Atheists Are More Intelligent Than Religious Persons

A recent meta-analytical study has identified an inverse correlation between faith and intelligence. Such studies are relatively common: many of us will already have encountered a number of studies identifying the same correlation. One also sees similar research supporting the claim that liberals are more intelligent than conservatives. Given its provocative nature, such research almost invariably garners press far in excess of its merits.

Within this post, I want to suggest a few observations that should be made and questions that should be asked of this piece of research and others like it.

1. The correlation between faith and relatively lower intelligence concerns the average: it does not establish an atheist monopoly on the highest levels of intelligence or a religious monopoly on the lowest. Obviously it does not mean that every atheist is more intelligent than every religious person. Some of the most brilliant persons in our society find Christianity persuasive. Even within the graph relating a country’s belief in a god to their national average IQ, it is worth observing the fact that the country with the highest IQ is under 15% atheist (P.Z. Myers, a prominent atheist, raises important questions about the racist assumptions of that particular piece of research).

2. The reasonableness and truth of a belief is not dependent on the intelligence of the people who subscribe to it, upon the bases on which it is commonly held, or the strength of the arguments typically given for it. The fact that many of us cannot subscribe to certain beliefs in the forms in which they are commonly articulated does not render those beliefs themselves irrational. The fact that a person’s arguments for atheism or Christian faith are illogical is not in and of itself clear proof that atheism or Christian faith are illogical positions in themselves.

Most belief systems have advocates with the capacity to articulate and to defend their convictions at a higher level of discourse and argument than the level at which they are usually popularly encountered. Even when such advocates are lacking, this is not proof that such defence could not be given. The merits of atheism and Christianity must be ascertained, not from the IQs of their adherents, but from the integrity and strength of their accounts of reality.

3. Studies employing categories such as ‘faith’ and ‘religion’ in a relatively uncritical fashion shouldn’t be allowed to pass unquestioned. The exact definitions of these terms are far from clear. They conflate belief systems that are extremely diverse, treating them as if they were a unitary phenomenon. When Christians speak of ‘faith’, they are not speaking of some free-standing or generic disposition shared in common by all ‘religions’, but about a relational posture to a particular person—the triune God. We also are referring to a particular set of practices and affiliations that go along with that. These differ markedly from the beliefs, practices, values, and affiliations of other religions.

4. Following on from this, different religions and different Christian traditions typically receive wildly varying results in such studies. On what basis are we bundling such diverse groups together? When separated it might well prove that certain religions, particularly when limited to the bounds of a particular country, have an average level of intelligence comfortably exceeding than that of atheists. The conflation of all faiths and traditions and their straightforward opposition to atheism is far from a neutral framing of the data.

5. At times the religion vs. atheism framing can be misleading, not least when theism and religion are employed as if they were synonymous. In key senses religion and atheism are incommensurable, which renders a straightforward opposition between them unhelpful. Belief in the existence of God is only one—admittedly crucial—dimension of Christian faith, for instance. Being a Christian also involves belonging to particular communities, the practice of certain rituals, the communal recounting and rehearsing of a particular identifying narrative, and the committing of oneself to a way of life and discipleship. An opposition based upon belief alone will tend to obscure many crucial dimensions of Christian identity and also the broader diverse ways that atheists express their being in the world in the absence of a coordinating belief in God. Further, it will dull us to the inconsistency of the behaviour of both religious persons and atheists in reality.

6. ‘Intelligence’ is generally an extremely slippery concept as it functions in such studies. As P.Z. Myers observes:

The various studies measure intelligence by GPA (grade point average), UEE (university entrance exams), Mensa membership, and Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests. Can you say apples and oranges? Yeah, I thought so. And anyone who has spent any time with Mensa people knows they aren’t particularly shining examples of crystal clear analytical intelligence, for instance.

Such a muddled set of differing metrics really doesn’t give us a very firm grip on intelligence, the very thing that is supposedly central to the research. While the concept of IQ is not without its uses, we should be alert to the dangers inherent in its chosen selection (and exclusion) and agglomeration of different aptitudes and the relative weighting and single quantification that follows. There is a lot that goes on beneath the bonnet of a person’s IQ that should lead us to proceed with caution. The precise quality of a person’s intelligence is considerably more important than any quantification that we could give it.

An IQ, a figure obtained through testing under controlled and rather unnatural conditions, much like a percentage mark given for an essay, can definitely serve a heuristic purpose, provided that we recognize its limitations and artificiality. A person’s IQ doesn’t tell us as much about the effectiveness of their intelligence as it might suggest, though. At best it might be akin to knowing the speed of a computer’s processor. A computer needs much more than a processor to be of use and the failure or limitations of other components can render the extra speed of its processor to be of little value.

This is something that connects with points that I have made in the past, and in more recent posts. Effective intelligence isn’t just about how fast and consistently our minds can process abstract mental conundrums under controlled conditions. It also demands of us such things as deep conceptual imagination, intellectual sympathy, diligence, self-definition, confidence, assertiveness, knowledge, patience, openness to criticism, alertness and sensitivity to evidence, the skill of participating, facilitating, and drawing insight effectively from communal deliberation, the holding of nerve, and the ability to respond to the experience of cognitive dissonance wisely. True intelligence also requires the ability to regulate our psychological functioning, so that we think calmly and non-reactively, even when under pressure, in emotionally charged contexts, or when relating to realities that might evoke instinctual reactions in us. The mere possession of a high IQ is no assurance of the presence of these other essential co-requisites of effective intelligence. Many people are like computers with lightning fast processors but no fan.

7. In and of itself, the mere possession of intelligence is no evidence of sufficient acquaintance with the evidence or realities necessary to declare on the meaning and merits of a particular belief system. No matter what my level of intelligence may be, my opinion on the plays of Molière, for instance, is of little value, as my acquaintance with them is only slight.

8. Is it really the case that intelligent people are the most acquainted with the realities that pertain to faith? Put differently, is faith primarily about the realm of ideas, or is it, for instance, principally about a realm of existential, personal, and communal encounters and relationships? The commonly assumed notion that intelligence is the characteristic that most qualifies us to declare on matters relating to God’s existence is not as obvious as it might seem.

9. Beyond the questionable contrast between the average IQs of various countries—do we truly believe that a dozen countries have an average IQ of 70 or less, within the range of mental retardation?—we need to ask ourselves the degree to which such things can be straightforwardly compared and contrasted across cultures. What it means to believe or not to believe in God is rather different from culture to culture and against the backdrop of different religious traditions. In some cultures, atheism is a fashionable belief among elites, in others a popular consensus, in still others it is a dangerous departure from religious authorities, which could seriously damage one’s opportunities. Likewise with Christian faith: in some cultures it is popular among the masses, in others a dangerous dissident faith. In some cultures it is framed by a subsistence lifestyle, in others by the enjoyment of plenty. Similar comments could be made about traditions within Christianity.

One of the things that has been highlighted in recent years is the danger of ‘WEIRD psychology’, psychology that makes universalizing statements on the basis of results obtained from Western and educated individuals in industrialized, rich, and democratic countries. Such individuals are more typically outliers when it comes to many aspects of human behaviour. The results obtained from them may also be highly culturally and historically contingent. Many of the studies forming the basis for this meta-analysis could be suspected of this failing.

10. Novel beliefs and behaviours, which depart from natural (not merely cultural) norms, are significantly more likely to be found among highly intelligent persons. ‘Religion’ of some loose description has been close to a human universal for much of our history. Departure from something that comes fairly naturally to us requires a break with nature on some level, something that is most likely to occur in highly developed cultures and among the most intelligent. Of course, such a departure from a natural norm is a risky venture and quite possibly misguided (a comparable contemporary example might be the cultural abandonment of the male and femaleness of marriage).

11. Any departure from what has generally been a popular cultural consensus or default belief (in this case, theism) will be over-populated by more self-defined and intelligent persons. Most persons will not stray from or question the cultural assumptions into which they were socialized, they do not acquaint themselves with ‘unorthodox’ positions, nor do they necessarily feel sure of themselves to oppose authorities. Those who do will tend to be more intelligent than the average.

12. Greater attention to such things as the sociology of conversion might also be illuminating here. In general, converts are persons with higher education and greater intelligence than the norm. The reasons for this aren’t entirely clear. It might have to do with a greater exposure to different ideas and contexts. University isolates individuals from their formative contexts and exposes them to very diverse groups, beliefs, and ideas, within settings where many of the social factors that bolstered and made their faith credible are removed and they have to believe on their own. More intelligent persons are typically also the most intellectually adventurous and exploratory, being the most inclined to examine different sides of a position. If atheism is a position that people convert to at a high rate, rather than being socialized into from birth, it will probably be composed of more intelligent persons.

13. Certain elite cultures, not least in academia, are fashionably atheist. Our beliefs are powerful shaped by interpersonal and contextual factors and this is still the case for academics. Atheism, like liberalism, is the assumed norm in certain academic contexts, even though many of those subscribing to these beliefs haven’t really engaged in any serious and extensive study of alternative positions, or even of their own. Sometimes this can be a reactive way that academics differentiate themselves from the masses. At other points it is just a matter of one’s beliefs shifting under the pressure of the assumptions of a new set of peers and one’s desire not to stand out too much. Becoming an atheist (a ‘free-thinker’) differentiates oneself from a particular group of peers and identifies one with a new group: it is an element of a popular narrative of how one becomes an ‘intelligent’ person.

14. The more intelligent persons and most developed nations will typically enjoy more wealth, security, better health care, and social stability. Such persons are the least likely to experience a need for or dependence upon God. A trust in human providence and the power of human knowledge takes the place of religious faith.

15. Intelligent people aren’t equally distributed throughout society. They tend to cluster in certain areas and professions and also, as I have observed, typically share important formative experiences and contexts, such as the university. The contexts in which intelligent persons will tend to predominate will often be more heterogeneous and artificial than those of less intelligent persons.

More intelligent and creative people tend to be a lot more socially mobile. With greater social mobility come higher levels of conversion and a greater dependence upon liberal values. As I have already remarked, when studying at university you are uprooted from your original social context and brought into contact with complete strangers from a wide range of different backgrounds. The same is the case in the city. Less intelligent people are probably more likely to remain in more settled or homogeneous social contexts.

The heterogeneous social context of the city or the university operates quite differently from a settled and more homogeneous social context. Within such a context, your relationships are often primarily with people beyond your ‘in-group’ and the social fabric is fairly thin. In such a context more ‘liberal’ virtues of tolerance, for instance, will be emphasized as the virtues that enable society to operate smoothly. The experience of the cognitive dissonance arising from friendly interactions with people who reject your belief system are far more common in a cosmopolitan context. People in a heterogeneous social context will tend to be more liberal for this reason. If university education occurred within each student’s local community, things might be different. The social dimensions of belief systems will also usually be highly attenuated, as many belief systems have to exist alongside each other.

Such heterogeneous social contexts are generally ones of disconnection from any particular tradition and the social fabric tends to be thin. The traditional society operates using such things as custom, tradition, shared virtues, charity, social pressure, and family, church and local community relationships. People have a clear place and roles when the community, there are expectations of other people and reputation is a significant factor. In the heterogeneous social context such things do not exist in anywhere like the same measure. Society must somehow be created from many people who do not necessarily have a lot in common and a lot more control is exerted in places where traditional communities would not require it.

The ‘natural’ social context is one that is adumbrated by a minimal amount of laws, laws that will tend to arise in a more organic fashion, to protect the fundamental social fabric. In contrast, the artificial social context is one in which the society is far more of an engineered reality, rather than a given. People who live in engineered societies are probably more likely to try to extend the principle to places where it does not belong and to downplay the given-ness of the social fabric more generally. Once again, intelligent people are more likely, or account of further education and increased employment opportunities to find themselves in such communities.

Within more ‘artificial’ and less settled social contexts, key confirming and orienting dimensions of religious belief and practice will become more distant from us. Stable and given communities, the cycles of birth, childhood, marriage, aging, and death, an extended intergenerational family, the natural order with its rhythms and power, a shared history, an authoritative tradition, and other such things won’t be such an immediate presence in our lives. The values of purity, loyalty, and authority, themes that are very important in many religions, will be weakened. In such contexts it will be much easier to be an atheist.

 

My purpose here has not been to provide a comprehensive response. Several other points could be mentioned. Rather, what I hope that I have done is to demonstrate that the abstract atheist vs. religious framing blinds us to many crucial sociological, economic, demographic, theological, and other factors, which are much more determinative than we might initially presume. The correlation between atheism and ‘intelligence’ (bracketing the problematic character of that concept) needs to be understood in terms of a broad range of cultural, historical, social, and economic realities. Once this has been done, the correlation is much less powerful a suggestion of the relative intrinsic merits of Christianity and atheism than may at first be supposed.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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50 Responses to Atheists Are More Intelligent Than Religious Persons

  1. Brian Watson says:

    Alastair,

    I have just recently become aware of your blog. Thanks for your thoughtful posts. I would agree that they key criticism of these types of studies is the definition of “faith” or “religion.” If knowledge of a fact is a justified true belief, then everyone who knows anything true is a person of faith. And, of course, anyone who who believes to know the truth but instead knows lies (unjustified untrue beliefs?), that person is also one of faith. We cannot get around being people of faith. We all worship. The question is whether we will put our faith in the one true God or in a false god (ourselves, money, success, sex, education, whatever). The wise one (regardless of IQ) does the former, while the fool does the latter.

    • Thanks for the comment, Brian. Your point that we are all worshippers of something or other is an important one. I have recently been reading James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom, which has a very thoughtful discussion of this reality.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        No, James KA Smith is wrong. We are not all worshippers of something, except perhaps in the metaphorical sense that we all have something which we value above all other things. But that’s trivial.

        This loose use of religion talk absolutely has to stop.

      • Worship is the ascription of worth. While this terminology is more typically employed in a religious context, it definitely points to an important feature of human behaviour and is thus usefully employed. I think that most of us are clear that there are crucial differences between atheistic and Christian forms of ascription of worth (I would actually be happy to say that atheists are not worshippers too—both statements are true and illuminating, as far as they go). The analogy survives such qualifications and is very important, though.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      Martin Buber stomped all over ideas like Smith’s several decades ago:
      http://bonald.wordpress.com/2011/11/05/is-idolatry-possible/

      Buber’s point is that we relate to something personal, like God or a god, in such a fundamentally different way than we do to material things, that to use words like worship, idolotry etc, to describe our relationship to them is, except in a highly metaphorical way, is to obscure more than illuminate what is actually going on. (In fact, as Carrier shows, the supernatural just is something that is irreducibly personal.)

      Now there are important similarities between these things. Both church services and shopping malls condition us to view things in a certain way. But referring to a shopping mall as conditioning just doesn’t sound as sexy and novel as referring to it as liturgy. That may have its benefits, in that, by using a bold metaphor, we can be awakened to how much we really are changed by our everyday actions. But using that metaphor also introduces the possibility of reification, all to often realized, and thus a radical misunderstanding of just how different in kind thes things are. Just so, things like atheism, liberalism, science, football, whatever are not and cannot never be religions, though again they may share certain things in common with religions. They may be ideologies, worldviews, philosophies, religion substitutes, ultimate values etc., but not religions. (There’s a reason we have separate words for those things.) Religion must include a relationship with something irreducibly personal. Malls, material goods, football games, etc. don’t cut it. Smith and others make the fundamental mistake of ignoring that fact.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      Brian your loose talk is even more unhelpful than what you are trying to replace.

      Most people, religious and irreligious, believe things, not because they have examined the evidence for them in any depth, but because they seem intuitively plausible. In that sense, yes, everybody is going on faith.

      But when people talk about belief or faith colloquially, what they generally mean is belief in or faith in supernatural* agents. That is, things like souls, gods, angels etc. So, pointing out that everybody takes things on trust is just pointless nitpicking.

      *Supernatural is defined nicely in the Carrier essay I’ve linked to here.

  2. postalice says:

    I think you nailed it, especially with #13.

  3. Philip Walker says:

    “At times the religion vs. atheism framing can be misleading”

    How true. This is notoriously so for Buddhism, which as something more akin, in Western terms, to a philosophy than a religion runs the gamut of theistic positions.

    Talking about the different religions made me ponder: rather like Amis’ lapsed Catholic, who “was of the faith chiefly in the sense that the church he currently did not attend was Catholic”, atheists are not one uniform bloc either. The god (or gods) in which they do not believe is really (what they perceive as) the god of the majority religious culture.

  4. Why so short this time?😉

  5. Paul.G. says:

    Nice Post , Alastair. A lot of what you have written here ,reminds me of why I’m not as interested in Analytic philosophy of Religion these days. In Particular #8 and #9. All the Atheism vs Theism debates tend to miss the point for me ( at least within the context of philosophy of religion) , because the field it is so obsessed with Whether or not God exists , it actually has very little to say about religious practice , or Even what it means to believe in God (Which , as you have pointed out is different , depending on the culture).

    if your interested , here is a paper from New Blackfriars (published in December of 2008) , that relates to what I’m saying : http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1741-2005.2008.01260.x/full

  6. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    As an initial group of musings, this isn’t bad.

    These differ markedly from the beliefs, practices, values, and affiliations of other religions.

    But are probably closer to these other things than atheism.

    ‘Intelligence’ is generally an extremely slippery concept as it functions in such studies.

    I won’t comment to the soundness of all thoses, but intelligence as a general concept in psychological research is not really all that slippery. We’re talking about the ability to do mathematics and formal logic. 5 minutes taking a non-verbal IQ test online will tell you a lot more about it than PZ Meyers’ uninformed musings.

    P.Z. Myers, a prominent atheist, raises important questions about the racist assumptions of that particular piece of research.

    This is nonsense. The only reason anybody assumes any of this research is racist is that different races score differently on IQ tests (and tests that correlate highly with IQ tests). Of course, the assumption behind that is that different results are the result of bias or discrimination somewhere along the line, whether in the construction of the tests (but, then, problematically, blacks to worse on non-verbal tests), or in society somehow suppressing the . But, what Myers won’t tell you is that here have been millions and millions of dollars spent trying to develop tests that have no differences in scores between races and also predict real world performance. No one has been able to come up with any. So, differences in intelligence between races are real. The only question would seem to be if and how much genetics contribute to those differences. This may be controversial among the general population and in the mass media; it is not controversial in academia.

    I’d suggest reading these books before commenting further on IQ.
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Question-Intelligence-The-Debate-America/dp/0806515074
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Factor-Evolution-Behaviour-Intelligence/dp/0275961036/
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bell-Curve-Intelligence-Structure-Paperbacks/dp/0684824299/
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bias-Mental-Testing-Arthur-Jensen/dp/041683230X/
    If you want responsible critiques of the above from a generally left wing perspective go to Christopher Jencks, James Heckman, and James Flynn, not the likes of Myers.

    Jason Richwine’s recent article seems appropriate too:
    http://www.politico.com/story/2013/08/opinion-jason-richwine-95353.html

    [D]o we truly believe that a dozen countries have an average IQ of 70 or less, within the range of mental retardation?

    Oh, it’s totally believable. Psychologists talk of organic vs. familial retardation.

    “Among blacks and whites with comparable cognitive deficits, blacks generally show a better ability to adapt to the rigors of everyday life. The difference is pronounced. Arthur Jensen observed in The g Factor that black pupils with IQ deficiencies often socially integrate well with their brighter peers. They seem quite normal when engaging in non-cerebral activities like play. In contrast, many cognitively impaired white children have difficulty integrating socially and often have physical abnormalities such as flat-footed gaits. Jensen attributes this racial divergence to different etiologies that are transparent to IQ tests.

       Two types of mental retardation can be differentiated. Organic retardation is due to a genetic anomaly or brain damage brought about by disease or trauma. Familial retardation results from normal variations in intelligence. Among whites with IQ < 70, between 25 and 50 percent are diagnosed as organic. Since 2 percent of whites have IQ < 70, 0.5 to 1.0 percent of the entire white population is organically retarded. Jensen estimates that of the blacks with IQ < 70, only 12.5 percent are organically retarded. (We estimate the number closer to 16.7 percent.) Thus for blacks, we expect 16.7 percent of the 12 percent with IQs < 70 to have organic etiologies. That is, about 2.0 percent of the black population at large is organically retarded. Following Jensen, if we associate most of nonadaptive behavior with organic retardation, then Reference County should classify about 2.0 percent of black children and 0.5 to 1.0 percent of white children as mentally retarded. Blacks in Reference County will be retarded at 2 to 4 times the rate of whites. Table 2 compares the offending counties to Reference County.”

    http://www.lagriffedulion.f2s.com/retard.htm

    There is nothing at all unusual or implausible in the idea of an species or subspecies with an average IQ of 70.

    Effective intelligence isn’t just about how fast and consistently our minds can process abstract mental conundrums under controlled conditions. It also demands of us such things as deep conceptual imagination, intellectual sympathy, diligence, self-definition, confidence, assertiveness, knowledge, patience, openness to criticism, alertness and sensitivity to evidence, the skill of participating, facilitating, and drawing insight effectively from communal deliberation, the holding of nerve, and the ability to respond to the experience of cognitive dissonance wisely.

    You’re muddying the water a bit here with your terminology. There are no intelligence researchers who claim that intelligence is the only important metal ability. Indeed, things like perceptiveness and imagination are very important to the ability to do thinking on a higher level in the real world, as are moral qualities such as honesty. But those things really aren’t intelligence, in the sense of how that term is used psychology.

    Intelligence in that sense is an important mental ability that is often useful in getting the correct answer to things in the world and which religious people seem to do worse on. That requires an explanation.

    ————–

    However, some good thoughts above on the correlation of high IQ with novelty seeking and how high IQ people tend to cluster and organize themselves in certain social enclaves. However, I would add that intelligence, as the most machine like of our mental abilities, may tend to bias us towards thinking of the world in a mechanistic way. In It is well known that autism biases one towards both an interest in science and towards atheism. Religion, while it can admit that aspects of the world operate in a mechanistic way, posits irreducibly personal elements to the world, such as God, gods, souls etc., as well.

    Iain McGilchrist, in his book The Master and His Emissary also reviews a considerable body of evidence showing that explicit linear thinking tends to be associated with a rather arrogant discounting of other modes of thought.

    You might also want to take this all up with Bruce Charlton.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      There is a great essay on what we mean when we say the supernatural vs. the natural (or as I would prefer the irreducibly personal vs. the mechanistic) by Richard Carrier:
      http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2007/01/defining-supernatural.html

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      Meant to say that there are other aspects of our mental life, like autism, that tend to bias us towards mechanistic, non-personal explanations.

    • Thanks for the comments.

      In many cases religions will be much closer to each other than they will be to atheism. However, this is not always the case. In many respects of belief and practice, I am closer to many Western atheists than I would be to most Hindus in India, for instance. In fact, sometimes I feel closer in many of my beliefs and convictions to some moderate atheists in most beliefs, practices, and sensibilities than I do to certain more extreme forms of Christianity. As Philip points out above, atheists are often atheists in terms of the prevailing cultural forms of theism.

      In terms of such a highly stipulated definition of ‘intelligence’, yes, one can argue that intelligence isn’t a slippery concept. However, to the extent that our tests are seeking to define and measure what we more generally understand and experience as ‘intelligence’, rather than drastically narrowing the definition and adopting a ‘what this net doesn’t catch isn’t fish’ approach, intelligence is definitely a slippery reality to get a conceptual grip upon, let alone reduce to a single metric.

      If you notice, the issue that Myers and I had with the use of Lynn’s research is the readiness to assume that entire nations have an IQ averaging in the range of mental retardation. I never rejected the notion that different nations could have differing IQ averages. The idea that entire nations have IQ averages at mentally retarded levels should instantly trigger warning flags. The willingness to accept such figures without careful questioning does strike me as uncritical at best and racist at worst.

      Of course, when we look into the details of the research underlying such figures we discover, for instance, that the IQ of 59 figure for Equatorial Guinea was based on tests from a sample size of 48 10-14 year olds. If this figure is correct, only 5% of that country has an IQ of 100 or more. This is hardly much to be grounding a claim about an entire country’s IQ upon, is it? In fact, the figure actually referred to children from a school for the developmentally disabled in Madrid.

      Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. My point is that the default non-racist assumption will be that these national IQs of less than 70 constitute extraordinary claims. And, of course, what one typically finds when you look closer at such claims is that behind them there is a lot of shoddy scholarship and research, unrepresentative sample sets, and questionable assumptions about the commensurability of ‘intelligence’ in a cross-cultural fashion according to a single metric and other such things.

      The problem is that, while a carefully stipulated definition of ‘intelligence’ and the measurement of IQ definitely can serve a heuristic purpose when used responsibly, such cross-cultural research just isn’t responsible, on several counts. Intelligence just can’t be reduced to a single metric in terms of which all persons can be rendered commensurable. If intelligence refers to the aptitude to develop and apply skills and knowledge then it is a highly contextualized matter. While we might be able to measure the relative intelligence of different individuals relative to a single given context and its associated skills and forms of knowledge (such as the more abstract thinking that we are accustomed to), things start to break down when we try to measure across cultural contexts.

      While one might be able to judge the relative athleticism of two rugby players, trying to render their athleticism commensurable with the athleticism of an ice skater would be more complicated. As it functions in reality and common parlance, ‘intelligence’ is a category that functions much like ‘athleticism’. Notice, I am not saying that all cultures are equal in such regards (much as I wouldn’t necessarily rate the athleticism of a top ping pong champion on the same level as that of an endurance runner), just that they can’t be rendered straightforwardly commensurable in terms of a universal metric that is not itself an imposition of cultural value on some level or other.

      If we are operating with a stipulated definition of ‘intelligence’ that privileges abstract puzzle-solving, the use of a particular form of conceptual logic, or theorizing thought in detached and impersonal contexts, then perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that the most ‘intelligent’ tend towards mechanistic views of the world. The problem with this is that, despite its indisputable merits, this is still a culturally contingent understanding of intelligence. For a different culture, the ability to think analogically (recognizing the affinities between things that might appear very different), concretely, ‘literately’ (as—primarily oral—condensation and exposition), to formulate and employ proverbs effectively, and to administer wise and principled judgments would be the measure of intelligence (cf. 1 Kings 4:32-33).

      While one could argue that this goes against the stipulated meaning of the term ‘intelligence’, my point is that this stipulated meaning of the term is far too narrow, and needs always to be held in question relative to the broader ways in which the term ‘intelligence’ functions in ours and other societies.

      Once again, none of this is to deny the usefulness of the concept of IQ. However, the map is not the territory: a person’s IQ is not their intelligence. Within our cultural context it might be a powerful indicator of the relevant forms of it, but outside of our culture it is much less so. The concept of IQ is highly serviceable in carefully defined parameters, though once it is more broadly applied it can swiftly become problematic.

      And, yes, I would be interested to hear Bruce’s thoughts on this.

      • Christopher McCartney says:

        I’m skeptical about this cross-cultural, multiple-intelligence angle.

        First, it seems to me the IQ metric does a pretty good job of tracking what ordinary people generally mean by “intelligence”. Wisdom, e.g., may be a more important virtue than intelligence, but ordinary people are apt to say things like, “he’s intelligent, but not wise,” which shows that they think of them as different things. I’m sympathetic with the claim that our culture undervalues such virtues as wisdom, in comparison to intelligence, and that we have something to learn on that score from other cultures. But that’s not because those cultures have a different measure of intelligence, but because they more highly value things other than intelligence. Which underscores the fact that those things ARE other than / different from intelligence.

        Secondly, nearly all religions more or less centrally involve general truth-claims about history and metaphysics. And it is precisely these claims that are at issue between the religious believer and the atheist. (Many atheists, like Alain de Botton, affirm the communal, cultural, therapeutic, pedagogical, and to some extent even liturgical practices of many religions) To be sure, Othello would have been better served by something other than IQ in his assessment of Desdemona’s faithfulness. But IQ is exactly what is needed for assessing the Roman Magesterium’s claim of apostolic succession or the Biblical account of human origins, the authorship of the Donation of Constantine or of the pastoral epistles. Consider the following opinions:

        1. Alien abductions have occurred.
        2. The moon landing was faked.
        3. The faith glossolalia and faith-healings going on a the tent revival down the street are genuine.
        4. Jesus and the apostles and prophets performed bona fide miracles.
        5. Some people have telepathic abilities.
        6. Human behavior is not causally determined by physical events in the brain, but is largely the result of the actions of a non-physical entity called the soul.
        7. There are persons who not only have souls, but lack (visible) bodies: beings who by virtue of their supernatural power exercise causal influence on the world and on human history.

        My point is not to claim that all these opinions are equally implausible, but to note that intelligence (as distinct from other mental virtues) is very relevant to the assessing of these claims. In the case of those least worthy of acceptance, one would expect a strong divergence in IQ between those who accept and those who reject them. A similar divergence in the case of opinions that play a more central role in constituting the religious beliefs of Christians (and other religious believers) can’t be brushed aside by noting that there are many people who hold them who are good at coming up with memorable and meaning-packed proverbs, many who are insightful about the emotions of those around them, who are sensitive to the aesthetic beauty of oral expression and adept at recognizing and deploying literary imagery, etc..

        So, even if the word “intelligence” is broader in meaning than I am allowing, it is still precisely that one aspect of intelligence that we WEIRDs are (rightly or wrongly) fixated on that is most relevant to assessing the metaphysical and historical truth-claims made by most religions, estimating their prior probability, weighing the evidence, and analyzing the arguments. And this is the only way we have of telling whether these religions are true — I mean the only way that is accessible to believer and unbeliever alike, that does not involve a putative supernatural mental faculty whose existence is itself in question in the debate.

      • Thanks for the comment, Christopher.

        I disagree. There are different forms of intelligence in different cultures. In particular, the sort of texts that we encounter in the Scriptures are much less concerned with systematizing or abstract intelligence than we are, but focus upon far more concrete, analogical, historical, poetic, and contextual forms of reasoning. Reasoning powers are highly valued, but their primary modes differ markedly. And these forms of reasoning don’t just fit tidily under the category of ‘wisdom’, although they are related.

        I also disagree with your emphasis upon IQ in assessing many biblical claims. It is precisely narrow prevailing Western assumptions about forms of rationality and meaning that make it difficult for people to understand something like the creation narrative in the mode in which it was written to be understood. IQ alone isn’t going to help people here. Imagination and the ability to adopt a different mode of understanding and reasoning is necessary to appreciate what such a text is actually saying.

        Also, when it comes to the other beliefs that you list, I think that you overstate the importance of IQ again. I have known enough highly intelligent conspiracy theorists in my time to appreciate that intelligence doesn’t count for as much as we think in these areas and that the highly intelligent are often more susceptible to conspiracy theories than most, given their love of patterns and insistence on finding signal in what is essentially noise. For example, two of the greatest chess geniuses of the twentieth century are vocal advocates of bizarre conspiracy theories: Fischer with his anti-Semitic ravings and Kasparov with his appreciation of Fomenko’s new chronology.

        None of this is to deny that there are claims that the Scriptures, Christians, and Church tradition make that can and should be exposed to and examined by the sort of rational questioning that we are most accustomed to and that many will be found wanting and rejected. However, true intelligence will involve engagement with such texts and claims on the terms appropriate to them—often demanding different forms of reasoning than we are culturally accustomed to—before declaring such judgment. Until we can understand from the inside why a culture might build a temple to make sense of its world, for instance, we might have trouble understanding the meaning and value of their thought.

        As I have already said, these IQ discussions are largely tangential to the point of the post, and I don’t want to devote any more time to them here. I also have pressing writing commitments over the next day or so, so need to bow out of these comments. You are welcome to have the last word.

  7. DavidA says:

    I think when I first realized that a concentration camp butchering thousands of people could be constructed just down the road from a major university and supported by some of the intellectual elite of the day, I just stopped and said, “There’s got to be more to it.”

    And there is.

    Both my grandfathers dropped out of school to work the farm. Neither made it past an 8th grade education. I am certain their Mensa applications would provoke a chuckle or two. Yet, they were two of the most intelligent problem solvers I ever knew. They could fix or build almost anything out of common, everyday materials. They managed money better than most college graduates I know. Best of all, their ethics grew as robust as their crops.

  8. My take is that Alastair is embarking on a critique of a concept that he doesn’t really grasp!

    Now, this criticism does not disservice to Alastair, nor ii it anything unusual, because despite teaching in a Psychology department (although not teaching IQ) I never got to grips with intelligence until 2007 – as I frankly admitted here

    http://medicalhypotheses.blogspot.co.uk/2009/07/replacing-education-with-psychometrics.html

    The problem is that the information about intelligence which an intelligent and cultured modern person gets from general reading is not just selective, but actively misrepresents the field. And this has been the case since about 1965 (at that time ‘everyone’ knew what is now regarded as ludicrous or a hate fact)

    http://medicalhypotheses.blogspot.co.uk/2008/09/pioneering-studies-of-iq.html

    In fact, intelligence research is one of the very best validated areas of psychology, with much more than a century of solid evidence. So, if intelligence research is chucked out then the rest of psychology ought to go with it, or even before it.

    Now, of course, all this doesn’t mean that IQ research is perfect – I spend a lot of my time suggesting revisions and modifications

    http://iqpersonalitygenius.blogspot.co.uk/

    but, this has to begin with where we are at – it has to start from solidly established facts. Only then can it be known what is an ‘extraordinary claim’ and what is, on the contrary, exactly what would be expected from multiple sources of convergent knowledge.

    • Thanks for the comment, Bruce.

      A few clarifications at the outset.

      First, I think that IQ can be a very useful metric and have considerable predictive power under the right conditions. My point is that these conditions and their limitations are not being properly attended to. The fact that IQ testing is a good measure of someone’s potential in a developed Western culture is not proof that it is equally useful in a very different sort of culture. For instance, what would the IQ of a Homer or Solomon be?

      Second, I have no objection in principle to the notion that intelligence is highly hereditary. Nor do I have any objection in principle to the notion that different nations may have differences in IQ scores, or perhaps even intelligence more generally, perhaps even significant ones.

      I am not suggesting that different cultures have different forms of intelligence that are all equally valid or empowering. My concern here is not political correctness, but accuracy and truth.

      My issues here are as follows:

      1. The tendency to identify a person’s IQ with their intelligence in a manner that doesn’t hold the testing sufficiently in question relative to the reality. The test then starts to be treated as if it could define the reality, rather than being one sensor for the independently existed reality, which, although highly reliable under certain conditions, should not be taken for granted when we are moving beyond a controlled context, such as that of Western developed culture. I also think that not enough attention is given to the limitations of the implicit model of intelligence that guides such research. For instance, what assumptions and conceptual moves underlie the belief that every person’s intelligence can be boiled down to a single number and rendered commensurable with every other person’s?

      2. The straightforward identification of abstract systematic thinking with intelligence. I find it interesting that you recently brought an article to my attention that pointed out that Hebrews were not inclined to think abstractly and systematically, operating with a different model of intelligence and rationality. While I believe that it overstated its case, it illustrates my point that our notion of intelligence is highly culturally contingent, not necessarily the most typical or natural form in which human intelligence has been expressed over the millennia, and subject to the limitations of WEIRD psychology more generally. To the degree that we are measuring for a form of intelligence that owes much to a particular cultural tradition of reason and form of engagement with the world, we should be suspicious of attempts to universalize it.

      3. The degree to which such things as IQ testing emerge from a very complicated and messy history, cultural context, and set of social realities (not least that of the eugenics movement). Widespread IQ testing is closely related to a society that runs on testing and measurement, standardization and commensuration, and scientific management. Within such a society, measurement ceases to be adequately responsive to what exists, and starts to become defining of it. One’s ability to do well in a standardized test is a pretty good predictor of one’s ability to function well in a Taylorist system. Things that can’t be standardized are irritations that need to be suppressed or excluded to such a system, as the imperative of that style of management and education is towards universal criteria of measurement as without such criteria it cannot properly function.

      4. The degree of willingness to assume that nations have an IQ that averages at a mentally retarded level. The readiness to believe this is troubling to me, striking me as being rather unthinkingly ‘racist’ (here used in a non-pejorative sense). Seeing these figures, I was instantly suspicious and, sure enough, a little digging around revealed that very small and unrepresentative samples underlie many of the figures and that Equatorial Guinea’s figure (of 59), drawn from under 50 individuals, comes from a completely different group of people (kids in an institution for the developmentally disabled in Madrid). I don’t believe that the figures for many of these countries are at all reliable, or would stand up to the examination of any ethics committee worth its salt. I don’t think that we are taking into account the degree to which we are socialized into test-taking in the West either.

      • At this point, I also think that I will have to bow out of this particular discussion. Others are welcome to have the final word, or continue in my absence. The discussion of IQ testing, while important, really is tangential to the larger point of the post above.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      Again, I think you’re kind of hung up on the semantics of the term intelligence.

      1. Intelligence, as psychologists use it, is a coherently defined mental ability.
      2. This mental ability is extremely important in helping one ascertain the truth.
      3. Religious people, as measured on a variety of metrics, seem to have less of it.

      These three propositions need to be stated forthrightly and without qualification before moving on. To do otherwise is intellectual dishonesty.

      It also needs to be stated forthrightly out that the term intelligence, as psychologists use it, maps pretty well onto the colloquial meaning of the term, though it isn’t quite identical.

      ——-

      Now, here is where things get interesting. It also needs to be stated that, for example:

      1. Intelligence, as psychologists use the term, is only as good as its inputs. Garbage in garbage out.
      2. Other mental abilities or tendencies may be as important, or even more important, for ascertaining the truth than intelligence.
      2. There may be certain mental biases that tend to come along with intelligence, but which are not identical with it.

      The study of how we arrive at truth cannot be simply equated with intelligence, but, then, very, very few people have ever said it did. Even most atheists who study this kind of thing are quite wary of making the straightforward argument that religious believers are dumb therefore religious belief is false.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Should be “Religious people, as measured on a variety of metrics, tend to have less of it.”

      • You may notice that only one of my points in the post was devoted to challenging the idea of intelligence. And the fact that the term ‘intelligence’ as psychologists use it isn’t quite identical to its more general usage—a difference that will be much more pronounced as one moves into very different sorts of cultures—is the sort of thing that we need to be alert to. ‘Atheists are more intelligent* than religious persons (* according to a carefully stipulated, non-colloquial sense of the term)’ doesn’t have the same ring to it.

        Like many, many experts in these fields, I have huge reservations about certain uses of and claims about IQ tests. Just telling us to accept certain claims that aren’t giving a sufficiently good account of themselves isn’t exactly persuasive.

  9. DavidA says:

    I have to call hogwash on the above. Not only do I feel like the lion-share of psychology could be punted and we’d be no worse off, the field of intelligence is no where near the kind of empirically verifiable science you’ve outlined. Huge swaths of the science are in fact socially constructed as Gould, Hacking, Feyerabend, Derrida, Szasz, Wittgenstein, and countless others have been shouting from the margins for decades now.

    We could start very simply, with the reality that the Stanford Benet IQ test was adjusted for gender because in the initial studies of IQ, women scored much higher than men. Since women can’t possibly be smarter than men, the test was immediately re-worked.

    The most important thing to remember in these soft sciences is the following basic premise: “Once the question has been determined, the answer is always deterministic.”

    We need go no further than Nate Silver (a master statistician) in his recent offering “The Signal and the Noise” to see how the soft sciences end up in their predicaments: “Our naïve trust in models, and our failure to realize how fragile they are to our assumptions, yield disastrous results.” He goes on in chapter after to chapter to fully demonstrate this fact.

    John Tukey, also considered to be a statistics master and even named the “father of modern statistics” tells us to be careful:

    “Far better an approximate answer to the right question, which is often vague, than an exact answer to the wrong question, which can always be made precise.”

    Making exact answers to bad questions is what psychology does best, which is why I must, as respectively as possible, reject about everything in your response.

  10. DavidA says:

    ^ Yeah, Gould. The guy who Stanford University of course has no vested interest in debunking.

    As to IQ scores predicting real life outcomes, of course they do. Similar studies could be conducted use of silly putty. Since 1950, silly putty use has been on the decline. There’s a definite correlation in the decline of silly putty use and standardized test scores. You’re welcome to do that math and I am certain could produce a nice graph for the world to ponder.

    As Tukey says, you can put a precise number on anything. The mistake happens when we confuse precise answers for decent questions.

  11. Matthew Petersen says:

    This sort of work is also deceptive since it only looks at one time. Christianity today is greatly diminished from what it was five hundred years ago, as are many other religions. Though a few figures like Aquinas, Palamas, Bonaventure, Calvin, Luther, Hooker, Donne, Shakespeare, Dante, Rembrant, Herbert, Ephraim the Syrian, Bach, Palestrina, Scotus, Rublev, Nyssa, Augustine, Wren, Handel, Fortunatus, or Giotto, would not significantly change the average, it is, nevertheless, not insignificant, that they are methodologically excluded from such studies. (As are any future people.)

    • Thanks for the comment, Matthew. Actually, I would be wary of making an IQ case on the basis of such characters. However, they do open up another important area of questioning. Christian faith and culture provided the soil in which such geniuses and their rich, potent, and profound cultural visions could emerge and flourish. Does secular or atheistic culture exhibit the same capacity for the fostering of cultural genius and the production of soaring visions that Christian culture has produced? Can it encourage the same elevation of the human spirit?

  12. @Alastair – I agree that discussion of IQ is not appropriate in this context – not least because for me it would become a tedious and futile exercise in dismantling straw men!

    A general point I would make (here as I have elsewhere) is to emphasize the extent to which the New Left project – that is post-mid-1960s Leftism, political correctness type Leftism – is utterly dependent on either ignoring or discrediting intelligence research.

    This is, I believe, a fact which is hard to exaggerate. The Old Left – that is to say the Left of equal opportunities, and relief of actual (not relative) poverty – based in Trades Unions and the like – was the driving force behind the development of intelligence research; and the demonizing of intelligence research was one of the first and most decisive acts of the New Left – with staged public aggression and mob protests in college contexts against the likes of Hans J Eyseck.

    But why?

    This was clarified for me by reading a hard-to-find book by one of the Economist’s editors: A. Wooldridge, Measuring the mind: education and psychology in England, c.1860–c.1990, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK (1994). And also by my own experiences with discussing IQ in the public domain, and those of my friends and colleagues.

    The point to grasp is that the modern ruling elite cannot accept the basic realities of intelligence research without destroying the core of their political problem. There is therefore zero possibility that IQ can ever be rehabilitated in public discourse in the modern context – it would be suicide for the politically correct Left which now dominates all Western nations.

    This is because the Old Left was obsolete, since real poverty was abolished and de facto equality of opportunity was established (as near as such things can be) and the Left moved to focus on relative (hence insoluble) *differences*. Since these differences are explicable (at the group level – averages – obviously not for specific individuals) using relatively simple measures such as IQ and personality (plus of course luck!) then IQ and personality simply cannot be acknowledged.

    Vast domains of modern society are therefore predicated upon sheer falsehood (and this is not a matter of opinion!) which justify government interventions to correct imaginary/ dishonesty-asserted injustices – indeed this pretty much is the bulk of modern politics. And all this bloated edifice of wicked nonsense is actually predicated upon a denial of the validity of IQ research! (Well, mostly; IQ is half the story, and personality covers most of the rest of it.)

    To take it another step – for most of the intellectual elite, their core moral sense is based on empirical falsehood – but this faslehood is concealed by the suppression of IQ research. Most modern intellectuals therefore cannot believe in the basics of intelligence research without some kind of psychological earthquake that would shake their moral foundations.

    Well, of course, IQ *research* is not really necessary – formal research is/was simply the more precise quantification of universally-recognized inborn differences in human ability which are substantially hereditary – which is of course common sense, and has been part of human wisdom forever.

    And yet it is this which is denied and indeed demonized! To bring the intellectual elite of the Left to this situation of aggresively-defended delusion has been one of the major achievements of the New Left.

    Those who deny this, or are unaware of it, are – I am sorry to say – objectively wrong and either do not know what they are talking about or are being dishonest! – as is obvious from reading almost anything written before 1965… but then rejecting everything written before 1965 as the product of evil racists (wherever it disagrees with the current nonsensus) is a part of the PC system, so that is no help!

    (Recall, I acknowledge that I was myself objectively wrong on this topic until just about 6 years ago – so I am not accusing anybody of anything of which I was not myself guilty.)

    How am I so sure about all this stuff? Because not only have I studied the field but I have engaged in both public and one on one debate/ discussions on the matter; and I have several friends who have done the same. Hereditary differences in intelligence and personality are things which – for the ruling elites – *cannot* be true, cannot be allowed to be true – and action taken against any truth-tellers who looks like they may successfuly threaten this assertion is very severe.

    This is not exactly secret! Every year (and I mean every year) there is a prominent victim paraded before the world as an example to others and subjected to quite incredible vilification – James Watson, Larry Summers, most recently Jason Richwine. Other offenders such as Satoshi Kanazawa, Dylan Evans, or Geoffrey Miller have been attacked for this crime but using different, tangentially-related and very obviously manufactured charges. This ought to be a clue as to what is going on. It is, in fact, the major high stakes intellectual dispute of the past fifty years.

    • Thanks for the comment, Bruce.

      While this isn’t the place to take this up—we can discuss this in person at some point—I don’t think that either the articles that you linked earlier, or these comments, really tackle the key issues in this particular context.

      I think that you know that I am not coming at this from any straightforward left wing perspective, nor that political correctness is my driving concern. My issues here have to do with the assumptions and quality of research upon which certain claims are made. When such a radical and potentially dangerous claim is being made about the relative IQs of different countries, we have an ethical duty to ensure that the research and the assumptions that it is founded upon are of the very highest quality. One can’t just make such claims lightly. Unfortunately, it appears that Lynn’s research is of a very poor quality, and most especially so in the figures that make the most radical claims. I hope that you can understand why this sort of carelessness in making highly controversial and weighty claims is an issue of deep ethical concern to me and why the willingness of some people to accept such claims without close examination should cast suspicion over many of their other claims in my mind.

      I have no problem in principle with accepting the idea that intelligence (not just IQ) is largely hereditary, that it may differ between population groups (whether between groups within a single society or between countries), and that the reality runs roughshod over politically correct assumptions. I just expect extraordinary evidence, scrupulous reasoning, and top quality research to support extraordinary claims about: a) the commensurability of a reliably measurable and consistent general intelligence across wildly different cultures; b) the scale of the IQ differences that are claimed. It is not political correctness to expect an especially high standard of proof for potentially dangerous claims that might suggest that one group of persons is objectively and consistently better than another according to a very important criteria, especially when these comparisons happen to disadvantage populations that have historically been subject to discrimination of some form or other. This quality of research is precisely what I am not seeing here.

      Some of the questions that remain unanswered for me:

      1. Where is the evidence to suggest that the implicit model of intelligence that IQ operates with is a sound and true one, not just a serviceable and successful one? It is one thing to be able to account well for the observed data—to ‘save the appearances’ (making predictions about academic or later career performance in a Western cultural context, for instance). It is quite another to operate on the assumption that such a successful hypothesis in its limited sphere (modern Western society) is true to a degree that justifies the assumption of the appropriateness of that hypothesis to contexts and realities radically different from those of its original context. Ptolemy’s theories were fairly successful and useful at saving the appearances and accounting for the observed data in their original context, but were hardly true or the most appropriate to the reality.

      In speaking of the ‘implicit model of intelligence’, I am not referring to the representation of intelligence as primarily abstract and systematizing thought primarily, but to the idea that intelligence is the sort of thing that can be: a) reified; b) treated as a singular entity; c) quantified in a single figure; d) rendered commensurable across large populations and between vastly different cultures. Note that pointing to the predictive success of IQ measurements are not a sufficient answer to this.

      2. On what basis is the notion of different modes or weightings of intelligence being dismissed? I am especially interested in your personal answer to this, given the fact that the recent article that you shared with me pointed out the Hebrews’ lack of dependence upon abstract and systematizing thought, the very things that you present to be central to the intelligence measured by IQ tests in one of the other pieces that you linked. Does this mean that the Hebrews didn’t really value intelligence or have modes of intelligence more appropriate to their culture?

      3. Where is the evidence to suggest that our IQ tests are successful and sensitive predictors of a person’s success in participation in the intellectual life of a non-Western society that favours concrete and non-systematizing thought?

      4. While we might claim that the intelligence levels of two persons in the same Western culture can be rendered commensurable, do we have strong basis for making the same claim about a person in, say, a tribal society when compared to a Western person? On what basis can we dismiss the importance of the huge amount of socialization into abstract and systematizing modes of thinking and into the habits of body and mind that make us good at sitting down and taking hour long tests that we all receive from an early age? Although culture and socialization will be much less of a differentiating factor between two Western persons, leaving hereditary factors as far more determining, on what basis can we downplay the immense cultural and social differentiating factors between Western and non-Western subjects and suggest that in IQ testing them we are picking up actual individual differences in underlying general intelligence?

      5. Do we really have strong evidence—founded upon large and representative samples, obtained in an ethical manner, using consistent and sensitive methodologies, yielding data that would be commensurable with Western results, and that would hold up to critical review—that the intelligence of non-Western countries really is as low as Lynn’s claims suggest? If so, where is it?

      • @Alastair

        The idea that ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’ has nothing to do with science! I have written about this notion, since it is so pernicious an element in modern culture:

        http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/extraordinary-claims-extraordinary.html

        http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/extraordinary-claims-require.html

        You are approaching this issue from a post-1965 perspective, one which incorporates so many misunderstandings and deliberate misrepresentations and fake historical revisions that it is in principle impossible to deal with (the situation being analogous to you sitting down with Richard Dawkins to persuade him that Christianity was potentially valid).

        You would have to recognize that your approach was in denial of common sense and personal experience, and approach from that completely different direction – but this is not something I could do for you, nor make you do! At some point, you will probably be brought to a crux where this will be obvious as what is necessary – and that will be when you are tested.

        All I can say is that rather than asking for ‘evidence’ *for* this and that – and then rejecting the evidence – you should consider what the claims about hereditary IQ actually mean to the people making them (and not the straw men explanations from the enemy); and whether these actual claims are *refuted* by any evidence which you would regard as valid. You will then find that they are not refuted.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        You are too easily conflating systematic thinking with IQ type intelligence. Systematic thinking requires high IQ, but is not identical with it. So, it’s a huge mistake to think that just because, say, Homer or Confucius or the ancient Hebrews did not think systematically, which they did not, that they did not use thinking of the type captured by IQ. They did. Those processes of condensation and exposition in that splendid link you pointed out out to use, obviously require a huge amount of IQ to do well.

        IQ type intelligence is useful everywhere and in all societies. Even animals have rudimentary abilities to think in this way. Because, again, it is so darn useful. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with trade offs, or that other abilities cannnot be more useful in many circumstances.

        Now if everyone everywhere finds this kind of thinking useful, how much more so for putting together a sophisticated narrative like the David story or putting together a law code like that found in the Torah. So, I am very confident that someone like Solomon or Homer, if tested, would have an extremely high IQ.

        Systematic thinking, on the other hand, is the attempt to fit absolutely everything, or at least a huge chunk of it, into a structure that conforms with formal logic. This requires high IQ, but is not identical with it. Not surprising most attempts at developing a system that encompasses everything have been embarrassing failures, as the history of philosophy well attests.*

        *Though interesting and important things have often been discovered along the way.

      • I am sorry, Bruce, but I really can’t agree here.

        The principle holds on several levels. If I make a claim that dramatically undermines a major scientific paradigm, it is quite understandable that I will be held to a higher level of proof than I would for a claim that doesn’t. And this is only appropriate. Not all scientific claims are equal. Although what counts as extraordinary may largely be paradigm-relative, this doesn’t nullify the principle. It just means that, if you want to challenge prevailing paradigms, you really have to have done due diligence. And Lynn really, really hasn’t done this. The standard of research that we are being presented with here is embarrassing. While his results will be accepted by many within whose paradigms his ‘facts’ are congruent, most of the rest of us are disgusted by his standards of research and not remotely near persuaded. And this isn’t because we are all biased lefties.

        Again, if I state that the average IQ of Equatorial Guinea is 59, this is an extraordinary claim on a number of counts. One of the reasons why it is an extraordinary claim is because it could easily be a basis for racism, so it shouldn’t be made lightly. Such a claim should only be made if it meets a high standard of proof. Unfortunately, as one all too often discovers with such ‘hatefacts’, they are recklessly founded upon fairly slim—and in this case most likely false—evidence. Just like the ‘facts’ marshalled by many on the left, they really haven’t been subjected to careful and critical scrutiny. If the same quality of evidence were used against your position, I am sure that you would blow it out of the water.

        You seem to be asserting your position—and more importantly, the strength of the methodology and assumptions upon which it is founded—rather than arguing for it here. Are the questions that I asked bad ones? If so, why? Much of what I am asking for here is evidence for assumptions that I think that you are making far too lightly. Surely that isn’t too much to ask?

        And, once again, I would remind you of my clarifications: I am not denying that intelligence is highly hereditary or that it is unevenly distributed in the human race. Nor am I rejecting in principle the idea that its distribution might violently challenge prevailing views of racial and sexual equality. All I am looking for is evidence for the soundness of its methodology and assumptions, especially when it comes to the grounds for drawing cross-cultural comparisons.

      • The Man Who Was,

        I honed in on the point about systematic and abstract thinking because, in one of the linked pieces Bruce writes: ‘But I now recognize that abstract systematic thinking is pretty close to a definition of IQ…’ However, in a piece that he sent me a few weeks ago, the point was made that the Hebrews did not typically think systematically or abstractly. On the face of it, holding these two things together is something of a problem when it comes to his claims about IQ and cross-cultural measurement.

        I am not denying that many of the forms of intelligence that operate in such a culture may be picked up in an IQ test. However, the relative weighting would be problematic. The meaning of intelligence is weighted rather differently from culture to culture and, consequently, is not easily susceptible to a universal measure.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Then the problem appears to be with Dr. Charlton’s formulation.

  13. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    1. Regarding the question of whether intelligence is a singular entity, there have been multiple attempts to try and separate intelligence into different entities, and these have failed ignominiously. Perhaps Dr. Charlton can speak to the tools like factor analysis we use to determine that there is such a thing as g (or general intelligence). Doubtless there will in future be ways to break down this ability further, but those components would seem to be pretty straightforward things, like how much working memory you have.

    2. IQ can be tested in ways that have no relation to any test you’ve ever taken. A good example the backward digit span. Psychologists are actually pretty good at coming up with bizarre ways to defamiliarize test takers with the procedure. It doesn’t seem to make that much of a difference.

    (This does speak though to some of Lynn’s data though, as some of the tests used will use tests which could have this test taking cultural bias to them.)

    3. Much of the confusion can simply be cleared up by taking a non-verbal IQ test. It should be obvious that a) the skills tested there are useful everywhere and in all societies, and for a wide variety of tasks, and that b) they are exponentially more useful in a modern society, particularly in a modern economy.

    • I suggest that you read something like this, for a challenge some of the claims about the unitary character of intelligence. The presence of different components of intelligence, and their differential weighting and employment in different cultural setting would seem to unsettle the idea that one particular weighting and coordination of these factors provides a normative measure for all. I know some people with very high IQs who are rather dense when it comes to the kinds of verbal reasoning and analogical and concrete thinking that are required within more oral cultures.

      Changing the form of the test doesn’t really address the issue of the problematic assumptions that underlie it, especially when employed in a cross-cultural setting.

      The problem is that the verbal dimensions of intelligence are exponentially more important in less developed societies. While non-verbal dimensions are useful everywhere, they are not remotely near to being a neutral and universal measure of intelligence.

      And the problems with Lynn’s data has to do with such things as the fact that he didn’t have any data for most of the countries that he gives figures for, but just comes up with figures based upon neighbouring countries (modified for the Flynn effect), or the performance of ethnic groups in other countries. A number of his figures are based upon very small and unrepresentative samples. Yet others aren’t even related to the correct population. The inconsistent forms of testing is only a small part of the problem here.

      Anyway, I really am bowing out of this discussion now. I don’t think that my questions or objections are generally being tackled at all, which makes me suspect that we have reached an impasse.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        I haven’t got full access to the paper, but summaries I have read say it says that you can differentiate g into reasoning ability and working memory. You will recall what I said immediately above:

        Doubtless there will in future be ways to break down this ability further, but those components would seem to be pretty straightforward things, like how much working memory you have.

        They also found a verbal component, which isn’t too surprising since many of those tasks people were asked to do inevitably involved words. I have no problem with there being abilities that specifically relate to language. There are other talents and mental abilities. Writing a Bach cantata obviously took a lot of IQ, but just as obviously he needed mental abilities that were specifically musical.

        You are way too hung up on the semantics of the word intelligence. Just get over it. It isn’t any more flattering to say, in a semantically more precise manner, that religious people tend to do worse at logic and/or have poorer working memory (which would make you tend to lose the thread), at least one of which appears to be true, and which, in any event, is the actual issue at hand.

        Again, just get over it. There are more productive lines of thought to pursue here, some of which you yourself have brought up.

        I will try and get the actual paper.

      • Thanks for the comment.

        To be frank, I find it rather strange that I am the one who is being asked to ‘get over it’. Especially by the person whose series of comments on the matter made such an issue of one point of my fifteen in the first place.

        The precise semantics of the word ‘intelligent’ do matter when we are making bold generalizing statements about the relative intelligence of two different groups (and of different cultures and nations), which is why I registered the issue. It was hardly a central pillar of my case. The overwhelming majority of my case proceeds on the assumption that religious people are in fact less intelligent on average than atheists. It seems to me that it is your hang-ups over the concept of IQ (a concept that, to my knowledge, I have not commented on here before) and the relative intelligence of nations that is primarily forcing this issue. Most people will register their disagreement with secondary issues like that and focus on the main points of the post. The fact that you have been worrying at this issue for so many comments is probably a sign that you might not have things in perspective.

        I am not just going to grant the validity of your claims, which I believe are weak, unsupported by reliable research (which I have repeatedly requested but not been given), and founded upon questionable assumptions and models. I believe that there are very good reasons to dispute them, which is why many, many people do. I would note that I am hardly speaking just on some dilettante’s authority here: the sort of claims that you and Bruce are making would be fiercely contested within the relevant fields (I had an interesting conversation with a Psychology PhD student on this subject last night). They shouldn’t just be admitted as legitimate and undisputed truth.

        There are also good reasons why Lynn’s research has been torn into shreds by many of his peers. You haven’t been prepared just to agree to disagree on this point, so I went ahead and tried to have a discussion with you on the matter, even though it was a huge tangent, a fact which I remarked upon at various points.

        Your idea of ‘getting over it’ seems to involve my allowing your point without contest, and that is where I refuse to budge. The appropriateness of the sort of use of IQ testing that at issue here won’t just be granted, even for the sake of argument. Either it must make a convincing case for itself or its claims must be held in question.

        I obviously have respect and appreciation for Bruce (who I count as a friend) and for you, and I have given you both the opportunity to persuade me, laying out the means by which I could be persuaded. Neither of you have really closely engaged with these points, though, so you shouldn’t be surprised that I remain unconvinced.

  14. Pingback: Are Atheists Smarter than Religious People? | Notes from Mere O

  15. It’s definitely about quality, not quantity with everything in life. One can have all the knowledge in the world and still never understand. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear. Those who have eyes to see, let them see.

  16. Pingback: Ten Years of Blogging: 2012-2013 | Alastair's Adversaria

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