The post below where I show that belief in the literal truth of the Biblical tends to correlate well with IQ scores from the General Social Survey on a denominational scale is getting a lot of response; enough of it is of low quality that I’ll close the comment thread soon enough. As I observed the “truth” which I had extracted out of the data is rather banal; I doubt it surprised anyone that a “fundamentalist” attitude toward religious scripture tends to be associated with low cognitive ability. The correlation here is probably not one of simple causality in either direction. It seems the most plausible model is one which notes that various denominations tend to have particular socioeconomic profiles which shape a general cultural outlook. In the American South this was made most explicit, with a rank order of status from Episcopalians, to Presbyterians, to Methodists, to Baptists, and finally on down to marginal sectarians. These denominations tend to run in families, but, one may change denomination with relative ease in the United States in comparison to other nations. According to The American Religious Identification Survey reports that 16% of the adult population changes their affiliation during their lifetime. This level of churn is also probably not random; those who change their socioeconomic status may “trade up” or “trade down” in their church so as to feel more comfortable among their peers. I like to point out that the presidential candidate and wealthy lawyer John Edwards was raised a Baptist, but switched to Methodism as an adult. This is probably partially a reflection of his class status shift as well as his social liberalism. In contrast, though George W. Bush was raised an Episcopalian, he now worships in a Methodist church. This is a pretty good illustration of Bush’s reinvention of himself as Middle American despite his patrician New England origins.
I doubt that the correlation between cognitive ability & unbelief in the literal truth of the Bible has that much to do with personal inspection of the Good Book. It is true that intellectuals within the Christian tradition, from St. Augustine onwards, offered that one had to be very careful in separating the allegory and metaphor from the literal truth. In contrast, naive literalism has tended to be a “low church” populist impulse. But I don’t believe that most high IQ individuals pay inordinate close attention to the Bible, nor do I believe that low IQ denominations are necessarily steeped in scripture study (there is a wide variance among “conservative” groups which adhere to Biblical literalism in regards to the emphasis they put on scripture reading and analysis, from a general neglect among Pentecostals to a marinade among some Calvinist churches). What I think is going on is simply what we might term the Wisdom of the Crowds; people conform to the social and religious group which they identify with. Biblical literalism flourishes because most people trust pastors and parents who preach it. Similarly, a more metaphorical reading flourishes because authorities in other denominations reject fundamentalism. I do think that a deep reading of the scripture in their original languages as well as their historical context tends to erode a naive belief in the literal truth of the text. Mainline Protestant denominations and Roman Catholicism has relatively high educational standards for its clergy and theological professionals. At the other end of the spectrum many evangelical Protestant sects have no such requirement. The Assemblies of God is a good example of this phenomenon, in this sect higher educational experience can even be perceived as corrupting. There is a reason for this perception: education, wealth and acceptance does corrupt and assimilate. Methodism for example was originally an evangelical reform movement within the Church of England, but over the generations it has become thoroughly mainstream and tainted by modernism.
A chart which uses the demographic data from The Pew Religion Survey:
Note that if you remove Roman Catholics out of this the R2 goes up to 0.81. I think cultural context is a big prior condition in these sorts of generalizations; about 1/4 of Roman Catholics today are Latinos who have only recently left a religious-monopoly society. In those societies the Church has a pretty strong grip on the supply of religious ideas, and its top-down structure tends to dampen the availability of Biblical literalism as a choice among peers. In contrast, American Protestantism is very schismatic, every mainline denomination has a breakaway fundamentalist equivalent.
Note: I know that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Unitarian-Universalists aren’t Protestant, but they come out of Protestant culture.
Update: In response to John’s comment below, I took the education data from The Pew Religion Survey and calculated the index of diversity. I’ve sorted it and normalized it below from the least diverse to the most (most would = 1). Most religious groups seem pretty diverse from what I can tell when it comes to educational level. Hindus are the least diverse, and Presbyterians the most, but it is interesting to note that conservative sects are also less diverse in terms of education. This would tend to agree with supply-side models which suggest that these sects are “high tension” and generally only those who are very proactive in identifying with these groups opt-in.
|Church of Nazarene||0.87|
|Assemblies of God||0.89|
|Church of Christ||0.92|
|Lutheran Church, Missouri||0.93|
|United Church of Christ||0.95|
|Disciplines of Christ||0.97|
|Presbyterian Church USA||0.97|
|Presbyterian Church in America||0.98|