Evidence is reviewed pointing to a negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief in the United States and Europe. It is shown that intelligence measured as psychometric g is negatively related to religious belief. We also examine whether this negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief is present between nations. We find that in a sample of 137 countries the correlation between national IQ and disbelief in God is 0.60.
Dawkins’ (2006) recent book The God Delusion suggests that it is not intelligent to believe in the existence of God. In this paper we examine (1) the evidence for this contention, i.e. for whether there is a negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief; (2) whether the negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief is a difference in psychometric g; and (3) whether there is negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief between nations.
2.Intelligence and Religious Belief within Nations
We are by no means the first to suggest the existence of a negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief within nations. This phenomenon was observed in the 1920s by Howells (1928) and Sinclair (1928), who both reported studies showing negative correlations between intelligence and religious belief among college students of -.27, and -.29 to -.36 (using different measures of religious belief). In the 1950s Argyle (1958) concluded that “intelligent students are much less likely to accept orthodox beliefs, and rather less likely to have pro-religious attitudes”.
Evidence pointing to a negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief within nations comes from four sources. These are (1) negative correlations between intelligence and religious belief; (2) lower percentages holding religious beliefs among intelligence elites compared with the general population: (3) a decline of religious belief with age among children and adolescents as their cognitive abilities increase; (4) a decline of religious belief during the course of the twentieth century as the intelligence of populations has increased.
(1) Negative correlations between intelligence and religious belief.
A number of studies find negative correlations between intelligence and religious belief. A review of these carried out by Bell (2002) found 43 studies, of which all but four found a negative correlation. To these can be added a study in the Netherlands of a nationally representative sample (total N = 1538) that reported that agnostics scored 4 IQs higher than believers (Verhage, 1964). In a more recent study Kanazawa (2007) has analysed the data of the American National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a national sample initially tested for intelligence with the PPVT (Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test) as adolescents and interviewed as young adults in 2001-2 (N= 14,277). At this interview they were asked: “To what extent are you a religious person?” The responses were coded “not religious at all”, “slightly religious”, “moderately religious”, and “very religious”. The results showed that the “not religious at all” group had the highest IQ (103.09), followed in descending order by the other three groups (IQs = 99.34, 98.28, 97.14). The relationship between IQ and religious belief is highly significant (F (3, 14273) = 78.0381, p < .00001).