The struggle between believing in God versus being atheistic or agnostic is one of those issues where at times it becomes difficult to comprehend what the rational stance on this subject matter is. On one hand, if the notion of causality is to be believed, then it makes sense that an entity akin to a God would be the source of everything coming into existence. On the other hand, why is there a need to invoke the notion of God in order to explain the origin of the Universe? How is this better than saying that big bang was the source of all creation? This is just one of many logical arguments that philosophers and theologians have engaged in over the centuries in order to decide what the rational stance on this issue is. We may not be any closer to reaching the logical answer to this debate but social scientists have discovered that increases in intelligence is predictive of atheism across multiple nations, including United States.
There are multiple sources of evidence that have helped pointing out the possibility of negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief within various nations. One source of evidence is that individuals with high level of education are less likely to hold religious beliefs in comparison with members of the general population. As early as 1965, it was reported in a survey that 4.8% of American scientists believed in some notion of God (Roe, 1965). This can compared to a 1948 Gallup poll of general population in United States, where 95.5% of the population stated that they believed in existence of God (Argyle, 1958). In the 1990s it was uncovered in a study of members of National Academy of Sciences that 7% of members believed in God, compared to 90% of individuals from general population (Larsen & Witham, 1998).
Over the years social scientists have also discovered that as teenagers become older and experience increases in their cognitive abilities, they become less likely to believe in existence of God. It was uncovered in a study of 12-15 year olds at a Protestant School in Northern Ireland for example that over the course of four years, the students became less likely to hold favorable attitudes towards religious beliefs (Turner, 1980). It was also uncovered in the same study that increases in age also led to increases in negative correlation between IQ and favorable attitudes towards religious beliefs.
To investigate if increases in intelligence is predictive of decreases in religious beliefs across nations, Lynn, Harvey, and Nyborg (2009), researchers at University of Ulster, United Kingdom and University of Aarhus, Denmark, performed various statistical analyses on sets of data representing national IQ and religious beliefs across various nations. The data on national IQ was taken from Lynn and Vanhenen’s (2006) book called “IQ and Global Inequality”, and the data on belief in God was taken from Zuckerman (2007), who was able to accumulate information on religious beliefs from 137 countries representing 95% of the world’s population.
The results of the study confirmed the hypothesis as it was discovered that that there was a correlation of .60 between national IQs and disbelief in God. Countries with low IQs like Afghanistan (84), Bangladesh (82), and Cameroon (85) had only .5% of the population that did not believed in God. And countries with high IQs like United Kingdom (100), France (98), and Japan (105) had 41.5, 44, and 65% of the population that expressed a disbelief in God.
One reason for why a negative relationship exists between intelligence and belief in God is that in pre-industrial era, humans had little understanding of how the world functioned and relied upon activities like prayer to supposedly influence their fate and gain control over their environment (Inglehart & Welzel, 2005). And as advances in science and technology have been made, people have increasingly made a shift from relying on supernatural to relying upon technology to gain control over their fate.
It should be noted that United States was an anomaly in this study where, although having a high IQ (98), only 10.5% of the population expressed a disbelief in God. This result may be a product of the following two reasons. First, a fair portion of Americans identify themselves as Catholics, and the percentage of atheists in Catholic countries tends to be much lower than in Protestant countries. Secondly, United States was founded by individuals who left Europe because of their strong religious beliefs. And it may be the case that these strong religious beliefs have been culturally transmitted to subsequent generations of U.S. citizens.
Argyle, M. (1958). Religious Behavior. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Inglehart, R., & Welzel, C. (2005). Modernization, Cultural Change, and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2005.
Larsen, E.L., & Witham, L. (1998). Leading scientists still reject god. Nature, 394, 313.
Lynn, R., Harvey, J., & Nyborg, H. (2009). Average intelligence predicts atheism rates across 137 nations. Intelligence, 37, 11-15.
Lynn, R., & Vanhanen, T. (2006). IQ and Global Inequality. Athens: GA: Washington Summit Publishers.
Roe, A. (1965). The Psychology of Occupations. New York: Wiley.
Turner, E.B. (1980). General cognitive ability and religious attitudes in two school systems. British Journal of Religious Education, 2, 136-141.
Zuckerman, P. (2007). Atheism: contemporary number and patterns. In M. Martin (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Atheism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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