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Is this why Stephen Hawking doesn't believe in God?

Commentary: New research suggests that religion is an instinct and science opens you up to non-instinctive possibilities.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Has he risen above evolutionary instincts?

Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty Images

Prominent scientists are sometimes strident non-believers.

Stephen Hawking and Neil DeGrasse Tyson have declared that there is no God.

But can science offer suggestions as to why they might have made this decision?

New research from the Ulster Institute for Social Research in Northern Ireland and Rotterdam University in the Netherlands examined the "robust negative association between religion and intelligence."

Indeed, a Pew survey last year said that those who have no religion cite science as the reason why.

This latest study, published in Evolutionary Psychological Science, reached some controversial conclusions about where religion comes from and why intelligence undermines it.

The researchers examined different models that had been proposed for explaining why believers are allegedly less intelligent. It selected and revised evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa's Savanna-IQ Principle. This suggests that what we do and believe has its foundation in the environment of our ancestors.

The researchers concluded that religion is an evolved instinct, while intelligence "involves rising above our instincts." After all, intelligence and all that comes with it does often involve controlling our instincts in order to allow our minds to reach rational conclusions.

Indeed, as Hawking told Spain's El Mundo last year: "Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation."

Edward Dutton and Dimitri Van der Linden -- authors of this latest study -- put it a different way: "Intelligence will involve being attracted to evolutionary mismatch, to that which we would not be instinctively evolved to be attracted to."

It's a charming thought that our evolutionary instincts don't lead us naturally to thinking for ourselves. Perhaps that's why we still make so many fundamentally poor decisions.

Intelligence also has its problems, though. It's not just that intelligent people can tend to think too much. It's also the disturbing pattern -- in my experience, at least -- of intelligent people often claiming to be unhappy.

Now that's a subject that surely needs more research.