CHE BELLO’s emerging atheism.

June 14, 2008 at 1:28 pm (Chronicle of Higher Education) (, , , , , )

I’ve been struggling a great deal lately with the concept of religion. Having always been of a rather rigorously logical mindset, blind acceptance of supernatural forces doesn’t neatly mesh for me. But these are concerns for a later post, perhaps. I want to start a new series of posts which will serve to quickly summarize new academic research and break it down into easily digestible chunks. So much of academic writing (and I’m guilty, too) is inaccessible to anyone except experts in the field, what I see as a disservice to what we’re supposed to do as generators of knowledge. So today starts Che Bello’s Chronicle of Higher Education. Enjoy the first installment.

  • Professor Richard Lynn of Ulster University has published a controversial paper in the journal Intelligence. His major claim is that increased intelligence leads to decreased likelihood of belief in God.
  • A survey of members of the UK’s Royal Society fellows found that only 3.3% believed in God, and a parallel survey of members of the American National Academy of Sciences found a rate of only 7%.
  • Gordon Lynch of Birkbeck College warns of the dangers of characterizing religion as primitive, which he says is “perhaps not the most helpful response” in an age dealing with problems of religion and cultural pluralism.
  • Lynn’s study does not take into account social, historical, or economic factors which are widely believed to influence the likelihood of religious belief.

What do you think, dear readership? Are those of higher intelligence really less likely to believe in God? Do other conditions have greater impact on that likelihood, such as poverty, living in areas of endemic conflict, or being chronically ill? Do we risk angering the religious through studies like these and, if so, which should be more highly valued, pure intellectual curiosity or the social stability of a society which may subvert the truth?



  1. Samuel Skinner said,

    The link is education. Smart people get education and become atheists- a fact that was obvious for thousands of years.

  2. thismomentnow said,

    I think it can get a little dangerous to equate atheism with lower intelligence.
    There have been brilliant individuals who have been atheists, as well as brilliant individuals who have been believers.
    Is there a study that shows some inverse correlation between higher education and a belief in God? Even if there is such a finding, however, it does not mean that a belief in God is wrong.
    “Smart people get education and become atheists”. For what it’s worth (not much), the opposite was true for me. I went to college, and grad school, have degrees in the sciences, and my belief in God has only grown stronger.

  3. David said,

    @Samuel — I think you’re missing a few points. First of all, you say “smart people get education,” already acknowledging that those who become atheists are inherently more intelligent. Secondly, there are plenty of people who get religious educations — surely the act of being educated does not in this case lead to atheism.

    @thismomentnow — To respond to your first sentence, the association is between atheism and HIGHER intelligence, although I think that may be what you meant to say. And the study being discussed is just the kind of study you asked to see: more educated (and assumedly intelligent) individuals believe in God in far lower proportions than seen in the wider population. I agree that this does not inherently make a belief in God false, but why do you think more intelligent individuals believe in lesser quantities? My guess is that more rationally-based minds have trouble accepting the irrational aspects of religion, preferring a materialism which allows them to rationally derive truth from what they can observe. (I welcome your comments, as those with degrees in the sciences are trained to do just that.)

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