Are atheists more intelligent than religious people?
You may have read about the recent meta-study, which showed that atheists tend to have higher IQs than religious people. This is yet another example of the (re) emergence of hyper-rationalism. Call it the second wave. The first wave occurred during the Soviet and Nazi regimes’ reigns. I’m not throwing the “Hitler Fallacy” out there just to scare or shame people into seeing things my way. Nor is this my call to anti-rationalism. In the case of Soviet Leninism and Nazi Fascism, both used science as propaganda in order to further ideology.
The message that some people would like broadcast from this study is that smart people are atheists, dumb people believe in God. Without going into the obvious causation/association issues with this argument, let’s look at why the study is nearly meaningless.
First, as the article I linked to states, what a study like this ends up doing is measuring things that the researches didn’t really intend to measure. IQ is a major factor in success in school, and SAT scores are largely reflective of IQ. Higher SAT score equals access to better schools.
So, children with higher IQs have a much better chance of going to college. The more intelligent they are, the better chance they have of going to elite schools, like Harvard, Yale, Stanford or Berkley.
Each university has a culture. That culture for the most part is secular and liberal. This is in part due to an influx of intellectuals with left-leaning sentiments during the 50s and 60s, into the major universities. Many were outright Communists. A pillar of Communism is atheism. So we find on many campuses that smart people are atheists because “that’s what other smart people believe”. Of course, we would likely find a very different correlation at another elite school that is associated with religion: Notre Dame. I have no doubt that if we were to measure the IQs of Communist sympathizers and compare them to the IQs of say, average people in America during the 50s, 60s, and 70s,, we would find that the Communists had higher IQs. But Communism utterly failed, and few today in America are full-blown Leninists. But these “Communists” became so by hanging around birds with red feathers. Eventually they grew their own red feathers. A problem with intellectuals as opposed to scientists, is that they tend to over generalize. As Friedrich Heyek noted, many left-leaning intellectuals ignore the specifics, that is, the science of economics, in favor of generalized (ideological) notions about how to help the poor. Looking at the details could lead an intelligent person to believe that government handouts are not the best answer, and that capitalism cuts into poverty more than giveaways. The same goes for religion. Intellectuals, whom are almost always intelligent people when measured by IQ, generalize about the non-existence of God. Most college students would probably classify themselves as agnostic or atheist, but would do a very poor job if asked to engage in specific scientific or philosophical debate on the matter. Their arguments would be based on (probably), “I can’t see God, and until I do, I don’t believe”. Yet college students have higher than average IQs.
Next is the problem of induction. If it is true that atheists are just so because they are intelligent, than it should be so that by utilizing a form of Backward Induction, and becoming atheists, people could raise their IQs. This is absurd of course. But we also know that people with higher IQs tend toward drug use, drink more alcohol, and like cigarettes more. But no one argues those things actually make people more intelligent. Moreover, Germany just prior to the Nazi takeover was considered the country with the highest scientific and social advancement. Plenty of Germans were intelligent, and plenty of high IQ people were Nazis.
Finally, intelligent people are susceptible to the Appeal to Novelty fallacy. Intelligent people get bored easily and like new, different things. In terms of civilizational time, atheism is very new.
In summary, the higher IQ of atheists is due to the self-selecting nature of college attendees, the zeitgeist of modern universities, the tendency to avoid specifics, and the desire for novelty in the intelligent.