Are Christians Stupid?

Stereotypes. We all use them even though we are told not to do so. In some ways our use of stereotypes is understandable. If I have limited knowledge about a person, I may use stereotypes to make guesses about him or her. If the stereotypes are based in reality, then this helps me make a reasonable guess about what that person is like. We stereotype from time to time as a shortcut to make a guess about what someone is like when we have not had the chance to learn about them. For example, if I have a Monster Truck Rally ticket to give away and it is down to one of two people, a male and a female, and I do not know either of them very well, then it is reasonable for me to give the tickets to the male. Given my very limited knowledge about Monster Truck Rallies, I venture to say that such events appeal more to men than they do to women. If I later learn that the man has no interest in such contests while the woman actually owns a Monster truck, then to insist that I stick with my stereotype of men and women would be incredibly unfair. I really do not blame people for stereotyping when there is a basis of reality for the stereotyping and when they are dealing with someone they have not had a chance to get to know. What I have a problem with is when individuals insist on maintaining the stereotype of a given individual when presented with evidence that the stereotype is not accurate. That evidence may be that the person does not fit the stereotype or it may be that the stereotype itself is false.

If we are going to use stereotypes as shortcuts, then we should make sure that our stereotypes have a basis in reality. I do not feel too bad about my Monster Truck stereotype since there is a reality that men are more into such “sports” than women. I do have the problem with the stereotype that blacks are less intelligent than whites since it is a stereotype without a solid basis in reality. There have been comparisons of IQ and cognitive ability exams suggesting an intellectual deficiency of African-Americans, but many researchers have rightly pointed out the weaknesses of such comparisons. Often these tests have been devised by individuals steeped in Eurocentric culture and values, which can make the tests more of a measure of European-American cultural competency than of innate intellectual ability. Therefore, efforts to suggest racial differences lead to intellectual differences have been met with a high degree of scorn and skepticism. Stereotypes based on those efforts are highly suspect and it is troublesome when individuals use such stereotypes to prejudge people of color.

There is a generous amount of research out there looking at the sort of stereotypes that exist in our society. Most of the research looks at the sort of stereotypes religious and political conservatives have. This is not surprising given that we know that religious and political conservatives are underrepresented in academia. But there are also stereotypes prevalent among religious and political progressives. It is valuable to assess if those stereotypes are based in reality or if they should be challenged.

One of the most common stereotypes is that Christians, and sometimes Republicans, are intellectually inferior. I saw this stereotype in the comments of many cultural progressive activist respondents who responded to my open ended internet questions (The data was used in my co-authored books What Motivates Cultural Progressives and There is No God). Here are a few of many examples of my respondents talking about lack of Christians’ cognitive capacity.
I find myself biased against Christians. I think they are dumb, and I find it very difficult to listen politely to Christian chatter. It annoys me. (Female, aged 36-45 with Master degree)

I tend to view them as uneducated people, or those who don’t have the capacity for critical thinking. Perhaps driven by fear. They also feel the need for some sort of birthright, something they feel they have inherited. (Female, aged 46-55 with Master degree)

Evidence is never an issue with them. They are very dumb and only require their own faith, not reason or evidence. (Female, aged 26-35 with some college)

At this point it is worth considering if such perspectives are based upon reality or if they are the results of prejudice and even possible bigotry. It is well documented that there is an anti-intellectual element within many Christian subcultures. Some Christians perceive scholarly work as a threat to their beliefs and thus have a philosophy that is overly skeptical of academic institutions. But this, in and of itself, is not evidence of innate intellectual inferiority or that “Christians are dumb.” However, there is research that has compared the scores of Christians to others on tests of cognitive ability. Some of this research has shown that Christians score lower than those with little or no traditional religious belief. This would suggest that stereotypes about Christian intellectual inferiority are based in empirical reality.

But remember that such cognitive tests have also indicated that African-Americans are intellectually inferior to European-Americans. Social scientists have rejected the results of such tests, at least in part, because we question cultural assumptions embedded in the construction of those tests. Complaints that these tests are created by whites and reflective of Eurocentric values and culture lead us to challenge the results emerging from these cross-racial comparisons. Is it possible that when we make comparisons of Christians to the irreligious, as has been done in certain research, that there is also a cultural component as well? Given the relative irreligious makeup of academics, it is reasonable to contend that tests of cognitive ability have been constructed in a cultural context not merely based on European-American culture but also in a subculture with secularized values. If this is true, then measures testing the cognitive abilities of Christians may be as accurate as measures testing the cognitive abilities of African-Americans.

But making this assertion is worthless unless there is evidence to back it up. I will soon have a research article (Coming out this year in the Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion) that provides some evidence about the unreliability of cognitive ability tests to make assertions about Christian intellectual inferiority. What I did was look at one of the tests suggesting that Christians have a lower level of cognitive ability than the irreligious – a study done by Robert Altemeyer in his book The Authoritarian Specter. He gave respondents a series of statements and asked them whether they agreed with those statements. He wanted to see how well his respondents were able to assess if there was sufficient evidence to support the assertions in the statements. He used 20 statements but on 4 of them religious individuals who had “authoritarian” (I have questioned the use of the concept of Right-Wing Authoritarianism in a previous blog, so I will not deal with this concept further here) tendencies tend to make incorrect assessment of the evidence presented in these statements. The four statements are:
1. Just because many religions in the world have legends about a big flood, that does not prove the story of Noah in the Bible is true.
2. The accounts of many people who nearly died, who say they traveled through a dark tunnel toward an all-loving Being of Light, proves the teachings of Christianity are true.
3. The fact that archaeologists have discovered a fallen wall at the site of ancient Jericho does not prove the story in the Bible about Joshua and the horns.
4. The fact that the Shroud of Turin was scientifically shown to have been made in the Middle Ages indicates it is a fake, not a miraculous impression made by God.

Assertions in such statements cannot be proven unless there are no other logical possibilities. However, the religious respondents in Altermeyer’s sample did not seem to understand that simply because other religions discussed a big flood that this did not mean that the story of Noah in the bible is true. They did not see how the accounts of those who nearly died failed to prove that Christian teachings are true. They seem to believe that discovering a wall at the site of Jericho proved that the story of Jericho in the bible is true. Finally, they did not understand that scientific evidence showing that the Shroud of Turin was made in the Middle Ages indicates that it was not made by God for Jesus in Biblical times.
I am not surprised that Christians are less likely to correctly interpret these statements since a correct interpretation of these statements would challenge their epistemological presuppositions. But as I was reading this research, it occurred to me that none of the statements Altermeyer used would challenge the epistemological presuppositions of atheists or agnostics. If Altermeyer’s work is an example of the type of research used to indicate the intellectual inferiority of Christians, then such research is incomplete unless the irreligious also face the same level of intellectual challenges provided to religious Christians.

It is with this in mind that I devised a study to do just that. I basically replicated Altermeyer’s study with one important exception. I added four statements that would also challenge the epistemological presuppositions of atheists and agnostics. Those statements are:
1. The existence of tragedies such as the Holocaust proves that there is not a loving God that cares for us.
2. The overwhelming evidence for evolution proves that Christian assertions about God creating the world are false.
3. Research has suggested that people who pray for better health are not any healthier than those who do not pray at all. Other research shows that people who pray for financial assistance are not more likely to become wealthier than those who do not pray. Yet this does not prove that there is no God who will answer prayers.
4. Psychological and sociological explanations for why people believe in religion prove that worship of God is driven by natural human needs instead of a supernatural deity.

I want to see if the irreligious recognized that the Holocaust does not prove that a loving God does not exist, that evidence of evolution does not prove that assertions about God creating the world is false, the fact that people who pray are not wealthier/healthier does not prove that there is not a God who answers prayer and that psychological/sociological explanations for why people believe in religion does not prove that worship of God is driven by natural needs instead of a supernatural deity. Let me be more specific. Three of the statements suffer from a post hoc fallacy, or assuming a causal relationship where one does not have to exist. There is not an automatic relationship between tragedies such as the Holocaust and the nonexistence of a loving deity since the deity may not be able to prevent tragedies or such tragedies may prevent greater horrors. Evolution can only tell us how life has developed and not whether there is a deity initiating that development. Psychological and sociological explanations do not pre-empt the possibility that individuals are worshiping a supernatural deity. One of the statements is logically accurate as studies indicating that prayer is not correlated to wealth or health does not eliminate the possibility of a deity that selectively answers prayers or who answers certain prayers, but not those concerning wealth or health.

Given this type of format, and the length this post has already run, I will not go into the details of the collection of the data or the statistical techniques used in this research. I do not mind answering questions about those issues in the comments below, but those wanting a more comprehensive explanation will have to read the article in Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion when it comes out later this year. It is sufficient for me to say that the atheists and agnostics did no better on statements that test their epistemological presuppositions as Christians did on statements that challenged their epistemological presuppositions. If Altemeyer had replaced his original statements challenging the epistemological assumptions of Christians with my new ones challenging the epistemological assumptions of atheists and agnostics, then he would have made the opposite finding of Christians lacking in cognitive abilities. He would have found that atheists and agnostics had lower levels of cognitive abilities than religious individuals. I question whether we can use his study to assert that religion is connected to lower cognitive abilities. Assertions that Christians are less intelligent than the non-religious should not rely upon tests only challenging Christian’s presuppositions.

Of course this is only one study, and it would be fair to see if other tests of cognitive abilities are also culturally or ideologically skewed. The types of previous assessments of such tests concerning racial differences are also relevant when making assertions about intellectual differences based on religious ideology. Until I see tests that have been proven to be culturally and/or ideologically balanced, I will be extremely skeptical of claims that Christians, and other religious individuals, are intellectually inferior to those who are not religious. Until proven otherwise, stereotypes of religious causation of intellectual inferiority are as viable as stereotypes of racial causation of intellectual inferiority.

  • David Marshall

    George: Interesting. The same bias can be found in a popular international study of scientific knowledge. See Part II, “Survey Bias:”

    http://christthetao.blogspot.com/2011/03/why-are-americans-so-scientifically.html

    • georgeyancey

      Great blog David. Does support my a sociology of science contention that science is not as objective as scientists like to portray it to be. I am a proponent of science but do so with what I think is an appropriate amount of skepticism. Your blog provides yet another reminder of why such skepticism is warranted.

  • RustbeltRick

    To call a group of people “stupid” does not necessarily mean that the person affixing that label is suggesting that he genuinely thinks the members of the group have lower intelligence. If I hear about a group of college kids rioting and burning couches after a sporting event, I might opine that “these kids are dumb” — and in the context of their actions on that particular night, I make a good case that several of them acted unwisely. Even if a group IQ test reveals that the kids in fact are smarter than their peers, that doesn’t make my original statement about their stupidity untrue, because these smart kids seem to be capable of incredibly dumb behavior. “He sure is dumb” is often a statement of opinion about what he just did or said; it is rarely an evaluation of his intelligence level, since how often do we have objective data on another person’s performance on intelligence tests?

    Your money sentence — “Until I see tests that have been proven to be culturally and/or ideologically balanced, I will be extremely skeptical of claims that Christians, and other religious individuals, are intellectually inferior to those who are not religious” — reveals a misunderstanding of what Christianity’s critics are actually saying. Worse, it is a misdirection away from considering the genuinely dumb things that we Christians often say.

    • georgeyancey

      Actually I understand what the critics think more than you know. I have documented their attitudes in qualitative research. Many, although not all, believe that Christians are simpletons and childlike. That Christians are incapable of critical thinking. You do not even have to look at my data. Just read some of the comments of people like Dawkins to see such attitudes. Finally I am responding to scholars who have done research, which I suspect is badly skewed like Altemeyer’s, and who argue on the basis of that research that Christians, or religious individuals in general, have lower levels of intelligence. If you like I can find the sources for you later today as I am heading out to an appointment right now.

      • RustbeltRick

        Fine, but I still think you’re missing the point. Someone may call me “dumb” for believing in the virgin birth, which I chalk up to anti-religious bias. On the other hand, if I’m trying to make some other half-baked religious point (“God doesn’t want us to go to doctors!”), and the person says I’m dumb — well, he’s right. This article makes no attempt to evaluate the statements that Christians make and instead says that ANY criticism is the result of horrible secular bias. Sorry, but that’s . . . dumb, and also dishonest. This article suffers from fuzzy logic on several levels.

        • georgeyancey

          I think you are the one missing the point with all due respect. Nowhere did the blog say that any criticism of Christianity if the result of horrible secular bias. I am going to call strawman on that one unless you can produce the sentence which stats as such. And trust me there are those who call people who believe in the virgin birth or God dumb but I am not even addressing them directly. I am addressing a stereotype bore out in my data and which I believe has produced bias research with research of my own to show the bias. If you think that is fuzzy logic then please show me how but I do ask that you do not make up arguments for me that I am not even making.

  • Fallulah

    Stupid, not necessarily. Gullible, Extremely!

  • cajaquarius

    I always did really like Altemeyer on his Right Wing Authoritarian Follower studies and really do believe he was onto something there. I seem to remember reading him mentioning that there are left leaning ones as well. I have certainly met a few. Mainly conversations with those raised in secular homes seem to show that RWAFs come in secular flavors as well.

    Case in point, my college recently had an environmental thing where booths were set up talking about wind power, alternate power, and so on. I was stopping to get a drink near the anti-nuclear booth where I heard one of the girls running the booth having an argument with someone about how the Fukashima reactor would “irradiate the entire ocean” (that should date the conversation a bit). The person chatting to her explained that you couldn’t irradiate water molecules and, as such, that was unlikely but she couldn’t be convinced. Her arguments grew more and more erratic and insane, talking about irradiating plankton getting eaten by whales who would migrate to other parts of the ocean and spread it, etc, the whole time her voice raising higher and higher as her preconceived notions were quietly challenged. The guy chatting with her walked away when her voice began to draw a crowd. I am certain she feels she won that “debate” even today.

    If Altemeyer had one flaw in his book it was presenting it with a slant against the Tea Party (I don’t even disagree, since I myself am a gay guy and pretty progressive, I just winced when it was brought up). I am sensitive to a lot of the abuse of correlation without causality sorts of arguments as they tend to be the favored ones used by NARTH and the like against gay folks like myself. Hence I resent their use, even amongst my political peers.

    • gimpi1

      I found Altemeyer’s books very enlightening. He described behaviors I have never understood, and offered explanations for them. It helped me understand some of my more unpleasant relatives:-)

  • Nobackhand

    I’d take a look at what current research has found re The Shroud of Turin before you use belief in it’s authenticity as a benchmark to measure “stupidity”. You might have to move that shoe to the other foot.

    • georgeyancey

      True. But the way the question is phrased we would assume that science has dated it after biblical times. I agree it is kind of a tricky question but technically the way the question is asked, the correct answer is that it is not possible that the Shroud is the one used by Christ.

  • gimpi1

    I think it’s unfair to regard Evangelical Christians as less intelligent. However, being unwilling to consider alternate evidence regarding your beliefs can sometimes present as stupid. Or at least willfully ignorant.

    When someone spends hours attacking basic scientific principles, refuses to consider alternate explanations for their statements and threatens anyone who disagrees with their conclusions, it’s hard to view that as smart. I know many Christians don’t do the things I’ve described, but many do. Perhaps a bit of self-policing might help shatter this particular stereotype?

  • Paul C.

    Hi George,

    I found this to be an interesting article.

    I do have one question though. Mainly in regard to your first question, was the term God defined? I’m wondering if differing definitions of God between respondents would be a problem.

    For example, a common Christian belief is that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. If God is omnipotent he is fully capable of stopping a horror of any size un-aided by any other causes or conditions. If they also belief that being loving requires doing everything in one’s power to stop tragedies like the Holocaust, that God loves the Jews, and then the Holocaust happened; then wouldn’t their definition of God not exist from using the following premises and conclusion?

    Premise 1: Many Jews died horribly during the Holocaust.
    Premise 2: If God exists, he loves the Jews.
    Premise 3: If you love someone, you will do everything in your power to not let them die a horrible death.
    Premise 4: If God exists, he is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent; and therefore fully capable of stopping a horror of any size un-aided by any other causes or conditions.
    Conclusion: God does not exist because he did not stop the Jews from dieing a horrible deaths during the Holocaust.

    Of course, altering these premises could lead to a different conclusion.

    Thank you for your time.

    • georgeyancey

      Hey Paul. This does get into deep philosophical waters. I do not know how far you, or I for that matter, want to go there. But to answer your question simply because God can do anything does not mean that he will do anything. Take the example of the Holocaust. Could God stop the Holocaust. I believe that He could. He simply could have ended Hitler before it got to that point. But there are other horrors that God can end that way. What if God stopped all crime and mistreatment by stopping humans before they could do them. At that point it become clear that God is interrupting our free will to do evil. But in doing so He is taking away our free will completely. So although God can stop the Holocaust and other evils, because he respects our free will he does not do so. Thus God has all of those qualities you discuss but also values allowing us to choose what to do. This does bring up the question of whether God should allow free will which brings in a host of other important philosophical questions. But for the purpose of this statement it seems to me evident that the Holocaust is not proof that a loving God does not exists. Thanks for your interesting question.

      • Paul C.

        Hi George,

        Thank you for your detailed and prompt response.

        However, it didn’t quite answer my question. Loving and caring are both by themselves abstract emotions. The issue I’m trying to get at is that although you believe that, people taking your study may have different assumptions about what actions constitute a loving God that would alter how they interpret and answer this question, which may lead to them getting the wrong answer if they have different assumptions about what counts as a loving God than you do. For example, instead of your belief that God is loving and all-powerful but he chooses not to stop the Holocaust for some greater good in his plan, others might believe that a requirement for God to be loving is that he should always prevent such horrific things from happening. I’m concerned that a sizable amount of atheists would fall into the latter category of belief. I’m wondering if you addressed this possibility in your study.

        Thank you for your time.

        • georgeyancey

          To some degree I think you are right Paul. Atheists would possess a different vision of God and presupposition of what might be right (i.e. see confettifoot above) and would be hard press to come up with the right answer. To some degree that is my point. I see Altemeyer constructing questions that violate the vision many Christians have about God as well. The questions about Near Death Experiences touches the very center of a Christian concept of moving towards an embrace of God after death. It is hard for the Christian to throw off that image of God to see the fallacy of the statement just as it is difficult for the atheist to set aside his/her notion of rightness or wrongness of God to answer the Holocaust questions. Thus my call is for a balanced instrument that either tests the deep presuppositions of people no matter what the believe about religious issues or one that does not test any of them. That is the only way we can honestly make assertions about cross-religious differences between those with differing religious beliefs.

          • Paul C.

            Hi George,

            That helps but I still don’t think we quite understand each other yet. I think it’s just the way the first question is worded would make a little uncertain of how to answer it if I was taking your study. I’d want to state my assumptions about the nature of God and what counts as loving. I understand that these questions are trying to go against the atheist pre-suppositions to find the fallacies. I like the other three questions you have. I think it is important to point out biased assessment questions of any type for/against any group of people. I learned more about this from your article.

            If the question was re-worded differently such as:
            “The existence of tragedies such as the Holocaust proves that there is not an all-powerful God that intervenes in the world to help people.”

            I’d find this re-wording less open to interpretation since God’s capabilities are clearly defined and a concrete effect on the world is stated.

            However, having been thinking about it today I wonder if you intentionally left it open to interpretation so that it could encompass anywhere from a literal Christian God, a monist god, a pantheistic god, or a polytheistic god of a tribal society. It seems like the wording of these questions is very important.

          • georgeyancey

            That is a fair critique. I am intellectually comfortable with an all-good, all-powerful God and the existence of evil but even if I was not there is no reason to assume that the God in the statement is all-powerful. Thus the logical fallacy can be seen by those who can suspend their presuppositions. When I saw the original set of statements I think the only one I got wrong was the Turin one because I knew the science was in dispute. But I did not read the questionnaire carefully enough and perhaps did not suspend my presuppositions. If that was the only question where Altemeyer obtain results then his results would have been shaky. But he found the same result in all four statements. Likewise all four of the statements I used came up with the same results so even given your concerns I am still confident in the overall findings despite your misgiving on that statement. I guess it is a good thing I used four, and not one, statement. ;-)

          • Paul C.

            I think we’ve come to a mutual understanding.

            Personally, I’m less comfortable an all-good, all-powerful God and the existence of evil (or at least extreme evil such as the Holocaust), especially when it’s applied in the detailed theologies that start with that assumption. I suppose it’s possible my own pre-suppositions may have contributed to me singling-out that question.

            Thank you for clarifying.

            I hope when your article is published it stimulates discussion within your field.

          • georgeyancey

            Thanks for your kind words. Enjoyed the discourse with you. Take care and have a great weekend.

  • confettifoot

    It’s not that Christians are stupid. It’s that the Christian banner has
    been seized by a bunch of rather clever politicians who make use of
    gullible people by romanticizing illiteracy and xenophobia and by
    promoting stupid, visceral prejudices as doctrine. It’s flattery and
    manipulation, and produces more a mob than a church. The sort of
    viciously oppressive anti-intellectualism that emerges from that camp
    (I’m talking about the worst of the ‘Christian right’) is better
    understood as the sort of thing that’s produced in cults – intellectual
    capacity isn’t as important as psychological makeup and vulnerability to
    inculcation. The general impression that Christians are dumb is really a
    reaction to that brand of religion; since the Evangelista has been
    allowed to co-opt the public face of the church, the (perfectly
    intelligent) aversion to that thuddingly dogmatic mess spills over and
    it’s assumed that their genuinely stupid theology is representative of
    all of Christianity. This gives dogmatically militant atheists, who have
    always been with us, a distinct edge. They rather deserve one another.

    I’m thinking about Paul’s question, for the zillionth time. It’s never been
    answered satisfactorily, though theologians have made valiant effort to
    reconcile God’s benevolent omniscience and the existence of suffering.
    For me the only intellectually honest answer is that I don’t know and
    that it troubles me, as it’s troubled Christians for centuries. I cannot
    love a God who ‘permitted’ the Holocaust, or invented free will as a
    sort of monstrous trap; if God is that, then I reject him. That God
    would break my heart. But that’s not, in fact, the God that I love.
    Theologians have built that idol. But God is a paradox and a riddle, or a
    damning absurdity, depending upon perspective.

    To try to
    apprehend God in the same way that we apprehend an empirical fact or a
    logical proposition is also absurd – that always fails abysmally and
    produces a very tortured pile of apologia on the one hand and affronted
    contempt on the other. All of this effort to reconcile science and
    religion is epistemological chaos; they inhabit different domains
    altogether. When placed at odds the church must burn the scientists and
    the scientists must mock the church.

    The Buddha is said to have
    refused to answer metaphysical questions or engage in that sort of
    debate, and to insist upon a spirituality that inhabits an open
    question, a deeply felt, passionately sustained “I don’t know”. Perhaps
    this is the only honest and alive path for contemporary Christians, in
    love with a Jesus whose actual history is known to be deeply shrouded in
    myth and human error, in love with a God who defies explanation or
    proof, a God who cannot be thought, in love with the way of Love, just
    out there, willing to be uncertain and determined to understand what it
    really means to love one’s neighbor as oneself – the impossible,
    essential imperative at the heart of the true church.

    Perhaps
    the lesson to be taken from the American fundamentalists is the peril of
    believing that one KNOWS, that one can own God as a kind of enhanced
    identity, a worldly status. I don’t know why the Holocaust, and
    countless horrors like it, is ‘permitted’, but I might know what to do if a
    fugitive knocks at my door, and I might have the courage to do what’s
    to be done. That’s what really matters.
    Any atheist might do the
    same – there’s no special moral privilege in Christianity. That’s
    another lie. Christianity isn’t supposed to be an ego-enhancer, right?

    And
    none of that business about being in love with God makes any sense at
    all to anyone who hasn’t had some experience or another that provoked
    that love. It’s a curse as much as a gift, it’s fairly crazy, it’s
    something that’s communicated by presence, not argument, and it might be
    some sort of very compelling hallucination. Better to just acknowledge
    that upfront, and try to be humble and decent, and not all grandiose
    about it, which is what Jesus admonished. That might be the mark of intelligence in the domain of spirit.

  • confettifoot

    (Wow, that came out long. I’m sorry! :/ )

  • buddyglass23

    The folks you quote w/ negative stereotypes of “Christians” aren’t really talking about “Christians” in the broad sense. They’re talking about the subset of Christians who are socially (and most often also economically) conservative (or libertarian).

    If you’d followed up with a question like, “Well, what about Jim Wallis, Eugene Robinson and John Spong- does your opinion of Christians extend to them?” and the individual actually knew those names, I suspect he or she would clarify that, in fact, their condemnation doesn’t extend to those *particular* Christians.

    W.r.t. the stereotype that Republicans are intellectually inferior, when you look at the actual stats, it might be worthwhile to look at cross-sections by race, age and sex. I’ll probably catch some flack for this, but it may be a case of Simpson’s Paradox. That is to say, if it turns out that Democrats are equal to (or less) intelligent than Republicans, as a group, it may be because African Americans (who are, as a group, less well educated and who score lower, relatively speaking, on common measures of intelligence) are over-represented in the set of all Democrats relative to the set of all Republicans.

    Note: The above is not meant to imply that African Americans are in some way inherently intellectually inferior to whites. As a group they do, however, suffer disproportionately from the effects of poverty, the breakdown of marriage, high incarceration rates, etc.

    I would guess that if you ran the numbers and sub-divided by both race and age you’d find that white Democrats do indeed come out “smarter” than white Republicans, but that the opposite is true of black Republicans relative to black Democrats. With whites the more educated you are the more likely you are to be a Democrat. With blacks I suspect its the opposite.

    Addendum:

    I suspect there may also be a semantic issue going on here where those who describe Christians as “dumb” or “less intelligent” don’t really mean “dumb” or “less intelligent”. What they may mean instead is “excessively dogmatic”. The prototypical example would be a Christian who can explain the intricacies of evolutionary theory at a complex level (suggesting intelligence) but who nevertheless rejects it all and holds to a young earth and literal Adam and Eve. This sort of individual would likely fall into their “dumb” category despite being (demonstrably) not-dumb.

    • georgeyancey

      Decent research controls for educational attainment and yet Blacks still come out with lower scores. The cultural makeup of the test is the likely culprit instead of black intellectual inferiority. Likewise, as I have demonstrated, cultural preference would also likely be the case for religious, and probably even political differences in IQ scores.

      • buddyglass23

        Could you control for cultural bias by comparing only a set of folks (both white and black) who come from the same “culture” or is it just always the case that whites and blacks will have a cultural gulf? Just spit-balling here. What about the set of folks who have at least one parent with an advanced degree and who would describe their family as having been “significantly more wealthy than average” during their upbringing? Or maybe those who answer “yes” to the question “Did you have a parent or legal guardian who was a member of a country club, golf club or tennis club at any point during your childhood?”

        Side question: are there any measures of intelligence (with a nod to the fact that some folks reject the notion of a single measure of ‘IQ’ altogether) you consider to lack cultural bias?

        • georgeyancey

          It seems to me that there are profound cultural differences that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to truly control for them. Even middle class blacks would have a different understanding as middle class whites. I remember reading a study of blacks adopted by whites and they found that they did better educationally than blacks adopted by blacks. But I suspect that even being raised by whites they still had some unique experiences as African-Americans that effected their performance. Is there an IQ test that is culturally neutral. That may be possible and I do not know of all possible IQ measures. But just about anytime we being language into any type of assessment we are bringing culture into that assessment. It seems to me to be quite difficult to have a culturally cognitive assessment of adults. But I am open to seeing if there are any out there.

          • buddyglass23

            This seems like throwing in the towel, though. i.e. Blacks and whites are just so culturally different that there’s no measure that can be used to compare one to the other. One can compare individual blacks to other blacks or individual whites to other whites, but not black vs. white, Hispanic vs. white, etc.

          • georgeyancey

            That is part of what makes IQ testing so difficult. I wish it was not this way but it is what it is. Have a great weekend.

  • JohnE_o

    Allow me to suggest that your last proposed question “…and that psychological/sociological explanations for why people believe
    in religion does not prove that worship of God is driven by natural
    needs instead of a supernatural deity,” is poorly phrased.

    In what sense is worship of God driven by a supernatural deity, when, in orthodox Christian belief, God gives humans free will to worship or not?

    Or are you approaching this question from a Calvinistic point of view?

    • georgeyancey

      Really I am not using any theological framework. It seems to me self-evident that psychological and sociological methodology cannot eliminate the possibility of a supernatural reality.

      • JohnE_o

        True, but unless I’m reading the sentence incorrectly, the subject of the proposed question is not the existence of God, but rather what drives the worship of God.

        Natural needs might well include the belief that there is a God that deserves ones worship, but that is not the same thing as a supernatural deity that drives that worship.

        I would welcome a counterexample that demonstrates how a supernatural deity could drive an individual’s worship of God in a way that is not a natural need and does not override that individual’s free will.


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