Thursday, 5 May 2011

Intelligence and atheism: watertight or an artefact?

Richard Lynn, a controversial scholar known for his extensive studies of racial differences in intelligence, has recently published an interesting if familiar look at how religious belief correlates with phenotypic IQ for one hundred and thirty seven nations.

What is striking from the database is how average intelligence, it seems, is able to predict rates of atheism and nonbelief across nations. It is notable that virtually all nations with mean phenotypic IQs of less than ninety have almost no atheism, whilst those with phenotypic IQs above 90 have generally significant to very high levels of atheism. This relationship may be even stronger than Lynn actually shows because for political reasons many people in Catholic Europe who are actually very much nonpractising and politically radical will not claim to be atheistic.

Supporters of atheism, however, must not say “hey, hooray” that the more intelligent are necessarily more atheistic. The few exceptions outside of Catholic Europe are explained very easily and in a satisfactory manner, except that Lynn probably has not heard of the arguments of Lestaghe and Surkyn that the higher religiosity of the United States is due to its much smaller welfare state than that of European countries, which means people are more dependent on private religious charities if in need.

A much worse problem is that, whilst in the past Lynn has easily explained the increased intelligence of Europeans, East Asians and to a lesser extent other Enriched World races in terms of adaptation or past adaptation to the cold winters in and north of the Himalayas, his thesis about how increased atheism relates to increased phenotypic IQ is rather problematic in that context. If atheism were purely related to phenotypic IQ, then for the negligible levels of atheism in medieval European populations, we would require a “phenotypic depression” (in simple terms the difference between genotypic IQ and phenotypic IQ) of about fifteen IQ points. There are many writers - for instance Mike Davis in Late Victorian Holocausts - who do suggest peasant living standards in Europe were poorer than those of the Tropical World before the colonial era - but that creates a further problem since the observed genotypic IQs of farming peoples in the Tropical World are between twenty and seven IQ points lower than those of Europeans. Unless most farming peoples in the Tropical World really had much more productive environmental conditions for farming than did Europeans, it would be unlikely that “phenotypic depression” in European peasant IQ could have reached to 15 IQ points.

If “phenotypic depression” did reach 15 IQ points for a substantial period, it contradicts Lynn’s whole thesis for why Europeans were able to surpass Southeast Asians and the more numerous South Asians in cultural achievements. The Openness of South Asians is virtually the same as that of Europeans; that of South East Asians unknown. However, since Southeast Asians have never lived in environments where conformity is valuable like the highly infertile Unenriched World or extremely cold climates, one could not expect their Openness to be much lower than that of Europeans. Thus, if these theories are at all correct, then it would be predicted that South Asians and South East Asians in the Tropical World would have overtaken Europeans in scientific achievement - which of course did not happen.

Thus, we are left with the probability that medieval Europeans cannot have had sufficient “phenotypic depression” to explain their high religiosity and that this fact undermines Lynn’s thesis quite severely. We are left with a very strong probability that big government remains a major cause of atheism, especially when one moves it beyond welfare to other aspects of government regulation which make countries like Hong Kong look much less like capitalist models.

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