I was involved in a thread the other day about whether higher education and intelligence were markers for people being less religious. Which, of course, implies the opposite must, therefore, be true. Humans are prone to use ‘us vs. them’ as a way to distinguish and elevate themselves above their perceived enemies. This trope, while useful as a bonding tool for small tribes and groups, has long since past its value as a social tool. It does have the effect of making an enemy of ‘them’ and justifying our insistence on being right because ‘we are better than them.’
Religiosity has been a part of the human social structure for as far back as we have records. The implication that this makes people who are religious stupid would then indict the entire human race of this malady. Now, as a topic for another time, I could certainly agree that we Hominids are not always the sharpest tools in the shed when it comes to our social adaptations. I am of the mind that religiosity is not an intellectual position and it was never selected to be one. It is an emotional and reactionary position which served our social evolution well. As a social species, we needed to develop cooperation and altruistic behaviors to survive and compete in a world that, as individuals, we would undoubtedly have been doomed.
Religiosity served to bind us together through shared beliefs, rituals and comfort in an otherwise brutish existence. None of these are intellectual positions, and none of them need to be. A simple appeal to the emotions makes them powerful tools. I will even make an assertion here that skeptical thought and certain types of intellect could have been counterproductive to the survival of both the individual and the tribe.
As a social species, we needed to adhere to a hierarchical almost authoritarian system. For example, if tribal knowledge was ‘don’t eat that plant as it is poisonous’ do you suppose it wise to be skeptical of the claim, or to challenge the prevailing wisdom and eat it anyway? It seems that this behavior would likely not have its genes passed to the next generation. So social intelligence would probably rule over critical thought.
I could make an unnecessary list here of all the brilliant people who were and are ‘religious, ’ but it is beside the point. As a rule, in general, calling religious people stupid is neither a valid nor productive tactic. It is quite simple to find people who are undereducated and possibly have substandard levels of intelligence on either side of the God vs. no God debate. After all, it is a fact that 49.99999…% of the people on the planet are of below average intelligence. Let’s try not being one of them by hoisting the ‘You are stupid because…’ flag.
4 Replies to “Belief and religiosity are not a measure of intelligence”
I’d say there is at least some sound empirical evidence that there are cognitive differences between theists and atheists. Whether that boils down to theists being less intelligent, it at least indicates they have some differences that at least in some situations put them at a cognitive disadvantage.
While I do understand the study, when using a single criteria to create a test set it is easy to create (find) the outcome we are looking for. Would you agree that humans are not so easily categorized? Religiosity is an evolutionary symptom of survival mechanism that exists in all humans. I don’t feel that trying use religious belief as a way to define a group of people is an honest method. Take any group of atheists and I can show you (seemingly) irrational beliefs and ad hoc rationality that they hold as well. Does that make them ‘less intelligent’ or, is that just the spots on a leapord?