That is the question posed by Aidan at A Dribble of Ink. There is quite a discussion on the topic following the post.
My Thoughts (which I posted as a response to the original post) –
Let me preface this by stating that I do read and overall prefer fantasy to science fiction and thusly my exposure to science fiction isn’t as extensive (not that I am all that well read in the fantasy genre mind you…I’m just a nerdy fan).
I think that fantasy and science fiction speak to different parts of the human spirit. Fantasy speaks to our human need for the fantastic. In other words it serves the same basic function that mythology, folklore, and religion have served humanity since the very beginning. I am in no way suggesting that people are out there worshiping the works of Tolkien and company like they would a religious or sacred text (for the most part at least); instead I believe that fantasy stories fill the human need that we have for the fantastical and magical.
On the other hand, science fiction seems to speak to our intellect and curiosity. Good science fiction, at least what I see as good science fiction, makes you think that the technology is possible because it has been explained well (I hope that makes sense). In a way, when reading good science fiction you should think “wow this could really happen” (at least for science fiction that takes place in contemporary times). So with that in mind, I think that science fiction often requires more research on the author’s part to make sure that the science in the fiction actually makes sense and is plausible. As long as the prose then does a good job of explaining the science, the reader doesn’t necessarily need to be more intelligent.
Overall I think that fantasy is a genre that touches us emotionally and science fiction is a genre that touches us intellectually. I don’t think that more intelligence is needed to enjoy science fiction, but one’s personality and temperament will most likely lead a reader to one genre over the other.