According to a recent meta-analysis of 63 different papers studying religious beliefs and intelligence, atheists are more intelligent, in general, than those holding religious beliefs.
Three researchers – Miron Zuckerman, Jordan Silberman and Judith A. Hall from the University of Rochester and the Northeastern University – led the study, and found significant negative correlation between measures of intelligence and measures of religiosity.
As they noted, the negative correlation was strongest in university students, and weakest in children and teens. They also noted that religious belief seemed to be a better indicator than religious behavior; that is, how much the religion was practiced mattered less than how much was believed.
For clarity, they defined religiosity as “the degree of involvement in some or all facets of religion.” Included in this was belief in supernatural elements, or the offering of property as sacrifice, or other communal rituals (such as church attendance), as well as “lower existential anxieties such as death due to a belief in supernatural agents” (that is, a belief in heaven).
The researchers were clear to state that they don’t have a theory for why non-religious people have shown repeatedly greater levels of intelligence, but did note that a place for further examination may be that the divide is greatest among university students.
After all, more intelligent students are more likely to embrace atheism as a form of non-conformity; as further schooling tends to expose people to new ideas and influences, students tend to either lose their beliefs or get more religious during this time, according to the study. These changes are often as a result of “the self-exploration that typifies emerging adulthood and that is often observed in students” as “the separation from home and the exposure to a context that encourages questioning may allow intelligence to impact religious beliefs”.
The study covered research from the past 80 years, so it was quite comprehensive.
Read the study in full here.
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