Atheists want to think that they are smarter than people who hold religious convictions. This belief is reflected in the decision of some of their numbers to refer to themselves as "brights." Recently, another atheist has drummed up the old canard that atheists have a higher IQ than most people. According to an article published at Telegraph.co.uk entitled 'God is not just for the stupid' say Christianity's clever people, "Professor Richard Lynn, Ulster University's emeritus professor of psychology, said that more members of the 'intellectual elite' considered themselves to be atheists than the national average."
A related article entitled Intelligent people 'less likely to believe in God' ,expands on Professor Lynn's comments.
A survey of Royal Society fellows found that only 3.3 per cent believed in God - at a time when 68.5 per cent of the general UK population described themselves as believers.
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Professor Lynn said most primary school children believed in God, but as they entered adolescence - and their intelligence increased - many started to have doubts.
He told Times Higher Education magazine: "Why should fewer academics believe in God than the general population? I believe it is simply a matter of the IQ. Academics have higher IQs than the general population. Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQs tend not to believe in God."
He said religious belief had declined across 137 developed nations in the 20th century at the same time as people became more intelligent.
Paul Woolley, director of the think-tank Theos, responded to this statement by noting that "Religion is a complex phenomenon and Professor Lynn's explanation is simplistic. He has recycled the long-disproven thesis of inevitable secularisation."
"Academia had a religious origin - the first universities were originally established by the Church, and some of the finest academics in the world today, not to mention some of the greatest minds in history, are deeply religious.
"The research fails to take account of a variety of cultural factors that would affect the outcome of opinion polls and surveys, and makes a series of unproven assumptions, not least that a high level of education is synonymous to a high IQ."
Others joined Paul Wooley in responding critically to Professor Lynn.
Professor Gordon Lynch, director of the Centre for Religion and Contemporary Society at Birkbeck College, London, said it failed to take account of a complex range of social, economic and historical factors.
"Linking religious belief and intelligence in this way could reflect a dangerous trend, developing a simplistic characterisation of religion as primitive, which - while we are trying to deal with very complex issues of religious and cultural pluralism - is perhaps not the most helpful response," he said.
Dr Alistair McFadyen, senior lecturer in Christian theology at Leeds University, said the conclusion had "a slight tinge of Western cultural imperialism as well as an anti-religious sentiment".
Dr David Hardman, principal lecturer in learning development at London Metropolitan University, said: "It is very difficult to conduct true experiments that would explicate a causal relationship between IQ and religious belief. Nonetheless, there is evidence from other domains that higher levels of intelligence are associated with a greater ability - or perhaps willingness - to question and overturn strongly felt institutions."
While I appreciate the civility of these responses, I think that they are entirely too mild. The idea that religion and IQ are related has been analyzed and rejected at least twice on this blog. My fellow blogger, J.L. Hinman, did a very nice job of evaluating the claims in his post entitled Bogus Atheist Social Sciences: The Myth That Atheists Score Higher on IQ Tests. There, after a lengthy analysis, he makes the point that the studies that are better in terms of sample size, age and number, all point to their being no such correlation. I have made my own evaluation of one of these studies (the most recent one which was then being touted) in a post entitled Lower IQs Lead to Faith in God? where, in part, I believe I do a fair job of demonstrating that a better correlation is between IQ and poverty than IQ and religion.
But what about Professor Lynn's claim that the sharp contrast between the number of people who are believers among the "Royal Society fellows" and the general public? Can it simply be attributed to IQ? The effort to draw that connection based on such meaningless evidence demonstrates how easily someone can accept anecdotal evidence as proof of their position on the most tenuous of grounds.
Consider this: Let's suppose for a moment that the people in the "Royal Society fellows" all have higher IQs (a claim that may not be as obviously true as Professor Lynn would like us to believe). Isn't it just possible that the reason that these oh-so-smart fellows hold a similar view is not so much because they have thought it through but rather because they are indoctrinated that way? Perhaps if they were asked, a full ninety percent of them may say, "I personally have never examined the evidence for God, but . . ." and it doesn't matter what follows the "but" in that sentence because whatever follows would be a mere unexamined adoption of the views they have heard in their inner-circle of fellows.
Besides, as I pointed out in my earlier post on this subject:
Having said all of the foregoing, I am perfectly willing to acknowledge that some very smart people not only don't find religion important, they are devout atheists. Does that somehow mean that the people with the lower IQs are wrong? Certainly not. In fact, the poor and the less gifted people are going to be attracted to religion more than the gifted and intelligent but not because they aren't smart enough to know better. Instead, people who are gifted and intelligent tend to have a higher view of themselves and their own importance and abilities. In all sincerity, it isn't necessarily a "I'm smarter"-thing, but rather a "I don't need God"-thing. People who already recognize that they aren't as smart or as gifted as other people are more ready to recognize that they need help -- that they cannot make it on their own.
Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Those who are proud of their own intellect and their gifts are not seeking God, and what they aren't seeking they will never find.
Comments like Professor Lynn's are pure intellectual snobbery, nothing more. He wants to take anecdotal evidence that his fellow elites (who are supposedly smarter -- but that itself is questionable) are often more atheistic as proof that atheists are simply smarter guys. There are so many possible reasons that the higher education community breeds atheists that it is difficult to enumerate them. I have only given a couple of examples, but several more come to mind.
While I respect the views of atheists, they are not smarter than Christians. But then, it doesn't surprise me that many atheists believe this silly claim. After all, since many of their arguments boil down to "I don't believe that . . .", it is important for them to be able to claim that they are smarter and that their beliefs are thus better reasoned. But this claim is unsupported and really all boils down to pride -- and the Bible has a lot to say about pride. (See, e.g., Proverbs 8:13, 11:2, 16:18 and Mark 7:20-22.)