Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Unbearable Wrongness of Being

Religious people are less intelligent than non-believers, according to a new review of 63 scientific studies stretching back over decades.
A team led by Miron Zuckerman of the University of Rochester found “a reliable negative relation between intelligence and religiosity” in 53 out of 63 studies.

It’s truly an absurd study, riddled with flawed research and extraordinarily stupid and insulting claims and is just one in a sadly long line of insufferably childish attempts at one upmanship. One would think that militant atheists would be embarrassed to play this sort of Darwinian game.

I guess not.

Where does one begin?

Intelligence isn’t limited to how well one can memorise the Cole’s Notes on Marcel Proust and then pass a test on him the next day. Do spatial and mathematical intelligences not matter when linguistic intelligence (or the appearance thereof) is prized?  When was the last time a journalist put together an engine (given the quality of some news pieces these days one would seriously entertain the idea that twelve monkeys chained to typewriters comprise news agencies) ? Aptitude would be a better marker of an individual’s mental or occupational worth as it involves a more realistic and practical use of overall talents and functions. Unless your profession demands your reading and regurgitating summaries, it doesn’t amount to much.

Testing intelligence can also be a thorny subject. If one were to suggest that lower test scores among minorities would indicate lesser intelligence than the general population, IQ would be rendered irrelevant and even racist. Yet there are no objections to its use in Zuckerman’s study. Where did the consistency of the argument go? Aren’t standardised tests supposed to be bad, anyway? This is not to say that IQ can never be a standard to measure intelligence but it is just one incomplete yardstick. Humans have five senses and a complex and evolved brain. A standardised test (assuming one did not emotionally crumble during it) is one measure. What kind of intelligence must one have to live one’s life? One study suggested that verbal ability, reasoning and planning were more effective standards for assessing human brain power:

An individual's IQ score — long-held as the standard measure of human intelligence — is not a valid way of assessing brainpower, say Canadian researchers. …

The study, published today in the journal Neuron, included the largest online intelligence survey on record, which recruited more than 100,000 participants.

"The uptake was astonishing," said Adrian M. Owen, the project's senior investigator. "We expected a few hundred responses, but thousands and thousands of people took part, including people of all ages, culture and creeds from every corner of the world."

The survey, which was open to anyone in the world with an internet connection, asked respondents to complete 12 cognitive tests that tapped into memory, reasoning, attention and planning abilities.

The results showed that how people performed at the tests could only be explained with at least three distinct components: short-term memory, reasoning and verbal ability.

No single measure, such as an intelligence quotient, or IQ score, could account for how well, or how poorly, people did.

The researchers also used a brain-scanning technique known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at the brains of a select group of participants as they performed different tasks.

They found that each cognitive component related to distinct circuits in the brain, supporting the idea of multiple specialized brain systems, each one with its own capacity.

So someone can’t memorise Proust. They can speak in coherent sentences, perform daily tasks and map out the rest of the week- ninety percent of life. Does a person who can’t manage a budget but did go to an Ivy League school still belong on the top of the proverbial totem pole?

But this is all science-y, jargon-y stuff.

To the meat of the matter- does having faith mean one is stupid (or less intelligent- pick your words)? 

These days, barely a week passes without the emergence of yet more evidence that atheists are the most irritating people on Earth. Last week we had the spectacle of Dawkins and his slavish Twitter followers (whose adherence to Dawkins' diktats makes those Kool-Aid-drinking Jonestown folk seem level-headed in comparison) boring on about how stupid Muslims are. This week we've been treated to new scientific research claiming to show that atheists are cleverer than religious people. I say scientific. I say research. It is of course neither; it's just a pre-existing belief dolled up in rags snatched from various reports and stories. Not unlike the Bible. But that hasn't stopped the atheistic blogosphere and Twitterati from effectively saying, "See? Told you we were brainier than you Bible-reading numbskulls."

Atheists online are forever sharing memes about how stupid religious people are. I know this because some of my best Facebook friends are atheists. There's even a website called Atheist Meme Base, whose most popular tags tell you everything you need to know about it and about the kind of people who borrow its memes to proselytise about godlessness to the ignorant: "indoctrination", "Christians", "funny", "hell", "misogyny", "scumbag God", "logic". Atheists in the public sphere spend their every tragic waking hour doing little more than mocking the faithful. In the words of Robin Wright, they seem determined “to make it not just uncool to believe, but cool to ridicule believers”. To that end if you ever have the misfortune, as I once did, to step foot into an atheistic get-together, which are now common occurrences in the Western world, patronised by people afflicted with repetitive strain injury from so furiously patting themselves on the back for being clever, you will witness unprecedented levels of intellectual smugness and hostility towards hoi polloi.

(Sidebar: “smug” is a word one can use when nothing else will do. For this kind of arrogance, the English language would have to come up with a new word.)

How does one arrive at that conclusion? Isn’t that a leap, a leap of faith, even? Wouldn’t having faith in a higher being cause one to evaluate one’s place in the world, the purpose of people and things, how to believe in that higher being more fully- in short- use one’s brain? Do atheists even have evidence to back up their vociferous claim of the non-existence of God? Shouldn’t they provide the same amount of proof they expect from others?

Perhaps that is too much to expect in a one-side debate.

Previous studies have tended to assume that intelligent people simply “know better”, the researchers write - but the reasons may be more complex. 

For instance, intelligent people are more likely to be married, and more likely to be successful in life - and this may mean they “need” religion less.

It is true that intelligent people tend to have more successful lives than their- ahem- less sophisticated brethren but is that universal?

Thanks to a couple of surveys, it’s being put about in certain circles that atheists have higher IQs than believers. That may or may not be the case, but one problem with this argument is that, if you accept "average group differences in IQ”, you get into all sorts of sinister debates which bien pensant atheist Lefties might find less to their liking.

So let’s not go down that unhappy road. Let’s dispense with the crude metric of IQ and look at the actual lives led by atheists, and believers, and see how they measure up. In other words: let’s see who is living more intelligently.

And guess what: it’s the believers. A vast body of research, amassed over recent decades, shows that religious belief is physically and psychologically beneficial – to a remarkable degree.

In 2004, scholars at UCLA revealed that college students involved in religious activities are likely to have better mental health. In 2006, population researchers at the University of Texas discovered that the more often you go to church, the longer you live. In the same year researchers at Duke University in America discovered that religious people have stronger immune systems than the irreligious. They also established that churchgoers have lower blood pressure. …

So which is the smart party, here? Is it the atheists, who live short, selfish, stunted little lives – often childless – before they approach hopeless death in despair, and their worthless corpses are chucked in a trench (or, if they are wrong, they go to Hell)? Or is it the believers, who live longer, happier, healthier, more generous lives, and who have more kids, and who go to their quietus with ritual dignity, expecting to be greeted by a smiling and benevolent God?

Obviously, it’s the believers who are smarter. Anyone who thinks otherwise is mentally ill.

And I mean that literally: the evidence today implies that atheism is a form of mental illness. And this is because science is showing that the human mind is hard-wired for faith: we have, as a species, evolved to believe, which is one crucial reason why believers are happier – religious people have all their faculties intact, they are fully functioning humans.


The loss of faith is the loss of faith. Does it equate success in various areas of life? What does it say about a successful business man with a lovely wife, charming children and goes to church on Sunday? What does it say about the West’s body of God-believing scientists? How would this study explain the billions of anomalies- the thinking functional believers- that exist? Perhaps these examples are not too diverse. 

Whatever would the Hindus think?

The studies used in Zuckerman's paper included a life-long analysis of the beliefs of a group of 1,500 gifted children - those with IQs over 135 - in a study which began in 1921 and continues today.

Even at 75 to 91 years of age, the children from Lewis Terman’s study scored lower for religiosity than the general population - contrary to the widely held belief that people turn to God as they age. The researchers noted that data was lacking about religious attitudes in old age and say, “Additional research is needed to resolve this issue.”

Before one proceeds, it should be noted that Lewis Terman was a eugenicist and a member of the Human Betterment Foundation (whose ideas about sterilisation and “race progress and degeneracy” are questionable to say the very least). He did not believe that Hispanic and black American children were intelligent but could “be made into efficient workers”. Is this a person militant atheists wish to hang their hats on? 

And then there's this guy. Are militant atheists and those who rely on such flawed studies to prove their superior worth willing to proffer the above examples as proof of their exemplary and godless intelligence? Who embraces such ugly views? That doesn't sound smart to me, nor does it sound smart to reduce one's existence to chance and biological flukes and then never pass on these beliefs to offspring that doesn't exist.

The rest of the article lists studies that don't necessarily prove greater intelligence but make extraordinary judgments that would be insulting if they weren't so preposterous. Poor people are more likely to adopt religion than their more affluent counterparts? Is that so? Again, those who conducted this study would have to explain how wealth and belief in the West flourished and why, if religious temperament and belief prohibits inquiry, how religious discussion and action occur at all.  Did these anomalies find explanations?

These kinds of studies serve not to illuminate truth but to separate on divisive and false lines. One knows that religious believers and atheists can either be exceptionally talented and intelligent or incredibly foolish. That's the complex nature of humanity. One's environment, personality, even genes are the sums of one's parts. Perhaps the greatest failure is not to see the overall worth in the human being but to strip him down to his components. Is Michelangelo's David just a hunk of marble or an example of one divinely inspired artist's great ability to portray beauty?

Believe that.


Anonymous said...

IQ tests were initially derived as a "scientific" method of treating some people as second class citizens.

~Your Brother~

Osumashi Kinyobe said...

Who else is going to harvest our corn (RE: Terman)?

Anonymous said...

I like beef.

Osumashi Kinyobe said...

And beef likes you back.