Thursday, September 9, 2010

Atheist Intelligence

I was linked this rather humorous article on the OkCupid blog. It was titled "The REAL 'Stuff White People Like'" and the majority of the article was concerned with taking the most common phrases on 500,000 profiles on their site and dividing up the people into their self-professed racial groups, and then seeing which phrases came up the most for each race/gender group. I found it funny because a lot of stereotypes were confirmed, and it was based simply on what people said about themselves.
But anyway, that's not what I wanted to talk about. At the very bottom of the article they had a section on literacy vs. religious belief. They used a program to analyse the reading/writing level of the text contained on each profile, and sorted the profiles by religious belief. You probably won't be surprised by the results.

Then they made another graph sorting each religious group (and non-religious) into 3 categories, 'not serious', 'somewhat serious' and 'very serious'. You probably won't be surprised by the results in that graph either.
As you can see, for all the religious groups but two, the 'somewhat serious' group were the dumbest, followed by the 'very serious'. In all the religious groups, the people who were least serious about their belief were the most intelligent in their group. That brings us to the agnostic and atheist groups. The results were flipped for atheists and agnostics, the more serious they were about their non-belief, the higher their literacy was.
Another VERY interesting result from these graphs was how the religions compared. No surprises that protestants were at the bottom of the heap, it's almost impossible to drag that number up no matter how many intelligent protestants there are. Protestants are more likely to be creationists and biblical literalists than Catholics, who didn't fare much better.

Please note: I'm not taking this as conclusive proof that Christianity rots your brain, I just find it incredibly interesting. The results speak for themselves, and most other major studies done in this area have found similar results.



  1. How old are these people? Why are they all writing at or below 9th grade level?

  2. one thing i noticed: it counts 'agnostic' as a category. I thought we had already established that you cannot be an agnostic. Otherwise this is pretty awesome.

  3. Most people on the internet write below 9th grade level. I'd probably say that most people in general write below the 9th grade level.

    @MT Yeah I agree, but it does get used a fair amount.

  4. So there's no god, or god hates smart people.*

    *Ok assuming OkCupid sample is representative, and that writing proficiency indicates intelligence. Iffy on the former, but everyone needs to get laid I guess.

  5. PS: As someone who's worked in marketing, I believe there's a maxim to write for a maximum of an 8th grade level, but shoot for 6 (because people are not giving their full intellect/attention when seeing marketing).

  6. That's very interesting about the shooting for 6th grade level in marketing. Makes sense I guess.

  7. So...because we should be practicing good science. Did you control for age, education level, gender, run statistical analysis to determine that the apparent differences actually exist???

  8. shreddakj - I agree (I was the anonymous poster above). I found that point fascinating when I first came upon it, because it was dishearteningly cynical in a job that already required some cynicism.

    But...I find the classification wrongheaded to begin with. If most people attend some high school, then they either got stupider after they graduated, or they never got to a 9th-grade level despite being in the 9th grade. Plus, they tested us my whole class when we were in 6th grade, and a few of us tested as "college level."

    Why not make it more of a measurement comprised of arbitrary units, such as IQ points? Say, he has a reading level of 42. That's less confusing than a 6th grader with a 10th grade reading level.

  9. correct myself, I found writing to a 6th-grade level and, as it is often referred to, "beating them over the head with your point" to be dishearteningly cynical. I found it heartening to see the reasoning - people don't care about your marketing, so you damn well better get your point across in a few seconds without them having to think. Nobody cares if you're clever or have a good turn of phrase and they're not going to waste their time/energy deciphering your fancy words and complicated sentences.

    (I'm a professional copywriter, but only of 3 years, so still learning.)

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