People don't accept evolution just because they're smart

By Razib Khan | August 19, 2011 3:14 pm

Mike the Mad Biologist asks:

If we look at each wordsum category separately, which ones are significantly different? I ask because the trend seems to reflect the liberal-conservative split (low and high lean left; middle leans conservative). It also seems to mirror educational attainment–moderately educated people (some/completed college) are more likely to be conservative.

Hard to suss out causal factors here.

Well, here’s a logistic regression from the GSS:

Don’t take it too seriously. A lot of these are categorical variables which happen to be rank ordered (e.g., most liberal = 1 and most conservative = 7). But as you can see the WORDSUM correlation disappears when you throw in other variables. In fact, even education isn’t statistically significant anymore. That seems ludicrous, but remember that Biblical literalism is strongly correlated with lower levels of education and intelligence. Once you throw that in there as an explanatory variable it sucks up all the oxygen.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Creationism, Evolution
MORE ABOUT: Creationism

Comments (18)

  1. Paul

    I wouldn’t consider vocabulary a valid measurement of education or intelligence… and what is the sample population?

  2. Clark

    I’m sure Razib is out having fun on a Friday night. So I’ll throw out a link to an old post of his that goes through this. WORDSUM & IQ & the correlation. He convinced me…

    Only caveat appears to be once you get too far from the mean.

  3. Mark

    When I replicated your regression and added a wordsum^2 term, that turned out to be significant (P = 0.008). The coefficient for wordsum was 0.321 and wordsum^2 was -.028, indicating a non-linear effect that starts out positive but ends up negative. I agree with you, however, that controlling for the Bible variable, etc. probably has its own issues (someone once warned me about controlling for intervening variables, I think), so I’m unsure about any interpretation beyond ‘interesting!’

  4. Tom Bri

    Bible literalists are a special bunch. Now, I’m a pretty conservative Christian, but, when I run into these people I just ask ’em what Jesus’s last words were.

    Then ask them if Jesus spoke in parables, and if we are supposed to take parables literally.

  5. Sandgroper

    Tom, it depends on which Gospel you read, doesn’t it? My recall is Geza Vermes concluded he said “Lord, why have you forsaken me?”, then he uttered a wordless scream, then he died.

    But I’m surely no biblical scholar, and not everyone agrees with Vermes – I’d be interested in your answer.

  6. bob sykes

    It also depends what you mean by “evolution.” My lefty wife believes in evolution, but denies Darwin’s theory of natural selection, at least for humans. She’s probably a Lamarckian. I suspect the great majority of highly educated people are really Lamarckians, again at least with respect to humans.

    As to why Tom Bri reads this very good blog, maybe he has an open mind and wants to learn stuff. Maybe he’s not a bigot.

  7. Tom Bri

    Hi #3 Emil. Why not? You must not get out much, if you think conservative Christians can’t be interested in evolution, have a scientific education, participate civilly in a blog discussion.
    #6 Sandgroper, exactly. The Gospels don’t agree on his last words. Kinda kills the literalist.

  8. dave chamberlin

    Good to see Tom Bri stand up for intellegent conservative Christians because they do exist. We can each feel part of something greater than ourselves our own way. Get tolerant and open minded Emil, lest you become part of the problem you think you rise above.

  9. Maciano


    Even though I accept evolution completely and do not believe in God, the Bible or Jesus, I still fear Him, have an instinctual hope for/belief in justice (punishment for evil and hurtful people) and must admit I sometimes pray during periods of desperation.

    I can’t explain it myself, and have no hope it helps, but still do it. It might be a leftover from being raised religiously; my mother’s family was very conservatively Protestant. My suspiscion is that If you ever bought into religion (even though, it was at a young age) it might never truly leave you?

  10. marcel

    I take it that this regression includes a dependent variable (in my field, economics, it is considered good form to name the dependent variable when displaying regression results). What is “Belief in Evolution”? (Did I win?)

  11. #11, the variable is in the previous posed. It’s EVOLVED in the GSS. as for “good form,” i wrote the post in 5 minutes. so give me a break.

  12. John Emerson

    Biblical literalism is strongly correlated with lower levels of education and intelligence.

    I suspect that what we’re talking about is also coordinated to conventionalism and respect for church authority. I say this because true Biblical literalism would lead to massive confusion, since it’s a long, complex, contradictory text. So “Biblical literalism” is short for “accept authorities who present an easy-to-understand literalistic interpretation of the Bible which reinforces a set of known social conventions.” Bible literalists mostly want to just have to learn things once, because learning is painful, and to know the important things instead of just wondering about them.

  13. Tom Bri

    What John said. Literalists either read it without bothering to think about it, or can’t remember what they read yesterday, or, don’t read it at all and just accept others’ word on what it says.

  14. abb3w

    ATTEND looks an interesting addition to the mix; so does ABANY. COHORT and AGE have negligible impacts.

    Unsurprisingly, BIGBANG is related spectacularly.

  15. Don

    John Emerson gets close to the way it works. Religion is part and parcel of culture.

  16. John Emerson

    To go on, Biblical literalism really is literalistic only in a very limited way. Specifically it means “Do not adapt the Bible to make it conform to [some defined subset of modern scientific knowledge, especially evolution]”. Many “literalists” give highly symbolic readings to the Bible, especially but not only the book of Revelation, by treating statements as “prophetic”. Furthermore, almost nobody anywhere takes everything in the “Old Testament” literally — the dietary prohibitions, polygamy, levirate marriage, uncleanness taboos. There’s a so-called “second covenant” for Christians, but it’s never spelled out in detail, so people pick and choose.

    If you want to screw with a literalist, ask them about the waters above the firmament. Few of them are prepared on that topic.

  17. C

    Thank God there are conservative Christians that accept the fact of evolution. Evolution by natural selection was a great discovery and should be embraced by all. I know there were Christians out there who are smart and accept science, I just didn’t know there were conservative Christians with a non-14th century worldview. It’s refreshing and I’m glad they are reading this blog and following and accepting science. It’s the only tool we have to observe physical reality. Being a biblical literalist is dishonest and basically throwing all reason out the door. They are missing out on so much beauty in the world. It’s like they are bullet proof from reality.
    Great site for anyone interested:


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


See More


RSS Razib’s Pinboard

Edifying books

Collapse bottom bar