Analytical Atheists

Is it Wrong to Say We Are Smarter Than Our Religious Brethren?  

An analytical atheist is quite a compelling character, a modern archetype often standing the Contrarian to traditional faith. Apparently, if you believe in god, you're more likely to score lower on an IQ test than these people do, according to recent studies!

One of them specifically looking into the connection between atheism and IQ was published in the journal Intelligence in 2013. It analysed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which included over 20,000 participants. Individuals who identified as atheists or agnostics had higher verbal intelligence scores than those who identified as religious.

We use our verbal reasoning to conceptualise words for problem solving and reasoning. However, non-believers and believers had very similar non-verbal intelligence scores (Nyborg, 2013). Non-verbal intelligence is that ability to address visual, wordless issues.

We forget that IQ tests are only an estimation of intelligence; an assessment of how candidates perform at taking the test. So, it is quite presumptuous for atheists to believe they can always outsmart believers.

The tests can only represent a sample of a human's intelligence, namely: mathematics, language, problem solving and recognising patterns. Our philosophical potential, Machiavellianism, common sense, not forgetting athletic intelligence are not included. 

In 2010, a meta-analysis was published in the journal: Personality and Social Psychology Review, which analysed data from 63 studies conducted over 80 years and noticed a slightly statistically significant negative correlation between religiosity and intelligence (Zuckerman et al, 2010).

Negative correlation simply means, 'more' having a downward connection with 'less,' for example: the more you eat, the less hunger you have. This result suggests the more religious one might be, the less IQ they appear to have.

Far enough, do we consign the faithful in the dunce's corner now? Of course not! Authors clarified that religiosity and intelligence is a complex relationship explained by numerous factors, one negative correlation, for example, sits with those who’re naturally inclined to critical thinking and analysis. Curious minds will question theological challenges in theism and find little satisfaction when insufficient answers and absent evidence reveal nothing. These types of cerebral personalities usually perform well in IQ tests.

Another study was published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science in 2017. This one reckons that believers are more likely to take-up conspiracy theories than atheists. It also says believers are less likely to engage in analytical thinking when compared to non-believers (Gervais & Norenzayan, 2017).

The thing is, not all conspiracy theories are off-the-wall codswallop are they? Take Russian interference with the 2016 election or Cambridge Analytica, for example. In the eighties or nineties a journalist called Gary Webb, was branded a conspiracy nut, but when he uncovered a CIA drug trafficking conspiracy he was vindicated. 

These studies have limitations, we can’t take it as definitive proof that atheists are smarter than theists, just better performances on a test. A plethora of environmental factors, including class, environment, education, stress and genetics contribute to the mind.

Furthermore, we see countless intelligent, successful people who practise a religion. IQ and the status of beliefs is not directly causal. 

Going on these studies, you could be forgiven for asking: 'Does this suggest atheists have bigger brains?' it makes sense, bigger brains have always been associated with being smart. Pietschnig et al (2022), found previous studies are fuzzy as to what degree brain size reflects IQ score.

Meta-analysis of 86 studies with over 26,000 people discovered this connection was nothing to write home about. The areas of correlation between brain size and IQ score have reduced over time, not because of our brains changing, but because of uncertainty around the data recorded in previous studies. 

Rest assured, the claims in these studies cited above have been criticised; critics argued studies may have been subject to selection bias. On the other hand, the critics fail to explore critical thinkers who are in fact religious in much depth.

It is vitally important to recognise that the relationship between one's faith and their intelligence should not be decreed by an IQ test certificate. Your intelligence quote has nothing to do with a person's belief or non-belief status. 


Gervais, W. M., & Norenzayan, A. (2017). Analytic thinking promotes religious disbelief. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 8(7), 742-749.

Nyborg, H. (2013). The intelligence–religiosity nexus: A representative study of white adolescent Americans. Intelligence, 41(6), 678-689.

Pietschnig, J. Gerdesmann, D. Zeile, M. Voracek, M. (2022) Of differing methods, disputed estimates and discordant interpretations: the meta-analytical multiverse of brain volume and IQ associations [Online] Available from:

Zuckerman, M., Silberman, J., & Hall, J. A. (2010). The relation between intelligence and religiosity: A meta-analysis and some proposed explanations. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 14(4), 353-374.

Zuckerman, M. Li, C. Lin, S. & Hall, J. A. (2020). The negative intelligence–religiosity relation: New and confirming evidence. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 46(6), 856–868.


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