Node Smith, ND

A Topic Worthy of Contention or Content Not Worthy of Worry?

It’s a very contentious topic, and generally atheists have been shown to outperform religious individuals in intelligence tests. However, a recent study uncovered whether or not this holds true over various types of intelligence, and theorized what could account for this difference.1

The Cognitive Conflict

The overall conclusion of the study was that religious individuals seem to be more likely to rely on intuitive forms of processing and analyzing information and decision making. This may create certain cognitive conflict between intuitive inclination and logical assessment during some parts of IQ tests. And even within the current research study, the intelligence testing assumes a left-brained, conventional dependence on reason, logic, planning, attention and working memory.

Reasoning: Intuition in Conflict with Logic

The study surveyed more than 63,000 individuals online. It utilized a 30-minute set of 12 cognitive tests that measured various aspects of mental intelligence – working memory, planning, reasoning, and attention. The participants indicated whether they were religious, agnostic or atheist. As predicted, atheists outperformed the other 2 groups, even after adjusting for demographic factors. Religious participants performed the worse, however, the religious individuals performed only significantly worse than the other 2 groups in tasks that required reasoning, which placed intuition in conflict with logic. This was seen most predominantly on a version of a color-word remapping task that was designed to create maximum conflict between an intuitive response and a logical one. Tasks like this showed the biggest differences.

Study Seems to Overlook Current Theories on Heterogeneous Intelligence

This study may illuminate some of the factors that create conventional (mental) disparity between different groups, however it seems to overlook current theories on multiple types of intelligence. Perhaps, future research will utilize other types of intelligence testing to show differences between worldviews and psychological intelligence or introspective ability, emotional intelligence and empathy, and metaphorical or abstract intelligence; all areas of study where individuals of faith may shine.


  1. BPS (2018, January 29). Are Religious People Really, On Average, Less Smart than Atheists?. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved January 29, 2018 from

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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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