Do nonbelievers have higher IQs than believers?

Yes, statistically speaking, there is a negative correlation between belief in God and IQ.  It may or may not have been true back in the days when monks were saving civilization, but it appears to be true today.  From this, some people draw the conclusion that God is not likely to exist.  This is not sound logic.  It’s an understandable shortcut in a world where we don’t have time to investigate everything we hear, but this subject is potentially too important to deserve anything less than careful thought.

Consider that there is also a negative correlation between wealth and belief in God. People in wealthier countries are less religious than those in poorer countries.  Within the U.S., people in wealthier states are less religious. What might be going on here?

Both money and intelligence – and I would strongly suspect other things like education level, physical strength, beauty, health, youth, popularity, etc. – are things that make a person feel self-sufficient, superior to others, and possibly meritorious. They feed one’s pride, a serious and very subtle kind of sin (especially for those who don’t think of themselves as proud). God’s message is not typically received as “good news” when one is “on top” in this life (there is an especially poignant demonstration of this in Mark 10:17-31). Especially difficult to accept is a God before whom we are equals, a God who is not impressed by a high IQ or a pretty face or a fat wallet. These things ultimately come from Him, not from our own merit. Throughout the Old Testament (e.g. Proverbs 3:34) and New Testament (e.g. James 4:6) we find the theme that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.

However, for someone poor (in any sense of the word), the idea that this life is not the whole story, that they have equal dignity to the rich or smart or strong, is good news. Indeed, it’s been quipped that the Gospel was sent “to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable”. I’d say that’s a pretty accurate assessment.

So, a correlation between IQ and faith (or anything else) can have many possible origins. However, once such a correlation takes hold, it can be self-reinforcing. People observe the correlation (which I’ve found to be obvious enough from personal experience) and it influences their conclusions (sometimes with prodding). Going against the grain begins to have a personal cost, one that is in some cases severe for Christians in academia. I would imagine the marketplace plays its part, too; I’ve noticed (anecdotally) that entertainment targeted at more intelligent folks tends to be, all other things equal, less flattering in its portrayal of religion.

Of course, all attempts to explain correlations or think about people’s motives for believing something, one way or the other, are just a distraction from the more pertinent question. Is the thing under consideration true or not? I hope that the rest of this website is helpful to readers in considering belief in God, and Christ specifically, on the merits. A correlation is just a correlation. Each of us is an individual and makes a choice which path to take.

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