Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Data: What predicts skepticism about God best--scientific knowledge, IQ, or education?

Many 19th century thinkers believed that religion would gradually wither away as industrialization and scientific knowledge spread.  Religious belief has proven to be more stubborn than they thought, perhaps because they didn't realize that it has a genetic component, but how much of an antagonism do we see nowadays between science and belief?

The General Social Survey (GSS) asks people how much confidence they have in the existence of God with answers ranging from "don't believe" to "know there is a God."  The survey also asked ten questions that tap scientific knowledge.  I added up the correct answers and estimated the relationship between the this and belief with OLS regression (N = 4,542), and the unstandardied coefficient is -.195.  Standardized is -.265.  In plain English, scientific knowledge predicts skepticism with some accuracy.

Is this link due simply to IQ?  In other words, do smart people seek out scientific knowledge and at the same time come to look on the existence of God with skepticism?  The answer is, not really. When I add IQ to the model, it does significantly predict skepticism, but the effect is weak (beta = -.051) and the coefficient for scientific knowledge only drops a little from -.195 to -.187. 

How about education? People learn more science as they get educated, and perhaps school teaches skepticism about God. When I add years of education to the model, it is related to more skepticism only weakly (beta = -.052), and the science coefficient only drops from -.187 to -.178.  By the way, the effect of IQ on skepticism falls to non-significance with the addition of education to the model.  In other words, IQ is unrelated to skepticism when you take educational level into account. 

So, when you consider knowledge of science, IQ, and education, the factor that really seems to matter for belief is science.  (Of course, causal direction is not clear here. Religious people may tend to stay away from science since they sense it is antagonistic to their beliefs.)

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