A study by three psychologists shows that religious people are less intelligent than those who are not religious.
The moment I read a report about it, I felt, looking at the Malaysian situation, that they might be right.
After doing a meta-analysis of 63 scientific studies done between 1928 and 2012, Miron Zuckerman and Jordan Silberman of the University of Rochester and Judith Hall of Northeastern University in the United States found that religious people scored lower on intelligence tests.
But they don’t say that the religious are stupid. Zuckerman puts it this way: “If you count the number of studies which find a positive correlation (between religiosity and intelligence) against those that find a negative correlation, you can draw the same conclusion because most studies find a negative correlation.”
They found that 53 of the 63 studies showed a “negative correlation” between intelligence and religiosity. Only 10 showed a “positive correlation”.
The researchers define intelligence as the “ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience.” Those who get involved in some or all facets of religion – including belief in the supernatural and performing rituals connected to their beliefs -- are termed “religious”.
They give some interesting reasons why intelligent people appear to be less religious.
This includes the fact that the intelligent tend to accept ideas and beliefs based on reasoning or empirical tests, and that the intelligent are usually non-conformists. Also, what religion offers the religious, intelligence offers the intelligent. For instance, religion offers a sense of self-worth to the religious; intelligence offers the same to the intelligent.
From what I read, this meta-analysis was done on studies conducted in English on almost entirely Western subjects. There is a possibility that the conclusion might be different if the study were to be done on Malaysians or Asians.
I wish someone in Malaysia would do a similar scientific study. It would be very interesting, to say the least, as all the major religions are practised by multiracial Malaysians.
I would like to believe that any such study would find a positive correlation, or at least a stronger positive correlation, to use the phrase of the three psychologists.
However, in view of the way in which an increasing number of Malaysians have been acting in the name of religion, and the manner in which “religious sensitivities” are handled, I am inclined to believe that such a study undertaken now would definitely show a negative correlation between religiosity and intelligence.
It is sad that in their rush to “defend” their religion, an increasing number of Malaysians don’t see that they might be trampling on that of others. Perhaps they see but don’t care.
New champions of religions have emerged in recent years; some try to educate, others take an aggressive approach.
There is nothing wrong in speaking up for one’s religion but, in doing so, one should show the same respect and civility that one expects from the other.
Taking a belligerent attitude is not likely to solve any problem. If anything, it will only worsen the situation.
Sometimes, certain events unfold, or certain words are uttered, in the heat of the moment. Perhaps the person involved may have said or done something out of ignorance or without meaning any harm.
Why do we always need to impute ulterior motives to everything said or done? Why do we get worked up so easily? Doesn’t religion teach compassion? Doesn’t religion uphold the virtue of living in amity?
If someone has done something that has offended one’s sensibilities, if there is a serious problem, it is all right to seek to correct the situation, educate the offender and ensure it does not happen again.
But any action taken should be aimed at resolving the problem amicably, not turned into a game of one-upmanship.
What we really need is more common sense; and a little human understanding. Otherwise we shall only prove that the study by Zuckerman and friends pertains to Malaysians too.