what he said”. Nicely done

  12. Fallen reason without the aid of grace is eminently prone to being deceived. Look at the confusion over gender, sex, and marriage. I have no study to back this up, but my observation is that atheists are much more likely to be in favor of this self-contradictory thing called marriage equality, which can be shot down without appealing to religion. Right reason is adequate, but not available without the aid of grace. Atheists don’t even know what they are missing. Pity.

  13. Can someone explain this article please, for you see I am Catholic and I just can not understand what science has to do with intelligence.(LOL)
    I must interject, most (not all) intelligent atheists lack wisdom so there intelligence is not of any help to them. Sure science can explain the Theory of Relativity, but it can not explain the unconditional love of a mother towards her children, or just love in general.

    1. Actually, the measure of intelligence via IQ is one of oldest branches of modern psychology, and the theory of measuring mental traits, such as IQ, is rigorous compared to other parts of psychology ; it goes back to the 1890s. The SAT college entrance exam is not a pure IQ test, but many of it’s test items are like those you find on standard IQ tests. IQ is a pretty good predictor of academic potential, and that’s why schools use them. Of course, as Msgr points out, IQ is not wisdom. In psychology, IQ is understood as a general ability trait in problem solving, such as the kind of problems we faced in school. St Thomas Aquinas called intelligence, “the power to combine and separate”, that is, to see differences between things that otherwise look similar, and to see similarities between things that otherwise look different. The IQ test can measure this ability to some extent, but in so doing, it doesn’t measure wisdom.

      1. for a standard test of “the power to combine and separate, ” as defined above, check out Miller Analogy scoring, used, at least in my college days, in combination with IQ tests, for entrance into graduate school programs. University of Minnesota, that was, as Yoda would say, one of the homes of hard-science Skinnerian psychology. Neurons and dendrites instead of Freud and Jung. Only ignorance of the limitations and built-in biasses of IQ testing would result in the use of just one. If it were worth the work invoved in judging a Daily Mail scientific conclusion, one would also have to check out the different statistics and statistical methodologies involved in each and every study used, and judge whether the resulting agglomeration was or was not even statistically valid. Would the Daily Mail even have considered the issues involved? From a few weeks in England recently, and casual morning-coffee perusal of that tabloid, I feel safe in saying the answer is no.

  14. Anytime you choose a smaller recognizable group to sample, it will often contrast with the general population. One could, for instance, take a population of American nuns and find them more intelligent than atheists.

    The presumption made here is that “smart people find the right answer” (and the “right answer” ain’t God). While this is a good enough assumption, one can ask whether intelligent people tend to just rely on themselves more than less intelligent people. Or whether they’ve fully scouted out the question! (There’s much to be said for the intellectually stultifying/nullifying quagmire of a shared intellectual consensus; the notion that Brights have finally found the Golden Answer kills off further inquiry).

    It is VERY interesting to see this study, since—about a month ago—a study was released showing that successful people tend to attribute the success to their OWN action, EVEN WHEN the success was rigged! Experimenters used a rigged Monopoly game. Possibly more highly intelligent people also take personal credit for successes outside of their actual control. . . and attribute negative values to less intelligent people (e.g., lazy, shiftless, stupid).

    One also can ask whether the sin of pride causes people who have the “intelligent” tag, to be a bit fearful of the notion of God.

    I’ve got an IQ of 154. Used to be an agnostic. When you grow up hearing Bible “stories” and find them physically impossible, it’s easy to turn on the agnostic or atheist path. BUT the greater intelligence eventually should start to question to essentially shaky materialist story. So I think truly intelligent people are open to God.

  15. Hmm… There are five generalized categories with nine different theories that explain what wisdom is. I think that more religious persons will like the first category as wisdom being an epistemic humility. You will tend to find atheist in the fifth category of wisdom which is wisdom as rationality. Anyway, the categories are:

    Epistemic Humility, Epistemic Accuracy, Knowledge, Hybrid (variations of the first three), Rationality.

  16. I think this boils down to the “discovery” that when you define “intelligence” in such a way as to exclude anything having to do with theology, you find that “intelligent” people are a rather irreligious lot. File under “dog bites man” or, as Marcus Aurelius put it “it should surprise nobody when a fig tree grows a fig”

  17. Monsignor, You aren’t going against “scientific consensus” are you?

  18. I was able to access the original article for free through my school. It’s titled “The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity: A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations”, and I’m pretty sure the folks at the “Mail” missed the word “proposed”, because the article does not say what they think it says… What the article actually says is this:

    The researchers looked at a bunch of studies, dating from the 1920s to the present, which collected data on intelligence (measured using IQ tests, SAT tests, GPA, and/or other measures) as well as religiosity (measured by things like religious belief, membership in a religious group, attending religious services, etc.). Some of their findings/conclusions.

    1) They found that people who had higher IQ were less likely to be religious. Oddly, they found that GPA was *not* predictive of religiosity, so people with high GPAs were *not* less likely to be religious.

    2) How you measure religiosity matters. The correlation is more significant when you measure religious beliefs than when you measure religious behavior. The authors posit two possible explanations (they don’t claim that either one is fact). First: this could be because some intelligent people who don’t believe in God still practice religion for other reasons, like social reasons. Second: there might be a difference between Protestants (who emphasize belief) and Catholics/Jews (who emphasize behavior). I disagree with both proposed explanations, but they are just that: proposals.

    3) Knowing a child’s intelligence enables you to “predict” their religiosity later in life. I put “predict” in quotes because it is my word, not the author’s, and because it’s not a very high level of predictability. The authors acknowledge that correlation does not imply causation, but suggest that this does provide some evidence that high intelligence might cause people to become less religious.

    4) In the “Discussion” section of the paper, the authors SUPPOSE that there is a cause-effect relationship between intelligence and religiosity. They then ask how such a cause-effect relationship might be explained. They do not claim this discussion is empirical (i.e. scientific), but the “Mail” does, and that’s how they come up with their wacky conclusions. The authors of the study come up with a handful of possible explanations:

    a) Atheism as nonconformity (intelligent people are less likely to conform, denying religion is a way of nonconforming).

    b) Intelligent people “know better” than to believe in religion. The authors present this as a commonly-used argument, but develop the idea further, ultimately concluding that perhaps people who think analytically are more likely to deny religion, which can’t be explained analytically. One interesting quote from this section: “But why would intelligent people know better? It does not take a great deal of cognitive ability to understand that religion does not arise from scientific discourse.”

    c) Religion and intelligence as “functionally equivalent”. The authors focus on four benefits that religion provides, and discusses how intelligence might also provide the same benefits.

    (i) sense of external control: a sense that the world is ordered and predictable. This actually sounded – to me – a lot like the virtue of hope. Religious people put their trust in God, knowing that he has ordered the world. Intelligent people, the authors suggest, might be more easily able to substitute the idea that *they* are the ones in control.

    (ii) self-regulation: things like well-being and academic achievement. Here’s where self-control comes in. Basically, having religious beliefs and having intelligence are both positively correlated with self-control. The end.

    (iii) self-enhancement: feelings of self-worth. Again, pretty straight-forward. Belief in God and believing oneself to be smart might both enhance a person’s feelings of self-worth.

    (iv) attachment system: someone to turn to when you are troubled or lonely. The authors note that many religious people turn to God in times of trouble. They then argue that perhaps intelligent people don’t seem to need a god to turn to, because “intelligence also lowers loneliness through its effects on marital relations”. That is, intelligent people are more likely to be married than less-intelligent people, so they’ll have their spouses to turn to. (Which is exactly the argument I was looking for to explain all the atheist college students…)

    My takeaway from the articles: It *does* seem that the link between intelligence and lack of religiosity actually exists (and some of Father Pope’s comments as well as some of the comments in the discussion offer great perspective). While the article does draw some out-there conclusions, but it’s not as bad as the “Mail” claims.

    1. I have heard compelling arguments in the other direction. When you’re driving a race-car (high intellect), you have a greater propensity to hit the wall than does a pedestrian driver; hence, you need God. Likewise, when you’re too intelligent to have a peer-group (i.e. no one can compete with you), you need God lest you turn to the bottle of pills to be your peer-group. Granted, I think the intelligent will respond more readily to intelligently presented faith. Smart kids will see through the analogies and platitudes, and smart adults will observe flagrant hypocrisy (without knowing that it’s irrelevant), which is why we need smart people to share their faith with the young and the grown; unfortunately this enterprise pays nothing, and so the intelligent faithful need to be poor in spirit.

  19. The study isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Intelligence is culturally defined and surprise, surprise, the results match the culture of the people doing the study.

  20. It’s all baloney, of course. This is one of those studies that “prove” that conservatives were whiny kids or that most strippers are happy and have high IQs. Which makes me think of a short tale by the russian writer Anton Chechov called An Attack of Nerves (, wherein a law student dispairs over the spiritual emptiness of the prostitutes he met. Speaking of Russia, Stalin too loved this kind of “science” which he used to silence his adversaries.

    I’ve been both an atheist and a believer and I can say that my personal life was greatly improved by conversion. And this includes “self-esteem”, “self-control”, relationships and so forth.

  21. What this study understands by “and were able to do more for themselves” could easily mean lack of self control according to the Catholic understanding.

  22. As soon as I saw “The conclusions were the result of a review of 63 scientific studies about religion and intelligence dating between 1928 and last year,” my scientific hackles were raised. What is the nature of the study quoted by the “Mail”? Is it a systematic review? A meta-analysis? Does it discuss the design of each of the 63 individual studies? The selection criteria?

    I wouldn’t want to try to guess whether it’s easier to do bad science than bad religion, but it is easy.

    1. Abby’s summary above hadn’t been posted when I submitted my original comment. The only observation I can add (which may also be contained in the authors’ discussion) is that trying to derive a defensible conclusion from a meta-analysis of disparately designed studies is a sketchy proposition at best.

    2. Meta-analysis. Link to the article here (although it’s not available for free):

      I don’t have enough science background to understand the entire article, but what I read is vastly different from what the Mail reported. As in, the Mail seems to have confused the results and discussion sections.

      The design of the original component studies varied *widely*, both in terms of how religiosity was defined and in terms of how intelligence was measured… they discussed some of the differences, but they were obviously only able to consider the differences that they believed to be important. I also couldn’t figure out whether (or how?) they tried to control for time… intelligence testing and the US religious landscape have both changed rather a lot since the 1920s – 30s.

      1. As a psychiatric researcher in pre-ordination life, this study caught my eye. I, too, downloaded and reviewed the full text.

        Essentially, it’s useless.

        Table I catalogues the 63 studies used in the meta-analysis, and for each it specifies the intelligence measures used (e.g., WAIS, PPVT, Stanford-Binet, GRE, etc.). Their psychometric properties are known. But the religiosity measures are described only by their type (attendance, beliefs, membership, or mixed). If the individual studies specify what religiosity measures they used, the authors of the current article don’t tell us, nor is there any discussion in the article about the specific instruments used. Consequently, we have absolutely no clue about the reliability and validity of the measures.

        The authors did an awful lot of work, and we can have no idea what they established, because we don’t know what was measured or how well it was measured.

  23. The saying popularized by Mark Twain comes to mind:

    “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

    Unfortunately, the presentation of selected facts to promote a particular position is nothing new. We see it in every product advertisement and political campaign. Take for example the statement “four out of five dentists recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum.” Strictly speaking that statement isn’t false, but I suspect the truth is that “FIVE out of five dentists recommend that their patients don’t chew gum AT ALL.” [Of all the undergraduate and graduate courses I have taken, one of the most useful by far was the Language of Advertising course I took as a college junior.]

    The excerpts from the article don’t mention who conducted this literature review (and given your warning I am NOT going to go to the Mail’s website, as my employer’s IT department would probably blow up my computer). When a study, regardless of the particular scope, is funded or conducted by an entity invested in a particular outcome, one should be wary if that outcome is the result. Always ask: Who benefits?

  24. I am a Mensa member. I, too, was an atheist until God knocked me down like St. Paul. Once He enters your heart, no matter how high your IQ is, you MUST believe.

  25. I also started reading this article, it didn’t seem right to me either! I gave up reading it somewhere around the middle. And my thought was also: thank you, Lord, I’m so glad to be stupid (in their definition), and I shall die a “less intelligent’ Jesus lover. Amen.

  26. If you apriori decide that a certain outcome of thinking about something demonstrates reasoning and intelligence, then when someone else reasons to a different conclusion, you have, by prior definition, cast them as unable to reason and therefore unintelligent. Very circular to say the least. Very weighted to define everyone, but the atheist, as dumb and dumber. It would be a good exercise to see what the questions on these tests were and how a right answer was determined.

  27. Really?! Foremost of atheist is Mao Che Tung. He declared the little birds were eating the grains that could have fed the masses. So the whole population annihilated tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of sparrows. Hehehe. In a couple of months the whole of the Socialist China got hit with pestilence of insects emptying its grainhouses. Very intelligent indeed. Germany in the mid 20th century had the most PhDs of the world at that time and was goofed by atheist Hitler. Who needs intelligence? Stalin engaged in genocide of millions of Russians and where or what is the fruit of that now? Very intelligent indeed. Pol Pot did the same, so what happened to the perfect society he was establishing? Intelligence?! Hehehe. Dawkins? What has he done to alleviate the misery of the world, only ideas? Sorry, I rather have the Church than have these so-called intelligent homo sapiens. I rather have human persons than homo sapiens. I rather have wisdom than intelligence. I rather have epistemically humility than just rationality (thanks Mr. Patton). Emphaty than apathy. Thank you, Monsi for depending us the low IQs for I only have 120 and above average EQ. Btw, I adjust and fit in the society but I knew some with great IQs who are misfits.

  28. Prepare yourselves brothers and sisters in Christ. The onslaught is underway.

  29. The Daily Mail is one of the few UK newspapers to publish articles which do not accept the so-called ‘scientific consensus’ on global warming. For instance in October 2012 it published an article which showed that there has been no significant global warming over the past 16 years. It also publishes articles which are sympathetic to traditional moral values. It may be that the DM is not a high-brow paper. It may be that not everything that it publishes is wonderful but it certainly isn’t as bad as it has been painted by some of its critics. However, what sort of paper the DM is is really irrelevant. They are merely reporting something written in the USA. Don’t blame the messenger.

  30. Who’s less intelligent, the one who knows their home is in heaven and acts in a way so as to merit it or the one whose intelligence is limited by what he can see. Those who accept the supernatural have more wisdom in this case when compared to those who are limited by the finite.

  31. I agree with you that the “scientific study” is falsely named and you illustrated that very well.
    It seems to me that the report should say that believers tend to be more superstitious than non believers, who tend to be impious.

    The virtue of “piety” or “religion” and the human tendency to one extreme or the other is a large factor behind much of this report.
    Impiety on the one side (most akin to the atheist), and superstition on the other (attributed to the believer).
    Most people view “religious people” as superstitious, and this seems to fit to some extent.
    The more superstitious a person is, the more “holy” or “religious” they are mistakenly thought to be.
    Many superstitious people are drawn to religion.

    The modern atheist is often the true opposite of the superstitious believer and values his impiety and scepticism as a “dogma” just as unquestioningly as the superstitious believer does his superstition.
    They are both weak positions, and at opposite sides of the virtue of religion.

    I think that what under lies this report is the view that the superstitious believer is guilty of uncritical thinking.
    Faith seeking understanding is the proper measure of critical thinking.
    But it requires virtue and effort to hold to this “mean” or balance.
    Our fallen nature tends to one extreme or the other which can be an on going struggle.

    “Faith seeking understanding” allows for all levels of intelligence to enter into the church.
    The application of our faith in detail, like saint Augustine shows in his “Confessions”, is possible but not easy to do.
    But sadly, many, though not all, believers find it “impious” to question their faith in order to piously understand it better.
    This is a weakness in them and a failure to eat His body and drink His blood in a spiritual sense.
    It is a hinderance to growing in wisdom. i.e. piously meditating on our Lord’s life, the catholic deposit of faith and applying it in reality.

  32. Aren’t we both ‘believers’? They believe that doing well for them selves is good. We believe that doing good for all is good.

    They believe that now is where every thing is. We believe that here after is where every thing is.

    They believe that they are smart to follow their desires. We believe that we are smart to follow Christ.

  33. I am sorry but my research shows that the exact opposite is true. Religious and spiritual persons, especially educated Catholics have higher IQs. Your entire argument is based on their research being true and it’s not.

    1. Well I don’t know if it is me to whom you refer or some other comment. But please do not miss my tongue in cheek tone and my “Couldn’t care less” premise. My only real argument here is that the “study” isn’t really science at all, at least as we use the term today, and is laughable from the get-go. I also argue that wisdom is a greater gift that lots of intellectual smarts.

  34. The real truth is that in order to get money from grants, scientists know better than to inject their religious beliefs into their work. It pays big bucks to knock down religion. Expressing religious beliefs is the political kiss of death in many scientific institutions and circles like universities, hospital, and clinics. Anyone disagree? Being a closet Catholic and openly atheist is a matter of being able to work or not. That is why it seems like atheism is the new religion and the more zealot one is, the less tolerant to other religions the more points one scores with the new atheist masters.

    1. The building blocks of all Scientific Institutions are just not compatible with the Religious Institutions. Our most basic characteristic that is different are theories versus faith. We demand that our theories must be falsifiable or it just isn’t good science. Our theories must make predictions. Our theories do not require a “leap of faith”. If you find this standard hostile then you will take comfort that even lesser scientific minds do too…:)

      1. Well but your opening claim is somewhat belied by the fact that most universities, and even the scientific method per se were developed in the Christian era, often in Christian and Catholic Universities, and that not a few important breakthroughs in science were from priests and monks.

        Perhaps it is true that the modern conception of science has become so narrowed that the realms are wholly different (I would not say incompatible). But the narrowing of categories and terms in this matter are only about 100 years old. Prior to the modern era, the term “science” was used more widely and referenced its Latin root (scientia = knowledge) more fully. I concede that in the modern era “science” has come to mean for most people the physical sciences. I am not unsympathetic to the idea that the physical sciences have boundaries and processes that all should respect as proper to that realm. Hence I don’t think we can ask science and scientists to speak to formal or final causality. The physical sciences are more apt to material and to some degree efficient causality.

        We who are religious should respect the limits of science. But I would also ask the same respect for boundaries from the scientific world. I think it is an egregious violation when some one like Stephen Hawking claims the theological mantle and tries to use the physical sciences to make theological statements about the existence of God. Whatever his smarts in the physical sciences or his personal belief in a no-God universe, to try an use the physical sciences to make a metaphysical claim shows that he is a poor philosopher and I think it does harm to science.

        By the way, faith does make predictions. Some of which have come true already, others which await a future moment. You may choose to reject the evidence that they did come true, but it is not right to say that faith does not make predictions. As for me the predictions of the coming of the Messiah and his attributes did come true, Jesus predictions to rise from the dead came true, so did other predictions, e.g. the destruction of the Jewish Temple, the going forth of the Gospel to all nations, the indefectibility of the Church, etc. Some also argue that Our Lady at Fatima pretty precisely laid out the history of the 20th in 1917 and that what she predicted came to pass. etc…..

        I see predictions, I see evidence of fulfillment, I draw conclusions. I also have theories and hunches just like scientists that I test by experience, some I later reject based on that, others I refine, still others hold true as theorized. Hence though the phyical is distinct form the metaphysical, the methodology is not wholly incompatible as I think you state.

  35. If I may ask without retribution or disrespect, what aspect of your faith is falsifiable, easily verifiable by everyone, and makes predictions?

    If I am wrong, then I humbly apologize for my ignorance.

  36. You can’t prove that God exits? I don’t think I have to; Saint Thomas did an admirable job.
    You can’t prove an unborn child is human, a person? I don’t think I have to. Science and philosophy seem to have done an admirable job.
    Maybe the problem isn’t the proof but the person who rejects it.
    We are all false prophets to ourselves. We all play the con man to ourselves. We all have a tendency to buy into our own bs. I think the first measure of truth is that it aligns with reality. For many, ideology trumps reality. For us fallen sinners, our need to see ourselves as righteous trumps reality.
    The problem with smart people is that they are better able to con themselves, to buy into their own bs, to convince themselves. Look at the way the Anglicans have twisted themselves into knots to deny what Scripture says.
    This is the judgement, light has come into the world and men loved the darkness because their deeds are evil. I sin. I wrap myself in intellectual darkness to avoid seeing my sin as sin. I deny the light to protect my view of myself as righteous, my sin as excused.
    We don’t kill the child because it is less than human. We deny its humanity so that we may kill it and preserve a view of ourselves as righteous. We deny God’s existence not because the proof is inadequate but so that we may be as God knowing good from evil.

  37. I saw a report within the last year that claimed that smart people tend to believe in the supernatural more than those of average intelligence. The report explained this by talking about how intelligent people tend to make connections between ideas and think more abstractly, and they therefore could sometimes be surprisingly gullible. I don’t believe either that report or this one.

    1. Well Sarah, being a scientist and knowing science and math does not make you an atheist, rather many factors come to play as I mentioned in a post above.

      As trends go, actually, mathematicians tend to be ‘believers’, usually because the beauty and logic of Mathematics canNOT be ‘reduced’ to the materialist view of atheism.

      indeed mathematics itself is one of the stuble blocks of eliminative materialism (i.e. only the material world exists) and scientism (only empirical science gives us the truth… math gives us many truths but it is not a nempirical science)

      1. I agree with you FM.
        My background is that of a teacher who specialised in teaching Mathematics up to University level. In the school (a Catholic High School) at which I taught for many, many years, the students knew very well which teachers were the most faithful in their Catholicism. I even heard some of them say what their thoughts were. They all regarded the Mathematics teachers as being the ones who most showed their Catholicism. As you say FM, the beauty and and logic of Mathematics canNOT be “reduced” to the materialist view which is atheism. As I have said above, Renee Descartes demonstrated that being an atheist is a very bad bet indeed. They have to be so very sure that there is no God because, if they are wrong (and they are) then their chances of heaven in the next life are either exactly zero or very close to it.

  38. It really does not take a US Study to tell us that atheists consider themselves superior to people of faith! If they
    thought otherwise we would have heard eons ago. We know that God does not reveal His truth to those who
    are hardened of mind and heart. Rather He is more likely to be with the lowly and humble of this world who
    do not chase after the current trends and fashions. This is just another verse to the old Marxist song
    called religion is* opium for the people*. Right now, on many university and college campuses, and among
    the intellegentia it is vogue to be down on religions of all kinds and shapes. Why should a Christian even care what they think about us? Or be surprised by their condescension? Jesus Christ, our Saviour, told us what to expect if we follow Him. So if we cannot have an intelligent conversation about religion, but only one that is doomed from the start we know what we have to do: Shake the dust from our sandals and move on.

  39. I could prove that atheism is the belief of fascists.

    Typically atheists regimes:

    Nazism (yes they were not all atheists but its philiosphiocal foundations often corresponds to the foundations of atheism… and indeed many trends in modern atheis reflect some trends in nazism, like eugenics, euthanasia, post-natal abortion).



    North Korea

    and others.

    Apparently ‘atheist societies’ are strongly fascist, strongly anti-human life, etc…

    So, by using the same logic as the ‘daily mail’ I could say “Atheism breeds dictatorship and genocide, study says”.

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