Date: Wed, 23 Dec 1998 19:39:51 -0500
From: Kristav Childress
Subject: Survey of Research Correlating Intelligence with Religiosity
To: "Fredric L. Rice"

Dear Mr. Rice,

As an (I hope intelligent) Christian, I was intrigued to read your the review of "Intelligence vs. Religious Belief" with some interest. (found it at

I cannot say that I am surprised. I was interested in the explanations from others as to the apparent negative correlation of measured intelligence with religious (e.g. theistic belief.) One obvious one is that "only the less intelligent are likely to believe in such a thing." Like some of the other commentators, I think that the reasons are much more complex. Let me summarize the main threads that would be immediately apparent to me:

- Poor measurability of both "intelligence" and "religious belief". Binet (of the Binet intelligence scale) once was quoted responding to the question of "what is 'intelligence'?" with the cynical "Why, it is what my test measures." The precision of intelligence tests is suspect even in areas where we have concurrence on the nature of what is being measured. By the same token, having people's religious beliefs assessed by mere self-reporting is obviously less than accurate. For example, many people may claim to be non-religious for reasons of cultural acceptability, while harboring a strong, secret faith. (Sort of the inverse of medieval christendom, in a way.) We might be able to get a correlation of measurable intelligence (a richer complex showing not only "IQ" but some level of intellectual development) vs. religious affiliation and have something tthat at least would be more valid in drawing conclusions.

- Cause and effect confusion: does the process by which someone develops measurably higher intelligence make it less likely for someone to develop or maintain religious faith?

- Mis-correlation: are the two groups selecting for something that is not cause-and-effect related but are both related to some common cause (similar but more precise than the issue I just mentioned?) For example, if I find that being a native English speaker has a stronger positive correlation with being a Christian than being a Farsi (Persian) speaker, I cannot conclude that the English language *per se* has any effect, because the major effect probably comes from the cultures in which the two languages are dominant (Anglo-American vs. Iranian, for example).

Saint Paul makes an interesting observation in his first Epistle to the Corinthians:

(1 Cor 1:26-29 NIV) Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

There are obviously some very bright theists (Christians to be specific) out there (both now and in the past), everyone from Jesus himself to Augustine and Thomas Aquinas in the middle ages to C.S. Lewis in this century. I have always believed that a more interesting study would be of *why* highly intelligent people became Christians and how that modified their intellectual processes than with the correlation of intelligence is to religious belief.

My personal experience (in a selective college, as a Mensan and later working with gifted university students) is that high intelligence often makes it easier to construct complex rationales for whatever we believe, not necessarily easier to address the truth. In my experience of witnessing to bright, well-educated atheists about the hope I find in Christ, I have often found that their responses are not necessarily thoughtful, rational and incisive, but often relied on a lot of very complex "window dressing" and obfuscation. (I can send you a critigue I did of an atheist's commentary on God, if you would like.)

In the final analysis, if there is a "God" that is anything like the God of Christianity, then He is much smarter than any of us.

"Wise Men still seek Him."

"Happy Holidays" :-)

Kris Childress


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