If you google the question of relative intelligence between the religious and non-religious, the results are interesting. Most of the top links confirm that religious people are less intelligent than atheists, and then proceed to explain why.
Intuition vs. Science
Some conclude that religious folks rely on intuition or default to a higher power in some form or fashion, while atheists are just…. smarter because they focus on provable facts. Bill Maher summarized this conventional wisdom best by saying,
“”We are a nation that is unenlightened because of religion. I do believe that. I think that religion stops people from thinking . . . . I think religion is a neurological disorder . . . . I am just embarrassed that it has been taken over by people like evangelicals, by people who do not believe in science and rationality.”
Instinct vs. Intelligence
Then there are others who explain the results by viewing religious people as relying on instinct rather than intelligence:
“Religion is an instinct, they say, and people who can rise above instincts are more intelligent than those who rely on them.”
Finally, there are those who see education as the dividing line between the secular and the religious. Pew Research offered findings that stratify various denominations by level of advanced (college) degrees. The most “educated” are Hindus (77%), then Unitarian Universalists (67%), and farther down Atheists’ (43%). Average Americans come in at 27% while, near the bottom, Southern Baptist, are only 19% and Assemblies of God 13% of those surveyed as having a 4-year college degree.
A Christian Response
Of course, then there are the Christian websites, such as NAMB (North American Mission Board. – part of the Southern Baptist Convention) who, attempted to curate a number of the studies and has concluded,
“The common claim that studies have shown repeatedly that religious people are less intelligent is highly misleading. It ignores the results of almost half of the studies conducted. Overall, the results have been very inconclusive.”
Other Christian websites take a different tack which sidesteps the issue entirely, stating platitudes such as,
“but there are many Christian apologists, with credentials rivaling any atheist’s, who are quite willing to counter the claims of atheism”
Doesn’t It Make Sense
From a logical secular perspective, if given the choice between an unprovable God and demonstratable Science, those with higher intelligence and the better educated would naturally gravitate toward the latter worldview.
Briefly, my view is best summed up by stating the obvious.
As a Biblical Christian, I am personally very comfortable being identified in a group having an assumed overall lower IQ than atheists. These tests measure human intelligence and, for those without God, that is exactly what they need to rely on in order to be “successful” in life.
Christians have something much better. We invest more time in studying the Creator of the universe rather than then the universe itself. We can rely on God’s truth, His wisdom, and His solutions for life’s challenges in and through the Holy Spirit and the Scripture. I would trade away a higher IQ for faith any day, not to mention for eternity, if given the choice…. which, by the way, we are given the choice.
Like so many other principles in our Biblical Christian worldview, we need to remember that believers are not of this world, we are passing through it (Phil. 3:20). Christians should recognize that our views are foolishness to the lost (1 Cor. 1:18, 1:26-27, 2:14, 3:18). Further, we know that the fear of the Lord is the real beginning of all wisdom (Proverbs 1:7). Ultimately, knowledge comes from God, not man or science (1 Cor. 1:30, James 3:17). Finally, and most importantly, our calling is not to outsmart those who do not share our faith, but to love them as Christ loves the church and gave Himself up for it (Eph. 5:2).
There were good comments to this post that offered an opinion on the definition of the word “intelligence”. Pew Research used higher education as its criteria. Others used formal IQ testing as a basis for their definition.
Some Christians correctly argue that the acceptance of an omnipotent God and a personal relationship with the risen Savior is the greatest eternal definition of intelligence one can imagine. That would certainly be my perspective.
1 Corinthians 2:16 “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.