Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Religion appeals to the smart, but not the really smart: It's my impression that the smarter the person, the less religious they tend to be. I figure that smart people read a lot, and as one digs deeper into any religion, it is unlikely to bear careful scrutiny. On the other hand, there are many intelligent people who are very involved in a particular faith, so let's have the data decide. The General Social Survey asked 22,845 people how often they attend church, as well as administering to them a ten word vocabulary test. I calculated mean attendance at each level of questions answered correctly:

Mean church attendance

0: 4.08
1: 3.91
2: 3.90
3: 3.80
4: 3.79
5: 3.84
6: 3.92
7: 3.97
8: 4.01
9: 3.70
10: 3.70
Total: 3.87

A "4" means the respondent attends monthly, "3" is a few times a year, and "5" is 2 or 3 times a month. The two smartest categories go to church the least: even less frequently than the low-IQ folks who would be expected to show less middle-class conformity. I'm not surprised that peak attendance is seen among smart, but not really smart people. (The modal category for vocab is 6 out of 10 correct). Highly intelligent people can be religious, but evidently it is an uphill battle.


  1. Religious, is easily mixed up with spiritual.

    And, though Im spiritual - I guess even that is an uphill battle.

  2. Anonymous1:21 PM

    I think to some significant extent this is an issue of the modern world specifically.

    1) The modern mind, IMHO, is less scientific than pseudoscientific, prone more to quick, sloppy acceptance of trendy ideas than dispassionate reason. And the current trendy intellectual zeitgeist is a sort of clumsy, unsophisticated empiricism.

    2) The modern mind is also repelled by the need for in-depth study and contemplation, things that are probably necessary for an intelligent person to live a life as a religious believer.

    These two facts make maintaining a religious devotion difficult when one is a person born with significant natural smarts, but subjected to the many stultifying aspects of our world.

  3. Anonymous11:57 AM

    What's the N on these eleven groups, and what frequency of attendance for groups 9 and 10? I ask because if you ignore 9 and 10 you have a pretty clear bimodal distribution, with brighter people tending to attend either more or less often than the less intelligent.

    The difference between class 0 and class 8 don't strike me as so great, though of course you expect atheists* - as independent thinkers who reject the social on religion - to be a bright bunch. (Pity the poor independent thinker who's actually as dumb as a bag of hammers.)

    *The Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby stresses that non-belief, non-attendance, and non-affiliation don't overlap as much as you'd think, but I'll ignore this.

    intellectual pariah


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