Out of necessity, I’ve been thinking about religion a lot recently. And coincidentally, I just read an interesting study in the March 2010 issue of Social Psychology Quarterly entitled Why Liberals and Atheists Are More Intelligent.
This study found that, on average, people who identify as liberal and atheist have higher IQs. Experts say the data should not be used to stereotype (although the study does not necessarily explain why not), but they do say that the results show how certain patterns of identifying with particular ideologies develop, and how some people's behaviors come to be. Also found to be associated with higher IQs was sexual exclusivity in men, but not in women.
The reasoning is that liberalism, atheism, and sexual exclusivity in men all go against what would be expected given humans' evolutionary past. In other words, none of these traits would have benefited our early human ancestors, but higher intelligence may be associated with them. Said GW professor James Bailey, "The adoption of some evolutionarily novel ideas makes some sense in terms of moving the species forward. It makes perfect sense that more intelligent people -- people with more intellectual firepower -- are likely to be the ones to do that."
With regard to the sexual exclusivity aspect, the gender differential makes sense evolutionarily because having one partner has always been advantageous to women.
Experts believe that religion did not necessarily help people survive or reproduce, but goes along the lines of helping people to be paranoid. For example, assuming that a noise in the distance is a signal of a threat helped early humans to prepare in case of danger. "It helps life to be paranoid, and because humans are paranoid, they become more religious, and they see the hands of God everywhere," the author of the study said.
In the context of this study, "liberal" is defined in terms of concern for genetically nonrelated people and support for private resources that help those people. "Liberals are more likely to be concerned about total strangers; conservatives are likely to be concerned with people they associate with," the author says. Using these definitions of liberal and conservative, it’s clear that being conservative makes more sense evolutionarily.
Conservatism as a worldview is about keeping things stable, which is an evolutionarily safer approach than venturing toward the unfamiliar. Related to this, Professor Bailey argues that unconventional preferences appeal to people with higher intelligence. Atheism "allows someone to move forward and speculate on life without any concern for the dogmatic structure of a religion," he said.
The author of the study concludes by stating that none of this means that the human species is evolving toward a future where these traits are the default. "More intelligent people don't have more children, so moving away from the trajectory is not going to happen," he said.