Gene Expression

Update II: Many links into this entry are labeling this a “study.” It wasn’t a study, I literally took 10 minutes before I went to sleep to collect the data and produce the chart. The data on literal interpretation of the Bible is from a book which you can read via Google. The IQ scores are from the General Social Survey as reported by The Inductivist. I already knew that this sort of correlation existed, it’s pretty unsurprising as I noted. The same pattern shows up if you use post-graduate eduation as the dependent variable. And I spot checked SAT scores by denomination, and again the association shows up. All that being said, the title was obviously tongue-in-cheek.

Update: Follow up post….

A few months ago I posted data which showed, unsurprisingly, that Unitarian-Universalists tend to have high IQs and Pentecostals not so much. What about something like Biblical literalism and IQ? Well, I plotted the IQ values from the General Social Survey for selected denominations and plotted them against the proportion which believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible. Prepare to be greeted by a very banal reality below the fold….


Also, convert the IQ values into percentiles….

Note: Some difference due to rounding. Also, the IQ values are for whites.


  1. #1 oldcola
    May 26, 2008

    Well, I’m not surprised, but it will be useful to have the figures available,
    Thank you

    (a link to a table would be nice)

  2. #2 Art
    May 26, 2008

    Thanks for the data. It backs what I had assumed as a child when considering the Bible thumping ranters of the church I was forced to attend.

  3. #3 Lassi Hippeläinen
    May 26, 2008

    I’m not a great believer in IQ. Talent is a multidimensional issue. Squeezing it into a single number looses something essential.

    But since you started it, here’s another IQ study:
    Can we now conclude that bible thumpers use MSIE, and Mozilla is from the devil?

  4. #4 Richard Parker
    May 26, 2008

    I conclude that since the contributors to
    end up with a below-average IQ of 95, they’re pretty damned dumb.
    On the other hand, if they’ve absorbed all the myths given them in their youths, and can answer that the Wright Brothers did fly the first airplane, then they get a better IQ score, but are still dumb.


    By the way, what is the answer on all those fellows in Starbucks who have coffee, sugar and cream, coffee and sugar, coffee and cream, or coffee plain? I’ve never been to Starbucks, so I couldn’t know,

  5. #5 Zeno
    May 26, 2008

    My own IQ is way too high for me to take things like IQ seriously, but it’s still a very amusing set of graphs.

  6. #6 ks2va
    May 26, 2008

    With all due respect, I find your conclusion to be incorrect. I have a 145 IQ and do take the Bible literally. Of course, I do compare the newer translations to older works for complete understanding and cultural relevancy. How were the surveys given? Were they biased? Why worry so much about what others think? I am a Baptist as are many of my friends. Most of them are intellectuals with multiple degrees. Would we invalidate your conclusion? This seems to be a perceived line of thought that says that a smart person cannot be a Christian.

  7. #7 Chris
    May 26, 2008

    Of course your data has some sort of correlation, but as to the casual link between them I am not so sure that religion causes the lower IQ. On the other hand, maybe people of lower income take to a certain religion, or certain religions are more prevalent in areas with rampant poverty. I suspect an intervening variable…

  8. #8 Beowulff
    May 26, 2008

    ks2va: truly, with an IQ of 145, couldn’t you figure out that averages don’t say anything about individual data points?

    With respect to the OP, I’d like to see the error bars of the results in the graph, this should make this more informational. Especially since we have averages both on the horizontal and vertical axis.

  9. #9 Chiefley
    May 26, 2008

    ks2va writes…
    “This seems to be a perceived line of thought that says that a smart person cannot be a Christian.”

    Your last comment seems to invalidate your assertion about you being intelligent. Some 80% of the world’s Christians, approx. 1.6 billion of them, belong to denominations that do not interpret the Bible literally nor consider it innerrant.

    Even a not so intelligent person can see the implications of the article’s premise, which is that most of the world’s Christians are both smart and Biblical non-literalists.

    You make the same mistake most literalists make, which is to assume that anyone who thinks differently than they do, must not be Christian. When it comes to Biblical literalism under the Christian tent, the numbers are against it.

    As prominent Lutheran Mark Powell has said,

    “If you are truly convinced that God is only on your side, seek a second opinion.”

  10. #10 Luis
    May 26, 2008

    With all due respect, I find your conclusion to be incorrect. I have a 145 IQ and do take the Bible literally.

    Stats are stats, you know: they don’t show the exception but the rule.

    Anyhow I am very surprised you could take the Bible (all of it? Genesis and Revelation too?) literally being so technically smart, after all you surely are very aware that it’s just a compendium of old religious texts and that there is no evidence that they were dictated by any god (nor there is any evidence of the existence of such god either).

    I can only guess you have a very technical type of IQ, engineering-oriented or something like that, because you are really missing the big picture here.

    It only demostrates how relative IQ can be. 🙂

  11. #11 PRCalDude
    May 26, 2008

    This plot leaves out the churches that split off from the mainline denominations to maintain biblical literalism: the OPC, PCA, URCNA, and so on. There are probably less than 200,000 members of all these denominations combined in the US, but I defy you to show that they’re toward the lower end of the IQ scale here. Furthermore, the LUtheran church in the United States is not a monolithic organization wrt biblical literalism. The Missouri Synod of the Lutheran church is very conservative and holds to both its confessional standard and the inerrancy of the Bible.

    Don’t take my word for it though. The data can be collected by whoever’s willing. Men in the conservative denominations I’ve mentioned tend to be engineers, doctors, and other highly nerdish types.

  12. #12 Hammy
    May 26, 2008

    re: PRCalDude-

    The data presented here isn’t the end all, and you do raise some valid ways of improving this little bit o’ research.

    However, instead of bothering to do that, you present personal anecdote. That’s weak sauce— if you want to disagree with the conclusion, then collect data in an equally or more rigorous manner and present it. Anything else is just hand waving.

  13. #13 Monado
    May 26, 2008

    I’d say that the low IQ comes first: inability to notice relationships between different pieces of information. That makes it easier to accept inconsistencies and contradictions.

    Of course, since it’s looking at a whole population, there will be many people who don’t fit the pattern.

  14. #14 Adam Ierymenko
    May 26, 2008

    I personally know some counterexamples– people with high IQs who believe in personally or who are abstractly sympathetic to biblical literalism. There’s a counter-force here: in my experience, the smarter you are the more likely you are to believe odd conspiracy-esque things. I also know some very highly intelligent people who believe that 9/11 was an inside job, that the U.S. government has had formal contact with aliens, etc.

  15. #15 Joshua Zelinsky
    May 26, 2008

    Adam, a large part of intelligence is the ability to see patterns. It isn’t surprising that certain classes of intelligent people would be inclined to see patterns where none exist.

  16. #16 Escuerd
    May 26, 2008

    ks2va: IQ also correlates with an understanding of statistics. You truly are an exception among the exceptional.

  17. #17 Escuerd
    May 26, 2008

    I have the feeling that in a blog like this, every few comments there’s someone who offers “counterexamples” to statistical claims.

  18. #18 william e emba
    May 26, 2008

    With all due respect, I find your conclusion to be incorrect. I have a 145 IQ and do take the Bible literally. Of course, I do compare the newer translations to older works for complete understanding and cultural relevancy.
    Well, I read the Bible in the original Hebrew and, on my way to getting Complete Understanding, compare with the known 4.5 billion year history of the Earth and also with the numerous contradictory Midrashic, Talmudic, and Kabbalistic commentaries and explanations.

    The only possible conclusion is the one that Maimonides gave more than 800 years ago: Biblical Literalism is for the not-so-smart.

    And yes, I have an IQ several standard deviations above yours.

  19. #19 penstemongrower
    May 26, 2008

    So where do Catholics fall? And don’t say they’re not Christian………..

  20. #20 razib
    May 26, 2008

    So where do Catholics fall? And don’t say they’re not Christian………..

    don’t have IQ numbers for them.

    also, please no long rants. they’ll be deleted.

  21. #21 Bruce T McPhee
    May 26, 2008

    MANY CALLED – FEW CHOSEN- – It’s called free choice. I am sure your being prayed for. By the way, my IQ I don’t know but trust me its no where near you guys.

  22. #22 Paul W.
    May 26, 2008

    Some other stats to ponder:

    93 percent of the National Academy of Sciences members are nontheists.

    About 10 percent of Americans are nontheists.

    If the NAS is representative of top scientists, that implies that nontheists are doing two orders of magnitude more top science per capita as theists.

    If you look at outright disbelieving atheists vs. orthodox religionists, it’s probably closer to three orders of magnitude.

    That’s just staggering.

    You might think it’s because scientists systematically lose their religion as they become scientists or if and when they become outstanding scientists.

    The recent RAAS (Religion Among Academic Scientists) study suggests not. There’s a good correlation between religiosity and not going into science.

    Religionists just aren’t pulling their weight, science-wise.

    This effect is so huge that it can’t be accounted for by correlations between atheism and sex, race, and/or income over $75K/yr. Not even close.

    (For example, if you just look at white males, you find that the large majority of white males with graduate degrees are theists, yet the majority of scientists and the vast majority of top scientists are not.)

    For more detail, see the comments on this thread at Framing Science:

  23. #23 Caledonian
    May 26, 2008

    I will once again note that IQ scores are not dependent on executive functioning at all, as generations of research on people with frontal-lobe damage will attest. So just because people have moderately high IQs (say… 145ish) doesn’t mean they aren’t fools, because being smart requires intellectual functions that don’t influence IQ scores.

    It also doesn’t matter how much potential for thinking well you possess if you never try to apply it, and people rarely attempt to think about their cherished ideological positions, ‘religious’ or otherwise.

  24. #24 Samantha Vimes
    May 26, 2008

    Amazing, ks2va! You were able to look at a chart that had multiple denominations of Christianity, including some where the average IQ is very high, and conclude that the graph maker thinks no Christians are very intelligent.
    It’s like you’re too dumb to read a graph OR so bigoted, you just decide that anyone who considers the Bible to include metaphors and parables(that aren’t marked as such), to be non-Christian. At any rate, your utter FAIL on this makes it clear it doesn’t really matter what you say your IQ is… you don’t seem bright to me.

  25. #25 Chiefley
    May 26, 2008

    “So where do Catholics fall? And don’t say they’re not Christian………..”

    Roman Catholics are the largest Christian denomination worldwide with slightly over 1.1 billion of the 2.2 billion Christians. They do not hold the bible to be literally true, nor do they believe the Bible to be inerrant.

    Catholic Popes on Evolution:

    By the way, most of the denominations to the left of the graph in the article have strong and well positioned “social statements” about their high regard and acceptance for science and specifically the modern theory of evolution. The most recent to articulate theirs clearly is the United Methodist Church of America.

    Methodist Church

    UCC church –

    Episcopal Church –

    Presbyterian –

    Lutheran (ELCA) –

  26. #26 writerdd
    May 26, 2008

    I used to be a Pentecostal and now I am an atheist. Does that mean my IQ has changed? 🙂

  27. #27 Ronduck
    May 26, 2008

    This study needs to account for one outside variable: Race. The races present in the US usually have different intelligence levels, and if they as races choose different denominations, the denominations will have different IQ levels. I know the Southern Baptists have a significant number of Black congregations, and many rootless minorities choose evangelical and pentocostal churches that are convenient to their homes and welcoming to them.

    If you don’t account for racial gaps in IQ and the differing racial breakdown in each denomination then you are ignoring a very important variable.

    Also, the unstated assumption behind this article is that each denomination is almost entirely White, and therefore that the Whites who believe in the Bible have substandard intelligence. Your assumption destroys the credibility of this article.

  28. #28 razib
    May 26, 2008

    Your assumption destroys the credibility of this article.

    no it doesn’t retard.

    1) the IQ values are for whites only. that’s stipulated in the original post, which a literate would have noticed

    2) the southern baptists are 8% black.

    most of the above denominations are very white. a distortion would entail if blacks don’t track literalism with IQ to the same extent as whites. that’s plausible to me, but when you start out from an r-square of 0.88 that doesn’t come close to negating the correlation.

  29. #29 razib
    May 26, 2008

    btw, using these data

    and the regression above, the predicted IQs for blacks, hispanics and whites are based on their belief in the literal truth of the bible:

    92.3 black
    94.94 hispanic
    97.82 white

    the real values are

    87 black
    91 hispanic
    101 white

    so race would be a distorting influence, but the correlation would not be negated.

  30. #30 Josh
    May 26, 2008

    I do wonder where atheists and agnostics would be on the IQ scale (obviously they would be around 0% on the biblical literalism scale).

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