By Anthony Maylath
The London School of Economics (LSE) recently released controversial research that concludes atheists are smarter than those who are religious (Kanazawa, 2009). The article uses a school of thought called evolutionary psychology to provide theoretical framework that basically states that mankind is continually evolving into smarter beings and that liberalism and atheism are results of becoming smarter.
The results of LSE’s research might sound troubling to any bible-believing Christian. The research seems to indirectly indicate that Christians are not smart enough to comprehend that God does not exist. The inference is somewhat of an insult to all Christians. However, upon close examination, the results of LSE’s research should not trouble any Christians for two primary reasons: (1) the interpretation of LSE’s regression model is erroneous, and (2) the model itself is too broad and does not capture specific phenomena that occur between Christians and other religions. Once these two factors are explained, we will see that LSE’s article should not concern Christians because it may not fully explain how IQ causes certain beliefs.
I put the word “Scientific” in quotes because economics is not an exact science. The methods used in LSE’s research follow the scientific method and is used by many businesses and universities. However, the results econometric models yield can often be unclear, difficult to interpret, and prone to statistical errors. However, I will do my best to explain LSE’s regression (cause and effect) model in light of biblical Christianity.
LSE’s regression model basically shows the cause and effect relationship between IQ (intelligence quotient) and another variable. The study examines how IQ affects four different dimensions: tax rates, income inequality, belief in God (“yes or no” question), importance of God (on a scale of 1 to 10), and level of polygamy. This paper will only focus on the religious aspects of LSE’s analysis.
Before we dive into the numbers, let’s have a basic lesson is statistics. For each variable two tests are done: a correlation and a regression (cause and effect analysis). These two tests seem to be the same but are slightly different. Correlation, unlike linear regression, only measures how often two things occur together. Say John has a high grade point average. Also assume that grade point averages and SAT scores are correlated. Therefore, if John has a high grade point average, then he probably has a high SAT score. Notice that the two variables can be swapped. However we do not know if high SAT scores cause high grade point averages or if high grade point averages cause high SAT scores. The model is ambiguous with respect to cause. On the other hand, the linear regression model explicitly defines what the cause is. In LSE’s regression model IQ is always the cause.
LSE’s results were that the belief in God and the importance of God are both strongly correlated with lower IQs. The regression revealed that for every point in national average IQ there is a 1.119% decrease in a nations belief in God, and for every point in national average IQ there is a 0.2024 (out of ten) decrease in the importance of God in a nation.
These results may sound alarming to a bible-believing Christian, but since LSE’s model is so broad, it does not capture the whole situation. There are two main arguments I bring against this model: (1) biblical Christianity is radically different from all other religion and therefore should be treated differently, and (2) less religious people typically have smaller families and do not have church responsibilities (Kanazawa, 2009); therefore, less religious people have more time to develop their academic skills.
Controlling for Other Religions
I would make the argument that biblical Christians gravitate towards critical thinking, knowledge, and wisdom while all other religions do not. This fact is clear in the bible. We see a notable example of critical thinking (an aspect of intelligence quotient) in Acts 17. “Now these [the Christians in Berea] were more noble minded than those in Thessalonica[...], examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed” (Acts 17:16, NASV). In this example, we see that a critical analysis towards scriptures is not only encouraged, but it also led to faith in Christ.
Moreover, we see that many great scientists throughout history have been Christian. Two of the most notable Christian scientists were Johann Kepler, considered to be the founder of modern astronomy and Isaac Newton, the beloved founder of modern physics. Kepler and Newton were not merely nominal Christians; rather, both were earnest in their faith. Kepler attended seminary, studied biblical genealogy, and believed that the earth was only 7000 years old. On the other hand, Newton was a committed to the faith from a very young age and published several works on biblical prophesy (Morris, 1997).
I suspect that most other religions do not encourage study and critical thinking the way that Christianity does. For example, the Qur’an is extremely hostile toward unbelievers, which means there is little room to question authorities (Qur’an 9:123). Furthermore, the Catholic Catechism teaches that only clergy can correctly interpret the bible, which discourages the layman from its study. Please do not misunderstand me. I believe those associated with the Catholic church can be saved; however, some of Catholic doctrine is not consistent with scripture. “[Catholicism] puts the priest between the Christian believer and the knowledge of God as revealed in the Scriptures, and makes him the sole interpreter of truth” (Boettner, 1962). Despite the fact that Catholicism and Islam are the two larger religions that seem to discourage critical thinking, LSE’s model does not possess a mechanism that separates biblical Christianity from these and other religions. Therefore, it is possible for IQ and biblical Christianity to be positively related because the possibility that people with low IQs join other religions waters down the fact that smart people choose Christianity.
Advantages that Atheists Possess
It is clear that atheists possess two distinct advantages over theists with respect to IQ. Firstly, as LSE’s research mentioned, atheists tend to have smaller families than theists. A smaller family would mean more time for other things, such as work and education. Since both work and education may have a positive impact on IQ scores, it could be considered an advantage. Secondly, less religious people do not have as many obligations as more religious people. Church, baptisms, missionary trips, prayers, and ceremonies all take time and usually may not add to skills that would improve IQ scores. Therefore, since less religious people once again have more time, they can use it to pursue careers and education which may increase IQ scores.
Indicated by LSE’s research, we saw that belief in God and the importance of God were both strongly correlated and a result of relatively lower levels of intelligence. However, this we notice that LSE’s model does not separate biblical Christianity from other religions. My claim is, if the model adjusted for biblical Christianity, we would see the opposite effects because some other religions do not accommodate critical thinking, while biblical Christianity encourages it. We also saw that less religious people may tend to have higher IQs because they have more time to devote to activities that increase IQ test scores.
Often, the results of scientific research can appear to cast doubt upon the Bible, but, under close examination, we may find that the findings are misinterpreted. As a believer, I challenge everyone who reads this paper to do critical research on the things that people (or even experts) say. We live in a sinful world, people lie, and occasionally even spread falsehoods because of incompetency. Because of this, we need to be like the Bereians of Acts 17 and critically analyze important issues that affect our lives.
Boettner, Loraine. Roman Catholicism. Phillipsburg: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1962. Print
Morris, Henry R. Men of Science Men of God: Great Scientists who Believed the Bible. Green Forest: Master Books, 1997. Print.
Satoshi Kanazawa. “IQ and The Values of Nations.” Journal of Biosocial Science Vol. 41 (2009): pp 537-556. Print.