Are All The Smartest People Really Atheists?

(image credit to the

(image credit to the

(Article originally posted at

As a Christian pastor, I do as best I can to stay on top of Christian apologetics (reasoned defense against objections to Christianity). This requires reading literature not only by Christian apologists but also some reading surrounding cultural thoughts and leading thinkers that are currently attacking the Christian faith.

This literature is dominated by guys like cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, philosopher Daniel Dennett, neuroscientist Sam Harris, physicists Victor Stenger and Steven Weinberg and Stephen Hawking, science historian Michael Shermer, literary and social critic Christopher Hitchens, and biologist Richard Dawkins.

These men stand on the shoulders of other tremendously influential, mostly nonbelieving individuals like philosophers Immanuel Kant, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, and Karl Marx; astronomer Carl Sagan; evolution founder Charles Darwin; and psychologist Sigmund Freud. These are the giant thinkers that largely shaped the way people have come to view the world in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Of atheists today, the most prominent figure is likely Richard Dawkins, whose The God Delusion serves as something of a modern atheist manifesto. In it, Dawkins makes the following claim:

On the subject of religion and IQ, the only meta-analysis known to me was published by Paul Bell in Mensa Magazine in 2002 [Mensa is the society of individuals with a high IQ, and their journal not surprisingly includes articles on the one thing that draws them together.] Bell concluded: “Of 43 studies carried out since 1927 on the relationship between religious belief and one’s intelligence and/or educational level, all but four found an inverse connection. That is, the higher one’s intelligence or education level, the less one is likely to be religious or hold ‘beliefs’ of any kind.” (The God Delusion, page 103)

Dawkins actually doesn’t like the idea of being called an atheist, since he finds it silly to be defined in terms of something in which he doesn’t believe. Rather, he goes so far as to suggest that he and similar thinkers be called The Brights. I kid you not.

Whether Dawkins’ low opinion of believers offends us or not really isn’t the point. Whether or not his statement has any merit is a more worthwhile pursuit.

Are all the smartest people really atheists?

There are a couple of ways to answer this. First, since so many of the influential atheist thinkers appear to pop up in the realm of science, we ask, have there been any famous scientists who believed in God?

The answer is not only YES but arguably the majority of influential scientists throughout history have been not only theists, but Christians—Copernicus, Sir Francis Bacon, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Pascal, Newton, Boyle, and Faraday all had very clear theological convictions. Obviously these are some of the smartest, most revolutionary scientists to ever walk the planet. If they were believers, then it clearly wouldn’t hold that ALL the smartest people would be atheist. Even numerous modern world-changing scientists have professed Christian faith (Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, and Raymond Damadian, inventor of the MRI, come to mind).

Still, admittedly, there has been a paradigm shift. For instance, it does seem that the majority of scientists in the United States at this time are atheists. Only 40 percent, which is a fairly large minority, but a minority nonetheless, of scientists in our country believe in a personal God. Among members of the elite National Academy of Sciences, only 7 percent of scientists can be counted as believers (Larson & Witham, “Leading Scientists Still Reject God,” Nature 394 (1998), 313).

Why would this be?

If God so clearly evidences himself through the natural world (Psalm 19:1; Psalm 139:14) and even through human morality (Romans 2:15), then why would so many intelligent people resist the clear testimony before them?

The Bible has a very clear answer to this. The apostle Paul writes, “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians. 1:26,27) and then later, “Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become ‘fools’ so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight” (1 Corinthians 3:18,19).

What Richard Dawkins fails to realize is that the correlation between the elite intelligentsia and unbelief is not simply because they’re smarter. The Bible seems to suggest that it’s because the elite of the world, including the academic elite, are more likely to be full of themselves. Dawkins, I believe, has made a faulty correlation. By way of comparison, a similar percentage of Hollywood stars, much like high-level scientists, are also outright God denouncers. While I’m a pretty strong supporter of Dr. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, let’s be honest, many of these Hollywood darlings don’t stack up academically against Dawkins’ Mensa buddies.

So, again, the correlation to not believing in God is NOT intelligence in itself, as though the brainy are somehow spiritually cursed, or, from their perspective, merely above such primitive thinking. The proper correlation to unbelief is probably in those whom the world tends to place on pedestals—the brightest, most beautiful, wealthiest, and most talented. In other words, the more people tend to treat you like a god, the harder it seems to find yourself dependent on the actual God.

I believe Jesus made this point when he said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). Again, the problem is not that the wealthy are inherently spiritually handicapped by God. The problem is that the tendency of sinful human nature is to cling to wealth as though it gives you true control over your life, thus making it proportionately more difficult to surrender control of your life to Jesus, i.e., have faith.

This also appears to be the reason that the apostle Paul cites the glory of his own personal weakness. God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So Paul concluded, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul recognized that his personal weaknesses, the things that likely frustrated him most in life, were actually ways that God was blessing him—precisely because these weaknesses drove Paul further into divine dependency, collapsing into the arms of a loving Savior.

So far as I can tell, there is only one person worth looking up to and boasting in—Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14). He, as God, took on a human body and suffered, all so that I, a nobody, could consider myself somebody, by being welcomed into his body.

I look into the mirror and see death staring back at me. But God looks at me through the lens of Jesus’ cross and he sees a righteous child who will live forever with him. Forget this world’s opinion of me. Forget my opinion of myself. I’m opting for God’s grace-based opinion of me.

As a result, I, James, am unbothered by the fact that I am of mediocre intelligence, average sense of humor, haggard looks (I literally retouched two hours’ worth of crow’s-feet out of the picture below using iPhoto), above average dance moves (no sense in false modesty here), and all of the other ways that I am less than spectacular in the world’s eyes.

Dawkins can take his IQ. I’m cool with my weaknesses and with boasting in Jesus’ righteousness. I pray you’re good with that too.



5 thoughts on “Are All The Smartest People Really Atheists?

  1. Joelle says:

    Thank you so much for this blog entry. I needed this so badly as I have a very intelligent friend who grew up a Christian has now fallen away. She doesn’t call herself an atheist, believes there is a God, but questions whether Jesus actually was our savior. So sad. I am going to print this off and mail it to her.

  2. John Huebner says:

    Thanks! I appreciate your research and share totally your conclusions. The most intellgent people I know personally have strong personal faiths. Those who write and publish to gain influence in the world and among the educator class are driven to accept the lies of the devil, the world (and its cleverly-invented P.C. idea), and their own king-making mind. While every one of us (even the “Brights”) has a sense of the reality of God, only the Holy Spirit can create the faith that truly sees, trusts, and loves him.

  3. Bramdeo Ramgolam says:

    I really appreciate the time and research into this article, well written. I encounter many people, who retire in the Caribbean from first world countries with this attitude. It will be a useful tool in witnessing.

  4. Great post, Pastor. I thoroughly enjoy the calm, collected, and rational approach you took by not letting emotions get in the way. So often, people let their emotions cloud what they’re saying which muddies up the whole point they’re trying to make.

  5. Justin says:

    I like your theory on the seemingly high number of atheists among those held up on a pedestal by society. One notable exception seems to be NFL players who profess faith in God at a very high percentage. While I hate comparisons between football and war, with all the adversity and suffering in football, I’ve often wondered if the “no atheists in foxholes” principle doesn’t apply to a lesser degree there.

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