Fri. October 25
Faith is not about Intelligence
Last week an article was published in one of psychology’s premier journals on the link between religiosity and intelligence. Using data from 63 studies, the authors concluded that the average correlation between the strength of religious beliefs and intelligence was -.24. This means that on average, having stronger religious beliefs is weakly related to less intelligence. The authors posited three reasons for this correlational, not causal, relationship: 1. intelligent people conform less, 2. intelligent people are more likely to be analytical thinkers which can challenge beliefs, and 3. many of the benefits of being religious (e.g., self-regulation, self-enchantment) are more easily achieved by intelligent people, thus needing religion less.
Naturally this article has received a slew of reactions, notably from believers who questioned the results scientific merit. From a technical viewpoint, poking holes in the results isn’t that difficult – the correlation is weak, methods of measuring intelligence are constantly debated and critiqued, and the results predominantly come from studies by psychologists who, even among professors, have been shown to be the least likely to believe in God. Sure, 53 of the 63 studies reviewed in this article found religious people to be less intelligent, but how many studies showing the opposite were simply never published?
Regardless of the accuracy of these findings, among educated individuals I have frequently experienced the bias that having religious faith is an indicator of less intelligence. When I speak about religion and happiness in my undergraduate class, the first thing I do is show videos from Richard Dawkins (a prominent atheist) and Sir John Houghton (a prominent believer) who have completely opposing views on the existence of God. Both men attended and taught at Oxford, both men have been lauded with achievements in their respective field (ethology, physics), and after hearing each speak about his position, it is difficult to not respect each point of view.
My point in showing these two clips is to demonstrate that faith is not about intelligence. According to Gallup, 90% of Americans believe in God or a universal spirit. Imagine for a moment we split American’s into two groups: those who believe in God/universal spirit (~282 million people) and those who don’t (~ 31 million people). For both atheists and believers, feeling that your beliefs are about being smarter would effectively be saying you are smarter than every one of those millions of people who believe otherwise. Are you really prepared to make that claim?
There are plenty of reasons why people of all intelligence levels would chose not to be religious or have religious faith, often having to do with clashes of personal and organizational values. But faith and intelligence are two separate things – not like apples and oranges, more like apples and picture frames. Faith is about believing in something, often God or a higher power, that you cannot prove and can be present in all individuals regardless of intelligence. Just recently the “smartest man in America” by IQ standards noted believing in God. Instead of stereotyping people whose views on faith are different then ours as dumb, maybe once in while we should take time and examine why so many smart people think the opposite of us. Now doing that that would be a sign of intelligence.