Monday, March 28, 2016

Human religions

There is a site of the above name maintained by Englishman Vexen Crabtree, who says he is a Satanist.  He has slender academic qualifications but he seems to have read widely.   Curiously enough, however, he seems dismissive of religion generally.  Only the small band of Satanists have the truth, apparently.

As an atheist myself I find his Satanism amusing but I was interested to see what he has up about religion and IQ.  It is commonly asserted that religious people are a bit dim and he accepts that uncritically.  The only actual evidence he quotes, however is as follows:

[Paul Bell in Mensa Magazine, 2002, reviewed all studies taken of religion and IQ. He concluded:]

"Of 43 studies carried out since 1927 on the relationship between religious belief and one's intelligence and/or educational level, all but four found an inverse connection. That is, the higher one's intelligence or education level, the less one is likely to be religious or hold "beliefs" of any kind."

As I have pointed out previously, however, such studies are usually poorly sampled and usually report only slight effects.  Religious people are less frequent among high IQ people but not by much.  And the whole effect could be artifactual:  High IQ people get on better within higher education so almost certainly get more of it.  But universities are places where religion is skeptically viewed so  high IQ people will get more exposure to anti-religious messages.  And greater exposure to anti-religious messages would be very likely to undermine religious belief to some extent.  So it could be that the level of university exposure accounts wholly for the slightly smaller number of religious people in a high IQ population.

That could be tested fairly easily by assessing  religion and IQ BEFORE the people got into university.

In short, I doubt that IQ has any influence on whether you are religious or not.  It is probably a surprise to most of my fellow atheists but religious people think THEY are stupid.  You have to be pretty dim to think creation was a spontaneous, uncaused event, according to religious people.

There is what I think is good evidence for no association between religion and IQ here

Friday, March 25, 2016

Are you an atheist?  Non-believers 'lack empathy' while religious people are less intelligent, claims study

I have done a great deal of survey research (by doorknocking) in which religious belief was asked and the results reported below seemed wrong to me.  So in my usual pesky way I looked up the underlying academic journal article ("Why Do You Believe in God? Relationships between Religious Belief, Analytic Thinking, Mentalizing and Moral Concern" by I.A. Jack et al).  I was pretty sure what I would find and I did find it:  No attempt at sampling.

The research is just a product of laziness.  They used Mechanical Turk to get their test subjects. It's a great way to avoid getting out of your armchair but it gives you no generalizable data.  The population accessed via MT is unknown but is probably of above average IQ and more introverted.  So the data gained from MT responders enables no generalization to any known population.  A representative sample could give quite different results. 

There is therefore no reason to conclude that the results below accurately reflect the real world. In my experience with surveys, I have had a strong positive correlation among a non-sample turn into a zero correlation with a representative sample.

I note also that most of the correlations between belief and ability  were so low as to be effectively zero for all intents and purposes -- e.g. -0.15 and -0.13.  This comports with previous findings of only trivial (and possibly artifactual) ability differences between believers and unbelievers.  See here and here

If you don't believe in God or a universal spirit, you're more likely to be callous and manipulative, according to a controversial new study.

Atheists exhibit more traits commonly seen among psychopaths than people who consider themselves to be religious.

However, believers aren't spared criticism - the study also found that religious people are less intelligent than their non-believing counterparts.

Religious people were found to be more caring towards their fellow humans and the researchers believe their findings may help explain why women - who tend to be more empathetic - are also likely to be more religious.

Researchers at Cape Western Reserve University in Ohio and Babson College in Massachusetts, argue that the conflict between science and religion may have its origins in the structure of our brains.

Brain scans, and experiments, demonstrate the brain has two 'networks' that are activated when we think - one analytical and critical, the other social and emotional.

To believe in a supernatural god or universal spirit, people appear to suppress the brain network used for analytical thinking and engage the empathetic network, the scientists said.

In a series of eight experiments, each involving between 159 and 527 adults, the researchers examined the relationship between a belief in God or a spirit, with measures of analytic thinking and moral concern.

In all eight, they consistently found the more religious the person, the more moral concern they showed.

Scientists have yet to discover a 'God gene' but said differences at a genetic level appeared to play a big role.

The results were part of a report called 'The Gender Gap in Religion' from Pew, a respected US-based research institute.

They discovered that both spiritual belief and empathetic concern were positively associated with frequency of prayer, meditations and other spiritual or religious practices.

The main finding offers a new explanation for past research showing women tend to hold more religious or spiritual worldviews than men, so this gap may arise because women tend to be more empathetic than men.

In contrast, the researchers said there are some similarities between atheists and psychopaths in that they both lack empathy for others.

The typical psychopath demonstrates 'an absence of emotional response to pain and suffering in others' the authors said, who also found this to be the case among people in a series of personality tests.

The research is based on the hypothesis that the human brain has two opposing domains in constant tension.

In earlier research, Dr Tony Jack, associate professor of philosophy at Cape Western used functional magnetic resonance imaging to show the brain has an analytical network of neurons that enables us to think critically and a social network that enables us to empathise.

When presented with a physics problem or ethical dilemma, a healthy brain fires up the appropriate network while suppressing the other.

'Because of the tension between networks, pushing aside a naturalistic world view enables you to delve deeper into the social or emotional side,' he explained.

'And that may be the key to why beliefs in the supernatural exist throughout the history of cultures. 'It appeals to an essentially non-material way of understanding the world and our place in it.'

He continued: 'When there's a question of faith, from the analytic point of view, it may seem absurd.

'But, from what we understand about the brain, the leap of faith to belief in the supernatural amounts to pushing aside the critical or analytical way of thinking to help us achieve greater social and emotional insight.'

His colleague Professor Richard Boyatzis added: 'A stream of research in cognitive psychology has shown that people who have faith (who are religious or spiritual) are not as smart as others. 'They actually might claim they are less intelligent.'

'Our studies confirmed that statistical relationship, but at the same time showed that people with faith are more prosocial and empathic.'

The new study is published in the online journal PLOS ONE.

The researchers said that while having empathy does not necessarily mean a person has anti-scientific beliefs, it may 'compromise' an individual's ability to cultivate social and moral insight.

However, they point out research that shows between 1901 and 2000, 90 per cent of Nobel Prize winners in science were religious, while the rest were atheists, agnostics or freethinkers. 


Monday, March 21, 2016

An open letter to the Virginia Tech community

By Charles Murray

Last week, the president of Virginia Tech, Tim Sands, published an “open letter to the Virginia Tech community” defending lectures delivered by deplorable people like me (I’m speaking on the themes of Coming Apart on March 25). Bravo for President Sands’s defense of intellectual freedom. But I confess that I was not entirely satisfied with his characterization of my work. So I’m writing an open letter of my own.

Dear Virginia Tech community,

Since President Sands has just published an open letter making a serious allegation against me, it seems appropriate to respond. The allegation: “Dr. Murray is well known for his controversial and largely discredited work linking measures of intelligence to heredity, and specifically to race and ethnicity — a flawed socioeconomic theory that has been used by some to justify fascism, racism and eugenics.”

Let me make an allegation of my own. President Sands is unfamiliar either with the actual content of The Bell Curve — the book I wrote with Richard J. Herrnstein to which he alludes — or with the state of knowledge in psychometrics.

The Bell Curve and Charles Murray
I should begin by pointing out that the topic of the The Bell Curve was not race, but, as the book’s subtitle says, “Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life.” Our thesis was that over the last half of the 20th century, American society has become cognitively stratified. At the beginning of the penultimate chapter, Herrnstein and I summarized our message:

Predicting the course of society is chancy, but certain tendencies seem strong enough to worry about:

An increasingly isolated cognitive elite.

A merging of the cognitive elite with the affluent.

A deteriorating quality of life for people at the bottom end of the cognitive distribution.

Unchecked, these trends will lead the U.S. toward something resembling a caste society, with the underclass mired ever more firmly at the bottom and the cognitive elite ever more firmly anchored at the top, restructuring the rules of society so that it becomes harder and harder for them to lose. [p. 509].

It is obvious that these conclusions have not been discredited in the twenty-two years since they were written. They may be more accurately described as prescient.

Now to the substance of President Sands’s allegation.

The heritability of intelligence

Richard Herrnstein and I wrote that cognitive ability as measured by IQ tests is heritable, somewhere in the range of 40% to 80% [pp. 105–110], and that heritability tends to rise as people get older. This was not a scientifically controversial statement when we wrote it; that President Sands thinks it has been discredited as of 2016 is amazing.

You needn’t take my word for it. In the wake of the uproar over The Bell Curve, the American Psychological Association (APA) assembled a Task Force on Intelligence consisting of eleven of the most distinguished psychometricians in the United States. Their report, titled “Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns,” was published in the February 1996 issue of the APA’s peer-reviewed journal, American Psychologist. Regarding the magnitude of heritability (represented by h2), here is the Task Force’s relevant paragraph. For purposes of readability, I have omitted the citations embedded in the original paragraph:

If one simply combines all available correlations in a single analysis, the heritability (h2) works out to about .50 and the between-family variance (c2) to about .25. These overall figures are misleading, however, because most of the relevant studies have been done with children. We now know that the heritability of IQ changes with age: h2 goes up and c2 goes down from infancy to adulthood. In childhood h2 and c2 for IQ are of the order of .45 and .35; by late adolescence h2 is around .75 and c2 is quite low (zero in some studies) [p. 85].

The position we took on heritability was squarely within the consensus state of knowledge. Since The Bell Curve was published, the range of estimates has narrowed somewhat, tending toward modestly higher estimates of heritability.

Intelligence and race

There’s no doubt that discussing intelligence and race was asking for trouble in 1994, as it still is in 2016. But that’s for political reasons, not scientific ones. Once again, the state of knowledge about the basics is not particularly controversial. The mean scores for all kinds of mental tests vary by ethnicity. No one familiar with the data disputes that most elemental statement.

Regarding the most sensitive difference, between Blacks and Whites, Herrnstein and I followed the usual estimate of one standard deviation (15 IQ points), but pointed out that the magnitude varied depending on the test, sample, and where and how it was administered. What did the APA Task Force conclude?

“Although studies using different tests and samples yield a range of results, the Black mean is typically about one standard deviation (about 15 points) below that of Whites. The difference is largest on those tests (verbal or nonverbal) that best represent the general intelligence factor g” [p. 93].

Is the Black/White differential diminishing? In The Bell Curve, we discussed at length the evidence that the Black/White differential has narrowed [pp. 289–295], concluding that “The answer is yes with (as usual) some qualifications.” The Task Force’s treatment of the question paralleled ours, concluding with “[l]arger and more definitive studies are needed before this trend can be regarded as established” [p. 93].

Can the Black/White differential be explained by test bias? In a long discussion [pp. 280–286], Herrnstein and I presented the massive evidence that the predictive validity of mental tests is similar for Blacks and Whites and that cultural bias in the test items or their administration do not explain the Black/White differential. The Task Force’s conclusions regarding predictive validity: “Considered as predictors of future performance, the tests do not seem to be biased against African Americans” [p. 93]. Regarding cultural bias and testing conditions:  “Controlled studies [of these potential sources of bias] have shown, however, that none of them contributes substantially to the Black/White differential under discussion here” [p. 94].

Can the Black/White differential be explained by socioeconomic status? We pointed out that the question has two answers: Statistically controlling for socioeconomic status (SES) narrows the gap. But the gap does not narrow as SES goes up — i.e., measured in standard deviations, the differential between Blacks and Whites with high SES is not narrower than the differential between those with low SES [pp. 286–289]. Here’s the APA Task Force on this topic:

Several considerations suggest that [SES] cannot be the whole explanation. For one thing, the Black/White differential in test scores is not eliminated when groups or individuals are matched for SES. Moreover, the data reviewed in Section 4 suggest that—if we exclude extreme conditions—nutrition and other biological factors that may vary with SES account for relatively little of the variance in such scores [p. 94].

The notion that Herrnstein and I made claims about ethnic differences in IQ that have been scientifically rejected is simply wrong.

And so on. The notion that Herrnstein and I made claims about ethnic differences in IQ that have been scientifically rejected is simply wrong. We deliberately remained well within the mainstream of what was confidently known when we wrote. None of those descriptions have changed much in the subsequent twenty-two years, except to be reinforced as more has been learned. I have no idea what countervailing evidence President Sands could have in mind.

At this point, some readers may be saying to themselves, “But wasn’t The Bell Curve the book that tried to prove blacks were genetically inferior to whites?” I gather that was President Sands’ impression as well. It has no basis in fact. Knowing that people are preoccupied with genes and race (it was always the first topic that came up when we told people we were writing a book about IQ), Herrnstein and I offered a seventeen-page discussion of genes, race, and IQ [pp. 295–311]. The first five pages were devoted to explaining the context of the issue — why, for example, the heritability of IQ among humans does not necessarily mean that differences between groups are also heritable. Four pages were devoted to the technical literature arguing that genes were implicated in the Black/White differential. Eight pages were devoted to arguments that the causes were environmental. Then we wrote:

"If the reader is now convinced that either the genetic or environmental explanation has won out to the exclusion of the other, we have not done a sufficiently good job of presenting one side or the other. It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences. What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not yet justify an estimate". [p. 311].

That’s it—the sum total of every wild-eyed claim that The Bell Curve makes about genes and race. There’s nothing else. Herrnstein and I were guilty of refusing to say that the evidence justified a conclusion that the differential had to be entirely environmental. On this issue, I have a minor quibble with the APA Task Force, which wrote “There is not much direct evidence on [a genetic component], but what little there is fails to support the genetic hypothesis” [p. 95]. Actually there was no direct evidence at all as of the mid-1990s, but the Task Force chose not to mention a considerable body of indirect evidence that did in fact support the genetic hypothesis. No matter. The Task Force did not reject the possibility of a genetic component. As of 2016, geneticists are within a few years of knowing the answer for sure, and I am content to wait for their findings.

But I cannot leave the issue of genes without mentioning how strongly Herrnstein and I rejected the importance of whether genes are involved. This passage from The Bell Curve reveals how very, very different the book is from the characterization of it that has become so widespread:

In sum: If tomorrow you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that all the cognitive differences between races were 100 percent genetic in origin, nothing of any significance should change. The knowledge would give you no reason to treat individuals differently than if ethnic differences were 100 percent environmental. By the same token, knowing that the differences are 100 percent environmental in origin would not suggest a single program or policy that is not already being tried. It would justify no optimism about the time it will take to narrow the existing gaps. It would not even justify confidence that genetically based differences will not be upon us within a few generations. The impulse to think that environmental sources of difference are less threatening than genetic ones is natural but illusory.

In any case, you are not going to learn tomorrow that all the cognitive differences between races are 100 percent genetic in origin, because the scientific state of knowledge, unfinished as it is, already gives ample evidence that environment is part of the story. But the evidence eventually may become unequivocal that genes are also part of the story. We are worried that the elite wisdom on this issue, for years almost hysterically in denial about that possibility, will snap too far in the other direction. It is possible to face all the facts on ethnic and race differences on intelligence and not run screaming from the room. That is the essential message [pp. 314-315].

I have been reluctant to spend so much space discussing The Bell Curve’s treatment of race and intelligence because it was such an ancillary topic in the book. Focusing on it in this letter has probably made it sound as if it was as important as President Sands’s open letter implied.

But I had to do it. For two decades, I have had to put up with misrepresentations of The Bell Curve. It is annoying. After so long, when so many of the book’s main arguments have been so dramatically vindicated by events, and when our presentations of the meaning and role of IQ have been so steadily reinforced by subsequent research in the social sciences, not to mention developments in neuroscience and genetics, President Sands’s casual accusation that our work has been “largely discredited” was especially exasperating. The president of a distinguished university should take more care.

It is in that context that I came to the end of President Sands’s indictment, accusing me of promulgating “a flawed socioeconomic theory that has been used by some to justify fascism, racism and eugenics.” At that point, President Sands went beyond the kind of statement that merely reflects his unfamiliarity with The Bell Curve and/or psychometrics. He engaged in intellectual McCarthyism.

See you next week.