Does religious belief imply stupidity?


Does being religious justify being labelled “stupid?”.

The short simple answer is – No, there are plenty of very smart highly intelligent humans who are also religious, in fact some of the most famous thinkers, philosophers, and scientists in history have been religious.

Ah, so that might imply some truth then?

Actually no, not at all, the things that are true, can be demonstrated to be true using solid objective independently verifiable evidence, and so the reason so many buy into other beliefs, is for cultural and emotional reasons, not because it is actually true at all.

OK, case closed then, religious belief does not correlate in any way to human intelligence.

… except that is not strictly true either.

A 2013 Meta-analysis of 63 studies conducted between 1928 and 2012 found that people who are more religious score worse on varying measures of intelligence.

Oh heck, so labelling religious people as “Stupid” is justifiable after all.

No wait, it’s not that simple (it never is), because the above is a correlation and does not in any way imply either a causal relationship, nor does it imply that it is a universal truth. For example, there are highly intelligent philosophers alive today who are theists, and some quite stupid people who are non-religious. As for verification of that last point, I can simply point out that I’m not religious.

OK, so the degree of intelligence in a human, can tend to create a leaning towards non-belief, why is it like that?

There are in fact three possible reasons, and these are as follows …

  1. Intelligent people are less likely to conform and, thus, are more likely to resist the cultural norm. In other words, intelligence leads to nonconformity, so if intelligent individuals live in a religious society, they will often go in a different direction. Sometimes in a deeply religious society that may in fact manifest in holding different unique religious beliefs, for example Isaac Newton embraced some truly weird religious beliefs.
  2. Intelligent people often tend to think more analytically in contrast to intuitively (heuristic-based, mostly non-conscious, and fast). Such analytical thinking will in turn lead to a lower degree of belief because it utilises empirical tests or logical reasoning which will often filter out religious beliefs.
  3. Religion is popular because it has evolved and been naturally selected due to its ability to tap into the human mind and meet some of the psychological needs that humans have – a sense of control, self-regulation, self-enhancement, attachment. Intelligence can also meet those same needs and so the gaps that belief would flow into have already been filled.
    • A deeper understanding can yield a better sense of control
    • Delayed gratification is also often a product of the better memory associated with intelligence
    • Being intelligent, and knowing it, also leads to a higher sense of self-worth
    • Intelligence can also lead to individuals building a network of relationships and are also less lightly to be single, and so naturally fulfil the desire for companionship and need not fall back upon religion for that.

Is it universal that Intelligence leads to non-belief?

Actually no, I’m suggesting that it simply creates a natural nudge in that direction, but that need not imply that there is any certainty that non-belief will be the natural outcome of intelligence.

For example, a 2013 study that looks at what contemporary professional Philosophers believe found the following …


So yes, there is clearly a rather strong leaning towards non-belief, but note that it is not universally true, because 14.6% of these highly intelligent individuals lean towards theism. (and no, I have no idea was “other” means in this context, but then that is perhaps the non-conformist streak manifesting itself in a pool of individuals who are generally non-believers).

How Universal is the Meta-Analysis?

There are a few rather important additional points to note:

  • The Meta-analysis only looked at analytic intelligence, and that is not the full scope of what makes us human. Additionally it is also not the full definition of the word “intelligence”.
  • Most of those who participated live in the US, UK and Canada (87% to be precise), so it does not reflect what happens in other cultures.
  • If indeed non-belief is what happens when a non-conforming intelligent person lives in a generally religious context does, what happens when a non-conforming intelligent person lives in a generally non-religious context, how would that manifest? We don’t really know, except for the 12.6% of philosophers who ticked “other” when asked about atheism or theism.
  • It was a meta-analysis of a lot of other studies, some of which may have been potentially poor, and yet in theory a meta-analysis should factor that in.


The meta-analysis simply identified a correlation and does not establish a causal relationship. The reasons identified above are simply speculative attempts to explain the identified correlation and have not actually been verified … yet.

Are all religious people stupid? – No, not at all, you simply can’t say that because such a causal relationship has not been established, but it does appear to imply that intelligence can tend to create a rather natural gentle nudge that might, or might not, actually manifest itself as atheism.


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