Sunday, June 18, 2006

Religious People Less Intelligent?

Half Sigma did some analysis on the General Social Survey data:

One of the clearest trends I observed is the inverse correlation between religiosity and verbal IQ (the GSS includes a verbal IQ test). In other words, people who are more religious tend to be less intelligent. [Emphasis his.]

He then goes on to compare people's belief in God, the nature of the Bible, and feelings on some church-state questions with their scores on the verbal IQ test. Although only 13.4% of all people with high verbal IQ scores (which he defines as having a WORDSUM(9-10)) were atheists or agnostics, twice as many people who are atheists, agnostics, or don't believe in a personal God fall into the high verbal IQ category than those who believe in God "some of the time," believe despite doubts, or believe without doubts.

Of the people who believed the "Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by men," there were almost twice as many with high Verbal IQs as there were in the group which believed the "Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, word for word" and almost six times as many as in the group that believed the "Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word."

In the comments, I wondered if this could simply reflect higher education levels (more education means less religiosity, on average) or racial differences (Blacks are more religious and have significantly lower average IQ scores, probably due to socioeconomic circumstances), but Half Sigma points out that the results hold even when correcting for these factors. (Ashkenazi Jews have significantly higher IQs, on average, but I suspect that we are correspondingly more likely to be atheists than most other ethnic groups. There seem to be a lot of Jewish atheists out there. Also, we make up a tiny percentage of the American populace.)

Theists will no doubt argue that people at the high end of the verbal IQ curve are simply too smart for their own good, or else are correspondingly lacking in other areas. One emailer told me he believes that atheists have something akin to a learning disability -- a spiritual disability. Others will take comfort in the fact that even among the high verbal IQ crowd, a majority believe in some sort of God. There's also the possibility that being a non-believer raises your IQ rather than the other way around, but that seems unlikely.

Still, I think the fact that atheism, agnosticism, and not-believing-in-a-personal-god-ism (Einsteinism?) are correlated with both higher verbal IQs AND more education is suggestive that maybe we non-believers are onto something. :-)

28 comments:

CyberKitten said...

Hand JA a red flag.... points him towards charging bull.

[rotflmao].

Orthoprax said...

JA,

Not to offend, but these smarter-than-thou blandishments don't mean that truth is any more closely apprehended.

I'd bet that communists are more likely to have higher IQs than the general population too. There are certain ways of thinking that appeal differentially to smarter people, but that doesn't mean that those ways of thinking are correct.

Furthermore, you probably have grouping errors here too. Unbelief in a diety does hardly a philosophy make. How many of those atheists have really wacky beliefs that you would say that only fools could accept? You know people like that are out there.

Now, I agree that there is a correlation, but I don't think the correlation is overly meaningful. I know plenty of smart people that believe in silly things.

Jewish Atheist said...

Not to offend, but these smarter-than-thou blandishments don't mean that truth is any more closely apprehended.

I certainly don't attach a huge amount of weight to it, but I think it says something.

I'd bet that communists are more likely to have higher IQs than the general population too.

It's a good point, but I'd argue that whether communism is a good idea is a complicated economic issue that involves a good deal of knowledge. It's a moral debate as well.

By contrast, whether the Bible is literally true is something an intelligent person would obviously be better at judging. Similarly, very few educated, intelligent people could believe in a 6,000 year old universe anymore.

Unbelief in a diety does hardly a philosophy make. How many of those atheists have really wacky beliefs that you would say that only fools could accept?

No doubt. But I'd predict there be more wacky beliefs among the ardent believers. To start with, they pretty much all believe in Heaven, angels, devils, etc. Throw in astrology and UFOs and it'll be hard for the atheists to keep up.

Yoel.Ben-Avraham said...

In what language and which culture were the basis of this IQ test and comparison results.

I remember a world-famous Russian speaking physicist barely passing a high school entrance exam in order to receive a menial position while he learned the local language. I find it difficult to believe he had a low IQ.

So too, Torah observant Jews live in another culture and think / learn / live in different linguistic world.

Jewish Atheist said...

YoelBA: It was in America. I assume they corrected for people who weren't fluent in English, but I don't know. Your point about the "Torah observant" Jewish culture is a good one. It mirrors the point about African-Americans and IQ tests.

Anonymous said...

Correlation does not equal Causation?

What about Math IQ?

Orthoprax said...

Yoelba,

"So too, Torah observant Jews live in another culture and think / learn / live in different linguistic world."

Who said Torah-observant Jews score low on the IQ tests?

Jewish Atheist said...

anonymous:

I think that survey only had verbal IQ data.


Orthoprax:

I can imagine some Hasidim having lower verbal IQs for exactly the reasons YoelBA mentioned. But I don't know if it would be offset by being an Ashkenazi Jew. (Nobody's proved it's genetic rather than cultural, I don't think.)

asher said...

It sounds right..Einstein, Freud and Marx were all irrelegious Jews from ashkanizi stock. All I have to do is believe that there is no God, that the universe just appeared from a wholesale number of coincidences, that human beings have no greater ethical considerations that earthworms and I should have a higher IQ.

Sorry, was that being too sarcastic?

Anonymous said...

"Sorry, was that being too sarcastic?"

No, just dumb.

swurgle said...

JA - Several years ago, the Wall Street Journal published an investigation of which religious denominations in the United States had the highest scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).

The winners in order were:

1 Unitarian/Universalists 1209
2 Jews 1161
3 Quakers 1153
4 Hindus 1110
5 Mennonites 1097
5 Reformed Church of America 1097
7 Episcopals 1096
8 Evangelical Lutherans 1094
9 Presbyterians 1092
10 Baha'i 1073

The National Average was 1020.

So what's up with Unitarians? They must be doing something right.

I couldn't find a direct link to the article on the web. The above is a citation from the following page:

http://prorev.com/statsculture2.htm

Stephen (aka Q) said...

I can only speculate on the reasons for such a result, of course. But I suspect it is related to something you've observed before: that religious people are more inclined to trust authority.

If you have an above-average IQ, you're going to rely more on your own intelligence to tell you what's right or true and what's not.

If you have a below-average IQ, you're not going to spend a lot of time reading scholarly literature and puzzling over difficult and abstruse questions. You are likely to accept whatever you've been socialized to believe, uncritically.

You and I would agree that everyone should engage in critical thinking and be prepared to reject what they've been socialized to believe.

But I would also tend to criticize those who make reason the measure of all things. I think reason has its limitations. There are questions which go beyond our intellectual capacity and take us into the realm of the speculative.

What happens when we enter the speculative zone? The scientific perspective is predicated on doubt as a default position: anything that I cannot prove (at least on a balance of probabilities), I will assume to be false.

One could turn the equation around: anything that I cannot disprove, I will assume to be true.

Given the bias of our society — the scales are tilted in favour of doubt before one begins one's analysis — it is no surprise that intellectuals tend to be doubters.

Jewish Atheist said...

anonymous,

Please refrain from name-calling.


swurgle,

UUs are often just atheists/agnostics who like to go to church.


Q,

If you have a below-average IQ, you're not going to spend a lot of time reading scholarly literature and puzzling over difficult and abstruse questions. You are likely to accept whatever you've been socialized to believe, uncritically.

I think you're on to something there. It'd be interesting to see how IQ correlates with religiosity for those raised by non-believing parents.

One could turn the equation around: anything that I cannot disprove, I will assume to be true.


It's not equivalent. For any situation with a single correct explanation, there are an infinite number of incorrect explanations. It therefore makes much more sense to doubt a potential explanation by default than to accept it.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Swurgle, Universalists include Atheists when Atheists aren't given their own designation.

As far as intelligence and religion goes, I always like to pull out the fact that 45% of Americans believe in Young Earth Creationism....when broken down, 65% of high school dropouts are YECs compared to only 25% of college grads.

Of course, one can argue that those who receive higher education aren't more intelligent than high school drop outs........but I don't want to argue with anyone who thinks this.

Half Sigma said...

(1) Religiosity is a continuum... even for people who believe in God, some are more religious than others, and the more religious people who believe in God have lower average IQs than the less religious people who believe in God.

(2) Yes, people raised Jewish (RELIG16=3) are far more likely to be atheist than Protestants or Catholics. Part of it is because of higher IQ, and part of it is beause it's harder to believe when society is telling you that what the Rabbi taught you in Hebrew school is wrong. Becauase Jews are a minority in America, they have an easier time seeing how all religions contradict each other and at most only one religion can be correct, and based on the number of practitioners it's probably not Judaism.

gay-ex-choosid said...

there is also a theory that there is a science to poll taking where one can manipulate the results to proove ones point. im not saying this study is false, i'm merely pointing out that one can manipulate the poll to serve his agenda.

nice blog. and interesting discussion. thanks

Ezzie said...

Religious people may tend to study their religion more, giving them less time to study other things. (Just one possibility.) Studies such as this don't impress me much.

CyberKitten said...

Q said: But I would also tend to criticize those who make reason the measure of all things. I think reason has its limitations. There are questions which go beyond our intellectual capacity and take us into the realm of the speculative.

Scientists speculate all the time - it's a first stage on the way to theorising. Speculation is not in itself unreasonable or beyond reason. Are their limitations to reason? Personally I don't think so.

Q also said: The scientific perspective is predicated on doubt as a default position: anything that I cannot prove (at least on a balance of probabilities), I will assume to be false.

Doubt is good - especially as a default postion. From there you can only go up. I can't agree with your statement that anything that cannot be proven *must* be false. It just remains unproven. Of course if something remains unproven for long enough or after much investigation... then it is *probably* false.

Finally Q said: One could turn the equation around: anything that I cannot disprove, I will assume to be true.

Again not true. It is often quite difficult to actually *disprove* anything - except possibly in mathematics. If a number of attacks on an idea etc have been succesfully countered it gives it extra credence and certainly points to something that is more likely to be true - but nothing is ever a cast iron certainty.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Believers tend to use the default position argument when trying to prove God exists.
Take unanswered (yet) questions like the beginning of the universe, where matter comes from, how life started. Believers like to use the Godidit approach to fill in the "gaps."
ID's whole premise is all about God by default, but most of the "gaps" they have brought up have already been shot down.

dbs said...

I don’t buy it. Verbal intelligence testing is notoriously culturally biased. There are all sorts of explanations possible.

Emmes is, I hold that the yeshiva velt shtiet a ganz fine English. Avadah better fuun the apiykorsishah velt.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

• JA:
For any situation with a single correct explanation, there are an infinite number of incorrect explanations. It therefore makes much more sense to doubt a potential explanation by default than to accept it.

Point taken. And I certainly wouldn't advocate greater credulity among the general populace — we've got quite enough of that already. (Is that an elitist statement? Sometimes I can't help myself.)

I don't think I saw my argument through to a clear conclusion:

(1) doubt is the default position;
(2) therefore it isn't surprising that intelligent people tend toward scepticism;
(3) but this doesn't say much about the truth or falsehood of theism; it speaks only to the bias inherent in the system.

— however justifiable that bias may be.

Half Sigma said...

"Verbal intelligence testing is notoriously culturally biased."

All the survey respondents were living in America and only tiny percent were immigrants, so culture has nothing to do with this finding.

Furthermore, I'm not the first person to find this, since the 1920s researches have noticed the negative correlation between IQ and religiosity.

Jewish Atheist said...

Q:

Fair enough. Could be that aliens actually have abducted people yet believing it happened is correlated with low IQ. I guess any improbable belief that people nevertheless want to believe would fall into that category.

jewish philosopher said...

I think higher IQ equals higher income which equals greater comfort and security in life and less need for religion. I don’t think that higher IQ equals better judgment which equals less religion. Look at how many intelligent people believed in Communism or do believe in evolution.

I would be very interested to compare the average IQ of atheists compared to Orthodox Jews. I would guess it’s about equal.

Half Sigma said...

Jewish atheists would have higher IQs than goyish atheists or Orthodox Jews, but it's not clear whether Orthodox Jews or goyish atheists would be smarter.

Anonymous said...

This discussion is very worrying to me for a number of reasons.

First, since we bring up YEC, one must note that the majority of atheists accept evolution on faith, if they accept evolution at all (see existentialist philosophers, postmodernists, or a variety of others who will not accept science as a means of ascertaining necessarily "truth" about the material world. It should be noted that science and religion are not mututally exclusive). Philosophically, there is nothing different between such a person and a "religious person" who accepts YEC today except perhaps the denial of the fundamental requirement of belief in all aspects of life. In other words, most atheists fall under the category of those who have in some way probably been "socially pressured" into being atheists. Additionally, if one examines the understanding many atheists have of a deity (in this case God, or Yahweh), it is often very poor, and doesn't appear to be at all what would be expected of an "intelligent" person (take for example, Sagan's view of God as some old guy sitting on a cloud counting each sparrow as it falls to the ground -- interestingly, Sagan was becoming more interested in Judaism towards the end of his life). If we are to say that the majority of atheists occur in some social class or group, it can be argued that culture is the influencing factor. Culture as we know changes over time, and this study would certainly fail in prior centuries. The culture which is predominant among atheists is secular humanism and from within that philopsophy, man replaces God as the center of attention, thus changing the entire outlook of that person, and his reasoning. Additionally, this study may be selecting for particular groups. We cannot forget that atheists are a minority in the United States.

Second, in a more general sense, we run into the problem of IQ chauvinism, which like any other chauvinism, is dangerous (much of the high ranking Nazi party had superior IQs).

Aaron said...

In reference to Stephen (aka Q), science does not say that anything that I cannot prove (at least on a balance of probabilities), will assumed to be false.

All science says is that anything unproven is unknown to be true or not. In other words, you can't say something is either true or false without a working theory and an abundance of empirical evidence that proves the basic ideas of the theory over and over until the probability of that theory being fundamentally wrong is extremely small.

Evolution is probably one of the greatest examples of such a theory. It is supported by so much evidence that we would have to rethink everything we know about biology and explain it better by another theory in order to dismiss evolution as incorrect, very unlikely.

God or religion is an example of something science cannot say whether it is true or not. Science does tend towards the simplest explanations so accepting something like an abrahamic god would make things very complicated once you started asking the hard questions.

Some (very limited) questions might be:

If most of your existence takes place after death what goes on there? Can angels and dead humans date (have relations) in heaven? What do you do once in heaven, what happens when you get bored of basking in God’s greatness? Does the afterlife have anything that would resemble a political system? Where do his powers derive? Where does he store his knowledge? Can you travel to this other plane of existence without being permanently dead? How come information about this afterlife can apparently travel only one way- from this world to the next not other way around. Could you build a sophisticated telecommunications network to regularly communicate with this place? Any rules/guidelines in heaven? If you have free will, can you break these rules or guidelines just for the heck of it?

What I am trying to get at, is that something that is true must have a basis in reality. Even if you can’t prove it right now, in some way it either must be true through empirical data or true by definition. If I have an imaginary friend, no one can deny the existence of my imaginary friend because by definition, it is something I defined by my imagination. My imaginary friend exists in my imaginary world (an alternate plane of existence not just a fake place in my mind), a fact by definition. God can be true by definition and suggested to be untrue by complete lack of empirical data.

God exists and does not exist at the same time; it depends on the level and type of truth you seek.

In my opinion, it is insanely egocentric for a species that has never even traveled to another star to believe it can determine the truth of the entire universe simply by sitting around thinking. Kudos for trying though,

~Aaron

Aaron said...

Oh, general intelligence (predicted by modern IQ tests to some extent) is just a tool that helps you figure stuff out. If you want dig a 70 ft deep hole, it helps to have a bulldozer and crane but you probably could do it with a shovel if you spent a good portion of your life trying. Humans might not live long enough for intrinsically less intelligent people to figure out what is true and untrue before they die.

Whether someone is religious or not is way more complicated than just being born with decent ability to logically deduce things.

I know people who are incredibly intelligent and very religious who cling to religion like a child to their blanket. I also know very intelligent people who simply believe and never had good reason not to. Personality plays a large role in what people accept or don’t accept. How important it is that someone reviews every possible belief system or simply focuses on living their life and enjoying what it brings them is not dependent upon intelligence.

Advanced education broadens the human experience and allows people to learn things from many angles and acquire knowledge about what other humans know and do not know. Clearly, if you have more quality information you are going to make better decisions or at least less biased decisions about most things, including your religious belief.

Some very intelligent people will chose to publicly conform to the mass majority so they can become elected or influential and use their intelligence to help more people then if they stubbornly stuck to what they truly believed.

Finally, the large number of high IQ people who disagree about God just shows that even for the humans we consider the smartest, this topic is probably beyond them in their ability to fully understand our world. The top 1% smartest mice in the world are unlikely to make any profound conclusions about their existence or contribute to any human professional journal. No reason to believe we possess an intelligence that even approaches the level required to make conclusive statements on this topic. We can all basically agree about things like the sky is blue and thermonuclear weapons are dangerous, but our enormous disagreements over this subject however, if nothing else, suggest general uncertainty. 50 extra points or so on a man-made test are unlikely resolve anything, anytime soon.