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Don't believe the news reports. Atheists are NOT more intelligent than religious people

Are religious people stupid, or do journalists just not do science? Heather Tomlinson takes a closer look at recent research

'Atheists are more intelligent than religious people, finds study,' declared the Independent this week.

Except that, the study says exactly the opposite. 

But what would I know? I’m a believer, so I must be intellectually stunted, right? 

On the other hand, I have an IQ of 150+, which puts me in the top 1% of intellectual capability (admittedly, IQ tests have plenty of flaws). This also means I’m statistically more likely to be grandiose and arrogant, but hey, no-one’s perfect.

I’ve also got two science degrees, which gives me a useful insight into the flaws and limitations of science. This is handy when newspapers start writing about religion and science, because strangely, there’s usually a particular slant taken on the subject. 

However I don’t think you need a big IQ, nor a science degree, to comprehend the research which this article is citing, as its summary (abstract) helpfully states the following: "These results support the hypothesis that behavioral biases rather than impaired general intelligence underlie the religiosity effect".

In other words, though lots of research has shown that on average, people who score highly on measures of ‘religion’ score lower on measures of ‘intelligence’ (this isn’t news, other studies have concluded this), this particular research suggests that this is not because religious people are less intelligent, but that religious people behave differently. It's possible that religious people use more intuitive reasoning than atheists, which means they score lower on intelligence tests. 

However, social science research such as this always has to be taken with a very big pinch of salt: start thinking about how you measure notions such as ‘religiosity’, never mind ‘intelligence’ and you’ll soon see that scientific studies of social matters are not as easy as they sound. For example, research that claims religious folk are less altruistic may in fact be measuring compliance

Not to mention the question of how you find a representative sample of 'religious' and 'atheist' people - this study found them on the internet, so I'll let you draw your own conclusions about that. 

I’m tired of the Indy and its relentless, aggressive bias against Christianity

I’m a bit tired of the Indy at the moment and its relentless, aggressive bias against any kind of Christian belief. But I suspect this particular article (or more to the point, its headline) relates to another issue – journalists and their scientific literacy.

A key example of this was the recent interview of Jordan Peterson by Cathy Newman. While this has been interpreted, understandably, as the latest battle ground of the culture wars; I thought it reflected Newman’s apparent lack of understanding of what Peterson was talking about when he was referring to scientific research into personality factors such as 'agreeableness' and 'multivariate analyses'.

There but for the grace of God go I...

I might know what a multivariate analysis is, but if I was a 'Fashion/Beauty Writer', as declares the Twitter bio of the journalist who wrote the aforementioned atheism/intelligence piece, I’d do a pretty awful job of it.

Journalists have the tricky task of summarising and simplifying lots of information that they’re usually not an expert in, so they often get it wrong. I’m certainly not immune from that. But when it comes to science and faith, the standard is particularly dismal. This needs to change. 

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Unbelievable? presenter Justin Brierley blogs on all things theology, apologetics and ethics.

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