Study suggests atheists are more intelligent because they can override religious instinct


Originally published at

A new study has recently come out proposing an explanation for the negative correlation between religion and intelligence.

Researchers from the UK and the Netherlands have suggested that propensity for becoming religious comes from instinct, and rejecting instinct or “rising above it” is actually linked with higher intelligence.

The paper was published in the prestigious Evolutionary Psychology Science, where the researchers put forward the Intelligence-Mismatch Association Model. According to the researchers, religion is an “evolved domain” which we would refer to as instinct.

Co-author Edward Dutton from the Ulster Institute for Social Research in the UK said the following:

“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.”

Their ideas can be traced to the work of evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa where he shared the perspective that we haven’t changed much from when we were savanna-roaming people. Basically the argument suggests that our psychology is strongly influenced by how the first homo sapiens dealt with the world.

A large ranging study of 63 papers showed that there’s a significant negative association with how religious people are and their intelligence.

Here’s the key point:

This is clearly a trend. On average atheists are more intelligent than religious people. However, it’s important to note that this is not an indictment of any particular person. You can of course have incredibly bright people who are also religious, just as you can have atheists who are not very intelligent.

The paper also looked at the link between instinct and intelligence. According to them, intelligence – or rationality – helps people to cope with acting instinctively during very stressful times.

As Dutton said:

“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…. It also means that intelligence allows us to able to pause and reason through the situation and the possible consequences of our actions.”

For them, this fact has crucial consequence in people’s problem-solving ability. And this skill is important in the changed environment we now live in. Our way of life has dramatically changed in the last 11,000 years and instinctive behavior might sometimes be counter-productive. Researchers usually refer to this as an evolutionary mismatch: what was advantageous for our hunter-gatherer ancestor might be bad for us.

Human psychology is of course a highly complex field and this won’t be the last word on this complex debate.

4 reasons why "self-improvement" is a completely bogus idea

Another unhelpful meme.

4 reasons why "self-improvement" is a completely bogus idea
4 reasons why "self-improvement" is a completely bogus idea

@ACD perhaps you could share a little more to help build some more knowledge here or share a perspective, rather than such a brief comment? Alternative you could share a link to other articles that help to advance the discussion. The articles on Ideapod are intended as conversation starters and I’m hoping the Discussions area can foster this.


The meme to which I refer is: religion as a pre-enlightenment vestige of a less evolved humanity. I claim this meme to be unhelpful because it conflates religion and scientism as mutually exclusive alternatives. In fact, they address entirely distinct realms of the human condition. Our ability to understand the world as scientists is different from our ability to have faith in that which we cannot understand. Science has no more ability to comprehend faith than it does to comprehend beauty or justice. Religion is the outward expression of faith. Science and reason address the frontiers of human reason while religion and faith address the frontiers of the human experience. The latter is far more vast than the former.


As best I can tell we do not experience religion until we achieve the after life. All we have here are the Trailers and advertisements. What makes things interesting is when science finds things it cannot explain and that may take a trillion years of research. At some point no one will die except by accident or choice so in the end if we have any unanswered questions we will wait for something religious to show up and explain.


It seems to me that science cannot answer the most important questions.


Asking the right question is really the hardest part. If you look at the difference in the equipment on the mars landers over the years. Each lander, using what it had, gave us a better idea what to put on the next lander. Each piece of test equipment on a lander is actually asking a question. The more we know the better questions we ask. Until we know the best question we cannot hop to get the best answer.


There are also questions such as: i) why is there evil, ii) what is our purpose for existing, or iii) what is beauty.


One more question, if you had the actual answers to these questions, would you agree with them?


I believe that the sincere search for the answers is the basis for a life well lived. The answers themselves are less important than the search.


Tell that to the people working on the cure for cancer.


Some cancer can be prevented (better than cure) by stopping the use of glyphosates in our food chain.


What you just said is not part of our conversation. You said the search is more important than the results and I pointed o7ut that the people doing the cancer search would not agree (by inference.) You replied with a sentence that had nothing to do with your initial statement or my reply. Try to stay focused.


The way we choose to live – with glyphosates, e.g. – is part of what we may address through searching. Cancer is the consequence, to some extent, of the way we choose to live.


When a cosmic ray hits a cell and breaks it, you have no way to choose not to get that hit.


Yes, some causes of cancer appear to be unavoidable while others may be avoidable.


So those looking for the cure for unavoidable will think the destination is more important than the journey?


The sincere search for a better way of life will lead to a way of life which is less susceptible to disease.


Yes, the researches have an aware DNA so what you say is true. But the search is for a cure, not a change in life style. And because it is not a disease in this scenario but a hit by a cosmic ray it might require us to modify our DNA. We may need to make humanity different to solve the problem.


Yes, humanity can be different and better.