Are Atheists Smarter Than Religous People?

According to this article by Professor Richard Lynn, emeritus professor of psychology at Ulster University, the smarter a person is, the less likely they are to believe in a god

Lynn makes quite a few assumptions in his paper, which compares belief among academics to the general population. The idea that academics are smarter than the general population isn’t necessarily valid – not only are some academics completely incompetent, some who are brilliant in their field are complete dunces outside a classroom. A proper study would include a large sample size and carefully adjust for counfounders like as age, income level, and religious upbringing.

Then we have to consider if IQ is a valid way to measure intelligence. I like the theory that there are a lot of different kinds of intelligence. There are the obvious ones, like Math IQ and Language IQ, but there is also Music IQ, Social IQ, Physical IQ, and so on. I think there is even a Freedom IQ, which is marked by a disdain for authority and a lack of the all too common human tendency to bend at the knee.

But with all that in mind, I think the premise is sound, based on my own experience: I have never met a stupid atheist. They may have other undesirable personality traits, but stupid? Never.

It takes something special to become an Atheist in the US. Although we’re all born atheists, from the first moments we become aware of the world our culture bombards us with god stuff. God is in our music, our government, our art, on our money and in our pledge. You can’t even sneeze in public without someone automaticaly mentioning god. Theism infests our culture at every level.

It takes a certain kind of intelligence, and lots of it, to really look skeptically at what most of the country takes for granted. And concluding that the Christian god is no more real than the Greek or Roman or Viking gods takes more than just intelligence – it takes guts to deal with the inevitable fallout. Many people who need a sky-daddy to be good can’t even conceive of someone being moral without the threat of eternal torture. The result is Atheists are despised and distrusted by the ignorant, and there are a lot of ignorant sucking up oxygen. Admitting your atheism can cost you friends, it can cost a promotion (or even your job) and it often costs you your family. In the past twenty years I’ve spoken with my father, in total, for about 45 minutes. I left his cult when I was a young man, and so he is forbidden to speak with me. His god, Jehovah, is a nasty prick.

I’m not saying all religious people are stupid – I know some truly brilliant theists. But the number of mouth breathing atheists is approximately none and a substantial percentage of the very religious are blithering idiots, so when you average out the numbers atheists are going to be on the top of the heap.


34 Comment(s)

  1. Not saying the conclusion isn’t without at least a little merit…but I have to contest your statement that there are no stupid atheists. I have met many, many, people who thought religion was dumb and silly, and had neither an understanding of religion or atheism, nor much understanding of the world in general. I’ve met people the exact opposite as well, but neither side seemed to dominate in my experience.

    Merry | Jun 19, 2008 | Reply

  2. To be fair, all he said was he hadn’t met a stupid atheist. Nobody said they don’t exist. I’ve probably met a lot of them, although I doubt if I could name three because mostly I didn’t know were atheists: in Europe there’s much less religion and people don’t usually wear it on their sleeves. It doesn’t take much, if any, brainpower to be an atheist here. It’s just what happens. I think if there was much less religion still, though, the effect would return, because you’d have to be a bit special to think there was a god when nobody else did.

    I can’t help but think this conclusion is a tautology, though: all other things being equal, someone who believes in nonsense is surely by definition not as smart as someone who doesn’t?

    Andrew | Jun 20, 2008 | Reply

  3. Mary, I was talking specifically about atheists, not people in general who don’t like religion. Most atheists know more about religion than believers because they’ve studied it and really thought about the question, while the majority of believers just accept belief without any real critical thought.

    And yes, there probably are some stupid atheists out there, but I have yet to meet one.

    . . all other things being equal, someone who believes in nonsense is surely by definition not as smart as someone who doesn’t?


    Hittman | Jun 21, 2008 | Reply

  4. Hey, what about the “Millionaire Next Door” book? I can’t remember the exact quote, and my copy is in another country, but it went something like… “Common traits of a self-made millionaire: Having a modest house, driving a used F-150 pickup, an average state university degree, regular attendance in a moderate church…”
    Hey, if it means more bucks, I could return to the fold… ;)

    Haywood | Jun 30, 2008 | Reply

  5. You can do all those things with or without believing in a sky daddy.

    Check out Dave Ramsey’s stuff for details. Great stuff. He’s a religious guy, and sometimes his religious side gets a bit annoying, but not often, and it’s worth putting up with for the rest of the information he supplies. It’s a fairly simple plan to get out of debt, and stay out of debt, and *then* you can trade in the rusty pickup for something nice, and pay for it with cash. And it works with or without religion.

    He’s got a podcast of his radio show that’s worth a listen.

    Dave Hitt | Jul 1, 2008 | Reply

  6. I would have thought that, especially in America, most people who don’t go to church skip it because they can’t be bothered rather than because they don’t believe. That being the case, and given that successful people are likely to be the ones who stick at things rather than skipping over the boring parts, if millionaires are mostly church-goers, I’d posit that as the likely reason. (That said, seems to me that the easiest way to get rich in America is to set yourself up as an evangelical.)

    It does seem downright strange though, that most self-made millionaires would regularly go to a building to hear about how it is impossible for rich men to enter the kingdom of Heaven, and how the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and so forth. (Although that’s no worse than any of the other rampant hypocrisy almost all religions require.)

    Andrew | Jul 2, 2008 | Reply

  7. Atheists and agnostics are right in most of their thinking

    It has been common among religious believers to look with misgiving at atheists and agnostics, and to think that they are mistaken; however, in many instances the opposite is the truth; some religious beliefs are not just irrelevant, but baseless. The “God” of main line traditions simply does not exist. I accepted the challenge of finding the One who may be recognized even by agnostics and atheists: the Existence itself. The God of religions may be denied, but nobody can deny that the Existence is. It doesn’t matter how you call it, but “All-That-Is,” is. A book (probably not written for you) “Christianity Reformed From ist Roots” tells all; perhaps its reflections will relieve your friends of the illusion, as they did for me. (Amazon.com).

    Jairo Mejia, M. Psych., Santa Clara University
    Episcopal Priest, Retired
    Carmel Valley, California


    Jairo Mejia | Aug 9, 2009 | Reply

  8. “But with all that in mind, I think the premise is sound, based on my own experience: I have never met a stupid atheist. They may have other undesirable personality traits, but stupid? Never.”


    Ryan | Jan 12, 2010 | Reply

  9. For instance, atheists are too smart to post in all caps and use excessive exclamation points, both signs of mental deficiency.

    Dave Hitt | Jan 12, 2010 | Reply

  10. Why did I have a feeling you were going to comment on my use of caps and exclamation points? I knew you would do that. I just had a feeling.

    By the way, what study has shown that the use of caps and exclamation points is a mental deficiency? It was an emotional rant because people like you piss me off. Nothing to do with intelligence.

    Ryan | Jan 15, 2010 | Reply

  11. Maybe instead of criticizing him so immaturely, you could instead ask him why he feels that way. Your sarcasm is unneeded and instead of making you seem intelligent, all it does is give me a lower impression of your personality. If you disagree with him, please state a reason so that we can have a discussion. Just wondering, are you an atheist?

    Hubrid | Jan 15, 2010 | Reply

  12. Hubrid, I have absolutely no control over your opinion of me. I yam what I yam, and stopped worrying about other people’s opinion of me a long time ago.

    No study is needed to prove that all caps/excessive punctuation people are idiots – simply reading their rants proves the point.

    I agree with your last sentence, Ryan. Your post has nothing to do with intelligence.

    Dave Hitt | Jan 17, 2010 | Reply

  13. er…. My post was towards Ryan….

    Hubrid | Jan 17, 2010 | Reply

  14. Sorry, Hubrid, that’s a common problem with comments – it’s often difficult to tell who the replies are directed to.

    Hittman | Jan 18, 2010 | Reply

  15. Pro Tip – Don’t call others stupid while you’re cyber-screaming in a block of obnoxious caps.

    Tyler | Mar 5, 2010 | Reply

  16. To be fair, most of these idiotic atheist people are speaking about, are likely to be agnostic. When someone simply says they do not believe in god and have no but in much thought nor research, I would throw them in the agnostic category. The term atheist is thrown around alot and people tend to confuse it. As for genuine atheists, I have yet to meet an idiotic one.

    Alex | Jun 17, 2010 | Reply

  17. So because I used excessive caps and punctuation, my post is automatically wrong. By that logic, you are an idiot. Congratulations. All I’m saying is that I have met plenty of stupid atheists and theists alike. I’ve also met many intelligent atheists and intelligent theists. The fact that you claim that atheists have a monopoly on intelligence is not only extremely insulting, it is also untrue. I’ve met atheists who are intelligent enough to realize that the results of this test prove nothing.

    That is all I am saying. If you want to disregard my post simply because of my grammatical style, then it is not me who is the idiot. You are deliberately avoiding the argument to personally attack me. That’s called an ad hominem attack.

    Ryan | Jun 18, 2010 | Reply

  18. Let me bring my theory up. I think for some atheist they follow a logic moreless like this:
    1. Not body can prove God. Period.
    1.1. However they say god forgives all. Therefore.
    2. I will claim to be atheist so I do not have to follow some religion based moral concepts + I will look like a smart guy.
    3. If then I die it turns out I was right and I won’t even realize it because I will be dust then that’s okay. Otherwise, because of 1.1 I will be fine too.


    Lucas | Jun 19, 2010 | Reply

  19. It is evident that people commenting on this site are acting completely ignorant themselves, and I’m only 16. Look people, you’ve taken this wonderfully-written piece and turned it into, “Hey.. I know a stupid Atheist” most likely because you didn’t even bother to read the piece, rather, you scanned through the comments. It is statistically proven that Atheists are smarter than those who believe in a God. Once again, an Atheist is correct.

    Lizzie | Oct 24, 2010 | Reply

  20. +1 ^^

    Hubrid | Oct 24, 2010 | Reply

  21. What an idiot. And this person is a professor of a field full of theories without any proof psychology. And he makes an absurd false claim. Atheists are all full of ignorance,excessive vanity and have high opinions of themselves and there own often false opinions, its no wonder they will not have any experience in there state that confirms the reality of God. The smartest people to have ever lived Plato, Aristotle, Leonardo Davinci and thousands more all affirmed the reality of God. And the smartest people alive today are also firm believers in God as either basic theists or of a particular Religion.

    jack | Nov 3, 2010 | Reply

  22. Some of the smartest people alive today are Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Penn Jillette, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Gates and Jamie Hyneman, to name a few.

    None of the people you mentioned proved the existence of god. They simply believed in one.

    Hittman | Nov 6, 2010 | Reply

  23. You are absolutely correct. It is very ignorant for believers to automatically think that Atheism is associated with evil and saying it is equivalent to that of Satanism. I mean, we Atheists don’t even believe in the Devil, and our moral system is just fine. I’ve been personally neglected and ripped on about being an Atheist by my grandma and my own father. It really hurts when all they can say is, “You’re going to hell, and everything you do or have done in your life doesn’t matter.” It doesn’t make sense. For the record, I’ve heard from my close friend [then a Christian, now an Atheist] that I am a better person than anyone Christian he’s ever met.

    Honestly, if I were to be a Christian, I’d be considered a great Christian. But once I throw the label of Atheist upon myself, I’m terrible…where’s the love, people?

    Stephanie Schulz | Nov 8, 2010 | Reply

  24. It’s not that atheist are vain, or think they are high up on their horse. Being an atheist, I sometimes wonder how some very religious people can’t grasp or even consider some of the points that can be made against religion. As a result, I almost unconsciously assume that very religious people might have a lower ability to think. Not that all religious people are like that, some are very brilliant, they simply just have faith. And I do believe that people who claim to be religious who are intelligent still have their doubts. Good article posed some solid points

    brad thompson | Feb 9, 2011 | Reply

  25. I think being a believer is the “default mode” that we all have, and it is easy, you don’t need to search for answers to anything that happens around you, you just “buy” whatever story comes up about God and the universe. On the other hand, being an Atheists means having to go through a process of skepticism. An Atheist is a person that whenever you tell him/her “The sky is blue” doesn’t just say “ok” but wonders why and looks for answers. Here is something that I read in a comic strip and I think it might sum it up:
    Believer: The fact that we don’t know how the universe was formed is proof of a higher power that created it all.
    Scientist: The fact that we don’t know how the universe was formed is proof that I have A LOT of work to do!

    Joe | Feb 11, 2011 | Reply

  26. Haywood, I have several of Thomas J. Stanley’s excellent books, including the one you cite. Religious affiliation in a Christian nation confers important networking advantages that I do not wish to slight. However, I am an atheist of many years and a millionaire of many years. I expect that I am not unique based on various news accounts of billionaires.

    Countrykid | Mar 17, 2011 | Reply

  27. it’s called the great falling away. You cannot serve God and mammon at the same time. I’m a christian with an i.q. of 161. If your ‘genius’ brain can actually reach the level of “true spirituality” then intelligent isn’t in the quotient anymore. the meek shall inherit the earth. forbes magazine has a list of many ex-millionaires that have passed away. where’s the ungodly monetary motivation when one is lying in the grave? find an answer for that one. a real, true answer; not merely an earthly opinion
    that eventually will also go to the grave.

    mitchell lightfoot | Jul 20, 2011 | Reply

  28. @Lizzie & Hittman

    Do you happen to have valid source or study for that? I would be very much interested to see it.

    As far as I understand, religious people and atheists are both of the same intelligence level, as long as they actually research into their own arguments. To say that being atheist automatically adds a couple points to your IQ is a bit arrogant, but I see the point you’re making. Assuming both sides do their research, religious and atheist individuals are pretty equal in intelligence level but may have different logical approaches. Atheists believe that the probability of god existing is impossible, while theists think that existence without God is even more improbable. It’s all a matter of how you approach the question of life and its origins. To say that atheists have it exactly right is as ignorant as the believer who blurts out the unquestionable religious word.

    Hittman, I’m interested in your logical approach to the topic of the supernatural or the absence of it. Do you mind linking me to one of your articles or just commenting below? Much appreciated!

    James | Feb 26, 2012 | Reply

  29. It’s quite simple.

    Is there any evidence for the supernatural? Hard, empirical evidence that can be verified and replicated?

    No, there isn’t. Not even a little. Therefore, it is extremely improbable that it exists.

    BTW, I just noticed the comment above yours. The only thing less impressive than a dictionary argument is someone bragging about their supposed IQ.

    Dave Hitt | Feb 26, 2012 | Reply

  30. What’s even sadder is that you feel this person is under any obligation to impress you.

    Troy | Mar 16, 2012 | Reply

  31. Believers are less intelligent because their faith prevents then from having any perspective on their religion. They MUST accept a whole litany of falsehoods as true. They are not permitted to ask questions or do anything that undermines their faith.
    My wife is a Christian and an intelligent woman, yet I am stunned at the way her religion blinkers her thinking.

    Murray Anderson | Jul 25, 2012 | Reply

  32. It’s not intelligence, rather it’s a matter of common sense. Religion is brainwashed into a person. Only their critical thinking skills can help them escape. But if there is no help around to guide them and point out the falacies then it takes a genius, real intelligence to conclude the whole thing is just air. Voltaire was a genius–he figured it out all by himself. He was intelligent. I am not. I am not even smart. Once I started to question religion there were books by Bertrand Russell, M.M. O’Hair et al that helped me through the maize of lies that had been programmed into me. I can’t believe I am the only non-intelligent atheist around!

    Christine Brean | Aug 9, 2012 | Reply

  33. You make many statements that are completely false in your post. Christians are actually called to question the scriptures (to test them) and to come to your own conclusions regarding the factualness of them. My beliefs come from the fact that no one has ever been able to prove that the Bible is not factual. If so then we would not be having this discussion. The history that is represented in the Bible has been scrutinized from every angle and has always held up to be factual. The genealogies that are refrenced have all been proven correct. Dates have been authenticated and the fact that there were so many different authors is astounding. The New Testament alone was written close to 2000 years ago and the Old Testament dates back possibly another 3000 before that. 5000 years of history and if we believe the atheist perspective… Well they conclude it just isn’t true… Come on… Your saying that this hoax has gone on for over 5000 years.!!!!!… The simple fact is it takes a far more intelligent person to humble themselves and to say I will take a non-biased look at this for myself to see if there is any validity to the Bible. I will not hate on anyone whether the choose to believe or not … Because for me I know that there is a time coming that will be eternal misery for those who were not at least wling to be partial and see the truth… And the misery that awaits those who refuse I would not wish on my worst enemy… I pray for those who refuse to at least say I will investigate… I did … I looked at so many other faiths and religions including atheism… But ebay I found was they were all wanting of facts that could stand the test of time.!!!

    Kenneth | Apr 29, 2014 | Reply

  34. My beliefs come from the fact that no one has ever been able to prove that the Bible is not factual.

    Most of the stories in the bible have been disproven, especially some of the major ones, like the flood.

    There are some facts in the bible, mixed in with the myths, which confuses some people.

    You are, of course, free to believe as you wish, and free to discard the mountains of evidence that disprove most of the bible. You are free to cling to the delusion that the bible stories are accurate. You are free to worship a god who, even in the new testament, condoned slavery. But don’t examine your book too closely, because with an honest, close examination, you’ll discover that the inerrancy of the bible is yet another myth.

    Dave Hitt | Apr 30, 2014 | Reply

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