Who’s smarter than who?

Oh, no, I’m torn — I’m an atheist who thinks IQ tests are over-rated and over-interpreted, and here’s a Danish study that claims that atheists have IQs that average 5.8 points higher than theists’.

Actually, I’m lying and I’m not really torn at all. I don’t buy it. I think IQ tests are loaded with bias that favors a particular kind of thinking, the kind that signals success in academia, engineering, medicine, and so forth, and doesn’t necessarily reflect any specific biological property. It’s fair to say that atheist values parallel the values rewarded by IQ tests, but the simple-minded interpretation that it reflects an actual measure of greater intelligence is unwarranted. Unless, of course, you accept the tautology that intelligence is whatever it is that an IQ test measures.

I do confess that I suspect there may also be a selection effect: simple-minded people are going to be attracted to simple-minded answers, and you really can’t get much more simple-minded than “god did it”. Also, in the absence of a strong godless tradition in the US, your pool of atheists is going to be populated with people who have put a lot of thought into their beliefs, while the pool of theists is going to contain people who have thought about their ideas and a much larger group of people who have simply blindly accepted indoctrination.

Anyway, it’s a much more complicated situation than can be encapsulated in a magic IQ number.


  1. #1 Blake Stacey
    July 25, 2007

    Reginald Selkirk:

    I’m smart enough (OK, pedantic enough) to know that it should be “Who’s smarter than whom?”

    I actually don’t know which way the pedant should swing on this matter. (Get it — pedant, pendant? Oh, sirrah, what a jolly wordsmith you reveal yourself to be!) Suppose I wanted to ask, egotistically, “Who is smarter than I am?” The grammar of this question clearly “sounds right,” whatever its psychological baggage. I could save breath by leaving out the latter verb and saying, elliptically, “Who is smarter than I?”

    See, the pronoun following than has to be in the nominative, doesn’t it?

    Grammatical pedantry is fucked up, man.

  2. #2 Blake Stacey
    July 25, 2007

    According to The Columbia Guide to Standard American English, it’s all cool and froody:

    Than is both a subordinating conjunction, as in She is wiser than I am, and a preposition, as in She is wiser than me. As subject of the clause introduced by the conjunction than, the pronoun must be nominative, and as object of the preposition than, the following pronoun must be in the objective case. Since the following verb am is often dropped or “understood,” we regularly hear than I and than me. Some commentators believe that the conjunction is currently more frequent than the preposition, but both are unquestionably Standard. The eighteenth-century effort to declare the preposition incorrect did succeed in giving trouble, not least because it called the than whom structure into question, but it too is again in good order: He is a fine diplomat, than whom we would be hard-pressed to find a better.

    Looks like either way is legit. In this particular case, there’s no real ambiguity involved in the choice between nominative and objective cases. Contrast this with the stanza from the Beatles’ “If I Fell,”

    If I give my heart to you,
    I must be sure
    From the very start
    That you would love me more than her.

    The last line should be an ellipsis of “that you would love me more than she did,” but instead sounds like an ellipsis of “that you would love me more than you love her.” Maybe it’s only the possibility of hot girl-on-girl action which makes me detect a grammatical ambiguity, but I think the point is clear: sometimes, pronoun cases must be chosen with care, while at other times we can relax.

  3. #3 Brownian
    July 25, 2007
    Tom, I found this:

    Unfortunately, that test is wholly cultural in nature. I could easily concoct a Canadian version, or a Venezuelan version.

    Ooh, ooh! Let’s make a Canadian one. I’ve got the Albertan question all ready:

    Oil revenues are:
    a) God’s way of telling us to privatise health care;
    b) Proof of Alberta’s business acumen and sophistimication;
    c) Too high–more tax cuts for the oil companies!
    d) Ontario and Quebec suck.

    My apologies to the non-Canadians, but I live in Redneckia, CA, and if I don’t let off a little steam once in awhile I’m going to poach my brain.

  4. #4 Interrobang
    July 25, 2007

    Brownian —

    You forgot an answer:

    Oil revenues are:

    e) Proof positive that when times are bad, Albertans are the worst bunch of Socialists ever, and when times are good, Albertans are the worst bunch of National Socialists ever.

    (Interrobang, former bad-times Albertan now living in Ontario)

  5. #5 Brownian
    July 26, 2007

    “Race is not a cultural construct, either…Only a fool would rule out, a priori, the possibility that groups in reproductive isolation could have genetic differences that aren’t merely skin deep.”

    The American Anthropological Association disagrees with you. One of the reasons that this idea has been widely-held by both anthropologists and geneticists is because genetic differences within races are much greater than between races. Most of the differences we see are, for the most part, superficial. Further, these differences are not usually due to certain genes being present in one group and absent in others, but that the frequencies of such genes vary from group to group. For instance, Caucasoids have a higher frequency of A blood types and a lower frequency of B blood types than Negroids for whom the frequencies are reverse. However, there is nothing about either blood type that is exclusive to either ‘race’.

    Gene frequencies along human populations tend to transition relatively smoothly once geographic boundaries have been removed. There is a historical and geographic basis for the groups we describe as races, but from a phenotypic and genotypic standpoint they’re about as arbitrary as calling one frequency on the electromagnetic spectrum ‘red’ and another ‘orange’ and deciding all the frequencies in between are intermediates.

  6. #6 Brownian
    July 26, 2007

    I’m familiar in a general way with Berlin and Kay’s work on the universality colour terms, Caledonian, but it didn’t occur to me until after I’d made my comment. D’oh! There are better examples.

    But then again, perhaps this is a good example. Even though the electromagnetic spectrum is continuous, we tend to label it in discrete terms. Berlin and Kay’s research suggest that, cross-culturally, we agree on which is the ‘most’ red and the ‘most’ blue, and give those colours names. (Teal, for instance, isn’t recognised as it’s own colour in very many societies, I think.)

    Forensic anthropologists, by their profession, need to recognise the social construction of race, even though there isn’t strong genetic support for such concepts. For example, when trying to identify a body from skeletal remains, one has to be aware of the likely social perception of that individual when they were alive. Thus, a skeleton which has a majority of traits associated with European ancestry and a few associated with African ancestry might very likely belong to an individual considered black in the US (consciously or not, North Americans still tend to ascribe to the one drop rule). If a similar skeleton was found in South Africa, authorities might be more inclined to investigate whites who went missing at the time of death.

    Feel free to correct me anyone; my knowledge of this subject may be a little out-of-date.

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