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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Religiosity and Low IQ

Prof. Richard Lynn
A few years ago, a British psychologist named Prof. Richard Lynn did a study comparing various countries religiosity and their average IQ.

The study, published in the scientific journal, Intelligence, measured the average IQ of 137 countries and compared it to the statement from a 2007 study on religion covering the same 137 countries, representing about 95% of the world's population. In Angola, for example, 98.5% of the population believes in a God, but the average IQ was just 68.

However, the three countries with higher IQs were Japan (105), Taiwan (105) and Germany (99). In those countries, the percentage of people who disbelieve in God were 65%, 24%, 42%.

Prof Lynn found that in only 17% of countries did the proportion of people who believe in God fall below 80%. Prof Lynn said, "These are virtually all the higher IQ countries."

In short, nations with a lower average IQ tended to have the most believers. One exception was America , a high IQ country where only 10 per cent of people don't believe in God.

A thoughtful reader would be hesitant to accept these results for a few reasons. First and foremost is that correlation does not equal causation. If correlation implied causation, it would mean that ice cream causes children to drown.

In addition, there are many factors that contribute to IQ, and the study does not take these into account.

But Prof Gordon Lynch of Birkbeck College, London, said the study had failed to take into account complicated economic, historical and social factors that explained different IQ and 'faith' levels in countries.

'Linking religious belief and intelligence in this way could reflect a dangerous trend, developing a simplistic characterisation of religion as primitive,' he said.

One of these important factors is the socioeconomic status of the individual in question. For example, Richard Lynn collaborated on a book called The Bell Curve, which argues, in part, that genetic differences between African-American and white subjects caused African-Americans to have lower IQ scores.

But then we have this:

Contrary to "The Bell Curve" findings, a new study by researchers at Columbia and Northwestern Universities suggests that poverty and early learning opportunities -- not race -- account for the gap in IQ scores between blacks and whites. (The study will be published in the April issue of Child Development. 
Adjustments for socioeconomic conditions almost completely eliminate differences in IQ scores between black and white children, according to the study's co-investigators. They include Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and Pamela Klebanov of Columbia's Teachers College, and Greg Duncan of the Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research at Northwestern University.
As in many other studies, the black children in the study had IQ scores a full 15 points lower than their white counterparts. Poverty alone, the researchers found, accounted for 52 percent of that difference, cutting it to 7 points. Controlling for the children's home environment reduced the difference by another 28 percent, to a statistically insignificant 3 points -- in essence, eliminating the gap altogether.

In other words, socioeconomic status played a large enough role in the development of the subjects IQ that it virtually eliminated race as a factor at all. The Bell Curve, and Lynn's study of religiosity, both fail to even consider this huge factor.

This is important because all of the nations which Lynn lists as having low IQ scores are developing countries, such as Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Senegal, Nigeria, Mali, Kenya, Guatamala, Ghana and Angola.

Here's a graph that compares another study's information on religiosity with the GDP per capita of the listed nations:

Socioeconomic status is clearly a strong factor.

Although I admit that many people who identify as non-believers are very intelligent, such as Carl Sagan, there are also many intelligent people throughout history who were theists. Given the information above, and the many exceptions we have to Lynn's conclusion, shouldn't we reconsider how great a factor religion is on IQ, if it's a factor at all?

In addition, doesn't the fact that some countries, such as Japan and Taiwan, have identical average IQs, but widely varying degrees of religiosity strongly imply that there are other factors at play?

In addition to not accounting for other significant factors, there are other reasons to take Lynn's findings with a grain of salt. Lynn's review work on global racial differences in cognitive ability has been cited for misrepresenting the research of other scientists, and has been criticized for unsystematic methodology and distortion. For example, Many of the data points in Lynn's book IQ and the Wealth of Nations were not based on residents of the named countries. 

The datum for Suriname was based on tests given to Surinamese who had emigrated to the Netherlands, and the datum for Ethiopia was based on the IQ scores of a highly selected group that had emigrated to Israel, and, for cultural and historical reasons, was hardly representative of the Ethiopian population. The datum for Mexico was based on a weighted averaging of the results of a study of “Native American and Mestizo children in Southern Mexico” with results of a study of residents of Argentina.

The datum that Lynn and Vanhanen used for the lowest IQ estimate, Equatorial Guinea, was the mean IQ of a group of Spanish children in a home for the developmentally disabled in Spain. Corrections were applied to adjust for differences in IQ cohorts (the “Flynn” effect) on the assumption that the same correction could be applied internationally, without regard to the cultural or economic development level of the country involved. 

While there appears to be rather little evidence on cohort effect upon IQ across the developing countries, one study in Kenya (Daley, Whaley, Sigman, Espinosa, & Neumann, 2003) shows a substantially larger cohort effect than is reported for developed countries.

In a critical review of The Bell Curve, psychologist Leon Kamin faulted Lynn for disregarding scientific objectivity, misrepresenting data, and for racism. Kamin argues that the studies of cognitive ability of Africans in Lynn's meta-analysis cited by Herrnstein and Murray show strong cultural bias. Kamin also reproached Lynn for concocting IQ values from test scores that have no correlation to IQ. Kamin also notes that Lynn excluded a study that found no difference in White and Black performance, and ignored the results of a study which showed Black scores were higher than White scores.

Initially, this may seem like a petty Ad Hominem attack on Lynn, but I think my concern is valid because it relates to the topic in question. If we have a scientist who routinely falsifies and concocts data relating to IQ scores, and his conclusions are demonstrably false, then we should pause when he releases another study on IQ. I admit that it could be the case that this study is legitimate, but if it's scientific, then it's repeatable. Therefore, it's reasonable to withhold our assent until we see it repeated.

However, even if we did not have valid reason to doubt Lynn's data, we would still have reason to doubt his conclusion.

For example, if Germany has an average IQ score of 102, then that means approximately 50% of the German population has an IQ above 102, and 50% has an IQ below 102. If 79% of the population identify as non-believers, we do not have reason to say that that is the top 79%. 

In other words, it may be the case that just non-believers have below average intelligence as there are with above average intelligence. There may be just as many ignorant non-believers as there are geniuses. Isn't that an important piece of information? Wouldn't that show whether or not religion is the determining factor in IQ? It could very well be the case that the top 21% of Germany's intellectuals are all believers. I doubt that that's the case, but my point is that we are not being given an important piece of information, and we cannot draw conclusions without it.

This study was controversial for a time and while it has faded from media attention, people still believe the myth that the religious are inherently less intelligent than the irreligious, just as people used to believe that blacks were inherently less intelligent than whites. 

So far, we have no good reason to think this.


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