Give me Wisdom! A Reflection on a”Scientific”Report that Calls believers less intelligent than Athiests
It would seem, according to how some people measure intelligence, that those of us who believe in God rank as “less intelligent” than those who do not. A recent report in the “Mail” (a U.K. paper) reports this “fact” as the result of extensive and scientific IQ testing and summarizes what I would call the rather “non-scientific” conclusions of the researchers.
You know the usual drill when I comment on texts. The text of the original report is in bold, black italics, my remarks are in plain red text. I am excerpting a longer article.
The full article by Daniel Bates is HERE. – However, be forewarned, there are a lot of unchaste and risque photos often appear in the margins of this “news”paper.
Reporter Bates begins:
Atheists tend to be more intelligent than religious people, according to a US study. Researchers found that those with high IQs had greater self-control and were able to do more for themselves – so did not need the benefits that religion provides.
OK, so lets just stipulate that IQ tests are a common way of measuring at least some aspects of intelligence. Of course having a high IQ is no guarantee that one will necessarily navigate life well.
I do terribly on IQ tests, and tests in general. But I do a pretty good job of navigating life. My “smarts” are more verbal and less numerical. I love etymology, I also have a more keen sense of paradox and symbol, and the mystical connections of many apparently dissimilar things. Not bad strengths for a preacher, teacher and occasional writer. Of course this type of “smarts” is less easily measured in IQ tests, since this sort of intelligence is harder to quantify.
But OK, lets just stipulate that IQ tests have some validity in measuring a certain kind of mechanistic and basic intelligence.
But then our intrepid reporter goes on to claim that the “science” shows that atheists had “greater self control.” Now honestly, how did they measure that? I am going to guess that “self control,” at least as defined by our reporter, has little to do with what most of us traditionally meant by the term.
I would tend to think that the term means things like drinking in moderation, not being given to wild carousing and fornication, having authority over one’s emotions like anger and love, being moderate in behavior, frugal in spending, and so forth.
But something tells me that this understanding of self control has little to do with our author means, or what the “scientists” he claims to reference mean. For it is clear that the modern, and I would add secular and increasingly unbelieving West, is collectively given to almost every excess and lack of self control: drinking, fornication, pornography, addictions, fornication, carousing, overspending, excesses of every kind. And did I mention fornication?
Of course our intrepid reporter does not define what is meant by self control or how it is measured. But how anyone can connect our modern secular (unbelieving) culture to greater self control is puzzling, to say the least.
Again, I realize that I am among those of lesser intelligence, as a believer, but the correlation between atheism and self control seems to be an inverse one to this observer. In other words, as atheism and secularism have increased in the West, self control has demonstrably decreased during that same period. Just a simple analysis of the debt crisis shows that. Add divorce rates, addiction rates, STD rates etc. and the picture of low self control is consistent. There are many reasons for this but an inverse relationship seems the logical conclusion than to assert unbelievers ipso facto have more self control.
Similar puzzlement arises at the observation that atheists “do more for themselves.” First of all, what does that mean? It is true that Christian believers speak of depending on God. But this does not mean we expect God to be some sort of divine butler. Rather it means that we attribute our strength to God and seek his grace to do our work.
But theology aside, I must say I am mystified at the claim, however it can possibly be measured, that atheists “do more for themselves.” For again the evidence seems (to this admittedly less intelligent believing observer), that as atheism and secularism have risen, so has socialism, wherein increasing numbers expect the central government to do more and more for them.
What evidence is there that (globally) unbelievers and seculars do more for themselves? The big picture suggests just the opposite and correlates the nanny state with increasing secularism and unbelief. Maybe they don’t turn to God, but the State sure has grown.
I realize that the growth of socialism is not wholly attributable to unbelievers. But again I remain puzzled at any claim that anyone, or any group is “doing more for themselves” these days. The whole trend is away from personal responsibility, as it is from self control.
They also have better self esteem and built more supportive relationships, the study authors said.
Here too I would have loved for our intrepid reporter to have asked the “scientists” how “self esteem” is defined and then measured. I do think that Christians may test lower in this area, not because we actually do lack self esteem, but because we have a traditional language that emphasizes humility.
Many modern notions (not all) of self esteem are far too close to simple “pride” and we believers will be less likely to affirm vague modern notions and statements like: “I feel good about myself…..I like myself just the way I am…” If our tendency to caution regarding pride makes us “less intelligent,” then so be it.
As to “supportive relationships” again, please define. I suppose this could include anything from bowling leagues, to labor unions, to group therapy, and 12-step programs. But how would I know, since the term is undefined. I wonder if “Church” counts, because, frankly that is my biggest source of supportive relationships. I have a funny feeling the testers don’t consider “Church” to be in the realm of “supportive relationships.”
The conclusions were the result of a review of 63 scientific studies about religion and intelligence dating between 1928 and last year. –
Notice these are called “scientific” studies. But again many of the claims, at least as reported, are presented in very vague and non-scientific language. Might I even say some of the claims are metaphysical?
Honestly are terms such as “self-control,” “supportive relationships,” “self-esteem,” “benefits,” “do more for themselves” scientific terms at all? Calling a study “scientific” does not make it so.
All the terms above contain a priori and metaphysical judgments about what is good or not good. And while there may be some methodologies from the social sciences at work, most people have (sadly) reduced the word “science” and “scientific” to the physical sciences. And thus to speak of atheists being more intelligent that believers as being “scientifically” demonstrated is misleading because it is not how most people use the word today.
The judgment of this scientific study is filled with many non-scientific judgments about things that cannot simply be quantified, measured or compared. There are complicated social realities at work. Words such as “better” worse” “esteem” and so forth bespeak a more Metaphysical stance.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for metaphysics, but calling a report “scientific” that indulges in so many metaphysical concepts and judgements is not how people use the word “science” today. As such it is misleading to call this report a “scientific study.”
So finally here comes the money quote:
In 53 of these (studies) there was a ‘reliable negative relation between intelligence and religiosity’. In just 10 was that relationship positive. Even among children, the more intelligent a child was the more probable it was that they would shun the church. The University of Rochester psychologists behind the study defined religion as involvement in some or all parts of a belief. – Vague, to say the least.
They defined intelligence as the ‘ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience’. –
Also vague. For example define “ability.” Some people are “genius” at intuition, others at analysis of data, still others are said to have empathic abilities, emotional intelligence, photographic memory and so forth.
Also define “comprehend,” and who gets to say something is complex? For some a Bach fugue is complex but a car engine is easy. For others it is the reverse. etc.
Vague, vague and more vague.
So, if you’re going to call me stupid or even less intelligent, I want clearer parameters.
In their conclusions, they said: ‘Most extant explanations (of a negative relation) share one central theme – the premise that religious beliefs are irrational, not anchored in science, not testable and, therefore, unappealing to intelligent people who ‘know better’. –
Well I guess it takes one to know one. For as we have seen, this study commits the very errors it claims we do. But at least we admit to being in the realm of metaphysics and do not claim to be able to measure things that defy simple measurement. The arrogance of this final quote is so bold as to require little response, res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself).
And perhaps a final thought from yours truly. I want to say that how ever some one wants to regard my intelligence compared to theirs, or my group (believers) compared to theirs, I will probably take little real offense.
For, at the end of the day it is not so much intelligence that I value as wisdom. Intelligence has its place, and is nice to have. But intelligence is a human thing. Wisdom comes from God and as such is a greater gift. And wisdom need not depend on a lot of formal education. I have met some very wise people who had little formal education. I have also met people who were highly educated, but possessed of little wisdom. I have also met every combination in between.
Wisdom pertains to the things of God, to heaven and our final goal. To be wise is to discover God, to learn of Him and know Him, It is to know also, who I am in God, to grasp the meaning of my life and to move steadily toward my goal of the upward calling in Christ. Wisdom is infused by God who is able to grant it to the simplest and undereducated, or to the most intellectually astute.
But Wisdom is always gift. Intelligence, how ever we adduce it, too easily leads to pride. But Wisdom requires humility and thrives only on it. To be wise is to know that I know only very little, no matter how high my intellectual ranking among men. For as St. Paul once boldly said,
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength….But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:26-31)
So you may call me stupid, or less intelligent. You may call me a fool, but at least add that I was a fool for Christ.
Oremus: Intelligence has its place, but above all Lord, give me your wisdom. Indeed, you have hidden from the learned and clever, what you have reveled to the merest children. Thank you Lord for holy Wisdom. Thank you.