Could religious people have a lower IQ than others?

In 2013, a meta-analysis study was published that seemed to show a negative correlation between IQ and strong religious belief, or in layman’s terms, seemed to show that the more religious you are, the lower your IQ supposedly falls.

The scientists behind the study explained it by suggesting that “religious beliefs are irrational” because they are not explained in an empirical manner, and they are, therefore, “unappealing to intelligent people.”

According to the study, there are three main reasons why religion is linked to low IQ, and the reasons are as follows.

  1. Intelligent people are more analytical and, therefore, much more driven by data than belief.
  2. Intelligent people are less likely to conform, and religion is generally the more conformist belief system.
  3. Intelligence and religion perform the same psychological role, i.e. they offer meaning to life as we know it.

While these reasons do make some sense, there is also a significant weakness in each of these arguments.

  1. There are many ‘intelligent’ viewpoints that are based on belief, rather than analytical data, The Big Bang Theory, for example. All evidence for this theory is merely circumstantial and cannot unequivocally prove the theory itself.
  2. In today’s society, the needle of conformity is not much more heavily swayed in the intelligent and scientific community. While there are some areas that have strong religious rooting, science is gaining a hefty following.
  3. As human beings, we desire an explanation for everything, and both science and religion offer theories of explanation that we can choose to accept or decline. However, to say that they perform the same psychological role is not totally true. Science focuses on the relationships of different elements of the world and why things act in the way that they do. Religion, on the other hand, offers a different function. Religion tries to explain our existence and give more philosophical meaning to our existence.

So, does this mean that if you believe in God, you should be branded stupid?

First and foremost, it should be pointed out that correlation does not mean to point out causation. In fact, there could be many different variables that can explain a religious person could have a lower IQ, just as there are many reasons that an atheist could have a lower IQ also.

Studies of IQ have shown that IQ is a factor of our personality that stays relatively unchanging from childhood, and IQ tests at early ages are a good precursor on how our IQ will stay for the rest of our lives, but the same cannot be said for religious belief.

Many of those religious people who were religious at a young age may have become more sceptical as they grew older. Similarly, there are others who have gained a religious belief later in life that was never there when they were young.

More than anything, personality is one of the most important aspects in judging how intelligent or how intellectually curious a person is.

Aspects such as openness to experience are positively correlated with a high IQ, and while it is true that this can cause people to gravitate towards an ambition to acquire expertise and knowledge, this openness can also cause people to gravitate towards religion.

Religion has a certain uncertainty that people may not accept, and these people are much more likely to turn to empirical data and testing in order to find definite solutions and reproducible answers.

These people find comfort in the consistency of their scientific pursuits, but what about those who have a higher tolerance for uncertainty? Those who do not see the world in black and white terms?

The study itself did not take into account different areas of personality or experience when analysing the data, only the theorised relationship between IQ and religion.

For this reason, it cannot be explicitly said that religious people are stupid. There are many reasons that people may believe, or choose to begin believing in God, not simply that they were not as intelligently blessed as others.


  1. Psychology Today
  2. NCBI – PubMed
  3. Huffington Post

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Learner

    Underrated Article!! Well written.

  2. Avi

    Your argument about the big bang theory is completely unsound. You reduced to the fallacy of wronger than wrong for thinking the degree of rightness or wrongness of theological belief and belief in big bang theory is the same or comparable. Scientific theories are simply called theories, it does not imply they are mere theories on par with theological theory of Jesus’s resurrection or 9/11 being an inside job. I hope I made myself clear.

  3. Matt Weston

    OK referencing the Big Band THEORY shows that you do not understand the core tenants to being a skeptic, witch is a basic precursor of science. It is called the Big Bang Theory because it is just that a theory, just as basically everything, it is the best answer we have for now. Religion on the other hand does not include the “for now”. Religion think more in terms of “only this and forever”. Muslims don’t ask questions or consider life if Jesus is the true savior or not, same goes the other way around, hell they wont even stop to consider for 1 second that the religions are offshoots or related in some way, even though much of the stories are the same.

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