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.


Another unhelpful meme.


@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.