From Stephen Hawking to Alan Turing, many of the most intelligent people in the world are atheists. In the hope of understanding the link between intelligence and religion, researchers have created a model based on historical evidence and a recent survey.
The findings suggest that religion should be considered an instinct, with intelligence the ability to rise above one’s instincts.
Researchers from the Ulster Institute for Social Research and Rotterdam University were interested in understanding whether religion is something that evolved, or is instinctive.
The team created a model, called the Intelligence-Mismatch Association Model, which tries to explain why intelligence seems to be negatively associated with being religious.
Their model is based on the ideas of evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa’s Savanna-IQ Principle.
This principle indicates that human behaviour will always be somehow anchored in the environment in which their ancestors developed.
The researchers argue that religion should be seen as a separate evolved domain or instinct, whereas intelligence allows people to rise above their instincts.
Rising above instincts is advantageous, because it helps people to solve problems.
Edward Dutton, co-lead author of the study, which is published in Evolutionary Psychological Science, said: ‘If religion is an evolved domain then it is an instinct, and intelligence – in rationally solving problems – can be understood as involving overcoming instinct and being intellectually curious and thus open to non-instinctive possibilities.’
The researchers also investigated the link between instinct and stress.
They suggest that being intelligent helps people during stressful times to rise above their instincts.
Mr Dutton said: ‘If religion is indeed an evolved domain – an instinct – then it will become heightened at times of stress, when people are inclined to act instinctively, and there is clear evidence for this.
‘It also means that intelligence allows us to able to pause and reason through the situation and the possible consequences of our actions.’
The researchers believe that people who are attracted to the non-instinctive are potentially better problem solvers.
Dimitri Van der Linden, co-author of the study added: ‘This is important, because in a changing ecology, the ability to solve problems will become associated with rising above our instincts, rendering us attracted to evolutionary mismatches.’