Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Intelligent less likely to be religious.

The London Telegraph has an article that is sure to rile up the Bible-beaters provided they read it. Professor Richard Lynn, emeritus professor of psychology at Ulster University, recently wrote a paper for the academic journal Intelligence which says that intelligent people are less likely to be religious.

That this raises issues surprises me. I know of dozens of studies which have come to the same conclusion. Lynn says that the reason religion has declined over the last century was linked to general rise in intelligence. The Telegraph said “A survey of Royal Society fellows found that only 3.3 per cent believed in God -- at a time when 68.5 per cent of the general UK population described themselves as believers.” In the US that said a “poll in 90s found only seven per cent of members of American National Academy of Sciences believed in God.”

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

What interested me is not what Prof. Lynn said, I’v known of many such studies similar to his taken over decades and they almost all show the same trend -- there is an inverse relationship between intelligence and religiosity. What I found of interest is that Telegraph found three critics and it is interesting to see what they said in response.

Assuming the Telegraphy got the critics right it appears that none of them actually addressed the point Prof. Lynn was making even though all of them heaped scorn on him.

Professor Gordon Lynch of the Centre for Religion and Contemporary Society said, “"Linking religious belief and intelligence in this way could reflect a dangerous trend, developing a simplistic characterisation of religion as primitive, which - while we are trying to deal with very complex issues of religious and cultural pluralism - is perhaps not the most helpful response." As I see it that is no criticism at all just a complaint. Perhaps religion is primitive. Certainly the more primitive a culture the more religious it is. And most of what Lynch says muddling the issue with a complex statement that sounds intelligible but actually says nothing. He says he is trying to “deal with very complex issues of religious and cultural pluralism” -- what does that have to do with the thesis? And saying it is “not helpful” really just means that it is not helpful to Lynch who is religious. He didn’t address the point made by Prof. Lynn.

Dr. Alistair McFadyen lectures in Christian theology. His criticism was that the conclusion has a “tinge of Western cultural imperialism as well as an anti-religious sentiment.” What the hell “Western cultural imperialism” has to do with it, I don’t know. But it sounds so evil. And I don’t see Lynn’s study as necessarily “anti-religious” unless an accurate description of beliefs should be avoided because it shows that less intelligent people tend to be more religious.

The third critic, Dr. David Hardman, that was approached actually doesn’t sound like a critic. While he said it is difficult to “conduct true experiments that would explicate a causal relationship between IQ and religious belief” there is evidence “that higher levels of intelligence are associated with a greater ability -- or perhaps willingness -- to question and overturn strongly felt institutions.” That seems to be saying something rather similar and is hardly a criticism.