On Thursdays we welcome posts from friends. Today, long time friend of IM Michael Bell examines some recent studies that come to some provocative conclusions.
By Michael Bell
A study just published in the March issue of the Social Psychology Quarterly confirms what many liberals and atheists have told us for years. Those who hold to conservative religious beliefs are just not as smart as their liberal and atheistic counterparts.
Based upon data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and the General Social Surveys, two VERY large studies of American youth, Satoshi Kanazawa found the following:
1a. Average IQ of very liberal youth – 106
1b. Average IQ of very conservative youth – 95
2a. Average IQ of those young adults “not at all religious” – 103
2b. Average IQ of “very religious” young adults – 97.
It would then follow that the average liberal atheist is quite a bit smarter than the average religious conservative.
But what does this all really mean?
First lets represent this graphically.
As you can see, roughly 68 percent of the population falls within an IQ of 85 and 115. If we look at the differences between the conservatives and the liberals, you will note that the conservative red bar is significantly to the left of the liberal blue bar. (If you are a Canadian reader, please note that I am using a U.S. color scheme. In Canada, the colors are reversed for liberals and conservatives.)
I decided to look for further data that would confirm or deny these results, and I found it in two places. If a higer IQ is related to liberal thinking then you would think that if we could determine IQ by state then we could cross reference it against voting patterns or church attendance to see sort of impact differences in IQ might have. A hoax website, that has been duplicated widely by people not realizing it was a host, showed just that. In this hoax almost all states with a higher IQ voted Democrat and almost the states with a lower IQ voted Republican. The chart was even published in the Economist magazine, for which they later had to offer a retraction. I see that the same fake study has shown up for the 2008 election as well.
The truth is that there is a difference, though it is not as great as the fake websites have shown. The true relationship showing the difference between IQ and state voting patterns is shown below. (IQ by State is calculated here.)
For each state I have plotted IQ on the horizonal (x) axis and voting share on the vertical (y) axis. You can see that there really is quite a lot of variety between IQ and political preference. This is demonstrated by the intersection of IQ and voting percentage represented by dots on the graph. The lines running on a diagonal through the graph are called “best fit” lines, and they show that on average, a one point increase in IQ leads to between a .36 and .58 decrease in Republican support, depending upon the election. Notice that I wrote “on average”, because as we all know that there are really intelligent people, and really unintelligent people at both ends of the political spectrum.
The best fit lines are even more striking when it comes to charting IQ against Church attendance. This is the matter to which I want to draw our attention to most. As can be seen from the graph below, on average, a one percent increase in IQ corresponds with a 1.4 percent drop in church attendance. Clearly the idea that the smarter you are the least likely you are to be religious in an idea with some validity.
I confirmed the data through a third source, though this was not a properly randomized study its results mirrored what we see above. In Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) has a yearly test the nation challenge. The results were much higher than a truly randomized test, and typically, the smarter you are, the more willing you would be to take a test like this. Those who took the test also answered some questions that would help to determine things like political groupings, or religious leanings. In Canada, the political parties are not as differentiated as they are in the United States, so it was not surprising to see that all the primary parties (we have five up here) scored within two points of each other.
Religion showed a much wider difference. Those who called themselves religious scored on average almost three IQ points below those who called themselves atheist, and almost four IQ points below those who called themselves agnostic. This spread is not as large as what we saw for the U.S. data, but still quite significant.
So why does this happen?
While Kanazawa, the author of the original study, uses an evolutionary argument to explain the difference, I think some of the reasons for this disparity can be something quite a bit simpler.
It has been proven that IQ has been increasing with each succeeding generation. One of explanations for this is an increased information flow in each successive generation. It would follow then that you would expect a higher IQ in an urban area compared to a rural area, not because of political leaning, but as a result of geography and urbanization. The CBC data also tended to confirm this idea that IQ is higher in larger metropolitan areas. As there is also strong correlation between conservatism and rural areas, and liberalism and urban areas, you would expect a higher IQ from liberals living in urban areas. We have to be careful with our cause and effect relationship here. Are people liberal because they are smarter, or are they are smarter because they live in an urban area with increased access to information? Are there other factors that make urban areas more liberal than rural areas? These are questions that are perhaps beyond the scope of what can be handled in this post.
Secondly, because we are looking at adolescents, we know that they will question some of the presuppositions of their parents or society as a whole. This can be seen in election campaigns where youth are dramatically more liberal than the generation that preceded them. We also might make the assumption that the smarter you are, the more that you might be likely to question societal standards, and so the more likely in a conservative society that you will be liberal. I have also read an argument that in a liberal education system, the smarter kids will absorb more of the liberal ideas, and so will increase the correlation between IQ and liberal thought. Again, these are just theories, you might have some better ones.
These same two arguments can also be used when considering IQ and religious trends. Could it be that geography plays a significant role in the IQs of those who are religious and those who are Atheist or Agnostic. As you can see from the accompanying graph, Evangelical Christians certainly are more concentrated in certain regions.
So what are we to do?
Regardless of the reasons for the difference, there is a problem. One of the concerns that Michael Spencer spoke of in the “Coming Evangelical Collapse”, was the Christian shunning of higher education. He writes:
Despite some very successful developments in the last 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can hold the line in the rising tide of secularism. The ingrown, self-evaluated ghetto of evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself. I believe Christian schools always have a mission in our culture, but I am skeptical that they can produce any sort of effect that will make any difference. Millions of Christian school graduates are going to walk away from the faith and the church.
Chaplain Mike Mercer, in his recent post on staying in the discussion, wrote the following:
Christians have nothing to fear from science. What we should be afraid of is being marginalized, not because of our thoughtful and considerate faith, but because we think it is somehow faithful to refuse to imagine we might be wrong in some of our assumptions or commitments. I, for one, am thankful for serious Bible scholars like Waltke, who has not stopped thinking and who continues to use his gifts in active engagement with truth from many different sources.
I agree… up to a point. There is a verse on the wall at the front of our church sanctuary. Wir aber predigen den gekreuzigten Christus. (My church is of a German heritage.) For those in the congregation, like me, who don’t understand German, they finally added the reference last year, 1 Corinthians 1:23. But we preach the crucified Christ, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. Our message is one that doesn’t make sense. To the Jews, a crucified Messiah was a paradox that they could not get there minds around. For the non-Jew, a leader sentenced to death is not much of a leader to follow.
This is a theme of Paul’s throughout the early chapters of 1st Corinthians:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe… but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles… For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength… The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
The message of the good news of Jesus Christ is a hard one to accept. It will appear as foolishness to many. We need to engage with those around us. We need to engage with science. We need to be prepared to have an answer for the hope that is within us. We need to not put up unneccessary stumbling blocks. But we also need to be prepared to be seen as fools in the eyes of the world.
I leave you with the word’s of Michael Card:
Seems I’ve imagined Him all of my life
As the wisest of all of mankind
But if God’s Holy wisdom is foolish to men
He must have seemed out of His mind
For even His family said He was mad
And the priest say a demon’s to blame
But God in the form of this angry young man
Could not have seemed perfectly sane
We in our foolishness thought we were wise
He played the fool and He opened our eyes
And we in our weakness believed we were strong
He became helpless to show we were wrong
And so we follow God’s own fool
For only the foolish can tell
Believe the unbelievable
Come be a fool as well
So come lose our life for a carpenter’s son
For a man who had died for a dream
And you’ll feel the faith His first followers had
And you’ll feel the weight of the beam
So surrender the hunger to say you must know
Have the courage to say I believe
For the power of paradox opens your eyes
And blinds those who say they can see
So we follow God’s own Fool
For only the foolish can tell
Believe the unbelievable, come be a fool as well
Are Liberals and Atheists smarter? Maybe, but this is one guy who doesn’t mind being a fool for God.