Do only the less intelligent write papers about theists being less intelligent?

There are some new statistical papers floating around that conclude that the more intelligent among us tend to be atheists.

An equivalent, but more enjoyable, way of stating this is that dumber people tend to be theists. It must be fun for degree-holding atheist journalists to report these matters, since it flatters their degree-bred sense of superiority.

Which doesn’t follow. That “superiority”, I mean. It would if it were true that atheism is morally superior to theism. But morality is logically independent of intelligence (empirically, the evidence goes both ways; and since 1789, intellectuals have little to boast of, morally).

Point is, any study, or any reporting on such a study, that seeks to correlate intelligence and theism should remain mute on the subject of morality. But that’s not the case in the reporting and comments on our two articles (here and here)

The first study was authored by Satoshi Kanazawa, an “evolutionary psychologist.” Evolutionary psychologist spend a lot of telling us what we already knew (women hate philandering mates) or by telling us things that are false or misleading. Such as this statement by James Bailey, who said, “The adoption of some evolutionarily novel ideas [like atheism] makes some sense in terms of moving the species forward.”

Bailey also says that it’s the more intelligent that usher in novel ideas. This is unhelpful because, while it is true that every advance by definition requires a “novel idea”, every setback does, too. And since setbacks are more common than advances (is atheism a setback?), are intellectuals, on average, an evolutionary disadvantage? Maybe: see below.

Anyway, Kanazawa thinks atheism is a novel idea, and says that higher IQ people tend to support it. But Kanazawa’s study employs poor statistical methods. Here’s the problem.

Many do not come to atheism by reasoned thought about the existence or not of God. Most people do not engage theologians about, say, the strengths and weaknesses of the ontological argument.

As acknowledged in our second study by professor David Voas, they come to it through culture,. Fresh college students meet not-so-fresh students and stale professors who share a common belief that theism is stupid, and that belief comes from the blind following of tradition. Most new students, as is human nature, adopt this belief of their associates and superiors. To say it another way, they begin to blindly follow a different tradition.

But, since it is higher IQ kids who attend college and who are exposed to the culture of atheism, it makes it more likely that students, rather than non-students, who will become atheists. Atheism and IQ will show a positive correlation, but what is missing is the causation. There will also be a correlation between “degree of liberalism” and IQ, which Kanazawa also tracked, and for the same reason.

If you object to that, it is probably because you have forgotten that for most of history people with high IQs were theists, and that it was those with the highest IQs who contributed the most to theology. Arguments for or against the existence of God have not changed much through time, but culture has. It is thus more plausible that culture and not intellect is what drives belief.

Kanazawa is not silent on causation. He says that theism causes “paranoia.” He strung these English words together, “It helps life to be paranoid, and because humans are paranoid, they become more religious, and they see the hands of God everywhere.” Each of those words is English, but their ordering is gibberish.

Is he implying that theists are mentally ill and atheists not? Kanazawa would not be the first to argue that theists are insane, but he may be the first who attached a p-value to that belief. Or is he merely saying that humans are cautious because the future is uncertain? No, because he can’t resist the disparaging, and false, remark that theists “see the hands of God everywhere.”

Bailey takes a subtler view. He claims that, regardless whether a novel idea is good or bad, holders of novel beliefs, who tend to be smarter, attract more mates. His argument is thus a version of the theory that some women like bad boys. There is no proof of his theory, of course, and it is difficult to test because it is difficult to quantitatively define “novelty.” For one, ideas do not have to be liberal to be novel, even if the predominant culture is conservative.

Even Kanazawa himself is aware that his own argument is on thin ice. For example, he acknowledges that nowadays “[m]ore intelligent people don’t have more children.” This is true.

So I wonder: does he realize that this empirical truth negates everything else in his study?

50 Comments

  1. Sounds to me that Kanazawa is actually saying that “paranoia” causes theism. And since he starts off talking about generic “life”, I’d assume he’s talking about instincts. I don’t know that I’d agree that instinctual awareness rises to the level of paranoia, or even that paranoia necessarily leads to theism, but I guess that’s why I’m not an evolutionary psychologist.

  2. Well, you don’t have to be very smart to see it.

    But, the answer to your question is no, because smart people can see it too, and probably write better.

  3. Matt S.,

    Smart people can see what “too”? Or are you merely claiming smart people can write better?

  4. Someday the smarter atheists will eventually see that theism and atheism are the opposite faces of the same coin.

    Not sure about Bailey’s theory either. Novel idea holders are often ridiculed. (IOW: outsiders). It’s the only connection I can see between “bad boys” and “novel idea holders”. Irish Cream is probably a better aphrodisiac. Maybe Bailey had a little too much?

  5. I’ll take a shot at answering your question as well. No, the evolutionary effect of intelligence has nothing to do with the results of the study. Granted, this is a writeup of the study, not the study itself, but “Political, religious and sexual behaviors may be reflections of intelligence, a new study finds.” is unrelated to evolution.

    Now, on the subject of morality, could you copy a sentence or two that shows the link between morality and theism/atheism in either of the two articles (let’s just ignore the comments). The only one I see is maybe the Dawkins quote in the New Scientist article, and that’s being held up as an absurd atheist definition of faith. The only time morality enters the discussion is here. Where you generate a “sense of superiority” in order to shoot it down.

  6. This is an interesting sentence.

    “It helps life to be paranoid, and because humans are paranoid, they become more religious, and they see the hands of God everywhere.”

    Sorry to tend toward off-topic, but I wonder if

    “It helps life to be paranoid, and because humans are paranoid, they become more credulous, and they see the effect of anthropogenic global warming everywhere”

    would ever make it into an “intellectual” publication.

  7. Question: Do only the less intelligent write papers about theists being less intelligent?*

    Translation:

    How smart are you if you spend significant time and effort asserting unprovable or ill-structured propositions?

    Answer to translated question: Not very.

    Ergo, my answer to original question is Yes. However, the ability to answer this question correctly says nothing about my intelligence compared to anyone else!

    * For those familiar with medieval theological debates including Summa Theologica this is equivalent to debating the number of angels on the head of a pin. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_many_angels_can_dance_on_the_head_of_a_pin%3F)

  8. It is manifestly true that theists are as dumb as a billy goat’s beard.

    Augustine of Hippo. Thomas of Aquin. Duns Scotus of Ireland. Ignatius of Loyola. Kant of Konigsberg. Kierkegaard of Denmark. Wojtyla of Cracow. Ratzinger of Bavaria.

    Congenital imbeciles one and all.

  9. While there is a clear negative correlation between IQ and number of children, this is actually probably misleading as a single main cause. The actual correlation is between wealth and number of children, and generally people with higher IQ’s make more money. However, in communities where even the relatively low end of the economic ladder are much more wealthy than typical people in very poor countries, the child birth rate is lower. It is thus clear that this is not mainly IQ dependent, but based on relative wealth of a region. There may in fact still be a negative correlation if wealth is held near constant, but this appears to be a multi-parameter issue.

    It should also be noted that many of the greatest minds of the past were also religious. This is probably more a cultural mass activity, and when people are strongly raised in a certain environment, there will be belief installed in most before logic can filter out this input. Rejection at a later age may be due to deep thinking, or just following a new surrounding group think.

  10. Although I don’t actually have a study yet, when I’ve finished it my study will show beyond doubt that agnostics are smarter than theists and atheists. (Why yes, as a matter of fact I am an agnostic.)

  11. Touché, Kevin B. And John M., too.

    As to Kanazawa’s “study”, love it when self-identifying brainiacs waste so much adolescent energy pleasuring their egos. Keeps them off the freeways of life, sort of.

  12. That guy who said ‘God does not play dice with the universe’…what was his name..Einstein or something…had some crackpot theory about some physics nonsense.

  13. “There are some new statistical papers floating around that conclude that the more intelligent among us tend to be atheists.”

    You’re most likely refering to [this study](http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6W4M-4TFV93D-1&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=db2ee09bae0195cc1ecbd026da77245c)

    Using citations is important because otherwise whatever you write can easily be discerned as bullshit, but I’ll illustrate this later.

    “An equivalent, but more enjoyable, way of stating this is that dumber people tend to be theists. It must be fun for degree-holding atheist journalists to report these matters, since it flatters their degree-bred sense of superiority.”

    It’s better stated as “those who are less intelligent are more likely to buy into religion” Beyond that, “degree-bred sense of superiority” is just you hating on people who were motivated/smart enough (and adequately funded I’ll admit) to earn a higher degree of education.

    “Which doesn’t follow. That “superiority”, I mean. It would if it were true that atheism is morally superior to theism. “But morality is logically independent of intelligence (empirically, the evidence goes both ways; and since 1789, intellectuals have little to boast of, morally).”

    That is one hell of a logical jump.

    1) First off, you’re making a straw man argument, depicting some fictitious atheist journalist who is up is own ass. You’re literally imagining up your own easy target

    2) If your imaginary journalist believed himself intellectually superior in the field of theology, he would be right, but it also wouldn’t have anything to do with your following statement about morality. He’d be right because the difference between theism and atheism most often boils down to the idea of looking at how relevant something is to decision making (if you’re a subscribed to most religions, religion should have a lot to do with the decisions you make in life) and how extraordinary its claims are (like all 2 million + animals needed to be on the ark, fitting in it.) and then deciding “how much evidence do I need before I subscribe to this belief.

    What most theists portray is the inability to say “I don’t know” about things like if there is a meaning to life, or the origins of the universe, or the apathy to study the more difficult scientifically supported theories we already have to the big questions. This means looking up abiogenesis as to why life exists rather than just saying God made life. Or looking up evolution rather than saying God made us. Or looking up the quantum physics that prove that a universe could come from nothing

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo

    You’ll notice that religion has the easy answers, it just requires God and a verb. The scientific answers require books and books of information to really understand. Which do you think is going to be favored by those of lower intelligence, and which do you think is going to be more intellectually honest?

    3) If this imagined atheist journalist does think he is morally superior to you, he’s right again. Here’s why:

    -Theists often don’t do bad things for fear of upsetting God, an atheist can be moral without fear of punishment

    -Theists often do good things as to be rewarded with eternal life in paradise. This is the most greed I could imagine, how many theists would go to hell for any reason? An atheist can do good things without having to be bribed.

    – Atheists will do whatever they think is right despite what some outdated book of unsubstantiated stories say, theists will do whatever an outdated book of unsubstantiated stories says despite what they think is right.

    “Point is, any study, or any reporting on such a study, that seeks to correlate intelligence and theism should remain mute on the subject of morality. But that’s not the case in the reporting and comments on our two articles (here and here)”

    I agree, stay on the subject when it’s brought up and the legitimacy of theism has nothing to do with how moral it is. I’ve delved into both simply because you did so first.

    “The first study was authored by Satoshi Kanazawa, an “evolutionary psychologist.” Evolutionary psychologist spend a lot of telling us what we already knew (women hate philandering mates) or by telling us things that are false or misleading. Such as this statement by James Bailey, who said, “The adoption of some evolutionarily novel ideas [like atheism] makes some sense in terms of moving the species forward.””

    Actually, that’s a very good concept. If ideas are included in evolution, then novel ideas are the mutations that thrive or fail based upon how well they can be adopted and cause the species to thrive.

    “Bailey also says that it’s the more intelligent that usher in novel ideas. This is unhelpful because, while it is true that every advance by definition requires a “novel idea”, every setback does, too. And since setbacks are more common than advances (is atheism a setback?), are intellectuals, on average, an evolutionary disadvantage? Maybe: see below.”

    I agree that it isn’t necessarily the more intelligent that offer novel ideas, but the more intelligent do a better job at offering more ideas that can stand up for themselves. It’s also true that setbacks are more common than advances in evolution (the most common mutation is cancer). Also, don’t ask inflammatory questions like “is atheism a setback?” without backing it up with evidence or logic. You’re just hinting at what has no plausibility.

    “Anyway, Kanazawa thinks atheism is a novel idea, and says that higher IQ people tend to support it. But Kanazawa’s study employs poor statistical methods. Here’s the problem.
    Many do not come to atheism by reasoned thought about the existence or not of God. Most people do not engage theologians about, say, the strengths and weaknesses of the ontological argument.”

    I’m here arguing with you, I’ve argued with theologians of a myriad of theological beliefs. I came here from a link in reddit that has tons of people arguing theological beliefs. You have no proof to say that atheists don’t arrive at their beliefs through any process that is not equal, or better than that of a theist. And I know that your use of the ontological argument is only an example, but it’s still BS because being able to conceive something doesn’t mean it should exist.

    “As acknowledged in our second study by professor David Voas, they come to it through culture,. Fresh college students meet not-so-fresh students and stale professors who share a common belief that theism is stupid, and that belief comes from the blind following of tradition. Most new students, as is human nature, adopt this belief of their associates and superiors. To say it another way, they begin to blindly follow a different tradition.”

    The question is: which tradition sounds like bullshit and which one doesn’t? Does a tradition of standards of evidence and questioning sound more right, or does unquestioningly following the tradition of a priest who preaches a book about people surviving inside of fish, noah’s ark, turning entire rivers into blood etc. sound like a better tradition? Moreover, it’s not like teachers are showing up to the chalk board and saying “Ok well the z-score is a measurement of standard deviations from the mean, also the bible has been altered by the church”

    “But, since it is higher IQ kids who attend college and who are exposed to the culture of atheism, it makes it more likely that students, rather than non-students, who will become atheists. Atheism and IQ will show a positive correlation, but what is missing is the causation. There will also be a correlation between “degree of liberalism” and IQ, which Kanazawa also tracked, and for the same reason.”

    I’m not here to discuss liberalism.

    “If you object to that, it is probably because you have forgotten that for most of history people with high IQs were theists, and that it was those with the highest IQs who contributed the most to theology. Arguments for or against the existence of God have not changed much through time, but culture has. It is thus more plausible that culture and not intellect is what drives belief.”

    The reason historical people with high IQ’s were often theists was because there were so few atheists at all to argue the other side. Moreover, when there’s less explanations, people tend to jump to the conclusion “God did it!” Neil Tyson does a better job of explaining it here

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vrpPPV_yPY&NR=1

    Moreover, the arguments against God have changed quite a bit. There weren’t many Romans around talking about evolution disproving man’s divine creation. There weren’t many Chinese in the Han dynasty running around talking about the big bang describing the beginnings of the universe. And beyond that, the ability to communicate the unpopular ideas of atheism weren’t available. Somehow I think the catholic church would have disagreed has “The God Delusion” been published.

    “Kanazawa is not silent on causation. He says that theism causes “paranoia.” He strung these English words together, “It helps life to be paranoid, and because humans are paranoid, they become more religious, and they see the hands of God everywhere.” Each of those words is English, but their ordering is gibberish.

    Is he implying that theists are mentally ill and atheists not? Kanazawa would not be the first to argue that theists are insane, but he may be the first who attached a p-value to that belief. Or is he merely saying that humans are cautious because the future is uncertain? No, because he can’t resist the disparaging, and false, remark that theists “see the hands of God everywhere.”

    He didn’t say mentally ill, he said paranoid. It makes sense in the context that if there is a benevolent God, he won’t allow something evil to happen to you without reason. In that sense, religion is soothing and paranoid people would be drawn to it. I don’t have any statistics backing this however so I will point that it is opinion.

    “Bailey takes a subtler view. He claims that, regardless whether a novel idea is good or bad, holders of novel beliefs, who tend to be smarter, attract more mates. His argument is thus a version of the theory that some women like bad boys. There is no proof of his theory, of course, and it is difficult to test because it is difficult to quantitatively define “novelty.” For one, ideas do not have to be liberal to be novel, even if the predominant culture is conservative.”

    This I agree with. Moreover, novel ideas most likely dissuade mates. If I walked around in modern times saying that the planet was flat, it wouldn’t do anything for me in the area of mating.

    “Even Kanazawa himself is aware that his own argument is on thin ice. For example, he acknowledges that nowadays “[m]ore intelligent people don’t have more children.” This is true.

    So I wonder: does he realize that this empirical truth negates everything else in his study?”

    It doesn’t negate everything, only that novel ideas don’t tend to make members of a species more successful in terms of reproduction.

    @DAV

    “Someday the smarter atheists will eventually see that theism and atheism are the opposite faces of the same coin.”

    They are the opposite faces of the same coin in the same way that fire is the opposite side of water. They’re mutually exclusive.

    @bernie

    “Question: Do only the less intelligent write papers about theists being less intelligent?*

    Translation:

    How smart are you if you spend significant time and effort asserting unprovable or ill-structured propositions?

    Answer to translated question: Not very.”

    You just threw in “unprovable” and “ill-structured” you can seriously just google it and find that it is provable and well structured that higher IQ’s and level of education correlate with disbelief in theism.

    @Harrywr2

    “That guy who said ‘God does not play dice with the universe’…what was his name..Einstein or something…had some crackpot theory about some physics nonsense.”

    So many things wrong with that. 1) Einstein only said that in reference to whether the mechanics of the universe were deterministic or not 2) “I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”– Albert Einstein 3) It doesn’t matter because not only was he not a theologist, it’s not an argument, it’s just tacking a name to a quote.

  14. Cituke, you obviously suck at a lot of intellectually demanding endeavors, such as succinct composition as well as html formatting. Ergo, you’re not that smart. Maybe if you prayed for divine guidance, it might improve your intellect. Or not. But you sure don’t qualify as an exemplar of atheistic super-intelligence.

  15. Cituke:
    Is this the study you are referring to?
    http://personal.lse.ac.uk/Kanazawa/pdfs/SPQ2010.pdf

    Have you actually read this study? By read, I mean have you gone beyond the graphs and examined the actual details of the design and the analysis? Are you comfortable with your knowledge of statistics he uses and psychometrics so as to understand the PPVT measure that he used as a proxy for intelligence? Take a look here (http://www.iprc.unc.edu/longscan/pages/measures/Baseline/Peabody%20Picture%20Vocabulary%20Test.pdf) Are you still comfortable with his measure of intelligence?
    Did you by any chance read the earlier post that Matt had up – http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=2043 . If you have not done so already, I strongly recommend that you listen to Stan Young’s presentation here – http://www.americanscientist.org/science/pub/everything-is-dangerous-a-controversy
    Are you comfortable with the average age of adults in the Kanazawa study #1? If you are comfortable with Kanazawa’s somewhat untypical definition of liberalism are you aware of the data on charitable giving by self identified political standing?

  16. My apologies. I didn’t notice the close proximity of the previous post’s This is satire.¹ disclaimer to the the comment’s link Just a misunderstanding, eh?

  17. Religion = crowd control. It offers the faithful jam tomorrow in compensation for a life of obedience and drudgery. It permits a relative few to hold a position of influence, power and relative wealth over others. Religion, then, has its deepest and most extensive roots among the ignorant, thus poor, thus hopeless to whom it gives a glimmer of hope in the next life even if there seems none in this.

    It is education which liberates and the more intelligent respond to education better. Part of education is, or should be, the development of a questioning mind. A questioning mind better discovers the shortcomings of religious teachings and an intelligent mind better sees the inconsistencies and falsehoods. Intelligent, well educated people tend to be materially better off and are hopeful of this life, thus have less need of the jam offered by religion in recompense for the shabby temporal existence of the poor and hopeless.

    The intelligent and educated are better able to understand alternative explanations for our World and do not need a fantastic, super-Being to explain existence.

    Better educated societies increasingly tend to pay only lip service at most to religion and God as their members become better educated and the previous generation fails to indoctrinate its children in the resident religion.

    That some educated, intelligent people believe in religion and God seems a puzzle, but then people who have plenty, steal, and people with much to lose commit crimes which provide them no gain and great risk. Look at how many intelligent people believe in CO2-made global warming/climate change, a non-evidence based religion.

  18. Hhhmmm….it seems that quite a number of reasonable, but not entirely true, remarks have been built into a “straw man” (or worse) argument. You raised it, so here’s a response:

    Point 1: “since it is higher IQ kids who attend college and who are exposed to the culture of atheism, it makes it more likely that students, rather than non-students, who will become atheists.”

    THAT is a view, but a highly oversimplified & misleading view. The reality is that “culture” includes a LOT of facts, much of which consist of comparisons with major religions of today with almost forgotton religions of the past. It doesn’t take long to discover that some mainstream views are indistinguishable from MANY preceding religions. Justin Martyr, in one of his apologies (about 150 AD), for example, argues in defense of the early Christians that Christianity is really no different than: & he cites them. But the distinguishing characteristic for Christianity he argues is that the “devils” knowing that Christ was coming pre-empted this true religion by a bunch of look-alike phonies to confuse people. If/when one reviews those other religions, this argument appears pretty weak. And its the best ever made. The church’s response was to destroy evidence of those look-alike religions. It did a good job of it, but not a total one. And its in the halls of academia that these others are reviewed & compared.

    ALSO, is it really true that “higher IQ” kids go to college? What about a sizeable number of very determined & disciplined kids, with average IQs, that have the opportunity to go?

    AND, reviewing the desicription of the study (the CNN story, link provided in the blog) suggests that “liberal” was a somewhat narrow definition relative to the current popular usage; it looked to me like “libertarian” (which covers a lot of territory from mostly conservative/republican to mostly liberal/democrat) would, for the most part, fall in the “liberal” category per this study.

    THUS, isn’t making the assertions in this blog article regarding the limitations & overgeneralizations & so forth just as guilty as the references being critiqued because the definition of the terms in the specific context are being disregarded?

    MORE TO THE POINT, much of the assertions made (such as paranoids being drawn to “religion”), etc. are NOT logical problems in the usual sense — they’re psychological issues that have been studied. The issues & observations are valid–provided the proper science is applied to them. The real “trick” is recognizing this, then knowing where to look.

    Here’s one perspective from a well-known student of the Bible & religion:

    “If one wishes to get anywhere reasoning with fundamentalists and biblicists, I suggest one try to determine the emotional issues that attach believers to their beliefs. The beliefs themselves are, I think, a function of certain psychological needs that would be better met in other ways. But until those psychological needs are identified and met in other ways, we will have no way of getting believers to budge from their beliefs, and we might not even have the right to do so”

    That’s the bottom line of an item he wrote; the entire piece (“The Psychology of Biblicism” by Dr. Robert M. Price) is at: http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/art_biblicism.htm

    One doesn’t need to be a psychologist to see that the type of God a person believes in correlates closely with personality types. An observation parodied in the book, Catch 22, where a supporting character claims to be an atheist and goes on to explain the particular sort of God they choose not to believe in.

    But this is a psychological matter that has no business being subjected to non-psychological evaluation criteria.

  19. The use of the PPVT as a measure of intelligence in the Kanazawa study #1 intrigues me because of its apparent psychometric properties. If anyone can point me to an accessible detailed study of its validity I would be very interested. What was available indicates the coefficient alpha was very high – greater than .9 . Now Cronbach’s Alpha, if this is the measure referred to, is a measure of the inter-item correlation of scale items. In a scale you can get a high alpha if you ask more or less the same question multiple times. So it is important to determine the extent to which the items in the scale fully measure the construct that you are hoping the scale measures. For example, build a test of ten items that asks individuals to add together two single digit numbers. The resulting test will have a very high Cronbach’s Alpha. But what is it measuring? That’s right, the ability to add two single digit numbers together. It is certainly not a measure of arithmetic ability and even less a measure of mathematical ability. Given that the construct the PPVT is supposed to measure is IQ and IQ is a pretty complex construct, I would be astonished that a measure with a very high coefficient alpha actually came close to measuring it. Not surprisingly, the PPVT does not appear to correlate particularly well with tests of quantitative ability.

    Of course, the above says nothing about the existence or non-existence of God.

  20. The glib assumptions non-theists make about theism and theists is mind-boggling. Sort of like non-swimmers posing as swimming coaches. Lots to look at. Millions of opinions. Not much actual experience except they frequently take baths. Quite smug, aamof.

    On the point of IQ and college I believe a significant but unknowable number in the highest 2% of intelligence potential [for that is what it is] forgo conventional curricula paths and by diverse means seek their own ways, and are thus technically “unschooled”.

  21. Ken,

    Thank you. The central argument of the cited papers have two parts. One is logical/empirical, one statistical.

    Statistical: If the IQs of college graduates is just a little higher on average then the IQs on non-college graduates (low IQ people might matriculate but fail to graduate), then my theory is at least as plausible as their theory. Their only evidence, after all, is a weak correlation between IQ and belief in atheism.

    My theory is that more people decide atheism (or liberalism or libertarianism) because of the influence of their peers and superiors than do people select these proclivities via reasoned argument. Given human nature, my theory seems more likely.

    Logical/empirical: The authors say that atheism, because it is a novel behavior, is selected because it enhances reproductive success. They also claim that those with higher IQs select atheism. (On average, of course). Finally, they conclude that those with high IQs (on average) reproduce at a lower rate than those with higher IQs. Thus, their statements are self-contradictory. They put the kibosh on their own theory.

    Cituke,

    Do you see that?

    Also, the arguments against the existence of God have not improved. More people believe them, true. And I’ll also agree that more people with higher IQs now believe them. This is a restatement of my theory.

    You must also accept that, before roughly 200 years ago, most of the people with the highest IQs rejected the arguments against God’s existence. And, in actual fact, any list of the Smartest People Of All Time will contain a vast majority of theists. That most of them were so because of culture and not reasoned argument, would only again be evidence in favor of my theory.

    Of if I am wrong and those geniuses (who were theists) did come to theism by reasoned argument, then we should be humbled.

    The only counter you appear to offer is that the argument from design used to prove God’s existence has fallen on evil days. Very well. But the invalidity of that argument, if it indeed is invalid, does not imply that God, therefore, does not exist. I won’t say you make that logical error, but your words hint you might.

  22. @ mikeD

    The post was the necessary length to address the individual points of article, if you want to show me how to correctly hyperlink in this blog, by all means go ahead.

    @bernie

    I could use a point here instead of just questions, but I will agree that intelligence is a very nebulous concept that is incredibly hard to define objectively.

    @bowman

    Almost all organizational systems concentrate power into the hands of a few, not just religion.

    @49dweet

    If you care to make a point that isn’t name calling, or is otherwise substantiated in some way, that my be nice.

    @Briggs

    It’s true that culture will play the largest part in someone’s beliefs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t draw correlations by other factors whether it’s IQ or education or anything else. These applies to past intellectuals as well. The problem is, what is the more intellectual method to arrive at an ideology, science or culture?

    I also argue that there is much different arguments FOR god. The appeal of a God of gaps increases substantially as the average person is exposed to more and more events outside of their understanding of science.

    The earliest religions had sun and moon gods because they didn’t know what the sun and moon were. This continued with lightning gods and so forth. In the Neil Tysson video I showed you, once somebody didn’t have an explanation they would say that God did it. When there’s less things you attribute to divine forces, there is less “evidence” for a God. Whenever there’s an earthquake or hurricane our less knowledgeable predecessors would have what they thought to be irrefutable truth of the existence of deities.

    The weakness of that comes from people being unable to say “I don’t know why there’s lightning” or otherwise being able to study it scientifically.

    My counter lies not on the popularity of argument from design, but rather the fact that you’re jumping to conclusions. Saying an unseen, omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent (as by the standard interpretation) deity exists who answers prayers designed the universe simply because you couldn’t follow the science behind my creation from nothing link:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo

    or that you can’t accept you don’t know, is intellectually dishonest and as valid as any other conclusion you could jump to without evidence.

  23. Actually been doing some research, and that specific study does look to be bullshit, I retract my statements about it, my apologies.

    The rest of what I said about atheism being more moral and logical still stands though.

  24. Cituke:
    Well spotted. The question then becomes, how smart are people who write and publish “bullshit” studies – whether they are atheisists or theists?

  25. All,

    JH, whom we all know and love, sent me these links.

    Turns out that Kanazawa is a repeat offender. Complete details of some of his fundamental statistical misinterpretations are found in this article (a pdf) by Andrew Gelman, a statistician at Columbia. Kanazawa makes some common mistakes, and some simple math blunders. The paper does not require advanced mathematics to read.

    (Gelman and I are not philosophically very far apart, statistically speaking.)

    Gelman also found that Wikipedia, which he mockingly calls a “completely reliable source“, disputed Gelman’s criticisms. I won’t link to Wikipedia—because I don’t want to encourage it: and Gelmans’ link shows why—so you have to go to Gelman’s site to find the link.

  26. Christi Johnson,

    Have you proof? Or just raw assertion?

    Would you claim—assuming you are an atheist—to be brighter than Newton, Mozart, Gauss, Aristotle? Might be true. If so, I’d like to be your pal.

  27. As a life long atheist ( from around the age of 14- when I first started to be exposed to science and the scientific method), I would argue that going to a university has little to do with it. For me it was the result of seeking answers from the science and empericism, and coming to some answers from an analytic framework. We are creature of biology, functioning via biochemical mechanisms in a physical world. Nuff said. It defines me and my worldview, but i long gave up trying to convince others- it really does not matter one wee bit.

    The ones who get to become atheists upon getting to an IVY, I do not know what to say about them, I certainly cannot relate to them, for me I took my ” conversion” as an intellectual journey.

    That said, my brethren are certainly not normative. At times an abberation perhaps- a highly evolved aberration – but an abberation from the norm neverthless. I think the God delusion is hard wired into our brains.

    BTW what do you have against EP anyway, at times they have their excesses, but fundamentally it is not a bad paradigm for attempting to understand US.

    In any event- can I avail of minority rights ??? ( ref next post)

  28. briggs:
    Logical/empirical: The authors say that atheism, because it is a novel behavior, is selected because it enhances reproductive success. They also claim that those with higher IQs select atheism. (On average, of course). Finally, they conclude that those with high IQs (on average) reproduce at a lower rate than those with higher IQs. Thus, their statements are self-contradictory. They put the kibosh on their own theory.

    That is complete BS by the authors,- atheism is counter- normal – and no babe wants to date a freak/nerd. So if anything, atheists who want to get l**d better shut the F*** up on the first date. So no reproductive advantage here.

    I would however mildly say that for men of science, to not be at least partially atheistic, would for me and only for me – suggest that there is some serious cognitive dissonance going on.

    Like this PhD in biological sciences ( professor at a top 10 university- major NIH grants) I was unfortunately cloistered with at a party last week, who spent 1.5 hrs trying to convince me about the intelligence that must have gone in to create DNA, For someone who works with DNA all day, he is clueless about modern genetics. He is a technician not a scientist.

    BTW I do think that atheists while they may or may not be more intellegent are more analytical.

  29. Briggs:
    Would you claim—assuming you are an atheist—to be brighter than Newton, Mozart, Gauss, Aristotle? Might be true. If so, I’d like to be your pal.

    I don’t know about Newton et al, but after Darwin, Mendel, the Watson and Crick model and the modern synthesis, it is hard not to to make a case.

    The creationists are right, and the “evolution to be taught in schools” propnents are wrong about one thing, evolutionary science kinda negates theism, pretty much- end of story. Evolutionary theory and a deity are mutually incompatible. And without evolutionary theory to tie all the pieces together, biological sciences are just a random assortment of facts and data and observations without any cohesive glue that ties all the empirical observations together. So, ipso facto Biology negates theism.

  30. perhaps the question might have been better framed as heretics rather than atheists

    as a case in point when we crtique the AGW alarmists, the shrill and pedantic nature of the responses indicate clearly that the sin we are guilty of is heresy. And so you have epithets like denialists floating around.

    are heretics in general smarter that the believers ? I would argue that they are. they have nothing to go on but their reason and their confidence in their reason.

  31. VIC
    This is an odd and confusing cluster of assertions:
    “Evolutionary theory and a deity are mutually incompatible. And without evolutionary theory to tie all the pieces together, biological sciences are just a random assortment of facts and data and observations without any cohesive glue that ties all the empirical observations together. So, ipso facto Biology negates theism.”

    I do not see the “ipso facto” – it feels like you are trying to pull a fast one.

    It seems to me that Biology continues to remain “a random assortment of facts, etc.” with or without evolution. If anything, randomness is a much stronger argument against theism than evolution. I assume by random you mean without any apparent structure or overall coherence.

  32. Cituke. My apologies for name-calling. Nothing personal intended. And thanks for the conversations.
    I’ll impose on Matt’s bandwidth again to make this point. As a theist I can accept a non-theist’s right to believe as she/he wishes without assuming anything re: their smartness factor. Generally I don’t see the same courtesy extended by non-theist’s. To me that speaks of a closed mind, not self-assurance. But I could be wrong. Could you?

  33. Hasdrubal:
    I left a comment at the site you linked to:

    “Either there is an enormous number of Baptists, all respondents are from Lake Wobegon or there is something wrong with these numbers. Most people cannot be above the mean for the group.”

    What IQ test does the NLSY97 use?

  34. From an earlier post, I think he used ASVAB scores from the data set either as a proxy or IQ was calculated from them. While this is the military aptitude test, everybody in the study took (or at least had the opportunity to take it).

    Their methodology and explanation of how the test was calibrated is described here:
    http://www.nlsinfo.org/nlsy97/nlsdocs/nlsy97/topicalguide/asvab.html

    I’m inferring this from the title in his graph on his initial post on the atheist IQ thing:
    http://super-economy.blogspot.com/2010/03/are-atheists-smarter-than-average.html

    Also note that he doesn’t jump to conclusions based on the data over whether one philosophy is superior to another. Actually, that seems to me to be his point: You need a story explaining why the correlation is there, not just the correlation:

    “The most important thing I note is that Mormons are smarter than average. If you are going to go around saying that atheists are smarter than average, you should know that the same tests show Mormons to be smarter than average as well.

    Mormonism is not just a religion. It is a cohesive and self-replicating cultural identity, with strong positive effects on behavior and outcome for its members. “

  35. Wow that was bad. Horrible actually. The prejorative language throughout, the crappy thinking. Theist perhaps?

    You might as well just have written
    “Atheists aren’t smarter and anyways they are just mean, horrible people!”

    Intelligence in my experience tends to aid people in determining what is true and what is false. What is reasonable to believe and what is unreasonable to believe.
    Almost all religions ask their adherents to swallow some pretty irrational stuff. The stupid are more likely to do this. It seems trivially obvious that the smarter you get the less likely you are to believe a whopping crock of obvious dung.
    I am sure the believers in Apollo were every bit as intellecutally comfortable with their beliefs are modern theists are with theirs. It was still an unjustified belief. They at least had some excuse. There were no explanations for anything in their world. They would not have had the kind of exposure to rational argument and as easy access to logical methodologies that have become much more commonplace in a world that derives its advances from the scientific method.

    Are Atheists smarter than theists? In general, probably but I doubt for the retarded reasons you give. Have been to several colleges, I have never (not once) found that the topic of religion or God or theism came up. College professors are there to teach a specialist subject. Unless you are studing something like theology (in which case the professors tend to be theistic) or philosophy the chances of it even being mentioned are slim. This just comes off as yet another theists plea that we should somehow “Fear knowledge” and that somehow being intelligent makes you sinister or nefarious.

    “If you object to that, it is probably because you have forgotten that for most of history people with high IQs were theists, and that it was those with the highest IQs who contributed the most to theology.”

    Wow, were you even awake when you wrote this? For most of history everyone was a theist. For a lot of history is was downright dangerous to be otherwise. In an age where the Atheist has nothing to fear (in western europe anyway) there does seem to be a corollation between high IQ and Atheism. Surveys of royal acedemy of science etc. This does not prove a relationship. I personally wouldn’t care if the surveys showed the opposite. Any honest rational person must admit that there is no logical or rational basis for a belief in any religion. All that banging on about Faith isn’t just for fun. It is required.

    “So I wonder: does he realize that this empirical truth negates everything else in his study?” – That is not a valid conclusion. I haven’t the patience to bother explaining why. I’m sure you can figure it out on your own.

    This whole piece reads like an exhibition of sloppy thinking and bad arguments.

  36. Celtic Chimp,

    You’re right. I was sound asleep when I wrote this piece. Sleep typed, it may be more accurate to say. Given that, I did pretty good, no? Beats the hell out of those monkeys typing randomly on keys. You’ll be tempted to say no, but most of words are spelled correctly. Monkeys couldn’t do that.

    The only thing you said that I found interesting was your claim that for most of history people were theists. This is true. But it’s not so much a question of the quantity of people, but did the best of us come to thesis via custom or reasoned argument. Of the men I listed in an earlier comment, the evidence suggests a healthy portion of reasoned argument—which, of course, will also be influenced by custom.

    Really, then, the evidence is inconclusive whether nowadays we come to atheism through custom or reasoned argument. For college graduates—which is not what I mean by the best of us—come to atheism through custom. If that’s so, then my argument and criticism stand.

    The best of us now do appear to come to atheism through reasoned argument. Whether they are right or not is, as you wisely gathered, immaterial to the main point of the article.

  37. For college graduates—which is not what I mean by the best of us—come to atheism through custom. If that’s so, then my argument and criticism stand.

    Rewording that last sentence:
    If my argument and criticism stand, then my argument and criticism stand
    This is simply a tautology.
    My whole point was that your criticism and argument have no evidence to support them. This myth about colleges being some kind of atheist backslapping convention has as far as I am aware no basis in fact. I have yet to see any evidence for it. You presented only transparently biased opinion. “stale professors who share a common belief that theism is stupid”

    it’s not so much a question of the quantity of people, but did the best of us come to thesis via custom or reasoned argument.
    A good question but difficult to answer. It should certainly not be presumed so. If everyone is theistic then the brightest will also necessarily be so. You talk about how atheism may be come to by cultural means as opposed to reasoned argument. Culture was saturated in theism in the past. You are not directly stating it but there is implication from you that the brightest people in the past did indeed come to theism by reason.

    college graduates—which is not what I mean by the best of us

    I am sure that some of the best of us are college students and some of the best are not
    Incidentally what exactly do you mean by the “best” of us? Most intelligent? Most moral? Both?

    If you just mean to say that college degrees are not a partcularly good indicator of intellect then I am in complete agreement. I long ago learned just how little qualifications can mean.

    I think you possibly look at this thing backwards in some ways. You talk about how people come to atheism as though theism were the default position. Theism is almost always a culturally aquired position. Stale preachers perhaps. Churches, unlike colleges, have the express goal of indoctrination. One thing is also certain; no-one becomes a theist by reasoned argument, save perhaps the mildest form of dieism and even that is not a logically defensable conclusion.

    I realise my initial response was very, very cranky. Unnessesarily so. I stand by the objections I raised but I apologise for the manner.

  38. A fully convinced theist (the Pope, for instance) believes that, at least to some questions of his own origin, the answer is a god. An equally convinced atheist (Richard Dawkins comes to mind) believes just as strongly that the answer to the same questions must not be a god. Each view point is a dogmatic belief, as neither can be objectively proven. And, while one leaves more potential solutions on the table, neither is admitting to the statistically appropriate level of ignorance.

    What seems to be missing in this discussion is the definition of what constitutes an answer. Are we looking for objective proof? Proof beyond a reasonable doubt? A preponderance of evidence? The primary virtue of science, in it’s purest form, is it’s refusal to claim objective proof. Any theory can be toppled with a single observation, but extraordinarily few can be deemed proven. The success of the scientific method springs not from scientists’ attempts to prove theories, but from attempts to disprove them.

    Sadly, very little of what’s called science actually adheres to such purity. Reading the above comments, we see statements that, among other things, Darwinism disproves creationism, and quantum physics proves that everything came from nothing. Those theories, in fact, prove nothing of the sort. Each provides only a potential answer. Whether, in each case that answer is more compelling than the theistic answer of “a god,” is purely subjective. And in each case, the atheistic answer in no way negates the standard theistic response of, “a god can get the job done however it chooses.” The arguments on both sides become impossibly circular.

    On the question of creation, the fundamental choices would appear to be as follows:

    A) All matter, energy in the universe, along with the terms on which they interact, appeared spontaneously.

    B) A force, possibly but not necessarily conscious, capable of creating all matter, energy, etc, in the universe, appeared spontaneously.

    C) Both A and B.

    D) Neither A nor B.

    I fail to understand how either A or B is any more rational than the other. And I fail to understand how the basic principals of science favor either answer. D appears to me to be the most likely answer, by a wide margin.

    Frankly, the idea that the entire universe, including the belief that any of you exist, is merely a figment of my own imagination, seems a much more plausible argument than either A or B. But whether that idea makes me more intelligent, less intelligent, or just insane, has no bearing what so ever on the empirical correctness of the idea. Our society has developed the belief that being intelligent, somehow makes one correct. On concepts so far beyond the human perspective, the two likely have no correlation at all.

  39. Each view point is a dogmatic belief, as neither can be objectively proven. And, while one leaves more potential solutions on the table, neither is admitting to the statistically appropriate level of ignorance.
    The pope’s view is that something you yourself are suggesting is inherantly unknowable is know to him. Dawkins suggests simply that complexity cannot come first. It doesn’t make sense. Any entity capable of creating the universe would nessesarily be incredibly complex. How can such complexity spontaneously arise?
    Dawkins never suggests that there cannot be a god, he merely points out that it is an incredibly irrational idea and there is likely no god.
    Dawkins does not offer an answer to where the universe came from. The only rational position that can be taken.

    What seems to be missing in this discussion is the definition of what constitutes an answer. Are we looking for objective proof?
    It is precicely the lack of evidence that makes atheism the rational choice. It is not the only choice but it is reasonable.

    Darwinism disproves creationism, and quantum physics proves that everything came from nothing. Those theories, in fact, prove nothing of the sort.
    Darwinism? I presume you are referring to evolution. Evolution does disprove creationism. Conclusively.

    Quantum physics proves that everything came from nothing?
    Don’t really know what to do with that. First I’ve heard of it. I have never met anyone even vaguely aquainted with cosmology who would claim that the universe came from nothing.

    the atheistic answer in no way negates the standard theistic response of, “a god can get the job done however it chooses.”
    If you are suggesting that an atheist cannot prove this cop-out statement false, then I agree. So what? I can’t prove that Elvis wasn’t abducted by aliens. In the absense of any evidence, disbelief is the rational choice.

    Allow me to represent the actual two choices.

    A) A force, possibly but not necessarily conscious, capable of creating all matter, energy, etc, in the universe, appeared spontaneously.

    B) We don’t know how the universe got started. Let’s not make up some stupid bullshit about it.

    B) is undeniably more rational. Also, A) represents at best a deist position.
    A true representation of the theistic/atheist choices would be

    A) A loving and all powerful entity created the universe with humanity in mind. He cares about every human personally, so much so he even cares what you do with your genitals and often cares about what you eat.

    B) We don’t know how the universe got started. Let’s not make up some stupid bullshit about it.

    Obviously, depending on the particular theology of any given individual, A) will vary in the wants and concerns of the God or Gods. It is simply a statement of fact to say that B) is more rational. Intelligent people in my experience tend to be better at spotting outrageously stupid nonsense like most theologies. It seems reasonable to me that a majority of intelligent people will be atheists. This is of course a generalisation. There are unboubtedly very intelligent theists, though these are rare in my experience and I’m sure there are some dim-wittted atheists.

    But whether that idea makes me more intelligent, less intelligent, or just insane, has no bearing what so ever on the empirical correctness of the idea.
    Absolutely true but that says nothing about which perspective the more intelligent are likely to adopt.

  40. From Cituke, above:

    “This means looking up abiogenesis as to why life exists rather than just saying God made life. Or looking up evolution rather than saying God made us. Or looking up the quantum physics that prove that a universe could come from nothing”

    I don’t make this stuff up stuff up. If you believe my portrayal of those statements was grossly inaccurate, then, by all means, call me on it. If not, then please don’t ridicule me for paraphrasing the comments of others.

    And from TheCelticChimp
    “Evolution does disprove creationism. Conclusively.”

    My point exactly. To claim the theory of evolution as a conclusive proof of anything, is blind faith. And I say that without any pretense of undermining evolution. That organisms can evolve, is indisputable. The very existence of the American Kennel Club is based on that fact. But since creation of life from non-life has never been observed, it’s impossible to state with certainty how it happens. And, of course, even demonstrating that life can evolve from nothing, doesn’t conclusively prove that we evolved from nothing. It would, however, strongly support the assertion.

    My dying computer no longer has a working sound card, so I’m not able to point you to any specific clips of Mr. Dawkins. But he’s made a career out of explicitly denying a creator, not just taking the rational position that one is unlikely. He is, in the strictest sense, an atheist. He doesn’t have a lack of belief in a creator. He has an overpowering belief that there’s not one. As such, he displays a religious zealotry rivaling that of any theist of which I’m aware.

    As for your rewriting of my own points, please note that I went greatly out of my way to not specify any particular god. Your revision is plainly inserting God, as described by Christians. That is most definitely not what I wrote. If you’d like to debate what I actually write, instead of your personal prejudices about me, then I welcome the discussion. But I have no desire to argue a case that I’ve never made.

  41. I don’t make this stuff up stuff up. If you believe my portrayal of those statements was grossly inaccurate, then, by all means, call me on it.

    I presumed you were refering to comments made, my goal was not to ridicule you, just to make clear that the position “everything came from nothing” is not one which is held by anyone I have ever encountered. In other words, the commenter you were refering to is raising a non-argument.

    But since creation of life from non-life has never been observed, it’s impossible to state with certainty how it happens.

    This refers to abiogenesis. How life arose. No-one knows. Evolution only explains the diversity of life and proves a common ancestry. Creationism maintains that all life on earth was spontaneously created in more or less its current form. Evolution does disprove creationism. Conclusively. Abigenesis is up for grabs so to speak but evolution is a fact. You’ll notice that the commenter you quote seperates abiogenesis from evolution

    As to Dawkins, he has made a career out of ridiculing (rightly so in my opinion) the ludicrous gods that people worship. The blatant fabrications like the judeo-christian god and his deplorable “morailty”
    That Dawkins does not believe that a god exists is not in doubt for the reasons mentioned but to accuse him of zealotry because he pokes holes in the laughably inplausible tales of the major religions is akin to saying that anyone who makes fun of alien abduction stories is a zealot in the church of ufo-denialism. Dawkins rates himself as a 6.9 on a 7 point scale where 1 is total belief and 7 is total disbelief. He freely admits that he cannot be absolutely sure. Absolute certainty is the hallmark trait of the zealot.

    As for your rewriting of my own points, please note that I went greatly out of my way to not specify any particular god. Your revision is plainly inserting God, as described by Christians.
    I went out of my way to accomodate that you did not want to specify any particular God. I gave two seperate sets of examples, one in keeping with your more deistic suggestion the other addressing theism which I feel is more in keeping with the spirit of this debate.
    Personally I think it is theism rather than deism which requires leaving your brain at the door to your church.

    If you’d like to debate what I actually write, instead of your personal prejudices about me, then I welcome the discussion. But I have no desire to argue a case that I’ve never made.
    I assure you I have absolutely no prejudices about you what so ever. I am a little confused as to what gave you the idea that I had. I believe I did respond to the case that you made. That I made some additional points

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