As I have previously posted, I did a couple of short videos with Seth “The Thinking Atheist” Andrews on the psychology of belief. Overall, the response has been great so far, with almost 20,000 views in the first 24 hours of release. However, one of those has generated a bit of heat and controversy in the comments section, as several people have questioned my statement in the video that people who are religious are not less intelligent than those who are non-religious.
While I was teaching at Arkansas Tech University from 2006-2009, I had the privilege of supervising a number of master’s thesis projects. One of those, by Julie White, was an experimental study designed to examine the following question: What relationships are seen between intelligence as measured by a standard test, religiosity, and fundamentalist belief systems? Since it was completed, several other studies have also come out that I will address.
Therefore, this is the first of a four or five (not sure yet, we will see what happens) part series on what we actually know about the issue from a scientific viewpoint, what we don’t know, and what is commonly cited as knowledge around the Internet but may, in fact, be wrong. These posts are largely adapted from Ms. White’s thesis (with her kind permission) with additions by me for newer literature that has come out.
The issue of intelligence and religion is a heated one in today’s society. Religion plays an important role in the lives of most Americans today. A recent poll found that 83% of Americans claim that religion is at least a fairly important part of their lives and that 82% of Americans considered themselves to be Christians (Gallup, Inc., 2007). A person’s religious values can impact multiple areas of his or her life, from choice of a marriage partner to accruement of wealth (for a review, see Lehrer, 2004). Religious beliefs have also been found to significantly affect people’s opinions concerning education, scientific research, and numerous other areas. A recent public opinion survey of over 2,000 people showed that 60% of white evangelical Christians believe that if the Bible and the will of the American people conflict, the Bible should have a larger influence on U.S. laws (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, & Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2006). The poll also found that those with little education, those who believe the Bible is the literal word of God, and conservative Republicans are likely to share this view.
Within the United States, this preference has been particularly evident with the rise of Christian fundamentalism and its political influence over the past 85 years, impacting laws on the teaching of evolution, stem cell research, and abortion rights. The word “fundamentalist” made its first print appearance in 1920 in reference to traditional Christian beliefs that opposed liberal Protestants’ acceptance of modern and secular ideas, especially teaching evolution in public schools (Davis, 2005).
The posts that follows will examine a variety of research concerning factors related to intelligence and religion. First, studies evaluating the impact of church attendance, liberality of religious beliefs, and Protestant fundamentalism on educational attainment will be addressed. Second, the research concerning the religious beliefs of respected scientists, as a group of highly educated and presumably intelligent men and women, will be reviewed. Finally, religious beliefs as they relate to various measures of intelligence will be examined. Following this review of the literature will be a summary and critique of the existing literature and suggestions for how to move forward to improve our knowledge and our discourse.
(for a list of cited works, please contact me)