Religious people are less intelligent than atheists. That’s the provocative conclusion of studies of relation between religiosity and intelligence. Such attempts to compare the intelligence of different groups are fraught with methodological difficulty. Intelligence itself is a contested concept and it is far from evident what is measured in these studies. Cultural values are relational and context specific, their meaning becomes lost if it is quantified. Any attempt to establish a causal relationship between personal belief and intelligence is likely to be an exercise in forced abstraction.
None of the above studies try to measure wisdom of believers versus non-believers. The secular world considers these two notions – intelligence and wisdom – to be the same. Christians know there is a huge difference between being smart and being wise. The Bible says: “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). “To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth— Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance ” (Proverbs 1:1-3).
If a person possesses such qualities and carries them through his life, he can be considered successful. In opposition, the secular studies indicate that intelligent people are more independent, with higher self-esteem, and therefore, might have less of a need for religion.
However, atheists can be very religious. Many of them pray. Some pray to preserve their place in family and community. Some pretend to believe. I’m more puzzled by atheists who pray seriously and fervently to nobody. For instance, atheist Siegfried Gold followed a rigorous prayer routine to a made-up goddess. His prayers apparently “worked,” because he is no longer 110 pounds overweight. Obviously the pounds didn’t just miraculously melt away. Instead, he and others often achieve a desired goal through strategies to overcome bad habits and replace them with good habits. Atheist prayers sound a lot like focusing or meditating, which some also view as a transcendent or spiritual experience.
There are many old and traditional religions that are accessible to atheists, e.g. Buddhism. Many forms of this religion are essentially atheistic. At most they regard the existence of gods as possible, but often they dismiss gods as simply irrelevant to the important task of overcoming suffering. As a consequence, many Buddhists dismiss the existence of gods — they are atheists, even if they aren’t atheists in the scientific, philosophical sense that many atheists in the West are.
There also are modern organizations that call themselves religious. Some humanists and many members of Unitarian Universalism are also nonbelievers. Raelians are a relatively recent group, which is recognized as a religion legally and socially, yet they explicitly deny the existence of gods.
There is some question as to whether such forms of humanism do qualify as religions, but what is important for the moment is the fact that atheist members themselves believe that they are part of a religion. Thus they do not see any conflict between disbelieving in the existence of gods and adopting a belief system, which they consider a religion — and these are atheists in the Western sense of scientific, philosophical atheism.
The existence of such a huge variety of religious groups shows that people are really dependent on Almighty Power, whether they want to admit it or not, and whether they have a PhD degree or are simple janitors. Faith is not a competition; it’s not about intelligence. Faith is the ability to trust completely like a child; it’s a God given gift. “Faith means being sure of the things we hope for and knowing that something is real even if we do not see it” (Hebrews 11:1).
I am not ashamed to say I depend on my Lord, even if it makes me look uneducated and unsophisticated in the eyes of the secular world. That is not important. Even for God it’s not important. He doesn’t care about your brain size and the knowledge you accumulated through various books and schools. What He cares about is your heart. Is it pure and loving? Is it striving to be like Jesus? Does it belong to Him fully? These are the questions we should always check and make them a priority of our life.
Education can be learnt. Love and faith – cannot.