Update: Also see follow up post.
My previous post where I point to Satoshi Kanazawa’s finding that liberals & atheists are smarter than conservatives & the religious was a little drop in the bucket in the blogospheric debate. I made it rather obvious that I wasn’t too interested in the evolutionary psychological model of why these patterns exist, rather, I was curious about the patterns themselves. The reason is the one Tom Rees elucidates:
What’s got people talking is the correlation between atheism and intelligence, although that isn’t what the paper is actually about. It’s already pretty well established that atheists tend, on average, to be more intelligent. This paper firms that finding up a bit more, but makes a bigger claim than that.
In other words, if you’re familiar with the literature on the relationship between intelligence & religiosity & ideology, this is a totally expected finding. The novelty is in the hypothesis for why this might be, but as I said, I’m not too interested in that.
Over the years I’ve looked at a lot of studies on intelligence & religiosity & ideology, and it is very hard to find ones which show that those who hold strongly supernatural beliefs are smarter than those who do not, and that those who are very conservative are smarter than those who are very liberal. You can slice & dice the classifications and data in a way to show no difference, but it’s a rare one where I’ve seen that conservatives & supernaturalists are smarter than liberals & atheists. Similarly, I simply haven’t found a nation where atheists are more socially conservative or more fertile than the religious. There are nations where there isn’t much of a difference. So as the critics would point out, the gap is culturally conditional, but the variance of the studies have an asymmetric range.
A minor point is I specified supernatural beliefs, because there are studies which show that those with affiliation with institutional religions tend to be smarter. For example, in the United States the smarter set are more likely to be church members, but also less likely to be Biblical literalists.
Anyway, a Canadian with whom I am acquainted contends:
Regardless, that initial impression’s irrelevant since these averages apply to groups, and to very broad groups at that. Kanazawa’s study apparently splits the polled populations into two halves–97 and 103, remember–but since only something like a tenth of North Americans are atheist that the half of the polled population with an average of 103 has to include a very large number of people who are religious to some degree. I’m guessing that, if Kanazawa’s right, the other ~40% included in the smarter moiety would be people who are religiously observant or identified to one degree or another, but surely, unless there’s a very odd distribution within this moiety and the entire population aren’t very useful in day to day life. The six-point difference in IQ between the two moieties is much less than a standard deviation, and the two populations would overlap very considerably. Kanazawa claims that the “young adults who said they were “very conservative” had an average adolescent IQ of 95, whereas those who said they were “very liberal” averaged 106″; that’s still less than a standard deviation. This isn’t a useful
Actually, this information is useful. Let me illustrate….
Assume the “very conservative” and “very liberal” categories are normally distributed in intelligence. The mean is 95 and 106. What percentage of people within each category are going to have IQs of 130 and above?
0.92% of “very conservative” individuals
5.48% of “very liberal” individuals
The modest average differences loom larger at the tails. As it happens, the 130 IQ level is around where the elites of our society seem to be drawn. Two standard deviations above the norm (or higher in the case of scientists, management consultants, corporate lawyers, etc.).
For the smaller gap between very religious and and atheists, you get 1.38% vs.3.59% above 130. This is somewhat less significant in the USA because only ~5% of Americans are atheists. Though very conservative people outnumber very liberal ones, the ratio is not so lopsided. But what percentage of people at higher IQ thresholds are atheists using the model above? In the general population 5% of people are atheists. But if you constrain to an IQ of 130 or above, 13% are of people are atheists.
Why does any of this matter concretely? If you’re a conservative person who socializes with a very high IQ set, there’s a good chance that you’ll be in the minority. I know this from personal experience. Conventionally religious people sometimes have the same experience; I knew someone who was an evangelical who was questioned about his beliefs probably every other day out of curiosity by other evolutionary biologists. Of course you can find your own milieu, there are certainly organizations which allow for the networking of very conservative and religious professionals. But you might have to make a proactive effort to look around.
On a broader level, I think that one of the reasons Mitt Romney has a low probability of getting the nomination in 2012 is that he’s too obviously smart (the flip-flopping & Mormonism are other issues). Of course politicians can fake well very often; I think Joe Biden has been faking being smarter than he is for years. But if you are appealing to a mass conservative electorate you have to fake being a plainer and less brainy person than you are if you’re someone like Mitt Romney, and I don’t think he can pull it off. Nor do I think Romney thinks he can pull “dumb” off, he was surprisingly candid about being out of step with the Republican electorate in regards to evolution:
“I believe that God designed the universe and created the universe,” Mr. Romney said in an interview this week. “And I believe evolution is most likely the process he used to create the human body.”
He was asked: Is that intelligent design?
“I’m not exactly sure what is meant by intelligent design,” he said. “But I believe God is intelligent and I believe he designed the creation. And I believe he used the process of evolution to create the human body.”
While governor of Massachusetts, Mr. Romney opposed the teaching of intelligent design in science classes.
“In my opinion, the science class is where to teach evolution, or if there are other scientific thoughts that need to be discussed,” he said. “If we’re going to talk about more philosophical matters, like why it was created, and was there an intelligent designer behind it, that’s for the religion class or philosophy class or social studies
In contrast, from what I can tell Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee can walk the talk in regards to be a plainly average (or moderately above average) person in intellect. Tim Pawlenty is probably smarter, having managed to graduate from law school and pass the bar, but he had a mullet into middle age and is probably not so bright that faking being duller comes so hard. By contrast, Romney graduated first in his class at Brigham Young University and received an MBA and JD from Harvard. The education wouldn’t be a total bar on authenticity, George W. Bush has degrees from Yale and Harvard and a patrician lineage (though unlike Romney Bush was a legacy and a mediocre student), but he has a Southern accent and was governor of Texas. So to the average American he sounds less intelligent,* and he governed a less brainy region of the country. In contrast, Romney doesn’t have a Southern accent and was governor of Massachusetts.
All this might be problematic if you don’t believe in IQ or intelligence. But that’s fine. Just replace the term with something more palatable, like “learnability” or “life effort” or “ability to take a test.” It still remains true that those with higher measured whatever-you-want-to-call-it sound a lot less dull than those who have a lower measured whatever-you-want-to-call-it. They also make more money, are less religious, more liberal, and less fertile, than those who have less developed test-taking skills or whatever.
* Bush also seems to have inherited a weird tendency to mangle words and phrases. I don’t think this is lack of intelligence, and Bush had measured aptitude in standardized test results despite his slack and lazy attitude. But more to the point, George H. W. Bush, who graduated with a degree in economics in three years at Yale (though a legacy, his degree was more rigorous and he graduated quickly), seems to have had the same problem.