Are Religious People Stupid?


It is very often said that as a person increases in his education, the less likely it is that he will be religious. The implication of this is, of course, those of you who are religious believers are really dumb. Interestingly, however, a recent study done in the Netherlands done by Egbert Ribberink, who is a sociologist at Erasmus Universiteit in the Netherlands, shows that the situation is rather more complicated.[1]

He investigated the appeal of the New Atheism and atheism in general in a number of European countries. A couple of his interesting results are as follows.

He found that while in predominately religious countries like Spain, Portugal, and Italy, it is among the intellectuals that atheism is the most attractive. Nevertheless, in predominately secular countries, such as the Netherlands, in fact atheism attracts people of lower education and the people of higher education find atheism either too shortsighted or too militant to be attractive.

This certainly accords with the impression I’ve had with at least British atheism which seems predominate among the working classes whereas among the intelligentsia Christian belief and religious belief is quite well represented.

So in predominantly secular nations, religious belief is actually a higher percentage among the intellectual, highly educated people whereas it is among the lower educated people that atheism is the most attractive.

He also found that in post-Protestant countries, the New Atheism that exists there puts a greater emphasis on individuality and personal development. By contrast, in post-Catholic countries, atheism has a more communistic or Marxist view of atheistic belief. So whether a country has a Protestant or Catholic background also tends to shape the type of atheism that exists there. In post-Catholic countries, more communistic, communitarian; whereas in post-Protestant countries, more highly individualistic.

He says thus the theory that “religion is irrational and once people become more scientific, religion will die out” does not mesh with our results. In fact, it is exactly the reverse in predominately secular countries like the Netherlands.

So I thought that was a very interesting study that tends to go against the conventional wisdom that you often hear.[2]

[1] Egbert Ribberink, Peter Achterberg and Dick Houtman, "Deprivatization of Disbelief?: Non-Religiosity and Anti-Religiosity in 14 Western European Countries," Politics and Religion, vol 6, March 2013, pp. 101-120.

[2] Total Running Time: 3:14 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)