Religion and Intelligence: An Evolutionary Analysis

By Kura, Kenya | Mankind Quarterly, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

Religion and Intelligence: An Evolutionary Analysis


Kura, Kenya, Mankind Quarterly


Religion and Intelligence: An Evolutionary Analysis

Edward Dutton

Ulster Institute for Social Research, 2014

As the title tells us, this book is intended to demonstrate relationships between the religious propensity of individuals or populations and their intelligence. The central thesis is that more intelligent individuals and societies tend to be less religious than those of lesser intelligence. This is shown to be the case not only for the history of modern societies, which was, broadly, characterized by rising social complexity, rising intelligence and declining religiosity, but also in contemporary Western societies. One obvious reason that the author identifies is that every religion includes a substantial amount of logical inconsistencies with our current understandings of natural science. Therefore "believing in God" is more reasonable for less knowledgeable people, who are less aware of the inconsistencies, than it is for university students, who in turn believe in God more than their professors. Both in the United States and the United Kingdom, the members of learned academies are found to be the least religious.

Dutton extends his observations to "replacement religions." He notes that especially the dogmatic and extreme forms of left-wing Marxism and right-wing nationalism, which tend to affirm more violent conflict resolutions, are supported by those of lower intelligence.

The author notes that these findings are in accordance with developmental trends: Individuals tend to be religious in childhood, become less religious when they reach their highest cognitive ability, and then gradually turn more religious again as their cognitive ability declines in old age. Also, women are more religious than men. Although the author points out that this is expected from the slight sex difference in general intelligence, we may wonder whether this can count as a major reason. Differences in religiosity between men and women tend to be substantial, while sex differences in most aspects of intelligence are very small. Indeed, Dutton himself proposes that to some extent, psychological traits other than intelligence are likely to be responsible for the gender gap in religiosity. In the United States, the various racial categories show a fairly consistent tendency for those with higher average intelligence to be less involved in religion. Thus, Dutton has successfully shown the first thesis of the book that the more religious tend to be less intelligent in general.

More than by these expected findings, I was very impressed by the method of argument. Dutton relentlessly applies evolutionary reasoning to the understanding of religiosity in the context of human history. He admits that religions should have played a certain role in early societies before the emergence of modern science, as Dawkins (2008) and Dennett (2007) had pointed out. High intelligence was certainly needed to create the sophisticated theologies of the major world religions. However, he acknowledges that in the centuries before the Industrial Revolution the intellectual ability of Western populations had advanced not only through cultural developments, but also by natural selection of the more intelligent (Clark, 2007, pp. 112-132). In other words, the more intelligent tended to have more surviving children than the less intelligent. Also, he argues that the Black Death took preferentially the lives of those with lower intelligence, which in turn made more intelligent people thrive in Europe. As this process advanced through the centuries, a rational and scientific world view gradually emerged and Christianity became unnecessary to understand the physical world for those of the highest intelligence. …

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