Agnostics smarter than Atheists?

By Razib Khan | February 16, 2007 12:11 pm

The always fascinating Ron Gunhame parses the GSS and religion & intelligence data. He finds:
Mean vocabulary score – Whites
6.52 Doesn’t believe
7.24 No way to find out
6.96 Some higher power
6.02 Believes sometimes
6.42 Believes but doubts
6.05 Knows God exists
Ron concludes that atheists are less intelligent than agnostics from this, but Jason Malloy in the comments has several follow ups which clear up the issue a bit and suggest that Ron spoke too soon.


Comments (9)

  1. It’s interesting that the agnostics who don’t believe in God, are by definition atheists. “Doesn’t believe” and “No way to find out” are not mutually exclusive categories.

  2. J-Dog

    Will this turn into another Type 1 vs Type 2 discussion?

  3. dzd

    Or it could just indicate that agnostics are more likely to have bigger vocabularies. It certainly seems like all the ones I see online have terrible cases of logorrhea.

  4. No more smart; just more big words.

  5. derek

    Argh, this stupidity again? All it means is that the smarter atheists are agnostic atheists, like me. It doesn’t mean I’m not an atheist, although I might have reluctantly chosen the “doesn’t believe” option, condemning myself to the Group W bench of the theistic spectrum. But not before complaining about badly worded and inappropriately exclusive multiple choice options.
    PS the smarter Christians I know are agnostic Christians, so generally speaking agnosticism is a sign of intelligence right across the spectrum; the only exception being those people who so poorly grasp agnosticism as to think it requires opinionless neutrality.

  6. dougjnn

    These results don’t surprise me and not just because I saw them over on the Inductivist (Gunhame) site a while ago.
    My theory would be that those who self identify as atheist TEND to be somewhat more inclined to other types of dogma than those who call themselves agnostics, and are less comfortable with uncertainty. Atheists often feel some need to win converts. Agnostics tend just to not be much interested in religion related questions, as opposed to other intellectual pursuits. Also the phrasing could be important. “No way to find out” is a much more sophisticated answer than “doesn’t believe”. It involves having though about the nature of proof and so on.
    I long ago developed my own theory of “God” that in essence amounts to a wired in human need to project gods or supernatural forces that sometimes require obedience, which had utility in human evolution in facilitating in group altruism to some degree towards a wide but somewhat flexibly and culturally determined human in-group. Those doing a good job of it tended to defeat and prevail over their neighbors more often (and hence obtain a move favorable geographic range, and mate with the former wives of the defeated group). So in essence “God” is humans acting for the benefit of broad groups – and ultimately with modernly (and perhaps early) interpreted Christianity, for all humanity. Hence “God” has value and is in a sense real and exists. In advanced societies grand abstractions have been able to substitute for God for many people.
    This conception has the further advantage of letting me characterize myself as an atheist (it’s not that I don’t have a fairly strong working hypothesis on the God question and that hypothesis agrees that there’s no such thing as the supernatural); an agnostic (there’s a sense in which I think God exists but it’s not a religious sense), and anyway it’s just an hypothesis, I can’t know for sure; or a deist (yes I think God exists in a very abstract way, and yes I think “God” exerts much influence on human affairs that is not, in it’s essentials, really an illusion – though the details are).
    Since I don’t find arguing over religious matters usually very interesting, I haven’t generally wanted to suffer any exclusion (e.g. when dating) based on my thoughts in this area.

  7. Humans have a brain, humans have a heart and humans have gonads. Scientists often forget that “thing between” – because THIS is a really complicated thing.
    I think, it is too often overlooked today, that religion (and philosophical metaphysics of any sort) in former days had mostly to do with that “thing between”. Both of the two other organs, people thought in former times, should be ruled by the heart. So – for example – in former days it was not so important for people to believe in a PERSONAL god (because this is mostly a theme of the brain), but it was important for them to have a good heart and to be a good person in everyday life and family life. And they were aware, that being a good person with a good heart HAS (often) very much to do with certain metaphysics. Because metaphysics can give you motivations to behave (very) altruistically.
    Today we too often only take our brain, when we try to understand religion and metaphysics. And we forget the function of religions and metaphysics concerning hearts, and that means mostly: concerning feelings of love and hate. I think, this is a main function of deception and self-deception also. And deception and self-deception is not only a thing of individuals but also of communities, societies, even epochs.
    If humans have too much (one-sided) gonads-activity, the “things between” will mostly be forgotten. And if humans have too much (one-sided) brain-activity the “things between” also will be forgotten.

  8. WankyStiffy

    Ingo: “If humans have too much (one-sided) gonads-activity, the ‘things between’ will mostly be forgotten.”
    If you had ever touched your gonads, you would know what it’s like to feel “the in-between” in a way you’ve never felt before.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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