Is Religious Skepticism a Sign of Intelligence?

Regis Nicoll
Regis Nicoll

I have yet to meet an atheist (and I’ve met and had lengthy conversations with quite a few) who didn’t believe that really smart people (like him) don’t believe in God. It’s a sentiment seemingly supported by various polling data.

According to a 2017 Pew survey, belief in God is lower among college-educated individuals than among those having no college. Other polls have found that most scientists, including an overwhelming percentage of those in the National Academy of Science, deny the existence of God.

Thus, as Richard Lynn, professor of psychology at the University of Ulster and religious skeptic, sees it: belief in God is “simply a matter of IQ”—that is, the more intelligent you are, the less likely you will be inclined to religious belief.

Of course, that all depends on what one means by intelligence. In fact, as a friend of mine once quipped: “Can a person who flunks the test to the most basic question in life (‘is there a God?’) be considered intelligent?” Right, because everything we “know” about the world, human nature, moral ethics, and life’s purpose hangs on what we believe about their source.

But what is “intelligence?” Surprisingly, there is no unanimous agreement, except, it is whatever intelligence tests measure.

From a survey of standard dictionary definitions, intelligence is associated with the ability to learn and use knowledge. The American Psychological Association calls it, “[The] ability to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning, to overcome obstacles by taking thought.” But perhaps the most comprehensive definition is found in “Mainstream Science on Intelligence.

“Intelligence is a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Ratherit reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—‘catching on’, ‘making sense’ of things, or ‘figuring out’ what to do.”

In short, intelligence is inextricably connected with worldview: the mental model we use to “make sense” of the world. Consequently, a person who subscribes to a worldview that aligns with the way the world really works, could be said to possess real intelligence, while a person who endorses a faulty worldview, could be said to demonstrate artificial intelligence.

In one of my discussions with an atheist, I was informed that, unlike the “God hypothesis,” naturalism is free of untestable, unfalsifiable theories. To which, I responded, “naturalism brims with such, sustained by nothing other than the will to believe.” Continue reading here. 

Originally published June 29, 2017.

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