Can you hire intelligent people from among the religious?

A Facebook friend regularly points out the evils of religion, although strangely enough only brown religions seem to deserve her scorn. (She vehemently denies that there are any racist motives behind her selection.)

Islam-baiting is of course a fireproof way of working the more enlightened members of your scene into a rage, so when she recently announced that she would never hire a religious person for her company because she only wants smart employees (a type of discrimination that leads to prison sentences in the Netherlands, or would if the Justice Department weren’t such a hive of bigotry itself) the expected debate ensued.

One person flippantly noted that the OP was right to use her syllogism because ‘the religious are rarely intelligent‘. I figured he was bluffing and did some research myself.

Is intelligence rare among the religious?

A lot of recent articles on the internet point to a paper called “Average intelligence predicts atheism rates across 137 nations” by Richard Lynn et al. It is a bit of dubious paper because it lives behind an Elsevier pay-wall, meaning it gets less public scrutiny than an accessible paper would. Many people appear to have looked at it though, so I decided to take the risk (motivated especially by a free copy floating around on the web).

First we must determine what is meant by religion and intelligence. The study above looks at a great number of other studies into the subject, and many of those determine religiosity by asking people how religious they consider themselves to be.

In the same studies intelligence is often defined by looking at the IQ of subjects. I take it that you are aware of the downsides of using IQ to measure intelligence (if not, look at the wiki). The thing is of course that you need to have some sort of unit of measurement and in many cases IQ will just have to do. The racist bias of IQ was acknowledged in a sideways fashion in the study when it pointed out that religious identification is going to be stronger in countries where the church plays a large social and cultural role. In other words, your numbers are going to be skewed no matter what and ‘needs further study’.

The commenter on Facebook used the word intelligence as a binary word; one is either intelligent or not. I had to guess what he meant, and I went with Lynn et al’s definition of ‘intelligence elites’, which they defined as ‘scientists’. In other words, an intelligent person is somebody above a certain level of intelligence.

So here is what I replied on Facebook:

A negative correlation exists between religiosity and intelligence. […] Lynn et al […] quote a number of US studies from which it appears that almost 40% of all American scientists believe in Jehova. Is that rare?

The negative correlation between religiosity and intelligence is on average 6 IQ points. There are also strong differences between the intelligences of peoples. The Dutch have an average IQ of 100 and 40% of the population is not religious. In Singapore the average IQ is 106 and 13% of the population is not religious. Next time the OP has to hire someone, I suggest—assuming she cares about her company—she hire from among the religious people of Singapore.

As I was writing this blog entry, I had to go back and forth between my translation and the article I’ve been referencing and noticed that the 40% number was from a study from 1921. Later studies had much lower rates of religiosity among scientists, although you could still argue that these didn’t make a religious scientist a rare creature. Also, those studies looked at “eminent scientists” which, assuming there is some objective manner to determine eminence, is yet a higher bar to cross. Even then in 2006 31% of the Fellows of the Royal Society identified themselves as either religious or uncertain.

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