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Christianity, Religion, science

Born Again Christians Have Smaller Brains. Literally.

The Templeton Foundation needs to quit funding scientific research of religion.  It seems like they’re shooting themselves in the foot at every turn.  First they proved that prayer doesn’t work.  Now they’ve proven that the more radically religious believers — evangelicals, born-agains, and the like have smaller brains than the rest of us.  They literally have less gray matter to work with.

Admittedly, it’s difficult not to chuckle about this.  For many non-believers, it’s almost too good to be true.  Has science really proven that the radically religious are dumber than the rest of us?

Well… maybe, and maybe not.  Causation is a real booger in studies like this, and it’s unclear whether the decreased brain size is a result of being religious, the cause of it, or some sort of peripheral effect.  It’s also unclear whether it translates to an effective decrease in mental capacity or problem solving ability.

But the correlation is definitely intriguing, and it certain feels correct for any of us who have literally beaten our heads against walls trying to explain basic logic to evangelicals.

Intriguingly, it also suggests something that might perturb the most hard-line atheists.  Perhaps there really is a difference between moderate theists and extremists.  Protestants and Catholics — defined as religious people who professed no “personal experience” with a deity — did not show a marked decrease in brain size.

We will be eagerly awaiting the replication study…

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Discussion

18 thoughts on “Born Again Christians Have Smaller Brains. Literally.

  1. Maybe their brains just atrophy from lack of use.

    Posted by Ben Hoffman | May 26, 2011, 7:31 pm
  2. Hamby,

    Well then it seems that Christians are good company because Albert Einstein had a small brain!
    http://www.physorg.com/news159536686.html

    Posted by PG | May 26, 2011, 8:01 pm
  3. Like you mentioned Hamby, a difference in the size of a brain doesn’t mean that the intelligence is different.

    If so then it would be proof that men are smarter than women. Doh!

    Sagan discussed brain size versus intelligence in his book Broca’s Brain.

    Still, it would be funny if it did.

    Posted by Watcher | May 26, 2011, 8:02 pm
  4. Yeah the author of this post apparently didn’t read the article, just the headline. The region that appeared to decrease was the hippocampus, which is responsible for”regulate emotion and memory.” not intelligence.

    Not only that, but the mainline religious group had a bigger hippocampus than did ‘unaffliated’. Being an atheist wouldn’t seem to solve the problem here.

    Posted by jackhudson | May 26, 2011, 9:23 pm
  5. The region that appeared to decrease was the hippocampus, which is responsible for”regulate emotion and memory.” not intelligence.

    Both of which are involved in the total process of critical thinking. Yeah… I did read the article, and I did make plenty of disclaimers. The salient point is that there are quantifiable differences between “moderate” theists, extreme theists, and non-believers. As I quite pointedly said, I’ll be interested in follow up research.

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | May 26, 2011, 11:09 pm
  6. Why do you suppose you ‘qualifiers’ justify statements like “They literally have less gray matter to work with.” when that is not at all what the study shows?

    When in fact other regions like the cerebrum or the frontal lobes are actually shown to deal with higher cognitive functions? If they were shown to be larger in the more religious, would you conclude atheists are dumber?

    Personally, I don’t care that your posts are primarily ad homs and straw men, that is fairly typical – but at least try to get the facts right.

    Posted by jackhudson | May 27, 2011, 12:26 am
  7. When in fact other regions like the cerebrum or the frontal lobes are actually shown to deal with higher cognitive functions? If they were shown to be larger in the more religious, would you conclude atheists are dumber?

    If any of what you said were true, I’m willing to bet most rational people would. Too bad none of it is…

    Posted by Alex Hardman | May 27, 2011, 11:28 am
  8. Aren’t men’s and women’s brains different sizes?

    Anyway, in order to seperate causation for correlation, they would have to establish a coherent mechanism in which religion can decrease brain size and put it to the empirical test. I can’t think of one.

    Posted by cptpineapple | May 29, 2011, 4:54 pm
  9. I would prefer to say that those papers are perfectly persuasive as to their conclusions and implications. CB’s reference of these papers as evidence of his crank theory is a rather persuasive demonstration that CB is incapable of comprehending college level science papers.

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | May 16, 2011, 1:46 pm
    “Macro-Evolution in Action”

    Double irony, here. First, Hamby’s baseless finger-pointing about someone’s alleged inability to “comprehend college level science papers” followed by this demonstration of Hamby’s own inability in that area. After all, the paper cited by Hamby explicitly states (all-caps emphasis added):

    A new study from Duke University Medical Center, however, gives these Protestants one reason for cheer: they seem to have larger brains than born-again Christians, Roman Catholics AND THE RELIGIOUSLY UNAFFILIATED.

    So, to make it as clearas possible, the study suggests that certain Protestants have LARGER brains than “the religiously unaffiliated”, which we can presume to include atheists if we’re going to include atheists at all in this comparison. And there is NOTHING in the article to suggest that the brains of atheists are any larger than those of any other group.

    Second, as explained in the “Macro-Evolution in Action” thread, Hamby obviously had me confused with someone else who goes by a two-character moniker (PG), as I never referenced the papers to which Hamby was referring. And again, Hamby’s baseless claim was never established, never substantiated in any way. Just an ad hominem attack, nothing more.

    If looking down your nose at hapless theists is your objective, I would advise getting your own house in order, first.

    Posted by CB | May 30, 2011, 9:10 am
  10. Hamby obviously had me confused with someone else who goes by a two-character moniker (PG)

    Sorry, certain kinds of stupid all look alike from over here…

    Posted by Alex Hardman | May 30, 2011, 10:53 am
  11. Alex says:
    Sorry, certain kinds of stupid all look alike from over here…

    PG says:
    Not surprised. It took only one post for you to revert back to your grade school trolling antics. What is really pathetic is that your repeatedly responding with “IDers are stupid” is your best effort at intelligent discourse.
    So why do you say “IDers are stupid” Alex?
    Perhaps its because our continuing to respond to your intillectually bankrupt immature posts can be interpreted as “stupid”

    .

    Posted by PG | May 30, 2011, 12:08 pm
  12. .A new study from Duke University Medical Center, however, gives these Protestants one reason for cheer: they seem to have larger brains than born-again Christians, Roman Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated.

    LOL

    I think the best way to spot bias is to imagine if the study issued opposite conclusions.

    That is if bigger brain means more intelligence, that means that both atheists are more intelligent than born agains, and that Protestants are more intelligent than atheists.

    These type of results is exactly why I like to argue the correlation=/=causation, not just selectively apply it where ever it’s convienent.

    Posted by cptpineapple | May 30, 2011, 12:30 pm
  13. Aren’t men’s and women’s brains different sizes?

    Yes, but you’re not going to like going here, I don’t think. Either for women or for the religious:

    It has been suggested — based on studies of wild animals intentionally domesticated — that as in the rest of the animal kingdom, smaller brains are correlated with domesticity. In other words, perhaps men “domesticated” women over the last several thousand years, and their brains got smaller.

    NOTE: I’m not advocating this position, nor am I vouching for its truth. I’m illustrating a point that is valid whether this is true or not.

    Just running with this idea for a moment: What if smaller brains are correlated to domesticity? That would predict a couple of things: Those with “domestic” brains would be more susceptible to leadership, more compliant, more likely to do things regardless of personal moral objections, and more “herd” oriented.

    Sounds like a recipe for evangelical religion to me…

    Now… the broader point: Even if smaller brains are NOT correlated to intelligence (IQ) — and it’s a very, very controversial topic — smaller brains are probably correlated to something, and if we consistently find that the highly religious have smaller brains, then we’ve likely uncovered something in the brain that “causes” religion.

    Also… please recall that I’m not one of those people who think you can talk people out of religion. It’s emotional, societal, and group-think more than rationality. So it honestly doesn’t matter (if I’m correct about religion’s appeal) whether IQ and smaller brains are correlated.

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | May 31, 2011, 12:42 pm
  14. Just running with this idea for a moment.

    Well, try to bear in mind, as you’re “running with your idea”, that according to the article you cited, ATHEISTS. ALSO. HAVE. SMALLER. BRAINS.

    At least, that is the case if atheists are a part of the group labeled “religiously unaffiliated”. That’s just the way English works. Do I need to quote the statement again?

    A new study from Duke University Medical Center, however, gives these Protestants one reason for cheer: they seem to have larger brains than born-again Christians, Roman Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated.

    To reiterate, again…

    SOME Protestants have bigger brains than born-again Christians AND Roman Catholics AND THE RELIGIOUSLY UNAFFILIATED.

    To break it down…

    Some protestants have bigger brains than born-again Christians

    AND

    Some protestants have bigger brains than Roman Catholics

    AND

    Some protestants have bigger brains than THE RELIGIOUSLY UNAFFILIATED.

    NOTHING in the article says or even suggests that atheists have bigger brains than anybody else. NOTHING.

    Ergo, any snarky “observation” you may make regarding “born-again Christians” or “women”…

    Those with “domestic” [smaller] brains would be more susceptible to leadership, more compliant, more likely to do things regardless of personal moral objections, and more “herd” oriented.

    Sounds like a recipe for evangelical religion to me…

    …if we consistently find that the highly religious have smaller brains, then we’ve likely uncovered something in the brain that “causes” religion.

    also equally applies to the religiously unaffiliated, which presumably includes atheists.

    So keep on running…

    Also… please recall that I’m not one of those people who think you can talk people out of religion.

    Which is presumably why you’ve dedicated your blog to merely mocking them, instead. I must admit that it’s an easier path than rational discourse…

    Posted by CB | June 1, 2011, 10:17 am
  15. Scientific American, September 1999
    “Scientists and Religion in America”
    “Whereas 90% of the general population has a distinct belief in a personal god and a life after death, only 40% of scientists on the B.S. level favor this belief in religion and merely 10 % of those who are considered ’eminent’ scientists believe in a personal god or in an afterlife.”

    Nature, 394(6691):313, 23 July 1998
    “Leading Scientists Still Reject God”
    A recent survey of members of the National Academy of Sciences showed that 72% are outright atheists, 21% are agnostic and only 7% admit to belief in a personal God.

    Skeptic, vol.6 #2 1998
    “Do You Believe in God?”
    In multiple studies, there is a negative correlation between theism and morality. By Franzblau’s 1934 study, there’s a negative correlation between religiousity and honesty. Ross 1950 shows atheists and agnostics are more likely to express their willingness to help the poor than the deeply religious. 1969 Hirschi and Stark found no correlation in lawbreaking by churchgoing children and non-churchgoing children.
    This same Skeptic published the results of another study that compared professions and likelihood of believing in God. The general public was just over 90% likely to believe in God. Scientists in general were just under 40% likely. Mathematicians were just over 40% likely, biologists just under 30%, and physicists were barely over 20% likely to believe in God.

    The Effect of Intelligence on Religious Belief

    Is it more logical to be a Christian? Is religion the natural choice of a smart person familiar with more of the evidence? Not according to a broad consensus of studies on IQ and religiosity. These studies have consistently found that the lower the IQ score, the more likely a person is to be religious.

    To place these studies in perspective, it is helpful to know the general religious attitudes of Americans today. According to a February 1995 Gallup poll, 96 percent of all Americans believe in God, and 88 percent affirm the importance of religion. However, the degree of religiosity within this group varies considerably. Only 35 percent can be classified as “religious,” using a definition that requires them to consider religion important and attend religious services at least once a week. And a March 1994 Gallup poll found that only 20 percent of all Americans belong to that politically active group known as “Christian conservatives.”

    The following is a review of several studies of IQ and religiosity, paraphrased and summarized from Burnham Beckwith’s article, “The Effect of Intelligence on Religious Faith,” Free Inquiry, Spring 1986: (1)

    Studies of Students

    Thomas Howells, 1927
    Study of 461 students showed religiously conservative students “are, in general, relatively inferior in intellectual ability.”

    Hilding Carlsojn, 1933
    Study of 215 students showed that “there is a tendency for the more intelligent undergraduate to be sympathetic toward… atheism.”

    Abraham Franzblau, 1934
    Confirming Howells and Carlson, tested 354 Jewish children, aged 10-16. Found a negative correlation between religiosity and IQ as measured by the Terman intelligence test.

    Thomas Symington, 1935
    Tested 400 young people in colleges and church groups. He reported, “There is a constant positive relation in all the groups between liberal religious thinking and mental ability… There is also a constant positive relation between liberal scores and intelligence…”

    Vernon Jones, 1938
    Tested 381 students, concluding “a slight tendency for intelligence and liberal attitudes to go together.”

    Donald Gragg, 1942
    Reported an inverse correlation between 100 ACE freshman test scores and Thurstone “reality of god” scores.

    Brown and Love, 1951
    At the University of Denver, tested 613 male and female students. The mean test scores of non-believers was 119 points, and for believers it was 100. The non-believers ranked in the 80th percentile, and believers in the 50th. Their findings “strongly corroborate those of Howells.”

    Michael Argyle, 1958
    Concluded that “although intelligent children grasp religious concepts earlier, they are also the first to doubt the truth of religion, and intelligent students are much less likely to accept orthodox beliefs.”

    Young, Dustin and Holtzman, 1966
    Average religiosity decreased as GPA rose.

    C. Plant and E. Minium, 1967
    The more intelligent students were less religious, both before entering college and after 2 years of college.

    Robert Wuthnow, 1978
    Of 532 students, 37 percent of Christians, 58 percent of apostates, and 53 percent of non-religious scored above average on SATs.

    Norman Poythress, 1975
    Mean SATs for strongly anti-religious (1148), moderately anti-religious (1119), slightly anti-religious (1108), and religious (1022).

    Wiebe and Fleck, 1980
    Studied 158 male and female Canadian university students. They reported “nonreligious S’s tended to be strongly intelligent” and “more intelligent than religious S’s.”

    Student Body Comparisons

    Rose Goldsen, 1952
    Percentage of students who believe in a divine god: Harvard 30; UCLA 32; Dartmouth 35; Yale 36; Cornell 42; Wayne 43; Weslyan 43; Michigan 45; Fisk 60; Texas 62; North Carolina 68.

    National Review Study, 1970
    Percentage of students who believe in a Spirit or Divine God: Reed 15; Brandeis 25; Sarah Lawrence 28; Williams 36; Stanford 41; Boston U. 41; Yale 42; Howard 47; Indiana 57; Davidson 59; S. Carolina 65; Marquette 77.

    Caplovitz and Sherrow, 1977
    Apostasy rates rose continuously from 5 percent in “low” ranked schools to 17 percent in “high” ranked schools.

    Niemi, Ross, and Alexander, 1978
    In elite schools, organized religion was judged important by only 26 percent of their students, compared with 44 percent of all students.

    Studies of High-IQ Groups

    Terman, 1959
    Studied group with IQ’s over 140. Of men, 10 percent held strong religious belief, of women 18 percent. Sixty-two percent of men and 57 percent of women claimed “little religious inclination” while 28 percent of the men and 23 percent of the women claimed it was “not at all important.”

    Southern and Plant, 1968
    Studied 42 male and 30 female members of Mensa. Mensa members were much less religious in belief than the typical American college alumnus or adult.

    Studies of Scientists

    William S. Ament, 1927
    C. C. Little, president of the University of Michigan, checked persons listed in Who’s Who in America: “Unitarians, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Universalists, and Presbyterians [who are less religious] are… far more numerous in Who’s Who than would be expected on the basis of the population which they form. Baptists, Methodists, and Catholics are distinctly less numerous.”

    Ament confirmed Little’s conclusion. He noted that Unitarians, the least religious, were more than 40 times as numerous in Who’s Who as in the U.S. population.

    Lehman and Witty, 1931
    Identified 1189 scientists found in both Who’s Who (1927) and American Men of Science (1927). Only 25 percent of those listed in the latter and 50 percent of those in the former reported their religious denomination, despite the specific request to do so, under the heading of “religious denomination (if any).” Well over 90 percent of the general population claims religious affiliation. The figure of 25 percent suggests far less religiosity among scientists.

    Unitarians were 81.4 times as numerous among eminent scientists as non-Unitarians.

    Kelley and Fisk, 1951
    Found a negative (-.39) correlation between the strength of religious values and research competence. [How these were measured is unknown.]

    Ann Roe, 1953
    Interviewed 64 “eminent scientists, nearly all members of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences or the American Philosophical Society. She reported that, while nearly all of them had religious parents and had attended Sunday school, ‘now only three of these men are seriously active in church. A few others attend upon occasion, or even give some financial support to a church which they do not attend… All the others have long since dismissed religion as any guide to them, and the church plays no part in their lives… A few are militantly atheistic, but most are just not interested.'”

    Francis Bello, 1954
    Interviewed or questionnaired 107 nonindustrial scientists under the age of 40 judged by senior colleagues to be outstanding. Of the 87 responses, 45 percent claimed to be “agnostic or atheistic” and an additional 22 percent claimed no religious affiliation. For 20 most eminent, “the proportion who are now a-religious is considerably higher than in the entire survey group.”

    Jack Chambers, 1964
    Questionnaired 740 US psychologists and chemists. He reported, “The highly creative men… significantly more often show either no preference for a particular religion or little or no interest in religion.” Found that the most eminent psychologists showed 40 percent no preference, 16 percent for the most eminent chemists.

    Vaughan, Smith, and Sjoberg, 1965
    Polled 850 US physicists, zoologists, chemical engineers, and geologists listed in American Men of Science (1955) on church membership, and attendance patterns, and belief in afterlife. Of the 642 replies, 38.5 percent did not believe in an afterlife, whereas 31.8 percent did. Belief in immortality was less common among major university staff than among those employed by business, government, or minor universities. The Gallup poll taken about this time showed that two-thirds of the U.S. population believed in an afterlife, so scientists were far less religious than the typical adult.

    Posted by Charlton Hall | October 11, 2011, 5:26 pm
  16. The studey suggests a reason people suddenly find god our a reason why radical religious groups think the way they do and defends middle range believers anyway it is found in these people and groups there hippocampus is diminished there emoitions and critical thinking is damaged and gives insite into why people suddenly find god our take there faith to extreams and if tou dont get butthurt bye. The tagline its a interesting study and makes a lot of sense. And bye rhe way would u have stopped to read this guys post if it was titled diminished hippocampus leads to people finding god? I dont think so because you probably dident know what a hippocampus was sense yours is a lot smaller then mine

    Posted by Aaronkitko | May 25, 2012, 5:18 pm
  17. This comment by CB is worth repeating…

    Well, try to bear in mind, as you’re “running with your idea”, that according to the article you cited, ATHEISTS. ALSO. HAVE. SMALLER. BRAINS.

    At least, that is the case if atheists are a part of the group labeled “religiously unaffiliated”. That’s just the way English works. Do I need to quote the statement again?

    A new study from Duke University Medical Center, however, gives these Protestants one reason for cheer: they seem to have larger brains than born-again Christians, Roman Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated.

    To reiterate, again…

    SOME Protestants have bigger brains than born-again Christians AND Roman Catholics AND THE RELIGIOUSLY UNAFFILIATED.

    To break it down…

    Some protestants have bigger brains than born-again Christians

    AND

    Some protestants have bigger brains than Roman Catholics

    AND

    Some protestants have bigger brains than THE RELIGIOUSLY UNAFFILIATED.

    NOTHING in the article says or even suggests that atheists have bigger brains than anybody else. NOTHING….

    So keep on running…

    Posted by PG | May 27, 2012, 4:59 pm
  18. Actually science has proven atheist have the smaller brain, they are trying to spin this to their favor which is total hogwash. They claim they have higher IQ’s as well trying to make atheist seem superior in intelligence which is nonsense . The mutation that leads to atheism is harmful. Good thing, then, that we find that atheists breed less than theists. Their faulty, harmful-to-intelligence genes have a good chance of passing out of the population very soon which by the way makes them a minority and a thing of the past. Then true science will prosper.

    Posted by Raider5087 | June 11, 2013, 8:14 pm

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