At the behest of a certain internet friend, I'm starting a thread on this topic to sort of tie together conversations surround religion and intelligence (HAHA, get it? Thread? Tie? Ok, I'm done).
Here's an irony. Intelligent people "get" the questionable nature of citing a correlation as if it were a cause. But that doesn't take away the seductive nature of correlations for anyone (intelligent or otherwise). This is certainly true of the alleged correlation between intelligence and unbelief.
Richard Dawkins goes to great lengths in "The God Delusion" to suggest powerfully that theistic belief is in fact a function of IQ. Specifically, a low one.
And yet Neil deGrasse Tyson, another atheist, points out that the really interesting thing is not the correlation, but the fact that intelligent theists exist at all (even at the highest echelons of academia).
Of course, the existence of intelligent believers isn't really a novelty to me. Please note that the "Academia <--> Unbelief" correlation typically cite hierarchies within scientific academia--never the professors of faculties in fields of philosophy or theology. Not that I have numerical evidence that those heirarchies are any different. But if powerful, believing brains are hard to find among the physicists, they don't appear to be nearly so much among the metaphysicians.
Nor are brilliant theists hard to find within history. History is a sticky issue to bring into this discussion, since the retort will arise: well of course 17th century geniuses still believed in God. Virtually everybody did. Our knowledge of the universe wasn't as advanced as it is now.
Yet this leads me to ask if atheism was really so intellectually inaccessible to academics of 100, 200, or 300 years ago. Perhaps it was easier (for the general populace) to believe in God in a world without Darwin. But among academics, Darwin's ideas were hardly new when they arrived on the scene. What was new was the compelling nature of the evidence he provided and the radicality of his conclusions. Yet it would have been as possible to be a 17th century atheist as it was to be a modern believer.
I still haven't gotten to my main point. Right now I'm just collecting sub-issues to deal with. And I have more.
For example, there's a basic fact that so many distinctions must be made before we can even discuss these issues accurately: Belief (propositional content) vs. religion (practice, ritual, song, storytelling, community). Philosophically informed belief vs. simple belief (vs. culpably stupid belief).
IQ vs. intelligence vs. academic accomplishment vs. field of expertise.
And let's not forget the factor of objective truth. Is it possible for the simpleton to be objectively correct in spite of himself?
But let me conclude on a simple opinion. Being a theist who, I'll flatter myself, isn't stupid, I not only believe in God but I believe that my belief in God is rational and that my premises can stand up to any of the apologetics of, for example, the authors of infidels.org.
So, being faced with the facts on the ground--the correlation between IQ and unbelief, or between scientific academic accomplishment and unbelief--it behooves me to offer my own explanation. I have one: Culture.
Unbelief in western acadamia is as self-perpetuating as superstition among backwater rubes--and its memes use much the same mechanisms of defense and self-propagation as the silliest of religion. I'm gravely pessimistic of anyone's claim, implied or otherwise, to be above the subtle machinations of cultural influence, which are a-rational (while not necessarily ir-rational), powerful, and invisible even to geniuses.
And I have a complementary explanation of why such correlations bother me even less: basically, I think I'm right... and I would be no less right if I were impossibly stupid.
Forgive my bias, but I imagine that good old Benedict XVI could go toe-to-toe with Richard Dawkins without breaking an intellectual sweat. And that's the point. This is one case where it only takes a single counter-example--a single smart believer (or even a single stupid believer who happens to be correct) to make the whole alleged correlation between unbelief and intelligence completely irrelevent. And not only irrelevant, but perilous to put too much stock in.