By James Haught
James Haught is editor of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette, and a senior editor of Free Inquiry. He is 87-years-old and would like to help secular causes more. This series is a way of giving back.
Several research studies find that skeptics are brighter than religious believers. More than 60 scientific reports were analyzed in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review, which said the results “showed a significant negative association between intelligence and religiosity.”
Newsweek (May 18, 2017) summed up the article:
“Atheists tend to be more intelligent than religious people because they are able to rise above the natural instinct to believe in a god or gods. Having a higher intelligence… allows people to override these instincts and engage in more rational, and therefore enhanced, problem-solving behavior.”
A report titled “Why Atheists are More Intelligent than the Religious” in Psychology Today (April 12, 2010) commented:
“More intelligent individuals are more likely to be atheistic than less intelligent individuals. For example, among the American sample, those who identify themselves as ‘not at all religious’ in early adulthood have a mean childhood I.Q. of 103.09, whereas those who identify themselves as ‘very religious’ in early adulthood have a mean childhood I.Q. of 97.14.”
Similarly, a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center found that doubters are better-educated than believers are. Chief researcher Conrad Hackett told The New York Times:
“The higher the level of education in a country, the larger the share of people with no religion tends to be. Atheists and agnostics, or people with no religion in particular, have higher education levels than the religiously affiliated do in the United States.”
Frankly, I’m surprised that the I.Q. gap is only six points. I would expect it to be larger, because most of the world’s brightest people – outstanding thinkers, scientists, writers, reformers and others who left their marks on history – have been religious skeptics. Here are some, and their views:
Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to John Adams:
“The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”
Albert Einstein wrote in The New York Times:
“I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own — a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism.”
Mark Twain wrote in his journal:
“I cannot see how a man of any large degree of humorous perception can ever be religious – unless he purposely shut the eyes of his mind & keep them shut by force.”
Emily Bronte wrote:
“Vain are the thousand creeds that move men’s hearts, unutterably vain, worthless as wither’d weeds.”
Sigmund Freud wrote in a letter:
“Neither in my private life nor in my writings have I ever made a secret of being an out-and-out unbeliever.”
Thomas Paine wrote:
“All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”
Thomas Edison told The New York Times:
“I cannot believe in the immortality of the soul…. No, all this talk of an existence for us, as individuals, beyond the grave is wrong. It is born of our tenacity of life – our desire to go on living – our dread of coming to an end.” (Edison also said “Religion is all bunk.”)
Voltaire wrote in a letter:
“Christianity is the most ridiculous, the most absurd, and bloody religion that has ever infected the world.”
Clarence Darrow said in a speech:
“I don’t believe in God because I don’t believe in Mother Goose.”
President William Howard Taft said in a letter declining the presidency of Yale University:
“I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, and there are many other of the postulates of the orthodox creed to which I cannot subscribe.”
Luther Burbank told a newspaper:
“As a scientist, I cannot help feeling that all religions are on a tottering foundation…. I am an infidel today. I do not believe what has been served to me to believe. I am a doubter, a questioner, a skeptic. When it can be proved to me that there is immortality, that there is resurrection beyond the gates of death, then I will believe. Until then, no.”
Bertrand Russell wrote:
“My own view of religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race.”
George Bernard Shaw said:
“At present there is not a single credible established religion in the world.”
Leo Tolstoy wrote, in response to his excommunication by the Russian Orthodox Church:
“To regard Christ as God, and to pray to him, are to my mind the greatest possible sacrilege.”
Charles Darwin said:
“The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us, and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic.”
Kurt Vonnegut said:
“Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.”
Gloria Steinem said:
“By the year 2000, we will, I hope, raise our children to believe in human potential, not God.”
Michel de Montaigne, creator of the essay, wrote:
“Man is certainly stark mad: he cannot make a worm, yet he will make gods by the dozen.”
Baruch Spinoza said:
“Popular religion may be summed up as a respect for ecclesiastics.”
Further, Beethoven shunned religion and scorned the clergy. Abraham Lincoln never joined a church, and once wrote a skeptical treatise which friends burned in a stove to save him from wrecking his political career. And the motto of Margaret Sanger’s birth-control newsletter was: “No gods, no masters.”
Bright minds throughout history have doubted supernatural gods, devils, heavens, hells, miracles and the rest of church dogmas. Today’s freethinkers can be proud to share this fine heritage, which sparkles with higher intelligence.
(Sources of personal quotes – if you want them)
Thomas Jefferson – letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823.
Albert Einstein – New York Times commentary, Nov. 9, 1930.
Mark Twain – Mark Twain’s Notebooks and Journals, edited by Frederick Anderson, 1979, notebook 27, August 1887-July 1888.
Emily Bronte – No Coward Soul, January 1846.
Sigmund Freud – letter to Charles Singer.
Thomas Paine – The Age of Reason, 1794.
Thomas Edison – interview in The New York Times, Oct. 2, 1910, front of Magazine Section, by Edward Marshall.
Voltaire – letter to Frederick the Great, quoted in the Encyclopedia of Unbelief, Prometheus Books, 1985, p. 715.
Clarence Darrow – speech at Toronto, 1930, cited in The Great Quotations. by George Seldes, Lyle Stuart publisher, 1960, p. 190.
William Howard Taft – The Life and Times of William Howard Taft, by Harry F. Pringle, Farrar & Rinehart Inc., New York, 1939, p. 373.
Luther Burbank – San Francisco Bulletin, Jan. 22, 1926, page 1, by Edgar Waite, headline: “I’m an Infidel, Declares Burbank, Casting Doubt on Soul Immortality Theory.”
Bertrand Russell – opening lines of “Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization,” essay, 1930.
George Bernard Shaw – Major Barbara, preface, final paragraph.
Leo Tolstoy – letter April 4, 1901, to the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, in response to his excommunication, cited in Tolstoy, by Henri Troyat, Doubleday, 1967, p. 591 – and in The Life of Lyof N. Tolstoi, by Nathan Haskell Dole, Scribner’s, 1923, p. 371-2
Charles Darwin – cited in Peter’s Quotations, by Laurance J. Peter, Wm. Morrow & Co., 1977, p. 45.
Kurt Vonnegut – Peter’s Quotations, p. 191
Gloria Steinem – Peter’s Quotations, p. 103.
Michel de Montaigne – Apology to Raimond Sebond, 1580, Essays book 2, chapter 12.
Baruch Spinoza – quoted by Eugene Brussell in The Dictionary of Quotable Definitions, Prentice-Hall, 1970, p. 490.
Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists,American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e Agnósticos/Brazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
Image Credit: James Haught.