Are atheists smarter than their religious peers? The stereotype of the smug atheist is one with which both churchgoers and the non-religious alike are familiar, and, anecdotal evidence aside, many studies have addressed the relative intellect of both groups.
So many, in fact, that researchers at the University of Rochester seeking the answer to the question of whether atheists trend smarter than religious folk were able to cull more than 60 in a mega-study, examining the consistency of data on whether Jesus makes you dumber.
The answer? Ostensibly, but not for the reasons you might suspect.
Miron Zuckerman and his research team aimed to discover whether atheism and intellect were related in the meta-analysis, looking at decades’ worth of research in 63 scientific studies. What they found was that in 53 of the 63 studies, a “a reliable negative relation between intelligence and religiosity” was observed in participants.
Even among the very elderly, the more intelligent subjects were less likely to believe in any god or gods, and the large cache of data gave researchers a bit more insight into why that seems to be the case.
The study, published in Personality and Social Psychology Review, noted that many atheism and intellect studies “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.’ ”
However, researchers came to a slightly deeper set of conclusions on why atheists may be “smarter” than their God-fearing counterparts. It seems that as intellect correlates with other traits relating to self-determination and follow through, beliefs may fall to the wayside as individuals exercise control over and map out their lives.
“Intelligent people typically spend more time in school—a form of self-regulation that may yield long-term benefits… More intelligent people get higher level jobs [which] may lead to higher self-esteem, and encourage personal control beliefs… more intelligent people are more likely to get and stay married… though for intelligent people, that too comes later in life. We therefore suggest that as intelligent people move from young adulthood to adulthood and then to middle age, the benefits of intelligence may continue to accrue.”
The study on whether atheists are smarter also noted that poverty and other circumstances that involve less agency in one’s own life led to a greater instance of embrace of religion or deist beliefs.