Ohio State University teaches Christians are stupider than atheists

Ohio State University teaches Christians are stupider than atheists July 28, 2014

[UPDATE: Do I smell a right-wing Christian rat behind Ohio State’s psych quiz “controversy”?]

At Ohio State University, Psychology 1100 is a required core class for all students. A quiz offered in that class poses this question:

Theo has an IQ of 100 and Aine has an IQ of 125. Which of the following statements would you expect to be true?

  • Theo is more liberal than Aine.
  • Theo is an atheist, while Aine is a Christian.
  • Aine earns less money than Theo.
  • Aine is an atheist, while Theo is a Christian.

As you can see from the picture below, the correct answer is the last choice: Aine, with her superior IQ, should be expected to be an atheist. Theo, we assume, should be expected to starve to death trying to figure out how forks and spoons work.


According to its class description, OSU’s Psychology 1100 class teaches “Application of the scientific method to the empirical study of behavior with emphasis on individual and cultural differences.” How great is that? The title of the class textbook is Psychology: A Framework for Everyday Thinking.

Who doesn’t like to think every day?

Speaking of which, we would like to suggest the following question for the next Psychology 1100 quiz at Ohio State University:

You are a professor of psychology here at OSU. (Go Buckeyes!) Which of the following statements would you expect to be true?

  • You are an arrogant, painfully provincial hack.
  • You should be teaching a psychology class like Glenn Beck should be teaching a class in critical thinking.
  • You’re so shamelessly lazy that you can’t even be bothered to check quizzes that you allow your teaching assistants to hand out in your name.
  • You’re stuck in an education system that treats students like cattle and teachers like factory workers.


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  • So how, exactly, do forks and spoons work? I’m a little ambivilent about the relative merits of these seemingly incongruant implements that some people call “utensils”.

    All that to say: I perfer the SPORK.

  • Pffft. Typical Christian, trying to reconcile two things that are fundamentally irreconcilable.

  • Guy Norred

    Oh lovely. Actual ammunition for those asserting Christian discrimination.

  • Alan Christensen

    Exactly. The professor (or whoever wrote that question, maybe it was a TA)should have to take a remedial class in logic. NONE of those answers follows from the question.

  • Not logic per se; more specifically, probability and statistics.

    Using real world data from the GSS (2000-2012 data sets aggregated) suggests that for US samples none of the answers have a probability over 50%, even given the initial limiting conditions, and the one about politics is actually the highest probability.

    Atheists tend relatively rare. (The unaffiliated are marginally more common, but not enough so to change the final result.) Regardless of IQ, the probability of either being an atheist is below 1-in-10, leaving the contingent probability of either one-atheist-and-one-Christian less than that. Using WORDSUM of 6 and 10 as approximations for IQ of 100 and 125, and SEI as a proxy for income, the odds work out to something like one-in-five for having the lower IQ have the higher income; while for political views via POLVIEWS, the odds are circa one-in-three that the lower IQ will be more liberal.

  • Agni Ashwin

    Who needs friends and family when you have framily?

  • I’ll agree that using a specific faith is a wee bit over the top, but this is nothing new and it was not Ohio State that started it all. From almost a year ago, (Aug 2013) “A new review of 63 scientific studies stretching back over decades has concluded that religious people are less intelligent than non-believers. A piece of University of Rochester analysis, led by Professor Miron Zuckerman, found ‘a reliable negative relation between intelligence and religiosity’ in 53 out of 63 studies.” I’m sure that was covered in the class.

    As far as the specific choice of religion/faith: the syllabus does describe the class as “Application of the scientific method… with emphasis on individual and cultural differences.” Since there is an apparent reverse correlation between IQ and faith (in 53 out of 63 studies), how better to learn how to apply the scientific method (rather than emotionally jumping to conclusions) than to apply it to the culture that is represented by 78% of Americans?

    Perhaps part of the point was also to understand something about statistics and IQ. Those stats and measures in the studies say nothing about any single individual’s IQ: especially not (ahem) *mine*. Even though I’m a Christian (graduated from Moody Bible Institute) I also have an above-average IQ. But I think it also does say something about our (my) faith. People with lower IQs are, in today’s economy, exactly the poor and the marginalized that Jesus would have wanted us to minister to. They are who are most attracted to the faith. Rather than being offended, should we not be glad?

  • I’m not sure what my IQ is, but I’m sure I must’ve contributed to the lower scores…Maybe I should switch teams to disadvantage the atheists. That’ll learn ’em.

  • HAR! Good one, Ford.

  • Alan Christensen

    I didn’t follow all of that–I must be a Christian.
    No, actually, I do get that it has more to do with statistical studies, although I think Ian B makes an interesting point above about Christianity in particular appealing to marginalized segments of society that may be less “intelligent.” Still, as a believer I bristle a bit at things like this quiz question and agree that it tends to feed into the persecution complex some Christians have.

  • Giauz Ragnarock

    I’m not sure I can call OSU my alma mater (I had two false starts ending in crushing depression from homesickness and other worries), but I feel ashamed that this crap was pulled there. I pick invisible dot #5: All of the above.

  • anakinmcfly

    Meanwhile, similar studies here in Singapore show a correlation between higher IQ and Christianity, because people with higher IQs tend to be more educated, and people who are more educated are more likely to be exposed to Western belief systems like Christianity. The whole thing is basically stupid and extremely cultural dependent. It all comes down to how smart people are as a whole more likely to question and thus potentially abandon the religious (or non-religious) beliefs they grew up with. In a country like the US, where most are raised in Christian environments, it’s thus the smart ones who usually adopt different beliefs or become atheists. Whereas in a place where most people are raised atheist, it would be the smart ones who usually become theists.

  • Brilliant. I should figure out a way to work this comment into the post itself.

  • Jerdna Friedemann

    In Germany, we had similar trends in the past. Many revolutions of socialism, nationalism and socialistic capitalism have removed almost all things Christian. It is the educated and intelligent people that see more value in original Christian values than in the fruits of past political systems. i heard of some studies that support this conclusion, but that was pre-Internet, and i cannot find a source atm.

    That being said, “IQ” is an extremely arbitrary and artificial measurement of intelligence. Basically, since there is no formal definition of intelligence, people just did what they are used to doing when they do not understand something, they broke it down into unrecognizable pieces, to make it even less understandable. “IQ” is just the measurement of how much you adapted to one prevalent way of thinking in one socio-cultural context. Nothing about it is a measure of actual intelligence.

    The problem lies with perceiving and attempting to define intelligence as something that somehow primarily appertains to the human domain. Intelligence is not a trait specific to human beings. Intelligence is the balance between perception and action. Generally speaking, many plants and animals act more intelligent than humans. A flower that follows the sun and blooms for the bees does more to preserve itself and its ecosystem than a human introducing insecticides into that ecosystem, and thereby decimating the bees that would have been there.

    If humans were truly intelligent, they would recognize that the highest form of intelligence they can achieve is rooted in their own nature, and is very accurately expressed in the Character of Jesus Christ. If i was less intelligent, i may be misled to either make money my god and be an atheist, thereby seeking perfection of intellectual pride, or be stuck in a traditional religious system that made me think God is a bearded, sky surfing guy, and just disregard the cognitive dissonances such a system brings with it.

    However, as it is, i desire to exploit all my intelligences in harmony with each other, thereby understanding that intelligence and therefore Truth is rooted in character, and accordingly decide to follow Jesus Christ. Imho, it is the most intelligent thing a human can do.

    Edit: Found one German study with 2.000 participants. It concludes that among participants that did not acquire a professional qualification, 25% are atheists, whereas among those that acquired a university degree, 17% are atheists. i am sure there are more studies that suggest similar trends.

    Better Source:

  • Guy Norred

    Hey, I know I am a Christian and all, but I don’t think I am stupid AND blind. For some reason this post isn’t showing up on the John Shore front page anymore.

  • Mark Moore

    Citation of peer reviewed literature?

  • Mark Moore

    Citation of peer reviewed literature?

  • anakinmcfly

    Will the 2010 Singapore census do? (table 64) -> http://www.singstat.gov.sg/publications/publications_and_papers/cop2010/census_2010_release1/excel/t58-64.xls

    Summary of relevant bits:
    Those with no educational qualifications – Christians: 8.1%
    Secondary school graduates – Christians: 15%
    University graduates – Christians: 32%

    There were other in-between educational stages that I left out to keep it short, but basically it continues the trend of how the more educated someone is in Singapore, the more likely they are to be a Christian. Similar correlation between socio-economic status and Christianity, which isn’t much of a surprise because socio-economic status and education tend to be tightly linked.

    I’m not sure why you would dispute the findings, though. It seems pretty self-evident that smart people are the ones who question the beliefs they were brought up with, as well as that the more educated you are, the more likely you are to be exposed to religions from other parts of the world. If for instance you wished to locate a bunch of Christians in, say, China, you’d have much more luck checking out the highly urbanised, Westernised parts of the country vs some small rural village somewhere. Likewise in the US, it’s the rich, middle-to-upper class, highly-educated people who are more likely to subscribe to Eastern religions.

    This says nothing at all about whether or not a belief is right. It’s just about patterns of religious propagation.

  • Hmm. I’m showing it there. Send me the url where you don’t find it, if you wouldn’t mind? Just post it here in Ye Oldye Comments section. Thanks, Guy.

  • Diana

    You make some great points! Moreover, it’s 100% possible for a person to question the cultural beliefs with which s/he grew up and still come back to those same beliefs after questioning them.

  • Guy Norred


    The top post shown is the one on the types of prayer. The comments do show up in the recent comments box, but the post doesn’t. This IS from my phone but Ihave never noticed this kind of thing before. I will check from a computer as soon as possible.

  • Diana

    Check the edited version of Jerdna’s comment.

  • Oh, yeah, I see that! Yikes. That’s not good. I’ll report it to Patheos, and see what’s up. Thanks for the alert, Guy.

  • Jerdna Friedemann

    i just posted a response, but it disappeared. Don’t really have the time to rewrite it, sorry.

  • Based on other comments (indicating this was not done using the usual OSU on-line quiz system, and noting that psychology students are often used as lab rats without immediate disclosure of the in-class experiment), I suspect this was actually an attempt to measure prejudice, rather than an actual “quiz” question.

    Further supporting my suspicion: another example where the “conjunction fallacy” intuitive misunderstanding of probability was used for a social psychology study about religion is the (doi: 10.1037/a0025882) Gervais/Shariff study from a couple years back; which suggests that studying how probabilities are (mis)assessed may be a more widely used measure of prejudice.

    EDIT: The other comments were from the Friendly Atheist’s discussion; Patheos makes blog-hopping too easy, sometimes.

  • Alan Christensen

    That’s interesting. In that case I think it’s odd there would be a “correct” answer, but maybe the software required the person constructing the quiz to assign one.

  • Since when had religious affiliation have anything to do with intellegence? If so than Galileo, Newton, Pascal and countless other scientists, authors, physicians, musicians, educators create a big problem to your theory.

    That have been my answer along with a brief explanation that religious connection has a great deal to do with where someone is born and the culture they are born into. It has nothing to do with intelligence.

    (Posted from the beach)

  • My guess is that the software could be custom designed from requirements of this exact sort of experiment. For any legitimate camouflaging questions such as “What is 2+2” or “which of the following is NOT a recognized symptom of schizophrenia”, the program might indicate the actual answer; but for the bogus experimental questions, they might be flagged for the software to indicate that whatever response was given as correct.

    On the other hand, such clever experiments are relatively rare; and people who don’t understand how Bayesian probability work are extremely common. (In a study mentioned in a recent climate science communication draft paper by Kahan, the appendices noted only 8% answered the Bayesian “COND_PROB” question correctly.) Thus, it seems more likely that this question is the result of a mistake by an incompetent.

    Except — it looks like OSU’s psychology department includes Dr Ellen Peters, who appears to have past and forthcoming articles related to the development of a numeracy scale. Hmm.

  • Andy

    I have seen lots of people try to cite things like this as evidence that being of whatever stance they are makes them smarter. It really bothers me. There was one mentioned on IFLS lately (which I generally like) but which clearly smacked of merely confirming the agenda behind the study.

    We get it. There are stupid people who are religious. Lots of them, even. That makes sense; at least in America, more people are religious than not. Unless religious people are much smarter as a whole than non-religious people, then there are going to be more dumb religious people than dumb non-religious people. Math!

    (Posted from a beach “resort” that has a lot of problems)

  • Andy

    I don’t think you have enough to do.

  • Andy

    Also, more “evidence” for the smug non-believers who think believers are all idiots. This really doesn’t help any reasonable people (on any side) and it will just stir up shit. I’m disappointed in you, Ohio State.

  • Andy

    Logic a requirement for philosophy? Surely you jest.

  • anakinmcfly

    yep. It’s also important that merely belonging to a group that is, on average, smarter than another group doesn’t mean that you yourself are smarter than the average person of that other group. So it’s all pretty pointless in the end, especially when you’re talking about really small differences – I think someone else commented that atheists in the US have an average IQ of 103, compared to the average 100. If true, that’s a measly 3 points, and is negligible on the individual scale.

    If one wants to brag about how smart they are, it’s a lot more efficient to mention their *own* intelligence than that of a group they share a single characteristic with. Like, my IQ is in the 97th percentile (around 135-150), according to a MENSA test I took when I was ill and not thinking clearly. And I’m a Christian! See, *that’s* how you brag about your intelligence. 😐 Do it right, people. (it’s not that impressive though; in any group of 100, there’d be 2 people smarter than me.)

    (Posted from the office)

  • anakinmcfly

    Check out his posting history! His America-centric worldview disturbs me. I hope he comes back here to see this page I once did in response to similar souls: http://www.whoaisnotme.net/anakinmcfly/pnr/notusa.htm

  • Andy

    I don’t get that web page. I saw some words about America, so I started reading. Then I saw some words that weren’t, so I stopped. America is the greatest country in the world even though it’s the only one I know blah blah blah rabble rabble yadda yadda yadda