At the risk of condescending, I’ve always suspected that atheism, (or more specifically, rationalism, skepticism, etc.) tends to be prevalent in more intelligent individuals. Frankly, my suspicion was always based on anecdote, with a little analysis thrown in. When the arguments for atheism are so articulate, well reasoned and logical, while the arguments for theism tend to be easily reduced to “well, god says so. It’s in my book”, it’s not hard to fall into comparisons of the relative intelligence levels of the adherent of each side.
If I would deign to suggest that to theists, however, they would cry “snob”, and “elitist” and “superiority complex” and many similar things equally imprecise, and equally useless. I used to think there was some merit to that attitude, that perhaps I was a bit condescending, but I’ve always felt that atheism and theism needed to compete on the same level of intellect, in order for the clear winner to claim validity for its side.
A recent study seems to suggest that there really is something to the idea that higher intellect and atheism go hand in hand, that it’s not just Christopher Hitchens. This study published in the Social Psychology Quarterly seems to indicate that more intelligent individuals may be attracted to atheism because of it’s “evolutionary novelty”, while less intelligent people tend to gravitate to the more comforting “evolutionarily familiar” . And face it; much of religion’s attraction is that it IS comforting.
“Evolutionarily novel” preferences and values are those that humans are not biologically designed to have and our ancestors probably did not possess. In contrast, those that our ancestors had for millions of years are “evolutionarily familiar.”
As an example,
…humans are evolutionarily designed to be conservative, caring mostly about their family and friends, and being liberal, caring about an indefinite number of genetically unrelated strangers they never meet or interact with, is evolutionarily novel. So more intelligent children may be more likely to grow up to be liberals.
Which explains in one way why atheists also tend to be socially and sometimes politically liberal, as a group. To be “liberal’ we have to think outside our comfort zone. As for the direct connection to atheism,
…religion is a byproduct of humans’ tendency to perceive agency and intention as causes of events, to see “the hands of God” at work behind otherwise natural phenomena. “Humans are evolutionarily designed to be paranoid, and they believe in God because they are paranoid,” says Kanazawa. This innate bias toward paranoia served humans well when self-preservation and protection of their families and clans depended on extreme vigilance to all potential dangers. “So, more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to go against their natural evolutionary tendency to believe in God, and they become atheists.”
This does not mean that atheists are smarter than theists, so therefore atheism is correct and theism is not, haha. What it does explain, however, is the reason why smarter people tend to gravitate towards atheism; why people who tend to be more comfortable thinking things through, rather than accepting dogma, reject a worldview that is based on pure faith. They are not so locked into the conservative notions of family, clan and personal comfort, and are willing to see the benefit to others in a worldview that isn’t so exclusive.
I like that. It makes sense. I don’t feel like I’m being unjustifiably superior when I see complete Neanderthals telling me that all truth is in religion, especially their Bible, and that science is bunk. There is a legitimate reason why I’m attracted to rational, critical thinking, rather than mind numbing faith.
Gee. I hope I don’t let it go to my head.
H/T Richard Dawkins.