Generally speaking, it appears that atheists may be smarter than religious people.
Debates over religion have literally started wars and are at the center of long-standing biases today, often determining a person’s admittance to countries, their lifetime education, and who their close friends and family will be. A somewhat recent group that has emerged because of the ability to more freely express religion over the last century include people that don’t believe in any denomination at all. Those people are atheist or agnostic, meaning they believe in no higher power or they believe that there could be one but are not sure which one is real/don’t want to commit to a certain religion.
Since a person’s faith, or lack thereof, is such a huge part of who they are, it often governs decisions they make in life and their beliefs of what the world and government should look like. Researchers were curious about whether there was a correlation between being religious and being intelligent and conducted an analysis of previous studies that yielded interesting results.
Researchers from the UK and the Netherlands determined that religion and believing in a higher power is instinctual in humans, since humans have always thought that something “bigger” governed the universe, and the scientists saw that being able to reject this instinct tended to indicate higher intelligence in the human.
“If religion is an evolved domain then it is an instinct, and intelligence – in rationally solving problems – can be understood as involving overcoming instinct and being intellectually curious, and thus open to non-instinctive possibilities,” co-author Edward Dutton, of the Ulster Institute for Social Research in the UK, said in a statement.
Of course, whether religion is an evolved domain or an instinct is debated by others, but the meta-analysis of 63 studies indicated that there’s a trend in which the more religious a person is, the less intelligent they are when it comes to rationally solving problems. Since this is a trend, however, this does not mean that this holds true for individuals. There are clearly tons of religious people with very high levels of intelligence and many atheists with little intelligence.
The researchers took it a step further and argued that being intellectual also means that a person reacts better in times of high stress because of their ability to override instinct. When a person’s instinct tells them to panic, an intelligent person might be able to look past that instinct and begin to make the necessary moves to get out of the stressful situation.
“If religion is indeed an evolved domain – an instinct – then it will become heightened at times of stress, when people are inclined to act instinctively, and there is clear evidence for this,” said Dutton. “It also means that intelligence allows us to be able to pause and reason through the situation and the possible consequences of our actions.”
Essentially, this would mean that atheists tend to react better in a crisis, while religious people might turn to their faith rather than making concrete moves during the crisis. Despite this determination by scientists, however, it goes without saying that each person would need to be treated on a case-by-case basis, as this is not concrete evidence of whether someone would react intelligently or instinctually. Human psychology is a complex field that is ever-changing, and this is just one of many new studies emerging in the subject.