Are Christians Stupid?

By Mark M. Hanna, Ph.D.


A study featured today on Yahoo News claims that “Religious People Are Less Intelligent Than Atheists.”  Is this true? Mark M. Hanna argues that this claim is fraught with confusion and faulty assumptions.  Dr. Hanna holds both a Ph.D. and M.A. in Philosophy from the University of Southern California, a B.A. in Philosophy from the American University of Beirut, and is author of the recent book Biblical Christianity: Truth or Delusion.

Summary of Yahoo’s Article

Today, August 12, 2013, the feature article on Yahoo is entitled “Religious People Are Less Intelligent Than Atheists.” It summarizes the contentions of the studies of Miron Zuckerman and his team at the University of Rochester. In 53 of 63 studies they “found” a purportedly “reliable negative relation between intelligence and religiosity.” They conclude that “intelligent people are more likely to be married and more likely to be successful in life–and this may mean they need religion less.”

The studies of Zuckerman and his team included a life-long analysis of the beliefs of a group of 1,500 gifted children–those with IQs over 135–an investigation that began in 1921 and continues today. Even later in life at 75 to 91 years of age, such children tended to remain unreligious. Intelligent children begin to doubt the claims of “religion” early in life, and intelligent students are likely to reject orthodox beliefs.

Zuckerman’s paper, published in the academic journal “Personality and Social Psychology Review, stated that most current explanations for the negative relation between intelligence and religious belief have one central theme–”the premise that religious beliefs are irrational, not anchored in science, not testable, and, therefore, unappealing to intelligent people who ‘know better.’”

However, Zuckerman thinks that the answer may be more complex: “Intelligent people may simply be able to provide themselves with the psychological benefits offered by religion–such as ‘self-regulation and self-enhancement,’ because they are more likely to be successful and have stable lives.”

Zuckerman claims that “intelligent people typically spend more time in school–a form of self-regulation that may yield long-term benefits,” and “more intelligent people get higher level jobs…[that] may lead to higher self-esteem….” Also, “more intelligent people are more likely to get and stay married….”

The paper concludes by asserting that “people possessing the functions that religion provides are likely to adopt atheism; people lacking these very functions (e.g., the poor, the helpless) are likely to adopt theism.”

Critique of the Article

Zuckerman’s article is fraught with confusion and faulty assumptions.

1. It is hardly surprising that a paper published by “Personality and Social Psychology Review” would present an essentially reductionist view of theism and “religious belief.” The predominant premise of the journal is that everything in human experience can be exhaustively explained in terms of psychology and sociology. The psychosocial reductionism is unmistakable in the article’s claim that “people possessing the functions that religion provides are likely to adopt atheism.” This contention assumes that the sole factor–or at least the most important factor–that causes people to adopt or reject religious beliefs is psychosocial needs or the fulfillment of such needs in other ways.

2. The article errs egregiously by referring again and again to “religious beliefs” and “religion.” However, there are no such things as unqualified “religious beliefs,” nor is there such a thing as “religion.” There are many religions, each unique and incompatible with other religions. Some “religious beliefs” are theistic, some are atheistic (e.g., Theravada Buddhism), some are pantheistic, some are polytheistic, etc. Some religions are life-denying, and some are life-affirming. Some meet certain psychological and social needs and others obstruct them.

3. The article also falls into a twofold error, for it fails to distinguish causes from reasons and it commits the genetic fallacy by implying that causes are determinative for the truth or falsity of theism and atheism. Neither a person’s intelligence nor the satisfaction of his psychosocial needs is relevant to the question. An individual may have a high IQ and yet remain ignorant of the reasons for the truth of theism and biblical Christianity.

4. A corollary of the implicit psychosocial reductionism in the article is the assumption that there are no needs that humans have beyond such mundane ones. There are many cases on record of intelligent people who had their psychosocial needs met and still recognized a more profound transcendent need. If, as the article naively assumes, “intelligent people may simply be able to provide themselves with the psychological benefits offered by religion” and that is why they embrace atheism, innumerable counter-examples serve to falsify such a notion.

5. The article seeks to link “intelligent people typically spend more time in school,” on the one hand, with atheism, on the other hand. This is fatuous, for the amount of time spent in school is not as important as the quality of the education people receive in school. It is difficult to find schools that teach students to think critically. Many are little more than institutions of “higher learning” that are devoted to indoctrination in self-defeating, radical skepticism, relativism, and naturalism. It is hardly surprising that spending more time in such schools produces atheists.

6. The article’s observation that most scientists are atheists and agnostics is also unsurprising. Einstein said that “scientists are poor philosophers.” The writings of Richard Dawkins are a prime example of Einstein’s observation. Even non-theistic and non-Christian philosophers have expressed embarrassment over Dawkins’ puerile dabbling in philosophical and theological issues. Many, if not most, scientists tend to accept scientism, which is a false philosophical theory about the nature of knowledge. Like psychologists who tend to embrace reductionist psychologism, and like sociologists who tend to embrace reductionist sociologism, scientists tend to embrace an equally false theory that delusively elevates their own professional expertise above all others.

The theory of scientism, which states that all knowledge must come from science, is self-refuting, because it is not the finding of any science. Like all self-contradictions, it is necessarily false. Therefore, so-called intelligent people who say, as the article states it, “religious beliefs are not anchored in science,” are misled by the fallacy of scientism, which itself is not anchored in science.

The article’s reference to “religious beliefs not [being] testable” is no less misleading because of its implication that the only way to test claims is by empirical states of affairs. Logic, coherence, forensics, history, and archaeology are also crucially germane to evaluating many theological, and religious claims. Many scientists, academicians, and other “intelligent people” are unaware that the endeavor to demarcate science from non-science has failed. Not a few people mistakenly think that there is a definitive wall of separation between the two when, in fact, all attempts to isolate demarcating criteria have been found wanting.

7. The article refers to current explanations that are based on the premise that “religious beliefs are irrational.” Since the term “irrational” means different things to different people, such an assertion is problematic. However, when it is properly used to refer to logical contradiction, it is clear that some beliefs of various religions are irrational and some are not. Of course, even the precise meaning of logical contradiction is inadequately understood by many people, and it is often confused with contrarieties and sub-contrarieties and other kinds of relations. The article’s implication that all religious beliefs are irrational is itself irrational–that is, it is contradicted by counter-examples of some beliefs that are non-contradictory.

8. Another problematic claim of the article is the linkage between “intelligent people are more likely to get and stay married,” on the one hand, and atheism, on the other hand. The article does not explicitly tell us what number on the IQ scale differentiates intelligent people from non-intelligent people–a decision that would certainly be disputed if the number were to be specified, including the suggested number of 135.. It is even questionable that intelligent people are more likely to get and stay married if that claim is made about the population of the world rather than some specific country.

Mounting a serious challenge to the claim that there is a link between getting and staying married, on the one hand, and embracing atheism, on the other hand, is the counter-example of contemporary Sweden. From what appear to be reliable data, Sweden is the most atheistic country in the Western world, and more than any other nation, it has largely discarded marriage as passé and undesirable. If intelligent people are more likely to get and stay married, then Swedes must be judged, in general, as quite unintelligent. But then, if unintelligent people tend to believe in God, some other explanation must be found for the atheism so prevalent in Sweden.

9. The article’s thesis is that the more intelligent people are, the less likely are they to believe in God or to be “religious.” Of course, without specifying the differential criteria distinguishing the intelligent from the non-intelligent–which is far more difficult than one might assume–the entire article is question-begging. There is not only a theoretical kind of intelligence (which is often measured by academic success), but there is emotional intelligence (which is often manifested in personal relationships), practical intelligence (which is seen in multifarious skills for accomplishing many kinds of different tasks). The article smacks of a rather naive and outdated understanding of the complexity of intelligence–formerly thought of according to the simplistic calibrations of one’s IQ.

Zuckerman and his team have formulated a purportedly statistical generalization about intelligence and its relevance to belief in God. However, countless examples of extraordinarily intelligent people who have believed in God serve to eviscerate their theory. As far as the record goes, no thinkers in antiquity surpassed Plato and Aristotle in theoretical intelligence. Yet, they believed in “God,”–the Demiurge and Transcendent Thought Thinking Itself, respectively. They certainly did not believe the natural world exhausted reality. Antony Flew, the atheist philosopher who became a believer in God (deism), observed that the apostle Paul had a first-rate, brilliant philosophical mind. The intelligence of Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, and a host of other medieval thinkers cannot be gainsaid. Scores of modern philosophers believe in God, from Descartes to the present. There are now more than a thousand Christian philosophers, all with earned PhDs.

Many of the greatest scientists, such as Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and a host of others have believed in God. According to a recent poll, about 40% of contemporary scientists say they believe in God. Are all of these philosophers and scientists to be considered unintelligent?
Such facts show how ludicrous is the thesis of the article. It is reminiscent of the illicit use of language by Paul Geisert and Daniel Dennett who presumptuously, if not conceitedly, stipulated that all atheists should be called “Brights,” implying that all theists and supernaturalists are dimwitted. Such tactics are nothing but propagandistic attempts to intimidate people who fear categorization as “unintelligent.” It is actually a backhanded admission of intellectual insecurity and self-doubt–which needs to be buttressed by a flattering self- appellation that has nothing to do with reality, much like calling homosexuals “gay” despite the fact that depression is reportedly endemic among them with an incidence significantly greater than among heterosexuals.

10. Zuckerman’s article will undoubtedly be used by atheists and agnostics in their attempts to recruit others into their fold–especially those lacking in sufficient intelligence to see through their inane propaganda. In addition to the unrefined conceptions, surreptitious presuppositions, overgeneralizations, and genetic fallacy found explicitly or implicitly in his article, the most glaring oversight pertains to its failure to understand the fundamental factor involved in disbelief in God. It is certainly not the measure of one’s IQ.

When the rich young ruler walked away from Jesus, He “looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’” (Luke 18:24). One can be rich in different ways, not only in terms of money and material possessions. One can be richly endowed with a high IQ or with great beauty or extraordinary charm. More often than not, those who possess them become proud of what they have, ignoring the fact that they are gifts to be used for the glory of the Creator who gave them: “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (I Cor. 4:7).

Even if it were true that more intelligent people–however they are defined–generally tend to disbelieve in God and biblical Christianity, that is no recent discovery. Almost two thousand years ago, the apostle Paul wrote to early Christians: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong…so that no one may boast before him” (I Cor. 1:26-29).

Relatively few highly intelligent people, socially and politically influential people, and people of royal blood and high birth turn to the true God. It is not these extraordinary gifts that keep them from God, but their self-congratulatory pride that makes them feel superior to others and self-sufficient in themselves. Nothing keeps people from God like pride, and it is those with exceptional endowments who often deny their need for Him.

The first words of Christ’s sermon on the mount were “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:3). Nothing is more important, more essential than the right attitude, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”(James 4:6). How hard it is, indeed, for the rich in intellectual ability, to enter the kingdom of God! It is not because they are so smart, but because they think they are: “Knowledge puffs up…the man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know” (I Cor. 8:1, 2).

The irony of a person proud of his special attributes– whether a keen intellect, outward beauty, a noble birth, or physical prowess–is that these attributes are trivial and insignificant in the ultimate scheme of things. It is easy for those who are rich in these ways in this world to forget that they are finite and hemmed in by space, time, and death. The greatest lesson that any human being can learn is that he or she is a creature, sinful and dependent, and prone to frequent deception: “The heart is deceitful above all things”(Jer. 17:9). Therefore, “he who trusts in himself is a fool”(Prov. 28:26).


Nothing is more important in our relationship to God than the humility that a finite, sinful, dependent creature must have: “For this is what the high and lofty One says–he who lives forever, whose name is holy; ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isa. 57:15). The great blind spot in Zuckerman’s article is this: It is not intelligence that promotes atheism; it is pride in one’s intelligence.

Of course, the Bible values the mind, intelligence, and knowledge, and the widespread anti-intellectualism in many churches is deplorable. However, the folly of self-conceit can hardly be overstated, for no matter how much we know and understand, there is far more that we do not know nor understand. No matter how capable our mind may be, its greatest achievements are like a grain of sand on the seashores of all the rivers, lakes, seas, and oceans of the world. When we take the true measure of ourselves against the transcendent greatness of God our Creator, we will resonate with Jeremiah, who wrote: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 9:23, 24).

Zuckerman’s article claims that believers in God are less intelligent than non-believers. However, there are cogent reasons and abundant evidence that show that the most intelligent thing an intelligent human being can do is to turn to God, not away from him. Among the wisest men of the ancient world were the Magi who came seeking for Christ. It is rightly said that wise men still seek Him, wiser men find Him, and the wisest men worship Him (Mt. 2:1, 2, 11).

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Author: Shawn Nelson

I got saved back in 1991 when I was 19. I felt called right away to go into ministry and enrolled at Christian Heritage College to become a pastor. However, after graduation I ended up getting a job in a new software startup. Since then I've worked bivocationally as a church planter and pastor. I'm currently enrolled at Veritas Evangelical Seminary pursing an M.Div. in Apologetics and am happy to share what I'm learning with you.

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  1. TLDR – If you believe in mythological god/gods, you are too stupid to have a conversation with. End.

    Post a Reply
    • To “C”: I agree completely. It is stupid to believe in mythological gods–any and all the so-called gods that are other than the Creator of the universe. No book other than the Bible–unless a book is based on the teaching of the Bible–reveals a transcendent Creator God who is outside of space and time. He alone has created space, time, energy, matter and all the structures that constitute the universe. And in the twentieth century, science finally caught up with the Bible by showing that the universe had a beginning, including the beginning of space and time. One among many astronomers who were compelled by the evidence to change their minds from atheism to theism was Sir Fred Hoyle, who had been the foremost proponent of the steady-state theory and the eternality of the universe. The only adequate explanation is that the universe was brought into existence by a transcendent, personal God whose uniqueness is described in the Bible. One certainly should not believe in all the finite gods of the world, for that would be idolatry.

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      • It is completely without sense that one blindly follows without evidence based in facts. Therefore, arguing with someone over semantics when they have no understanding and or scientific knowledge of statistical concepts, is mute. This critique was in response to the article review of the academic literature, not the true understanding. Sort of like your decision to follow the “way,” based on what King James’s editors said the second/third hand authors really meant when they wrote down the oral traditions of a nomadic middle eastern people. As far as we know Chronos could be the one true god, and the rest is propaganda set forth by a pope in a golden throne.

  2. If you’re going to attempt a logical critique of the paper, you’re going to have to refrain from using so many logical fallacies in your critique. At least, if you want your critique to be taken seriously by anyone of any significant level of intelligence.

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    • To Michael Barnhouse: The first requirement of scholarship is to avoid sweeping charges devoid of specificity. No one of any significant intelligence should take seriously such vacuous pronouncements. Having taught logic for many years, I am quite conscious of the properties that make for logical validity and soundness. I have no idea what your exposure to logic has been. Many people are incapable of defining a logical contradiction with precision or distinguishing it, for example, from contrariety or sub-contrariety. Perhaps you miss important qualifiers in my critique–qualifiers that make it quite nuanced. Missing the nuances often leads to misinterpretation, and misinterpretation results in addressing a straw man. Unless you can point out any of the alleged logical fallacies, your comment reduces to a knee-jerk, emotional reaction entirely devoid of substance. Please learn at least this one important lesson: do not charge anyone with logical fallacies unless you are both prepared to explicitly identify them and actually do so. If you don’t want to reply here, please do so by writing to me at If you are a sincere truth-seeker, we can make progress in discussing the issues. I wish you all the best–and, incidentally, the best is always the finding of the truth.

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      • ‘Many of the greatest scientists, such as Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and a host of others have believed in God. According to a recent poll, about 40% of contemporary scientists say they believe in God. Are all of these philosophers and scientists to be considered unintelligent?
        Such facts show how ludicrous is the thesis of the article.’

        This is a perfect example of a couple of logical fallacies:

        First, the fact that most remarkably intelligent individuals were public theists a few hundred years ago does not actually imply that theists are still as intelligent as atheists are today.

        Second, you’re intentionally confusing individuals and averages in order to make a point. If one says ‘men are, on average, taller than women’ it isn’t sufficient to point out one woman who is exceptionally tall to refute this. (It wouldn’t even be sufficient to point out the tallest ever person if that person happened to be a woman.)

        I haven’t read this study yet so I’m not claiming to agree with the study yet, but the truth is that many of the points you’re making are transparently fallacious.

      • QALNOR: Thank you for responding. Your first criticism of my article is misdirected. First, I did not refer only to scientists who lived hundreds of years ago, as you allege. Please re-read the very lines that you quoted. I speak of a “host of others” and 40% of CONTEMPORARY SCIENTISTS. Second, I did not say that scientists and philosophers who lived long ago were either more or less intelligent than contemporary ones. Certainly, it is unwarranted to say or imply they were less intelligent than contemporary scientists or philosophers. One must beware of chronological elitism–in this case, the error that assumes that more recent scholars are more intelligent than previous ones. Additional knowledge that contemporary scientists have is not in question. Having more knowledge is not equivalent to being more intelligent. So your attribution of a logical fallacy here is mistaken. There is no such claim or inference as the one you ascribe to me. So the fallacy belongs only to your misjudgment. You are also mistaken in thinking that I intentionally or unintentionally confuse individuals and averages. Again, I find that the confusion is yours. I am fully aware of the distinction. Perhaps my point is not clear to you. I am dealing with the inference that some are likely to make from Zuckerman’s article–namely, a universal claim that the more intelligent a person, the more disbelief in God will be espoused. It is an elementary principle of logic that a universal assertion is falsified by one actual counter-example. That article appears to be descriptive, and I have no quarrel with its main generalization that allows for exceptions–which a categorical universal proposition does not allow for. It is the implication of a universal claim that is untenable. It is vital to read both the article being criticized as well as a criticism of it. Moreover, please read more carefully and resist reading meanings into a text that are not there and are not intended.

      • First, the reason I brought up the Newton etc issue was because you brought them up in a way that was meant to imply that because they were Christians, Christians weren’t less intelligent (on average) than non-Christians. I agree that Christianity doesn’t cause someone to be less intelligent, and I’m quite sure that the study doesn’t suggest that either unless it’s not peer reviewed.

        Second, on your 40%. If 40% of a category we’re discussing because we agree the category is more intelligent on average is X and 60% of that category is Y, and the general distribution in society is more like 80-90% X and 10-20% Y, you haven’t really made a good argument for X being as intelligent as Y, quite the contrary (although certainly not conclusive).

        That having been said, there are a lot of explanations for your 40%:

        - Maybe the ‘scientists’ are self defining and 40% of them are a mix of creation scientists and flat earthologists. I don’t know, you didn’t provide a citation so I have no idea how the 40% is being defined.

        - Maybe the 40% are just less intelligent on average than the 60%. If the 40% had an average IQ of 150 and the 60% had an average IQ of 170, the 40% would still be remarkably intelligent.

        Or more likely, you’re still just confused about individuals vs groups. If you have a group of WBNA players you don’t conclude from that that women are taller than men, you compare them to other basketball players if you do anything at all.

      • Hurry up and respond to “Nick” rather than blustering about other bad the other comments are

      • MOSOE: I hope that by now you saw my reply to Nick–also to A. If I am not away from my computer with other responsibilities, I certainly will answer every response. By the way, “blustering” basically means to be loud and noisy–hardly possible in writing. Also it is an emotive term that is rather inappropriate for a serious academic discussion.

  3. Wow this was… just terrible to read.

    Too many mistakes to address any one. There’s more arrogance in this critique than in the claims the author is critiquing.

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    • BG: Please read my comment to Michael Barnhouse. Your comment, like his, is basically an irrelevant ad hominem. Anyone can make the charges that you two have made. I would be glad to respond to specifics, but such pointless comments have no value whatever. They seem to be designed to cast aspersions by those who don’t like my thesis. But disliking what someone writes without engaging in specifics says nothing about an article. It only tells us that the person doesn’t like it. However, truth is not advanced by mere dislike. I wonder if such vapid generalizations are indicative of the impoverished education in our country. Your charge of arrogance is unsupported, and it amounts to an ad hominem that sheds light on nothing. I wish you all the best, and I am ready to engage in meaningful dialogue either here or at my email address.

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  4. ‘Conclusion. *quotes bible passages*’

    Then asserts: The great blind spot in Zuckerman’s article is this: It is not intelligence that promotes atheism; it is pride in one’s intelligence.

    How about you scientifically define pride, and then do a meta analysis showing that pride leads to atheism?

    All the paper did was a meta analysis of SIXTY THREE other studies showing CORRELATION, not CAUSATION.

    Take a look at the amount of atheists in the american prisons (20%), and you *have* to conclude there is a difference between religious and atheist people and that it somehow leads the latter to lead more successfull, less criminally destructive lives.

    Stop being so damn disingenuous and accept what the evidence is showing: Intelligent people tend to be atheists. Scientists tend to be atheists. Criminals in jail tend NOT to be atheists.

    You can quote bible passages all day long, but It won’t make those facts easier to swallow. How about you stop looking for flimsy justifications and stop being disingenuous and face the facts as they are without tapdancing.

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    • SUTIB: A sincere thanks for responding. At least you make some points were addressing–unlike some others who simply vent their spleen. Yes, my conclusion quotes Bible passages. This is not a simple appeal to authority. I, and others, have written voluminously about the reasons and evidences that corroborate it (See BIBLICAL CHRISTIANITY:TRUTH OR DELUSION, which contributes to the rational defense of the Bible). One cannot put even a summary of the case for the Bible in a brief article like mine. Further, your request for a “scientific” definition of pride is either misconceived or a reflection of untenable scientism Many things, such as attitudes like pride, are insusceptible of a “scientific” definition. Attitudes are not like atoms, molecules, or any other physical entity or empirical relation. Pride is basically the attitude of self-sufficiency that refuses to admit the truth about oneself–finitude, dependence, contingency, fallibility, moral turpitude, and the like. It could hardly be more obvious that if one wants to maintain the self-delusion of overweening autonomy, he or she will not be open to the claim of a sovereign God on his or her life. Please note your false bifurcation when you say correlation, not causation. If you re-read Zuckerman’s article you will see that he includes both, and clearly indicates that a deficiency in the fulfillment of one’s mundane needs leads to belief in God or “religion,” and sufficient fulfillment of these needs leads to disbelief in God. If you see how nuanced my reply is, you would see that it allows for the possibility that fulfillment of such needs is not irrelevant to belief or disbelief. I not only admit as much, but I quote the apostle Paul who made the point 2000 years ago. The problem with your prison example is that it is too small a sampling to draw the conclusions you do. You don’t need to be reminded that there are over 7 billion people on the earth today, and the kind of generalizations that people are apt to draw from Zuckerman’s limited research are problematic. Accusing someone of being disingenuous is usually presumptuous, and in this case, it certainly is. I had already indicated that only an estimated 40% of scientists admit to believing in God and intelligent people “tend” to disbelieve in God. That is fine as a generalization with a minority of exceptions. But what I object to is the notion that not a few people will infer from Zuckerman’s article that intelligence is the key factor, thereby fostering the attitude either that no one who is highly intelligent believes in God or that if one wants to appear to be intelligent, he should therefore disbelieve in God. Neither inference is sound. One final comment is in order here: truth is not determined by counting heads. At one time, so the record goes, virtually everyone in the world believed that the earth was flat. Obviously that was false and had no effect on the earth’s sphericity. Intelligence varies considerably among human beings, but every human being (unless severely brain-damaged or mentally incompetent)has an equal opportunity to choose the right attitude–humility or pride. For me, that displays the justice of God which does not base the gift of eternal life in Christ on intelligence but on an attitude that anyone can adopt in the face of reason and evidence. Very intelligent people are more adept at denying the obvious than less intelligent people. Denial are endemic in human nature, and very intelligent people are generally more capable of rationalizing their denial than those who are less intelligent. So I have not denied any “facts”; I have merely pointed out that many readers of Zuckerman’s article are likely to misinterpret them and draw seriously unwarranted conclusions.

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      • And here you quote Paul!? This man wrote nothing. There has never been any physical proof that “he” wrote anything associated with the bible. As well, the text associated was “written” a long while after what you call 2000 years ago. Not to mention the number of rewritten translations. I’d say “cite your source,” but I don’t take submissions other than validated sources.

      • > The problem with your prison example is that it is too small a sampling to draw the conclusions you do.

        I would point out that you use the example of Sweden in “mounting a serious challenge to the claim that there is a link between getting and staying married”. There are more people imprisoned in the world (10.1 million –,-new-report-shows.html (hey, look, a source!)) than there are in Sweden ( (hey, look, another one!)).

        Also, on this “40% of scientists” number: first, source please? And, second, if we take it to be true, that’s still half as religious as the general population — I’d take that as a strong point in favor of Zuckerman’s correlation.

  5. Interesting, you blatantly accuse atheists of recruiting, like they have an agenda. Which they don’t. On the agenda note, this may surprise you, neither do gays.

    I sense a lot of hurt and anger in you, and this is essentially an entire article attacking the results of a study, simply because you are unhappy with them.

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    • Wes: No fair-minded reader of my critique would draw the conclusion you do. It is far too obvious that many atheists are not recruiters, nor did I state that they all are. But I think your memory fails you at this point, for, under the leadership of Richard Dawkins, atheists met not long ago–I believe in the Washington, D.C. area–for the express purpose of spreading atheism and recruiting young people into their secular outlook and movement. Dawkins is the most visible atheist in the world today, and I wonder why you have not listened to his lectures and debates in which it is incontrovertibly clear that he and his followers are committed to recruiting others into their fold. You may be a non-recruiting atheist for all I know, and you are one among many others. But that does nothing to undermine the fact that there are vocal atheists who are engaged in proselytizing people. You are quite wrong in thinking I am hurt or angry. You are drawing inferences that have no basis in fact. It is ludicrous to think for one moment that I feel either one or that I am motivated by anything like those attitudes. You are also mistaken to think that I attack that article because I am unhappy with the results of the studies. I have made it clear that I agree that many–probably the majority–of very intelligent people tend toward atheism. My point, to re-state it unequivocally, is that it is not intelligence–not matter how high it might be–that leads people to embrace atheism. Something else is going on, and it has to do more fundamentally with attitude.

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  6. It seems, yet again, that it is actually impossible for an atheist to write a critique without using insults as the basis of said critique :/ If there are logical fallacies, why not use the space in your comment box to name them, as opposed to wasting breath (or rather, finger strength? lol) on useless, frivolous rudeness?

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  7. 1. Logically fallacious appeal to authority: scientists don’t care what journal publishes an article – they care about the content of the article.

    2. Sampling error: on average, religiosity is average. Given the samples, probably most of the religiosity here is Christian. On the other hand, your argument might be compelling in defense of minority religions.

    3. Causality: the article doesn’t fail the way you think it does because it doesn’t try to do the thing you think it’s doing. The point of the article is the association, not the causal direction.

    4. First you have a logically fallacious argument from anecdote and then you assume that intelligence is only useful for mundane goals.

    5. Another correlation/causation problem

    6. This is background, not the meat of the article, which may be why it does not surprise you.

    7. I actually agree with you about the tricky definition, but that doesn’t really have to do with the findings.

    8. Intelligent and non-intelligent people is a short-hand. Clearly, intelligence is dimensional and not categorical. Their stats treat that appropriately.

    9. You’re again using logically fallacious appeal to anecdote. Please note that the findings are about trends and generalities and not about every single individual.

    10. This one isn’t really a critique of the content of the article, but I think it’s generally still wrong. There may be some people who say “believe me or else you’re stupid” but I think many atheists aren’t atheists because otherwise they’d be stupid – they’re atheists because they, like you, are compelled by what they’ve seen in the world to believe what they do.

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    • How surprising that the author fails to comment on responses which he cannot immediately dismiss.

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      • A: Your comment is sadly misdirected. I have and I will address every response. You may have nothing else to do but sit in front of your computer all day, but I have a life. And when I can make time, I address responses, and I am pleased to do so. If you are interested in the discussion we are carrying on here, then please comply with your own criticism and reply to all of my replies in detail. If you don’t have the time to do so, I understand. I just wish you would understand also.

    • Nick: I appreciate the specificity of your response. I will be no less explicit in my reply.

      1. Your first comment is irrelevant. There is no appeal to authority on my part or on the part of Zuckerman. I simply made an observation about the Journal’s PREDOMINANT (not exclusive!) premise, and I referred to the content of the article and its indication that the MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR leading people to accept or reject religious belief is psychosocial needs. Please re-read the paragraph carefully. An appeal to authority is well-known fallacy to me and every professional philosopher. But your are unwarrantably reading that into my text.

      2. Your comment here is also irrelevant, for it misses the point entirely. In the paragraph in question, I mount a defense of no religion whatever. It is merely an important clarification of the confusion that results from unqualified uses of the words “religion” and “religious beliefs.” The points made in my paragraph are so plain and incontrovertible that it makes me wonder if you are merely intent on criticizing the point under #2 that you create a straw man to attack.

      3. Like another responder, you err with your false bifurcation. If you read Zuckerman’s article very carefully, you will find that he claims both “association” and causality. It is not either-or. Please read my reply to SUTIB for further clarification.

      4. Irrelevance intensifies. Notice that I refer to the IMPLICIT psychosocial reductionism in that article. If you differ with my interpretation on this point, that would be one thing. But when you miss that altogether and then accuse me of a logical fallacy pertaining to “anecdote,” your comment becomes even more muddled. Please don’t misconstrue my intention here, for I have no feelings of condescension in explaining the point–at least for the sake of readers who may not have had the benefit of a course in logic. First of all, there are genuine bifurcations that should be made, such as that between the living and the dead, or the mundane and the transcendent. There are simply no intermediate alternatives; it is either one or the other. I nowhere assume or even imply–and I hereby categorically deny–that I “assume that intelligence is used only for mundane goals,” as you unwarrantbly allege. It ought to be obvious from my reference to TRANSCENDENT needs that I do not restrict intelligence to the mundane. As far as an appeal to an anecdote is concerned, I will repeat what I have emphasized in other replies: one actual, authentic, true anecdote that is a counter-example to a universal claim thereby falsifies that claim. If someone claims that all swans are white, and I point out the actual case of a black swan (well-known in Australia), the universal assertion that all swans are white is ipso facto false. Now on the basis of my understanding of that which is implied by Zuckerman’s article–namely, that humans have no needs beyond mundane ones, and if they are fulfilled, they see no need to believe in God–one counter-example to this claim serves to falsify it. Anecdotal appeals can be very misleading, but not in this kind of logical relation. It is simply naive for people to dismiss all uses of anecdotes as soon as they see the word or come upon a citation of examples. This is superficial thinking at best. Careful analysis is necessary to understand what is being claimed and what relevance an “anecdote” has to it.

      5. I have already pointed out that your bifurcation between correlation and causation is mistaken. In fact, both appear in different parts of that article. I pointed out the CORRELATION that Zuckerman’s studies indicate–especially pertaining to such factors as “more time in school.” As to the causal question, it seems that the expression “it is hardly surprising” is misunderstood by you, leading you to misinterpret my statement as some kind of simplistic, dogmatic cause and effect relation. Surely you comprehend the difference. If the kind of education–especially in the liberal arts–in secular schools does not affect the thinking and beliefs of students, then that would be most surprising to the faculty and administration of such institutions. You know better. And, it should go without saying, that not all students who spend a long time in school, even secular, atheistic ones, comes out as an atheist. There are many counter-examples, including myself.

      6. I think you need to re-read that article. Zuckerman states these factors in no uncertain terms, and then he says that they need to be supplemented with something that may be even more important than being “anchored in science” and being “testable”–namely, the fulfillment or lack of fulfillment of a person’s needs.

      7. Not I, but Zuckerman, brought in the word “irrational.” And I think he was making an important point–that many people tend to reject “religious beliefs” because they appear to them to be irrational. Zuckerman’s findings, which focus on psychosocial needs, do not exclude the other factors in any attempt to account for “intelligent” people disbelieving in God or “religion.” I address these issues under #7 because they are part of the whole package. I think you will discern that on another reading of his article.

      8. I have no quarrel with their statistics. The issue is a much deeper one than generalizations from statistics. It is not my linkage of getting and staying married with intelligence or atheism; it is his. And not a few people are surprised by that linkage. I deal only with a universal inference that some–perhaps many–people will draw as a universal proposition, legitimately or illegitimately, from the linkage. Statistics about Sweden are significantly germane to such a universal claim, for they indicate that something more is going on in its population’s widespread espousal of atheism. One has to consider the various features that exhibit “intelligence” in Zuckerman’s lexicon, and ask what they are precisely and how significant in the panoply is “getting and staying married.” Whether one makes it essential or adventitious to intelligence, a society that dispenses with marriage can hardly be considered “intelligent” on his terms, not mine.

      9. Of course, I am keenly aware that he is formulating generalizations, not dogmas. But once again it seems unclear to you that I am dealing with contextual (not logical) implications that are likely to be turned into universal claims by readers who, either because they are academically untutored or driven by bias, draw such an unwarranted conclusion. Consider how Dennett uses the term “Brights.” If pressed on the label, he would undoubtedly say that there are some intelligent people who are theists, although he does not hide his consternation that there are. But simply because they believe in God or are Christians, he would withhold the designation “Brights” from them. I think you are smart enough to see what is happening in such a case. Surely you can understand that the untutored or biased will see the label “intelligent” in much the same way. You are mistaken when you accuse me of a logical fallacy by using anecdotes. In reference to an implied or inferred universal claim, an appeal to an authentic anecdote is entirely logical, relevant, and decisive.

      10. Of course this point is not spelled out or advocated in Zuckerman’s article. But I did not write a review; I wrote a critique. And as a critic, I am obliged to deal with all kinds of consequences and misuses of the article’s contentions. I think you make one of my major points admirably. All kinds of subjective reductionisms, especially psychological or social, and genetic fallacies should be exposed as irrelevant to the question of God’s reality. No counting of heads, intelligent or otherwise, determines the answer. I am an advocate of reasons and evidence and a comprehensive case for theism. I respect atheists and agnostics who struggle with objective issues–like evil in the world or the hiddenness of God. These are objective issues that need to be dealt with objectively and not in terms of mere psychology or sociology. Long ago Freud fell into that pit and couldn’t dig himself out.

      Once again, I appreciate your effort to address the issues and to abstain from ad hominems. But please re-think your evaluation, and understand that I am not as concerned about Zuckerman’s statistics and descriptive analyses–which I don’t contest, as I am about the interpretation that he puts on them, and, most importantly, the illicit inferences that are likely to be drawn by some–perhaps many–readers.

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      • I have not read the article but I already question its statistics as the IQ test, for a long time now, has come under serious criticism by psychologist as an accurate measure of intelligence. This paper is drawing on studies done as far back as what, the 1920s and 30s? And as this article points out ( ). IQ testing has been used in the past to “…to link cognitive ability to race, gender and class.” In other words, IQ tests have been used to shore up social policies that are both race and gender biased. I know this is the case at least until the 1980s, when my friend and teacher, a PhD professor in political science who immigrated to the US from China, took the test and explained that she did poorly in it because of a cultural gap (specifically upper class culture), not a cognitive gap. The fact that this study is relying on such disputed measures of intelligence throws any kind of statistical conclusions about correlation into serious doubt.

  8. I’ve got some oceanfront property in Colorado for you, “Dr.”

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    • Will: It really is sad that you have nothing worth saying. At least Nick seeks to engage the content of my article. So far most of the responses are completely vacuous and irrelevant. Why would anyone attach his name to such bankrupt comments? Cheap shots may tickle those who are like-minded with their authors, but they are really embarrassing to those who make them. I am truly delighted with Nick’s reply, and I will be responding to it later. Have a nice day relaxing on your oceanfront property in Colorado!

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      • Mr. Hanna,

        Its cute the way you like to flex your vocabulary and although you seem to get a kick out of out-wording people on the internet it is clear to me that your apparent intelligence doesn’t inspire you to be passionately curious, as most atheists are. You claim to intellectually above all who comment in favor of this article yet you attack them with the same childish, superior, vengeance that an angry 10 year old might retaliate on youtube. Logic holds almost no value when it is applied to a an ignorant body of knowledge. Like a super-computer with no data to process you spout out technical answers based on an obvious life of indoctrination. We do not become atheists because we buy into any one ideology, we become atheists because a tireless, never ending, research of all known sciences and religious histories leads us to this all-to-obvious conclusion. Try using your considerable intelligent for a fair, unbiased examination of the universe and all the wonders it holds, then, ask your conscious mind if you truly buy into the manufactured ghost stories of near illiterate middle eastern sheep herders. (b.t.w. please reference ONE serious study, not funded by a christian organization, that finds that 40% of contemporary scientists believe in God. The number, i assure you, is closer to 11 or 12%)

      • Logan: The respected pollsters of state that the percentage of scientists who believe in God or some form of deity outside the natural world is 51%. So my figure is conservative. I think you may have missed my point in this regard. Truth is not established by counting heads. The point is that there are theistic scientists no less intelligent and brilliant than atheistic scientists. The number could be 5% or even 1%, and my point stands. The point is twofold: First, it would be unwarranted to consider anyone who is both a scientist and theist as less intelligent than non-theist scientists, and, second, your assumption that knowing a lot about the universe would lead someone to become an atheist is contradicted by the fact that scientists in many fields know more abut the universe than you and I, and, as a result some have become theists and Christians (e.g. Alan Sandage) and others grow stronger in their theism.

        You are making several gratuitous assumptions. First, I don’t “flex” my vocabulary. I simply seek to express my ideas naturally as I have for decades in the context of philosophical discussions. I don’t consult the dictionary to find some unfamiliar word to try to impress anyone. Second, I find it amazing that you would make the assumption about someone you do not know that he is not as “passionately curious” as atheists. This seems to come from a stereotype in your head that prejudges people simply because they are theists or Christians–ipso facto, they must be less curious than others. Studying the history of science would enable a person to shed the stereotype, for many scientists in the vanguard of the particular scientific fields have been theists or Christians. Would you say Copernicus and Galileo were lacking in curiosity, or how about Newton?

        Contrary to your sweeping assumption that people become atheists because of their knowledge of science and religious history, there is absolutely nothing in science that entails atheism–otherwise the 51% (or whatever number of theistic scientists there have been and are) would be atheists, and they are not. As to religious history, I have categorically repudiated the anti-intellectualism and coercion, etc., of most of it (See my introduction to BIBLICAL CHRISTIANITY: TRUTH OR DELUSION?). There are plenty of scholars who know more about both science and religious history than you or I, and their knowledge has not led them to forfeit theism for atheism. Even if you say that it would tend to do so, thereby converting your universal claim into a generalization that allows for exceptions. The problem still rears its head in the exceptions. How does one account for them objectively and fairly? Atheists have no convincing answer.

        Logan, I have been studying the sciences for decades, and it is the wonders of the universe, which you rightly cite, that raises the questions that ought to open the minds of agnostics and atheists to abductively pursue the most adequate explanation for them–and for the very existence of the universe and its amazing structures from the microcosm to the macrocosm wherein one FINDS encoded information. If one understands the nature of information, he will also realize that it can only come from a MIND.

        Since I don’t know what kind of education you have had, I will not assert but only surmise that you may be unfamiliar with several revolutionary discoveries in twentieth-century science that have led former agnostic and atheist scientists and philosophers to become theists and Christians.

        Please don’t come across as contemptuous and angry, which you may not actually be, but your mode of expression seems to reflect such an attitude. Your exhortation to me is quite assumptive, for it presupposes that I have not been studying science or not for very long. How about five decades? Does that suffice? You should self-critically re-examine your facile assumption that if someone studies science and the universe in depth, voila! he will become an atheist. Numerous relevant counter-examples falsifies such an assumption. On the contrary, many have become theists–(read about Alan Sandage, Antony Flew, et al.).

  9. Wow, I can’t help but chuckle at all you super intelligent people battling it out. Mere ‘average’ people like me must seem pretty dumb in your eyes. What an attractive quality you have. Is a high IQ a true indicator of the ability to understand truth? I think there’s more to truth than what can be scientifically understood and verified. Intelligence is a good thing, but not at the expense of humility, wonder and faith. As a believer myself, I’m getting used to regulaly being derided as believing in a ‘sky fairy’ etc etc. Yeah, funny, I know. I say fair play to Mark for countering what is a blatant generalistion in this study. Clearly, the populist view is that there is no God – and there are many people out there banging this drum in various different ways as if it’s going to make the world a better place. It seems to me that atheists are virtually making a religion out of non-religion. For me, since I came to know Jesus Christ, my life has been transformed for the better and if that makes me stupid in some peoples eyes, then so be it.

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    • It’s not that theists are stupid. It is just that when it comes to god hypotheses theists don’t apply the same method of testing. When you check the water temperature you use physical evidence, but when it comes to gods you throw all our tools of understanding out the window. At the very least if gods are metaphysical they must be able to affect the world in some way (the weather doesn’t count anymore since we understand the processes behind it). Getting answers from a static book like the quran or the bible means you stop looking for answers. Maybe there IS a better answer out there but you’ll never find it if you don’t look

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      • Leo: Every discipline has its own appropriate methodology. You cannot use the empirical tests in physics and chemistry when dealing with pure mathematics or logic. And there are other disciplines besides those that have their own tests. Any attempt to apply the methodologies of the empirical sciences to history, jurisprudence, forensics, archaeology, ethics, and aesthetics is to fall into the error of scientism. Methods of testing and evaluation must be appropriate to the nature of the object in question. It is a widely held misunderstanding to think that if one recognizes the Bible as divine revelation, he stops looking for answers. The multiplication table in arithmetic is static, and so are the truth-tables in logic. That they are “static,” as you put it, does not keep anyone from looking for answers to all kinds of questions–even in math and logic themselves along with a vast and diverse world of inquiry. No informed Christian thinks he has all the answers. Christians continue to be in the vanguard of all the disciplines, scientific and otherwise.

    • You met him too!!! He makes the best tamales!!! All seriousness though. As a believer in the fact that there is a great deal we do not know, or will ever know, about this universe, I have a really hard time putting all my eggs in a 2000 year old offshoot of Judaism. I’m all for happiness, and if believing in a magic sky fairy makes you happy, so be it. I don’t judge you for choosing happiness or bliss in a world wracked with violence and pain. But the facts do support that those with a greater capacity for critical thinking tend to sway against arguments that lack evidence.

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      • Fort: I empathize with your need for evidence. I need it, too. But there are two kinds of important questions I would ask anyone who desires evidence. First, how do you define evidence? What kind of evidence would it take to convince you of a claim, and wouldn’t that depend on the kind of claim that is being made? Second, I find that most people who reject biblical Christianity have very little knowledge of the evidences that corroborate it. What SCHOLARLY books presenting the evidences for the Christian faith have your studied? Many people make premature and erroneous judgments about all kinds of things because they really do not know what the evidence is.

      • “First, how do you define evidence?”

        Well, let’s start off with Wikipedia’s intro on scientific evidence: “Scientific evidence is evidence which serves to either support or counter a scientific theory or hypothesis. Such evidence is expected to be empirical evidence and in accordance with scientific method. Standards for scientific evidence vary according to the field of inquiry, but the strength of scientific evidence is generally based on the results of statistical analysis and the strength of scientific controls.”

        Now, as you point out, what constitutes evidence for any given claim depends on the nature of the claim itself. Mundane claims require very little evidence while, as the saying goes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

        If you have a hypothesis, then you should test that hypothesis by looking at data which could disprove that hypothesis. That kind of data would be evidence if it supported the hypothesis. To accept a hypothesis, the hypothesis should also have greater explanatory power than any competing hypotheses and better fit the evidence.

        “I find that most people who reject biblical Christianity have very little knowledge of the evidences that corroborate it.”

        It’s not surprising you’d find things that you’d want to believe are true. However, this can be due to personal biases, rather it actually describing reality. To test a hypothesis like the one you just made you’d need to run an unbiased survey.

        And guess what? Surveys *have* been done examining the relationship between knowledge of religion and religious beliefs. In general they’ve found that atheists/agnostics have better overall knowledge of religion than any other group, and only Mormons knew more than atheists on the topic of Christianity specifically. See the Pew research report “Who Knows What About Religion” from 2010.

        So, in other words, the evidence suggests your personal bias has clouded your judgment regarding how informed atheists/agnostics are, and led you to false conclusions.

        I can’t say this is what you’re doing in specific, but in my experience, people who claim that atheists aren’t aware of the evidence generally tend do so because they make the assumption that you cannot be aware of the evidence and still reject it. The fact is, there are many atheists who are very well-read on the topic of religion and its supposed evidences, and they still reject them because they’re based on logical fallacies, hearsay, or other such extremely weak and useless forms of evidence.

        “What SCHOLARLY books presenting the evidences for the Christian faith have your studied?”

        It’s funny that you put it that way, since by noting that it is a faith position, one that is accepted without evidence, this means that no reading of books of any kind is necessary. The Bible itself describes “faith” as being sure of things hoped for and certain of things with no evidence (to paraphrase Hebrews 11:1).

        If you have evidence, then it stops being faith. Christianity requires faith because it has no strong objective evidence supporting it.

        The simple fact is, religion is based on claims of the supernatural, and no book, scholarly or not, has yet produced strong objective evidence for the supernatural. If you think one or more have, rather than beat around the bush, simply name the BEST one we should look at. You may find, much to your surprise, that we’ve already researched its claims and found them insufficient or faulty.

        Furthermore, if you’re making the claim, then the burden of proof lies upon you to present the evidence. You shouldn’t expect us to have to read tons of scholarly books and disprove your claim before we have reason to disbelieve, otherwise you’re reversing the burden of proof.

  10. The study you discuss does have some serious problems, however you fail to address any of them, instead committing the numerous logical fallacies that others here have mentioned. Regarding your critiques:

    1.) “It is hardly surprising that a paper published by ‘Personality and Social Psychology Review’ would present an essentially reductionist view of theism and ‘religious belief.’”

    This is the “poisoning the well” fallacy, a basic kind of ad hominem attack, where rather than criticizing the substance of the paper, you attack the integrity of the thing presenting the argument. This is a fallacy because even “bad” people can present true information.

    It’s also blatantly false that the journal’s premise is that “that everything in human experience can be exhaustively explained in terms of psychology and sociology.” This is just a journal on the topic of psychology and sociology, it’s not saying that there is nothing outside that.

    2.) “there are no such things as unqualified ‘religious beliefs,’ nor is there such a thing as ‘religion.’”

    This will be of great surprise to religious scholars who study religion and religious beliefs.

    I’m sorry, but the fact that there are specific religions doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as religion. “Religion” is simply an umbrella category for all religions, the same with “religious beliefs”.

    This is actually a rather silly argument, it’s like you’re *trying* to misunderstand the authors.

    3.) “it fails to distinguish causes from reasons”

    Reasons and causes are irrelevant when all you’re looking for is a correlation. Also, reasons *are* causes in many cases.

    “it commits the genetic fallacy by implying that causes are determinative for the truth or falsity of theism and atheism.”

    What? First of all, a genetic fallacy is where a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone’s origin rather than its current meaning or context. This doesn’t even apply here.

    Second of all, the article didn’t discuss the “truth or falsity of theism and atheism” at all. It merely looked at the correlation between religious belief and intelligence. You’re reading things into it that aren’t there.

    4.) “A corollary of the implicit psychosocial reductionism in the article is the assumption that there are no needs that humans have beyond such mundane ones.”

    Again, what? The article makes no such assumptions. This just sounds like a knee-jerk reaction to a presumed bias. I challenge you to present one quote from the study where the authors make such a claim.

    5.) “The article seeks to link ‘intelligent people typically spend more time in school,’ on the one hand, with atheism, on the other hand. This is fatuous, for the amount of time spent in school is not as important as the quality of the education people receive in school.”

    Your argument is a non-sequitur. Quality may be better than quantity in education, sure, but that doesn’t change the fact that intelligent people tend to spend more time in school. Whether or not there really is a correlation between intelligence and religiosity or not is also unaffected by that point.

    If anything is “fatuous” here, it’s your further criticisms of education in critical thinking in that particular item.

    6.) “The article’s observation that most scientists are atheists and agnostics is also unsurprising.”

    Good, then we’re agreed.

    …Oh wait, you decided to use this as a springboard for some completely tangential criticism of Dawkins and your absurd comments about “the theory of scientism” and methodological naturalism (not that you use that phrase).

    Let’s stay on topic, please.

    7.) “The article refers to current explanations that are based on the premise that ‘religious beliefs are irrational.’ Since the term ‘irrational’ means different things to different people, such an assertion is problematic.”

    Not when they explain, as they did, exactly *why* it is seen as irrational. “Most extant explanations (of a negative relation) share one central theme – the premise that religious beliefs are irrational, not anchored in science, not testable and, therefore, unappealing to intelligent people who ‘know better.’”

    If you read the first part of that sentence, you must have read the latter part, so claiming that “‘irrational’ means different things to different people” is completely disingenuous when they so clearly demonstrated exactly what they meant by that.

    8.) “Another problematic claim of the article is the linkage between ‘intelligent people are more likely to get and stay married,’ on the one hand, and atheism, on the other hand.”

    I agree it is a weak relationship, and they even discuss some problems with it. It’s discussed primarily in an attempt to explain the relationship between intelligence and marriage.

    “The article does not explicitly tell us what number on the IQ scale differentiates intelligent people from non-intelligent people”

    This is *almost* a legitimate criticism, however when they speak of “intelligent people” they are generally speaking of it as a relationship between intelligence and the factor they’re discussing. So when they say, “intelligent people tend to do/be/have X”, they just mean that intelligence is correlated with that factor. One does not need a specific boundary line for this argument.

    Your attack on Sweden, however, was completely misguided. Sweden actually has a lower divorce/marriage ratio (47%) than the United States (53%). See:

    It’s also dishonest, because you are, as Qalnor has pointed out, confusing individuals for averages. I too could cherry pick a country, such as the highly religious Portugal and it’s 2nd highest divorce/marriage ratio of 68%, and note how this supports the idea that religion leads to more divorce, but this is merely a single point of data. It’s almost meaningless by itself. So, even if your single counterexample had actually worked, it wouldn’t disprove claims made about an average.

    9.) “without specifying the differential criteria distinguishing the intelligent from the non-intelligent [...] the entire article is question-begging.”

    This is a repeat of the complaint I addressed in point 8. One does not need to draw a line between two groups within a continuum in order to show a correlation between being high on that continuum and some other tendency.

    Also, you don’t know your logical fallacies very well. “Question-begging” is where you assume your conclusion in your premise. This does no such thing, because it’s not defining “intelligence” as “non-religious”, it defines the terms separately and then shows a correlation.

    And as pointed out earlier, “examples of extraordinarily intelligent people who have believed in God” do NOT “serve to eviscerate their theory”, because a tiny number of individual examples cannot disprove a trend. There are often outliers in most groups, which would totally explain these examples. (I’m not necessarily claiming that this is or must be the explanation, simply that it’s possible that it can adequately explain this.)

    “According to a recent poll, about 40% of contemporary scientists say they believe in God.”

    Are you referring to the 2009 Pew survey on “Scientists and Belief”? If so, it actually found that only 33% of scientists believe in God (this climbs to 51% if you include belief in “a universal spirit or higher power”) compared to 83% of the general public:

    “Are all of these philosophers and scientists to be considered unintelligent?”

    I don’t know why you threw the word “philosophers” in there, since this was a survey of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, not philosophers. In any case, you are confusing a trend for a requirement. Just because an X tends to be a Y, it’s an error to assume that this means that anything that isn’t a Y cannot be an X. So, it’s possible to be intelligent *and* religious, this study just says that it’s less likely in general.

    10.) “Zuckerman’s article will undoubtedly be used by atheists and agnostics in their attempts to recruit others into their fold–especially those lacking in sufficient intelligence to see through their inane propaganda.”

    This is actually a fallacy known as appeal to consequences. You don’t like the potential consequences, therefore it must be wrong.

    The fact is, some atheists and agnostics, myself included, disregard the study on far more rational grounds than you’ve given. For example:

    “Y’all can stop patting yourselves on the back now” – P. Z. Meyers (8/13/’13)

    “That IQ And Atheism Study” – William M. Briggs (8/13/’13)

    You would do well to read those and see how more honest criticism looks. P. Z. Meyers even went so far as to correct his post when it was pointed out to him that one of his claims was wrong (though non-damaging to his main point).

    I’d criticize your critique further, but honestly I’m out of steam at this point, and I think I’ve adequately addressed enough of your points to show you most of the many flaws in your arguments/conclusions.

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  11. Great stuff here Dr. Hanna! …not including most of the comments, that is. Most points I had have been covered, but I have two questions…rather than critiques.
    1) I was born an atheist. I have the inclination to believe all humans are born atheist. My parents did not indoctrinate me with any religion, and did not say there was no supernatural entities…I simply was never exposed to the idea of there being anything outside of the natural world until middle school or so. And when I found out that people actually believe in magic and supernatural entities, I thought they were all crazy. Equally, there has really never been a moment where I have believed there to be a god (in any sense), despite an immense desire for there to be an afterlife, etc. So my question is: Do you assume that the belief in a god is innate? It would seem to be an acquired trait to me. And I don’t mean any god in particular, I mean that the whole idea of supernatural beings is an acquired trait.

    2) Instead of stealing his points, could you just give me your input on this lecture?

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    • Wow, that was even worse than this criticism. Way worse.

      Although, like this article, it also brings up BS Sweden statistics. It uses rape statistics from, which itself says, “Crime statistics are often better indicators of prevalence of law enforcement and willingness to report crime, than actual prevalence.”

      So you’re not actually seeing more rapes, you’re seeing more *reporting* of rape. More reporting of rape is actually a better indicator of a society that is capable of catching rapists, than an indicator of how likely rape is there. So, in an odd way, this may actually be a point in Sweden’s favor (supposing the data is based on conviction numbers, and not merely estimates).

      Furthermore, the definition of the term “rape” varies from country to country. In some countries they do not recognize spousal rape. Sweden is not one of those countries. Thus if another country which didn’t count spousal rape had the exact same rate of rape as Sweden, that country would report a lower rate. So by comparing countries with different definitions of “rape” you’re unwittingly comparing apples and oranges.

      It should also be noted that does not have any rape statistics at all for many countries, including countries known for having rape gangs. So the worst offenders aren’t even on their list.

      Seriously, that article ends with trying to claim atheism is a religion. Their argument is basically, “atheism is a religion because it is a belief.” This is absurd for two reasons. 1.) “Atheism” is actually defined as an *absence* of a belief in the existence of deities, so it does not necessarily include *any* positive claims of belief. 2.) If having a belief makes something a religion, then that makes my belief that I like ham and cheese sandwiches a religion. See how silly that argument is?

      The rest of the article is filled with equally bizarre reasoning and more BS statistics.

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      • So, your position on God is that he/she might exist, it is just that you don’t know? Because that is generally thought of as being an agnostic. An atheist is typically thought of as holding the position that there is no god, divine being etc. While not a religion, it is a personal statement of belief as it is impossible to empirically disprove the existence of the supernatural (that’s why its called the supernatural hehe). You can say atheism is more rational than religion because you only allow yourself to be persuaded by empirical evidence, rather than taking anything on faith, but this clashes with an agnostic’s argument that their position is the most rational since they have no evidence one way or the other with regards to religion, and so they abstain from taking a position. I don’t know about the linked article, but I already have zero-confidence in Zuckerman’s research and explain why in at least two other places in this thread.

      • Moes1980: “So, your position on God is that he/she might exist, it is just that you don’t know? Because that is generally thought of as being an agnostic.”

        I am an agnostic atheist. Agnosticism is a statement about knowledge, while atheism is a statement about belief. The terms are not mutually exclusive.

        Moes1980: “An atheist is typically thought of as holding the position that there is no god, divine being etc.”

        This is a common misunderstanding of the term “atheism”. There are two opposing claims: “gods exist” and “gods don’t exist”. An “atheist” is defined as someone who simply does not believe the “gods exist” claim. They may or may not believe the opposite claim, but their stance on the opposite claim is basically irrelevant when it comes to determining if someone is an atheist or not. All that matters when determining if someone is an atheist is determining that they don’t have a belief that gods exist.

        So, since atheism isn’t a statement of a belief, rather it’s an absence of a belief, the rest of your argument against atheism falls apart.

        Read my criticisms above and you’ll note that I, an avowed atheist, also have little confidence in Zuckerman’s research, just for far better reasons than given in this post.

        You make a far better point than Hanna in that the problem is that the data is bad, but you do yourself a disservice by suggesting that Hanna’s arguments have much credibility. If you haven’t read it yet, I’d like to see your comments on my earlier point-by-point criticism.


  12. AS a 5th year PhD candidate at a Russel K university, I can attest that Dr. Hanna’s critique is spot on. Yeah, its distracting having the religious stuff thrown into the mix but then, this is “geeky” so the bible references shouldn’t be a big surprise. But from an academic standpoint, the non-religious critiques are spot on. The failure to differentiate types of religion, and limiting measure of religion to things like church attendance is problematic. Number 3 is especially relevant. Another way of stating point number 3 would be to say “90 percent of the population that believes in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity are to dumb to actually understand the math behind it, and so therefore it must be false.” But of course, the population’s ability to grasp the details of Einstein’s theory has no bearing on its validity. In the same way, a demonstration that only “dumb” people believe in God does not actually mean that God does not exist. We cannot posit reality with our thoughts (unless we are talking about Hegel but that is a different story :P ).

    Because of this, the article boils down to a psychological theory devoid of any theological conclusions (as it should since it claims to be a scientific paper. Science deals strictly with natural forces, not supernatural or divine will etc). Namely, the psychological theory is that religion is attractive because it provides some kind of cognitive benefit, such as coping with hard times or, ascribing meaning to an otherwise short and pointless life etc, and that, for what ever reason, intelligent people are getting these needs fulfilled though some other avenue and so they don’t need religion. But the research draws on IQ tests done as far back as the 1920s or 30s, which is problematic since the IQ score has long been in dispute as a good measure of intelligence (it is rife with cultural bias and has been used in the past to promote policies that are gender and race biased). But Dr Hanna’s point with Sweden is even more spot on, pointing out that more must be going on under the hood, so to speak, since they have a population of wealth, well educated, atheists that have a high rate of divorce. In other words, their high intelligence has not supplemented the role of religion in providing happy stable marriages as the article suggests. While not a totally sweeping condemnation of every aspect of the article, it strongly suggests that the linkage the article makes between psychological needs and their provisions through religion/intelligence has not been well thought out. It is a poor article and I am sure that Zuckerman’s article will probably be ripped into pretty badly by other PhD psychologists in further journal volumes.

    That is another thing I want to point out real quick. The thing about all these academic journal articles that come out, people who are outside the circle of academics see them and go “ohhh, what a fascinating conclusion!” They don’t see what happens down the road at the next conference, book review, or journal article, where a half dozen or more other PhD’s point out everything wrong with the article. This process goes back and forth for about 10, 15, 20 years or more and if your theory really was good, and it more or less survived (with several major revisions, for sure), then you might have a theory that is largely respected by the science community. In other words, no other psychologists are going to accept this article at face value, and so neither should we. Otherwise, ourselves are failing in our ability to be critical. As for the religious stuff, yeah, its distracting, but this is clearly a christian website so its going to come with the territory. And, at any rate, it is an interesting suggestion that its not intelligence that leads to atheism, its arrogance (an alternative theory proposed to explain the positive correlation between intelligence and atheism despite no additional cognitive function being evident) . Of course there is no way to empirically validate this, and, further more, I would contest even the conclusion that more intelligent people tend to to be atheist since the intelligence measure is so suspect. but its an interesting religious/philosophical thought, if you are in to that sort of thing :P

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