This article is a reaction to several articles published within the past year that claim to have identified objective evidence that atheists are, in general, more intelligent than theists. One article (published by Big Think) claims that theists are less intelligent because they rely more on intuition. Another (by Live Science) claims that religion is an instinct and the IQ evolved to deal with situations which are not instinctual–so a person who is less intelligent relies more on instinct, while the more intelligent person is able to “rise above” that instinct (by becoming an atheist). (My thanks to Mike Duran, by the way, who posted the first of these articles on Facebook, drawing my attention to this topic and inspiring the comment that’s the basis for this post.)
To start off, these articles reference relatively small studies that probably do not definitively establish anything. I say that even though I do suspect there might be some truth behind the study which claims that religious believers are more intuitive than atheists.
Second, please note that both of these studies show bias right off by assuming that IQ equals intelligence. It’s a known fact that IQ tests only measure part of human intelligence. Creativity, for example, which most people (including experts) agree is a form of intelligence, cannot be measured by IQ. (There are other brain functions which are also not measured by IQ.) So any test presuming that higher IQ is an inherently superior or “more evolved” brain function is engaging in a presumption which cannot be proven.
Third, the right brain of a human being (speaking very generally here) is generally linked to pattern recognition. Recognizing patterns allows people to do things like recognize faces. While pattern recognition can contribute to IQ, in general, logical deductive reasoning is more associated with left brain activity and does not require much pattern recognition (again, speaking very generally–lots of specific details contradict what I just said, but very broadly speaking it’s true). I think pattern recognition contributes hugely to creativity, allowing people (for example) to imagine faces in clouds or to in other ways see the world differently than it objectively is, based on an exaggeration of patterns.
Fourth, intuition is also associated with pattern recognition. Note that pattern recognition is not something an intuitive person can always explain (explaining is in general a left brain function anyway)–you just know you have seen something before or know something to be true and you react accordingly. Though of course the reacting part of intuition goes beyond pattern recognition–so the two things are not exactly identical to one another.
Fifth, could it be that believers in general are more creative and better at pattern recognition than atheists? While atheists have higher IQs on average? I mean, could it be that the higher IQ that atheists are stated to demonstrate is coupled with them being weaker at pattern recognition? Or their higher IQ average is associated with being less creative?
In other words, maybe atheists develop their IQ more, playing to their natural strengths as it were, because they tend to have less of other forms of intelligence. Maybe most things in nature are a trade-off, so having more of one thing means having less of something else. Perhaps not in every case, but perhaps that’s true generally speaking (it certainly makes sense, anyway).
Since pattern recognition is at least partially independent from IQ and since creativity is not objectively measurable at all, perhaps atheists are not in fact more intelligent at all than theists. Perhaps they are, on average, simply intelligent in a different way.
If what I just said is true (if), then this winds up creating a situation that perhaps makes a lot of sense. Perhaps believers, who may indeed be more intuitive and more creative than atheists, are inherently better at understanding the mind of a creative God than someone who has less of an urge to create. Perhaps also intuitive believers are better at pattern recognition than atheists–and perhaps we believers intuit very clearly the pattern of an intelligent being operating in the universe, a pattern atheist are in general less able to see.
Atheists, who perhaps may be stronger in logic because they are weaker in intuition, perhaps cannot as easily detect the pattern of God’s work in the cosmos. If that’s true, atheists would then be somewhat like color blind people, ones who are not only unable to see color themselves, who but have declared color to be a myth. And they are buoyed to confidence in this opinion by their personal certainty that they see more clearly than those who “claim” to see colors. (Please note that being color blind supposedly does offer some advantages in clarity of vision over color-based sight.)
Of course when I speak to atheists I make numerous logical arguments in favor of God. Usually atheists stop talking to me relatively quickly, apparently after discovering they cannot easily answer my points. Though that hasn’t always been the case. Sometimes atheists grudgingly admit what I say makes sense, even though they don’t agree.
I have known a few people who told me they came to faith in God based on logical argumentation, but only very few. Could it be that very, very few people are actually persuaded by rational arguments, no matter how high their IQ happens to be? While at the same time, what a person intuits to be true is very powerful and deeply influences everyone–even the atheists, even when their intuition may in fact be defective?
I’m speculating here, of course. I don’t really know if there is an inverse relationship between creativity/pattern recognition/intuition and IQ. But perhaps there is. And if so, it would completely change the discussion of who is more intelligent between theists and atheists. (Someone should conduct a study to try to find out–though it wouldn’t be easy. 🙂 )
What are your thoughts on this topic? Please share below!