Friday, August 15, 2008

Are Christians less intelligent?

We discussed this issue in depth on Another Goddamned Podcast in our 16th podcast (go to segment 3), and I don’t want to go over too much of the same ground. But I do want to say that it seems clear to me that, on average, Christians are less intelligent than atheists.

Can someone please do the following study?

3 groups of 500 people.

Group A – completely random sampling of U.S. adults: includes theists of many faiths, no religious affiliation, agnostics and atheists.

Group B – random sample of U.S. adults who are fundamentalist Christians.

Group C – random sample of U.S. adults who are atheists.

Administer the same intelligence test to all three groups and compare the findings. Does anyone seriously doubt that the test results would show Group C higher than Group A and significantly higher than Group B?

If I’m right, isn’t it fair to mention this? People should feel silly for participating in religious activities.


The Exterminator said...

In answer to your question: Yes.

John Evo said...

What an upset.

DB said...

I don't think they are less intelligent out of lack of potential, rather their lack of experience using critical thinking skills and common sense. I think many of them would be able to see the light (the way we see it) given the honest chance of using those skills.

PhillyChief said...

Practical intelligence? Yes. Why? Two possibilities:
1) Religion make you less intelligent (DB's comment above)
2) If you're less intelligent, you're drawn to religion

John Evo said...

It may not even matter whether there is causation, or it's simply correlation between a fundamentalist religious view and lower intelligence. Here's why.

It could well be that IN ORDER to be able to convince oneself of a literal interpretation of any religious idea, one has to either be unable to access the ideas and knowledge accumulated by our species, or an unwillingness to do so. Willful stupidity (in defense of faith) is still stupidity.

Anonymous said...

Are you familiar with Bob Altemeyer's work on authoritarianism? (Oh no! I'm turning into a book-spammer! But it's pertinent.) He has a chapter on authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism in which he argues that all of the cognitive shortcomings associated with authoritarian followers or submissives--"illogical thinking, compartmentalized minds, double standards, hypocrisy and dogmatism"--are also present in religious fundamentalists.

Whether this would generalise to Christians as a whole, I can't say.

Alejandro said...

I don't think religiousity is a function of intelligence or vice versa. Most folks are religious because they were raised in families that practice religion in a culture that values it. I think it's more likely people suspend their intelligence and compartmentalize their religion, because, hey, questioning your faith is taboo, a sin, and cause for concern in the life of a believer.

"Willful stupidity" in one field of knowledge, while undoubtedly stupid, doesn't make someone globally stupid or even necessarily less intelligent than someone knowledgeable in that field but otherwise a dolt.

John Evo said...


Let me run this by you, Lifey. All religious beliefs are clearly fantasy stories. They are myths. To do ANY amount of in-depth study of history and anthropology (with a background in basic scientific knowledge) and you can not come to any other conclusion. Unless...

Unless what? Don't misunderstand me; I agree with why the average believer begins life in a certainty of whatever fantasy story s/he was raised to believe as "truth". Hey, you can't blame children/adolescents for that. But we all reach a point in life where we can see the world through our own eyes, and make conscious choices based on verifiable knowledge.

So when you come across a brilliant attorney, who is one of the most intelligent people you have met when discussing legal matters, and he tells you that he is so thankful that he gave his life to Jesus who died for all of our sins and was resurrected and that by simply confessing knowledge of this, he too is saved for all eternity... do you think, this is a guy who is "willfully ignorant" when it comes to his beliefs and is otherwise brilliant?

My first inclination would be, here is a guy who is compartmentalized in his brilliance - kind of like Rain Man. He knows the law, inside out. But for him to believe what he does, how could he be "brilliant" in so many areas of knowledge; all which would cast doubt on his beliefs and which, cumulatively, would devastate them?

So I think you are right about the compartmentalization. I just think you have it backwards. We discussed this quite a bit on Another Goddamned Podcast, and I think this particular insight originated from either SI or Philly and we all felt it was rather illuminating. What do you think?

John Evo said...

If anyone remembers the podcast that came up in, please link it for me.

PhillyChief said...

It depends on the containment integrity of the compartment. Certainly if that nonsense can stay in its compartment, then a religious person can be functionally intelligent. If it metastasizes, then that functional intelligence is at risk.

I think what Lifeguard is confusing is actual intelligence or intelligence potential, and functional intelligence. Yes, a religious person could be well endowed in the former, but his religiosity could seriously affect the latter, and really it's only the latter that matters.

The worst thing, imo, is to have a strong functional intelligence and willfully give that up to let the woo in. Why people do this, I don't know. Perhaps it's just the easy way out, giving in to family, friends, spouse and all the spouse's family and friends. Integrity and honor are not easy. They are the gifts that we give to ourselves which make us truly rich, yet may be too expensive for some to maintain.

The Exterminator said...


Compartmentalizing is a myth. Once you open your mind to superstition rather than rationality, there's an automatic spillover. It may be possible to delude yourself into thinking that you're keeping just a small corner of your brain reserved for religion while using all the rest of your thinking faculties in an intelligent way. But the problem is: what happens when your religion comes into the inevitable conflict with rationality? Do you opt for reason and evidence? Then you're not really religious, are you? Or do you opt for god? Then you're an ignoramus, purposely censoring your own ability to distinguish between reality and bullshit.

What I'm saying is: Life in America doesn't allow anyone to compartmentalize for long. The goddies are lurking everywhere, waiting to knock you silly. And once that happens, you can kiss your intelligence goodbye. There has never been a religion on this Earth that has encouraged its followers to think for themselves. Or even to think, period.

John Evo said...

Well, Lifey, you've gotten 3 slightly differing views on "compartmentalizing". None of us seem to think much of it as a verification of "intelligence beyond faith". Take what you will from it. Any way you cut it, people might be "intelligent" in a general sense of "not an idiot", but I really don't see how someone can be very intelligent and still believe in fables. Look at it this way, if you thought someone TRULY believed in Santa Claus (as an adult) could you look at them as being a deep intellect? If not - what's the difference? The fact that there is a holy book for Jesus and other adults also believe?

Alejandro said...

Maybe it's because I'm a fairly recent deconvert, but I don't feel like I gained in the intelligence department when I stopped believing in god. If you compared IQ tests before and after, I don't think they'd be any different. I'm as intelligent or stupid as I was a year before I stopped believing.

I wonder if the problem lies in distinguishing intelligence from rationality. If you want to argue that atheists are more rational, then I'd be more willing to concede the point. Or maybe it all comes down to how you measure intelligence?

But there are plenty of very intelligent people who, for psychiatric reasons, are completely irrational and delusional.

In fact, many psychiatrists I work with have told me that intelligence often works against a psychiatric patient's best interest, precisely because they will use their intelligence to shore up their paranoia or delusional system.

PhillyChief said...

"I don't feel like I gained in the intelligence department when I stopped believing in god."

Well it might not be clear if you've completely expunged all of the disease. There are many who get past the god but then are still caught up in other woo, or still might be lacking in the general skepticism department. There's also general things that everyone has to various degrees but religion really cranks up like succumbing to authority and ends justify the means thinking as well as having weak objectivity.

Giving up the god is just the start.

Prash said...

Maybe they are blindfolded with religion and the GOD and they ask themselves very rarely certain questions. The "reason" culture doesn't exist in them...maybe that's why !~

Alejandro said...

Ah, so the intelligence boost only kicks in once you achieve perfect, complete atheism, is that it? Did you learn that from a scientific study or is it just your own hypothesis? Or maybe it's something that only becomes clear once you achieve complete atheism yourself? I'll keep working on it.

PhillyChief said...

Here, let me dumb it down for you so you might get it. IF religious belief influences and indeed shapes how you think, especially if you grew up with it, THEN giving up the religious belief is only the beginning to realizing intellectual potential.

You got that now smartass, or do I need to simplify further?

Alejandro said...

I understand your point, Philly, I just don't believe that someone can't realize their full intellectual potential without shedding religious belief. I think it's an assumption or just a hypothesis.

If you're stating that completely shedding religious belief is a necessary (even if not sufficient)condition for achieving full intellectual potential, then what you're describing sounds a little to me like the atheist equivalent of salvation.

Personally, I don't feel comfortable assuming or hypothesizing that since I don't believe in god, I'm somehow ahead of the game intellectually since I've removed the glass ceiling of theism from my thinking.

As for being a smartass, I'll admit it and even apologize for it, but I'm no more a smartass than someone who would chalk up my opinions on this to not having gotten the "disease" completely out of my head. Which brings me to my last point.

This kind of talk makes it entirely too easy to dismiss dissent and alternative points of view, such as the ones I've raised, on the basis of stupidity and lack of intelligence resulting from residual credulity.

PhillyChief said...

This would not even be a point of contention if we were talking about someone who grew up with an inadequate education, one who was never trained in critical thinking nor had failed to receive sufficient knowledge or may have been convinced of incorrect knowledge. Immediately we would all agree that such a person has been short changed and their intellectual potential stunted or at least sidetracked. Make religion the culprit and suddenly that opinion changes? Why?

Examine this. University of CA is rejecting student applicants who have had creationist science education because such an education fails to teach "important topics in science and history and failed to teach critical thinking." Thus, the student's functional intelligence is insufficient. They may be bright kids who have high intellectual potential, but they're going to need remedial work to be at a functional intelligence level sufficient for acceptance at UC.

Aside from mere knowledge of facts, the big thing is critical thinking. Religion retards critical thinking. A prolonged religious belief can leave someone with insufficient training and/or incorrect training in using their brains as well as allowing parts to simply atrophy from lack of use. Think of someone who is obese and gets their stomach stapled. Well without profound changes in their lifestyle, including a completely new diet, eating habits and incorporating exercise, they're not going to truly realize their healthy potential. Likewise, cutting the god belief out of your mind is not the end but merely the beginning to proper mental health and ultimately realizing full intellectual potential.

Unknown said...

Yeah, what if Group B was filled with Chappys and Group C was filled with wooist atheists. What do you have then? Or even stupid atheists. You know they exist.

Besides we all have blind spots where we aren't as critical or skeptical and we all compartmentalize to some extent. It's not limited to religion, that's just the most obvious one.

John Evo said...

@ OG - well sure. That's the point of a random study. My question still stands (though) thanks for actually addressing it. I think you're the first) - Does anyone doubt that in such a randomized study, that it would show a markedly higher average intelligence for Group C? I don't doubt it. I would be shocked if it didn't. But that's why I'd like someone to do the study.

@ Philly - That last comment was really insightful.

And Lifey, I don't think he was not being snarky at all in that response. It's obvious you two have brought a little something else into the discussion. But if you simply deal in my original question about what such a study would show and this latest comment of Philly, then I think you'll see there is fire under the smoke. I'm not sure how to define it, exactly... but it's there.

Unknown said...

I think you're seeing all atheists as this and all fundamentalist Christians as this. Of course you think the study would show that atheists are smarter.

PhillyChief said...

I think even this and this and this have mental deficiencies that retard their functional intelligence. The fact that they may start with an abundance of intellectual potential and have benefitted from quality educations doesn't erase the retarding effect. Yes, even with this retarding effect they may be functionally more intelligent than many others, including many atheists, but they're still retarded.

The Exterminator said...

As Philly has pointed out, most of us are talking about functional intelligence, i.e., actually using one's intelligence to guide him or her in daily life. We're most definitely not referring to potential based on genetics.

When someone substitutes woo of any kind for critical thinking, he or she is making the conscious choice to put intellect on hold. Believers make this choice every day (either consciously or because they're deluded), whenever they shelve their natural abilities to weigh evidence and evaluate facts. Believing is equivalent to saying "I feel," rather than "I think."

Now, don't get me wrong; there are plenty of areas of life in which "I feel" may trump "I think." That's why you can like chocolate and I can prefer vanilla. But if we start using our critical faculties to justify our feelings (for example: vanilla is better for you), we have to be able to back up our statements with intellectually derived reasons.

Religionists routinely skip that step, or, making the attempt, fail at it. If a person is satisfied with putting vague emotions over critical analysis, or if a person actually fails at critical analysis, he or she can be said to be "less intelligent" than someone who uses his or her intellectual faculties.

It's obvious that -- humans being what we are -- we all defer to emotions over intellect sometimes. However, to adopt a worldview requiring the constant dismissal of one's thinking processes is, indeed, stupid. So, while not all atheists may be geniuses, it's clear that on the whole, as a group, they are functionally more intelligent than believers. Because believers are, by definition, routinely ignorant on matters of great importance.

Alejandro said...


I might agree with that generally, but I think there are probably more religious folks out there than you think who would probably qualify as brilliant-- even in terms of critical thinking. It's the ENDS to which those intellectual tools are put that make the difference.

It seems like there are three things at work in the discussion you and I are having: (1) intellectual ability, (2) fund of knowledge, and (3) intellectual positions. While I don't doubt for a second that each of these can influence the other two-- sometimes to crippling effect--, I don't think it's as simple as making blanket statement about one's overall intelligence on the basis of one of those criteria. I think we both agree that it's far more complicated than that, but I wasn't really getting that sense from your original comments.

I'm only bringing this up, because I happen to think it's a little dangerous to oversimplify in that regard. Such an apparent oversimplification (which I no longer think you are making by the way) allows someone to completely disregard any point made by a believer by assuming a priori that they lack "our" degree of intelligence.

I agree with you about Philly's last comment being thoughtful. My whole point is that it's not as simple as equating Christianity with lack of intelligence, and, in fact, to do so in a vacuum is inherently dangerous.

As for "snarky," I'm not quite sure how I was supposed to take the phrase "Well it might not be clear if you've completely expunged all of the disease." If someone can interpret that phrase in a way that doesn't mean "perhaps you're not atheist enough to understand" or some variant of it, then I'm all ears.

Until them I have to assume that, as per his own words, it is not clear to Philly that my mind has been expunged of the retarding effects of religiousity. I don't think it should be too hard to understand that that might ruffle anyone's feathers a little bit.

In any event, I'm over it, but I just wanted to make that point.

Anonymous said...

In my experience and by observation I have come to think that the intelligence of the "worshiper" is, in many instances a factor, but it is only one of many that is in play.

I am a musician and do a lot of things in churches of every stripe. I don't worship so I observe. It seems to me that maturity or some lack of it)is in play, and there seems to be emotional wants that are satified. A self image also seems to be confirmed,affirmed, and validated as well.

Fear (well, uncertainty)and anger are in there swinging, too.

I often hear "primitive" preachings, and it is quite, well, worth it to watch the congregation. How flawed and unworthy they are. How DESERVING of punishment they are. But there's an out! Here's your line to life eternal, take it!

And people who I know, they are almost weeping, they are actually agreeing with this assessment of themselves. I would certainly class most of them as decent human beings in most cases.

Is this a mental catharsis they are indulging in? It's deeper than a question of intelligence from what I can see.

I have heard about certain persons of authority who pay to experience humiliation at the hands of professional, well, humiliators. No, I can't verify or document these goings-on, but one HEARS things. In my army days I was always surprised to see certain higher ups who were noted for their belligerence, agressiveness, ruthlessness, and total lack of empathy dealing with their spouse. In many cases, the hitherto tyrant would be grovelling, whining, anxious, and pretty much under the dominion of the spouse. Almost like out of the old Maggie and Jigs cartoon, Bringing Up Father.

Is it really something like that?

PhillyChief said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PhillyChief said...

I'd say read your own last post on your blog and subsequent comments and then check yourself, LG. In fact, you're response just validated my point since your emotions made you respond with an intellectually ignorant comment. Atheism is not a philosophy. You don't become more or less an atheist or a complete or incomplete atheist. You know this, at least I hope you do, yet you commented rashly an unintelligently. Once again, check yourself. I made my comment to you but it wasn't just for you but for anyone who has been caught up in woo.

As for seeing 3 points, I don't see that at all. What I'm talking about is religious belief retards intellectual development. Yes it can restrict access to knowledge but it gravely affects how you receive, process and respond to knowledge, and THAT is the major point and truly the only point I think there is here. You can get rid of the religion but if you don't fix how you receive, process and respond to knowledge, you're still hindered intellectually.

Finally yes, one can have these deficiencies without ever having religion or woo in their lives. You can have weak critical thinking skills, lack the ability to look objectively at things, get swept up more by emotion than reason, and be more willing to accept one's words not on their merit but by who said them, but religion guarantees these deficiencies, and despite whatever attempts at compartmentalizing you might have made, chances are it's breached containment and tainted other facets of your thinking.

Imo, Chappie is someone who slowly expunged the effects of religion first and in so doing, created an infertile environment for the belief to continue to survive. I believe she's said that her process was a slow one, not an overnight epiphany. I see that deconversion process as the healthiest, having the greatest chance of success in both warding off a religious relapse and in fostering greater intellectual development.

John Evo said...

Lifey, frankly I don't understand getting your feathers ruffled over that. Who cares what Philly thinks about us individually? I know for a fact that there are areas where Philly thinks I "fall short" - whatever that means. Who cares? I honestly kind of enjoy his snarks when they are directed at me, and I can assure you I've gotten my share. I can look at it and think he's missing something, or I might even agree and think it's worth examining more.

Now, to the general conversation here: I think Ex is right in that we have to separate functional intelligence from I.Q. Also, everyone (it seems) misses the point of "on average". This is a problem that comes up regularly even in genetics, where people get into a tizzy over genetic predispositions. Most genetic traits are not absolute. At least this is really true for genes that effect personality. Let's say we have a cohort of genes that are known to produce shyness. This is likely going to result in a situation where, all other factors being equal, the person with those genes (and it's actually much more complicated - including the reactions between genes and which genes are “switched on”) will be MORE LIKELY ON AVERAGE to be shy. With some genes, it might be A LOT more likely and others will have a more moderate effect.

I only bring this up to show that we are not (at least I am not) talking about all Christians being less intelligent that atheists (though absolutely in some areas of intelligence, it would be so). But I am saying that I would love a study like the one I outlined because I firmly believe that ON AVERAGE, believers are going come up short.

When I contemplate this issue, I'm not looking at the smartest atheists and the silliest theists. That's the whole point of a randomized, double-blind study. I'm not looking to compare the average intelligence of atheists from our major academic institutions to ordinary church goers in the bible belt.

I feel certain that there is a reason for PhD's of all background having much greater numbers of atheists than high school grads of all background. But I think there is a better way to examine the issue, and my proposed study (or a better one of similar nature) would serve to get at it.

Now, why do I care? If we can show this empirically then it's fair to point it out. And if pointing it out makes more people question living all aspects of their lives based on fables of one sort or another, then I think that is a good thing for society in general. It's not about "feeling superior" or putting others down - unless doing so encourages them to change for the better.

Say it Philly - Evo is talking about "ends justify the means". And, to a degree in this case, you'd be correct.

PhillyChief said...

Don't hate the mirror because you hate the reflection.

John Evo said...

Or is it this?

PhillyChief said...

I like mine better. Yours "falls short". :)~

Alejandro said...

I only raised that issue about Philly's being snarky because you claimed he wasn't being snarky.

Look, I take you at your word that you didn't mean any offense, and, whatever feathers got ruffled smoothed out before I wrote my last comment.

I think in some respect we're misunderstanding each other at this point, because my internal response to your initial "disease" comment was to say to think that YOU somehow believed that there was some kind of atheo-meter I wasn't living up to, and I thought the very notion being more or less atheist was kind of idiotic.

I wasn't offended by what you said because I actually believed there are degress of atheism or that atheism was a philosophy. I was annoyed because I thought you were judging me by THAT kind of a standard which I thought was a bunch of hogwash.

In other words, I apparently mistook you for making the same error you just mistook me for making. If that makes any sense.

Anonymous said...

If they are stupider (not all are, but some), then shouldn't we feel pity rather than contempt?

Ditto if they are simply brainwashed.

Kman said...

I am a Christian and I don't agree that Christians are less intelligent. However, don't think that I am offended by your statements, because I have actually had a great deal of frustration dealing with my fellow Christians for their close-mindedness. The problem is not that they are less intelligent, but many seem to lack basic common sense because they have been brainwashed into believing a lot of crap that I don't believe in myself. I attended a top science and engineering school, and the other members of my Christian group tended to do much better academically than the other students, as did other less devout Christians not in this group. One girl had a 3.9 GPA in biomedical engineering while another was a complete genius majoring in mathematics taking seven undergraduate classes and three graduate school classes her senior year, still graduating with almost a 4.0. However, the fact that they insist on living their lives on antiquated standards because a 2000 year old book (otherwise known as the Bible in case you didn't get that) tells them to leads to bizarre life choices, close-minded intolerance and the tendancy to offend others for no reason. Also, I think that Christians tend to be much more conservative and unwilling to challenge the status quo when it comes to breaking religious tradition, which is what keeps them from having the same breakthroughs of atheists and agnostics who do not limit themselves to the same constraints.

As for the rationale behind my own belief for the existence of God, I base that purely on logic rather than preachings, biblical passages or my own emotions. Einstein himself was convinced in the existence of God through his understanding of physics, saying that the complexities of the universe could not happen by chance. At the same time, his logic kept him from accepting the idea of a God that loved humanity the way Christians believed.

My other rationale comes from my early physics classes in my undergraduate years. I think back to the First Law of Thermodynamics and the Conservation of Mass, which say that respectively that energy and matter cannot be created or destroyed. But if matter and energy cannot be created, where did all the matter and energy in our vast universe come from? I only see two possibilities:

1. Two of the most fundamental theories in physics are wrong (and we might as well disregard everything we learned in the last hundred years)
2. Or they were created by a force that superceded the laws of physics

So basically if you want a one sentence summary for my extremely lengthy post, its "Don't get diss' us Christians 'cause we dumma' we just don't got no common cents". I guess I could have written that sentence at the beginning of my post, but I figured I'd make you suffer through my rant. Sorry about that.

John Evo said...

@ Kman

Very interesting response! I'm wondering though. To the specifics of what I was calling for, do you have any more doubt than I do about what the results would be. After all, you are hardly what I would call a "representative" Christian!

But to the points you did raise, I think that the existence or non-existence of "a" god, is very different from arguing for the existence of a *specific* god.

Finally, let me just ask you - if we are forced to concede that matter and energy cannot be destroyed or created, and if we are going to talk about the things which defy even the physics that humans have come to agree upon (namely something existing forever - such as the god you propose) why not just skip the god hypothesis and say "matter exists forever"?

Is that any wilder than purposing a god which superseded matter and energy (without questioning why that particular god just happened to exist)?

Perhaps you might shed light on why you consider yourself a Christian, rather than a Hindu, Muslim or, more practically, a deist.

Eric said...

I am also a Christian and I think that some of you have raised interesting points but some of you are simply saying "Religion is a myth and anyone who believes in myths are stupid. Therefore Christians are stupid." This is not only arrogant it is just dumb (although I have to give props to those of you who had the ingenious idea to introduce Santa Clause, I mean what Christian could have been smart enough to think of that). The earlier poster mentioned Einstein's own belief in God. Does that mean Einstein is dumber than you atheists? Then why don't prove the Theory of Relativity right now. If someone who was foolish enough to believe in God can do it then it should be a piece of cake for you atheists right? Let's take an example that has nothing to do with religion. John Nash was one of the most esteemed mathematicians of the 20th century. Did the fact that he believed himself to be the Emperor of Antartica despite all evidence to the contrary mean he was stupider than everyone who knew otherwise? No, it meant he was delusional, which had nothing to do with his intelligence.

As for your statement that all religion is myth and that anyone who believes in myths must be stupid, I would have to see what evidence you have to prove that religion is a myth. I agree that stories like Moses parting the Red Sea and David killing Goliath with a pebble sound ludicrous, and I don't know any rational person who believes them. But these stories are really just parables used to illustrate their beliefs about much more abstract beliefs that are much more difficult to disprove.

Statements like "I have never seen God", "God wouldn't allow suffering in the world" and "I prayed to God and he didn't tell me the winning number to next week's lottery" are not evidence that God does not exist. They merely show that there is a LACK of evidence that God DOES exist.

That's right. Neither atheists or theists can prove their beliefs to anyone else's satisfaction. There is basically a stalemate here and until anyone is proven right, no one can be proven wrong. So who is actually stupider for choosing what opinion they have on an issue where there is no real concrete evidence one way or the other? You choose to interpret things your way, we choose to intrepret things differently. I do not have the arrogance to feel that you are stupider for having a different perspective on an abstract topic, neither should you.

Kman said...

John I don’t think that are any real differences in most tests but I wouldn't be surprised of the results of a specific test because different scientific studies say contrasting things depending on how they are conducted, what variables they are actually measuring etc. I will get to the test at the end of this thread (I promise). But first I need to discuss the variables that would go into it to explain my own hypothesis that there wouldn't be any differences in one of these tests.
I can only think logically about how this argument can go. Some people raise the issue of genetics, which seems most obvious to consider. But how would that make any sense? I can't possibly see how atheists and Christians have any different genetics. I am guessing most atheists come from families that a few generations back were devout Christians, and the opposite could also hold. Take my own life. My father is basically agnostic, but his parents were both Christians. (Sidenote: his stepmother was a nun in the Catholic church for twenty years but then decided she didn't want to believe in God anymore and took up Raki/psychic practices).

Anyways, my father married my mother who is a Christian but chose not to influence our religious beliefs out of respect for our mother for whom they were more important. I know many atheists who were brought up in households that were strongly Christian. I also know people brought up in atheist households and found Christianity even though their siblings did not (one of them is actually a pastor now, much to his family's dismay).

So since Christians come from basically the same gene pool as atheists, I can't really see how genetics can possibly be a serious contributing factor. Within the United States anyways, the practice of Christianity seems to be almost exclusively a matter of personal choice and has almost nothing to do with actual genetics. The only way I could think of differentiating the genetic difference between Christians and non-Christians would be to compare a group from a culture where Christianity was a dominant set of beliefs (Britain? not sure if this is a good example but..) to a culture like India. But this would really be looking at the genetical differences of cultures, not religion (and certainly not genetic differences between Christians and non-Christians within the same culture).
So the only other real explanation would be upbringing. Extremely devout Christians certainly bring their children up in a way that can inhibit creativity and initiative, as I alluded to earlier. However, most people in the United States call themselves Christians, but don't go to church regularly or pray often, and really don't think much differently from non-Christians. The only meaningful difference seems to be that Christian children are raised to believe they should do good things because they get something out of it (heaven or blessings from God) at the end rather than because it is the right thing to do. Kind of ironic, huh? Also, many non-Christians were raised in Christian households. So environment doesn't seem to be it either.
I would be skeptical if one of these studies is that it might focus on the extremely obsessive Christian groups such as the Jehovah Witnesses or the Amish who seem to be radically opposed to higher education or raising their children to believe in thinking or reading anything except scripture (or just the garden variety paranoids who home-school and shelter their kids because they don’t want them exposed to the "wrong" messages in the real world). I think that since most Christians come from the same genes and environments as others from their own culture (except of course cultures where they are seperated for political or cultural factors) there wouldn't be any difference in intelligence. But if the study looked at the paranoid, isolatory Christians you would probably find them to be less intelligent because they are not taught to value education or taught to think critically or socialize well.

PhillyChief said...

I can see the likelihood that there could be a genetic predisposition towards religious beliefs, like addiction to alcohol, but that's no guarantee that someone will become religious or an alcoholic. Certainly upbringing can play a huge part. In the nature vs nurture debate, I take the Gump position and say, "maybe it's both."

Eric: Generally atheists don't assert there isn't a god. They merely find all past and present god claims to be unwarranted to accept; therefore, there is not a "stalemate here" between atheists and theists. Neither of us know the answer, but only one can accept the reality of the situation, which is that believing there's a god is currently unwarranted.
Btw, please read up on how science uses the word "theory".

Eric said...

Hey PhillyChief why don't you read up on the definition of the word "atheist" after all if that's what you are maybe you should know what it means. "Atheism: 1. A disbelief in the existence of a deity 2. A doctrine that there is no deity"

So you're statement that atheists don't assert that there isn't a God doesn't meet this definition. My rant is that certain atheists say that people who believe in God are less intelligent for believing in something that does not exist, but they can't prove this claim because they cannot actually prove that God doesn't exist anymore than the rest of us can prove he does.

What you are describing is not atheism, but agnosticism. When you think about it agnostics are really the ones that are most rational. Atheists are convinced something does not exist when there is no evidence it does not. Christians are convinced something exists when there is no evidence it does. Agnostics feel that since there is no evidence they can't say anything one way or the other. So I would say that atheists and Christians are possibly equally misled in their beliefs and that agnostics are the only ones who actually base their beliefs on a rationale that actually makes sense. So I could see that Christians might be less intelligent than agnostics in this regard, but not less intelligent than atheists. Therefore, instead of saying "Are Christians less intelligent than everyone else" this thread might be better phrased "Are Agnostics more intelligent than everyone else"

Kman said...

PhillyChief I don't see how people can be predisposed to religion like some people are predisposed to alcoholism. Alcoholism is a physiologically based condition, so it is obvious how genetics can influence it. Acceptance of Christianity on the other hand is just a personal outlook on the world which can be shaped many factors but I don't see there being a "Christian predisposition gene" the same where there is an alcoholism gene.
There is no clear link even between genetics and personality except on a very basic level. True, people are born either introverts or extroverts depending on neurological factors affecting cortical activity in their brains. But more complex personality traits are not so easy to understand and don't seem to be genetically linked, as far as scientific evidence can prove anyways. Even though extroversion itself is a physiological condition, it is not clear how it is affected by genetics or if it is even just something that takes place in the mother’s womb that has nothing to do with genetics at all (I am not a geneticist by trade so anyone can feel free to introduce any studies that contradict me).
The only way I can see genetics influencing religion would be is someone were to argue predisposition to mental illness. However, this theory would have to propose that people who practice a religion must be mentally ill, which is rarely the case. You can introduce examples of people who are mentally ill who show bizarre religious delusions, but I am sure these people would be equally disturbed if they were not religious. The only difference is instead of thinking of themselves as the Messiah or hearing voices from God they would believe themselves to be Napoleon or hearing voices from Harry Potter. But that wouldn’t even constitute intelligence because there does not seem to be any real evidence that psychotic people are any less intelligent than others. So even if you could overcome the hurdle of proving that there was any genetic relationship with someone’s likelihood to take up religion, you would still have to show that the same genes predisposing someone to religion also predispose them to having lower intelligence. We can theorize our own opinions and prejudices on this thread (again I’m not attacking anyone, I admit I have prejudices as well as everyone else), but from a scientific standpoint this would probably be extremely difficult if not impossible to prove anytime in the next 500 years. I am not saying that it isn’t possible that there is a gene that affects religion and intelligence simultaneously. After all, as a scientist myself I am also earnestly open to the possibility that there aliens in other galaxies based on silicon DNA structures that were building plasma-based death stars at the same time we were testing out first atomic bomb. However, we can’t simplify this question by comparing religious genetics to genes for alcoholism.

PhillyChief said...

To be clear, I didn't suggest a Christian gene. That would be like saying there's a vodka gene. No, a religious gene, or to look at it another way, a non-religious gene. It's certainly plausible that an individual could be born with more of a yearning for whatever satisfaction is gained from either belief or non-belief.

As for intelligence, I mentioned earlier that it was practical intelligence, not actual intelligence. Afterall, it takes an intelligent mind to make many of the rationalizations believers make for their beliefs. :)

Eric: The fact that most atheists don't assert such a thing exposes the flaw in your argument. ;)

Agnosticism refers to knowledge, and neither theist nor atheist has knowledge of the existence of a god, therefore both are agnostics. For either to assert knowledge would be irrational if such knowledge wasn't demonstrable. Generally theists are the ones making such assertions.

"Agnosticism" as a religious position is intellectually meaningless. Those who self describe as such either say the existence of a god can't be known or claim they have no opinion on the issue. The latter has nothing to do with knowledge so the word shouldn't apply, and the former actually is making an assertion of knowledge about the nature of this god, that it's impossible to know it exists, so agnosticism shouldn't apply to them either.

Now go look up the scientific definition of theory, not the colloquial one, and then reread your earlier comment about proving the theory of relativity. If you don't see the error, repeat or seek assistance.

Eric said...

You should of mentioned my reference to the Theory of Relativity when you first told me to look up the word theory, I didn't respond to your comment because I didn't know what you meant. I am well aware of the difference between a theory and a law. I admit I mispoke when I said "prove the Theory of Relativity". Obviously, if a theory had been proven it wouldn’t be a theory anymore and I was stupid for saying that. Even though a law is based on numerous observations that suggest it must always hold it is not actually proven either. You can't prove gravity, it's just been accepted that two bodies of masses will be attracted to each other through a force that is based on the magnitude of their masses and inversely related to the square of the distance between the two because that is what has always been observed. I was not thinking from a scientific perspective, I was just venting because I had not seen your comment about your assertions that religion affects practical intelligence not functional intelligence and I was just getting defensive. For losing my cool and not reading your earlier post I apologize. I clearly was not exercising practical intelligence when I wrote that but that was because I mistook what you wrote for more of an insult than you probably intended, not because of the my religious background. As for your assertion that Christians can show less practical intelligence, I agree that that this is the case for many Christians who are extremely fervent their beliefs. One way that I have seen this is that many of these Christians are in situations where they are too obsessive or even narcissistic to understand that other people do not have the same beliefs they do and will not adapt accordingly. For example, some of the obsessives I know will try to console someone who lost a loved one by telling them that they are in heaven now without stopping to consider how cruel that might be to someone who doesn’t hold such beliefs. Others think they are helping people by telling them how they should live their lives without realizing that others have different values and are just annoyed by these types of comments. Also, I agree with other posters that many Christians cannot think for themselves on certain topics. I know many people with very high functional intelligences who say things such as “We are not supposed to think for ourselves, we must just do whatever the Bible tells us without question.” Some of these people are engineers or doctors and can come up with brilliant ideas but will not implement an idea if it is forbidden by the Bible. I agree with most of the rest of you that this can be very dangerous.
However, most Christians do not go to these lengths. In fact, most Christians just say they are Christians because the alternative is too depressing to them and they go to church occasionally so as not to look like a hypocrite or pray when they want consolation for something more practical. They do not let their Christian beliefs affect the way they live their lives. They have the same ethics, behaviors and social skills as everyone else. So I would feel that most Christians are just as practically intelligent as everyone else, but those who take their beliefs much too seriously are placing their practical intelligence in serious jeopardy. I think this is what you meant when you said “allowing that nonsense to metastasize”? I may not agree with your choice of words, but I think I agree with your message.

PhillyChief said...

Very thoughtful comment, Eric. Much appreciated.

The examples of Christian narcissism you mentioned are good ones. I feel one of, if not the main culprit is the Christian variant of the Golden Rule for it eliminates empathy and is completely self centered. Do unto others as YOU would have done onto YOU. Sounds great at first, but what if someone else wouldn't care for what you would like? There's nothing in the belief system to address that, I'm afraid. So you have people doing for others what they think would be appreciated and when it's not, well, they don't see themselves as doing wrong and may in fact see the ones they're trying to help as being ungrateful or even evil for rejecting the help. Quite a mess!

Btw, I think there's more to science's adoption of the theory of gravity than "it's just been accepted that two bodies of masses will be attracted to each other..."

Eric said...

I think what Eric meant was that the acceptance of a theory derives from years of observations, from which it is eventually concluded that it will always hold true (i.e. a given phenomena will always be observed for a situation with a given set of circumstances). If I remember correctly from my undergraduate physics classes (I was an engineering major not physics, but am switching for grad school so I better get this right) a theory can't actually be proven, it can just be shown that it will always hold based on numerous observations that have been made over years. I know this distinction may seem inane, but to the scientific community it is important to make. Galileo didn't prove the law of gravity in his experiments, nor did Newton prove any of his three laws either. Since no one has actually PROVEN these theories to be true, everyone just accepts that they are true because it has just been shown that they always seem to hold (but the one time they don't hold they are no longer a law because it has been shown that they don't ALWAYS hold for the conditions that relate to them).

Now Philly to get back to your question, I understand what you are trying to get at by a "gene that can affect people's yearning for whatever it is they are looking for in religion." I understood what you were getting at and was being a little blunt but I still don't quite agree with your theory. As I said, the human mind is extremely complex and affected by countless variables, genetics being only one, which is something you agreed with in one of your earlier posts. I just don't see how it is very plausible that there is a gene that affects people's likelihood to accept or reject religion. I'm sure that it can influence it, but I would expect it to do so in a very indirect way. For example, I think there might be genes that could affect things such as a need for social interaction. This might in turn influence someone's likelihood to need to be part of a group but the gene itself wouldn't directly affect this, because this itself would be affected by other factors as well (such as self-confidence stemming from more environmental factors or a culture's mandates on how important it is). So people who have a gene that demands more social interaction may need greater social acceptance which may make them seek a religion which gives them the chance to be part of a larger group. However, someone else with the exact same gene may easily satisfy this need without religion, so the link is very vague so I don't see the plausibility that there is a strong correlation between religion and genetics. I think that it is from much more direct factors that you listed:

1. Culture raised in (someone from a non-religious culture adopted in another culture will probably be much likely to practice that culture's religion than a family member back home)
2. Family upbringing, irrespective of obvious religious variables (someone raised in an abusive or dysfunctional setting vs. a much more caring one)
3. Socio-economical upbringing (someone who grew up with absolutely nothing and watched their younger brother die because he couldn't get medicine may be much more cynical and unwilling to believe in the ideals of religion)
4. Geographic area (Someone raised near the Bible Belt will certainly be influenced by everyone they encounter even if they're family is not religious and will probably be more likely to seek out religion)

Therefore, I think that the culture, environment and personal experiences someone is raised in is going to have FAR more of an effect than genetics ever would. Of course, I do not think anyone has done any real (credible at least) research here. Maybe some crackpot has done a study either proving or contradcting me but there is no real point arguing it since no one can really say until credible research is conducted.

Eric said...

Wow I just read my own post and realize that it must look like I am schizophrenic talking in the third person. Let me explain, I was away from my computer and asked my friend to write this for me. Ha ha.

Anonymous said...

The question of this blogs implies anyone actually k

PhillyChief said...

I believe what the illustrious PhillyChief meant was that a gene might exist which AFFECTS, but not DETERMINES one's religious position.

It should also be noted that he holds the Gump position in the Nature vs. Nurture debate.


Not PhillyChief

Eric said...

Exactly PhillyChief. I know your other post said that and I know what you meant. I agree with you, it can AFFECT religious position not DETERMINE it which I know is what you meant. I think the difference is that I think the actual effect of the gene is very small and will play a very small role. But again, neither or us really is an expert in this area so I guess we can both reserve the right to speculate.

And don't get me started on the nature vs. nurture debate. I know this is what we are talking about right now but in a much braoder sense, it boggles my mind how many opinions people have on the topic despite the fact we are still in the early stages where no one seems to really know. Heck, the greatest experts in the field really don't have much a clue still and most are actually willing to admit that while presenting their claims. All I can say is that we just really don't seem to know but it is still interesting to debate anyways.

PhillyChief said...

Many of the experiments would be unethical. You simply can't raise a child in what's believed to be a negative way simply to test a hypothesis.

Eric said...

Agreed. Except most people don't consider raising a child to be Christians to be a negative way considering about three-quarters of the people in the U.S. are Christians themselves and most non-Christians don't seem to see the religion overall as harmful (although most of them do seem to have concerns about some particular aspects of it, which many Christians such as myself certainly share). However, conducting an experiment to raise children to address the particular subjects we are discussing here would definitely raise many ehtical issues.

Eric said...

Or maybe you were just referring to testing of nature vs. nurture in general? Sorry I was thinking more specifically about the topic of this forum, but in that case, yes, the research going into the nature vs. nurture debate could raise ENORMOUS ethical issues so we will probably never know.

John Evo said...

Eric said:

"f I remember correctly from my undergraduate physics classes (I was an engineering major not physics, but am switching for grad school so I better get this right) a theory can't actually be proven"

I was never at your level of education in any field, but my understanding is that the only thing that entails "proofs" is the maths.

That would make sense. Everything else have some particle of uncertainty attached to it.