A Chart Describing IQ vs. Religiosity December 12, 2011

A Chart Describing IQ vs. Religiosity

To quote XKCD, “Correlation doesn’t imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing ‘look over there’.”

With that in mind, here’s Tony Piro with a chart that reflects your inner suspicions:

Keep in mind that poverty, education, ability to obtain an education, the type of IQ test used, and about 2842324 other factors play a role in how this data plays out.

And before you use this as any sort of argument against religion, remember that there are plenty of brilliant theists, just as there exist far-from-brilliant atheists.

(Thanks to Rick for the link!)

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  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    That chart is deeply flawed and yes, I know you said it was but still……. Why did you post it Hemant?

    When it comes to IQ test I will score between 125 and 140 depending on the test so this chart just makes me shake my head.

  • Rod Chlebek

    At minimun, we know that education is significant. But yes, there are many factors.

  • One of the factors could be that the statistics referenced, by Helmut Nyborg, should be questioned. He’s been accused of pandering to the racist/neo-nazi/immigrant non-friendly part of the population.

  • The human mind is like an ogre.. You know.. it has many layers (yeah, a Shrek joke). Religion is very much like a mental illness, a misfiring of our mental shortcomings, like giving in into social pressure, obeying authority figures, prefering comforting lies over inconvenient truths and so on.
    One can be a logical, intelligent, learned person and worship some figment of imagination or believe stupid things, because, although intelligence and the ability to connect dots does factor in a lot to one’s religious views, these qualities are sometimes, perhaps more often than not not sufficient to prevent the treason of reason.

  • @Kevin_Of_Bangor
    While I do not claim above chart to be credible.. how do your varying testscores discredit said chart or IQ tests in general?

  • Stephen Prothero

    Anybody bothered by the apparent racism in the chart? Perhaps my own intelligence is off here, but am I to believe that Africans are idiots?

  • Rich Wilson

    I’d bet that IQ scale tracks GDP pretty closely.  Correlation does not imply causation, but people who need to worry about where their next meal is going to come often don’t deal with the kind of shit on IQ tests.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    To quote Jeff Spicoli: I don’t know.

  • Solange

    While there are many ways that Hemant and I differ in our approach to atheism and plenty of things that have been posted here that I disagree with, this the the first that has so disappointed me that I felt inspired to comment.  It is well established that IQ tests are culturally and racially biased, so much so that school counselors cannot conduct IQ testing on African American students.  Perhaps the test this chart is referring to differs in some way to the tests I am familiar with, but the obvious racism of this chart should have been enough to cause second thoughts about posting it.  As a fellow educator, I expected more from Mr. Mehta.

  • Elizabeth L

    No, but they are more likely to be malnourished, which can knock off a few IQ points. Before the developed world developed, the same thing used to be common among European poor. 

  • Sigh.

  • Weavermage


  • Bubba Tarandfeathered

    My last IQ test put me at around 65-70 and I am an Atheist, plus I am unmarried and childless. I guess that makes me too dumb to comprehend a complex idea like religion.

  • Izzy Leonard

    I recall reading somewhere that the single largest indicator of IQ in a large population was nutrition. The waggley eyed suggestion from correlation may be that crushing poverty and famine cause low IQ and high religiosity.

  • mxu

    According to this chart, most of the people in Africa are mentally retarded. (IQ <= 70)  I think a little skepticism is in order.

  • Solange, if by the “obvious racism of this chart” you mean the clustering of African, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Central and South American countries in the lower part of the IQ axis, I think you may be seeing the effect of early childhood malnourishment, as Elizabeth L has pointed out in her comment above.

    It probably does not have anything to do with race, and I don’t understand how racism would be the cause of this clustering unless the people making the chart were deliberately misreporting the data in order to falsely represent the races of the people in those countries as intrinsically less intelligent.  If you think that is the case, that would be reprehensible, but I don’t know how you could be sure that that is the case here.

    I think if there was  a similar chart with IQ and childhood nutrition being the compared scales, you would see a very similar grouping of the higher ranked and the lower ranked IQ countries.

  • Wait a second.  Where’s Uzbeki-beki-stan at?

  • Salwinder

    In the UK an IQ of 75 is considered the threshold score for learning disability. So according to this chart most of the African population are learning disabled??? Utter nonsense. If this chart indicates anything it’s the flawed nature of IQ testing and methodology.

  • Julie

    Yeah … just to echo what everyone else said already, I live in South Africa and DR Congo. Although SA is much more developed in terms of infrastructure, roads, transport, etc, but the public education system here is AWFUL. DR Congo, however, has one of the best public education systems in all of Africa, third only to Kenya and Nigeria I think. A lot of our doctors here in SA come from DR Congo, and engineers, translators, etc. Nutrition (most importantly) and other things like access to materials definitely has a huge impact on your mental development. But kids who go through the DR Congo education system are no dummies (I married one… hehe), rather geographic victims. 

  • Valhar2000

    1st: The definition of the word racist is not “I don’t like it or what it implies”, last I checked.

    2nd: A lot of the IQ tests I’ve seen require the ability to read and write, which puts poor people in poor countries at a disadvantage, what with their bizarre insistence on avoiding starvation instead of other activities we take for granted.

  • Valhar2000

    Why not complain about the graph’s obvious religious bigotry, then?

  • Anonymous

    These are the sort of charts routinely missused by so-called “race realists” (AKA racists) to try to justify the notion that IQ and race are somehow linked. Naturally the person affirming it and bleating that “it’s science!” is always a member of the “favored” race. If you ever want to have a little fun with one of these people, ask them what the biological definition of race is, and then ask “What race is Obama?”.

  • gwen

    This chart is very racist, apparently, with a few exceptions, the browner you are, the lower your IQ. Why did you post it?

  • Chris

    Well, it could be said that “your are to believe that Africans are idiots”, if only the IQ test was a score of “native intelligence”, as the people who designed it believed.

    But we’ve made progress since then.

  • That seems a pretty narrow error margin there, which for what little anecdotal evidence is worth, would seem to suggest that the tests are actually pretty good.

  • For fuck’s sake, is it that hard to look up Richard Lynn, or to find heavy, serious critiques of the IQ data published by him and his research group?

    Some initial reading:


    Wicherts, J. M., Dolan, C. V., Carlson,
    J. S., & van der Maas, H. L. J. (2010). Another failure to
    replicate Lynn’s estimate of the average IQ of sub-Saharan Africans.
    Learning and Individual Differences, 20, 155-157. IQAfricaRavenrej.pdfWicherts,
    J. M., Borsboom, D., & Dolan, C. V. (2010). Why national IQs do not support evolutionary theories of
    intelligence. Personality and Individual Differences, 48, 91-96. nationalIQPAID.pdf DATASET in SPSS format (use “save as” to download)

    J. M., Dolan, C. V., & Van der
    Maas, H. L.
    J. (2010). The dangers of unsystematic selection methods and the
    representativeness of 46 samples of African test-takers [rejoinder to
    Lynn & Meisenberg, 2010]
    Intelligence, 38, 30-37. IQrejoinder.pdf

    It would be nice if we could not associate ourselves with vicious, unscientific racists, thanks.

  • Quesita

    I think that the data in this chart demonstrates one of two


    1)      White
    and Asian people have significantly higher IQ’s than everyone else.


    2)      IQ
    tests are culturally biased and do not accurately represent the intelligence of
    a large percentage of humanity.


    My money is on #2.


    If “mental retardation” is defined as having an IQ below 70,
    does this chart really say that the vast majority of Ethiopians suffer from mental
    retardation?  That is simply absurd.  

  • Corey

    All I know is, the more secular a country or even a state is in the USA, the less problems them have; less unplanned pregnancies, less uneducated populace, less war, less begging the government for money, more equality among residents/citizens, etc… all in all, I dont see how you can put it any other way than that; The more secular, the better for all.

  • Trace

    “far-from-brilliant atheists”

    Are you talking about me? 🙂

  • Dmacabre

    You do realize that each country on that graph is not made up of solely one ethnic group, right?  Not really sure how it can be racism since all the countries that are in the higher IQ section are made up of more than just one ethnicity.

  • DriveByTrucker

    With such an impressive IQ you should presumably understand that it’s your interpretation of the chart and not the actual chart that’s flawed.  The chart is accurate; your assumptions of its implications are not. 

  • Gus Snarp

    school counselors cannot conduct IQ testing on African American students.

    Really? Which school counselors, where?

  • Gus Snarp

    Once again, the chart is not racist, the chart is factual. It’s your interpretation of the chart that is racist.  The problem is that too many people are not educated enough to look at the chart and realize that:
    1. IQ testing is flawed and can show strong ethnic or cultural biases.
    2. IQ testing remains one comparison that we can use as long as we recognize that this bias is one of the confounding factors.
    3. The fact that countries with predominately black populations tend to have far lower IQ scores says nothing about the inherent intelligence of people of recent African origins, but rather about the level of education, poverty, and hunger in those countries.
    4. As such, what this chart attempts to show is that people who are poor and illiterate are more likely to be more religious than people who are well educated and economically prosperous.

    Calamities of Nature is a comic strip that assumes that it’s reader is intelligent and educated enough not to look at this chart and draw a completely unrelated conclusion that is unsupported by any data, anywhere.

  • Gus Snarp

    You know what bothered me about this chart? While Piro goes to some length to note that he is well aware that correlation does not equal causation*, he doesn’t actually tell us what the correlation is. The chart is at least a bit ambiguous, although it does appear to show a correlation, I don’t know what that correlation actually is because there’s no R^2 score.

    *It’s actually not true that “correlation does not imply causation”, correlation does in fact imply causation, that’s the whole point of correlation. What it doesn’t do is prove, equal, demonstrate, or show causation. But it does imply it.

  • Anonymous

    In addition to the IQ bias, there’s a likely religion bias. Take a look at the measure of religiosity: “Is religion an important part of your daily life? y/n.” 

    Notice how almost all on the upper end are predominantly Muslim? I’ll bet a lot of that is because of Islam’s daily prayer obligation. 

  • Anonymous

    YES. The sloganizing of “correlation is not causation” has worked too well, and now you can even find people acting as if correlation contradicts causation.

  • Drew M.

    Those were my thoughts, exactly.

    Low GDP is the causative factor in lower IQ, IMO. The increased belief in the supernatural is secondary.  Again, IMO.

  • Miko

    This is assuming that the test is designed in an objective way.  The idea that “intelligence” is one variable that can be measured on a linear scale seems pretty silly to begin with.  I think that Solange’s point is that it’s not surprising a test designed by “white people” and loaded with their cultural assumptions gives results where different ethnic/geographic groups tend to cluster together.  An IQ test can be useful within a group in order to look at the effect of other variables such as nutrition, but when the test is given to someone outside of that group, you just get a meaningless number.  Africa has nutrition problems, but that doesn’t explain IQ score averages two standard deviations below the mean.   Stephen Jay Gould’s book _The Mismeasure of Man_ is a decent (but a bit dated) intro to this topic.

  • Solange

    Richard:  Agreed.  I said ‘racism’ when what I really meant was ‘obviously flawed and misleading information that would likely reinforce racist stereotypes’.

    Valhar2000: I expect religious intolerance from this site.  The race aspect startled me.

    Gus: CA counselors aren’t permitted to use IQ testing on any students with any African American background due to the Larry P vs Riles decision (originally 1979, I believe).  I have always taken issue with this because I believe that the daily experiences and SES of students has a lot more to do with whether they will score well on a culturally biased IQ test than skin color.  Because of this, I take issue with IQ testing being used to compare countries with widely disparate economic standings, as well.

    Thanks for the discourse.

  • NorDog

    Sounds like your mind is pretty closed on the subject of religion = mental illness.

  • I agree with you, Miko. I’ve been skeptical of the basic concept of IQ since I first heard of it as a kid. It seems to me that this amorphous, elusive, and hard-to-describe thing we call intelligence ends up being measured only by testing the ability to do useful things, and whatever those useful things are are determined by the culture of the test’s designers, who have their cultural chauvinism.  So I would say that an IQ test only measures a person’s ability to pass an IQ test, and nothing more.  Inferring “intelligence” from that is a leap, or requires a very narrow, useful-ability-bound definition.

  • Thank you Cortex, that’s an important point. So many surveys I’ve read about comparative religiosity in the US or in various countries are based on questions that can inadvertently be measuring something other than a level of personal fervent conviction of belief, or whatever the hell we mean by religiosity. 

  • Anonymous

    So, this chart essentially shows that the average person in a number of African countries is mildly mentally retarded. Does anyone else think this might reflect a bias in the testing rather than anything do with reality?

  • Anonymous

    It’s the way IQ tests are made. An IQ of 100 is average. What people have to understand is that they are continuously adjusted so that most people score around 100. So as the population becomes more educated, the tests come harder. You can easily see that the way all western countries are around the 100 mark.

    It’s not so much racism, but some form of cultural superiority. IQ tests are designed with western standards in mind. The correct reading isn’t that western people are smarter, but that they have a better education. If you want to accurately measure people’s “intelligence” in other countries, you have to adjust the tests to local conditions. Then you can see who – on a local level – is above or below average

  • Anonymous

    It’s because IQ tests are designed with western educational standards in mind. Those tests are always adjusted so that most people score around 100, i.e. they get harder as general knowledge increases.

    But ideally, they’d also adjust the tests to the local educational environment. That doesn’t seem to happen.

  • Anonymous

    I’d say it measures one’s abilities compared to people with a comparable education or maybe a comparable life experience.

    If a large part of the population is only semi-literate or doesn’t have more than basic maths skills, it’s no wonder they fail some parts of these tests. Doesn’t make them dumber. Just less educated

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, which is why there is a whole list of formulas to measure the strength of correlations

  • Read the original bloody papers that this chart relies on before you provide excuses for the researchers, since Lynn et al believe hunger, poverty, etc in Africa are CAUSED by black Africans having low IQ.

    Lynn’s national IQ estimates are crap.  They rely on small, non-representative samples (ie Ethiopia’s is from a small group of 15yo Ethiopian immigrants to Israel), are heavily biased (Lynn’s group rejected African scores that seemed “too high”), and most of them (about 100 countries) are in fact estimated from calculating IQ weighted by race in neighbouring countries, in a way that has yet to be reliably replicated.

    Furthermore, in many cases they aren’t using global WAIS or WISC scores, but sub-scores or even “proxies” of IQ.

    The chart is bad science, and shouldn’t be passed around at all.

  • Once again, Lynn et al’s national IQ estimates have been heavily, heavily criticized for basic errors and racist underlying assumptions.  Don’t assume just because something can be cited that it’s worthwhile or accurate.

  • Hmarto

    DEar Friendly Atheist, 
    Proof your friendliness by reading the Quran, where it says that Allah created humans (including atheist) as races and tribes ( showing unequality) to know and help each other.So the high IQ races should help the low IQ humans. Not fighting each oher! OK !??

  • Bryan Pesta

    Here’s a graph of US state IQ by “religious fundamentalism.”


  • Jesse

    See Zvan’s further rebuttal of this mess of a chart, here: http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2011/12/27/or-male-atheists-have-small-penises/

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