Are intelligent people are less likely to believe in god?

Today I ran across an article (here) which seems to think so.  It discusses some research done recently tying a decline in religious observance over the last century to a rise in average intelligence.

The research was being conducted by Professor Richard Lynn, emeritus professor of psychology at Ulster University.

Apparently there was an additional survey done of Royal Society fellows which found that only 3.3% believed in God.  Another poll done in the 90’s found only 7% of the American National Academy of Sciences believed in God.

Lynn said “Why should fewer academics believe in God than the general population?  I believe it is simply a matter of the IQ.  Academics have higher IQ’s than the general population.  Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQs tend not to believe in God.

I’m not sure intelligence is the right word, but perhaps education.  Is this because as man becomes more educated they feel more self-sufficient, more superior, and as such, less prone to a belief wherein they rely on someone other than themselves – God?

Perhaps it’s that education relies on reason, proof, and logic, not faith, hope and trust… the thought that if it can’t be roved, then it’s not true.

Perahps the great apostasy, or falling away from the church of Christ, necessitating a full restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith, was in part due to the natural effects of educational evolution over time.

But the goal, of course, is not to remain ignorant, but to remain humble.  The ability to pursue intellectual increase while sustaining humility and testimony is one of the great challenges of life, because it is contrary to the tendency of the natural man.

In the article, Lynn said “… most primary school children believed in God, but as they entered adolescence – and their intelligence increased – many started to have doubts.”

No wonder the Lord so commonly counsels that we must be as little children, without malice, guile, or hypocrisy.


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18 replies
  1. JimD says:

    Sounds to me like Lynn is conflating “intelligence” with “education”.

    From Rusty: Well said. I agree, and have edited my comments accordingly. Thanks for pointing that out.

  2. Michelle Glauser says:

    So this study was just in America? I have a religion and politics class and a secularity and society class at the moment, and we’ve read all sorts of stuff about how the overall numbers of religious are going up in the world, but secularity is more accepted in the Western world, and that religion has become more individualized. Interesting stuff. Some suggested reading to anyone interested:

    Lambert: Religion in American Politics
    Jenkins: God’s Continent
    Wuthnow: After the Baby Boomers
    Norris and Inglehart: Sacred and Secular
    Casanova: Public Religions in the Modern World
    Hurd: The Politics of Secularism in International Relations
    Taylor: A Secular Age
    Berger: The Desecularization of the World

    From Rusty: Actually, it looks to me like it was done in the UK. Thanks for the list of references for additional reading! These all look very interesting.

  3. Victor says:

    Hi there,

    I’d like just to comment about this passage:
    “No wonder the Lord so commonly counsels that we must be as little children, without malice, guile, or hypocrisy.”

    If you have to be as a little child to believe in God, than you must love ignorance. Children are creatures that just accept whatever we say to them and have no power of analisys.

    And more, little children are way more malicious, guiles and hypocrites than adults. They just think about their own, even when they give those little cute smiles to their parents. They’re always lying to their parents, to their colleagues, etc.

    That said, I think you should try to find a better argument for us to believe in God than just saying all humankind should act like children.


    LOL. We’ve sure had diffiferent experiences with children. Little children are full of hope, they’re capable of believing things without being required for them to be proven. They’re naturally optimistic, and tend to see things not as they are, but as they can be, often looking and hoping for the best in any scenario. Still, the encouragement to be as a child comes not from me, but Christ.

    If I were to attempt to help someone believe in God, I would focus more on helping them open their eyes to the things which surround them. I do think that education tends to endoctrinate us with the notion that things must be proven, there must be evidence, etc. But the evidence of God is what surrounds us. Man attempts, with all dilligence, to leverage the science behind our environment as proof in refutation of God, when in reality, we’re merely coming to understand the way God does what he does. I think this might call for a separate post.

  4. xochimique says:

    do you describe the self-sufficiency felt by intellectuals based on your concept of yourself or your suppositions of others? i don’t mean to challenge you, not at all, but i’m an atheist and an intellectual, and i do not consider myself intellectually or emotionally “self-sufficient” in the slightest.

    what i’m trying to get at, i suppose, is that i am not convinced with your distinction between intelligence and faith, if faith has to do with “hope and trust.”

    i think the ultimate demonstration of intelligence is emotional intelligence. i do not believe the two are in any way mutually exclusive. theoretically emotional intelligent people will bridge the gaps between one man and the next and bring about true societal cooperation akin to what may well be the meaning of god. obviously that involves a certain level of academic intelligence, but it is nothing without an emotional intelligence to keep it in check.

    just a thought!

    From Rusty: I think you’re absolutely right. To be honest, I do use my concept of myself in saying that intelligence breeds a self-sufficient attitude. I think that was a perceptive comment, and more true than I’d like to admit. I like your description of emotional intelligence, and it’s ability to be harmonious with educational intelligence. Thanks for your contribution.

  5. David says:

    Uh… way to try to spin the facts your way. Sorry to say I’m not convinced.

    Intelligent people may or may not feel superior. Pride often has nothing to do with reality… and I don’t think is an effect of intelligence. If anything, intelligence makes one more aware of our chemical nature and how little responsibility or agency we actually have. A physicist who studies billions of galaxies is proud? I don’t think so… he knows how insignificant that collection of molecules which he calls his body is.

    From Rusty: I don’t think that all intellectuals share your maturity of perspecitve in relation to themselves.

    “If it can’t be proved, then it’s not true.” No. If it can’t be proved… then there’s no reason to believe it. And actually, even this statement is false too. It should be more like, “If it is not demonstrated to be statistically probable, there is no reason to believe it.” This is science and saves us from a milieu of mythologies.

    From Rusty: “If it is not demonstrated to be statistically probable, there is no reason to believe it.”

    Now this is indeed interesting. If you took many of the technologies, or theories of science that we know to be “true” today, and jumped back in time 200, 300, 400 years or more and told them “this is true” they’d think you looney. But in reality, you’re not looney, just blessed with the opportunity to have been able to see beyond the limitations of understanding inherent to the current time frame. The same would be true to us if someone from 400 years in the future came and showed us the “truth” from their time. Scientists are constantly discovering things that disprove old theories.

    So if we shouldn’t believe something unless we find it to be statistically probable, then all we’re doing is blinding ourselves to greater knowledge.

    Religion simply gives us this perspective, an understanding of principles, powers, and truth that are beyond our current capacity to understand. Of course, it’s value is much more than explaining our environment, but extends to the achievement of exaltation.

  6. wavethrush says:

    I don’t believe in god even though I am a Humanities major and do not have a very science-oriented brain. I don’t believe in a god, but that doesn’t mean I am arrogant, that I have feelings of “superiority,” or that I am not humble. I don’t need to believe in a god to feel humble of my surroundings, humble about the vast, complex world around me. I don’t think humans are the superior species.

    It seems to me that people who do believe in god judge those who don’t just as much as the other way around.

    From Rusty: Agreed, and it wasn’t until after I read some of these comments that I realized my post required editing. Not all intellectuals are arrogant, or feel superior. I meant to speak in generalities to describe a trend over time. But yes, there are people like yourself who have found balance between education and humility. The two are not mutually exclusive, but rather there is a strong statistical association 😉

  7. mormonsoprano says:

    Rusty, I think you have struck a nerve with this post! I suspect it is the nerve directly connected to the human “pride” zone. 🙂 The people who ran this study obviously have never met or spoken with scholarly religious giants such as Neal A. Maxwell, Truman Madsen, C.S. Lewis, and millions more with IQs off the charts and solid religious faith! Your post made me think of my recent post “Mormon Temple Study” which includes the video documentary “Between Heaven and Earth”. In this documentary renown world religious scholars and intellectuals were interviewed such as Frank Moore Cross (Harvard Divinity School), Krister Stendahl (Emeritus Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm), Lawrence Schiffman (Hebrew Studies NYU), John Lundquist, Truman Madsen, President Boyd K. Packer, and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (LDS), among others. All of these persons possess amazing minds and high IQs, and are also capable of intense spirituality. In fact, intelligence enhances belief in God when coupled with the principle of humility.

    I think that the key interpretation of “becoming childlike” or being “humble” means to allow ourselves to be honest with who we really are; the whole package of our capabilities coupled with our limitations. A person of sound reason accepts that we do not know all things, we can never know all things (at least in this life – for one thing there isn’t enough time!), and that we actually need help from a higher power to know anything! After all, we should give credit where credit is due. We each are a living, breathing, thinking, reasoning being that exists separately from our own power – with a brain that is not of our own invention – and not humanly possible to recreate. We have physical and intellectual gifts that scientists can imitate to a degree but never replicate exactly nor completely. In fact, scientists and medical professionals who spend their lives studying this one singular biological miracle (the brain) will be the first to acknowledge nothing short of reverence for its design and capacity. Therefore, I submit that “exercising faith in”, or at least accepting that there is a powerful force at work in our universe is a logical acknowledgment. This becomes the highest form of intellectual reason and choice one can make.

    Something to ponder: My opinion is that if one decides there is no God, and closes the door on the possibility of God, then one does not allow themselves to learn anything further in the intellectual realm of our spiritual discovery. Those who truly seek to learn as much as possible would want to keep all doors of their mind open and seeking.

    Wow, what marvelous thoughts and comments! First, it truly makes you appreciate the likes of men such as those you mention above.

    I also really like your notion that a true scientist is willing to explore all paths, and only by keeping their minds open to all options, can they really find truth. Conducting any experiment, with predetermined prejudices, negates the value of the experiment because your prejudices naturally shape your results. If you were to try to understand our environment (any part of it, large or small), by definition, you’d have to allow a place for the possibility of God, or the results of yoru exploration are merely the natural path of self-fulfilling prophecy.

  8. Dan (Fitness) says:

    Interesting that the study looked at belief in God, rather than belief in organized religion, general spirituality, or a host of other indicators. That’d be an interesting read.

  9. Margaret says:

    Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if everyone’s mind and heart were open to all truth? But to be able to discern truth from falsehood, one would certainly need to be in tune with the source of all truth, that is, Our Heavenly Father.

  10. ginawriter says:

    Frankly, I believe the more intelligent people are, the more they give wonderings on an all knowing, omnipresent God. Or perhaps you’ve not been ganged up on by a league of morons.

    Never the less, we’re all in trouble.

    Yeah, in fact, purportedly, Einstein himself said the following:

    “I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangements of the books, but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.”

  11. babaliciou5 says:

    Tricky term you got there, intelligent people are less likely to believe in God. Well to me, it’s suppossed tobe ‘intelligents beat hell out of unintellectual Church dogmas’.

    People with high IQ levels do preserve the notion of god’s existence and its importance, they just happen not to believe what you refer to as a true god is the righteous god.

  12. josephudo says:

    When people think they are intelligent they are actually challenging the Universe which was made by God. The universe is so vast that no one can even predict or guess if it has an end. Even on Earth, there are so many things like microbes to macrobes that people know little to nothing about. And so, mankind has said so many things in this life and in the past that has been “proven” wrong by himself that he has a lot of nerve considering himself intelligent. The real stupidity of man is to arogantly fade away from the real God, Who needs not be arogant because he is intellilgent and everything else in the universe. and the Heavens.

  13. John says:

    As someone who has spent the majority of my life in academia (Bachelors degree, J.D., Masters, and completing my Ph.D.) I have known more than a few of my professors quite well. Several were atheists but the majority described themselves as Christian. Perhaps there is a signficant difference between the humanities and the “hard” sciences. 😉

  14. David says:

    “The people who ran this study obviously have never met or spoken with scholarly religious giants such as Neal A. Maxwell, Truman Madsen, C.S. Lewis, and millions more with IQs off the charts and solid religious faith!”

    Respectfully, this is again a misunderstanding of the way science works. Just because there are a few people who score well on an IQ test and also call themselves religious does not disprove that intelligent tend not to be religious.

    Let’s couple the findings of this study with the obvious statement that intelligent people more correctly understand the state of the universe (that seems to be what intelligence is), and you have a clear interpretation of these facts. No “I am superior to intelligent atheists because I can twist this study to say what I want” required.

  15. Brad says:

    I think those who seem to be offended at this post are being a little too harsh and interpreting in their minds the purpose of this post.

    The title, to begin with, obviously has a typo. It is meant to say “Are intelligent people less likely to believe in God?” This poses a question open for discussion. However, because it actually says “Are intelligent people are less likely to believe in God?” Those who seem to be upset by this post are taking part of the title and running with it, believing that this post makes the statement that “Intelligent people ARE less likely to believe in God.”

    Again, the author asks a question that many are supposing to be a statement. If it is a question, and it is, then it’s open for discussion, it’s a curiosity, its the idea that what the question poses is possible. The question is “Is this because as man becomes more educated they feel more self-sufficient, more superior, and as such, less prone to a belief wherein they rely on someone other than themselves – God?”

    I would say that, in many cases, this is true. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen people become more educated and “intellectual” and as a result begin to believe that nothing can be unless it can be proven. As a result, their belief in God deteriorates.

    However, as many have stated, I have also seen many people who, as a result of their increased education and intellect, increase in faith. This is due to the idea that “the more you know the less you know.” Their learning has humbled them and helped them realize how much more there is to know. They’ve correlated the fact that many years ago what we know today couldn’t be “proven” and what we can’t prove today can be known in the future through faith and development.

    To state that the author has “twisted” words or facts and made “tricky” statements is a sign of pride. It shows that you read one part of the post which tugged on your heartstrings causing you to react abruptly by trying to show the author he is wrong or right, rather than continuing the discussion and posting only your thoughts and opinions politely.


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