Have you ever heard the claim "all smart people are atheists", or maybe its inverse: "people who believe in God are dumb"? It's quite a pervasive urban legend, and one which I've known is false for a long time, but I didn't realize just how false until the other day. I recently decided to do a quick cataloging of the ten highest IQ's on earth, and discovered that it's nearly the exact opposite of the truth!
Before reading the list, however, I want to remind you of the caveat that IQ test results are not in any sense the measure of a person's worth. They tend to favor folks who are good at hard "knowledge" things like mathematics and chess, and I think we all know very valuable people who are good at none of these. Moreover, I think the attribute of "wisdom" (valuing attributes like ethics and foresight) is a far better measure of whether or not a person will be happy. I'm not aware of any standardized test for measuring wisdom, however.
Another important point is that there are competing ideas on which tests most accurately measure intelligence. Not everyone takes the same IQ test, and there are enough claims, counterclaims, and disputes in this subject to drive a researcher bananas! All I could do was read everything I could find on it, and rank the candidates based both upon their scores and on who seemed to be the most unanimously agreed upon as worthy (ignoring many "fan clubs" along the way).
An additional challenge I had to grapple with is that minors' scores are adjusted upwards to compensate for their age. The younger they are, the higher the relative adjustment. In surveying evidence for this article, I noticed a tendency for the adjusted scores to be less and less believable (too high!) the younger the subject is. This is obviously a very imperfect scoring system, so in the list below, I "weighted" the scores achieved as adults a bit higher than those achieved at younger ages, and those achieved at the very youngest ages as the most dubious.
That being said, with the noble goal of shattering a "stronghold" of low-information thinking, let the comparisons begin:
Andrew Magdy Kamal - apparently the highest IQ ever recorded, at 231.734. This was accomplished last year (2013) just before he turned 17. This includes an adjustment made for his age (which is done routinely for minors), so only time will tell if he maintains his position, but he is listed in Record Holder's Republic for Highest IQ and Highest IQ average, and it looks pretty good. He is a he is a staunch conservative and a member of the Republican Tea Party. He is also the founder of the Coptic Orthodox Messianicans Group. Andrew Magdy Kamal hopes to use his talents and intelligence to spread the news of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ) his hero, and he lives in Michigan.
Abdessellam Jelloul - apparently the highest IQ ever scored by an adult in the "advanced IQ test" was by Jelloul, who scored an adult IQ of 198. This was in a 2012 test which included 13 dimensions of intelligence (analytical, spatial, logical, memory, musical, linguistic, philosophical, moral, spiritual, interpersonal, intra-personal, bodily and naturalist). Unlike other tests, the advanced IQ test includes more measures that other tests cannot assess. I tweeted Mr. Jelloul a question about his beliefs in September of last year, and he graciously replied to me that he does "believe in God, a Supreme Architect of the universe" (see a screenshot of this tweet in the slideshow).
Christopher Michael Langan - has a verified IQ of at least 195. Langan achieved a perfect score on the SAT, but dropped out of Montana State University after concluding his professors weren't qualified to teach him anything. ABC's 20/20 measured his IQ (as an adult) to be between 195 and 210. Langan has indicated in his writings numerous that he believes in God, for example, in William Dembski's book "Uncommon Dissent", he wrote: "...since Biblical accounts of the genesis of our world and species are true but metaphorical, our task is to correctly decipher the metaphor in light of scientific evidence also given to us by God".
Terence Tao - his IQ was estimated to be between 220 and 230 by the Davidson Institute when he was about ten years old. At eight years old, Tao achieved a score of 760 on the pre-1995 SAT, received a Ph.D from Princeton at 20 and at 24 became the youngest ever full professor at UCLA. I couldn't find anything about Tao's metaphysical views. He's obviously a tremendous mathematician, but doesn't seem to post much outside of mathematics.
Christopher Hirata - has a verified IQ of 225, calculated when he was in his teens. Hirata skipped middle school, and at 16 was working with NASA on a project exploring the possibility of colonizing Mars. The Daily Princetonian, Princeton's student paper, where Hirata began attending for his PhD in Astrophysics at 18, reported that his IQ is around 225. Hirata posted the following to his Facebook on October 31, 2013: "Today's experience: saying the Lord's prayer with a homeless couple on Colorado Boulevard. It may not feed or shelter them, but I hope that it made a difference in their lives." So he is clearly both a Theist and a Christian.
Evangelos Katsioulis - has apparently scored a 198 as an adult. Katsioulis is a Greek Doctor/Psychiatrist/Philosopher who has publicly referred to his belief in human souls several times. For example, he did a lecture in 2008 called "BODY AND SOUL", and made clear that he wasn't speaking metaphorically in it with lines like: "The soul is not the body. It is not the flesh. It is the spirit." He is apparently a follower of a strand of Christianity influenced by Teilhard de Chardin.
Rick Rosner - has apparently scored a 192 as an adult, after years of honing his IQ test-taking skills. Has been a writer for the Jimmy Kimmel Show, and appeared on "So You Want to be A Millionaire". Rosner denied that he was an atheist on Twitter, after an inquiry. He also retweeted this Einstein quote: "God does not care about our mathematical difficulties. He integrates empirically" and in answer to the question "You know there's a God?" he answered "Maybe. Suspect there's an infinity of gods".
Mislav Predavec - has apparently scored a 192 as an adult. [Update - I initially had the wrong quote linked here]. His Christianity can easily be confirmed by a beautiful response he wrote to a friend who had become a Christian in one of the groups he belongs to and which was posted online:
"David, I am so glad hearing good news about your convalescence, and more about your enlightenment, you are aware now that your suffer and pain, your giftedness and sense are a part of plan. Truly, all this can´t exist without being leading it intentionally. Atheistic explanation that everything is accidental progress is full of holes. Stay well my friend.
Gary Kasparov - is alleged to have an IQ of 190. He was perhaps the most universally attested-to as a top-shelf intellect, so it was unthinkable to leave him off of this list. In 2003 Kasparov played to a draw against a chess computer that could calculate three million positions per second. He is considered by many to be the greatest chess player of all time. Kasparov has described himself as a "self-appointed Christian"
Kenneth Ferrell - has apparently scored a 190 as an adult. If I have located the right Kenneth Ferrell online, it's abundantly clear from his own words that he's a Christian. Since I'm not sure, I didn't include him in my count of believers.
So you can see that the brightest of the bright have not foreclosed on the possibility of the existence of an Intelligent Designer. Juxtaposed with the fact that according to a large survey of scientists who are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in May and June 2009, most Scientists are not atheists -- which also corresponds with similar findings in a large recent study of scientists by Rice University Sociology Professor Elaine Ecklund -- I'd say that the Appeal to Authority on which atheist debators have long relied has dissolved.
Steve J. Williams is the author of What Your Atheist Professor Doesn't Know (But Should)