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April 23, 2004

Hi Kim-

I love your site and I have enjoyed reading your essays immensely. I am starting as a graduate student at Stanford, and one of the reasons I really enjoy being in an academic setting is that the vast majority of people seem to rather fervently share my political and (lack of) religious beliefs. The concentration of liberally-minded and agnostic/atheist individuals seems disproportionately high in academia. Have you noticed this? Why do you think that it is? Do academic settings foster freethinking, and are freethinkers more likely to come to atheistic conclusions? Do you know of any correlation between intelligence and atheism? (This is not to suggest that people in academia are universally smarter than the rest of the world! Academic settings tend to attract people of higher intelligence, but there are plenty of brilliant people outside of academia.)

I would be curious to know your thoughts on this. Thanks so much! Keep up the wonderful work!

Atheist Student


Dear Student:

First of all, thanks. I appreciate the kind words.

Secondly, you may or may not know that I actually work at a university here in Oklahoma. And even here in the Bible Belt I've noticed a lot of very relaxed attitudes towards religion, agnostics, and even some strongly atheist professors. I would say (without having actually taken a poll or anything) that, at least in my part of the university, the nonbelievers or apatheists outnumber the theists.

Why is that? Well, there are a lot of possible reasons. One is that, as a friend of mine (not an atheist) pointed out, it takes a certain amount of intelligence to push beyond the boundaries of religion and see what else is there. That questioning attitude is very welcome at most universities. Also, the job of a scholar (which professors are, at least theortically) is to question and to discover. Those attitudes go very well with nontheism.

But you don't have to take my word on it. I've dug up some links that will probably be of interest to you. There's a Newhouse News Service article about atheism in college, as well as a link to the Center for Inquiry on Campus, formerly known as the Campus Freethought Alliance. More specifically, there is an American Atheists article about a survey on American religious identification.

I've also found a few other articles on the subject of atheism and intelligence. Remember, I don't necessarily vouch for all the authors, but they seemed worth a look. We have Intelligence and Religious Beliefs Statistics, an article on atheism that discusses intelligence, and a page that lists various excerpts from articles on the subject. Just for fun, check out the Characteristics of a Chess Genius, which mentions that most strong chess players are atheists.

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