Pharyngula

Oh, no. Richard Lynn, the fellow infamous for trying to link intelligence and race, is in the news again, this time trying to claim a causal relationship between atheism and intelligence.

“Why should fewer academics believe in God than the general population? I believe it is simply a matter of the IQ,” Lynn told the Times Higher Education magazine. “Academics have higher IQs than the general population. Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQs tend not to believe in God.”

I am always so tempted to simply accept this kind of claim — it’s wonderfully self-serving, obviously — but I can’t. I’ve known lots of religious people who really are brilliant, and I also know lots of atheists who were sincerely religious once upon a time, and there was no sudden increase in their native intelligence when they abandoned faith. And yes, I also know a few knee-jerk atheists who aren’t unbelievers because they’ve reasoned their way to that position. We live in a world with a range of intellectual abilities in different people, but anyone can be religious or infidel.

The difference is not in intelligence. It’s on the foundation of their education. Intelligent people who are indoctrinated into a faith can build marvelously intricate palaces of rationalization atop the shoddy vapor of their beliefs about gods and the supernatural; what scientists and atheists must do is build their logic on top of a more solid basis of empirical evidence and relentless self-examination. The difference isn’t their ability to reason, it is what they are reasoning about.

This is one of the reasons we godless need to be militant in expressing our ideas: there are children out there right now who have the potential for genius, but their talents are being shunted into the futile wasteland of religiosity. Yes, there are a lot of atheists in the topmost ranks of successful scientists, but it’s not because they are intrinsically smarter than someone who believes in gods — it’s because they more easily embrace the mode of thinking that is most productive and successful in scientific fields, and are less burdened with absurd presuppositions. Let’s stop handicapping our kids.

Comments

  1. #1 JD
    March 29, 2009

    It’s the Michael Dowd crowd that worries me most.

  2. #2 brett
    March 29, 2009

    couldn’t agree more. Brilliant

  3. #3 hyoid
    March 29, 2009

    Yes and double Yes. You say it all. Thanks for speaking.

  4. #4 Greg Esres
    March 29, 2009

    I’ve known lots of religious people who really are brilliant

    Note that Richard Lynn is making a statistical argument, so anecdotal evidence either way doesn’t have much significance.

  5. #5 SeanJJordan
    March 29, 2009

    I think you hit the nail on the head, PZ. There is no causal relationship here. Intelligent people are just as prone to build fantasies and beliefs as anyone else.

    But with that said… shouldn’t we also be skeptical of any study or claim that predicts intelligence using IQ as the sole variable? It sounds really good to quantify intelligence with a single number, but there’s clearly more to the construct of intelligence than an IQ score can measure. I know many people who have high IQs but who can barely manage their own lives. They may be able to grasp and retain information, but when it comes to life itself, they’re not what most would call “smart.”

  6. #6 hippiasrex
    March 29, 2009

    This is my problem with using the term “brights”. It does nothing but alienate people that aren’t atheists and give a false sense of smugness to those that take on the moniker.

  7. #7 Rhysz
    March 29, 2009

    There’s also a poll there for us to play with…

    Do you believe in God?
    Absolutely certain there is a God 74%
    Somewhat certain is a God 8%
    Absolutely certain there is no God 7%
    Somewhat certain there is no God 6%
    Not sure! 5%

    (I picked ‘somwhat certain there is no God. I would have preferred an option: ‘vitually there’s no invisible skydady’.

    Regards,
    Rhysz

  8. #8 The Tim Channel
    March 29, 2009

    Good point. There are plenty of educated idiots sitting in church this morning.

    Speaking of idiots, I see that DADT isn’t going away because apparently Obama isn’t going to use his pen to disable it.

    You’d think that some smart general would know that the greatest military leader of all time was gay? (Alexander the Great)

    Gays and pot smokers….to the back of the bus please.

    Enjoy.

  9. #9 dtlocke
    March 29, 2009

    Sorry PZ, but this post simply isn’t up to your usual standards.

    I’ve known lots of religious people who really are brilliant

    As Greg Esres points out above, this anecdotal evidence in the face of Lynn’s statistical argument.

    Religious people aren’t necessarily stupid?and atheists aren’t necessarily smart

    Again, Lynn is not claiming that all religious people are stupid and that all atheists are smart. He is making a statistical claim. More precisely, he’s making a statistical-causal claim: he claims that intelligence tends to play a causal role in making people atheists.

    I also know lots of atheists who were sincerely religious once upon a time, and there was no sudden increase in their native intelligence when they abandoned faith.

    Here you’ve got the causal direction of his claim backwards (you’re also using anecdotal evidence—but we’ve already covered that). Lynn does not claim that being atheist tends to play a causal role in making one intelligent; he claims that being intelligent tends to play a causal role in making one an atheist.

    Lynn’s evidence for his claim is no doubt very thin. But you’ve (a) badly misunderstood his claim and (b) brought only anecdotal evidence to bear against it. Tisk, tisk.

  10. #10 The Tim Channel
    March 29, 2009

    I wanted to kick you a bit for your observations as well PZ. I’ve no doubt that smarter people ARE less religious ON THE WHOLE. It’s that dam statistics argument that others have made. Curse the math.

    Enjoy.

  11. #11 Michael Heath
    March 29, 2009

    There’s a poll on the page PZ links to begging for this forum’s input:

    Do you believe in God?

    Absolutely certain there is a God 73%

    Somewhat certain is a God 8%

    Absolutely certain there is no God 7%

    Somewhat certain there is no God 6%

    Not sure! 5%

  12. #12 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    “Note that Richard Lynn is making a statistical argument”
    Here’s a statistical argument: Correlation is not causation!

  13. #13 Matt Heath
    March 29, 2009

    For all that may be wrong with Lynn’s work (and it may well be a lot), Greg Esres makes a valid point at #4. Claiming that intelligence is either necessary or sufficient for atheism would be nuts, but that (in a mostly religious society) more intelligent will on average be more likely to become atheists is at least an open question.

  14. #14 Stanton
    March 29, 2009

    I’ve met two “atheist” evolution-deniers.

    They are among the most appallingly stupid (Ray Comfort level of stupid) people I’ve ever encountered on the internet.

    One idiot insisted, among other things, that related-ness between species was based solely on the ability to interbreed with each other.

    The other one kept denying that she was a creationist, and kept getting huffy whenever someone accused her of being a creationist because she kept trotting out all of the standard (stupid) creationist objections to evolution.

  15. #15 SeanJJordan
    March 29, 2009

    The “Statistical Argument” is as follows:

    “He bases this conclusion on a survey of The Royal Society, a learned society for science that serves as the academy of sciences in the United Kingdom, in which he found that only 3.3 percent believed in God, compared with 68.5 percent of the general population of the U.K. In the 1990s, a poll of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States found that only 7 percent of its members believed in God, while a 2008 Harris Poll found that 82 percent of the general U.S. population believes.”

    It’s BUNK. The Royal Society is not a random sample of the population of the world, and you can’t draw statistics from it and then compare them with the rest of the world and expect to find anything meaningful. There are many other factors at play here (the culture of academia, pressure to conform, disdain for the Church of England, and so forth) that are not being considered.

    You cannot examine a group from a non-probability convenience sample, isolate one characteristic, and then try to compare the results against the population. The mechanisms in statistics that allow you to make such claims are based on the idea of a random sample with a normal distribution, neither of which exists here.

    If you want to make such a claim with a cross-sectional study, you have to draw a random sample from the population at large, make it large enough to include significant numbers of respondents with different levels of intelligence, and then compare the groups within the sample. Alternatively, you can find a previous study that used a random sample and then replicate it and compare findings.

  16. #16 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    @#9 dtlocke
    “Lynn does not claim that being atheist tends to play a causal role in making one intelligent; he claims that being intelligent tends to play a causal role in making one an atheist.”
    Interesting. Since Lynn made the earlier claim that differences in race causes differences in intelligence, I guess PZ Myers just incorrectly extrapolated this. Of course, it still has no merit whatsoever, but it seems to be quite a different claim.

  17. #17 Noadi
    March 29, 2009

    Good education leads to critical thinking and questioning. We can’t have that, must preserve this great christian nation.

    I may have lost IQ points just writing that crap.

  18. #18 Don
    March 29, 2009

    Fully agree with #4, #9, #10, and #13. And while I recognize that correlation is not causation, it is a supporting argument for causation. That said, I need to go read the study when I have time. I suspect it will be just too good to be entirely true.

  19. #19 Autumn
    March 29, 2009

    #12: You got it there.

    I think you should also consider the social environment of academics. It’s sort of a chicken and the egg situation, but between going into a job where people are expected to analyze and be critical and having a majority of your peers also be non-religious, it’s hard to say that people who are inherently “smarter” are atheists.

    And hey, some people with high level academic degrees are morons.

    Also, maybe academia appeals more to people whose personalities are more prone to non-belief? There is a lot of stuff going on here.

  20. #20 pablo
    March 29, 2009

    That’s perhaps the biggest issue brought up to me by theists: “Atheists are arrogant, and think they know everything, and how can you know there isn’t a god?” I try to explain that it’s the exact opposite. Not only don’t we know that there isn’t a god, but we humbly admit that we can’t know if there is or isn’t one, that we cannot make ourselves believe in the existence of something without evidence and that there is no evidence for god that cannot be explained by something simpler.

  21. #21 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    @#15 SeanJJordan
    Lynn doesn’t quite seem to be well-educated in statistics, does he?

  22. #22 JM
    March 29, 2009

    “The difference is not in intelligence. It’s on the foundation of their education. Intelligent people who are indoctrinated into a faith can build marvelously intricate palaces of rationalization atop the shoddy vapor of their beliefs about gods and the supernatural; what scientists and atheists must do is build their logic on top of a more solid basis of empirical evidence and relentless self-examination. The difference isn’t their ability to reason, it is what they are reasoning about.”

    PZ, that’s splendid. Once again, you’ve managed to articulate a basic problem precisely, briefly, and memorably.

  23. #23 Carl Troein
    March 29, 2009

    As previous posters have pointed out, PZ is making a rather badly supported claim. It shouldn’t be too difficult to actually put it to the test. Find out whether scientists were less religious in their childhood/youth than non-scientist, corrected for intelligence and (and this may be harder) general interests. I suspect that this is the case in the US and other countries where religion is common even among educated people, but not necessarily to the degree that PZ seems to be implying.

  24. #24 Matt Heath
    March 29, 2009

    “Correlation is not causation!”

    No, but it is statistical evidence in support of (some form of) a causal relationship (at least from a Bayesian view). Again really not defending Lynn’s research; I wouldn’t be qualified to do so even if I wanted to, but PZ outright claim that there is no causation doesn’t seem justified.

  25. #25 AnthonyK
    March 29, 2009

    I agree, of course. The antiPZdist heresy has never been one of mine, and even if it were I have to say right now that I WILL NOT be tortured to death over it.When they bring in the electtodes, and smile in an unsettling way at my genitals, I will deny PZ. But until then..
    As an intelligent (in a stupid-human kind of way) atheist, I do reject a causal link between the two. “Intelligence”, as trivially measured by IQ tests, didn’t lead me to reject religion – religion did. I just didn’t see the need to constrain my thought according to what I was told, and a growing awareness of political reality and history turned me, sickened, away from the idea of the Cosmic Dictator. What actually deepened my atheism, and made me proud of it, was the way that some Christians utterly deny reality, in terms of being creationists. People who present views this stupid, about things we now know in great detail, are clearly mistaken in their beliefs. While one can’t disprove the Christian god, or any other, one can disprove creationism, and since they are wrong about that I can make the logical deduction that their other core beliefs are nonsense.
    Atheism. Intelligence requested, but no genius required.

  26. #26 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    @#24 Matt Heath
    “PZ outright claim that there is no causation doesn’t seem justified”
    Well, PZ was arguing against whats he mis-interpreted Lynn to be saying, so I guess to claim that atheism does not cause intelligence is at least a little more justified. The open question is the other way around: whether or not intelligence causes atheism.

  27. #27 John Sullivan
    March 29, 2009

    Thanks, PZ. I cringe whenever I hear Dawkins or other fellow atheists or “Brights” make an explicit or implicit claim that “we are smarter than you.” It’s undoubtedly true that the IQ means for the two groups would be different, but the curves are broadly overlapping. An atheist who hasn’t bet a smart theist doesn’t get out enough.

  28. #28 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    March 29, 2009

    This is my problem with using the term “brights”. It does nothing but alienate people that aren’t atheists and give a false sense of smugness to those that take on the moniker.

    I don’t like it because I think it sounds too “New Agey.” And also, it’s like bragging about being in MENSA.

    I totally agree that a causal relationship between intelligence and atheism/religion can’t be drawn. The first problem is that there is no real solid way to measure intelligence. Sure, I scored a “145″ on the Stanford-Binet, but I am lousy at chess.

    The second is that it takes a great deal of intelligent thought to modify apologetics to align with science’s discoveries of causation in the natural world. Imagine how hard an Alister McGrath, or a Ken Miller must work to weave into their acceptance of evolution some sort of framework for evidence of a Creator.

    The God Delusion isn’t a factor of intelligence or stupidity, it is a measure of one’s willingness to step out of the base assumptions of a cultural upbringing that assumes as a matter of course that the existence of god is real.

    We are brought up to believe that eating dog and horse meat are as repugnant as cannibalism, yet in other cultures both meats are a staple of diet. Are we stupid for being repelled by the idea? No, we just don’t like to consider the idea. So, if one is brought up to believe absolutely that there is a god, and it is reinforced by parents, religious worship, schools, most social contacts, popular culture and the “In God We Trust” stamp on our currencies (in the US.)

    Breaking away from that is tough, and that most people don’t doesn’t relate to their intelligence.

  29. #29 fairyhedgehog
    March 29, 2009

    I agree PZ. I was a rabid Christian, persuaded into it not by reasoning but by emotion. Pascal’s Wager can look pretty convincing if you listen to your fears rather than your thought processes.

    It doesn’t matter how intelligent you are, if you think with your emotions you can end up rationalising a very irrational position. I came out of it when the group I was with started to stress “the role of women” (as second class citizens) and my emotional distress forced me to face the previously unthinkable.

    I didn’t immediately receive an intelligence transplant (sadly) which I think is the point you were making.

  30. #30 SLC
    March 29, 2009

    Re Mr. Tim Channel

    You’d think that some smart general would know that the greatest military leader of all time was gay? (Alexander the Great)

    Excuse me but Alexander was not a homosexual as we understand the term today. It is quite true that Alexander and his Companions participated in homosexual activities while on campaign but, in fact, this was considered what today is called unit cohesion. Same sex activities did not carry the same connotation then as it does now and in fact, for the most part the Companions were married men (many of them took on Persian wives after the conquest of Persia).

    Another example is the high command of the Roman Army in which the top generals took on teenage male concubines as a part of preparing them for later high command positions. Julius Caesar, for instance, as a teenager, was the concubine of the Roman General Sulla who had picked him out as a promising future military leader.

  31. #31 Michelle R
    March 29, 2009

    Yea, it’s not a matter of imbecility. Lots of smart religious people out there… Sometimes they even come up with great arguments regarding the things they believe for illogical reasons.

    I think you believe in religion out of fear of death. If you don’t believe you’re going to hell, etc. This life is short, the afterlife is eternal…

    Brainwashing is powerful.

  32. #32 Mark B.
    March 29, 2009

    I work with a really clever programmer who also happens to be a fundie. He can figure out how to write convoluted calls into the windows API but he can’t figure out that the world is more than 10,000 years old. I just go with it when we work together since he really is a nice person and I generally enjoy working with him. I just feel sorry for his kids, because they will be raised in ignorance.

  33. #33 Sastra
    March 29, 2009

    SeanJJordan #5 wrote:

    It sounds really good to quantify intelligence with a single number, but there’s clearly more to the construct of intelligence than an IQ score can measure. I know many people who have high IQs but who can barely manage their own lives.

    A while ago some psychologists were playing around with trying to measure what they called EQ, or the Emotional Intelligence Quotient. In addition to the “gets along well with others” type factors, it involved aspects of what is sometimes called “character” — an ability to pace yourself, set goals, stick to them, make wise choices, be disciplined, and be able to consider a situation from an outsider’s point of view.

    I think it would be interesting to see if there’s any difference in so-called EQ, between religious and non-religious. I suspect religious people might assume that of course they have the edge on self-control characteristics: so many criticisms of atheists have to do with atheism having no responsibility or rules, and “faith” is supposed to require moral fortitude.

    But from our point of view, it’s rather the other way around. Belief in God is at best sloppy, and faith an abdication of one’s epistemic responsibilities. That’s why we don’t think of theism as being part of a “relationship,” or assume that the nice and happy works of a religion has anything to do with whether the supernatural beliefs are true.

  34. #34 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    @#28 Mike Haubrich
    “The first problem is that there is no real solid way to measure intelligence.”

    Just because something cannot easily be defined, does not mean that it does not exist. Just because it is not easy to define what exactly a hill is, or a mountain, or the difference between a creek, a stream, or a river, doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.

  35. #35 Matt Heath
    March 29, 2009

    @26 10ch

    Well, PZ was arguing against whats he mis-interpreted Lynn to be saying, so I guess to claim that atheism does not cause intelligence is at least a little more justified. The open question is the other way around: whether or not intelligence causes atheism.

    Well intelligence (statistically, on average…) causing atheism seems by far the more likely direction, but depending on how intelligence is defined it’s plausible that there be a relationship the other way. Rejecting faith-based modes of thinking might cause one to improve on IQ tests. Unlikely I think, but if someone had a way of testing it I’d be interested to see

  36. #36 Mark B.
    March 29, 2009

    I work with a really clever programmer who also happens to be a fundie. He can figure out how to write convoluted calls into the windows API but he can’t figure out that the world is more than 10,000 years old. I just go with it when we work together since he really is a nice person and I generally enjoy working with him. I just feel sorry for his kids, because they will be raised in ignorance.

  37. #37 Mark B.
    March 29, 2009

    sorry about the double post, scienceblogs was acting up, and it told me the first submission didn’t work. I blame the software for my error.

  38. #38 T_U_T
    March 29, 2009

    I think it is not the case that atheism causes intelligence, but that certain forms of religion cause dementia.
    Take for example here resident presuppers.
    Presuppositional apologetics is so throughoutly anti reason that anyone sincerely believing that would end up with akinetic mutism because all his cognition would cease.
    So their capability to think is dependent on their capability to compartmentize.
    And compartmentization is essentially an anti-skill itself. The more proficient you are at it, the more you are likely to use it in your life, and the more stupid you become.

  39. #39 Matt Heath
    March 29, 2009

    SLC: I don’t doubt you are right but, gay or not, Alexander or Caesar would get them tossed out the US military for openly engaging in these team-building exercises, right?

  40. #40 MS
    March 29, 2009

    Purely anecdotal, but for what it’s worth: I know religious people ranging from morons to geniuses, but everyone I have ever met who self-describes as “atheist” has been at least above average in intelligence, generally well-educated and almost always quite successful in their chosen profession. What’s cause and what’s effect I won’t even speculate on, but I’ve been noticing this for over 30 years now.

  41. #41 blueshifter
    March 29, 2009

    i’m loving all these high IQ atheists on this board denying what’s right in front of their eyes, i suspect for political reasons. Guys and gals – nature vs. nurture has been settled, in case you weren’t paying attention. twin studies put the nail in the coffin of the ‘education is the answer’ theory. it’s the egg, not the chicken. if you were born with high IQ, you MOST OVERWHELMINGLY will end up with an advanced degree, and be an atheist. but don’t take my word for it; google away. the data is pretty clear; as uncomfortable as it may make us.

  42. #42 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    @#35 Matt Heath
    “Well intelligence (statistically, on average…) causing atheism seems by far the more likely direction, but depending on how intelligence is defined it’s plausible that there be a relationship the other way. Rejecting faith-based modes of thinking might cause one to improve on IQ tests. Unlikely I think, but if someone had a way of testing it I’d be interested to see”

    Thinking about it a little, I think that PZ Myers also somewhat implied that education causes people to be less religious on average. That would also perhaps be interesting to test, if such an experiment can be designed.

  43. #43 'Tis Himself
    March 29, 2009

    One should always be very careful with statistical arguments. A famous saying attributed, with ~84.7% probability of accuracy, to Benjamin Disraeli is, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics”.

    Discrepancies in statistical surveys can arise from subtle variations in survey design, such as the size and composition of sample groups or research protocols, that are not easily understood by the non-expert. Media reports usually omit this vital contextual information entirely, because of its complexity.

    By choosing, rejecting, or modifying certain samples, results can be manipulated. Such manipulations need not be malicious or devious. They can arise from unintentional biases of the researcher. The graphs used to summarize data can also be misleading.

    Another problem is with the widely used (in some cases required by law) hypothesis testing approach forces the null hypothesis to be “favored.” This can also seem to exaggerate the importance of minor differences in large studies. A difference that is highly statistically significant can still be of no practical significance. I won’t even try to discuss confidence intervals.

    There’s also the point that 32.5% of statistics are made up.

  44. #44 T_U_T
    March 29, 2009

    Mark, Could you ask him to write a simple genetic algorithm ?
    I predict, that no matter how smart he is as a programmer, he would not be capable to write a < 200 lines program that a talented child would do without effort.
    As I said in my previous post. Certain forms of faith are pure brain rot.

  45. #45 Crystal D.
    March 29, 2009

    I’ve only been an ‘active’ atheist for about a year, and I already know first hand that intelligence doesn’t necessarily coincide with atheism. Many times before a meet up, I have to remind myself “Atheism is the only thing we have in common!” This isn’t a good thing or a bad thing, it just is. We are all just people, and we are all different.

    I like the call to be militant though. I get a bad rap as I self-identify as militant. To me, that just means outspoken and proud.

  46. #46 Christophe Thill
    March 29, 2009

    In my opinion, putting too much confidence in IQ (it’s just the summary score of a series of tests) is not a sign of intelligence…

  47. #47 Walton
    March 29, 2009

    I think Professor Myers is spot on here.

    Here in the UK, a predominantly secular country, I grew up with lots of kids who professed to be atheists. They didn’t know anything more about evolution or cosmology than I did. But religion was “uncool” and for old people.

    Conversely, I’ve known a lot of people – more, in fact, since starting university – who are devoutly religious because they were raised in a religious tradition. Many of them are exceptionally intelligent. If you question them on the intellectual foundations of their religion, they’ll often come up with complicated rationalisations. But when one probes deeper, one realises that they really don’t have an objectively convincing argument for accepting the existence of God; indeed, when the chips are down, many of them accept this, and simply assert that their personal religious experiences provide them with a reason for believing in God. Many of my (more educated) family members also fall into this category.

    I’d say, generally speaking, that intelligence correlates not with a specific philosophy or belief system, but with a willingness to challenge and critically examine the prevailing philosophy or belief system. Accordingly, I should imagine that American atheists – though few in number – are of much greater intelligence than the general population in the US. This doesn’t mean that intelligence is causally linked to atheism; it merely reflects the fact that it tends to be more intelligent and educated people who, in a predominantly religious society, are willing to critically evaluate the beliefs of their friends, families and neighbours. Conversely, over here – where atheism and agnosticism are extremely widespread – there are a lot more unintelligent atheists and agnostics.

  48. #48 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    @#40 MS
    “What’s cause and what’s effect I won’t even speculate on”
    It is possible that education level might be a third variable that causes both.

  49. #49 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    March 29, 2009

    Just because something cannot easily be defined, does not mean that it does not exist. Just because it is not easy to define what exactly a hill is, or a mountain, or the difference between a creek, a stream, or a river, doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.

    I wasn’t trying to say that there is no such thing as intelligence, but more that it makes no sense to use IQ as relational factor when it is an unreliable measure in itself. I happen to think that I have a great deal of some kinds of intelligence, but the number “145″ is likely meaningless when applied to me.

    I am lousy at chess because I am not a great predictor of what strategies others will employ. When I look ahead for a pathway to trap my opponent’s king, I think I have it all worked out so I make a move. And then my opponent moves a rook in a way that I wouldn’t have and BAM! I am in checkmate. Stanford-Binet is a poor predictor of chess skills, and a poor predictor of religious belief. ‘Sall I’m sayin.

  50. #50 Uzza
    March 29, 2009

    These questions always strike me as kind of meaningless and simplistic, as they assume a specific definition of what ?god? is. If ?god? is defined as most fundies do, then I’m absolutely certain it doesn’t exist. If ?god? is the force(s) that cause(d) the universe to exist, I’m absolutely certain that it/they do exist. In the latter case you could only ?be an atheist? if you denied the existence of the universe, which I don’t, so does that make me Religious? Atheist? Is pantheism an option? Aren’t most who call themselves ‘atheists’ really rejecting the idea that the origin of the universe is due to some kind of sentient being? Can I apply the term to space-time or whatever?
    Are people reasoning about the nature of rather than the existence of “god”.

  51. #51 Monado
    March 29, 2009

    Heh. I wanted to join Mensa until I found out how low their standards are.

    I think it’s a loose correlation with intelligence as a contributing factor.

    People who are more intelligent can go farther in education and may choose to do so. Or should I say people who are thought to be more intelligent, because if teachers are told that someone is smart, they will pay more attention to that person, answer them in more detail, and expect more of them, all of which encourage success.

    People who are more educated are more likely not to be religious, perhaps because education encourages one to question rather than accept.

  52. #52 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    @#43 ‘Tis Himself
    “A difference that is highly statistically significant can still be of no practical significance.”
    Indeed, a statistically significant difference means that, with the confidence level as given, there actually is a difference, but it says nothing about how big the difference is.

  53. #53 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    “These questions always strike me as kind of meaningless and simplistic, as they assume a specific definition of what ‘god’ is.”
    Perhaps the distinction can be made between people who say that they believe in a personal god, and those who believe in a “spirit” or “life force” god.

  54. #54 Hank Fox
    March 29, 2009

    Interesting. When I clicked over to the linked page, the poll results were

    Absolutely certain there is no God: 11%
    Somewhat certain there is no God: 7%
    Not sure: 5%

    It appears that, among the responding population, the strong atheists outnumber the weak atheists who outnumber the agnostics. And atheists overall outnumber agnostics almost 4 to 1.

    And “Absolutely certain there is a God: 69%”

    That’s a pretty good number. But then again, I always think ONLINE polls are inherently biased against believers, because significant numbers of them don’t read or don’t use computers.

  55. #55 efp
    March 29, 2009

    it’s not because they are intrinsically smarter than someone who believes in gods ? it’s because they more easily embrace the mode of thinking that is most productive and successful in scientific fields, and are less burdened with absurd presuppositions…

    …because they are smarter. Not necessarily inrinsically, but that’s as good as any definition of what makes one person smarter than another.

    It’s surely not “simply a matter of the IQ,” but it’s also silly to deny the correlation between [insert measure of intelligence] and [being less religious].

  56. #56 60613
    March 29, 2009

    “…there are children out there right now who have the potential for genius, but their talents are being shunted into the futile wasteland of religiosity.”

    That’s sadly correct. I have a very high IQ, yet never made much of myself because of that damned “it’s in God’s hands” crap shoveled down my throat during my youth. I was never made aware of any opportunities beyond those available in the network of churches my mother was involved in. I was given no reasonable vision for my future if I applied myself. And I was only one of many in that situation. None of my fellow students – despite some very bright minds – have succeeded to anything more “prestigious” or beneficial to society than being a freakin’ deacon or church elder. That’s just sad.

  57. #57 genesgalore
    March 29, 2009

    oh what bliss to be brainwashed.

  58. #58 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    @#55 efp
    Sometimes, though, education level does not just depend on intelligence, but also perhaps on the education that is presented to them.

  59. #59 VVarlock
    March 29, 2009

    I believe that there has been shown to be a correlation, statistically. This is not causation, but the underlying reasons should be researched thoroughly. I think looking into the EIQ for a correlation would be interesting as well. The correlation itself may be nothing more than an anomaly. It may be caused by the statistic that persons with higher IQ tend towards higher degrees and understanding of the scientific process deepens with study in most fields.
    I think it deserves further research, but I also agree with those here who urge not spreading around that ?atheists are smarter than theists?. At least until the valid, supportable research is there to support such a statement it is not something I can support.

  60. #60 uppity cracka
    March 29, 2009

    mmmmm…..no, i prefer to think of everyone else as idiots. thanks, though.

  61. #61 Fleischmann
    March 29, 2009

    Very nice posting. By mixing IQ with religious belief you have raised the ire of a number of distinct groups.

    This point was well made: Intelligent people who are indoctrinated into a faith can build marvelously intricate palaces of rationalization atop the shoddy vapor of their beliefs about gods and the supernatural; what scientists and atheists must do is build their logic on top of a more solid basis of empirical evidence and relentless self-examination. The difference isn’t their ability to reason, it is what they are reasoning about.

    One sees such intricate palaces of rationalization throughout the comments above. It cannot be avoided by even the most intelligent or enlightened persons — it is how we think. Using one’s atheism or one’s IQ score as a shield or banner is not thinking, it is grunting.

    It is the denial of essential human nature, thought, and behavior that corrupts the many atheist religions purporting to be science. Most commenters here will never understand. Not because their IQ is too low, but because they are confined within their own barred palaces of rationalization.

  62. #62 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    @#59 VVarlock
    “I believe that there has been shown to be a correlation, statistically.”
    A correction: a correlation is a linear association between two variables. “Religiosity” is not a variable. Religiosity, however, is a separation of people into groups. Some people you can easily categorize, like those who say that they believe in a personal god, and those who say that they are outright atheists, but what about those who believe in a “spirit” or “life force,” pantheists, or Buddhists?

  63. #63 Butterbean
    March 29, 2009

    @41 – blueshifter, you’re completely wrong. The most influential twin studies ‘showing’ that IQ was genetically determined (‘in the egg’) were done by Cyril Burt, who fabricated data to support his political ideas. He was an ardent eugenicist, and he was exposed as a fraud in the 70s IIRC. A good overview of his practices and the opposite results of more careful, later studies is in Rose, Lerwontin and Kamin’s “Not in our genes”. (This is from the 80s, if there is more recent data swinging the argument back the other way I’d like to read it, but ‘go google’ isn’t all that helpful.)

  64. #64 Duff
    March 29, 2009

    In my portrayal of the three types of religious people, I list the truly stupid as the first type, compromising the vast majority of the religious; those who are intelligent, but who have been brainwashed into not looking closely at the argument, as the second type; and the third type, who are quite intelligent, but believe for a variety of bizarre reasons: Love the pomp, Credo consolens, Credo absurdum, etc..
    So while it is possible to be intelligent and be a believer, it is far more likely that the opposite is true.

    SLC,
    You are partially correct that it was a common practice for Greeks of Alexander’s era to have sex with other men, but Alexander was chided and reproached by the Companions for taking wives so as to appear hetero. It seems it was understood by everyone that he had no particular interest in women and preferred his favorite men and his eunuch, whose name I forget.

  65. #65 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    March 29, 2009

    atheist religions purporting to be science.

    Hmm… An allegedly intelligent person writes about atheist religions. Atheism is the lack of belief in gods. Which by definition negates religious belief, as one can’t have a religion without at least one god. Just can’t get my meager mind around that oxymoron.

  66. #66 Hyperon
    March 29, 2009

    I’m really sick of this knee-jerk leftist tendency to assume equivalence between “A correlates with B” and “A implies B and vice versa”. PZ is clearly going after a strawman here. No sane person would claim that ALL atheists are smarter than ALL theists.

  67. #67 miller
    March 29, 2009

    “I’ve known lots of religious people who really are brilliant”

    Thank you for your anecdotal experience. Can we now return to the society-level data, please?

  68. #68 Eidolon
    March 29, 2009

    Isaac Asimov observed that the most important word(s) in a lab are not “Eureka!” but “That’s funny…”

    Listening to whatever inner voices we have when we see that apparent disconnect between experience and observation is an important driving force in science. it leads to further experimentation and evaluation which is the heart of science.

    I know very intelligent (whatever THAT is) and educated people who are religious. Why is that? Poorly educated people tend to be more religious. A high percentage of science educated people are not religious. How come? I’m not postulating anything, just making the point that the issue is clearly – at least to me – the far more complex that IQ. What ever THAT measures.

  69. #69 Marc Abian
    March 29, 2009

    Chess ability is a terrible marker of intelligence. Like most games, it’s mainly down to practice.

    I’m sure Dawkins believes in the link between intelligence and atheism, but in his book all he was pointing out with the surveys of scientists is that the “argument from admired religious scientists” works better for atheism than theism.

  70. #70 Jshuey
    March 29, 2009

    I don’t know Prof…I suspect there is a relationship, but a secondary, statistical one.

    While education is the key, those with higher IQs tend to seek out more (and more challenging) educational opportunities than those with less firepower do. Thus those who enjoy on-average higher IQs tend to be exposed to the information and critical thinking skills that lead them toward skepticism, while those with lower IQs less so.

    Thus a statistical relationship, as opposed to an absolute one, takes form.

  71. #71 Eidolon
    March 29, 2009

    Isaac Asimov observed that the most important word(s) in a lab are not “Eureka!” but “That’s funny…”

    Listening to whatever inner voices we have when we see that apparent disconnect between experience and observation is an important driving force in science. it leads to further experimentation and evaluation which is the heart of science.

    I know very intelligent (whatever THAT is) and educated people who are religious. Why is that? Poorly educated people tend to be more religious. A high percentage of science educated people are not religious. How come? I’m not postulating anything, just making the point that the issue is clearly – at least to me – the far more complex that IQ. What ever THAT measures.

  72. #72 Hank Fox
    March 29, 2009

    I can’t see how there CAN’T be SOME sort of correlation between atheism and intelligence, if only that you have to be fairly bright to think your way out of religion.

    My own experience was that there was nobody to talk to, nobody to bounce ideas off, no outside help at all.

    I have to think that plenty of others are in that same boat. It’s hard to see how a dull person could make that sort of trip on their own.

    I think there’s a larger matter, though. If you’re talking not about individuals, but about whole societies, and looking at it from the opposite causal direction, it seems pretty certain that religiosity dumbs down a society, and makes all sorts of intellectual accomplishment more difficult.

    I have no trouble believing that, even if intelligence doesn’t cause atheism, religion certainly causes stupidity.

  73. #73 firemancarl
    March 29, 2009

    @#66 Hyperon,

    Maybe you should go back and reread what PZ wrote. He did not claim that all atheists are smarter than teh religious.

  74. #74 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    @#64 Duff
    “Alexander was chided and reproached by the Companions for taking wives so as to appear hetero.”
    Indeed, Alexander as most emotionally affected by the death of his eunuch.

    @#65 Nerd of Redhead
    “Which by definition negates religious belief, as one can’t have a religion without at least one god.”
    Buddhism

  75. #75 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    @#66 Hyperon
    “PZ is clearly going after a strawman here.”
    Well, not exactly. The title of the blog post is a negation of the sweeping statement, but he does not exactly attribute this sweeping statement to Lynn.

    @#73 firemancarl
    “Maybe you should go back and reread what PZ wrote. He did not claim that all atheists are smarter than teh religious.”
    Perhaps you should go back and read what Hyperon wrote. Hyperon wrote that PZ wrote that Lynn wrote that all atheists are smarter.

  76. #76 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    @#70 Jshuey
    “While education is the key, those with higher IQs tend to seek out more (and more challenging) educational opportunities than those with less firepower do. Thus those who enjoy on-average higher IQs tend to be exposed to the information and critical thinking skills that lead them toward skepticism, while those with lower IQs less so.”

    Perhaps it might be interesting to see a possible study of how education affects intelligence, and how intelligence affects education, where all the participants are non-religious. Of course, these things will be difficult to measure, but, it will still be interesting to see, if such a thing could be done.

  77. #77 Vic
    March 29, 2009

    “It’s the indoctrination, dummy” ;) Once you’ve carved out that little “God Spot” in your brain, it’s rather difficult to fill it with any real knowledge, and very few people are determined enough to try.

  78. #78 charley
    March 29, 2009

    As a product of educational institutions which tried to blend science and theism, I have to say the last two paragraphs of this post are just perfect.

  79. #79 Becca Stareyes
    March 29, 2009

    Just because something cannot easily be defined, does not mean that it does not exist.

    But it makes it harder to study if it cannot be easily defined.

    In this sense, I’d be concerned about two things. The first is how one measures ‘religiousness’ — are we sticking the fundamentalist Christian in with the barely-theist humanist? And, for that matter, what about the folks who have immaterial(non-material? supernatural?) beliefs but don’t believe in a god or gods? (IIRC, some forms of Buddhism, animism and neo-paganism/various New-Age-y stuff don’t require belief in a deity, but do still have things taken on faith.)

    There’s also the matter of the difference between someone raised as a non-theist versus a ‘deconvert’. One could argue that it takes a lot more thought to change one’s religious beliefs from those they were brought up in than to continue acting as one’s parents taught one.

    Regarding IQ, I think it would be more useful to set out exactly what part of intelligence one is measuring — I mean, the story we tell ourselves is that atheists reason better, which is why they become atheists. In that sense, a test would be to see if the ‘deconverts’ are different than the raised-atheists, and making sure the measurements focus on reasoning ability and not, say, memory or spacial skills.

    One would also have to correct for things like health/education in childhood (IIRC, the idea was that things like that do play a role in brain development, which makes them as possible annoying factors in measuring intelligence.) And, for that matter, exposure to religion — someone from an isolated religious background is going to have a harder time changing than someone who grew up around all sorts of people.

  80. #80 RN Lee
    March 29, 2009

    In my experience, lately in the US, growing up fundamentalist/charismatic over the last forty years and becoming atheist eventually, these kinds of stats really are borne out. It didn’t used to be this way, and I can look to the past and see all kinds of brilliant theists. And I have some pretty bright ones in my life, now, with good reasoning skills, ability to think laterally, etc., and…very good hearts. I don’t hang around the kinds of Christians who hate gays and hate helping poor people worse. And I don’t despise or reject anybody for being religious – that isn’t what atheism is about, for me.

    But this is the way it is, now: increasingly, religion’s got a brain drain problem and the numbers are dropping, generally, and traditional religion, especially, appeals primarily to kneejerks who’ll buy any stupid story that appeals to them and people terrified of change. In other words, limited people.

    I don’t like to think of things that way. I resisted accepting, for instance, that on the ground and in the main, the modern GOP was appealing almost solely to the bottom half of the nation, intellectually. I questioned every study or article or whatever making that kind of claim, because I don’t want to demonize or reject people that way, just because we disagree.

    The last election changed all that. I watched a GOP presidential campaign that was *all lies* and as soon as one lie got exposed, they’d switch to another one and the faithful would all forget the last one and start spouting the new one. I watched a shitload of Americans, in real life, on TV, and online saying how smart and accomplished Sarah Palin was and responding favorably to Joe the Plumber and whatnot and…I thought they were deluded or lying. It finally hit me: they weren’t. They actually thought Sarah Palin was smart and TV folks were unfair to her every time she opened her mouth and baby talk came out, because she’s…kinda average, and to somebody below average *she seems smart.* Like comfortably smart, not “talk way over your head and probably a communist” smart.

    Increasingly, in most aging religions in the US, as well as social and political conservatism, the smart people are at the top, running things and benefiting from policy, and the rank and file are of much lower intelligence and…really not getting a lot out of the deal except stirred up into angry mobs by stupid stories.

    Which is scary.

  81. #81 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    @#79 Becca Stareyes
    “are we sticking the fundamentalist Christian in with the barely-theist humanist”
    For this reason, if there is going to be any better study, it would be important for this study to separate all the religious groups, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, and so on, and perhaps even subdivide each into further groups. Of course, the measurement of intelligence is another issue, one that is less easy to deal with, but perhaps all the different types of measurement that people have come up with so far can be used.

  82. #82 Paul Lamb
    March 29, 2009

    Children should be protected from religious indoctrination not merely because it might stifle their brilliance but because it might stifle their humanity. It’s not merely the “brilliant” we should be seeking to protect.

  83. #83 Rieux
    March 29, 2009

    10ch.org @ #74 (quoting Nerd of Redhead @ #65):

    “Which by definition negates religious belief, as one can’t have a religion without at least one god.”
    Buddhism

    This is several kinds of missing the point.

    First, this boils down to an equivocation about what “religion” means; it is anything but self-evident that Buddhism is a religion. You haven’t exactly presented a material challenge to NoR’s point.

    Second, despite what ivory-tower Buddhist theology types prefer to think, the Buddhism subscribed to by a huge proportion of (wo)man-on-the-street believers includes supernaturalism, and entities that certainly look like gods, galore. So it’s anything but clear that Buddhism is in fact “without at least one god.”

    C’mon. It might have been helpful to address these (IMO rather obvious) issues rather than just posting “Buddhism” and exiting.

  84. #84 Marcus Ranum
    March 29, 2009

    SeanJJordan writes:
    It’s BUNK. The Royal Society is not a random sample of the population of the world, and you can’t draw statistics from it and then compare them with the rest of the world and expect to find anything meaningful.

    ((groan))
    Someone who doesn’t know about sampling bias has no business even uttering the word “statistics” – as in this case.
    A study with sampling bias can only show one thing: that the statistician doesn’t know what they’re doing.

  85. #85 James F
    March 29, 2009

    JD @1:

    It’s the Michael Dowd crowd that worries me most.

    The religious people who go out of their way to defend evolution education from the fundamentalists and have a sort of liberal-theologian-style Christianity worry you the most? More than Don McLeroy? More than Ken Ham? More than Pat Robertson? Really? Please clarify.

  86. #86 firemancarl
    March 29, 2009

    @ Ch.10 #75

    My bad, I misread it. It was a long night…

    Something about redheads wrapped in bacon…

  87. #87 heddle
    March 29, 2009

    An interesting comparison would be to go to other domains besides academia where you can also find concentrations of very smart people. For example, go to some of the main defense laboratories–say inside the fence at Los Alamos. Or industrial research laboratories. It would be fascinating to compare their responses to those in academia.

  88. #88 phein
    March 29, 2009

    Ahem:

    John Stuart Mill: “Not all conservatives are stupid people, but most stupid people are conservatives.”

    I believe recent research supports this observation, and have no trouble believing it transfers to this case.

  89. #89 Marcus Ranum
    March 29, 2009

    it is anything but self-evident that Buddhism is a religion

    Oh, PuuuuuuhLEEEEEZE.

    Making statues of the magic man and covering them with precious metals and bowing to them: check
    Praying: check
    Killing eachother in huge numbers over dogmatic differences: check
    Based on ubsubstatiated claims of a hereafter: check
    Has a priesthood that interprets and guides in the path of humility while living in huge comfy palaces: check
    Acquisitive of political power in the here and now: check

    There’s this american “buddhism” thing that DT Suzuki and Alan Watts largely pulled out of their butts back in the 1960s and 1970s that’s this kind of generalized feelgood woowoo that they call “buddhism” – but, well, if you went back in time and tried to explain that it was “buddhism” to a blue-hat Tibetan buddhist or a Nichiren buddhist, they’d make you one with the landscape in short order.

  90. #90 Yagotta B. Kidding
    March 29, 2009

    I would rather expect that supernaturalism would tend towards extremes:

    at one, you have the stereotypical redneck who doesn’t look past the same ritual existence his ancestors have lived since the dawn of agriculture and has no need to understand nature or reconcile contradictions.

    At the other, you have some very sharp people (Jesuits and Talmudic scholars, anyone?) who can juggle a whole freaking lot of root causes without cutting their throats with Occam’s Razor.

    Along the way, of course, there are plenty of folk who manage to maintain a metastable existence by simply avoiding thoughts that might trigger cognitive dissonance.

  91. #91 Hyperon
    March 29, 2009

    I think PZ has a point, but frankly, the reasons he gives are plain bogus. Lynn is oversimplifying the analysis, severely, when he claims “increased intelligence” is the reason for the fall in religosity. Lynn isn’t explaining anything, and doesn’t really have any data to support his view, since it’s entirely possible that there’s a reason intelligence and atheism are positively correlated, without implying causation (e.g. the separation of Europe and North America is correlated with the price of gas, but nobody believes one cuases the other). That’s what I think is wrong with Lynn’s position.

    PZ should have said something like this (I’m sure he would have done it much more wittily), instead of apparently denying the notion that atheists might be smarter (on average) than theists. Atheists, after all, probably are are smarter bunch than theists!

  92. #92 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    Perhaps there might also be a correlation between wealth and education level. It seems like nobody has yet talked about wealth yet.

  93. #93 RamblinDude
    March 29, 2009

    This seems appropriate:

    I think you’ll find it’s more complicated than that.”

    I hope Ben Goldacre sells millions of them.

  94. #94 Blake Stacey
    March 29, 2009

    People still use IQ for, well, anything? Other than predicting performance on subsequent IQ tests?

  95. #95 General Social Survey
    March 29, 2009

    In the General Social Survey WORDSUM scores correlate to reduced religious belief:

    http://www.norc.org/projects/General+Social+Survey.htm

    Similar results appear elsewhere in the literature.

    I agree with the criticisms that the post tries to refute a statistical generalization with anecdotes, and reverses the postulated causality.

  96. #96 dogmeatib
    March 29, 2009

    Lynn is notorious for this crap. He ignores or underestimates the impact of some of the most critical elements of early education, the impact of funding and quality of educational services, the impact of the parent’s educational level and support for education. On top of that he is sloppy in his sampling, he seems to be perfectly happy to survey groups of people that are not indicative or statistically significant representations of the overall group he purports they represent and them slam them together with other non-representative groups and claim causality.

    Makes my head hurt to think he gets this garbage published. In some ways he’s the supermarket tabloid of academia, it’s published because it is controversial and gets people talking.

  97. #97 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    “People still use IQ for, well, anything? Other than predicting performance on subsequent IQ tests?”

    @#94 Blake Stacey
    Not that I know of. I have never seen the IQ test used for any serious purpose whatsoever in my life.

  98. #98 Skeeve
    March 29, 2009

    I’ve often tried to imagine how far mankind would have progressed scientifically had the Jesus myth never took off.(without a Jesus, Mo would have never seen the light of day either, IMO)

    How many lives and man hours of research have been lost from the Dark Ages to the present?

  99. #99 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    “In some ways he’s the supermarket tabloid of academia, it’s published because it is controversial and gets people talking.”
    Actually, he is not controversial. He just publishes stupid things, and everybody knows it. Perhaps more like the Ann Coulter of academia.

  100. #100 'Tis Himself
    March 29, 2009

    Perhaps there might also be a correlation between wealth and education level. It seems like nobody has yet talked about wealth yet.

    It’s well recognized that education is a fairly good indicator of wealth. In the US, a bachelor’s degree is worth over $100K more income in a lifetime than a high school diploma.

  101. #101 theinquisitor
    March 29, 2009

    As Michael Shermer says, “Smart people are very good at rationalising things they came to believe for non-smart reasons”

  102. #102 Zarabeth
    March 29, 2009

    Now *that* was well-said!
    Love ya, Peeze.

  103. #103 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    @#100 ‘Tis Himself
    Well, if there is a causal relation, then it seems like the ignorance of people, and how well-informed people are, is an economic problem.

  104. #104 Hyperon
    March 29, 2009

    I talked about Isaac Newton in a recent thread. At the risk of being a bore, I’ll say this:

    Many experts think he was by far the most impressive intellect that ever lived. He wasn’t only a great theoretical scientist, but was also a great practical scientist, having invented the reflecting telescope and having carried out many crucial experiments. He wasn’t only the pre-eminent scientist of his age, but he was also the pre-eminent mathematician, inventing calculus and rediscovering numerous crucial mathematical results when only in his mid twenties.

    While most people in his time were illiterate, he was able to fluently read and write not only English and Latin, but ancient languages as well, such as Hebrew and Ancient Greek. His genius for learning was almost spooky.

    At the same time, he was, as we all know, a fundamentalist Christian of the most peculiar sort. I’m just putting this out as anecdotal evidence that brilliant people don’t necessarily behave in a logical fashion. People are capable of “compartmentalizing” their thought and their lives, to great effect.

  105. #105 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    @#104 Hyperon
    At the same time, this anecdote also does not show that people indoctrinated with religion necessary have their intellect put to waste – although one might say that it was a shame that Newton declared that he would not investigate some problems because he left it to the “mysteries of god.”

  106. #106 Donna
    March 29, 2009

    Much as I’d like to believe that we’re all smarter than they are, I haven’t seen any statistics that reflect this. Maybe there’s a correlation with education – particularly science education, but this is probably related to the amount of exposure education provides to other theories, cultures, ideas and the scientific method. Still, there are countless counterexamples of brilliant, educated people who are theists.

    If it were possible, what I’d like to see is a truce between theists and atheists: We’ll stop saying they’re stupid if they’ll stop saying we’re immoral. Maybe then we can get down to debating the real issues unburdened by name calling and ad hominem attacks.

  107. #107 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    From the article:
    “The study findings have been published in the journal Intelligence.”
    Now, just what kind of journal is “Intelligence”?

  108. #108 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    From the article:
    “‘Why should fewer academics believe in God than the general population? I believe it is simply a matter of the IQ,’ Lynn told the Times Higher Education magazine.”
    Simply a matter of the IQ? Talk about logic fail.

    “Academics have higher IQs than the general population. Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQs tend not to believe in God.”
    Perhaps citing a Gallup poll is better than just basing it off of a survey of Royal Society members, but IQ still fails to have anything to do with anything. He also misses a lot of other factors, like wealth, for one.

    “Lynn says most children in elementary school believe in God, but as they grow into adolescence and their intelligence increases, many begin to have doubts”
    I don’t know what to make of this.

    “As the populations of 137 developed nations have become more intelligent in the past century, their religious beliefs have declined, he insists.”
    And for some reason, Lynn is sure that it is not because of greater well-being.

  109. #109 Gotchaye
    March 29, 2009

    I think the army uses IQ tests. Regardless, stuff like the SAT is very nearly an IQ test without the name – there’s a strong correlation in scores there. People doing experimental psychology tend to give brief vocabulary tests as a proxy for intelligence (these also correlate strongly with IQ scores).

    In addition to what some others have been saying, it’s also important to note that environment matters. It very probably is the case that intelligence (however one tries to quantify it) plays a positive causal role in atheism in society today, but I’d imagine that that’s largely because a certain level of intelligence has to be reached before people start being able to seriously question society’s consensus beliefs. Unintelligent people don’t give this kind of thing much thought. I wouldn’t be very surprised if intelligence positively correlated with religiosity in China, for example (though I don’t know to what extent China can really be considered an atheistic society).

  110. #110 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    #109 Gotchaye
    “I think the army uses IQ tests.”
    Well, the IQ test was developed during the world war I era.

  111. #111 j-dog
    March 29, 2009

    re: Heddle – I like your idea, but first, I think we need to check on NASCAR vs. Formula I…

  112. #112 abb3w
    March 29, 2009

    The real problem with Lynn’s claim is not that atheism is related to IQ, but that the relation is simple. See this old post from Gene Expression.

  113. #113 Jdhuey
    March 29, 2009

    My guess is that if a proper study were conducted we would find that the answer is more complicated that either the Lynn or the PZ surmise.

    My guess is that we have both the education-is-transformation
    factor and we also have a self-selection factor. Religious people that might have all the adequate tools to perform in the role of scientist may tend to just opt to do something else. My bit of anecdotal “evidence” is the case of a good high school friend of mine that dropped out of Cal Tech and dropped out of science because he came to the realization that science directly antithetical to his (albeit conservative) religious beliefs. Rather than risking being transformed by a science education he choose to become an English major (and later a law professor).

    I would love to see the results of a properly done study that might actually shed light on this social dynamic.

  114. #114 Rudi
    March 29, 2009

    Yes and no. While there are obviously many highly intelligent religious people and very many stupid atheists; intelligence can not be ruled out as a contributory factor to someone’s religiosity. All other things (education, culture etc) being equal, an unintelligent person is more likely to fall for religious drivel than an intelligent person exposed to exactly the same level of indoctrination. To suggest otherwise is to suggest no causal relationship between intellect and reason.

  115. #115 AVSN
    March 29, 2009

    Religious people aren’t necessarily stupid?and atheists aren’t necessarily smart is an interesting title given the treatment most religious people get here. I believe in science and faith. I am one of those “too smart for his own good” types too. Science tells me how the world works on an intimate level, faith tells me about thing science does not.

  116. #116 Sean
    March 29, 2009

    “The difference is not in intelligence. It’s on the foundation of their education.” Well said Dr. Myers! Thank you!

  117. #117 Scott from Oregon
    March 29, 2009

    Hmmmm…

    Having never “believed in God”, even as a four year old, I don’t really know the mechanisms involved.

    I’m going to suggest that an ability to overcome fear impulses might be a greater factor than “intelligence”, which can be so subjective as to be pretty meaningless.

    What is brainwashing, after all, but a manipulation of fear impulses?

  118. #118 GreedyAlgorithm
    March 29, 2009

    Okay seriously, what the hell was that, PZ. You just used creationist fundy woowoo tactics and it tasted bad. Let me count the ways.

    1) MANGLED ATTRIBUTION: According to the article, Richard Lynn claims a correlation between IQ and atheism while David Hartman claims it is hard to conduct experiments to detect causation. You say Lynn’s claiming a causal relationship. Maybe he does, elsewhere, but not according to the article.

    2) ANECDOTES TRUMP STATISTICS: If I claim odd numbers between 1 and 100 are on average lower than even numbers, you do not get to say “Just look at 99 and 2! Clearly you are wrong!”

    3) CAUSALITY STRAWMAN: “there was no sudden increase in their native intelligence when they abandoned faith”, no shit. If that’s the causal direction then it will take lots of time, not a sudden increase. If the direction is opposite, which frankly makes more sense, then IQ causes atheism, not the other way around. And maybe they’re just correlated due to e.g. intelligent atheist parenting.

    Yes, you don’t need great intelligence to be an atheist. But no, you can’t argue from “atheism and high IQ are positively correlated” to “almost all {atheist, theist} pairs should have that the atheist’s IQ is higher”.

  119. #119 Grendels Dad
    March 29, 2009

    Is it really a matter of educational foundation, or is it more about methodology. It seems to me that the religious generally employ a ?top down? approach that begins with their god then builds up a support structure. The more intelligent the believer, the more subtlety and poetry in their support structure.

    Atheists generally go with a ?bottom up? approach, beginning with evidence that they then organize to form conclusions. The more intelligent the atheist, the better the quality and organization of their evidence.

    This is an overly simplified view, of course. But the methodology seems too important not to be mentioned. Unless everyone is assuming that methodology is a part of the educational foundation that PZ mentioned. If so, then google up a quick Gilda Radner and ?never-mind?.

  120. #120 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    @#117 Scott from Oregon
    “I don’t really know the mechanisms involved.”
    Whatever it is, it is definitely complex, not simple, and it might be a little related to intelligence.

  121. #121 cm
    March 29, 2009

    I don’t know this in any scientifically-gotten way, but my guess is there are a number of factors that determine whether someone is an atheist or theist:

    - intelligence (measured in various ways)
    - knowledge and education, including reading the primary sources of one’s religion.
    - how ‘fearful’ one is about life and death
    - How much one tends to trust authorities
    - How cynical one is
    - How introspective/existential one is
    - Good or bad life experiences
    - Whether one has experienced highly unlikely events in one’s life.
    - Influence of one’s local group/family/friends
    - How contrarian/stubborn one is
    - The circuitry of one’s temporal lobe
    - How committed to a sense of “the truth” as opposed to “my truth” one is.
    - 23 other factors that I am not aware of.

    The point is, anyone who says “No, THIS is the REAL reason someone is an atheist” is probably throwing away most of the picture.

  122. #122 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    @#121 cm
    Perhaps some other factors you can include are wealth, and number of friends.

  123. #123 Peter Ashby
    March 29, 2009

    Well said PZ. I wonder if the high IQ = Atheists thing is comforting to the religious since it leaves the bulk of humanity to them if so.

  124. #124 Escuerd
    March 29, 2009

    Greedy Algorithm @ 118 said basically what I was going to about this post. The title is a true statement, but beside the point, since no one’s (as far as I see) claiming that every atheist is smarter than every theist. That’s just a strawman.

    I’ll add that one thing I do agree with PZ about here is that it has plenty of potential to be self-serving. I’ve seen atheists trot it out as though it’s evidence of their personal intellectual superiority to every theist, and that’s pretty ugly.

    That has nothing to do with whether or not it’s true, though.

    To those who are surprised that IQ is used for anything at all, maybe that’s because people don’t usually label the SAT, GRE and ASVAB as IQ tests. But that’s what they are.

  125. #125 Fred C
    March 29, 2009

    It may not be politically correct to say so, but I’m sure the average atheist is smarter than the average religious person. After all, it takes no brains to accept what you’re brainwashed to be, but it takes brains to reject it.

  126. #126 bobxxxx
    March 29, 2009

    Religious people aren’t necessarily stupid?

    Don McLeroy, chairman of the Texas Board of Education, believes in Mr. God. He also believes the entire universe, every single star, planet, asteroid, life form, etc., was magically created less than 10,000 years ago. Is McLeroy intelligent? I don’t think so. I would have to call him dumber than a dog. And there’s millions of Americans just like him. They’re all idiots. Way beyond extremely stupid. They’re so brain-dead they disgrace the human race.

  127. #127 uppity cracka
    March 29, 2009

    You know what’s funny and completely unrelated? Check this out:

    “Oh hell! I need to donate more to charity!”-sin, cursing.

    “You atheist heathens are going to be raped by demons for all eternity in hell!” -not a sin, just good ol’ fashion bible.

  128. #128 Richard Dawkins
    March 29, 2009

    Neither PZ’s anecdotal experience, nor mine, nor anybody else’s, are of any interest compared with real statistical data. Maybe Lynn’s data, or his statistical analyses, are flawed, but that is what we should be arguing about, NOT whether we happen to know a bright person who is also religious. Here’s the reference:
    R Lynn, J Harvey & H Nyborg (2009): Average intelligence predicts atheism rates across 137 nations. Intelligence 37, 11-15.
    If you read it, you may well find flaws in it. If you haven’t read it, you might perhaps hesitate to express a strong opinion of it until you have.
    Richard Dawkins

  129. #129 Tom Rees
    March 29, 2009

    OK I’m a bit late to this party, but if anyone is interested in Lynn’s paper, I read a preprint last October and plotted out the numbers of atheists vs IQ at a country level.

    http://bhascience.blogspot.com/2008/10/atheists-are-more-intelligent-but-does.html

  130. #130 Glen Davidson
    March 29, 2009

    I’d be more likely to believe a connection between high IQ and atheism in the general population than that academics don’t believe in god due to higher IQs. Both the social structure and the teaching would be conducive to secular attitudes in even a dullard who made it into academia.

    And I’m not impressed with the evidence for the general population, either. There are, of course, too many confounding variables.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  131. #131 E.V.
    March 29, 2009

    Let’s keep the record straight, so to speak, Alexander The Great was not gay in the modern concept of the idea of exclusive and polarized sexuality, especially in his culture of that era. If this is an example of a “one-drop rule” analogy (or one-act analogy) then it doesn’t correspond. Just because Alexander had male lovers doesn’t make him gay nor bi in the modern sense. Exclusive heterosexuality or homosexuality were rare in many ancient cultures but sexual relationships between men and women were not interchangeable with same sex relationships. Claiming Alexander as a gay icon is dubious, but he could be the patron saint of polyamory.

  132. #132 PeteC
    March 29, 2009

    Yep, this time it was a bad call and bad argumentation from PZ.
    I think lots of people are oversensitive to correlative observations like this which imply causation, immediately jumping to the conclusion that the person making the argument is saying “All Xs are better than all Ys”, when they are really saying “the ratio of Xs to Ys increases as you head toward the right end of the distribution”.

    I am not yet convinced that IQ correlates positively with atheism, but it would not surprise me.

  133. #134 Circe of the Godless
    March 29, 2009

    Intelligence has nothing to do with the ability to reason logically.

  134. #135 Tom Rees
    March 29, 2009

    And made some other criticisms, too, Mr Dawkins :) Basically that Lynn has cause and effect confused. People with low IQ have less control over their lives, and are are more exposed to environmental stressors. Both are major drivers of religiosity.

  135. #136 jackdaw
    March 29, 2009

    I’m kicking myself that I don’t recall the paper or the journal it was in. But there was an interesting study done on levels of reasoning ability and vocation. Individuals that had the lowest ability to reason experimentally were physics majors and those training to be priests. One relied solely on equations and refused to experiment and one just couldn’t experiment at all.

  136. #137 Circe of the Godless
    March 29, 2009

    Neither does education. Much of that requires the same brain-wash programme as religious indoctrination. It hardly helps you learn to reason effectively.

  137. #138 Escuerd
    March 29, 2009

    bobxxxx @ 126:

    I’ve known smart people who believe stupid things. But they do seem less likely to believe any given stupid thing.

  138. #139 Escuerd
    March 29, 2009

    Jackdaw @ 136:

    That is interesting, and surprising (the part about physics majors, at least). I would expect that all of those who go on to become experimental physicists would have brought them up a bit.

  139. #140 Dave
    March 29, 2009

    For many people, a high intelligence is a cause for being an atheist. This is probably true for enough people that it could account for at least a portion of the statistical data.

  140. #141 Reynold
    March 29, 2009

    What PZ said is perfectly true, but there is something that he left out…sanity.

    For an example of a religious guy who’s insane, just follow the links from this post at a skeptical forum.

  141. #142 nick nick bobick
    March 29, 2009

    I tend to think along the lines, “Not all highly intelligent people are atheists, but nearly all really stupid people are god-believers.”

    This may be self-evident.

  142. #143 Quiet_Desperation
    March 29, 2009

    One of the head scientists at my work is a Mormon. The guy is really sharp. He reads Harry Potter books to his kids while other religious types in this country wanted to burn them. I respect that in a bizarro world sort of way. He also knows dirty jokes I’ve never heard of, and I’m a dirty joke connoisseur.

    I wonder if the high IQ = Atheists thing is comforting to the religious since it leaves the bulk of humanity to them if so.

    Heh heh. Bring unto me the dim, and I shall bamboozle them in His glory!

  143. #144 dysphemism
    March 29, 2009

    @41, 63, and others wondering what the literature says on genetic influences on intelligence (as conceptualized and measured currently, which is a whole ‘nother issue entirely)*:

    The majority of studies (and many have been done since the ’70s and Burt, with about the same results) suggest that genetic factors account for about 50% of the variance in IQ scores. Some still say it’s 85%, but this is a misunderstanding of the statistics involved. The correlation between identical twins on measures of IQ is about .85, true. What that tells us statistically, however, is only how much the two measures vary in sync – which, as has been raised in this thread before, can also be strongly affected by third variables. The effects of those third variables are typically classified as “error variance” in linear regression, and treated as an unknown (systematic or not). To account for this unknown, and its effects on the variance of two correlated scores, interpreting this kind of correlation in terms of “explained variance” means relying on a different statistic than correlation (r), the coefficient of determination (r-squared: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coefficient_of_determination). It’s a sort of statistical shorthand for parcelling out error variance for interpretation. So when interpreting genetic effects on IQ, we can only say that about 50% of the variance in scores appears to be explained by heritable factors.

    Here’s a short book chapter that reviews this (and has a fantastic brief discussion of how intelligence is measured (and what is not measured) at the start: http://proquest.umi.com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/pqdweb?index=2&did=43988140&SrchMode=1&sid=3&Fmt=2&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1238356963&clientId=3552

    Interestingly, the effects of genetics on intelligence seem to vary over the lifespan. Here’s an article that discusses this: http://proquest.umi.com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/pqdweb?index=47&sid=3&srchmode=1&vinst=PROD&fmt=2&startpage=-1&vname=PQD&did=976830741&scaling=FULL&pmid=69701&vtype=PQD&fileinfoindex=%2Fshare3%2Fpqimage%2Fpqirs101%2F20090329155755440%2F27084%2Fout.pdf&rqt=309&TS=1238356676&clientId=3552

    *dis: I’m a clinical psychology grad student at a department with a very strong program in behavioral genetics. I’m getting articles through lit searches, so you may only be able to view the abstract if they’re behind a paywall.

  144. #145 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    “Neither does education. Much of that requires the same brain-wash programme as religious indoctrination. It hardly helps you learn to reason effectively.”
    Do you have any evidence to back that up?

  145. #146 Janus
    March 29, 2009

    Uh, that smart people are more likely to be atheists than stupid people is a statistical claim, you can’t refute it by saying that you know smart religionists and stupid atheists.

  146. #147 Jadehawk
    March 29, 2009

    well, I’m gonna have to agree that using anecdotes to counter data was bad form PZ, but as far as I can tell, the study was sloppy as can be. To pick a group whose formation and makeup relies SO heavily on social and cultural factors, and then attribute it all to genes is bad bad science. this is right up there with the “girls are genetically predisposed for humanities, boys are genetically predisposed for the sciences” bullcrap.

  147. #148 Susan
    March 29, 2009

    atheists aren’t necessarily smart

    I could have told you that, based solely on the comments in the “Lookin’ Lovely” thread.

  148. #149 blueshifter
    March 29, 2009

    butterbean @ 63:

    You can start here:

    http://wilderdom.com/personality/L4-1IntelligenceNatureVsNurture.html

    “A meta-analysis of 9 family studies was conducted by Daniels, Devlin and Roeder (1997): it included 212 correlations and produced very similar results to those quoted by Matt Ridley. These authors conclude that heritability can account for 48% of the variation in IQ.”

    “No single environmental factor seems to have a large influence on IQ. Variables widely believed to be important are usually weak….Even though many studies fail to find strong environmental effects….most of the factors studied do influence IQ in the direction predicted by the investigator….environmental effects are multifactorial and largely unrelated to each other.”
    - Bouchard & Segal (1985), p.452

    “Intelligence at age 5 predicts better than any other variable a child’s future educational progress and attainment” (Kline, 1991).

    Another one:
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0999/is_n7127_v316/ai_20303096

    “The similarity of IQ in twins reared apart certainly supports the view that genes have influence. Thomas Bouchard (chapter 5) reports five studies of identical wins who were reared apart and gives the weighted average correlation as 0.75, suggesting that a massive 75% of the variance in the twins’ IQ can be related to their shared genes. Adoption studies suggest a more modest, but still hugely important, variability of about 40% due to family inheritance. These figures are collated from many different studies, involving thousands of subjects. The evidence supporting genetic influence is so overwhelming that Earl Hunt likens the “nature versus nurture” debate to “a stomping match between Godzilla and Bambi.””

    I’m not trying to be flippant by saying ‘go google’, i just want to stress that this is a non-argument, the data has settled it. i don’t have time to explain to creationists every detail of modern biology, anymore than i have time to point you to every study of the heridatibility of intelligence. There’s no debate, no controversy.

  149. #150 StealthDonkey
    March 29, 2009

    I’m pretty sure Dawkins in the God Delusion talked about statistical studies trying to find relationships between intelligence and religiosity. I can’t remember the exact numbers, but something in the region of 38 out of 40 papers he could find on the subject found a negative correlation. This doesn’t mean too much because I would imagine the margins wouldn’t be too great and there is no real way to measure intelligence or religiosity, but it does provide a handy counter to the “the fool has said in his heart ‘there is no God’” argument, and the “scientist X believed in God, and he was really smart, so what makes you think you know better then him?” argument.

    But really, who cares? Does it really make a difference if atheists performed slightly better on average at certain intelligence tests? Also, in regards to Lynn’s other work, who cares if Asians performed slightly better on average at certain intelligence tests? Even if his methodology was perfect, which I doubt, would it really change anything?

  150. #151 Jadehawk
    March 29, 2009

    this reminds me… weren’t there some studies that said that people who prefer an ordered, clearcut, stable world tend to be conservatives? well, wouldn’t the exact same set predispose one for religion (as our crowd or trolls suggests, since they keep on insisting that they prefer even false certainty to skepticism), and against both science and even most variations of atheism (complete nihilism may be an exception).

  151. #152 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    @#151 Jadehawk
    Religion was not always thought to be “ordered, clearcut, stable.” Religion was radical many times before. Likewise, secular concepts can be just as stable as religion.

  152. #153 Tony Morris
    March 29, 2009

    Argument from personal credulity.

  153. #154 AJ Milne
    March 29, 2009

    From what I think I know of the nature of belief, I’d actually be a bit surprised if there was a particularly strong correlation between intelligence and atheism.

    My sense of it is: religious apologia aren’t even supposed to be that coherent, nor that convincing logically. That’s not why they’re effective: that’s more in the delivery, the socialization around it, the fact that certain assumptions permeate the culture, now, the fact that they try to start when you’re young, take advantage of weak moments, present it in that hushed, reverential context, apply group pressure, so on…

    So it’s not so much about your actual facility with reasoning, whether you see through them. I’d suspect pretty much anyone’s got the neurons for that. Being able to spot the issues with, say, Pascal’s wager or arguments from consequences in general might differentiate between someone with a functioning forebrain and, say, a sea sponge, but that’s about it.

    My expectation would be that it’s more about whether you bother to look. And that’s got a lot more to do, I’d suspect, again, with those other factors: the social pressure you feel not to–or just the nerve you can muster.

    Granted, I guess it’d be possible there’d be some link there, okay (as in: if you’ve got it going on mentally and you know it, you might be more likely to have the cheek to call ‘em on their BS). But that’s as much as I’d expect. Using the actual ability to see through relgious ‘arguments’, if you can even dignify them with that term, would be a pretty coarse instrument, I’d expect. A bit like checking you for nearsightedness with a standard optician’s chart held thirty centimetres away.

    (Which, by the way, is generally how I am tempted to answer when apologists whine about the ‘arrogance’ of atheists: No, it’s not that think I’m so brilliant. It’s more that I’m pretty sure you’re not even trying.)

  154. #155 Graham
    March 29, 2009

    their talents are being shunted into the futile wasteland of religiosity
    Oh jeez, how can you top that?

  155. #156 Kel
    March 29, 2009

    “smart people are great at rationalising things they came to believe for non-smart reasons” – Michael Shermer

  156. #157 Stwriley
    March 29, 2009

    Blake @ #94

    IQ tests (almost exclusively the Stanford-Binet 5 in the U.S.) are still used in limited form in K-12 education. It’s a rough diagnostic for a whole range of suspected learning disabilities that, while not exactly measuring the complex range of mental abilities we lump together as “intelligence”, does have use in this limited context. Teachers and educational psychologists are quite wary of using it in other contexts. Most realize (and are currently taught) that it’s value as an empirical measure is quite low, but tend to use it as a relative measure to indicate the need for further testing by other means that will shed light on a particular student’s learning disabilities so that they may be addressed properly.

  157. #158 The Barefoot Bum
    March 29, 2009

    It is indeed the case: sometimes an atheist is a person with one fewer stupid idea than a theist.

  158. #159 ChrisKG
    March 29, 2009

    Squid Alert!!!

    Sorry if this is out of place, but it is worth posting.

    http://cbs5.com/local/giant.Humboldt.Squid.2.952681.html

    C.

  159. #160 ChrisKG
    March 29, 2009

    Squid Alert! Pt. 2

    From the above article…

    “Once rarely seen off California, they are now strong arming their way toward [world] dominance.”

    C.

  160. #161 MS
    March 29, 2009

    With all the talk about IQ, it doesn’t appear that anyone has mentioned Stephen J. Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man (although I might have missed it). I read it 20 some years ago and was impressed, but it’s way out of my areas of expertise, so I don’t really have a terrifically informed opinion about it. Nor do I know how it’s regarded.

    Anyone more current on it than I am?

  161. #162 MrFire
    March 29, 2009

    As a former believer, I WOULD submit that one’s mind is substantially de-cluttered after giving up on the supernatural. Since then I haven’t become any more intelligent, but my thinking has become a hell of a lot clearer. Keeping the doublethink alive required some serious mental effort.

  162. #163 Robert
    March 29, 2009

    As a few of the comments have mentioned, this is a correlation, not causation. Here’s a possible hypothesis for the cause…

    Atheists can be divided into two groups: those who were never really indoctrinated into a religious faith, and those who were.

    If you were indoctrinated, it was probably a questioning attitude that lead you to break free. This, over time, will result in atheists having more people with a questioning attitude – per capita – than religious groups.

    A questioning attitude is curiosity. Curiosity _is_ casually linked to a higher intelligence. Thus, as a second order effect, atheism will be linked to a higher intelligence level.

    Further studies can be performed by evaluating the intelligence of the two atheist groups.

  163. #164 afreudtolove
    March 29, 2009

    Good post! Too often my fellow atheists and skeptics are quick to label anyone with a semblance of religious belief as stupid or crazy; albeit some rightfully deserve the label. The latter is most annoying to me and represents a pejorative misuse of psychiatric diagnosis.

  164. #165 rr
    March 29, 2009

    quote: “I’ve often tried to imagine how far mankind would have progressed scientifically had the Jesus myth never took off.(without a Jesus, Mo would have never seen the light of day either, IMO). How many lives and man hours of research have been lost from the Dark Ages to the present?”

    This doesn’t make any sense. First, the idea that the Middle Ages was a “Dark Age” is no longer accepted by mainstream historians today. Try and use that term with a medieval historians, including non-religious ones, and you’ll likely get an earful about how ignorant you are of medieval history.

    Second, European nations today have large numbers of atheists, agnostics and otherwise non-religious people. Yet most Europeans, even most intelligent Europeans do not want to become research scientists. Many intelligent, Europeans, whether religious or non-religious go into the arts, humanities, business, government, etc. These people neither have the inclination nor the interest for science.

    The fact of the matter is that most people, whether religious or non-religious simply aren’t interested in becoming scientists. Oh sure, they want the benefits of science and technology, but science just doesn’t interest them enough to become scientists. Intelligence and atheism don’t always correspond. But neither does intelligence and an interest in science. The idea that you have put forth seems to strongly suggest this. I for one find it laughably untrue, although it seems to be a common naive assumption of academics in general and scientists specifically. If all people in the world became atheists tomorrow, there would be no spike in subscriptions to academic science journals or enrollments in science degrees. The vast majority of the population would be as they are today, namely at best mildly interested in science and at worst not giving a damn about it.

    rr

  165. #166 Lotharloo
    March 29, 2009

    Right on PZ. Apparently, many atheists here are in need of illumination:

    Claim A: Evidence and the capacity to understand it leads to atheism.
    1) Having a bright mind leads easier to (A).
    2) Having a bright mind makes it easier to get a PhD degree in natural sciences.
    3) Having a PhD degree in natural sciences really helps a lot with (A).

    So, if you want to study causal relationship between atheism and intelligence, go find a primitive tribe, measure the intelligence of its people and plot it against the strength of their beliefs on magical stuff. Any bets on how that will turn up?

  166. #167 hyoid
    March 29, 2009

    Man! You’ve got to be clear about what you’re sayin’ the Amen to on this forum.

    “Let’s stop handicapping our kids.” – P.Z. Myers

  167. #168 AJ
    March 29, 2009

    How many of the commenters here have actually read the study in question? It would probably be beneficial for us science-embracing folk to, you know, read the science before we start debating it.

  168. #169 Anonymous Coward
    March 29, 2009

    I have take issue with the notion that someone who builds baroque cathedrals of rationalizations upon quicksand is intelligent. He manifestly is not. Whether this lack of intelligence is inate or by the lack of use or the misuse of inate ability is secondary, although I hope it’s the second because then we stand a better chance at fixing them.
    Also, about the fundie programmer… I’m into programming myself and I’ll let you in on a secret. Most programming isn’t hard. Especially not so-called convoluted API calls. You may find yourself intimidated by their aparent convolution, but if you know what you want, you can almost mechanically construct the call you need. You can be quite dim and still make a decent programmer. Although of course I’ve also heard stories about those who were too dim… Nonetheless, I think that unless you want to go into hard-core computer science or something, average intelligence is more than good enough to become a programmer. Of course, as with all things in life, intelligence does help a bit.

  169. #170 natural cynic
    March 29, 2009

    Speaking of stupid and religion…

    Two eeeeeeeww articles in today’s thedailybeast:

    Newt Gingrich is now a Catholic. The article goes on about conservative Catholics and how Newt first made up with Dobson and now is a Catholic to please his third wife. And, of course, he is absolved of all the shit in his life.

    Anmd for a bigger shock, Howard Ahmanson is now a Democrat. It seems he was fed up with California Republicans and their No New Taxes No Way No How!!!! attitude that is screwing the state so much. He appears to have mellowed slightly from his Reconstructionist ways. Gee, thanks.

  170. #171 Enkidu
    March 29, 2009

    How about this:

    “People who dedicate their professional lives to thinking and comparing their conclusions to the observable universe are more likely to be atheists than those who don’t think so much or who don’t compare their conclusions to the observable universe.”

  171. #172 uppity cracka
    March 29, 2009

    Mr Fire-162

    Agreed. Same situation. My mind, which was once used for building elaborate, delicately constructed fantasies, is now much more efficient and focused. Of course, I’m also much more mature now. But I’ve heard that very thing repeated often enough by others as well. Stupid people tend to be religious, sure. Being smart AND religious? That takes WORK…exhausting, pointless work.

  172. #173 qball
    March 29, 2009

    I?m not convinced that people at opposite ends of the IQ bell curve are equally likely to succumb to blindingly fallacious creationist arguments. Intelligence is certainly a factor in religiosity, but it is certainly not the only one.

    Intelligent, rational people may cling to religion for many reasons; to assuage fear of death, to gain respect and standing within their communities, and to retain parental pride and approval, to list just a few.

    Pushing reason and education may not have much of an effect. Those with little capacity for reason are somewhat immune to attempts at reaching them with logic and evidence, and rational religious sorts may have important, non-logical ?reasons? for their choices.

    Measures like IQ and EQ, or even Myers-Briggs typing, could be useful in identifying specific factors that contribute to religiosity. Since there are many factors involved, any one parameter is likely to have little predictive value. That said, an improved understanding of factors that influence religious persuasion, could be valuable when it comes to reaching the rational religious and swaying the unintelligent ruck.

  173. #174 uppity cracka
    March 29, 2009

    On the other hand, isn’t it good to know that there are so many intelligent religious people? It means they have the capacity to learn. Ah, learning, the path to enlightenment! I think people are just lazy. It’s easy to halfway look into it and come out believing what you’ve always been taught. It’s easier that way. You don’t have to change anything. Change sucks!! How hopeless would it be if EVERYONE was as dumb as Kwok?

  174. #175 clinteas
    March 29, 2009

    Way to miss the point here,statisticians.

    First,the design of that survey was ridiculous,as others have already pointed out.

    Then they apparently totally missed PZ’s clincher:

    The difference is not in intelligence. It’s on the foundation of their education. Intelligent people who are indoctrinated into a faith can build marvelously intricate palaces of rationalization atop the shoddy vapor of their beliefs about gods and the supernatural; what scientists and atheists must do is build their logic on top of a more solid basis of empirical evidence and relentless self-examination.

    Get it,statisticians? Whether the norture vs nature debate has been settled or not,if you have to compartmentalize your beliefs and childhood religious indoctrination from your education and rational thought,you may be as intelligent as Einstein,but you will only be able to use whatever brain capacity and rationality is left when all the compartmentalizing is done.

  175. #176 thewill
    March 29, 2009

    You don’t have to speculate there’s been a study. What was found is that there isn’t much difference but religious people are very slightly dumber. They’re most slightly dumber under the category of believing that not only is there a supernatural realm but that they interact with it.

    Think you can find a link to the study on Wikipedia’s entry on religousity and IQ.

  176. #177 El Guerrero del Interfaz
    March 29, 2009

    GIGO anybody?

    You’re right PZ. And I’m really surprised of the reaction of some readers. And that nobody mentionned the “Garbage In, Garbage Out” before me. Am I the only computer geek here?

    Anyway, this IQ thing is crap mostly. Worse, it can hurt people. Believe me, I’ve seen it.

  177. #178 DCKate
    March 29, 2009

    I agree with your basic premise, however, I do question the validity of the claim that “The difference is not in intelligence. It’s on the foundation of their education.”

    I am the oldest of four children. My parents are staunchly Roman Catholic and raised us in the Church. We are relatively close in age (4 kids over 8 years). We all attended parochial school through junior high, and then attended the local public high school. Three of us went to the same university (myself included). Three of us have or are working on advanced degrees.

    However, at this time, I am the only one who has outright rejected the religion of our childhood. We were raised virtually identically to each other, with the same faith background. We are all of above average intelligence, and had very similar educations. Our “foundations of education” are for all intents, completely similar. How does it stand to reason that I am the only one, as an adult, who has “seen the light” so to speak? Am I the exception?

  178. #179 AdamK
    March 29, 2009

    I, an atheist, am often unneccesarity stupid. Does that help?

  179. #180 Escuerd
    March 29, 2009

    Clinteas @ 175:

    Way to miss the point here,statisticians.

    First,the design of that survey was ridiculous,as others have already pointed out.

    Was that the point PZ brought up? It may have been ridiculous. I haven’t read the study, but my problem was with the way people readily accept anecdotal experience as sufficient to refute statistical claims.

    Get it,statisticians? Whether the norture vs nature debate has been settled or not,if you have to compartmentalize your beliefs and childhood religious indoctrination from your education and rational thought,you may be as intelligent as Einstein,but you will only be able to use whatever brain capacity and rationality is left when all the compartmentalizing is done.

    Yes, I get that. It’s pretty obvious, I think, in light of some people I’ve met. But “may be” is not the same as “are equally likely to be”. You still seem to want to interpret the claim as “religious people are necessarily dumber than atheists.” I don’t think many people here would claim that, and I definitely don’t think that’s what Lynn was claiming.

  180. #181 Stephen R. Diamond
    March 29, 2009

    The question Lynn answered wasn’t does intelligence statistically explain atheism? but does intelligence explain academics’atheism? It’s a question of explaining a difference between group means. The same arguments against intelligence causing atheism might have been made against an academic post causing atheism: “I’ve known academics who were the devoutest Catholics…”

  181. #182 Aquaria
    March 29, 2009

    There are a lot of factors unaccounted for here, DCKate.

    1) You’re the oldest child. You came to your beliefs at X stage of your life. Where are your siblings on that scale?

    2) Similar is not the same. Did you take all of the same classes, with all of the same teachers? Did your siblings have new teachers that you didn’t? Did all of you have unusual experiences in school–a teacher who showed a great deal of caring and interest in your personal development on a mentor level, or conversely, just didn’t like you (this is a horror show, if you’ve ever experienced it).

    3) Plain old personality differences.

  182. #183 AnthonyK
    March 29, 2009

    Surely I can’t be the only person here to think that “intelligence” is a somewhat over-rated quality?

  183. #184 Escuerd
    March 29, 2009

    DCKate @178:

    Our “foundations of education” are for all intents, completely similar. How does it stand to reason that I am the only one, as an adult, who has “seen the light” so to speak? Am I the exception?

    I’d say that neither education nor intelligence is sufficient to make someone an atheist, but that both make it significantly more likely. I doubt many people would suggest they’re the only factors out there, or that there is some single factor.

  184. #185 cm
    March 29, 2009

    DCKate: Exactly. We all know examples of people with very similar educational/rearing backgrounds with very different religiousness, ranging from zealot to staunch atheist. I would argue that your being different from your siblings is due to some quirks of character that are related to the type of list I tried to mock up in post #121.

    This is the same type of general explanation for why same-sex siblings with the same schooling vary in interests (is it sports? art? science? music? etc.). Individual differences. Not all of that difference will be intelligence, it seems.

  185. #186 JMk2
    March 29, 2009

    The difference is not in intelligence. It’s on the foundation of their education. Intelligent people who are indoctrinated into a faith can build marvelously intricate palaces of rationalization atop the shoddy vapor of their beliefs about gods and the supernatural.

    Indeed. Some years ago I came across a student, raised in a very religious family, who was regaling all the atheists he could find with a “Christian pupil makes a fool out of an atheist professor” story, in which the pupil “proves” that atheism is as much a faith as Christianity by asking the professor if he has ever seen his own brain. The professor admits he has not, and the pupil says “There, you say you have a brain but have no evidence for this, therefore you have as much faith as I have, just in the false god of science, but I believe in the true God and you do not, so you will go to Hell.”

    We’ve talked here before about the compartmentalization of reason and faith by creationists. I remember being staggered that an apparently intelligent person could think that such a broken argument had any validity.

  186. #187 Neal MacDonald
    March 29, 2009

    very very well said, i can say no more than that I am pleased that you have the ear many and so may make an impression on many as well.

  187. #188 onkel bob
    March 29, 2009

    An interesting comparison would be to go to other domains besides academia where you can also find concentrations of very smart people. For example, go to some of the main defense laboratories–say inside the fence at Los Alamos. Or industrial research laboratories. It would be fascinating to compare their responses to those in academia.

    Having worked with said people in both military and private sector, it’s my anecdotal experience that the people are not smart per se, but idiot savants. I don’t know how many times a programmer or security “expert” just absolutely overlooked something so obvious that a 4 year old child would have noted.
    The problem as I perceive it is we assign a single unique talent, the ability to work with numbers or visualize structures, and call it as genius or intelligence. We then extrapolate that skill to all other facets of the person’s life. It simply is not true. Few possess a well rounded background, most are specialists, and generalists are often held in contempt because they aren’t as “smart” as the expert. The same probably holds true in religious studies, the more concentrated and focused, the less the person observes the context.
    If there’s one thing that separates the “dim” from the “bright” is the willingness to consider that maybe we’re wrong. Many of the rabid religious refuse to entertain that notion because it’s an affront to their faith. Just as many of the idiot savants I worked with refused to accept it too, seeing it as an assault on their talent.

  188. #189 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    @#183 AnthonyK
    “Surely I can’t be the only person here to think that ‘intelligenc’ is a somewhat over-rated quality?”
    You are not the only one. I, for one, think that luck is an under-rated quality for what happens to people.

  189. #190 www.10ch.org
    March 29, 2009

    @#188 onkel bob
    Indeed, intelligence is multi-dimensional. If we want any correlation between intelligence and something else, we must take into account that intelligence is not just a single number.

  190. Speaking of religion did anyone watch the debate on Nightline as to whether Satan existed?
    It had Pastor Mark Driscoll of the Mars Hill Church and Annie Lobert(The good Christians), Deepak Chopra and Bishop Carlton Pearson (superstitious believers in New Agey woo).
    Who do you think won? I facepalmed every time I heard Chopra misuse words “entropy” and “evolution”.

  191. #192 The poster formerly known as Facilis
    March 29, 2009

    That debate was not very good. I’ll watch the debate with that guy from “growing pains” next. I hope its better.

  192. #193 heliobates
    March 29, 2009

    Who do you think won? I facepalmed every time I heard Chopra misuse words “entropy” and “evolution”.

    I do the same thing when you use the words “proof” and “logic”.

    And Expelled caused you to doubt evolution—that was a true headdesk moment.

  193. #194 Allytude
    March 29, 2009

    I think it is not about intelligence, rather using intelligence. Using rationality.If most intelligent religious people thought hard enough, they would find reason enough to find their beliefs idiotic. I was at a dinner with some young highly religious people yesterday. They were funny, good to hang out with and all that, but suddenly god talk entered the conversation and they began to repeat stuff they had heard. It is like they shut off their analytical bright minds at that. And if they had bothered to think back into their goddit ideas, they would have found the reasonable doubt one requires. I personally think religion also discourages questioning and doubt- and that is what makes them intelligent, but silly.

  194. #195 Tom
    March 29, 2009

    I don’t think it has to with intelligence. Smart religious people just isolate their religious beliefs from everything else. It actually isn’t that hard to do. I have heard this refrain… god doesn’t want to be proven to exist because that would eliminate the need for faith.

  195. #196 Michael J
    March 29, 2009

    This reminds me about a conversation my wife and I had lately. She had just seen a show on Atheism and we were discussing the rise of the Atheism. The show had the theory that the growth in more fundamental beliefs caused the atheists to start standing up for themselves.
    I think that there is another reason. I think that a lot of people have doubts about religion but most just bury it and get on with their life. People who go to colleges, have opportunities to meet people who think like they do. So this gives you the correlation.
    However, now with the internet, people who have doubts have a chance to find out that there are others with doubts. I think from here you will find that the correlation will disappear. The same reason that the younger generation has rejected the Republicans.

  196. #197 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    March 29, 2009

    I facepalmed every time I heard Chopra misuse words “entropy” and “evolution”.

    Coming from you Facilis, that is surprising, considering you have shown no real idea of those concepts to date. Don’t try to con us Facilis, we are way smarter than you.

  197. #198 Tassie Devil
    March 29, 2009

    I’m curious as to the statement that atheism is on the rise because intelligence is rising among the general population.

    I’d say that atheism began to rise when 1) it became unacceptable to kill people for not believeing in god and 2) the idea that minorities have a valid point of view became more widespread. Enshrining both of those in law gave it the final fillip.

  198. #199 Darwin's Teapot
    March 29, 2009

    Excellent summarization of what is truly important and framing things in perspective rather than jumping on the bandwagon simply because it says something “positive” about us (atheists).

  199. #200 Jadehawk
    March 29, 2009

    This doesn’t make any sense. First, the idea that the Middle Ages was a “Dark Age” is no longer accepted by mainstream historians today. Try and use that term with a medieval historians, including non-religious ones, and you’ll likely get an earful about how ignorant you are of medieval history.

    a bit OT, but to my knowledge the term “Dark Ages” was used primarily for the period between the fall of the western Roman Empire and the rise of the Holy Roman Empire (or sometimes from the fall of the Roman Empire until the time of Charlemagne), i.e. the period between Ancient Period and the Middle Ages. was it ever officially used to describe the Middle Ages?

  200. #201 Holbach
    March 29, 2009

    I think it takes simple common sense and basic intelligence not to believe in something that does not exist. There are many people smarter than me in many areas of expertise, as well that I am smarter than them in those subjects which they may find lacking. But if a person who is demonstrably smarter than me and believes in a god, then as an atheist I am more intelligent than they are.

  201. #202 heddle
    March 29, 2009

    Holbach

    But if a person who is demonstrably smarter than me and believes in a god, then as an atheist I am more intelligent than they are.

    Well that certainly makes sense.

  202. #203 Ichthyic
    March 29, 2009

    Well that certainly makes sense

    depends.

    don’t you even wonder, for just a moment, if he is using “smart” and “intelligent” in different capacities?

    of course you don’t. Someone with the capability to reason might have wondered if he could mean “educated” when he said: “There are many people smarter than me in many areas of expertise”

    but not you, right?

    useless, as usual, Heddle.

  203. #204 Holbach
    March 29, 2009

    heddle @ 202

    More sense than your belief in your imaginary god. Have you found it yet, or is it still infesting your ossified brain? You are powerless in puking out insanities to my blatant remarks of sound reason. You cannot even offer a sharp reply to anyone who rebukes you for the state of your mind, but just a paltry defense of your religious imbecile mind. Still no god in my head, you moron. Let’s see yours.

  204. #205 Darwin's Teapot
    March 29, 2009

    @ #202

    You may be conflating issues and it speaks to PZ’s original posting purpose. This is not a matter intelligence per say. It is a matter of delusion. Simply because I don’t believe in a Magic Sky Fairy does not speak to my intelligence. It speaks to my ability to accept reality, which is not a measure of intelligence anymore than my ability to “accept” the theory of gravity.

  205. #206 RamblinDude
    March 29, 2009

    This is kind of off-topic (well, maybe, hmmmmm…) but I thought this video was pretty funny on Digg. Unfortunately, the message at the end didn’t surprise me at all.

  206. #207 Darwin's Teapot
    March 29, 2009

    Crap, my previous comment was directed at #201.

  207. #208 Fl bluefish
    March 29, 2009

    here are children out there right now who have the potential for genius, but their talents are being shunted into the futile wasteland of religiosity. ….

    This hits close to home for Me…
    My sister teaches at a fundie school in Texas…Her kids are so bright eyed and curious …
    but their being taught all kinds of nutty crap…6000 year old Earth/Universe…
    And now there’s a new twist…Their being taught that the Universe was created already looking ancient…God can do anything…
    This explains why we can see stars that are more than 6000 light years away….
    They even have a term for it,but I can’t think of it offhand …
    Sometimes I think it borders on child abuse….

  208. #209 Holbach
    March 29, 2009

    Darwin’s Teapot @ 205

    No, I believe it is a matter of intelligence to be able to reason and accept that imaginary things should not be affored any credence in any manner. Reality is not wholly accepted in many areas, as in scientists who also believe in a god, such as Francis Collins and Francisco Ayala. They accept and practice science, yet believe in a thing that their very science disproves. Are they delusional?

  209. #210 Escuerd
    March 29, 2009

    Fl bluefish @ 208:

    And now there’s a new twist…Their being taught that the Universe was created already looking ancient…God can do anything…
    This explains why we can see stars that are more than 6000 light years away….
    They even have a term for it,but I can’t think of it offhand …

    The Omphalos hypothesis?

  210. #211 Fl bluefish
    March 30, 2009

    The Omphalos hypothesis?

    That sounds right.. looks like it’s been around for awhile …

  211. #212 nothing's sacred
    March 30, 2009

    This odd post is evidence for its thesis … or at least for the thesis that atheists aren’t always smart, and sometimes make very poor arguments. None of PZ’s observations addresses the question of whether a higher IQ makes atheism more likely. Also, he makes a distinction between intelligence and education that rests on the sort of assumption that he normally rejects. By any sensible definition of pragmatic intelligence, it must be affected by education — especially education in critical thinking. And even if we (foolishly) define “intelligence” by IQ score, I believe there’s plenty of evidence that it can be affected by education.

    Intelligent people who are indoctrinated into a faith can build marvelously intricate palaces of rationalization atop the shoddy vapor of their beliefs about gods and the supernatural

    But what’s wrong with that, if it’s not unintelligent to do so? I would argue that “intelligence” must have something to do with an ability to effectively solve real problems. The construction of abstract intellectual structures built upon faulty assumptions may be clever, but it isn’t intelligent. Consider someone who gets a question wrong on an IQ test but creates an elaborate rationalization for why it wasn’t wrong. Not only won’t that improve their score, but it won’t help them to understand where they went wrong and how to do better in the future.

    what scientists and atheists must do is build their logic on top of a more solid basis of empirical evidence and relentless self-examination.

    Why must they do that … unless it’s intelligent to do so and unintelligent not to?

    The difference isn’t their ability to reason, it is what they are reasoning about.

    And how, exactly, do we conclude that it’s better to reason about one thing than another, if not through reason?

    there are children out there right now who have the potential for genius, but their talents are being shunted into the futile wasteland of religiosity

    There’s a difference between intellectual talent and intelligence; the capacity to do something is not the same as doing it.

    Yes, there are a lot of atheists in the topmost ranks of successful scientists, but it’s not because they are intrinsically smarter than someone who believes in gods

    Is the argument about intelligence, or about intrinsic intelligence? Again, PZ seems to be making an assumption about the immutability of intelligence that he normally rejects.

    it’s because they more easily embrace the mode of thinking that is most productive and successful in scientific fields, and are less burdened with absurd presuppositions.

    And how are either of those not a matter of intelligence, either pragmatic or in regard to doing well on IQ tests?

  212. #213 Stanton
    March 30, 2009

    I think it takes simple common sense and basic intelligence not to believe in something that does not exist. There are many people smarter than me in many areas of expertise, as well that I am smarter than them in those subjects which they may find lacking. But if a person who is demonstrably smarter than me and believes in a god, then as an atheist I am more intelligent than they are.

    You don’t seem to realize that not all religious people allow their religiosity to cripple their ability to use critical thinking skills, common sense or otherwise react appropriately to reality.

  213. #214 Fl bluefish
    March 30, 2009

    Here’s some of the HorseShit ….

    “If God created man and animals in a state other than that of an embryo, and plants and trees instead of seeds and bulbs, why could he not have also created earth with canyons, continental divides, soil layers, etc? so that it also was created at an age older than a single day?
    So it is my opinion that the earth may indeed be millions or even billions of years old, but has only been in existence for about 7000 years, just as Adam was 14 years old or more, but had only been in existence for a single day.”

    http://www.baptistcommentary.com/2007/earth-could-be-millions-of-years-old.htm

    Wow…just wow.

  214. #215 Ichthyic
    March 30, 2009

    dear Banned for Recycled Bullshit…

    why are you posting here?

    would you break into someone’s house to shit on their carpet?

    well?

  215. #216 Wowbagger, OM
    March 30, 2009

    Sing it with me, folks!

    Bar bar bar
    bar bar is banned
    bar bar bar
    bar bar is banned
    Oh barb is ba-anned
    Oh she’s so ba-anned…

  216. #217 Stanton
    March 30, 2009

    dear Banned for Recycled Bullshit…

    why are you posting here?

    would you break into someone’s house to shit on their carpet?

    well?

    If she thought it would please God, probably.

  217. #218 Ichthyic
    March 30, 2009

    Oh she’s so ba-anned…

    She’s got me retching uncontrollably

    bar is banned

    bar bar

    bar bar is banned

  218. #219 nothing's sacred
    March 30, 2009

    You still seem to want to interpret the claim as “religious people are necessarily dumber than atheists.” I don’t think many people here would claim that, and I definitely don’t think that’s what Lynn was claiming.

    It would be starkly stupid to think so, when he is quoted as using the word “tend”, and the headline of the cited article is “People who have high IQs are less likely to believe in God than people of average and below average intelligence, according to Richard Lynn …”. For PZ to then address what is necessarily so was dumb; it suggests that he has no grasp of fundamental concepts of necessity and probability, but that’s hard to believe. More likely he was just being reactive (as he has a tendency to do) toward Lynn and his history of shoddy work.

  219. #220 General Social Survey
    March 30, 2009

    What’s with everyone ignoring Dawkins at #128?

  220. #221 Ichthyic
    March 30, 2009

    What’s with everyone ignoring Dawkins at #128?

    I read it. others shared the same idea as that expressed in the post.

    should Richard get special treatment because he’s Richard?

    don’t think he would care for that much, myself.

  221. #222 James
    March 30, 2009

    There was a program on ABC (Australia) last night called ‘The Atheists’ which examined atheism. John Gray, Inga C (I can’t spell it off the top of my head), Michael Shermer and a few others.
    Not sure where to send the link, so here it is :P
    http://www.abc.net.au/compass/s2517600.htm

  222. #223 Drosera
    March 30, 2009

    Not much intelligence is needed to see that religion is nonsense. The courage to question what you are told or to deny what is comforting to believe is probably a more important factor in deciding to be an atheist. It is another matter that more intelligent people may, on average, possess more of this courage.

  223. #224 nothing's sacred
    March 30, 2009

    others shared the same idea as that expressed in the post.

    No one else gave a reference to Lynn’s work or suggested that it should be read before voicing a strong opinion about it — a rather important point on a blog where people make a pretense of being rational and scientific.

    should Richard get special treatment because he’s Richard?

    Richard Dawkins being ignored here is rather special treatment.

  224. #225 nothing's sacred
    March 30, 2009

    It is another matter that more intelligent people may, on average, possess more of this courage.

    It’s not another matter at all; it goes directly to the question of whether intelligence is a causal factor in being an atheist.

    Ironically, many of the comments here support PZ’s observation that atheists aren’t necessarily smart. But his observation is irrelevant, and stupidly so, because the issue is about a relative statistical difference — even if it were the case that atheists are generally dimwitted, it could be that theists are generally even dimmer.

  225. #226 Drosera
    March 30, 2009

    nothing’s sacred, I was just trying to explain that it is not intelligence in itself that is required to become an atheist, at least not an above average amount of it. So what we are seeing in this study, even if I accept it at face value, may be at best a correlation, not a causal relation.

  226. #227 Drosera
    March 30, 2009

    For the reason I just explained I also object to the term ‘brights’ for atheists. You don’t have to be particularly bright to be one.

    The Brights: Revenge of the Nerds part II.

  227. #228 windy
    March 30, 2009

    I was just trying to explain that it is not intelligence in itself that is required to become an atheist, at least not an above average amount of it. So what we are seeing in this study, even if I accept it at face value, may be at best a correlation, not a causal relation.

    Those are not exclusive. A correlation does not have to be perfect to be causal (for example, smoking and lung cancer). Dawkins has a good explanation of this in The Extended Phenotype, in a slightly different context.

  228. #229 heddle
    March 30, 2009

    Personally I tend to agree that the correlation points to a truth–that really smart people are more likely to be atheists. Not that it’s hard to find exceptions, as demonstrated by some of the comments on this post.

  229. #230 Kel
    March 30, 2009

    My favourite comment on this matter was said by a theist on youtube: “Knowledge is good or whatever… but when you look at the facts people who are extremely smart have a hard time believing in god but people who are real simple… don’t have a problem believing in god, they don’t have that big ol’ brain to get in the way.” – Ezekiel316

  230. #231 Holbach
    March 30, 2009

    The first part of your comment is definitely true, but the second part infers rejection of those who will not buy your insane crap. As for me, I think that atheists, by their rejection of irrational ideas, are more intelligent than highly educated people who embrace such nonsense. Education is more allied with intelligence when the mind is able to reject what it perceives to be false. I may be well versed in Astronomy to my credit, but if I think that an imaginary god is responsible for the Universe, then my knowledge of that subject is compromised by interjecting a totally needless and unproven idea. There are no gods in my head to cloud my judgment of accepting basic truths. You have gods in your head, and so you will forever be mentally clouded.

  231. #232 Holbach
    March 30, 2009

    My comment at 234 is meant for “heddle”, as if this was hard to determine.

  232. #233 Matt Heath
    March 30, 2009

    Wait. Drs. Myers and Dawkins disagree? Is there going to have to be schism in the Church of teh Godless Evilutionists?

  233. #234 TX CHL Instructor
    March 30, 2009

    “This is one of the reasons we godless need to be militant in expressing our ideas”

    There are more effective ways, PZ. O’Hair was “militant”, and that made it fairly easy for the True Believers to completely dismiss her.

    http://www.chl-tx.com

  234. #235 PZ Myers
    March 30, 2009

    One problem here is that everyone seems to be thinking I’m making a different argument than I am. I am not denying the statistics: people who score well in IQ tests, and people who end up in work that values intelligence (like science) tend to avoid the trap of religion. What I’m disagreeing with is the causal interpretation that intelligence→atheism. The exceptions — that highly intelligent people can be religious — don’t deny the statistics, what they do is reveal mechanisms. And I think that what those exceptions show is the importance of indoctrinated premises in stunting the ability of people to fully explore the potential of rational thought.

  235. #236 Drosera
    March 30, 2009

    Windy, what I was trying to say, using your analogy, is that while buying cigarettes is certainly correlated with lung cancer, it is not the cause of it. Intelligence (defined as problem solving capacity) may be a causal factor in the occurrence of atheism. But I doubt that it is the most important one, because it is not at all difficult to see that religion is nothing more than institutionalised superstition. This insight does not require intelligence so much as the courage to break certain mental shackles.

  236. #237 Drosera
    March 30, 2009

    I’m with you, PZ.

  237. #238 MsMisery
    March 30, 2009

    I’m assuming that most of the humility in this thread is due to atheists overcompensating for our usual perceived arrogance. Seriously though, is there really any doubt, statistics or not, that the mean IQ of the atheist bell curve is just a teensy bit to the right of the average religious person?

  238. #239 arachnophilia
    March 30, 2009

    speaking from personal experience here… at the risk of sounding conceited, i’ve always been intelligent. top 1% on standardized tests in school, was in the gifted program. etc. and i’m religious. kind of.

    and you know what? it’s hard. you have to, you know, not think too hard about certain things. being religious would be a whole lot easier if i were dumb.

  239. #240 Perplexed
    March 30, 2009

    Although I agree with the general sentiments of your post there is as you said an observable difference in polls of the intelligence of atheists and believers.
    While I would not proclaim that this means all atheists are more intelligent than their religious counterparts, I am led to believe that this means less people of higher intelligence are inclined to buy into religion and become believers.

  240. #241 Butterbean
    March 30, 2009

    @blueshifter, #149

    I should have stated my actual view in my first post. By saying that you are completely wrong, I may have given the impression that I’m a barking ‘nurture-only’-ite, if you assumed that I believe the opposite of what you do, and the (poor) title of the book I cited may have strengthened this impression. In fact, I think that genetic background and the environment are both important factors in the intelligence of an adult.

    The stuff in the links, and the bits you excerpt, support my view much better than yours, which you stated as

    nature vs. nurture has been settled, in case you weren’t paying attention. twin studies put the nail in the coffin of the ‘education is the answer’ theory. it’s the egg, not the chicken.

    which I took to be a very strong statement of hereditarianism.

    Here are the bits you excerpted -
    “heritability can account for 48% of the variation in IQ.”

    “No single environmental factor seems to have a large influence on IQ. Variables widely believed to be important are usually weak….Even though many studies fail to find strong environmental effects….most of the factors studied do influence IQ in the direction predicted by the investigator….environmental effects are multifactorial and largely unrelated to each other.”
    (bold added)
    None of this supports your position, which seems to be ‘all the environmental factors taken together have negligible influence on IQ’.

    “Intelligence at age 5 predicts better than any other variable a child’s future educational progress and attainment”
    After the 5 years in which neural connections are developing (in an environment of some kind) at a faster rate than at any other stage of life, I’m sure intelligence at 5 is a good predictor of future educational attainment. Only thing is, this statement doesn’t help separate the effects of nature and nurture, partly for the reason I just gave, and partly because children don’t typically grow up with loving parents for 5 years and then get sent to live with ogres or vice versa.

    Your last quote
    “supports the view that genes have influence.”
    Sure, I know genes have influence. But they aren’t the be-all and end-all. You appear to be saying that they are, and in this you are wrong.

  241. #242 Butterbean
    March 30, 2009

    @blueshifter, #149

    I should have stated my actual view in my first post. By saying that you are completely wrong, I may have given the impression that I’m a barking ‘nurture-only’-ite, if you assumed that I believe the opposite of what you do, and the (poor) title of the book I cited may have strengthened this impression. In fact, I think that genetic background and the environment are both important factors in the intelligence of an adult.

    The stuff in the links, and the bits you excerpt, support my view much better than yours, which you stated as

    nature vs. nurture has been settled, in case you weren’t paying attention. twin studies put the nail in the coffin of the ‘education is the answer’ theory. it’s the egg, not the chicken.

    which I took to be a very strong statement of hereditarianism.

    Here are the bits you excerpted -
    “heritability can account for 48% of the variation in IQ.”

    “No single environmental factor seems to have a large influence on IQ. Variables widely believed to be important are usually weak….Even though many studies fail to find strong environmental effects….most of the factors studied do influence IQ in the direction predicted by the investigator….environmental effects are multifactorial and largely unrelated to each other.”
    (bold added)
    None of this supports your position, which seems to be ‘all the environmental factors taken together have negligible influence on IQ’.

    “Intelligence at age 5 predicts better than any other variable a child’s future educational progress and attainment”
    After the 5 years in which neural connections are developing (in an environment of some kind) at a faster rate than at any other stage of life, I’m sure intelligence at 5 is a good predictor of future educational attainment. Only thing is, this statement doesn’t help separate the effects of nature and nurture, partly for the reason I just gave, and partly because children don’t typically grow up with loving parents for 5 years and then get sent to live with ogres or vice versa.

    Your last quote
    “supports the view that genes have influence.”
    Sure, I know genes have great influence. But they aren’t the be-all and end-all. You appear to be saying that they are, and in this you are wrong.

  242. #243 Andrew
    March 30, 2009

    Thanks for the article AND the analysis, PZ. All people, atheists or not, are prone to wishful thinking and confirmation bias. It is tempting to believe that people who believe ridiculous (and objectionable) things are stupid. However, it often takes serious brainpower to construct rationalisations for simultaneously holding logically contradictory beliefs.

    I think the issue is one that the moral psychologists have been writing about, which is the dominant role of emotion in arriving at conclusions and then the work of the logical faculty in creating a plausible justification for those conclusions. My experience with Roman Catholics, for example, has been that within their ranks are some of the most brilliant post hoc logicians alive.

    We do ourselves and the defense of reason a disservice when we underestimate the intelligence of our opponents and overestimate the role of reason in the way in which WE and our conspecifics construct schemata.

    It is always healthy to examine our own attitudes and prejudices from time to time.

    Eternal vigilance is the price of reason.

  243. #244 dtlocke
    March 30, 2009

    What I’m disagreeing with is the causal interpretation that intelligence?atheism. The exceptions — that highly intelligent people can be religious — don’t deny the statistics, what they do is reveal mechanisms.

    Unfortunately, Lynn is also not claiming that intelligence necessarily causes atheism or anything like that. No, he simply claiming that statistically, intelligence tends to produce atheism. Lynn certainly doesn’t deny that other factors are often in play. Again, the anecdotal exceptions you point to say nothing about what he is actually claiming.

    Also, I expect more humility from you PZ. You really ought to admit that you misunderstood Lynn’s claim when you wrote

    I also know lots of atheists who were sincerely religious once upon a time, and there was no sudden increase in their native intelligence when they abandoned faith.

  244. #245 Richard Dawkins
    March 30, 2009

    Thanks, PZ. I cringe whenever I hear Dawkins or other fellow atheists or “Brights” make an explicit or implicit claim that “we are smarter than you.” It’s undoubtedly true that the IQ means for the two groups would be different, but the curves are broadly overlapping. An atheist who hasn’t bet a smart theist doesn’t get out enough.

    Well OF COURSE the curves are overlapping. Do you SERIOUSLY think anyone was denying it? All that Richard Lynn is claiming is precisely what you concede, namely that the means are different. Obviously, if anyone was silly enough to claim no overlap, then a single anecdote would suffice to refute it. How could ANYONE seriously have thought Lynn was claiming that there are NO smart theists? There are serious flaws in Lynn’s paper, but nobody could accuse him of claiming no overlap.

    Richard

  245. #246 Jadehawk
    March 30, 2009

    i still think being comfortable with large degrees of uncertainty has more to do with the scientist-atheist thing than raw intelligence does. though for all i know, raw intelligence may make it more likely that one can comfortably handle uncertainties. that would have to be tested first, though.

  246. #247 windy
    March 30, 2009

    Drosera:

    what I was trying to say, using your analogy, is that while buying cigarettes is certainly correlated with lung cancer, it is not the cause of it.

    Is there a reason you wrote “buying” rather than “smoking”?

    Intelligence (defined as problem solving capacity) may be a causal factor in the occurrence of atheism. But I doubt that it is the most important one

    Did someone say it was?

    Lynn et al’s paper does not really offer any new information on the question, it seems to be a concoction of circumstantial evidence from a few different sources. One of them is the argument from non-belief in distinguished scientists, which was criticized in #15. Another thing that seems weak is the argument about religious belief declining with age in children, and equating that with intelligence. Is it really surprising that teenagers are more likely to say things like “people who pray are stupid”?

    But it’s ironic – when PZ or Richard have suggested that science education might be one cause of atheism, Nisbet and the like are always quick to claim that one mustn’t say things like that, it must be more likely that the non-religious self-select for scientific careers. But excluding education and cultural conflict seems to leave only intrinsic factors (intelligence, temperament) as possible major causes of the higher incidence of atheism in scientists. So isn’t Nisbet effectively saying the same thing as Lynn, just not realizing it?

  247. #248 janet factor
    March 30, 2009

    Geeze, this blog always attracts so many comments, I fear I may be repeating something already said that I missed. But just in case?

    PZ is, I think, correct in saying that mechanisms are important. What matters is how the mind is trained, not its native capacity. In my own mind, I think of this as potential intelligence vs. realized intelligence; it helps keep me from misjudging people with views that appear absurd to me.

    In furtherance of that conclusion, I would point to the very interesting results of the poll on that page, which, when I took it, stood as follows:

    Absolutely certain God exists: 63%
    Somewhat certain God exists: 7%
    Absolutely certain there is no God: 15%
    Somewhat certain there is no God: 10%
    Not sure: 5%

    LOOK AT THE DIFFERENCE IN DEGREE OF CERTAINTY BETWEEN THEISTS AND ATHEISTS!

    Theist are absolutely certain at 9 to 1. Atheists are only certain at 1.5 to 1.

    I believe this represents a difference in training. The more educated you are, particularly in science, the more you realize how utterly elusive absolute certainty is. Look at Dawkins, who himself says only that he believes the existence of God is highly, highly, improbable.

    Atheist tend to be people who are trained in all aspects of reasoning, including empiricism. But intelligent theists tend to be those who have training only in logic, where conclusions often have the illusion of certainty.

    I?ve debated such people, and you cannot convince them that logic alone is not enough. They think that once they have reasoned their way to a conclusion, that?s all there is to it. Objections that crucial components of their argument bear no relationship to reality tend to be dismissed as irrelevant. You say, ?But the world isn?t like that!? and they say, ?Yes, yes, BUT IF IT WERE??

    This attitude is largely a matter of training, but also a matter of deep cultural/psychological biases. Those who privilege the mental over the material often take this dysfunctional point of view. And after all, we all love the feeling of certainty; it takes serious discipline to train us to renounce that love. We prefer the dream of perfect Truth to the actual embrace of Reality.

  248. #249 Jim Etchison
    March 30, 2009

    I would also say that the difference between atheists and theists is the ability to recognize bullshit, and the courage not to step in it.

    Education HELPS. But there are lots of uneducated common folks who are atheists.

  249. #250 Drosera
    March 30, 2009

    Windy asked: Is there a reason you wrote “buying” rather than “smoking”?

    ‘Buying’ is an example of correlation without causation, ‘smoking’ of correlation with causation. I thought that was obvious from my comment.

    To refrase my point of view: intelligence may well be positively correlated with atheism, but that is probably because intelligence is itself positively correlated with the courage to question things, which I see as the most important causal factor to explain the incidence of atheism. From what I have seen on this blog and elsewhere, it is mainly the fact that most religious people do not allow themselves to question every aspect of their faith that keeps them religious.

    Education, where this amounts to religious indoctrination, may well be an important factor as well, as stressed by PZ, as it puts potential atheists at a disadvantage. It is probably true that there would be many more atheists if young people were raised in an environment without religion.

  250. #251 anthonzi
    March 30, 2009

    IQ is a pretty lame way of measuring someones intelligence. And it certainly can’t measure someones delusional psychology.

  251. #252 Bryan Pesta
    April 9, 2009

    Greetings
    I think your post exemplifies the person-who fallacy. My grandpa smoked 3 packs a day for 70 years yet lived to be 90. Surely, smoking can’t be hazardous to one’s health…
    Finding anecdotes of the person who was a theist and smart, or an atheist and stupid, does nothing to discredit the main conclusion Lynn makes: there’s a group mean difference on IQ favoring non believers.
    Nowhere is Lynn claiming that all theists are dumb and all atheists bright.
    You should provide evidence for your claim that education and not intelligence is causing this. For example, in press in the journal Intelligence, is an article showing that basic information processing ability (e.g., selecting which of two rapidly presented lines was longest) mediates the relationship between IQ scores and religious belief. The line judging task turns out to be a pretty good measure of general intelligence, yet it explains why scores on an IQ test and religiosity correlate.
    So what is it about education, or ?embracing a mode of thinking? that lets one judge rapidly presented lines more accurately? These data seem to suggest that it might be intelligence causing the differences after all.
    Sincerely,

    Bryan Pesta

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.