Sunday, June 25, 2006

Religion and IQ

As a vague deist, the question of whether or not religiosity independent of other variables is beneficial or detrimental. That's too broad a curiosity to be answered without massive qualification, but since it is generally assumed by intelligent thinkers that religion is no good, I tried looking at the relationship between religiosity (percentage of people in a country defining religion as being very important) and other characteristics of a nation once IQ is controlled for. Clearly IQ and religion are inversely correlated (-.886). But owning a seeing-eye dog and having low social functioning ability are surely strongly correlated. That doesn't mean owning a seeing-eye dog is a negative. Unless being religious causes a reduction in IQ (which seems unlikely, although conceivably a longitudinal study could provide the answer), the relationship tells us little about the value of religion, just as the existence of blind people tells us little about the value of seeing-eye dogs.

I'm hesitant to after religion without knowing whether or not it's, if indpendent of other factors, is a net benefit. Not that the thoughts of Half Sigma or the brains and Gene Expression are at all analagous to the garbage put forth by Gregory Paul last year, but the media reveal themselves to be irresponsibly credulous whenever papers like Paul's are released.

So how does religion relate to other factors once IQ is removed from the equation? It has no effect on wealth (as measured by PPP), but when only nations with per capita GDP of $10,000-plus are taken into account, every percentage point increase in religiosity leads to a boost in PPP of just over $210, although it only holds at about a 90% confidence (with 95% generally being the standard to consider a relationship statistically significant).

The biggest thing religion has going for it and secularists have going against them is fecundity. Atheists and agnostics don't have children. They've only biology to drive them, and contraceptives allow them to circumvent it. But does religion have any effect on fecundity independent of IQ? Not in a way that approaches statistical significance (p-value of .40), although the relationship is positive. When only well-to-do countries are considered, however, the p-value falls to under .13, suggesting a meaningful link between piety and procreation, all other things being equal.

When it comes to corruption, again the results are murky. The relationship with religiosity is slightly negative on the whole, but trends positively when only $10,000-plus countries are considered. Both do not enjoy statistical significance.

What to make of this? My guess is that IQ is crucial and religiosity is mostly predetermined by it, with the remaining portion freely determinable being marginally beneficial to enjoy (in the developed world).

I don't see a reason to be hostile toward religion per se. I see divine law as being a generally positive force in the lives of the less endowed (for example, blacks in the notoriously religious South are among the best behaved in the country while acting up the most in the irreligious West) without having much effect on the intellectually rigorous, who largely ignore it. Admittedly Muslim extremists are a significant exception.

Religion provides the answers to questions individuals are unable to determine themselves (even when the information is observable to many others). Pushing religion in a direction that conforms to values that are secularly desirable seems prudent.

(Politics and Religion)


faq said...

There's plenty of evidence that religion and happiness are tied together as well. Although I suppose one could say that ignorance is blissful. But who wants to be ignorant?

I think, as you mentioned, the content is important. If they're not in the pew on Sunday is it because they were inebriated of the idea that a woman's worth is in her sex appeal, or that a life hostile to everyone and everything is somehow beneficial for the one living it? (Or the larger society, for that matter.) Religion can provide guidance. It makes sense that less critical people are going to need something to help fill in the gaps. (And I think everyone does to some degree.) It's the content of the guidance that's important.

Anonymous said...

Humans are diverse. Religion is helpful for some people. It is useless for others. And religion is harmful for still others.

It is an intriguing look at trying to disaggregate religion from other things that it's correlated with to try and distill the value of religion itself. But the outcome appears pretty ambiguous.