|Mean IQ of whites from General Social Survey by religious affiliation|
|Assembly of God||94.5|
Surprised? I hope you’re not so ignorant that you are! Here are the top 10 religious groups in SAT score from 2002:
|Average SAT score by religion for 2002, average ~1000, about 40% of each students take it|
|Reformed Church of America||1097|
|Evangelical Lutheran Church||1094|
|Presbyterian Church (USA)||1092|
Arthur Hu has a much more extensive list, skewed toward the top half of the SAT bracket from 1990 and disaggregated by race. I’ve reformatted for ease below the fold, I invite you check it out as my comments will be informed by those data. Unitarians are first in the rankings in 1990 as well.
There are obviously going to be many confounds in these sorts of analyses. For example, Hindus have high SAT scores thanks to the very peculiar nature of American immigration policy in relation to India; Indian Americans are by many measures the most well educated and affluent ethnicity in the United States. But, if you look at the white Hindus in the list below the fold you’ll note they have higher than average SAT scores as well, so perhaps there is something to Hinduism that makes one more studious or intelligent? I doubt that. Let’s focus on one group to illustrate the issues that I think are at work. If you look up the Unitarian-Universalist commentary on their high SAT scores you’ll note that many of them suggest that their religious tradition’s skepticism and intellectual orientation inculcate in their youth skills and tools to do well on tests which emphasize problem solving.
I think that’s crap; Unitarian-Universalists are just as self-selected as American Hindus. I’ve been to a Unitarian-Universalist church or two, and they are usually packed with Prius driving liberal white professionals. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But outside the northeast most of these individuals were not raised in the Unitarian-Universalist denomination, they joined the church often to find community and fellowship (UU churches are now usually called “centers” in many parts of the country). The last I checked around 50% of Unitarian-Universalists don’t even believe in God. The dominant Unitarian lineage of the denomination emerged out of the liberal wing of the Congregationalist movement in New England in the late 18th and early 19th century (only one early Unitarian church was not originally a Congregationalist church). This was also the cultural milieu out of which the Transcendentalists were born; Ralph Waldo Emerson was a Unitarian minister whose father was a Unitarian minister. The history of Unitarian-Univeralism, and its close association with the most intellectually focused strand of American Anglo-Protestant culture, has shaped the nature of the folk who are attracted to the religion even today. Within Arthu Hu’s data set even Asians & African Americans who are Unitarian had higher than typical SAT scores for their ethnicity. In fact, while African Americans have substantially lower SAT scores than white Americans, Unitarian African Americans had higher than average white SAT scores! Though the typical Unitarian-Universalist congregation is very white, the non-whites are also Prius driving liberal professionals (Dave Chapelle’s mother is a UU minister).1
The data show that, on average, the more religiously “liberal” a denomination is, the more intelligent the members. I do not think that this is due to fact that fundamentalist religion makes you dumb, rather, dumb people tend to be more attracted to and affiliated with fundamentalist sects (at least in the United States). The sociologist of religion Rodney Stark has collected some data over the past few decades that seems to be explain these trends (which have deep historical precedent in the United States). Individuals who are socioeconomically secure do not tend to want to associate with sectarian groups which are hostile to society and exclusive in their outlook; if you want to network being a member of a small radical Bible-thumping church cramps your style. John Edwards was raised a Baptist, but now he is a United Methodist. As people move up the class ladder there is a tendency to switch churches appropriately. In most parts of the United States the rank order is like so: Episcopalian → Presbyterian → Methodist → Baptist → Pentecostal. Of course the local dominance of Lutheranism or Catholicism might alter the dynamic, but unlike the Anglo-Protestant denominations these two groups have strong ethnic associations so that there is likely a fair amount of diversity of class.
It is easy to say that simple stupid religions and simple stupid people go together. I think there’s something to this, but the effect is highly amplified by the correlates of stupidity. As rational actors the wealthy and the poor may need radically different services from their religion of choice. A very wealthy individual may find prosperity theology somewhat ludicrous because their prosperity they will likely attribute to their own hard work, or perhaps admit that their familial connections were the primary determinants of their wealth. In contrast, prosperity theology seems especially popular in lower and working class churches where congregations are striving, even though a substantial number never attain their middle class aspirations. Rather, they receive the assurance they are among the few who are saved, who will reap in the next world what they have not in this world. Additionally, the exclusive and incestuous (sometimes literally!) religious fundamentalist communities offer up a nice bundle of civil society for individuals who might not have so many resources to begin with. Ethnography in the Korean American community suggests that the less assimilated immigrant generation is most attached to ethnic Korean fundamentalist Protestant churches, while subsequent generations tend to drift away because of the perceived closed nature of these church communities (so they may join a non-ethnic mainline church or become activists for a more a liberal orientation within the Korean church). But of course the children of immigrants often are acculturated to the point where they have connections and networks outside their natal religious communities. Young Korean Americans in particular are have elite university educations which may supplement or supersede the church in shaping their outlook.
In any case, going back to the fact that stupid people tend to be Creationists, and stupid people tend to be fundamentalists, it should not really surprise which churches are fundamentalist and Creationist. The various factors are intertwined together.
Update: To my critics who accuse me of being a hate-speech spewing bigot, I’m curious. Didn’t you get the memo that mocking southern conservative white Christians isn’t bigotry? In fact, isn’t it a way to buff up your cultural elitist credentials? Or does that only count if you’re white? Anyway, saying someone is stupid isn’t insulting, they’re no less human than you or I. They deserve no less under the eyes of the law. If, for example, Pentecostals tend to be less intelligent than Episcopalians that doesn’t mean I think the former are inferior to the latter. Rather, if all I knew was someone’s religion I’d make sure if I needed a banjo player for my party I’d call the Holy Roller. On the other hand if I needed advice on the money I have in the markets, I’d call up my Episcopalian friend. After all, you know that they have to do something with all those hard-earned dollars which aren’t going into tithes….
Note: “New religious movements” tend to draw from upper socioeconomic strata. Some of these are quite stupid and ridiculous in their beliefs, but I suspect that elites can expend more social capital in being weird and transgressive. If you’re going to outrage your family and burn some social capital I suspect it is more “in” to become a Hare Krishna than a Nazarene.
1 – I’ve attended a few Unitarian-Universalist churches. I know whereof I speak.
|SAT Scores by race & religion for 1990|
|Race/ethnicity||Religion||N||Verbal + Math|
|All groups||No preferene||137305||963|
|White||Missouri Synod Lutheran||8038||963|
|White||United Church of Christ||7066||962|
|All groups||Missouri Synod Luterhan||8624||959|
|All groups||Christian Scientist||989||955|
|All groups||United Church of Christ||7826||951|
|All groups||United Methodist||26037||939|
|White||African Methodist Episcopal||144||939|
|Asian||All religious groups||70739||938|
|White||All religious groups||688933||934|
|Asian||United Church of Christ||253||930|
|All groups||Southern Baptist||15729||929|