Most people don’t relate the concepts of religion and evidence because, by its definition, religion involves a faith or belief outside of facts and data. Nonetheless, there are plenty of researchers who have dedicated their careers to studying how religion impacts people and society. So I was intrigued to come across a new meta-analysis last week that delved into the relationship between intelligence and religiosity.
The analysis, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Review, examined 63 studies conducted between 1928 and 2012. It concluded that people with religious beliefs tend to score lower on analytic intelligence tests compared to people who are not religious.
For many, this is a controversial conclusion for sure. Certainly, it’s worth pointing out that the review is a statistical correlation of data – not a description of individuals. Clearly, some people are very religious and also very intelligent, while others are not very religious or intelligent.
It’s also worth noting how the authors measured religiosity: belief in the supernatural, offering gifts to the supernatural, performing rituals affirming their beliefs, church attendance, and membership in religious organizations.
The authors also offer three potential explanations for their conclusions that analytical intelligence is inversely related to religiosity:
- People who are more intelligent also tend to be less likely to conform to social norms, therefor they are more likely to resist religious dogma.
- People who score well on analytical intelligence tests do not like to accept beliefs that are not subject to empirical tests or logical reasoning.
- And intelligence provides some of the same benefits as religion, such as a sense of control, self-worth and the ability to delay gratification.
If you’re interested in learning more, there is an interesting article on the review in the online magazine ars technica.
It’s also worth noting there are other systematic reviews focused on the benefits of religion – specifically on the mental health of vulnerable populations, coping with trauma, and health behaviors among young people, to name a few.
The take-home messages: While religion is a complex subject for researchers, there is some interesting evidence that sheds light on what it means for individuals and society.