Replying to Richard Lynn’s argument that higher-IQ people are atheists

(Note: Prof. Lynn has sent me a Word version of his article, and I have uploaded it, here.)

Last week I wrote to the IQ researcher Richard Lynn in Northern Ireland (I quote our correspondence with his permission):

Dear Richard,

The Telegraph quotes you:

He told Times Higher Education magazine: “Why should fewer academics believe in God than the general population? I believe it is simply a matter of the IQ. Academics have higher IQs than the general population. Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQs tend not to believe in God.”

But isn’t it the case that we live for first time in history in a society in which secularism is more or less required of the elite? High IQ people are therefore more integrated into the ruling secular paradigm.

You seem to be suggesting that high IQ people, because they have high IQs, have a better insight into the truth of reality (which you believe means no-God) than average IQ people. But isn’t it more likely, given the secularist dominance of society and the elite professions for the first time in history, that these figures are more an expression of social and intellectual integration into the elite?


Professor Lynn, whom I first met at a conference in 1993, wrote back:

Dear Larry

I agree peer pressures (I think this is your point) are important. You may like to see the paper on which the journalist’s article was based

all best


I wrote back:


My point is that in an age in which it is demanded and expected that people in the higher levels of society be irreligious, or, at least, that they not demonstrate conspicuous religiosity, or that their religion take the approved form of liberal religiosity, which is really religion without God, it follows that since the people in higher levels of society will naturally have higher IQs, the higher IQ people will be less religious.

Perhaps I can make my point clearer this way. In our age, it is expected that people in the elite professions be liberal. Since the people in the elite professions have higher IQs, higher IQ people will tend to be more liberal.

Though I haven’t read your paper yet, this seems to be the logical fallacy built into your assertion of a correlation (or perhaps even a causal relationship) between intelligence and atheism. You’re not considering the fact that we are living in a society dominated (for the first time in history) by secularism, and therefore the most successful people in our society will be secularists.

Thus your paper, “Average Intelligence Predicts Atheism Rates across 137 Nations” begins:

Dawkins’ (2006) recent book The God Delusion suggests that it is not intelligent to believe in the existence of God. In this paper we examine (1) the evidence for this contention, i.e. for whether there is a negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief; (2) whether the negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief is a difference in psychometric g; and (3) whether there is negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief between nations.

But you could just as easily write a paper, entitled “Average Intelligence Predicts Liberalism across 137 Nations,” which would begin:

Dawkins’ (2006) recent book The Conservatism Delusion suggests that it is not intelligent to believe in such traditional conservative values as family, traditional morality, small government, ethnicity, and nationhood. In this paper we examine (1) the evidence for this contention, i.e. for whether there is a negative relationship between intelligence and conservative belief; (2) whether the negative relationship between intelligence and conservative belief is a difference in psychometric g; and (3) whether there is negative relationship between intelligence and conservative belief between nations.

You see the logical problem? If the belief in, say, Communism became the official belief of a society, so that only believing Communists could have high level careers, then you would start to find a positive correlation between IQ and Communism, and a negative correlation between IQ and disbelief in Communism.

I wonder if you deal with this underlying logical issue in your paper, which, again, I look forward to reading.


Professor Lynn replied:

In the nineteenth century it was demanded and expected that people in high levels of society be religious, so the problem is why it has come about that today it is otherwise. Do you have a theory to explain this?

I replied:

But the same argument could be made about the advance of leftist egalitarianism. To paraphrase your argument, in the 19th century, people believed that ethnicity and race mattered, and the leaders of society believed that ethnicity and race mattered. So why has it come about that today all the leaders of society believe the opposite?

You see the problem? You are mistaking the dominance and ascendancy of beliefs as proof that they are correct. You are not seeing that even the most intelligent and successful people make mistakes, terrible mistakes.

So for example, just as many of the most intelligent people today believe that race is of absolutely no importance and that social improvements can equalize all races, many of the most intelligent people believe that there is no reality beyond what can be experienced by the senses and measured by the material sciences.

The high IQ elite today believe in the unimportance of race, and even in the unimportance of high IQ, yet that doesn’t stop you from saying that they are wrong, notwithstanding their high IQ. But then you turn around and say that, because high IQ people today are non-believers in God, this shows that non-belief in God is the result of high intelligence, and is therefore true.

- end of initial entry -

Adela G. writes:

Richard Lynn is quoted as saying: “”Why should fewer academics believe in God than the general population? I believe it is simply a matter of the IQ. Academics have higher IQs than the general population.”

Then by his own “logic”, Richard Lynn, whatever his religious beliefs, is no academic.

I will take it as a given that fewer academics believe in God than the general population and that academics have higher IQs than the general population. But it does not therefore follow that it is a higher IQ that leads to lack of belief in God because nowhere does Lynn indicate that he has controlled for other factors that might influence the percentages (such as the “contagious” nature of belief, what might be called uncharitably “group-think”, a phenomenon to which academics seem particularly vulnerable). [LA replies: Adela, you haven’t yet read Lynn’s paper, so you don’t know what he’s controlled for.]

Put another way, academics are as prone to accept the prevailing fashions of their various disciplines as any presumably less intelligent clothes horse is to accept the prevailing fashions in dress. Ebonics and the New Math, to name two examples, were once widely accepted and promoted by academics as the best way to teach language and mathematic skills, respectively. But both have now fallen into disfavor. Should we therefore conclude that when they were most widely accepted by academics, there was a spike in the IQs of those people, which was followed by a decline in their general intelligence once the theories they had touted lost favor?

Emily B. writes:

Your answer to Mr. Lynn is the most succinct response I’ve seen to the meme “smart people are atheists.” I’ve responded similarly to such arguments. Charles Murray in his book, “Human Accomplishment,” had much to say about the religiosity of elites across the globe and, importantly, ages. Failing to introduce the element of time, in discussions of sociology, is so ubiquitous that I wonder what it says about us. “Place” is easy to comprehend, it’s right in front of us; we never forget that variable.

Gintas writes:

Perhaps Professor Lynn knows a thing or two about human nature. What’s his research field? IQ, which is controversial and embattled. Can you think of any better way to gain interest in and support for his work than to flatter the entire academic and scientific community, by correlating their atheism with … high intelligence? Can you not imagine the typical academic smiling as he reads of Lynn’s work: “So that’s why I’m an atheist: it’s because I’m so smart!”

LA replies:

Right. And how then does the same academic, having bought into the importance of IQ, instantly dismiss other discussions of IQ when they impinge on areas that he finds less pleasing to his vanity or his liberalism (which may be the same thing)?

LA continues:

And let us also remember that Britain today is the world’s capital of atheism. Lynn and his co-authors may have found the Trojan Horse to get IQ accepted by the elite.

Simon N. writes from Britain:

You wrote:

“And let us also remember that Britain today is the world’s capital of atheism. Lynn and his co-authors may have found the Trojan Horse to get IQ accepted by the elite.”

While I wouldn’t go that far, it was quite a coup for Lynn to get favourable treatment in a mainstream media outlet like The Telegraph, given how politically unacceptable is his research into race differences in intelligence. There was a response by a religious academic here which tries to discredit Lynn’s view on religion by bringing up his race research, but is done in such a pathetic manner it has the opposite effect, to judge by the comments.

On the substance of the matter, I think you are correct. As an academic I can say that in my experience there is certainly a lot of pressure to be an atheist. Personally I am actually an atheist (albeit culturally Protestant, like Lynn), having been raised an atheist by my atheist academic parents. But with my Ulster accent, fellow academics are often suspicious that I might be a dreaded Ulster Protestant, until I make my atheism clear. I suspect that having been based at the University of Ulster at Coleraine, Lynn has not seen much of the cultural pressure towards atheism that is ubiquitous in UK academia outside Ulster. I grew up on the University of Ulster at Jordanstown, and while many academics were Marxist, there was not the same atheist dominance as there is in the rest of the UK.

LA replies:

Thank you for this. I began to feel about 15 years ago that the British are a uniquely atheist people, that atheism is dominant in Britain as nowhere else. But I’ve never seen a Briton confirm the point as clearly as you have done here.

Shrewsbury writes:

Leave us also remember that religious and traditionalist persons are simply excluded from academia. (E.g., Mrs. Shrewsbury was forced out of her department, Ph.D. and all, when it was learnt that she was, gasp, home schooling the young Shrewsburys.)

This makes Mr. Lynn’s sample self-selected and absurd—it’s like “proving” that high-IQ people tend to have less interest in classical literature than lower-IQ people, because engineers have a higher average IQ than the general population, and engineers are even less likely to be interested in classical literature than the average. Nay, it’s even more useless than that, because there’s an ideological motive behind the selection—it’s like saying that high-IQ people tend to be in favor of revolutionary violence because the Russian Bolsheviks had higher IQs than the inert mass of the Russian people, and they were more likely to favor revolutionary violence.

Simon N. writes:

You wrote: “… the British are a uniquely atheist people…”

Well according to the survey data in Lynn’s article you posted we do lag behind Vietnam, the Czech Republic, and Sweden in our atheism, but close!

As a eugenicist, Lynn is presumably concerned about the low fertility rates of high IQ people. It seems to me though that lack of religiosity may be a major factor in low fertility rates. Or in Darwinian terms, high IQ makes us more atheistic makes us less fertile makes us less “fit.”

LA replies:

Yes, that’s why Darwinian eugenicists always call for measures to increase birth rates of the more intelligent members of the population. But if they are Darwinians, they should accept whatever happens as a demonstration of the rule of the survival of the fittest. If the high IQ people are no the fittest, so be it.

I don’t know how Darwinian eugenicists reply to that point.

Clark Coleman writes:

I started reading the paper and thought this was a real howler: Among the correlations he cites are

(3) a decline of religious belief with age among children and adolescents as their cognitive abilities increase;

Has Lynn controlled for everything else that happens as children age? Their desire to assert their independence, including their independence from their parents’ values and beliefs? Their rebellious adolescent nature and how that might affect their response to religious authority and its restrictions on their actions and lifestyle?

Keep in mind that Lynn is an academic researcher who is well aware of the problems with statistical correlation and the difficulties of controlling all factors besides the one being measured. To publish such a howler is pretty bad. It also makes me wonder about the peer reviewing process that would accept such a farce without demanding revision.

LA writes:

I’ve read through the Lynn/Harvey/Nyborg paper and as I expected it does not control for other factors and does not deal with any of the objections I raised. The paper is itself an artifact of the secular modern mind which assumes that its own way of seeing things is the only way that could exist. For example, the authors don’t ask, if such a study were done in, say, the 13th or the 17th century, what would be the results? Of course the IQ elite in the 13th century, instead of being secular academics and rationalistic, reductive believers in the ideology of scientism, as today’s elite is, were churchmen and believers in God. Without any acknowledgment that the society being discussed is unique in history in that its elite culture and many ordinary people reject God (the authors are so tendentious in presenting their own elite prejudices as the norm that they write the word “god” in lower case), the paper tells us nothing other than that in an age dominated by materialistic scientism, higher IQ people will—gasp—tend to believe in materialist scientism. Stuck in the present, lacking any historical or civilizational perspective, failing to consider and control for counter-examples, e.g., a society in which Christianity is the elite belief, the authors fail to prove what they claim to prove: a negative correlation between IQ and religious belief.

The authors claim that high IQ people are unbelievers because believers lack the intellectual ability to see through the comforting false myths of religion. Yet the authors fail to address the objection I raised in my e-mail to Richard Lynn, that higher IQ people believe all kinds of things that the authors themselves believe are comforting false myths. Thus I’m sure that higher IQ people in Western countries today believe that the racial composition of a society is completely irrelevant to its culture and its manner of functioning; yet Professor Lynn believes the opposite. I’m sure that high IQ people in Western countries today believe in the non-existence of racial differences in intelligence much more than average IQ people; yet Professor Lynn’s entire career has been devoted to demonstrating racial differences in intelligence. And I’m sure that high IQ people in Western countries, as compared with average IQ people; believe much more in the policies, such as large scale non-Western immigration, that are leading to the extinction of the white West—policies that Lynn opposes. Which means that from Lynn’s own point of view, the higher IQ people do not have better understandings of reality than other people, but disastrously false understandings.

And why do they have these disastrously false understandings? Because they—we—are living in an age in which false, suicidal, liberal beliefs are the dominant, elite beliefs.

And, finally, to administer the coup de grace (and I hope my friend Richard Lynn won’t mind), among those false elite beliefs that are leading to the extinction of the West is the belief that there is no God.

Irwin Graulich writes:

I respect your comments about Lynn’s argument. However, the entire concept/discussion about God’s existence from that perspective is ridiculous, since no one can prove with certainty that there is a God (except me of course) and no one can prove that there isn’t a God (even me).

The more important point is that I know for a fact (100 percent) that a life devoid of religion and God is missing something important. That is the key reality here. Anyone who is not active in a synagogue or church and the beautiful holidays/rituals associated with that religion, is missing a truly incredible human experience——and that I can prove with absolute certainty!!!

I do have some respect for agnostics. However, when I hear someone bragging that they are an atheist, meaning “they are certain that God does not exist,” (lie that moron Christopher Hitchins), I know I have met an idiot…. and I do not care what his/her IQ score happens to be.

Paul Gottfried writes:

I agree entirely with your critical response to Richard Lynn’s assertions about intelligent people being necessarily atheists. In fact I’m appalled that Professor Lynn, whom I consider a friend and a usually quite perceptive research scholar, would say anything as patently untrue as the statements you cite. Beside the fact that we and other intelligent people are theists (a confirmable fact that Richard would probably treat as irrelevant for his conclusions), this is a case of confounding what is incidental with what is essential for the ascertaining of intelligence (a point, by the way, that you suggest in the last part of your rejoinder). The vast majority of people with IQs over 130 may be voting for Obama to underscore their sympathy for black leftists. They may also be married to loud-mouthed termagants, who beat them with brooms and who feed them tofu for supper. But none of these circumstances is necessarily tied to high abstract abilities. They are simply the mishagasim (pardon the Yiddish word!) that sometimes accompany the presence of people with high intelligence in our late modern society. In the thirteenth century such people would have worn cowls and lived in monasteries, but at that time too we would be dealing with a particular social context in which people of high intelligence could be found. Not believing in God or not believing in the consumption of meat does not indicate high intelligence, any more than do the opposite positions, which were in fact widely held until recently.

Maureen C. writes:

Bravo, Lawrence.

Religious people believe in comforting myths; as if their “science” weren’t a comforting myth.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 17, 2008 01:43 PM | Send

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