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Thursday, 12 June 2008

Why religion says 2 + 2 = 5

There's a study that says people who believe in God are likely to be less intelligent. OK, so a lot of people believe in God who are also highly intelligent, but we're talking averages here. Mind you, this study is a bit controversial, as we shall see.

According to a story in today's UK Daily Telegraph, Professor Richard Lynn, emeritus professor of psychology at Ulster University, says that many more members of the "intellectual elite" consider themselves atheists than the national average. The story continues, "A decline in religious observance over the last century was directly linked to a rise in average intelligence, he claimed. But the conclusions – in a paper for the academic journal Intelligence – have been branded 'simplistic' by critics."

Lynn's caused a bit of a rumpus in the past, apparently, with claims linking intelligence to race and sex. This time around he's saying that most primary-school children believed in God, but, as they entered adolescence and their intelligence increased, many started to have doubts.

The story continues:

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."

He said religious belief had declined across 137 developed nations in the 20th century at the same time as people became more intelligent.

But Professor Gordon Lynch, director of the Centre for Religion and Contemporary Society at Birkbeck College, London, said it failed to take account of a complex range of social, economic and historical factors.

"Linking religious belief and intelligence in this way could reflect a dangerous trend, developing a simplistic characterisation of religion as primitive, which – while we are trying to deal with very complex issues of religious and cultural pluralism – is perhaps not the most helpful response," he said.

But the last word goes to Dr David Hardman, principal lecturer in learning development at London Metropolitan University. "It is very difficult to conduct true experiments that would explicate a causal relationship between IQ and religious belief," he says. "Nonetheless, there is evidence from other domains that higher levels of intelligence are associated with a greater ability – or perhaps willingness – to question and overturn strongly felt institutions."

Which brings us back to what I said above. There are religious people who are highly intelligent (come to that, there are clever people who are barking mad). Why, then, do they believe – with only faith to make them do so – in an ontology predicated on the whims of a deity?

One thinks of the likes of the Rev. Dr John Polkinghorne, a particle physicist and theologian, who has written extensively about both (and one of whose lectures remained on my MP3 player for some time for subsequent listening). At the end of the day, however, even someone who can see the universe at its most basic level (or infer it, at any rate) has to draw a line between his science and his theology. There is no gradation. You do the science and say God meant it to be this way, created it in this form. From there, you just have to leap – a leap of faith, you might say – to the notion of the existence of a god.

But why? That one hasn't yet been answered, except by those nutcases who say God is ineffable in one breath and then claim to know his mind in the next.

1 comment:

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