Friday, June 27, 2008

High IQ Equals Atheism?

In a forthcoming paper for the journal Intelligence, Richard Lynn, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Ulster, will argue that there is a strong correlation between high IQ and lack of religious belief and that average intelligence predicts atheism rates across 137 countries.

The paper...cites studies including a 1990s survey that found that only 7 per cent of members of the American National Academy of Sciences believed in God. A survey of fellows of the Royal Society found that only 3.3 per cent believed in God at a time when a poll reported that 68.5 per cent of the general UK population were believers.

Professor Lynn told Times Higher Education: "Why should fewer academics believe in God than the general population? I believe it is simply a matter of the IQ. Academics have higher IQs than the general population. Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQs tend not to believe in God."Times Higher Education

This may seem threatening enough, but do you see the flaws in Lynn's argument already?

Andy Wells, senior lecturer in psychology at the London School of Economics, said the existence of a correlation between IQ and religiosity did not mean there was a causal relationship between the two.

So, what is a "casual relationship"? It means that just because both numbers seem to match, there is nothing that proves that higher intelligence causes lack of faith. Here is a diagram that illustrates another seeming correlation but no causal relationship (click for larger):

This is disappointing scholarship. I'm shocked that a person could get any press or even an audience to present this kind of work. I don't think I could get away with it in my current Master's program. Lynn is jumping to conclusions based on simple data without any investigation as to the cause of these trends.

Of course, this totally ignores the poor logic that Lynn uses, see the third quoted paragraph above. He equates an "academic" with "higher intelligence."

At this point, Lynn's conclusions are simple conjecture. He would need to do some significant studies to find some correlation between "higher IQ" and agnosticism/atheism.


Wry Mouth said...

Wry Mouth here. Came here from Purgatorio. Math and probability teacher, MPH in biostats from Loma Linda University. IQ estimated (in my high school days) at around 132-137.

Atheists may amuse themselves by trying to "correlate" atheism and intelligence (after all, there is a movement among themselves to refer to themselves as "Brights" -- no; I'm not joking).

My working hypothesis is, atheism relates to the relative success of the society. In other words, atheism is a disease of the wealthy and well-off.

This was covered, many years ago, by the prayer, "LORD, let me not be too poor, lest I curse You, and let me not be too rich, lest I forget You."

Causation, OTOH, is tricky indeed, and even demonstrated, would prove -- what? Certainly not superiority of atheism, unless intelligence were your Supreme Metric of Adaptive Success.

It would, however, go a long way towards proving the exclusivity of atheism (as contrasted with the more global availability of Christ to those who would have faith in Him, regardless of talent or intelligence or what-have-you.).


John said...

Great Stuff, Wry.

I have heard about the Brights through some of Dan Dennett's material on domesticating and using religion much like we have cattle. They're a creepy bunch, in my opinion--in a Stepford Wives "we're-perfect-but-something-is-just-not-right" kind of way.

Frankly, I have always been unnerved (read: intimidated) by the perception that atheists are more "intelligent," but you raise a good point: Is intelligence the "Supreme Metric of Adaptive Success"?

By the way, I'm going to use that last phrase in a sentence sometime this week just to freak someone out.

You're right: I don't think that Jesus said, "whoever wants to be greatest among you must be the smartest."