There are quite a few studies that confirm this, the most recent one: http://onefuriousllama.com/2011/09/11/another-study-links-intelligence-to-lack-of-religiosity/

Are non-religious people smarter than religious people? If yes, is this a correlation or is there a causal relationship?

  • 11
    don't confuse cause and effect: religious people get the answers to life's questions offered to them prechewed and told they should just accept them Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 23:51
  • 6
    While it would be personally satisfying to say that, I must say that the biggest contributor to a person's belief in supernatural is the level of indoctrination they receive from their parents/family/friends. (I can't find any specific papers that are neutral enough for this site that support this for the purposes of an answer, but look at a map of religious adherents and notice the consistency.) Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 3:10
  • 7
    This question seems speculative and argumentative to me. The claim is that there is a negative correlation between IQ scores and religiousity. The question suggests lack of intelligence is the main cause of supernatural belief, which is a very different issue, and almost impossible to answer. So let me ask a question back: What sort of evidence or study do you think could reasonable answer the question? If there isn't any, this should be closed as Not Constructive.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 7:24
  • 13
    @Sklivvz - the question still remains highly speculative, due to the fact that it doesn't define "religious" - or, as Moab noted, "smarter". There are plenty of people who religiously believe in Marxism while not believing a word of Bible. Most of them consider themselves "smart". Then there are people who believe in "life force"/"chi"/"auras"/etc...
    – user5341
    Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 10:40
  • 10
    @Sklivvz - that's precisely the issue with the study. If you're going to study how IQ relates to religious susceptibility of the brain, you need to include ALL religious activity, not just something that is an "established religion" - most people who fervently believe in auras or communism wouldn't self-identify as religious yet exhibit full fledged religious cognition. Excluding them invalidates whatever statistics you have as they become meaningless correlations.
    – user5341
    Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 5:03

1 Answer 1


You can read the answer right off the study: no, lack of intelligence is not the main reason because the correlation coefficient between IQ and various measures of religiosity are not that large (e.g. -0.25 for fundamentalism). It is an important reason, as is education (as the study explains, the correlation persists when level of education is accounted for). A combination of extreme education and IQ does seem to be enough to virtually eliminate strong religious belief. (This is a broadly supported conclusion, though causation is not determined.) The inverse correlation with IQ holds, at least roughly, with belief in the paranormal also--the effect is frequently seen but is not so strong as to appear to be the only important factor.

The other factors are hard to pin down. Some studies indicate that religiosity of children (once adult) is not strongly correlated to that of their parents; others find cases where the transmission is more reliable. Religious beliefs of friends and spouse are strongly correlated (see first link), but it is unclear to what extent this is cause vs. a consequence of having the beliefs. There is very likely some strong societal or parental component given that, for example, 2/3 of the residents of Utah identify as Mormon, and the "natural increase" of the population is considerably larger than the "net migration" (as found in a table of Utah demographics linked here).

  • 5
    Your example showing "extreme education and IQ" leads to no religious belief shows no such thing. It only includes scientists, which is only one form of education, and doesn't mention IQ at all.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 7:28
  • 4
    @Oddthinking - I added a link with more evidence--see Terman 1959--and changed from "religious belief" to "strong religious belief", which is what the data shows.
    – Rex Kerr
    Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 7:41

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .