By TOM MAY
I was about to send in this week’s column featuring thoughts on a song by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band when a story on the Yahoo front page news slider caught my eye and prompted me to completely change the direction of the article. “Religious people are less intelligent than atheists” read the bold-faced, large font headline. A team of scholars from the University of Rochester reviewed 63 different studies scanning several decades and arrived at the summarized conclusion. Myron Zuckerman, leader of the team, found “a reliable negative relation between intelligence and religiosity” in 53 out of the 63 studies.
Religiosity was defined by the researchers of the analysis as the involvement in at least some facets of religion and religious behavior. The study did not limit the participation in religion to just Christianity, but included all of the world’s major religions. Intelligence was defined as “the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience.”
There were several findings in this massive report that caused me to ponder, but two concepts seemed worthy for us to discuss here. First, according to the analysis, the more intelligent a child the more likely it would be to turn away from religion. This conclusion came from a study called the Terman Cohort of the Gifted. Although the research is still ongoing, the study began in 1921 when Stanford psychologist Lewis Terman recruited 1,500 children whose IQ score exceeded 135 by the age of 10. Despite the fact that many had considerable religious instruction as children, the cohort displays lower levels of religious belief than the average population.
I have found that the more that I achieve, the better my life is going according to my standards, the more self-sufficient I feel that I am. I wish I had a dollar for the times that I told my dad that I didn’t need his help on a project, only to find that indeed I did. I wish I had $10 for every time I put something together from IKEA — even while looking at the instructions — only to have to take it apart and try again.
Is it really all that surprising that the more intelligent I become the less likely I am to feel that I need God? I don’t need to be told what to do — I seem to be doing fine by myself. I don’t need rules or morals, I can determine those on my own. It doesn’t seem right to me that there is only one way to heaven. It just doesn’t seem right to me that some people wouldn’t be allowed inside. Why believe in a God who says I am not good enough, that I have shortcomings and faults?
Finally, the authors summed up one commonly seen theme as this way: “most extant explanations [of a negative relation] share one central theme —the premise that religious beliefs are irrational, not anchored in science, not testable and, therefore, unappealing to intelligent people…” It is undeniable that the tenets of a religious belief cannot be dissected or analyzed through scientific experimentation.
But there are many things that are not testable through the scientific method, and yet they are still captivating to people of all levels of intelligence. We cannot measure the validity of something that happened in history in a lab. We rely upon the testimony of witnesses — and we assign degrees of credibility to them, based on their proximity to the event. We cannot test the activity or presence of a spiritual realm, but that does not mean we are less than fascinated by the supernatural, paranormal or other life forms. A quick glance at bookshelves, magazine racks or listings in a television guide give proof to that.
It does seem that all of us — regardless of our measured degree of intelligence — share a very common theme. We do not know what happens when we die. We are beginning to understand more of what takes place as the body begins to decline, but we are at a loss trying to guess what will happen to the spirit or consciousness of our soul after the body ceases to function. My intelligence — even with two Master’s degrees — simply cannot speculate on something that no one has lived to tell about. It seems to me that it takes an intelligence that perhaps cannot be measured to trust in someone who knows about something that I do not.
Call me foolish.
— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast.