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?