Why is Intelligence Negatively Associated with Religiousness?

Abstract

We present three models which attempt to explain the robust negative association between religion and intelligence: the Irrationality of Religion Model, the Cultural Mediation Hypothesis, and the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis. We highlight problems with each of them and propose that the negative religion-IQ nexus can be understood through substantially revising the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis. We argue that religion should be regarded as an evolved domain or instinct. Intelligence, by contrast, involves rising above our instincts. It follows that an inclination toward the non-instinctive will thus be an aspect of intelligence because it will help us to solve problems. Thus, intelligence will involve being attracted to evolutionary mismatch, to that which we would not be instinctively evolved to be attracted to. It is this, we argue, that is behind the negative religion-intelligence nexus. We respond to potential criticisms of our model and we examine how this model can be further tested.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The lack of significance in pre-college samples may be because those who are younger have been more exposed to atheistic ideologies, especially at an earlier age. In addition, it may be due to a restriction of range caused by the fact that, in the samples in question, belief in God was extremely high among those under the age of around 14. For example, in Turner (1980), who used a Northern Irish sample, the nexus was significant among 14-, 15-, and 16-year-olds, but not among those who were younger. The finding of non-significance in the six all-male samples is due to sampling anomalies. Three of the studies (two from the USA and one from Brazil) used church membership/attendance rather than religious belief (Bender 1968; Kosa and Schommer 1961 and Szobot et al. 2007). This is problematic as a measure of religious belief because social conformity and virtue signaling may play a role in church attendance especially in 1960s USA and strongly Catholic Brazil. In addition, the correlation with church attendance is typically half that of belief and samples were small, ranging from 96 to 361. Feather (1967) uses a sample of only 40 and they are “pro-religion” (30) and “anti-religion” (10), which is not the same as “theist” and “atheist.” Finally, Turner (1980) uses an all-male pre-college sample. As discussed, his finding would seem to reflect a restriction of range due to overwhelming religious belief among pre-pubescent Northern Irish children. Webster and Duffy’s finding of non-significance when correlating national IQ with national religiousness seems to reflect their controls being too strict. They control for life quality index and whether countries are close to each other. By doing this, they are taking away a large share of the variance.

  2. 2.

    Though this is the case in general, there is some evidence that very fervent atheists can become zealous in belief in “scientism” (the absolute and dogmatic belief in science) when under intense stress (Farias 2013). It could be argued that we are evolved to desire pattern and certainty (see Boyer 2001) and that this instinct can manifest itself in scientism with a minority of people. It has been argued that there are parallels between aspects of religion—fervent acceptance of dogma, for example—and scientism (see Jenkins 2009).

  3. 3.

    For example, a cult surrounding Padre Pio (1887–1968) took off after his death and is especially followed in southern Italy, where he came from (Hauschild 2011, p.15). He was beatified in 1999 and made a saint in 2002. In Catholic theology, you can pray to anyone in Heaven you like and ask them to pray to God for you (intercede). The first stage of canonization is to be declared a “servant of God.” Stage two is to be declared “heroic in virtue” (Venerable). This means you might already be in Heaven. Stage three is to be beatified as “Blessed,” meaning you have definitely entered Heaven (having served your time in Purgatory), and people can pray to you, certain that you can intercede on their behalf. To be beatified, your intercession must have led to one miracle or you must have been martyred. Finally, if your intercession leads to two miracles, then you are made a saint, unless you are a martyr in which case only one miracle is needed.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Michael Woodley of Menie and Curtis Dunkel for their helpful comments on this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Edward Dutton.

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Dutton, E., Van der Linden, D. Why is Intelligence Negatively Associated with Religiousness?. Evolutionary Psychological Science 3, 392–403 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40806-017-0101-0

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Keywords

  • Religion
  • Cultural Mediation Hypothesis
  • Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis
  • Evolutionary mismatch
  • Intelligence