Where to begin with this one?
A group of researchers have performed a metastudy purporting to show that atheism is correlated to high IQ and that religiosity is not (sorry, it’s behind a pay wall).
Normally I like metastudies, but this is just bad. Seriously. There are so many things wrong with this I cannot address them all. So I will just pick five:
1) Racist sources
2) Secular education
3) “Religions” are all the same, and “atheists” are all opposed to them in the same way
4) Garbage in garbage out
5) Your IQ is not worth… ____
Lord, they came for the non-whites, but I was white, so I just wrote a term-paper on it. Then they came for the foreigners, but I was American, so I just scoffed and hoped the xenophobes would go away as they aged and died. But then they came for the “religious” people, and being a convert from irreligion, and not satisfied to think of myself as dumb, I got pretty annoyed by this and had to write a blog post.
Just one example. One source for this metastudy which is getting some media attention is a study by Richard Lynn of the University of Ulster which correlates religion, nationality, and intelligence. Guess what that means? What could “nationality” be a proxy for? Richard Lynn is a racist eugenicist. And he does not hide it, just look at his work on his Wikipedia page, linked above.
Yes, according to Lynn, people of African descent are not as intelligent as people of European descent. What a remarkable discovery for a European person to find.
How does this relate to religiosity? Traditional societies are also more religious. Less-traditional societies tend to secularize. What are some major differences between European and African societies besides skin color and religiosity? Maybe, say, the availability of a comprehensive educational system that includes training for standardized testing? Like IQ tests?
In a traditional society far from Western secularity let me tell you a skill that would be completely useless: the ability to score well on an IQ test. You are not going to encounter one, and if you did it would be a big waste of your time. So when the racist Westerners show up to give you something you have never seen before and never will see again, you might be forgiven for 1) not knowing how to score well on it, and 2) not particularly caring about scoring well on it. And ultimately, the only thing it will affect are the egos of racist Westerners.
Let me be clear: the only thing an IQ test really measures is how well you do on an IQ test. And I say that as a person who has scored very well on a few of them.
Education teaches you how to take standardized tests. The longer you are in the educational system, the better you get at it, and if you do not get better at it, then you do not advance. After all that training, what is being measured might not be so much how smart you are, but how readily you uptake training for strange tasks such as filling in bubbles on paper or clicking spots on computer screens.
Education, in the secular West at least, also tends to be a highly secularizing environment, and one which likes to reproduce this secularity in its consumers. In other words, the farther you go in the system, the stronger the forces are to move you away from religion.
Once a system like this is set up it is extremely difficult to dislodge because it reproduces itself: the highly trained people who do best on tests are also highly trained to drop their religion. If you are good at being trained, then you may likely pick up both traits: good testing skills and good secular-believing skills.
What this metastudy is really measuring is that people in traditional societies, which tend to be more religious and lacking in schools, score lower on school-related tests.
And the reverse: people in less-traditional societies, which tend to have intense school-systems and secular populations well trained in taking tests, score higher on tests.
Correlation, not causation.
But what are “religion” and “atheism” anyway? I have only delved into a few of the studies covered by this metastudy, so I cannot speak for how well all of them address the issue of definitions. But I’ve studied Lynn’s work, I’ve read The Bell Curve, I’ve read cognitive science of religion (and published on a topic related to it), I’ve studied the eugenics movement and that sort of stuff.
Just returning to Lynn’s work, he studied nationalities and religions around the world. That is a pretty broad definition of “religion” right there, that includes the three monotheisms, Eastern religions, tribal religions, etc. Who is not included? Anyone who calls themselves “atheist.” But what does that mean? Is communism an “atheistic religion”? Some forms of Buddhism are atheistic. What about North Korean leader-worship?
Is an atheist in a Christian nation the same as an atheist in an animist nation? Furthermore, its not like “atheists” don’t have worldviews – they are not blank slates without beliefs. Presumably in majority-atheist nations you will even discover that some atheists have below-average intelligence. And some studies have indicated that perhaps atheists might even still believe in God.
These categories are not easy to work with, in fact, they are likely verging on the impossible to work with. Bad definitions destroy your ability to do research.
Which brings us to the fact that if garbage goes in, garbage will come out. I cannot speak for all the studies in this metastudy, but for the examples above and others that I am familiar with, I can tell you that some are garbage. If you put enough garbage into a metastudy your will get garbage out.
Nothing more to say about that.
Your IQ is not worth… feces. Ultimately this is just ego-stroking, and in that way it is very sad.
What really matters in life has little to do with your ability to do well on an IQ test. What matters more in life is the ability to be a good person, to love others and treat them well. Both atheist people and religious people are capable of this. And it is measured by the tests of life, not a standardized paper or computer test.
What would be a more interesting study would be if Christians were in fact not as nice as atheists. And yet even if this were true, what would it show? What really matters is how much less nice the Christians would be without their religion. Personally, my religion forces me to be nicer all the time – you have no idea how much differently this post would be worded were I not a Christian.
There are more things wrong here. This is a subject I am interested in, but I’m not going to say more because 1) I don’t have the time, and 2) it infuriates me. Come on researchers. If you are so smart, see past your biases. You are producing data to reinforce your own worldview.
My consolation in this is that many if not most or nearly all atheists, in their intelligence, will also see that this study is crap.