Intelligent People Overcome The ‘Instinct’ Of Religion, According To Study

by : Francesca Donovan on : 18 Apr 2017 16:47

New research examining the link between atheism and intelligence has suggested religion could be considered an ‘instinct’ that clever people can overcome.


Researchers from both the Ulster Institute for Social Research and Rotterdam University noted that a disproportionate number of the world’s most intelligent people – including Albert Einstein, Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking – are atheist.

Seeing this quirk, they wanted to examine why intelligence is associated with denouncing religion. Indeed, a recent survey conducted by Pew stated that Americans who have no religious feelings cite science as a significant reason.

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Using historical evidence and survey data, the researchers have created a new model to decipher whether religion is an innate instinct in humanity or whether it evolves, published in Evolutionary Psychological Science.


Intelligence-Mismatch Association Model is based on the philosophical principle that our behaviour is always anchored in the environment of our predecessors – and much of how we behave is learned or acquired or passed down through generations.


Edward Dutton, a lead author of the study, 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.

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.

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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.

While many religious believers may find the implications of the study unsettling, the paper concludes: “We respond to potential criticisms of our model and we examine how this model can be further tested.”


Clearly there is much more to be discussed and examined in the tensions between science and religious belief.

Francesca Donovan

A former emo kid who talks too much about 8Chan meme culture, the Kardashian Klan, and how her smartphone is probably killing her. Francesca is a Cardiff University Journalism Masters grad who has done words for BBC, ELLE, The Debrief, DAZED, an art magazine you've never heard of and a feminist zine which never went to print.

Topics: News


Evolutionary Psychological Science and 1 other
  1. Evolutionary Psychological Science

    Why is Intelligence Negatively Associated with Religiousness?

  2. Pew

    Why America’s ‘nones’ left religion behind