Monday, June 21, 2010

Half Sigma asserts that church-attending atheists have high IQs

Half Sigma recently reiterated the claim that atheists tend to be more intelligent than believers do, noting the findings from a recent study by evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa. The GSS reveals the same (at least when atheists are compared to firm believers*). HS then takes this a step further with the following:
It should also be noted that smart people are more likely to behave the way they are supposed to behave, so there’s the phenomenon that smart people are more likely to attend church even though they are less likely to believe in the religion, if attending church is deemed to be the proper behavior in their social group.
The GSS offers a way to empirically test that assertion. The table below shows the average IQ** of four categories of people based on their perceptions of the divine; atheists, agnostics, uncertain believers, and firm believers. To get at the issue HS considers, only those who attend church at least "several times a year" are included:

On GodIQn
Atheists 90.645
Agnostics107.653
Uncertain believers 100.4905
Firm believers97.33400

The GSS suggests HS is incorrect. Instead, it looks like those who know they don't know but buy into Pascal's Wager are the smart cookies.

The sample sizes are sub-optimal for atheists or for agnostics--when you're in a combined group that only comprises 7% or so of the population, that's often the case--and only one-quarter of all atheists report attending religious services at least several times a year, so we're considering a minority among a minority, constituting one-half of one percent of the entire US population.

These caveats addressed, like politically contradictory liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, church-attending atheists appear to be dullards. Those who go to church and pretend to worship a fictional deity are not principled types who are willing to stand up for what they (dis)believe in. The ability and willingness to back up one's conclusions with actions is likely in itself indicative of a high level of intelligence most of these people lack.

GSS variables used: ATTEND(3-8), GOD(1)(2)(3-5)(6), WORDSUM

Parenthetically, the answer(s) that lead to inclusion in each of the four groupings shown in the preceding table:

Atheist--"I don't believe in God"

Agnostic--"I don't know whether there is a God and I don't believe there is any way to find out"

Uncertain believer--"I don't believe in a personal God, but I do believe in a Higher Power of some kind", "I find myself believing in God some of the time, but not at others", and "While I have doubts, I feel that I do believe in God"

Firm believer--"I know God really exists and I have no doubts about it"

* It should be noted the GSS shows that it is not only among churchgoers but also the population at large that agnostics (average IQ of 105.2) and uncertain believers (100.0) are more intelligent than atheists (98.2) and firm believers (96.5) are. This doesn't strike me as surprising--cliched though it may sound, like theism, atheism requires one to hold beliefs about the supernatural that cannot be positively confirmed or disproved. Is it at least remotely possible that God exists but has intentionally ensured that no human will ever be able to prove as much? That is, might even the most advanced natural methods be incapable of detecting the supernatural? I'm unsure of how one argues that it is, with absolutely certainty, impossible.

** Converted from wordsum scores under the assumptions that the average IQ in the US is 98 and that one standard deviation on the vocabularly test is equivalent to 15 IQ points.

17 comments:

Jokah Macpherson said...

Leaving the small population size for the unbelieving categories, that is quite a wide IQ shift over two statements that don't appear to be mutually exclusive or to even have any different effect on how one would choose to live their life.

It seems to me that the church-attending agnostic's position is just as contradictory as the church-attending atheist since by their own statement they don't expect to find out anything about God anyway.

Audacious Epigone said...

Jokah,

Agnostics outscore atheists by the wordsum measure across the board, and the differences are pretty substantial.

The agnostic's position in this case is easier to justify than the atheist's though--the agnostic can reasonably be attempting to be on the safe side, while the atheist appears to just be wasting his time doing something that directly contradicts what he professes to believe (at least in private).

as said...

I don't think it's necessarily stupid of an athiest to attend religious services.

People attend these things for the sake of community.

Also, if you are looking for a spouse, religious minded people also tend to be more chaste and more marriage minded.

There are other important needs that may be met by attending religious services.

Vincent said...

This is a very strange group to sample: the IQs of people who regularly attend church but don't believe there's a God to pray to.

I wonder where the non-attending data goes. And how would I be classed since I identify as being atheist and agnostic sort of like how I am both white and American.

Anonymous said...

what percentage of atheists attend church several times a year?
what percent of people that attend church several times a year would claim to be atheist to screw with the numbers for that group?

DC said...

"Is it at least remotely possible that God exists but has intentionally ensured that no human will ever be able to prove as much?"

Yes, but that would be really stupid and pointless. Most atheists (including uber-atheist Dawkins) do not actually rule out the remote possibility of god, just as they don't rule out the possibility of invisible elves, they just don't see the point of expressing this uncertainty when the probability approaches zero. This, in conjunction with the fact that most atheists would reevaluate their beliefs given compelling evidence, is the crucial feature that separates fundamentalists from atheists (fundamentalists have plenty of evidence disputing their texts...atheists have little concrete evidence necessitating a creator).

You'd have to assume (let's take Christianity for the sake of example) a god did miraculous backflips for us 2000 years ago to make us believe and then suddenly got shy. Or is it more likely that humans fudged the stories, as humans are wont to do, and that the reason we don't see that happening today is because it didn't happen back then either?

Plus, if god is hands-off in present day, why would she be hands-on after we die? In other words, even if there IS a creator, it would be inconsistent that having a belief in her would make a difference one way or another, since she appears to be laissez-faire in all observable matters.

If god truly wanted people to believe in him, there are plenty of obvious ways he could make it so (I believe Sagan had some good proposals in Cosmos). If he wants it to be faith, fine, but why punish people for their *god-given* skepticality? That would make him an asshole, sadist, or moron. If he actively wants to prevent people from knowing if he exists, the conflict between dogma and reality would be a good way to do it, but where's the sense? Occam would say it's more likely fallible humans wrote fallible texts.

---

Regardless of the results, I would like to hear why agnosticism makes more sense that atheism (specifically, the kind of atheism that allows for a nonzero probability). But please do me a solid and insert the words "invisible unicorns" wherever you have the word god, and a-unicornist wherever you have atheist.

DC said...

Also, I go to several religious services per year and here is why (For the record, I'm in the 99.6th %ile based on a traditional IQ exam - I normally wince disgust when people list their alleged IQ and feel a bit dirty doing it, but feel it's a pertinent counterexample to your reasoning).

My family is Lutheran.

Some of my friends are religious.

I love them and want to support them.

That's it, that's all; there ain't no more.

It does not harm me to attend a baptism or wedding or to make my mother a happier person by going the Xmas services. Indeed, it IS good for her mental wellbeing that she's not aware of my atheism (she prays and worries nightly over a friend who is). Additionally, I do not mind singing beautiful music a few times a year even if I don't believe the words. I'm fully capable of entertaining myself with thought, so it's no problem to zone out during the sermons and prayer.

Or maybe I'm just weak-minded and am in the logically indefensible position of going to services that contradict my beliefs.

(Come to think of it, I often watch shows and go to political rallies of people I would never vote for. I chalked this up to open-mindedness and curiosity before, but now I see it's cowardice and stupidity. People should really only listen to things that confirm their existing beliefs...otherwise they might see the world from a less self-centered perspective, or they might even become dirty atheists. As far as church - I listened, I went through confirmation classes, and now I've exhausted any mental stimulation religion had for me. So now I think instead of listen.)

JohnFlux said...

As a self-proclaimed atheist, I both "don't believe in God" and "don't know whether there is a God and I don't believe there is any way to find out".

There are also lots of religious people who believe in God, but accept that that do not /know/ that God exists and don't believe that there is a way to find out (in this life anyway). The agnostic deist/theist.

In fact, the whole point of faith is to believe something that you cannot know for sure to be true. So I suspect that almost all religious people should be agnostics.

Gavin Greenwalt said...

The assertion that church going Agnostics are making the "intelligent" decision is false.

Pascal's wager is a sham since it assumes an inaccurate false dichotomy between 'religion' and 'atheism'.

You have to expand Pascal's wager to an infinite number of options for an agnostic.

"I don't know if there is a God... nor can we identify any one belief system as more correct than any other." would be the Agnostic's position. (It's also the Atheist's but I'll ignore that for now.)

An agnostic who goes to a church would have to be aware that whatever religion he's 'hedging' with is equally likely to be a 'false' religion as it is to be a safe bet. If you choose Christianity and reject Muhammad you burn in Hell. If you accept the pillars of Islam but reject Jesus you burn in hell. That even assumes *either* of those two are the truth and the literally infinite number of all possibilities aren't better bets.

I can destroy Pascal's wager for an agnostic very easily:

"If you don't believe in the power of Narthicus, keeper of the underworld you will certainly burn in hell. By going to any church you are offending Narthicus and exposing your contempt for his glorious power and shall suffer more than any other for your transgression."

There. Now going to church is betting against the afterlife. If the agnostics were atheists at the very least they might find favor in Narthicus' realm as simpletons who neither offended or rejected Narthicus' greatness.

The trouble with this study is most of the Atheists I know will say "well I mean technically I'm an agnostic, but if I had to guess I would say that there probably isn't a God."

Go interview a PhD philosopher or Theologian. Pascal's wager isn't taken seriously by atheists or the religious. It's just a parlor trick without substance that people hear in Sunday school from the pastor's wife and repeat at dinner parties. It's philosophically hollow and inert.

Michelangelo Markus said...

"atheism requires one to hold beliefs about the supernatural that cannot be positively confirmed or disproved."

Wrong, atheism is the lack of belief. Important distinction.

Atheists don't make the initial claim, theists do.

Someone walks up and says, "Invisible Unicorns created the earth."

We say, "I see no reason to believe that, do you have any evidence whatsoever to support this idea that you just as easily could have just made up off the top of your head."

They say, "No, but you should believe me anyway, otherwise bad stuff will happen to you."

We say, "Whatever, there's no such thing as Invisible Unicorns anyway, it's clear you just made that up because you absolutely nothing to support it."

They say, "Well I have this book that they had some other people write for them."

We say, "One, the only thing you have proving they had that book written is that the book say they had it written. And two, the book constantly contradicts itself and says things that we've proven are complete bollocks. Anything else?"

They say, "I just know."

We say, "You're insane."

The end.

At no point does that ever require us to hold any belief. All we do is apply critical thinking and stay stationary, no leap of faith needed. Until someone says there's a God, or you daydream one up, we're all atheists. It's the default. We just don't shift from there without evidence. Like you would with Invisible Unicorns.

Saying we can't prove there isn't a God is stupid. You can't prove there is no such thing as a flying spaghetti monster. You can't prove this isn't all someone's dream we're living in. Asking someone to prove a negative is impossible. You could do that with any

Audacious Epigone said...

The purpose of this post was not to argue the veracity or utility of atheism, theism, or agnosticism; simply to respond to a potentially incorrect assertion made at Half Sigma's (whose author I greatly respect). I am not a theist nor do have anything more than a nominal affiliation with any religious organization.

Vincent,

Click here, type WORDSUM into the Row line and GOD into the Column line. Then scroll down a bit and check the box for Summary Statistics. Hit enter and a table will be displayed with averages at the bottom. Agnostics score 1/2 a SD higher than atheists on average, but atheists score 1/10 a SD higher than certain theists.

Anon,

25.2% at least "several times per year", which is basically 3-11 times throughout the course of the year. 11.1% attend weekly or more.

DC,

I can certainly relate. I'm also Lutheran with a mother who is quite devout although I do not have a spiritual bone in my body and consider myself an agnostic.

"Invisible unicorns" cannot be substituted for "God" without disregarding human biology. There is clearly some evolutionary reason for widespread theism among humans. Nicholas Wade, NYT science reporter, wrote an entire book on the why the "faith instinct" is so persistent and visceral. It could simply be a vestige that no longer offers any advantage, but it is distinct from any other fantastical concoction that arguably has no basis in reality.

JohnFlux,

Keep in mind that the intellectual caliber of internet commenters like yourself are far higher than the proverbial "man on the street". The way most people conceptualize the distinctions between atheist, agnostic, and theist (or believer or whatever) are pretty clear cut.

Gavin,

Right. More simply put, God, if he exists, could just as easily punish people for going to church as he could reward them for doing so. But our evolutionary history has led to the default belief in supernatural agent(s) who want us to pay attention to it/them.

Michelangelo,

Not believing in any higher power is certainly not the human default, nor does it appear to have ever been the case at any point during the Holocene. In the vernacular, you would widely be considered an agnostic, not an atheist.

Audacious Epigone said...

The purpose of this post was not to argue the veracity or utility of atheism, theism, or agnosticism; simply to respond to a potentially incorrect assertion made at Half Sigma's (whose author I greatly respect). I am not a theist nor do have anything more than a nominal affiliation with any religious organization.

Vincent,

Click here, type WORDSUM into the Row line and GOD into the Column line. Then scroll down a bit and check the box for Summary Statistics. Hit enter and a table will be displayed with averages at the bottom. Agnostics score 1/2 a SD higher than atheists on average, but atheists score 1/10 a SD higher than certain theists.

Anon,

25.2% at least "several times per year", which is basically 3-11 times throughout the course of the year. 11.1% attend weekly or more.

DC,

I can certainly relate. I'm also Lutheran with a mother who is quite devout although I do not have a spiritual bone in my body and consider myself an agnostic.

"Invisible unicorns" cannot be substituted for "God" without disregarding human biology. There is clearly some evolutionary reason for widespread theism among humans. Nicholas Wade, NYT science reporter, wrote an entire book on the why the "faith instinct" is so persistent and visceral. It could simply be a vestige that no longer offers any advantage, but it is distinct from any other fantastical concoction that arguably has no basis in reality.

JohnFlux,

Keep in mind that the intellectual caliber of internet commenters like yourself are far higher than the proverbial "man on the street". The way most people conceptualize the distinctions between atheist, agnostic, and theist (or believer or whatever) are pretty clear cut.

Gavin,

Right. More simply put, God, if he exists, could just as easily punish people for going to church as he could reward them for doing so. But our evolutionary history has led to the default belief in supernatural agent(s) who want us to pay attention to it/them.

Michelangelo,

Not believing in any higher power is certainly not the human default, nor does it appear to have ever been the case at any point during the Holocene. In the vernacular, you would widely be considered an agnostic, not an atheist.

Audacious Epigone said...

The purpose of this post was not to argue the veracity or utility of atheism, theism, or agnosticism; simply to respond to a potentially incorrect assertion made at Half Sigma's (whose author I greatly respect). I am not a theist nor do have anything more than a nominal affiliation with any religious organization.

Vincent,

Click here, type WORDSUM into the Row line and GOD into the Column line. Then scroll down a bit and check the box for Summary Statistics. Hit enter and a table will be displayed with averages at the bottom. Agnostics score 1/2 a SD higher than atheists on average, but atheists score 1/10 a SD higher than certain theists.

Anon,

25.2% at least "several times per year", which is basically 3-11 times throughout the course of the year. 11.1% attend weekly or more.

DC,

I can certainly relate. I'm also Lutheran with a mother who is quite devout although I do not have a spiritual bone in my body and consider myself an agnostic.

"Invisible unicorns" cannot be substituted for "God" without disregarding human biology. There is clearly some evolutionary reason for widespread theism among humans. Nicholas Wade, NYT science reporter, wrote an entire book on the why the "faith instinct" is so persistent and visceral. It could simply be a vestige that no longer offers any advantage, but it is distinct from any other fantastical concoction that arguably has no basis in reality.

JohnFlux,

Keep in mind that the intellectual caliber of internet commenters like yourself are far higher than the proverbial "man on the street". The way most people conceptualize the distinctions between atheist, agnostic, and theist (or believer or whatever) are pretty clear cut.

Gavin,

Right. More simply put, God, if he exists, could just as easily punish people for going to church as he could reward them for doing so. But our evolutionary history has led to the default belief in supernatural agent(s) who want us to pay attention to it/them.

Michelangelo,

Not believing in any higher power is certainly not the human default, nor does it appear to have ever been the case at any point during the Holocene. In the vernacular, you would widely be considered an agnostic, not an atheist.

Audacious Epigone said...

The purpose of this post was not to argue the veracity or utility of atheism, theism, or agnosticism; simply to respond to a potentially incorrect assertion made at Half Sigma's (whose author I greatly respect). I am not a theist nor do have anything more than a nominal affiliation with any religious organization.

Vincent,

Click here, type WORDSUM into the Row line and GOD into the Column line. Then scroll down a bit and check the box for Summary Statistics. Hit enter and a table will be displayed with averages at the bottom. Agnostics score 1/2 a SD higher than atheists on average, but atheists score 1/10 a SD higher than certain theists.

Audacious Epigone said...

Anon,

25.2% at least "several times per year", which is basically 3-11 times throughout the course of the year. 11.1% attend weekly or more.

DC,

I can certainly relate. I'm also Lutheran with a mother who is quite devout although I do not have a spiritual bone in my body and consider myself an agnostic.

"Invisible unicorns" cannot be substituted for "God" without disregarding human biology. There is clearly some evolutionary reason for widespread theism among humans. Nicholas Wade, NYT science reporter, wrote an entire book on the why the "faith instinct" is so persistent and visceral. It could simply be a vestige that no longer offers any advantage, but it is distinct from any other fantastical concoction that arguably has no basis in reality.

JohnFlux,

Keep in mind that the intellectual caliber of internet commenters like yourself are far higher than the proverbial "man on the street". The way most people conceptualize the distinctions between atheist, agnostic, and theist (or believer or whatever) are pretty clear cut.

Gavin,

Right. More simply put, God, if he exists, could just as easily punish people for going to church as he could reward them for doing so. But our evolutionary history has led to the default belief in supernatural agent(s) who want us to pay attention to it/them.

Michelangelo,

Not believing in any higher power is certainly not the human default, nor does it appear to have ever been the case at any point during the Holocene. In the vernacular, you would widely be considered an agnostic, not an atheist.

Orion's Hammer said...

Er, "average IQ" is a rather poor measurement for this particular distribution. The "average" human being has one testicle and one ovary, but being an average over radically different sub-populations, this figure is not very informative.

Here, computing the "average IQ of atheists" is not useful because atheist IQ has a nearly bimodal distribution: a surprising number of WORDSUM=1 individuals, and a surprising number of high-WORDSUM individuals.

If you restrict your attention to "smart people", say those with WORDSUM==9 or WORDSUM==10, atheism/agnosticism is indeed more prevalent than in lower-WORDSUM population, and true believers are less prevalent. That is, "smart people" are "less likely to believe in the religion."

But this is clearly a different statement than "Atheists are smarter on average", which as you point out is false; and both are different from "most smart people are atheists," which the numbers also do not indicate.

Anonymous said...

"The ability and willingness to back up one's conclusions with actions is likely in itself indicative of a high level of intelligence most of these people lack."

This is wrong on its face.

Since when is the willingness to 'back up' one's beliefs ever been an indication of intelligence? Ever?

It might be an indication of heart(courage), but it outside of a moral fantasy world, it has never been an indication of intelligence. All the cannon fodder throughout history has mostly believed in what they were fighting for. That doesn't make cannon fodder an above average sample of society.

I would argue the exact opposite point of view. First, it should be pointed out, that it is extremely rare to live in a place where societal pressure would be so tough so as to force an atheist to attend church, with no end game reward for the atheist other than general social acceptance.

Therefore, I see it as an exercise in above average intelligence to recognize the place of church in whatever social/political game they are playing, and force themselves to travel to and sit through a boring irrelevant ceremony on a weekly basis. That's true dedication, with a strategic eye on an end goal.

When you fell strongly about something, its most often easy to act according to those beliefs. Your heart is in it. That's why we have so many socially inappropriate loudmouths in society, waiting to 'express' themselves at any chance, no matter how trivial that chance may be.

Forcing oneself to expend over an hour a week attending a ceremony that one finds extraneous and monotonous, is above average control of one's will and speaks to an awareness of the 'game' that most don't possess. At least not in the lower/lower-middle classes.