Evolutionary explanation for atheism?

April 13, 2010

A recent study by Kanasawa published in Social Psychology Quarterly claims a difference of six IQ points (103 for those “not at all religious” to 97 for those with who describe themselves as “very religious”).

The study shows that both education has virtually no effect either way on a person’s beliefs about God, and that atheists and theists have almost identical levels of intelligence. A difference of six points is so small that it is imperceptible in everyday life. To put it into perspective: six IQ points is the same average difference in IQ found between identical twins (such as these two beautiful and intelligent young women).

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4 Responses to “Evolutionary explanation for atheism?”

  1. Mr Z Says:

    It’s a shame you didn’t link to the article. 6 points is not much of a difference in any single comparison, but as a trend over large sets of data it IS significant. Statistics are one of those things that can be used and abused. I’m not quite sure what your point is. IQ tests are not necessarily the best way to find indicators of intelligence, so much care must be taken when drawing conclusions from IQ test results.

    The real world perceptible difference between 74 and 80 is negligible, as is that between 138 and 144. Somewhere in the middle there will be a much greater perceived difference over 6 points. What that perception will be, and how impacting it will be depends on the difference itself.

    The best that can be said is that if the 6 point spread is a consistent trend over ever increasing numbers of test candidates, then it is more than interesting and should be studied. If the trend is less than 6, or decreases with more data then it’s not very interesting but we should strive to understand how the original 6 point spread happened.

    Is the belief system the reason for the spread, or is the spread indicating the reason for differences in beliefs? Is it something else that affects both? It’s hard to make any conclusion from the data supplied.

  2. Chucky Says:

    Yes. I totally agree that IQ tests aren’t particularly good way of determining IQ. I have always done well on them, but they don’t seem to test anything except your ability to do IQ tests.

    Here’s a link the the article, but you’re going to need to get it from someone who has access:


    Even for the relatively few things he looked at, intelligence and education were insignificant factors in determining if someone was an atheist or a theist. Other factors (social and cultural) in the study showed many times more correlation with belief or disbelief. Sure if you take a large enough sample size you can get that above the standard error, but an insignificant difference is still insignificant. You have to compare the difference you find to a standard deviation in the general population (of which it is a fraction) not the statistical error in your data.

    I would guess that we could pick almost any two qualities you like and you’ll find much the same gap for demographic reasons. That’s why I went to look what it was between identical twins raised apart, because I figured that would give us a yardstick for how much difference simple demographics gives us.

  3. Mr Z Says:

    Identical twins might give an indication of genetic importance in such statistical differences, but genetics is not a good basis for intelligence; social Darwinism and all. The ability or faculties for learning may be inherited, but the actual learning part is not, generally speaking. If the twins are raised in vastly different backgrounds but test the same, it might be significant. If they are both adopted into separate religious homes, but both turn out atheist, that might be significant. You see what I’m getting at. Since average is 100, it would take quite a bit to show any real variance relative to religion with only 3 points either side of average.

  4. […] Evolutionary explanation for atheism? « Thoughtful FaithApr 13, 2010 … Thoughtful Faith. Thinking about God …. Follow “Thoughtful Faith”. Get every new post delivered to your Inbox. Powered by WordPress.com. […]

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