Monday, July 25, 2011

Liberal education predicts skepticism about the Bible, net of IQ

Half Sigma has done an interesting GSS analysis that shows that of the following three choices: 1) "the Bible is a book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by men"; 2) "the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally"; or 3) "the Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, word for word"-- a disproportionate percentage of high-IQ college graduates choose answer number 1. He concludes from the results that the Christian Right's view that liberal professors increase the skepticism of students is therefore false.

He would be correct if the Christian view were that a liberal education were the only cause of biblical skepticism. But I don't know of any Christian who claims this. A liberal education would be added to a list of other items like the influence of the wider culture--both elite and popular--and the dominance of the naturalistic worldview that non-mechanistic events are not possible. (Of course, a Christian would also include stubbornness/rebelliousness.)

Using the same GSS question, I created three dummy variables: 1) fables vs. literal word, 2) fables vs. inspired word, and 3) inspired word vs. literal word. The predictors are years of education and Wordsum--the proxy for IQ.

Logistic regression coefficients

Fables vs. literal word
Education .19*
IQ .23*

Fables vs. inspired word
Education .04*
IQ .05*

Inspired word vs. literal word
Education .16*
IQ .22*

In all three models, greater education predicts the more liberal position, net of the influence of IQ. The strength of the net influences of education and IQ are similar in each model. While the larger IQ coefficients makes it look like IQ is the more powerful predictor, the coefficients reflect the scale of the predictors, and education has twice as many categories as Wordsum. (The influence of education is actually probably a little stronger than IQ.)

Notice also how the coefficients in the fables/inspired word model are tiny: Smarter people and more educated people are only a little bit more likely to take the fable position. (In Half Sigma's table, very low-IQ people are more likely to think the Bible is a book of fables than average or above-average respondents. Based on his table, Half Sigma's conclusion really should be that the fable view is the view of geniuses and retards.)

The valid conclusion to draw from GSS data is that the Christian view is correct: liberal education (among other things) does increase skepticism.

1 comment:

Jason said...

Of course, a Christian would also include stubbornness/rebelliousness.

Oh, non-Christians do too. That's certainly a character trait. And like most (perhaps all) traits, it's at least partly genetic. The only difference is whether we view resistance to indoctrination as a good thing or a bad thing.

Quite a few atheists are actually believers by nature. And this includes quite a few "professional atheists" who make a living representing atheism. They have simply found a different outlet for their religious impulse, a different authority to subject themselves to. (eg. Feminism, Marxism, environmentalism.) The whole Rebecca Watson affair is a perfect example of religious groupthink in an "atheist" context.

Genuine stiff-necked people are rare. And possibly handicapped, as amenability to authority is useful for group survival, and thus selection. (And yes, I do accept group selection. It doesn't matter how fit you are as an individual, if you're part of a tribe that can't work together, you'll be wiped out with the rest when the tribe that can cooperate raids your village with their superior tactics/strategy.) But every society also needs a few renegades for health. A few who won't drink the Flavor-Ade. The reserves, the backup, the plan B.

I don't think you get to choose. If you were born with a need to follow authority, you'll find one, and if you weren't, you'll spend your life kicking against the pricks. I come from a long line of the latter, whose environment selected them for that trait. I think it's a good thing, but then I would, wouldn't I? No doubt those selected for the opposite feel the same way.

They both have their place, and I suspect humanity will always have a mix, a majority of those with a religious impulse to follow authority and accept what they're told, and a small minority of stiff-necked people to serve as a check and a backup.