Question: "Are atheists more intelligent than believers?"
Answer: What is implicit in this question is that many atheists make public claims that they are the intelligentsia of society—and that they are too intelligent for any sort of belief in religion. It is true that many atheists are highly intelligent, and many are highly educated (intelligence and educational attainment not being synonymous). But are atheists correct in claiming that they are smarter than those who believe in God?
Atheist Richard Dawkins is more intelligent than many believers in certain areas, especially biology. He has achieved a higher educational level than many as well. Does this mean he is therefore more qualified to know if God actually exists? Of course not. The problem atheists have is not their level of intelligence; it is their struggle with sin. They have traded away the knowledge of God for the knowledge of this world.
The book of Proverbs is an entire book about how to be wise. Solomon begins the opening section of this book by identifying the first step to being a wise person: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). Solomon clearly says that, for a person to truly gain knowledge, he must first acknowledge his need and possess reverence for the one true God. If a person is to gain wisdom, he must first be in a right relationship with God. The atheist starts in the wrong place and heads in the wrong direction.
Solomon finishes Proverbs 1:7 this way: “But fools despise wisdom and instruction.” So a wise person fears God (he has a respect for who God is and willingly submits to His authority). However, a fool despises wisdom. A foolish person does not acknowledge God’s authority over his life; therefore, he shuts himself off to truly gaining wisdom.
An atheist can be highly intelligent and very ignorant at the same time. He can have multiple academic degrees and yet be, by the Bible’s definition, a fool. Education is no measure of intelligence, and intelligence is no measure of spiritual condition. A man of the humblest intellect who nevertheless believes God’s promises is wise in what matters most. “Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies” (Psalm 119:98). There is a big difference between being intelligent enough to succeed in academia and being “wise for salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15). “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
The intelligence of this world is temporary and can only go so far. But the wisdom that comes from God is eternal and higher than the world’s intelligence (see James 3:13–18). The atheist, who does not have the Spirit of God, cannot discern spiritual truth and might naturally consider those who live by faith to be foolish, irrational, or less intelligent: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
The problem is not that the atheist does not see enough evidence for God. The problem is that sin has so darkened his heart and mind that he refuses to accept the evidence of God right in front of him. The Bible teaches that sin is not just actions that go against God’s will but is the natural condition of every person due to the curse of Adam (Genesis 3). We come into this world as sinners. One of the effects of sin is spiritual blindness.
Atheists can be intelligent by the world’s standards, and they may proclaim their intelligence far and wide, but they are actually fools because they miss the most important fact of life: they are created by a sovereign God who lays claim to their lives. Paul says that the problem with sinful mankind is not that God has not revealed Himself clearly enough but that men suppress the truth: “Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:21–22).
Atheists who claim to be more intelligent than believers in Christ are actually saying they do not want to believe in God. Sinful people love their sin. “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
Christianity is a reasonable faith, one that is based on historical facts and a plethora of evidence. Christians do not fear their faith being analyzed and critiqued and cross-examined by sincere seekers of truth; in fact, they welcome such investigation. Atheists can advance the haughty claim that they alone possess intelligence, but there are many Christian apologists, with credentials rivaling any atheist's, who are quite willing to counter the claims of atheism and engage in constructive debate over the truth claims of the Bible.