January 27, 2021

Are Liberals and Atheists Smarter?

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.

U.S. Evangelicals 2000

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.


  1. For some strange reason, when I began reading this post, it almost felt as if I was going through the Freakonomics NY Times blog…

    Speaking solely for myself, I do get tired of the notion that because one is a Christian (and a self-identified “evangelical” amongst other self-identifying phrases I use) that one is, on average, less-intelligent than others who may not necessarily have any religious beliefs.

    The one thing my grandfather impressed upon me (who was not formally theologically trained as most ministers/priests are today but who managed to end up becoming a Methodist bishop) was taking seriously the call to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and with all your strength”. (emphasis mine) For me that means to strive to know God not only through study of Scripture, but also in the other disciplines of study that are at school, university and my own self-directed learning now that I’ve finished tertiary education.

    What I find sad now (especially looking as an outsider to those of you in the States) is how there seems to be a “dumbing down” of the general evangelical population (though I suspect that most of the readers here at iMonk aren’t within the “general evangelical population” given the robust debate that happens on this web community). Not only of Bible knowledge and basic theology, but also of disciplines like science which are thought to be antithetical to Christian belief (and in my mind, aren’t so).

    As one who takes this call to love God with all his mind seriously (while not discounting the value of the other things that Christ reminds us of), I feel increasingly out-of-place within the evangelical Methodist congregation I’m in now where the other three (especially the heart) takes far more precedence. Maybe this is just a temporary phase that evangelicalism is going through. I sure as heck hope so. But if it isn’t, I worry about how we as evangelicals will minister and evangelize to those in a world of increasing secularism (even as I pray for the Spirit to work within the hearts of those who don’t yet know our God).

    Yes, the Cross is a stumbling block to those not in the faith, but I sure as heck want to make sure that when the Gospel is presented to those who aren’t in the faith currently that they will be able to not trip over that stumbling block, but instead use it as a stepping stone into faith and a relationship with our Lord and Saviour.

    Maybe that’s just me, a fool for God who doesn’t want to be that foolish. A contradiction in today’s world.

    • I concur. If unbelievers are to stumble, our number one priority is to make sure that it is the cross and the cross alone that causes it. Not our own aversion to intellectualism. If somebody says of me, “I don’t want to be a Christian because look at that guy he’s kinda dumb,” then I’ve failed. Instead, we ought to provoke them to say, “I don’t want to be a Christian because I do not want to be crucified.”

    • I think if we could hear John Wesley’s account of the current state of the Methodist Church, it would be that of disappointment. Devotions and Bible study were not his only requirments for his leaders, but philosophical study as well.

    • Thank you Brandon. As someone who is relatively new to the faith, and the Methodist church, I have, unfortunately, witnessed a similar “dumbing down” effect, while the “heart” is emphasized. However, I have also encountered the exact opposite in several churches in particular. There seems to be a heavy emphasis placed on the mind, to the point that the matters of the heart are disregarded….selah…

  2. I’m not prepared to say that I’ve walked away from the faith or the church, but I’m been hovering near that point. Probably some Evangelicals would say I’ve crossed already the line–whatever that line is. Accepting evolution, supporting gay marriage, and not interpreting the Bible “literally” seem to count as crossing the line among some I know. Believing in Jesus and loving him seem to be much less than believing in a worldwide flood and loving the GOP.

    I was homeschooled k-12 and my textbooks were written from a so-called “Christian Perspective.” I remember when I was in my early teens realizing that my literature textbook had selectively quoted Spoon River Anthology to make it seem that the poem was condemning divorce when the original made it clear that it was not. That was the first of many such realizations of self-serving fact twisting and indoctrination.

    Frankly, I’ve met a lot of people offended by Christianity but I’ve never had anyone tell me they were offended by the empty tomb. Yes, Christ Crucified may be a stumbling block, but it seems the church’s idiotic behavior is a much bigger one.

    • Hannah, I too grew up abused in much the same way although mine had more to do with being born into a church that believed they made up the whole of the saved on earth. I’ve survived but only by keeping my eyes on Jesus and refusing to let any person or group of persons steal my faith in him. Other than that, I have been released from virtually, if not all, the poop I grew up with.

      Just would like to say this: A very wise fellow told me when I was very young that the only problem with the church was that it was made up of humans. As such it’s made up of sinners. That one fact alone means there is, by definition, no such thing as a perfect or problem free church. They do not exist.

      There is a place for you to find what you need spiritually. Focus on Jesus. As Michael said, “start with Jesus, stay with Jesus and end with Jesus.” It’s not about the church. It’s about Jesus. Open your heart to him and he will lead you to the place you need to be his sister and the father’s daughter.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Focus on Jesus. As Michael said, “start with Jesus, stay with Jesus and end with Jesus.”

        But isn’t that what the Holy Nincompoops also claim? Quoting Bible to justify their own behavior?

        I think it was here on IMonk years ago that somebody (maybe IMonk himself) remarked that in Appalachia, one of the highest complements you can make about a preacher was “He has NO Book Larnin, and He Is LOUD!”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        …although mine had more to do with being born into a church that believed they made up the whole of the saved on earth.

        “Us Four, No More, Amen”? My writing partner showed me a church in his area that was like that — KJV1611 ONLY, an entire DOZEN strong, all over 80. The only way to top that is the theoretical end state of Protestantism reached by A W Pink — MILLIONS of Only True Churches, each with only one member, all denouncing the others has Heretics and Apostates.

    • I sometimes wonder if the cross really is the stumbling block. I think it’s what “Christians” do with the cross. Perhaps that’s what Paul meant, anyway. I work with a number of secular co-workers, and their objection to Christianity rarely is based on science or logic. It’s based on morality. They see Christians as more selfish, crueler, and bloodthirstier than other people. In other words, they reject Christianity for the very reasons they would be drawn to Jesus if the people they knew talking about him didn’t make him sound like a larger version of themselves.

      I’ve come to the conclusion that much of what passes as the evangelical “Biblical worldview” is not even Christian. It is more like an American version of the Gospel of Caesar, a national cult that really worships the “American Way” while mouthing Christian words. It is a political movement that uses Christian rhetoric and symbols to further its own ends, not a Christian movement that seeks first the Kingdom. Some scholars have called this inversion “American civil religion” but I just call it an old story which has infected other superpowers in the past. It has nothing to do with Jesus, and therefore it’s ugliness and pig-headedness cannot properly be laid at the feet of Christianity.

      This is what kept me in the church. For a long time I wavered, wondering why, if Christianity were true, Christians were least Jesus-like people I knew. Then I realized, it’s not the Gospel that is the problem, it’s the other junk we mix into it. I have a friend in a much more secular country who tells me he think it’s easier to be a real Christian where he is than in the U.S. because he is never allowed to forget how subversive the Gospel is to the “powers and principalities.” I’m not willing to go that far, but it’s worth taking a moment to think about.

      • Karl, I think you nailed it.

      • My parents were attending a Baptist church where they heard the pastor say from the pulpit he doesn’t see how it would be possible for Democrats to go to Heaven, and he wasn’t making a lame attempt to be funny. A pastor here in Nashville compared our sitting President to Hitler from his pulpit just within the past week or so which is televised at least locally each week. Then our local entertainment-type paper, the Nashville Scene, which is picked up weekly by college kids and professionals alike, wrote a scathing article condemning this man, and rightly so.
        Those are two prime examples of why reasoned, compassionate people look at evangelicals as idiots. Complete, utter hypocrisy and no attempt at all to disguise it. What would Jesus do indeed?!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Only compared Obama to Hitler? Hey, they compared Dubya Bush to Hitler all the time.

          Obama usually gets one better, “proven” to be The Antichrist at the very least; since the election, my writing partner has had to use his “Don’t Go Stupid on Me!” sermon on a regular basis.

          “Nashville Scene?” As in Nashville, world capital of the CCM industry? ‘Nuff said.

          • No right-wing pastor ever called Dubya anything except Buddy of mine. Dubya called them his “base”. A marriage made in heaven, cloaked in tax-exempt status for all.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Opposite end of the pastor/media/activist specturm, Debra.

            Comparing the guy you don’t like to Ol’ Adolf is so widespread there’s even an Internet meme about it — “Godwin’s Law”.

      • Karl;

        Have you read Evangelicalism, An Americanized Christianity? I think I found it because of a recommendation here on iMonk.

        It’s an excellent book that delves into the history of exactly the situation you describe, where Evangelicalism has, in a very real sense, become little more than a civil relition.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I work with a number of secular co-workers, and their objection to Christianity rarely is based on science or logic. It’s based on morality. They see Christians as more selfish, crueler, and bloodthirstier than other people.

        1) “Why do They Hate Us?”, Internet Monk Archives.

        2) Add in “Wretched Urgency” and not only does that make Christians look all the more miserable, They Are Trying To Convert Me Into One Of THEM. Prepare to be Assimilated, Resistance is Futile…

        3) And “Grinning Apocalyptism”, which makes Christians look like an end-of-the-world death cult — Chronicles of Riddick Necromongers without the baroque fashion sense.

        4) And look to Taliban Afghanistan or Khomeniest Iran for examples of another “Faith of the Book” who won their culture war, taking back Afghanistan/Iran and turning them into Pure Islamic Nations, just like the Christian Culture Warriors talk about Taking Back America and Building a Christian Nation.

        Put these four together, and we look Real Scary to anyone on the outside. (And a lot of us on the inside.)

      • Karl, I agree. You really hit the nail on the head. I think this is one of the reasons that the church is growing much faster in other parts of the world (Africa, Asia, etc) than in America.

    • Hannah, my background is very similar to yours: I know the textbooks of which you speak. Luckily, I had the liberty of ditching many of them when I realized that they weren’t particularly good: my parents gave me huge latitude to choose my own home schooling materials. (In the end, I gave up on textbooks altogether for the humanities.)

      Nonetheless, I encountered and for a few years accepted a lot of thinking that appeared in books of that type. My exposure to lots of competing information — I read like a mad person — rescued me, even though I did not at the time understand how much my views would change in the face of my reading and thinking. In any case, the unfortunate result is that I have always felt that I crossed some sort of invisible line that demarcated the “Christians” from the “non-believers” and the “liberals” and was somehow guilty of some inarticulable sin, just for (it seemed) seeing that certain empowers have no clothes. As much as I disagree with this line of thinking, intellectually, I still feel it emotionally. For me, this really has been the main stumbling block — that feeling that my own sense of honesty and curiosity somehow conflicted with my faith or was “dangerous” and that to be managed, carolled, or controlled. Feelings like this have made me feel I have to choose between faith and truth (or at least my own honest attempts to see truth), which is an absurd and silly choice to have to make.

      Just wanted you to know that you aren’t alone!

      • Strangely I had a similar experience recently, even though I came to faith later in life. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and asking a lot of hard questions about how faith relates to salvation. Somehow in the middle of all that I started wondering if I was really saved.

        For me it came down to the question: does God accept me for who I am? I was reminded of Paul’s words in Corinthians, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” I am convinced that God made me the way I am, with a tenacious mind and a willingness to ask hard questions and seek out the answer.

        This behavior often isn’t accepted in church, but I am convinced that God approves of it.

    • I understand where you are coming from, but we need to emphasize that certain segments of Christianity have deeper problems. There are plenty of great resources out there that show a much stronger intellectual bent in the faith. Apart from the classics, the works of N.T. Wright, Alister McGrath, etc… open up a very different mindset. Likewise, internet resources such as the Jesus Creed and Biologos blogs have very enlightening conversations.

  3. Good points congently presented. I work in Christian higher education. I believe we do provide our students with an education of depth and significance, in many academic disciplines, on par with secular colleagues.

    However I’ve observed the ongoing tension between the ever present selfish desire of many, in our institutions, to elevate their personal Christian tastes and preferences to the level of absolute truth. This tendency toward intellectual and spiritual self centered aggrandizement can derail the best of Christian scholastic pursuits and thus produces a stunted backward class of individuals.

    It is interesting that many of those, who are most devoted to their singular personal world view, claim the greatest spiritual stature within our Christian circles. And their minions follow after in a feeble attempt to demonstrate loyalty by serving as institutional gate keepers to block all others who are unwilling to sacrifice intellectual integrity in the pursuit and discussion of truth.

    As a direct consequence I fear many evangelical institutions suffer inbreeding not unlike the dynasties of the middle ages. The question is only the degree of insanity thus promulgated by their myopic inbred lives upon a gullible class of individuals and students.

  4. One of the more common approaches to this issue I have encountered in Higher Education is exempliefied by models such as that by feminist scholar Mary Fieled Belenky, or Harvard psychologist William Perry. Belenky’s model is divided into four developmental stages, and is pretty representative of these types of models. The first stage, “Silence”, represents complete reliance on authorities, a lack of independent thought, and is considered to be intellectually debilitating. The second, “Received Knowledge”, posits an overreliance on external authority; Perry describes a similar stage as being characterized by absolutist thinking or seeing the world in black and white terms. The third stage, “Procedural Knowledge”, is a reaction against stage number two in which the individual rejects authority and moves towards a relativized and overly subjective view of knowledge in which truth depends on context and students are happy and willing to engage in diaologue and debate. The final phase, “Constructed Knowledge”, is acheived by only a few individuals but represents a committment to a particular belief system as a means of defining the self, but with the understanding that knowledge has been socially constructed within a relativistic framework.

    I bring this up because it illumines two things. First, it is fascinating to see that liberal academics can define intelligence and growth in an incredibly self-serving manner, placing themselves in an elite category that may or may not have empirical backing. Second, it explains pervasive approaches to education, which seek to raise the consciousness of as many students as possible into higher levels of development. These types of models, however, are philosophical rather than empirical. They might describe a path of intellectual development which have resonance with the personal experience of many academics, but it is also packed with a host of questionable assumptions which should limit its universal applicability. For example, what does “intelligence” actually mean, and how does one measure it? The net result, however, is a philosophically constructed worldview which gives liberal academics room to make this type of assertion.

    • Just another lurker says

      Thank you for the introduction to Belenky’s model! I think it’s very apt. I’d like to think I’m somewhere around stage 3 1/2 myself. As something of an intellectual, i do send to see those tendencies toward elitism in my set. Some of that’s warranted, some of it’s little more than folks who have yet to escape from their adolescent tormenters. I could see myself returning to a church in stage 4, but probably only if we had children. My husband knew the special hell of growing up as the child of an agnostic in the bible belt, and converted in his teens just to shut up the classmates who wouldn’t accept him unless he attended some church. I will NOT put a child through that.

      • How sad that your husband had to go through that. Using this model, perhaps part of the problem is that many Christians, for whatever reason, want to declare “stage 2” the correct approach to Christianity, setting up a false choice for young people who might naturally move into “stage 3” as part of their normal intellectual development. I find this quite unfortunate as denying people a chance to question openly is simply not spiritually or intellectually healthy. People then are forced to think that by questioning they are compelled to deny their faith.

        My primary disagreement with this model is with “stage 4”. I beleive that it is essential for individuals to question and to understand what they believe and why, but do not agree with scholars such as Perry who would label a final stage “Committment with Relativism”, implying that relativism or subjectivity is the natural or desired result of an inquiring mind. I think it is possible to have what might be termed “Informed Committment”; an understanding of what one believes, why one believes it, while maintaining a sense of humility which comes through struggle and questioning. Not all “authority” is wrong in the end. I can view the Bible’s account of the Ressurection as authoritative while rejecting the impulse of the church or particular individuals towards authoritarianism and disparaging God’s gift of intelligence.

  5. Just another lurker says

    Here Here, Hannah. If it was a simple matter of Doctrine, I’d probably still be a happy Christian. The church was quite the haven for intellectuals until relatively recently, historically speaking. It was the profound discomfort when I would ask questions not on the approved list, nor behave in the “appropriate manner” that made it quite clear to me that I would not be welcome unless I sat down and shut up. That’s no different than any other social group in history, of course, but that lack of difference made me began questioning why churches, allegedly vehicles of and for God, were not that different from, say, the Elks Lodge or the High School Cheer squad. THAT’S what started me on the intellectual path that led me to agnosticism, the knowledge that i was not wanted, and that the intelligence that was at the core of who i am was seen as a threat. As an angry, wounded teenager I simply couldn’t afford the psychological and intellectual ante on Pascal’s Wager that my church required. I look back now and see that I was asking far too much of any human organization, but then, of course, I have more tolerance for hypocrisy now than i did when i was 15.

    • . It was the profound discomfort when I would ask questions not on the approved list, nor behave in the “appropriate manner” that made it quite clear to me that I would not be welcome unless I sat down and shut up

      and if this isn’t a snapshot of what the evangelical wilderness is all about, I don’t know what is; nice post, and may you find the companionship of ONE who doesn’t mind questions at all…..HE even gave us the inquisitive personalities and appetites to generate them. Keep Lewis, Macdonald, and Chesterton in mind and journey on. We do NOT have to make this an “either/or”, “zero/sum” game when it comes to rationality and faith.

      nice post
      Greg R

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Remember what “zero sum game” really means: The only way to get more for myself is to take it away from someone else by force. I can only Win if I Make You Lose. I can only be exalted by cutting you down. Lobsters in a Bucket.

        Islam has had a continuing problem with this attitude, dating from its origin in the harsh desert of the Arabian Peninsula, and the harshest and most extreme forms of Islam always originated on the fringes of the Empty Quarter, where survival of your family/tribe trumps all else, and expending your resources helping a stranger often meant both of you dying. We start playing zero-sum, we’re in danger of going the same route. (Since today is Earth Day , I leave you to ponder the similarity to Earth Day rhetoric about “We’re all passengers on this One Small Spaceship Earth, with only so much to go around.”)

  6. Tigger23505 says

    Not to belittle the excellent work done in evaluating the data, but there is a flip side to this question which is what has God told us about properly evaluating intelligence. Another book with interesting ideas on what is and is not smart is Proverbs.

    Ps 14:1
    The fool has said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that does good.

    • Ummm….

      (1) Does the Biblical notion of “foolishness” relate to IQ?

      (2) I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but I hate it when people invoke this verse. It’s almost always used to say, “Unbelievers are quite daft and also quite evil; let’s dismiss everything they say ahead of time.” This line of think squashes meaningful conversation before it ever starts — and it comes off as insecurity or pompousness. It says: “I could talk to you, I could deal with this important question, but instead I would much rather quote a Bible verse and then ignore you.”

      (3) When this comment is used to dismiss American atheists, it is particularly problematic. Atheists are, on the whole, a self-selected philosophical minority who have chosen their position because they have intellectual axes to grind. As such, they tend to be on the smarter and better educated side of the pie chart. The simple fact is, most of them aren’t dummies.

      • Tigger23505 says

        Don’t mind at all.

        My personal path to where I am now brought me through a lot of the same places that atheist / agnostic folks have stayed.

        I hadn’t intended for the verse to be a stumbling block – though I see how just dumping it there could make it look that way. I don’t generally like to dismiss people out of hand. I’d much rather engage them in conversation and discussion. Paul speaking of his academic background, his zeal as a Pharisee and how all of it counted for nothing, would have been a better choice.

        Ultimately, though there is a point where we either accept God’s judgment on what foolishness and its price are, or we continue to compare ourselves with the rest of broken and fallen humanity. I think the true standard for believers to aim for is God’s. I’d really like to reach the end and have Him say, ‘Well done.’ That will be much more important than the number of sheep skins on my wall, or the pictures of various groups that I have been associated with.

  7. I just came across this quote by C. S. Lewis & once I was done laughing, it seemed to fit the topic here:

    “We must get rid of our arrogant assumption that it is the masses who can be led by the nose. As far as I can make out, the shoe is on the other foot. The only people who are really the dupes of their favourite newspapers are the intelligentsia. It is they who read leading articles: the poor read the sporting news, which is mostly true.”

  8. I believe that three things have hurt the American church in recent years. (1) Revival theology, which seeks to sustain a church on a periodical stirring of the crowd’s fervor instead of long-standing traditions and doctrines. (2) Militant fundamentalist reaction to pop culture. While there is a non-militant, intellectually vibrant fundamentalism, it is the militant reactionary churches that have done great harm to their congregations. (3) Sound bite / TV culture. c.f. The commercial for “I am not ashamed” from romans 1:16.

    I am a “conservative” who is a Christian (to avoid the label “conservative Christian) and struggle with the fact that most of the liberals in my Presbyterian congregation are smarter than the majority of Baptist congregations I have met.

    • I understand that Os Guiness and others attempt to pin at least part of the blame on emotionalism emanating from revival fervor. However, I think that if you study the issue you will find that when those who have come in contact with God in such demonstrations of the Holy Spirit that they remain more firmly committed than those who have based their faith squarly on what for them appears as abstract propositions.

      Being brought up in chuch my whole life did little to convert my heart. Having attended a meeting where sin was called “sin” in which the Holy Spirit brought the conviction to the soul, is where God not only turned my life around, but renewed my mind. It was there that my mind was healed and made ready to learn. And learn I did, and continue so.

    • JPaul, thank you for your comments.

      I have come to the opinion that much of what is called manifestations of the Holy Spirit may have more in common with human emotions and the need to have an experience then genuine spiritual events. Though I struggle hard to not judge, I am very reluctant to accept much of what is attributed to the “Holy Spirit.” If your experience opened your mind to learning, then I humbly thank God and encourage you on your way.

      The problem I have remains that there seems to be the idea that a short-term revival experience can somehow replace the long-term pursuit of knowledge and wisdom or that higher education somehow deadens the Christian life.

      • I think that there is a difference between those who seek experiences just for the thrill and those who seek God with even more fervor as a result of their experiences. We are in fact spiritual beings. I understand that there are excesses, but believe it or not, even in some of those circumstances, God is honored. I know one such individual who attended the rucus at Toronto and while there had a vision, which culminated in a ministry to orphans in Africa.

  9. One should be wary of equating “higher IQ” with “smarter” or “more intelligent”. All that can be said of the data presented here is that Athiests on average do slightly better on IQ tests that believers. What that means is not clear, given that it’s not clear what exactly and IQ test measures. See the Wikipedia article on IQ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IQ) for a good overview of the history of and controversies surrounding IQ testing.

  10. I agree with the majority of the posters so far. Michael, it may be that part of the correlation is that the American “church” is driving out people who tend toward intellectual pursuits. For instance, besides being a priest, I am also a very part-time Adjunct Professor at the Health Science Institute of a local secular college. Yet, I am constantly questioned by “church” people on Young Earth Creationism, and what knowledge I might bring to the subject is belittled as my being unwilling to submit to Scripture. Since I am a priest, then throw in a small dash of questioning whether I am truly saved.

    This country is heavily polarized and forces people into one of two boxes, liberal or conservative. As with your study, there is no “moderate” box, nor any way to even reliably express being moderate in the current political system. Canada, with its five parties, has a much better possibility for people to express in politics the full breadth of their political beliefs. It would be interesting to repeat the same study in Canada, but looking at the result as it correlates to five parties rather than just two.

    Why do I say this? In the USA, if one is not a YEC evangelical, if one has strong reservations about the Iraq war, if one is against abortion but favors a more national approach to healthcare, if one is not for gay marriage, if one is for fixing the incredibly bad immigration laws and policy, then there is no place for you in the political life of this country. However, it is also likely that your own church people will drive you towards the “liberal” camp, as it is less doctrinaire than the current conservative camp in this country. But, I suspect that if there were some moderate options, like in Canada, that the results of the study would be quite different. The results of the study may not be a matter of IQ differences, but of the lack of political choices available in this country.

    Ahem, in passing for those of you who are Roman Catholic, please read the website of the US Conference of Catholic bishops. You will find that the position I mentioned above (strong reservations about the Iraq war, against abortion, pro national healthcare, against gay marriage, pro fixing the incredibly bad immigration laws and policy) is the position of the Roman Catholic Church in this country.

    • “This country is heavily polarized and forces people into one of two boxes, liberal or conservative. As with your study, there is no “moderate” box, nor any way to even reliably express being moderate in the current political system.”

      This so very true — in both politics and religion.

      This drives me crazy. The polarization shuts down dialog; both sides are mostly talking past one another. Further, I find it hard to articulate what the middle ground is, or that I am (trying to) occupy it.

      • I just want to respond to this as a very liberal and involved person – I don’t see it that “both sides are mostly talking past one another.” I can name several books off the top of my head written by liberals trying to understand the conservative and evangelical viewpoint. (examples: Nickeled and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich (writing about a poorer group) and “What’s the matter with Kansas” by Thomas Frank.) Whatever you may think of the books, they are serious and, on the whole, empathetic efforts to understand conservative viewpoints. There’s a whole bookshelf of these that I don’t know about! Plus, believe it or not, it’s an often discussed issue as well – what concerns does a conservative evangelical living in a small town have? What are the economic and social pressures? What role does religion play?

        I’m not saying that there’s a universally sympathetic and understanding response to conservative evangelicalism among liberals – there’s plenty of small-mindedness there too. Just that there has been a steady and longstanding effort to understand conservatives and their lives.

        I don’t think there is anything comparable from the conservative and evangelical sides. There is no effort at all to understand the motivations and concerns of a liberal woman like myself. Instead there is a lack of interest or even condemnation.

        I don’t think it is a question of intelligence, but more of openness and the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes. That ability to imagine a different set of assumptions really helps on tests and in experiencing the external world.

        • I would put Thomas Sowell’s “Vision of the Anointed” in the same category as the 2 books you cite, only from a conservative perspective. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if Ann Coulter’s books belong in there, too. 😀

        • I’ve read “Nickled and Dimed” a bunch of times, and I don’t see much more than a self-admitted bourgoise liberal struggling to do for a book what millions of people do for a living, and failing to earn distinction at it.

          An awful lot of Christians fix your cars, plumb your pipes, and direct your calls for us without complaint or untoward ambition; some are content to try to make love their living regardless of the fact that they make a poor salary and have families to feed.

          What do we care about intelligence when THAT’S the spiritual and moral zenith of the Christian faith? Being good isn’t any easier or more possible if you’re smarter.

    • Since I am a priest, then throw in a small dash of questioning whether I am truly saved.

      So Padre…..ARE YOU ??….. using hair color on your beard……??? 🙂
      Still enjoy your pagan posts
      Greg R

    • Donald Todd says

      Ahem, since you invited a Roman Catholic response by specifying the website of my bishops, I’ll assume I am welcome to respond. There is a problem in that the bishops often appear to be anything but successors to the apostles, as recent scandals have impressed on a huge number of Catholics.

      There are a lot of very real issues that the bishops might be addressing, but they often pick items which are political/economic rather than Catholic (how do you address abortion and the practical infanticide of partial birth abortion if you won’t address contraception and its implication toward human life?), and then the bishops espouse a liberal or socialist position rather than a Catholic position in response to altogether too many of those issues. At that point, they are reduced to bad managers who are driving parts of the flock away.

      The most successful of the Catholic dioceses are growing. They attract laity and are adding clergy. Those bishops consistently model a Catholic worldview and presence. They ask Catholics to pray, think and act like Catholics. It is about theology and moral choices.

      The least successful Catholic dioceses are shrinking. They have suffered under bishops unworthy of their calling. The clergy are dispirited and unhappy. The chanceries in those dioceses are run by people who oppose Catholicity but lack the courage to leave and serve their real beliefs.

      Lest you think I only write, I had a recent issue with a priest who equated abortion and infanticide with capital punishment in his homily at Mass. Anyone who can read the Catechism of the Catholic Church will easily discover that there is a vast difference regarding abortion and capital punishment, and that the state is responsible for capital punishment. Abortion is always wrong. Capital punishment belongs to the state to determine, and enact. It is not necessarily morally the same as abortion.

      The priest had adopted a liberal position regarding the death penalty and presented it as a Catholic position. It is not a Catholic position and the priest was incorrect to present it as such. He tried to evade the argument by using emotion and Europe (which does not practice the death penalty), but emotion and Europe are not a satisfactory response to the Catechism when one is in opposition, and when one’s standing (a cleric) is dependent on the Catholic Church. I opposed him to his face. (I would note that this was very hard. One should not be required to correct one’s bishops or clergy, but then one should not be required to suffer from their failures and choices either. I suspect I know how Paul felt in confronting Peter. It must be done, but it is not what one wants to do.)

      Sorry Father Ernesto. You might do better than the bishops’ website if you want to appeal to Catholics, or at least appeal to them more than a lot of the bishops and the apparachiks who appear to run the bishops at the USCCB currently do.

      • Christopher Lake says

        Donald, you are so correct about the more faithful (to the historic doctrines and teachings of the Church) dioceses growing and thriving. Oh, would that every American diocese would look to the “Catholic and unashamed” example of the Diocese of Arlington, VA (for one example)!

        • The great deposit of the Catholic faith is and always will be in the hands of the Catholic laity who receive and believe it and try to live it out, not the clergy, who are often total lames.

          And I think all of Northern Virginia has a pretty enthusiastically faithful Catholic culture. We still need better faith formation and better preaching, but its impressive nonetheless.

  11. before we all get too agitated, lets remember IQ is a load of bunk. The statement “It has been proven that IQ has been increasing with each succeeding generation.” should give us enough reason to question it.

  12. It seems to me that the IQ disparity is the reverse of what it has been historically for the church. In Roman times, the intellectuals embraced Christianity because they saw the emptiness of the pagan system. In medieval times, the greatest minds were Christians explaining and defining theology and the natural philosophy that today’s atheists have inherited. So it does seem that any disparity is likely a function of Christians themselves abandoning the intellectual world.

    • JeffB you are absolutely right. Even evolutionary scientist Stephen Jay Gould decries the use of IQ in his book The Mismeasure of Man. IQ tests have a nasty history of use for discrimination and even eugenics. New immigrants getting off the boat in the early 1900’s were given an IQ test (in English), stamped stupid, and either shipped back, or even mandatorily sterilized, mainly because they couldn’t answer the questions in English.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        A lot of Gould’s essays on the History of Science are about how Bad Science was used to prop up White Supremacy. Mismeasure of Man is just a book-length essay on the subject, focused on how IQ tests were used to confirm White Superiority/Supremacy.

        Gould refers in many such essays to “19th Century Scientific Racism”, when Darwin replaced the Bible (More Evolved replacing the Curse of Ham) as cosmic justification for White Supremacy. By the standards of those 19th Century scientific racists, I am NOT a white man (racially impure, half wop). They drew the definition of White so narrowly that Irish, Italians, Spanish, Slavs, Meditteraneans, and anyone from non-Protestant European countries were NOT White. In English, the only White People were “The Anglo-Saxon Race”, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Scandinavian-looking, not Scot or Irish or Welsh. (Tall, Blond, Blue-eyed — where have we seen that elsewhere?)

        • That reminds me of the book about an orphan train that went to the Southwest. The children were Irish, and so unadoptable in the East. But, once the Mexicans started opening their homes to them, they were suddenly determined to be white.

  13. In 1 Corinthians 1:23. “But we preach the crucified Christ, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”, the stumbling block in Greek is scandalon, meaning scandal. I think it makes more sense reading it as “we preach the crucified Christ, a scandal to Jews (and everyone else) and foolishness to Gentiles”.
    Mark Noll also has a great book on this – The Scandal of the Evagnelical Mind”. We must not look down on higher education and those who pursue it. And the YEC view being used increasingly as a litmus test (indeed as a creed) of faith is really becoming non-constructive in the church.
    Fr. Ernesto, I also like your comment about how if you have a mix of the “red/blue” views then you don’t belong in either camp.

  14. It seems these statistics somewhat reflect the scandal of the upside down kingdom. The Good News is certainly for everyone but blessed are the poor, the simple, the down and outers… for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. How hard it is for the rich… to enter he kingdom. Those who are “rich” in knowledge or intelligence must become as “fools” or children. This is difficult to do. I’m probably educated beyond my intelligence and tho I am called to love God and neighbor with my mind, I am also called to love him with the rest of me as well. My thinking about God, ideas and spiritual things can also be a stumbling block to loving in “action and truth”. My “God’ IQ might be fairly high but I’m still fairly ignorant when it comes to Agape.

    I wonder what the “Love quotient” of 1 Cor 13 would be for the general population? The church? (Sadly, there may not be as much difference as there should be). I can have all knowledge… but if I have not love, I am nothing. Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.

    • Wonderful post…….we work, we pra;y, we give thanks, we pray again, …….we wait.

      nice work
      Greg R
      PS: I see VERY positive glimmers of hope: they are small , but mere orthodoxy of doctrine (intelictually assented to) is losing it’s flavor for many…….THANK GOD

      • “Those who are “rich” in knowledge or intelligence must become as “fools” or children. This is difficult to do. I’m probably educated beyond my intelligence and tho I am called to love God and neighbor with my mind, I am also called to love him with the rest of me as well.”

        This is ridiculously, thoroughly true. This post is far and away the most useful post on the subject ever made, I really do think.

        For real. This happened in 2010, and we all read it on InternetMonk.com.

  15. To me, the fact that the statistics are based on the responses of teenagers (who are especially not sure of who they are or what they believe, yet) suggests that we should take an extra large grain of salt with it.

    I think that the factor of culture plays so much into this that it’s tough to draw accurate conclusions from the data. Factoring other issues into things–Michael Bell already mentioned some of them–muddies it even further.

    I think the information is important for discussion purposes, but it is unfortunate that (it seems to me) most people jump to the wrong conclusions based on statistical data. And I’m talking both Christians and non-christians, and it’s done both consciously and subconsciously. It’s just like politics; both sides usually take the information they want and spin it for their gain while ignoring other important pieces. It really makes it hard to know who you can believe.

    But I’m glad honest discussions can occur in places like this, even if it involves information that may not be what Christians want to hear. It helps keep us sane. Thanks for continuing Michael Spencer’s legacy.

    • To me, the fact that the statistics are based on the responses of teenagers (who are especially not sure of who they are or what they believe, yet) suggests that we should take an extra large grain of salt with it.

      And, on top of that, the truth is that Christians did forfeit a lot of ground and are now trying to recover it. But if the data goes back 25 years…that means I was a year old, being 26. I was in Christian education – both church and school – from day one til I graduated high school. Unfortunately that ground is going to take time to reclaim, much longer than it took to lose it.

  16. Many evangelicals have behaved in ways that anecdotally, at least, make this at least seem possible/probable. They seem be proud of being anti-science, and discourage curiosity. I was raised in fundie land and had some of the same “textbook” experiences as Hannah. Curiosity was definitely discouraged, as was “going outside of the box” in any way. Normative vs. non-normative and all of that. I was blessed to have educated parents who valued literacy and exposure to different ideas, but that did not translate well to my Christian school. I was almost expelled twice over book reports on books that my family and I had no idea were controversial.

    I guess some of my counterparts didn’t mind that they had been lied to and misled, or maybe they never bothered to even find out. I did find out (thank goodness for “librul” university), had suspected it all along actually, and it felt like a huge betrayal by the teachers and church leaders of my youth. We were told so many lies and fed so many so-called “absolutes” it was unbelievable. But the perpetrators of this don’t mind – when called on it, they just say, “Well, the Bible says that ‘thinking themselves wise, they became fools'”, implying that if you even question their methods and their integrity (what integrity?), you are a fool for even doing so. You just must not love Jesus enough.

    It’s a lot like when Christians behave obnoxiously and hatefully, and when they are rightfully despised over it, they say, “Well, they just hate the message of Christ!” No, they hate that some Christians are obnoxious and hateful! (See Michael Spencer’s essay on this “Why Do They Hate Us?”).

    American conservative evangelicalism appeals to many who want a prescribed, formulaic way of living. They don’t want to have to think about it, they just want the formula. “Just show me the answers and please don’t make me have to think about them”. Of course, this is not all Christians, but this is a lot of them and I have spent my whole life in the church and have been exposed to it plenty. I cannot tell you how many times I have been accused of “thinking too much” in Bible studies, etc. But not everybody can just check their brains at the door, or are remotely content to do so.

    I don’t believe conservatives are, native intelligence-wise, “dumber” than liberals, but it certainly does seem to play out that way sometimes.

    • “We were told so many lies and fed so many so-called “absolutes” it was unbelievable. But the perpetrators of this don’t mind – when called on it, they just say, “Well, the Bible says that ‘thinking themselves wise, they became fools’”, implying that if you even question their methods and their integrity (what integrity?), you are a fool for even doing so. You just must not love Jesus enough.”

      And still the “education” continues the same I suspect. I didn’t attend seminary, but my father did and I know how he believed and preached. I was a kid whose opinions were formed for me without my permission. It took years and years of depression, counseling and many thoughts of suicide before I got alone with God and got some real answers and real peace. My daddy loved me, I have no doubts, but he would have had a big problem with my “lifestyle choice”, (as it’s so cleverly referred to), but I know in the end love ruled his heart. He would have found a way to meet me somewhere in the middle and not reject me, but it wouldn’t be because of anything he learned at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

    • Actually, some do hate the message of Christ. They like a “social democratic” interpretation of his message, but go ballistic over the idea that they are sinful and in need of a Savior.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        A “social interpretation” that ends up with a Social Gospel without personal salvation.

        And the Fundamental backlash into a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation is equally out-of-balance and at least as destructive.

  17. I’m not completely sure I’m going to agree on this one. While I admittedly got lost in the numbers (I am a words person), college wasn’t that long ago for me, and, to be perfectly honest, I had several professors I swear were on crack. Okay, marijuana, to be more accurate. I had a psych prof who told us marijuana should be legalized “because it hasn’t killed anyone” and went on to say the only reason he quit was because his friend was on the stuff and died in a car wreck.

    Let’s think about that one a minute.

    I had a prof try to make a case in a poem that the girl in the story wanted to be raped; and I had a guy get a Freudian reading out of a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story.

    Yes, that makes sense.

    I watched a science prof – nay, the head of the science department – rant for fifteen minutes about how dumb creationism was. Rant. I can’t say I’ve ranted over the non-existence of unicorns, to be perfectly honest.

    My first semester, I had a prof who decided to convince me it was possible to be a pantheistic Christian by the end of the semester.

    My last semester, I attended a class whose sole purpose, I swear, was to make me into a liberal, line-towing Democrat, despite the constant claims not to. I frequently asked questions like “What makes a democracy better than a dictatorship?” and “How are we defining child labor before we condemn it? Is being forced to make my bed a crime?” and got blank stares.

    I could be wrong. I’ve had some great professors, too. And I won’t deny Christians have done some stupid things. But I don’t care what your IQ is. If you can’t follow simple logic, or provide some semblance of a thoughtful answer beyond “That’s stupid,” or rant in circles for twenty minutes, I don’t think there’s much intelligent happening.

    Maybe this is another case of my having bypassed the Idiot Brigade by some act of God, but I had a really good Christian education, and so did many others that I know.

    As far as that insanely intelligent, coloring-outside-the lines crowd in church: You have two basic veins going on there. The first is an incredibly creative, artsy type who would go completely nuts if not allowed to learn by experience. The second is an incredibly academic type whose love of learning simply requires they learn by questioning everything in existence.

    The disillusioned kids run two ways: a naturally rebellious group who will (hopefully) snap out of it one day (or at least learn to fight against their own nature well ) and the group who has been legitimately hurt one way or another (intentionally or not) and is in need of healing, not a “Come to Jesus” meeting.

    But that’s my two cents.

    • Addendum: I’ll get to the comments later. After breakfast, when I’m coherent.

    • Addendum two (sorry, I’m used to being able to edit): And apologies for seemingly missing your point at the end there. You’re right; I suppose we should be prepared to look like fools. Occasionally, however, it’s tiresom being considered one just by way of the Idiot Brigade existing.

      Enjoy the day.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says


      “Because people are people, and the world is full of tricks and twistiness yet undreamed of.”
      — One of the Whole Earth Catalogs

      “Stupidity is like hydrogen. It’s the basic building block of the Universe.”
      — Either Frank Zappa or Harlan Ellison

      And to summarize your college days:

      “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”
      — Grateful Dead

      • HUG: That made me smile. 0=)

        Yeah, I think the stats better represent that on average people aren’t nearly as intelligent as they like to imagine; and the people who take IQ tests generally feel they derive some sense of worth from them.

        Snap, I left the ‘e’ off ‘tiresome.’

    • Christopher Lake says

      Kaci, I hear you. I was an English major in the mid-to-late ’90s. I can tell you, from woeful experience, that the idiocy you experienced in those literature classes was, almost certainly, due to two sad facts of contemporary American university life: the influence of radical (and I mean radical) feminism on the humanities in general, and the great emphasis on Marxist/radical feminist/deconstructionist literary theory in English departments. Die, Jacques Derrida, die! Oh, wait, he already did….

  18. about IQ and its importance, and even reliability.
    I have loved ones, family members, who have incredibly high IQ’s are working in very important and prestigious careers, and yet are making some very bad life choices as far as how they are spending their money, what things they value etc. etc.

    I know those kinds of things are matters of opinion, but a high IQ does not automatically translate into street smarts. A high IQ doesn’t mean that you are a good decision maker, or that you understand what the “real world” is like. A high IQ does not mean that your policies are going to be wise and work out for the benefit and good of the people (if you are a CEO or an elected official).

    In Michael’s second to last podcast he dealt extensively with Dawkins and his interview with Salon Magazine (check it out if you haven’t done so already). Dawkins’ responses about “the Big Questions” were not well-informed and were purely academic, not based in the real world, or on what real people go through when they are faced with Cancer, or the meaning of life issues. Dawkins’ IQ means very little to me.

  19. Dawkins’ IQ means very little to me.

    I cannot agree with this strongly enough……..Big Phat Amen……. his soul and destiny, however….

    Greg R

    PS: my observations of family and friends tell me EXACTLY what you’ve posted

  20. HMM. Instead of trying to question the data, or the value of IQ, I’d say the data is true, and that it is the direct result of modern evan”jelly”calism, an outflow of the second “Great awakening”, and the subsequent rejection of intelectualism by the evangelical masses and their leaders (there are always exceptions), especially in the US. It would be interesting to test these ideas in countries largely untainted by evangelicalism – say France, or Switzerland etc. Sure the Church going population is smaller there, but the stats would be interesting.

  21. I think you almost got at the underlying correlation when you mentioned that youth are often more liberal than their parents. See this website for a better version of what i’m about to say


    I think the data shows that intelligence is correlated not with religion or political slant per se , but instead correlated with willingness to question what you’ve been told. The main point in the link above is that in Japan, Christians are better educated / smarter on average than atheists. There are not many Christians in Japan, but the few that are had to question the prevailing non-theist views of their culture before they would accept Christianity, and the desire or ability to question your culture takes a generally smarter person.

    In American, theists still (and likely will always) outnumber non-theists. Especially in the heavily christian areas of the nation (bible belt mainly) Christianity is so prevalent that to be an atheists you would have to seriously reconsider everything you’ve ever been taught. The kind of people who do that are, on average, more intelligent.

    Which is not to say that I am more intelligent, I view myself as thoroughly average, and it does mean that American Christians are on the whole less intelligent than American atheists, because that’s still what the data shows, but I think its worth noting that the message of Christ is perhaps not dumber than the competing worldviews 🙂

  22. Jimmy Carter has a genius I.Q. and graduated tops in his class at Annapolis.

    That ought to rain on this parade if anything will.

    • Just a quick historical point…. Jimmy Carter did not graduate “tops in his class” from the Naval Academy. Top 10%, yes (59th of 820), but not “tops.”

    • Well, if you’re going to start picking on presidents, I have often heard historians say that Richard Nixon probably had the highest IQ of anyone who had occupied the oval office thus far. I don’t know that I believe there is a direct correlation between high- and very high-IQ and bad choices.

      I think this whole discussion of IQ only is misleading. I think what really is in play is curiosity and the challenging of the status quo. One could have a really high IQ and not be a particularly curious person, so it wouldn’t do him/her much good in terms of having any kind of leg up on his/her peers.

  23. I’ll accept the data. I feel like I’ve seen it played out.

    So many parents in the evangelical community actively discourage their kids from seeking science related educations that it had to start showing up in the data at some point. (IQ wants to be a pure measurement but of course it requires a certain amount of life experience and education to be absorbed before you can answer the questions.) And their pastors promote this. I’ve run into so many parents who want to keep their kids from experiencing the world and steer them into a business degree at Liberty or a similar college. What this does is keep many of the bright kids from learning much about science or the physical world or how to deal with the real world, pagans and all. So the IQ testing will tend to score them lower. Especially if you are testing large populations to eliminate the edge cases.

    We have met the enemy and it is us.

  24. Jonathan Brumley says

    I would like to see some data on the IQ of liberal Christians and conservative Atheists. If I want my peers to think I’m smart, then I should really pick the right combination.

  25. Disclosures: IQ>180, advanced degree, Lutheran (i.e. not “evangelical”), politically very conservative
    I wonder if the intelligence gap in the survey doesn’t also relate to arrogance, i.e. belief of highly intelligent people in their ability to master the universe. Liberals tend to buy into movements that promise a “scientific” approach to governance, and often are suprised by unintended consequences of well-intentioned programs. Believing that I can control things and even micro-manage an entire economy would imply no need for a “god” to supervise me, especially since liberalism often defines itself by its pure motives, as opposed to conservatives lacking in “compassion”.

    • Do you mean to insult all liberals? If so, you’re doing a good job of it. But of course, many con-servatives believe that “liberal” is some kind of dirty word of which we liberals should be ashamed, and so we’re therefore fair game. Sorry, but some of us are not willing to let it be co-opted like that.

      No motive, on either side of the political spectrum, or within any religious stripe, is “pure”. The problem is that both sides believe they are just inherently more moral than the other side. That’s what I call arrogance, but liberals certainly have no corner on that market.

      Oh, and congrats on your high IQ.

      • I really can’t take credit for…..wait – that was sarcasm, wasn’t it? Of course, I was just referencing the terms of the discussion with my IQ.
        As far as pure motives, I suggest you skim Thomas Sowell’s “Vision of the Anointed” for a view on this.
        So, why are you a liberal? What guided you in that direction? What turns you off about conservatism? What role does Christianity play in your politics?

        • I was a conservative for 30 years and just found that I couldn’t hang my hat politically on two or three issues and reconcile the required culture war posture with Christianity. Over a number of years, I moved to what hard right wingers would probably define as more liberal points of view. Let’s say I just didn’t find “compassionate conservatism” to be all that compassionate.

          I choose to concern myself now more with soup kitchens and clothing banks and school supply giveaways and meals on wheels than worrying about “gays taking over the culture” or “taking back American for God” (I’m with Pastor Greg Boyd on that one, btw, as I don’t think that America is now or ever was a “Christian country” – but that’s a different topic). I am able to separate my faith, and the beliefs that spring out of that faith, from the rights of others in this country who do not hold to my faith.

          I still hold on to many values that conservatives believe are exclusive to them, but largely I have found that people all across the spectrum share a lot more values than they believe that they do with “the other side”. Most true liberals I know are not godless, atheists, gay, elitist, wimpy or any of the other things that right wingers like to tag to them. But then, I have taken the time to get to know them and work with many of them in a variety of ministries. We largely don’t talk politics too much; there’s usually too much to actually do. If we were to actually sit down and identify/label ourselves, I’m guessing that we represent the entire spectrum from true conservative to true liberal.

          I do not identify with either political party exclusively, although I have voted for republicans, democrats, and independents. If you intend to write some long diatribe on how a non-conservative, liberal, or whatever you want to call it can’t be a Christian, please save yourself the trouble. I’ve heard it all before – many times. *sigh*

          As to the other, I do not believe that in this life, in this humanity, we, as broken human beings, can ever really undertake any endeavor with total purity of heart, motive, and mind. But if you believe the opposite, that’s great – it’s not a big deal to me. I just hope that you don’t believe that a certain stripe of political or religious orientation has some sort of corner of the market on such a thing.

          Thank you for your interest, but enough about me.

          • You make excellent points, Savannah, and state them well.

          • Aha – common ground: I like food banks, school supply giveaways, and meals on wheels. Exactly what Jesus was talking about. I donate to a homeless shelter, Salvation Army, and Lutheran Social Service.
            I didn’t like “compassionate conservatism” either – didn’t find it all that conservative. As for diatribes, I just don’t have the time today. 🙂

          • Christopher Lake says

            Savannah, I tend to “lean” conservative in much of my political/philosophical thinking, but I really do resonate with your overall comment. As a Christian who happens to be an American (the order there being crucial), I just cannot identify with so much of “culture-war Christian” Republicanism.

            At my last church, I earnestly asked a leader why it would possibly NOT be a good idea for us to start a soup kitchen at, or near to, the church building. The church is located approximately five minutes from Capitol Hill in D.C., which is, itself, minutes away from untold numbers of hungry, homeless people. The leader basically replied that the church’s divinely commanded job is to preach the Gospel, and that a soup kitchen would only confuse people as to the purpose of the church. SIGH….

    • Kozak, it would be interesting to know what Lutheran synod you belong to. Also, is your advanced degree in one of the life sciences?

    • “Disclosures: IQ>180, advanced degree, Lutheran”

      Just goes to show that in spite of every biological advantage, one can still end up a Lutheran.

  26. I haven’t had time to sift through all of the comments so forgive me for repeating if somebody has already pointed this out:

    IQ scores vary by race. I would call into question the validity of an IQ test as something culturally skewed and conditioned rather than a universal and appropriate measure of intelligence.

    So we should not only look to what regions folks come from but we should look at the racial make up of those regions. It would be interesting to see the breakdown of race, location, and IQ scores used in this test. 97% of African Americans, for instance, claim to be religious.

  27. “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31 KJV).

    • Christopher Lake says

      True, true, yes (it is from God’s written word, after all!), but let us also say that these verses DO NOT celebrate a pseudo-religious fear of intellectual inquiry and creativity. Speaking at Mars Hill, the apostle Paul quoted pagan poets and philosophers, demonstrating that he had at least some familiarity with their works.

      • Then let me point out the not-so-obvious. Many people who come to Christ never will be intellectuals, great athletes, or government-industrial leaders. Sure, not many such people come to Jesus, anyway. But many people who DO come to Jesus do not then go on to these things, and never will. It isn’t necessarily because they’re biased against education, sports, running a business, or running for office. It’s because they’re the foolish and weak things of this world and never will have the chops to run herd with the Establishment.

        I read some of a book about a new Christian college that directly targets homeschooled Christian children. The founder was upset that many students with the most “promise” — the best intellect and social skills to take on the godless Establishment — would not make a bold stand for Christ, but went out into the corporate world to make a lot of money. To which I still would quote the above.

  28. A point that bears repeating is that being a Christian does NOT require a person to adopt conservative political views. Neither does being a liberal equate to a person to be an atheist. That seems obvious enough, but too many Christian conservatives seem to confuse political belief with religious belief.

    I think it’s important for us to divorce the concepts of political belief and religious belief, within our minds, and within our churches. Yes, I think Christian faith should influence a person’s political activity, but it’s wrong to assume God only directs people to the right. Should a person be excluded from Christian fellowship if his view of government’s role in economic policy varies from yours? Does his support of minimum wage increases make him a heathen? Does it offend God if he opposes drilling for oil in our nature preserves?

    I don’t mean to come off confrontational, but I think this misconception is something Christians really need to take seriously.

    • Thank you!

    • No doubt. In fact, there’s a group out there advocating liberal politics as THE proper Christian posture. In my experience, that difference tends to track with differences in theology as well. The extreme case, of course, is liberation theology.

      • Both sides of the spectrum have extreme theology. I’m sure you’re aware of that, but just choosing not to mention it.

        BOTH sides have groups representing their posture as THE proper Christian posture.

      • Louis Winthrop says

        Why is “liberation theology” extreme, in the context of the extreme poverty and corruption which inspired it? There is a biblical precedent, after all…

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          The Liberation Theology I encountered at Newman Center circa 1980 ending up ditching the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for a new Trinity of Marx, Lenin, and Castro.

          Their liberation mixed in Marxism to the point that the Marxism-Leninism took over and Christ got Purged.

    • Absolutely agreed.

  29. There is no objective measure for intelligence. Any test will have a bias in what is measured and how it measured. Intelligence is a relative measure.

    I will say that many Christians are happy to remain ignorant about subjects such as economics, science, the humanities, history but they are very knowledgeable about politics. Of course you could say that the general American population.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      You know why so many Soviet-era Russians were alcoholics?

      Vodka and lots of it was the only relief from 24/7/365 Political Consciousness, Political Ideology, Political Education, Politics, Politics, Politics, Politics, Politics.

      • Bottoms Up!

      • My favorite relief from Religion, Religious Consciousness, The Pain of Salvation, our Television-esque Spirituality, Christian Ideolatry, and the endless liturgical cycle of Sit, Stand, Kneel, Stand, Sit, Kneel, Stand is as follows:

        1 part vodka
        1 part Mocha Kaluha
        1 part chocolate milk
        a few ice cubes, stir.

        • Christopher Lake says

          I hear you on some of those types of pain, Patrick (especially Television-esque Spirituality and Christian Ideolatry, well-put!), but as one who has been in conservative Protestantism for several years now, I crave that “endless liturgical cycle!” 🙂

          Thanks for the drink recipe! When I have the money (the perpetual question for me is, food or books? Food or books? Ok, i’m buying the books! :-)) , I’ll try it!

          • Do it! Though, my book sources are Goodwill and used bookstores, so I can afford to drink pretty well.

            Just started an abridged, 1000 page edition of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; brought to me by the remainder of a $5 dollar bill!!!

            As a distant afficionado of Protestant Conservatism, I struggle with Catholicism being less spontaneous, but even I can see that it’s regularity contributes to an understanding of Christian life that’s both unspectacular and, in the Christian sense, exemplary.

            But our homilists sure our awful. And some our priests sure are practically agnostic.

            I’m calling my drink recipe the ‘Sola Chocolatica” in honor of Matthew Johnston and the fact that it tastes like Quik alone but it’s appreciably intoxicating all the same.

          • this reply is to Patrick…good luck on the Gibbon—I’ve been reading the full version on my Kindle (I think it was $0.99!) for a few months now (good reading on long train commutes)

          • I’ve been looking for the full series at bookshops around here for awhile now. Gibbon is fantastic though!

  30. I think that there are two important elements that should also be addressed. First of all, there are many cultural Christians such as Britney Spears who lay claim to the name Christian. Not to slight her in any way, but this does not exactly represent Christianity.

    On a more important note, unlike the high brows of elitism, Christ targeted the poor and outcast. Christ said:
    “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

    For the most part, the reasons why people continue on in education, is for financial gain and social status. Few people obtain their degree with the express purpose of advancing “The Kingdom.” While the first motive is not necessarily evil, it should cause pause when we consider the number of backsliding Christians as well as the shift in intelligence. Both are important factors. If it is true that 50% of Christians leave the faith upon exiting college, with no help from the systematic leftist and skeptical indoctrination, it should be no surprise that non-Christians make up the majority of the educated class.

    In the philosophy class that I am currently enrolled in at a local junior college, half the students have dropped out, at least in part because of the humanistic religion that is being propagated there.

    • Louis Winthrop says

      When I took philosophy, my fundamentalist roommate asked me the immortal question, “Are you still studying that there athianism?”

    • cermak_rd says

      stats actually show that people who don’t go to college exit the church in even higher numbers! So you can’t blame those eeevil college profs.

      • Surprising but true. I have seen those same statistics.

      • If what you mean by “eeevil college profs” are those whose intents are to propogate naturalism and discourage faith, then yes this is evil indeed. It is one thing to teach history and even dissect the thoughts of skeptics gone by, but it is another thing to rewrite history and in such a way that it is nothing more than secular dogma. The examples that I could offer are practically endless. What’s worse is when a prof requires silent participation. He doesn’t want any opinions and yet that is the only thing he has to offer.

        I think it comes awfully close to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and at the least certainly represents anti-Christ dogma.

    • I know I’m late to this conversation, and understand that no one has time to re-read all the comments, so few will ever see this. But I think JPaul made an excelent point that even he might not have realized: “Christ targeted the poor and the outcast”–including the foolish. Very few will become extremely athiestic without some serious study. It is a religion based on mental training. Christianity, as faith based, is more open to the foolish. Perhaps part of the descrepancy is that Christians reach out to the less inteligent population, while Athiests do not. This does not forgive or make right the contemporary church’s neglect/rejection of education and anti-intelectualism, but might partially account for the difference in IQ.

      As for the liberal/conservative divide, I’m not sure what cause/effect relationship it reveals, but the geographic consideration is a new one to me, and seems somewhat valid.

  31. So what? I’d rather be a fool in the eyes of the world now and have a heavenly inheritance waiting for me in the future.

    I also know many smart, intelligent, and bright Christians who hold to strongly conservative Christian viewpoints (theologically and socially).

    Ultimately, when it comes down to it, it is the atheist, agnostic, and other non-Christians who are fools: giving up a heavenly residence in the presence of God and other saints for fleeting pleasures of this Satanically influenced world.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Enjoy being the only Sheep at the Sheep-and-Goats scene, Mark. The only one Righteous enough for that Heavenly inheritance, in a Heaven less populated than the one in the South Park universe.

      “Us Four, No More, Amen” — until you find Heresy in the other three.

  32. Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it is currently getting. Within both the Christian and conservative systems, if you don’t toe the line to the set of official beliefs, you aren’t welcome.

    How many Republicans could support health care reform and be tolerated by their party? How many Christians could question penal substitutive atonement or creationism and be tolerated in their church? Either check your brain at the door, or don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

    The end result may be powerful, since it contains people aligned around a single set of beliefs they strongly believe are right, but it does so at the expense of a lot of things, and free intellectual inquiry is one of them.

    • Ah Fish…how many liberals could question abortion rights, or redistribution of wealth or global warming and not be excluded from the group. A point lost on some is that both sides have their orthodoxies and their crazies.

      I saw one poster all wee-weed up about a pastor saying bad things about a president but many religious leader of more left wing persusaions have said perfectly awful things abouta sitting president for nearly a decade.

      My point is not that there are not conservative mistakes…only that all of us should be about the plank in our own eye first.

      • I’m not sure I agree. I know lots of liberals who are anti-abortion, for example. And I don’t know a single one who talks about redistribution of wealth (nice strawman there… ). We got watered-down health reform because of way too many competing Democratic opinions, ranging from the public option to starting over.

        I’m not talking about conservative mistakes, I’m talking about accepting someone with differing views.

  33. I’ve come to believe that there are two major forces that are doing great harm to the American people.

    First, is the phenomenon of the large corporation, which work to convince people through advertising to buy products they do not need. This is exploitation. Second, is the expanding government, which is convincing people that high taxation and redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor is a moral imperative when in fact government employees are the only real benefactor. This is tyranny.

    Current educational trends seems geared toward feeding graduates into either the corporate world of profit or the government machine of control. Personally, I would rather set aside both and as a Christian seek material contentment and take care of my neighbor as best I can. Any education I seek is to improve my ability to defend my faith, manage the life God has granted me, persuade others to trust in God and believe in Christ and to help my neighbor in times of need.

    “… Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of everyone” (Ecclesiastes 11:7 NRSV).

  34. Brad in KY says

    I think this is largely irrelevant. Whether God exists or Christianity is true does not depend upon whether or not enough smart people believe it or not.

    First, there are plenty of really smart people who are Christians. Second, there are all sorts of arguments in defense of that position. The question is whether the arguments are good or not and that has nothing to do with how many people accept the arguments or how smart the people are who reject the arguments.

    Also, there are lots of smart people who’ve never really given Christianity a hard look intellectually. It’s just taken for granted that it’s irrational and backwards and they move on from there with that assumption. A large part of why this happens is because the universities make it difficult to believe in God. If you’re not a Christian, it’s highly unlikely you’ll become one while in college. On the other hand, students that go to college as Christians often have about a fifth grade level theological education and their faith is easily demolished by their teachers at college. I think that’s one big reason for why this study shows what it does…

    • “If you’re not a Christian, it’s highly unlikely you’ll become one while in college.”

      Really? About half of the Christians I know met God in college. I could name dozens of people off the top of my head who came to Christ while at OSU, and our very large church came to be out of a campus ministry there made up almost exclusively of OSU students. Hmmmm. . .

      • Savannah is absolutely right here, and the statistics bear her out.

        Of those raised in a non-religious homes and who subsequently become part of a faith group, 72% will do so before the age of 24 and only 3 to 4% after the age of 36. You can read about it here and here.

      • Christopher Lake says

        Heh, I went from agnostic to Catholic convert while in college! 🙂 I later left the Church for conservative Protestantism, but after much study, hard thinking, and prayer, I may be about to become a Catholic “revert!”

    • I also became Christian in college thanks to the campus ministry intervarsity. At my school (UC San Diego) the ministry experienced a lot of growth.

      The “liberal indoctrination” power of the average secular college university is greatly overestimated in my opinion. Good colleges will encourage students to think for themselves.

      Hell, I went into college as an agnostic with some negative views of the Bible. As a result of my humanities class, studying the Bible from a secular perspective, my opinion of the Bible was actually slightly improved. My secular professor taught us that, most of the time, when an animal is sacrificed, some or all of the animal is cooked and eaten. (Sin offerings are burned up, but most other kinds of offerings are eaten.) Before I would read the OT, see 5,000 cattle sacrificed to the LORD and I would think, “What a waste, all those animals burned to ash for no reason.” Now I know that the text is talking about an awesome barbecue held to honor God.

      If you’re an inerrantist, or a creationist, especially a YEC, you will have a hard time in college, but I think people overstate their power as liberal indoctrination engines. I came out of college slightly more conservative than when I went in, simply by virtue of making conservative friends.

  35. Really interesting subject and comments. I would only add this: If the anti-intellectual stance of conservative/Evangelical Christians continues, the “dumbing down” process will continue and may result in a truly significant gap between that population and others in America. I’m a live-and-let-live type, and it doesn’t really bother me when my closest friend states that the Rapture is at hand and it will start in the state of Israel. But when conservative/Evangelicals raise their children to avoid questions and simply sit down and shut up, that does make me sad, because there is a whole population of Americans lost to higher education. The potential biologists, geologists, physicists, astronauts, and so forth will not exist, because those kids are not allowed to think about what must be thought in those fields. They may get some jobs at a Bible college, teaching that the Earth is 4,000 or so years old and Adam and Eve’s kids played with vegetarian dinosaurs, but they will never be pioneers in reality-based science. And we need them to be.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      They may get some jobs at a Bible college, teaching that the Earth is 4,000 or so years old and Adam and Eve’s kids played with vegetarian dinosaurs, but they will never be pioneers in reality-based science.

      And will perpetuate the image of Christians being stupid.

    • At the same time, becoming an agnostic Christian of perpetual skepticism and Bart Ehrman thinking with firm acceptance of pure Darwinism is only going to confirm to the atheists that actually believing in the record of Jesus as Christ is a continued mark of ignorance.

      For some, Old Earth Creation Scientists, like that of Hugh Ross, are not any different from Young Earth Creationists and the only way to be a Christian and be considered “educated” is to be a Christian in theory, but Atheist in practice.

  36. ATChaffee says

    I don’t know I saw the original study, but in denominational breakdowns Episcopalians were on top in regard to IQ and Baptists were lowest. I didn’t verify the sources but here are some links on denomination with income/education, with IQ, and with SAT scores.


    Too many confounding variables to draw conclusions about cause.

    Overall, I can imagine that on the average those with more education would not stay in a denomination where education is looked on with suspicion. Don’t know that should be so surprising.

  37. Atheists and agnostics who point out these statistics are being elitist, are they not? They’re essentially attempting to suggest that only dumb people believe in God, and smart people don’t.

    Whenever someone throws statistics like this in my face, I tell them that I happen to know many very intelligent people who DO believe in God, as well as some not-so-intelligent people that don’t.

  38. “How many Christians could question penal substitutive atonement or creationism and be tolerated in their church?”

    You know, I’ve only been in one church where I didn’t feel perfectly free to question either of those. Nobody can stop me from questioning things, and nobody’s ever tried to make me shut up.
    I think people complain too much about not being allowed to question things in an evangelical environment. The problem is not that questions are discouraged. It is that the answers are no good.

    • Christopher Lake says

      Exactly– though, to be fair, not *all* evangelicals give bad answers.

      Too often, for atheists, conservative evangelical Protestantism is the only Christianity of which they are philosophically aware. I so wish that more atheists knew of the deeper aspects of Catholic theology and philosophy. The Catholic Church accepts evolution (not of the purely atheistic kind, obviously, but still), and penal substitution is not the predominant Catholic view of the Crucifixion and Atonement.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Too often, for atheists, conservative evangelical Protestantism is the only Christianity of which they are philosophically aware.

        Well, with “Culture War Without End, Amen,” it IS one of the loudest and highest-profile forms.

  39. Louis Winthrop says

    I bet different religions skew differently. A very religious / conservative Baptist will be, on average, dumber than a very religious / conservative Jew. I speculate that religions with a strong ethnic component (i.e., which one belongs to by virtue of birth rather than choice) will approach the normal distribution of their predominant ethnicities.

    Evangelical Christianity today is noticeably dumbed-down compared to the situation of say, a century ago. If only they had had IQ testing back then–I wonder what they would have told us?

    • “Evangelical Christianity today is noticeably dumbed-down compared to the situation of say, a century ago. If only they had had IQ testing back then–I wonder what they would have told us?”

      That’s actually a very insightful, thought-provoking comment, Louis. I’d venture a guess that maybe as late as the 1950s, and maybe dating all the way back to Biblical times, religious folk were more “learned” than non-religious, and thus probably would’ve scored higher on IQ tests.

      • Louis Winthrop says

        One explanation that has occurred to me is that fifty or a hundred years ago, most people felt they had to belong to a church in order to get ahead in life–sort of like Communist Party membership in the East Bloc. After the collapse of Communism, the best and brightest abandoned the party, leaving behind the elderly and not-so-bright.

  40. LightTheFires says

    Well there you have it in black and white. Conservative evangelicals are dumb as rocks. If only they’d let go of their antiquated belielfs they could be just as smart as everyone else. I am completely awed by the logic.

  41. Christiane says

    Sometimes, a whole battery of testing done over a period of time might yield useful information about a person. But to take a single test score and slap it on the person as his/her ‘intelligence quotient’ ?
    I don’t think it would be ‘professional’ to base evaluation of any individual on ONE test score.

    Another question is the reliability and validity of a test.
    Does it measure what it says it measures? Is it constructed to be internally consistent?
    How is it normed? Is it culture-fair?

    Perhaps the I.Q. measurement of ‘evangelicals’ is affected by the fact that many come from a whole ‘nother regional ‘culture’ than the culture in which the I.Q. test was developed. (?)
    Just a thought.

    Debating skills, mental toughness, critical thinking skills, divergent and convergent thinking skills, organizational skills, and just-plain test-taking skills: all are assumed not be something that the average evangelical student in a Christian fundamentalist school is motivated towards.
    If true, would this effect a test-taking performance in a way that would not comparatively evaluate that fundamentalist student in a fair way, when placed into a survey with other religions that highly value those skills?

    In the end, it might not be the ‘intelligence’ of a Christian fundamentalist that is ‘lower’, so much as the person has not been encouraged to develop intellectual gifts along the lines of what our general society expects. In short, the fundamentalist is not as well ‘prepared’ to compete. And, if true, that may explain the ‘lower’ score on a nationally-normed I.Q. test. My opinion only, of course.

  42. Aren’t these statistics (not to mention the tests themselves) a little misleading in a few senses?

    Just to start with, the margin of error when it comes to scoring, variations in scores, the plastic nature of intelligence itself, and the fact that an abstract measure of intelligence can’t be causally related to politics because our beliefs about ANYTHING don’t actually make us smarter (5 Point Calvinists and Richard Dawkins notwithstanding) – all seem to me to flatten that difference of a handful of points.

    We don’t need to feel self-conscious just because we’re wrong.

  43. I noticed that this is actually comparing the 2 extremes very conservative/liberal or very religious/ not at all religious, so I’m not sure it would be valid on the group as a whole.

    However, last night a friend of mine called because he was so frustrated with some decisions being made by our church (which would fall on the very conservative side). He was frustrated because everyone seems to let someone else do the thinking for them. He made some comment about becoming the Borg, then started singing a Pink Floyd song… “We don’t need no education, We don’t need no thought control”. Having read this yesterday, it was almost like an epiphany moment, and I wonder if just maybe there is something to the lower IQ of the ‘very conservative’.

    Whatever IQ does measure, it seems it can be affected to some degree by challenging mental stimulation. For example, Michael Oher’s IQ was measured at 80 when he first entered Briarcrest. And by the time he went to College it had increased 20 to 30 points.

    • Christiane says

      An I.Q. test can be an indicator possible predictor of achievement to come in certain areas, such as mathematical or verbal. In this way, it may help to possibly predict success in the study of those ‘certain areas’. We call this a measurement of ‘aptitude’. But the caveat is always ‘never base evaluation about an individual on any one single test score.’

      An I.Q. test can also be considered a possible indicator of academic achievement. In this way, the I.Q. test can help function as an ‘achievement test’ of what ‘has been learned’ in certain areas.
      The professional and ethical rule also applies in this case: ‘never base evaluation about an individual on any one single test score.’

      In the two above scenarios, an I.Q. test may give an educator some info about where a student is ‘at’, and what areas a student may have a special aptitude for. So an I.Q. measurement may shed SOME light for an educator on the situation of a particular individual.
      That one test score, however, is not conclusive.

      Test abuse has been rampant in this country for some time now. Tests are being used in ways that are neither ethical nor professional. Reason: people want to stereotype, it’s easier for them if they have an ‘agenda’. My guess is that the info on the scales above in the article represent neither a forecast of potential, nor the collective intelligence of a certain group of believers. My guess is that the measurements point to lack of achievement among fundamentalists due to a variety of reasons: their own ‘culture’ of what is valued vis-a-vis education, for one.
      The abuse of evaluation of test scores is rampant, as comparisons cross lines that may not be crossed and remain reliable and valid.

      A person of the Jewish faith, and a person of Catholic, Orthodox, or mainline Christianity likely is highly motivated to develop all the gifts God has given them and their children.
      A person of the fundamentalist Christian faith ranging into ‘extremist’ fundamentalist, will have a distrust of education and its goal, will often do home-schooling to ‘protect’ children from ‘exposure’ to other ideas and ways of thinking, will not know how to debate, or how to dialogue well with those who hold opinions that vary from their own. So the fundamentalist will be at a disadvantage.

      My conclusion is that the ‘gap’ reflects a cultural difference in how the young are educated and to what purpose they are educated. But that ‘gap’ does exist in my opinion.
      That is an indictment for any person who has believed that it is mandated to develop God’s gifts to a child, but then allowed that child to languish.

      The I.Q. scales above indict a culture that allows its children to fall behind.

  44. I think part of this could be that people who are less curious intellectually–and possibly with lower IQ–may be the ones who look for easy answers, neatly-packaged world views, and that could translate into conservative religion. Easy answers, such as “God said it, I believe it, that settles it”, don’t allow for intellectual challenges.

    Any relationship between IQ and religion is going to be inconsistent, though. A few people have mentioned C.S. Lewis, for example–a former atheist who was intellectually very curious, to the point that it led him to faith in Christ, and I don’t think he lost any IQ points in the transition.

    While I’m not in the IQ league with Lewis, it was my questioning of religion, science, gravity, existence itself, etc, at age 22 that led me to faith in Christ. I also know that it was the Holy Spirit working, but he works differently with everyone. I’m very conservative theologically but somewhat liberal politically, and I don’t see that as a contradiction. Some do see that way, though, and it baffles me why.

    As Bob Dylan lampooned, “you never ask questions when God’s on your side.” God protect us from the intellectually incurious.

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