Monday, August 19, 2013


I know some pretty brilliant religious people, and have encountered, in various media, some pretty stupid atheists. As I've written here many times, many ways, it's clear the need for belief is deeply embedded in the human mind, for whatever reasons; and that need crosses all intellectual boundaries. In that sense, atheists are outliers. But I think there are generalities to be drawn; this study seems only to have demonstrated (to whatever extent one might accept the results) what I'd have considered obvious:

A meta-analysis of 63 studies showed a significant negative association between intelligence and religiosity. The association was stronger for college students and the general population than for participants younger than college age; it was also stronger for religious beliefs than religious behavior. For college students and the general population, means of weighted and unweighted correlations between intelligence and the strength of religious beliefs ranged from −.20 to −.25 ... Three possible interpretations were discussed. First, intelligent people are less likely to conform and, thus, are more likely to resist religious dogma. Second, intelligent people tend to adopt an analytic (as opposed to intuitive) thinking style, which has been shown to undermine religious beliefs. Third, several functions of religiosity, including compensatory control, self-regulation, self-enhancement, and secure attachment, are also conferred by intelligence. Intelligent people may therefore have less need for religious beliefs and practices.

The question to be asked, I guess, is "so what?" If true, of what value is the finding? Another way to put it is something I've pondered ever since it became undeniable that, by deliberate political action, our country is becoming dumber, our education structure being systematically dismantled: how many genii does a society require to survive?

It's fair to ask what one means by intelligence, too; and to criticize the study as meta-analysis. Maybe, by definition, religious people have certain blanks in their thinking that they fill in ways others don't. Does that equate to lower intelligence, or is it merely different? Still, the suggestions in the summary make intuitive sense: the smarter a person is, the more likely (one must assume) that the person asks questions and seeks answers, ones based in the observable.

It's probably no coincidence that teabaggRs like to refer to "godless liberals." There are, of course, plenty of liberal believers. But isn't it interesting that wingnuts are so quick to label liberals as godless while acknowledging that it's liberals who seem to care more for the poor and the needy; those, in other words, on whose behalf Jesus called upon others to act.

No matter the subtleties of defining intelligence, however, one thing is clear: the most hyper-religious people in our Congress are also, demonstrably, the dumbest, the most narrow-minded, the ones who cling most tightly to falsehood and reject most strongly new information. In that, the correlation seems pretty much one to one, and not hard at all to understand. The importance, therefore, is regarding how we can keep people like that from affecting the laws of our land, and the future. And, given the way they've managed to gerrymander the stupidest form of religiosity into perpetually safe districts, getting themselves reelected by huge margins every time, the answer is: we can't.

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