Take a pencil and paper—do this—and write down the most intelligent people who have ever lived. Most brilliant in any field of endeavor, now. Who were the best of us? Make it at least twenty entries. Don’t peek below until you’ve finished.
Done? First thing is to count how many in your tally have died in the last, say, fifty to one-hundred years. Anything more than about ten-percent proves you are a product of a stunted educational system and that your opinions about what follows aren’t worth diddly. You folks, wounded as you are, just sit back and listen.
Those who you found yourselves counting women or non-whites, please click here and have a nice day.
Now that that’s settled, time for the test. How many of your luminaries believed in God? That’s right: most, probably all. What can we glean from this? First, that you could have multiplied this list many times and have come to the same conclusion. Second, that many, many of those far above us believed in a metaphysics shockingly disjoint from the one au courant.
Far from being humbled by these observations, modern skeptics might claim, “Culture! These fellows existed in times where it was considered acceptable and normal to be believers. Thus they believed; why, they even used their intelligence to justify their believing.”
That so? Well, today many of the bright claim to be non-believers, and if the skeptic is right about people being at least partly a reflection of their culture, then non-believers are so because of culture. It’s cool to be a non-believer, even mandatory in the sense that metaphysical talk is unwelcome at social gatherings, especially in academia. What’s more fun to join a campus group of “free thinkers” to giggle about flying spaghetti monsters and coming to agreement about how much smarter the group is than those foolish and stupid believers?
Enter the peer-reviewed paper “The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity: A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations” by Miron Zuckerman, Jordan Silberman, and Judith A. Hall in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review.
This was a “meta-analysis”, i.e. a disreputable conglomeration of other studies which hopes to prove what the individual studies could not. This meta-analysis “showed a significant negative association between intelligence and religiosity.” They mean “significant” in the wee p-value sense and not in any real consequence. And by “association” they mean linear correlation, the weakest and least generalizable of all statistical measures.
The individual studies cobbled into one were extremely heterogeneous, too, using a wide range of “intelligence” measures: GPA, syllogism tests, “Immediate free recall” exams, Peabody picture tests, and on and on. How did the authors compensate for these differences? Answer: they did not. This is proof enough the meta-analysis is of little to no worth. But academics are no easily discouraged, and onwards they plowed to measure religiosity. Which, again, was measured in a huge variety of ways and left uncorrected and uncontrolled in the meta-analysis. Thus there is no reason whatsoever to look at any of the numerical results, as they have no meaning.
It is still interesting to exmaine the explanations the authors put to these numbers, as these tell us a great deal about the culture which drives disbelief, particularly the modern trend in which non-believers boast (endlessly) of their brilliance. Many atheists, proving their tone-deafness, even call themselves “brights”.
The authors of the paper claim “intelligent people are less likely to conform and, thus, are more likely to resist religious dogma”. The first clause is false. Intelligent people are people and, as we’ve already agreed, are as likely as other people to conform to the culture about them. On campus, this culture is atheistic and anti-religious.
The second “finding”—which you’ll notice cannot be derived from the data the authors use, but must be assumed—“intelligent people tend to adopt an analytic (as opposed to intuitive) thinking style, which has been shown to undermine religious beliefs.” This implies religious people do not adopt analytic thinking “styles”, which is false; and it is also false that thinking analytically undermines religious beliefs. We proved this with the lists we all wrote.
Their last speculation: “several functions of religiosity, including compensatory control, self-regulation, self-enhancement, and secure attachment, are also conferred by intelligence.” This is plain nonsense. Intelligence by itself does nothing, as should be obvious even to an academic. It’s the uses to which intelligence is put that matters.
The real finding? Academics never recognize their own biases.
Update I had thought it obvious, but…the lesson to be had in writing the names of our betters was humility. It was (I thought) not a definitive proof that the smartest, brightest, most intelligent, and most capable people of all time were believers that therefore God exists. But it should make us moderns (you would have supposed) far less cocky.
Thanks to Twitter user Intrepid Wanders â€@intrepidwanders who told me of this study.