Once in a while, liberal professors publish studies that suggest people who are religious or believe in creation (or simply believe in God) are less intelligent and less educated. Conversely, people who are more intelligent or better educated are more likely to be atheists and believe in evolution. Such studies are usually trumpeted with an “in your face” flourish and are accompanied by an endless litany of “here's proof that Christians/creationists are stupid” claims. Needless to say, this has been a constant source of frustration for me but not for the reason you might think. I'm frustrated that, while I'm willing to discuss these studies, my opponents who cite them often don't understand the issue beyond the headline of the article they are citing.
One commonly cited study states, “Average intelligence predicts atheism rates across 137 nations” . From the study, we find the following statistics: “At this interview they [young adults] were asked: “To what extent are you a religious person?” The responses were coded “not religious at all”, “slightly religious”, “moderately religious”, and “very religious”. The results showed that the “not religious at all” group had the highest IQ (103.09), followed in descending order by the other three groups (IQs = 99.34, 98.28, 97.14).”
Here are some other statistics published by the reputable group, Gallup. In a 2010 survey, 47% of people with only a high school education or less believe “God created man in his present form within the last 10,000 years.” Only 22% of people with a postgraduate degree believed the same thing.
First, in spite of what critics say about me, I tend to take scientific research at face value. Of course, I may not always agree with the conclusions but the data is what it is. If Gallup conducted its survey appropriately, then people with more education are more likely to believe in evolution. If the 2008 study shows a slightly higher intelligence among people who claim to have “no religion at all,” then so be it. The first question I would ask is “why?” It's easy to arrive at a statistic. For example, I might survey 1,000 US families and discover that 99% of kids born to English speaking parents also speak English themselves. Therefore, speaking English is obviously an inherited trait! You can see how that doesn't quite work. Even though my statistic might be accurate, I'm still wrong with the “why” part. Likewise, the statistics surrounding intelligence and faith might be accurate but they don't establish a definitive “why?”
Why then might people who are better educated tend to believe in evolution? One very obvious reason is that most colleges teach evolution. This is kind of a, “duh!” solution. Also considering that many, practicing scientists hold postgraduate degrees, we can be certain these people were told that an understanding of evolution was essential to their discipline. It's no wonder then that people with advanced degrees tend to believe evolution is true. And consider this: how many people who graduate from, say, Liberty University believe in creation? I would predict it's much higher than the percentage of people believing in creation who graduated from secular colleges.
But what about the idea that atheists tend to be more intelligent than believers? First, the study above didn't exactly examine the IQ of atheists but rather of people who identified themselves as “not religious.” These aren't the same things. Even so, the difference of 103 for “not religious” compared to 97 for “very religious” doesn't alarm me. I haven't put a pencil to it but, from what I remember from my business stats class in college, I suspect it's less than one standard deviation from mean (100). Given also that the Gallup poll shows only 7% of the population doesn't believe in God, the sampling of atheists might be too small to be representative of the whole. Besides, the study itself shows that IQ is not an absolute indicator anyway. According to the Appendix A, the average IQ in the US is 98 where 10.5% of people do not believe in God. In the Czech Republic, 61% of the people don't believe in God yet their average IQ is the same as ours. In China, 12% of the population say there's no God (only slightly higher than our 10.5%) yet their average IQ is 105. Atheism is much higher in Cuba (40%) yet their average IQ (85) is markedly less than ours.
There's another interesting stat from the Gallup survey that I seldom hear cited. The percentage of postgraduates who believe “humans evolved, God had no part in the process” is only slightly higher than postgraduates who believe in special creation (25% v. 22%). 49% of postgraduates believe “humans evolved, God guided process.” So, postgraduates are far more likely to believe in some type of creation (special creation or theistic evolution) than believe in atheistic evolution.
Concerning a belief in God, another Gallup poll says that 92% of people with a high school education or less believe in God. Of those with a postgraduate degree, almost as many (87%) said they also believe in God. Only 7% of the general population does not believe in God (with 1% having no opinion). Therefore, even the most educated people are far more likely to believe in God than be atheists. Atheism can at best be described as a fringe belief.
In comparing intelligence and religion, there are a lot of other factors at work. For example, I suspect that intelligent people are also more likely to go to college and thus become indoctrinated in evolution and liberal ideology. Wouldn't that skew the stats toward higher intelligence among atheists? Also, there's possibly an increased skepticism that also comes with higher intelligence meaning that more intelligent people are also more likely to doubt anything supernatural. Finally, there may be a vanity thing going on where intelligent people simply put more faith in human understanding than dependency on any god.
In conclusion, there are a few logical fallacies involved in raising arguments like this but it is sufficient to say that it's a classic example of dicto simpliciter (sweeping generalization). Just to be clear, I haven't cited these statistics in order to show that atheism isn't true on the grounds that it's a fringe philosophy. Rather, I raise them to rebut the sweeping generalization that any person who believes in God or creation is necessarily less intelligent and less educated. I would say that people who make that claim are, in reality, demonstrating their own ignorance!