Is It Natural to Believe in God? - Why Atheists Are More Intelligent than the Religious

The Intelligence Paradox: Why the Intelligent Choice Isn't Always the Smart One - Satoshi Kanazawa 2012

Is It Natural to Believe in God?
Why Atheists Are More Intelligent than the Religious

So recent evolutionary psychological theories suggest that the evolutionary origin of religious beliefs in supernatural forces may stem from such an innate evolutionary bias to commit Type I errors rather than Type II errors. If these theories are correct, then it means that religion and religiosity have an evolutionary origin. It is evolutionarily familiar and natural to believe in God, and evolutionarily novel not to be religious.

Once again, in order to make reasonable inferences about the religious beliefs of our ancestors during the course of human evolution, I consult the same primary ethnographic sources on which I rely in Chapter 5 in making inferences about their liberalism. Out of more than 1,500 distinct cultures throughout the world described in The Encyclopedia of World Cultures,7 only 19 contain any reference to atheism Not only do all these 19 cultures exist far outside of our ancestral home in sub-Saharan Africa, but all 19 without an exception are former Communist societies (Abkhazians in Georgia, Ajarians in Georgia, Albanians, Bulgarians, Chuvash in Russia, Czechs, Germans in Russia [but not in Germany], Gypsies in Russia, Itelmen in Russia, Kalmyks in Russia, Karakalpaks in Russia, Koreans in Russia [but not in Korea], Latvians, Nganasan in Russia, Nivkh in Russia, Poles, Turkmens, Ukrainian peasants, Vietnamese). All Communist states are officially atheist and impose atheism on their citizens. There are no non-former-Communist cultures described in The Encyclopedia as containing any significant segment of atheists.

Nor is there any reference to any individuals who do not subscribe to the local religion in any of the monograph-length ethnographies that I have consulted.8 Once again, contemporary hunter-gatherers are not exactly the same as our ancestors during evolutionary history. But I do believe it is quite telling that, out of all the human cultures known to anthropology (more than 1,500 cultures), the only cultures that contain a substantial number of atheists (only 19 out of 1,500+) are former communist societies. It may therefore be reasonable to conclude that atheism may not be part of the universal human nature, and widespread practice of atheism may have been a recent product of Communism in the 20th century. The Intelligence Paradox would therefore suggest that more intelligent individuals are more likely to be atheist than less intelligent individuals.

Consistent with the prediction of the Intelligence Paradox, analyses of Add Health and GSS data show that more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to be atheists.9 Even after statistically controlling for such relevant factors as age, sex, race, education, income, and religion, more intelligent individuals are more likely to be atheistic than less intelligent individuals.

Even though intelligence and education are highly positively correlated (because, as I explain in Chapter 3, more intelligent individuals on average receive more education), intelligence and education have opposite effects on religiosity. More intelligent individuals are less religious, while more educated individuals are more religious (net of intelligence and all the other variables mentioned above). So it is decidedly not that more intelligent individuals are less religious because they are more educated and education reduces religiosity. First, education is statistically held constant (its effect is removed) in assessing the effect of intelligence on religiosity. Second, contrary to what you might expect, more educated people are more religious, not less.

As you can see in Figure 6.3, young adults (in their early 20s) who identify themselves as “very religious” have the average childhood IQ of 97.14 in junior high and high school. In contrast, young adults who identify themselves as “not at all religious” have the average childhood IQ of 103.09. Once again, because these are averages from a sample of tens of thousands of Americans, the difference of 6 IQ points separating the two extreme categories is very large and statistically significant. The probability that the results in Figure 6.3 can happen by chance, when there is actually no association between intelligence and religiosity, is less than one in 100,000.

Figure 6.3 Association between childhood intelligence and adult religiosity


Even though past studies have shown that women are much more religious than men,10 the analysis shows that the effect of childhood intelligence on adult religiosity is twice as strong as the effect of sex. It is remarkable that childhood intelligence is a significant determinant of adult religiosity even when religion itself (whether the respondent is Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or other) is statistically controlled for (with “no religion” as the reference category).