Does a low IQ predict sin?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: A friend of mine with Chinese heritage had a map of the world with the nations shaded differently according to their relative IQs. He was proud to point out that China was among the nations with the highest IQ's. But then he pointed out that many African nations ranked lower in IQ than most others.

He went on to say that people with low IQs are more likely to commit crimes, that nonwhite communities tend to have more crime and that more African-American men are in prison than men from other groups. This was strange talk to me because I know him, and he’s no racist.

I said that perhaps those African nations scored lower because their schooling is not as good as ours. He said that IQ has nothing to do with education; it’s about problem-solving… and the notion that everybody is equal doesn’t fit the data. Some races are better (or worse) at some things than are others, he said.

Where does that leave sin? Isn’t sin was the cause of crime and what crime breeds… and perhaps even this disparity between cultures? My friend’s new ideas sound deterministic and racist to me. Would you comment on them? Thank you.

Answer: Wow… what a question! Thank you for bringing this one to us — and your instincts are right: not all have low IQs… but all have sinned… and sin is the problem.

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23, NIV)

That being said, the data is in: people in prisons are more likely to be nonwhite, and people in prisons tend to have lower IQs than people who are not in prison. But we cannot take that data and say that therefore, nonwhites are less intelligent than whites. The sampling methods used in IQ tests are deeply flawed, and this makes any analyses categorically suspect.

Please note, however, that I have no special qualifications or expertise to speak about these tests. I am just an informed layman. But I am very grounded in my Christian worldview. As such, I see the IQ differences as the generational outfall of sin — and this is indeed a societal problem. But it is not the root problem (as you observed). All of society’s problems have their source in the hearts of its individuals, not in their brains, individually or collectively.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV)

But there is a “problem” with my last statement: not everyone believes that there is a “heart” — a place at the center of our being that controls our moral consciousness. People who subscribe to physicalist atheism are constrained by that philosophy to dismiss the notion that people might have “hearts” (or souls or minds) … and they make sure that their conclusions are consistent with that philosophy. This is the great divide, and here’s why.

In a world with no nonphysical entities, God does not exist, and if God does not exist, then morality does not exist. All we have is people’s opinions on what might be “right or wrong”… and even the idea that an objective moral right or wrong might exist is being looked down upon with increasing fervor. If we take that to its logical end, then the problem of certain cultural groups being overrepresented in prisons will disappear because the prisons will disappear.

But as long as some entity decides what is “acceptable” behavior, prisons will still exist… and that existence speaks to the existence of God. What else would make people — across cultures and across time — arrive at a consensus of what might be acceptable? That’s the important data! We can’t escape the feeling that some things are either right or wrong because God made us with moral compasses.

“(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)” (Romans 2:14–15, NIV)

Under physicalist atheism, “cause” still exists, but without God, it is illogical to attach “blame” to any cause (and/or effect). Blame requires that moral judgments be made, and without God we just have data. There are no “oughts” if God does not exist. Therefore, all data analyses under a physicalist worldview will be subjective.

For example, it may be true that African Americans score lower on IQ tests then do Americans of European ancestry. That would be data… and we should respect the data. But we should not jump to conclusions about actual intelligence. Standardized testing — which is how we get the data — can only see through the lens of its tests… and these tests are not culturally equal.

Your friend said, “… IQ has nothing to do with education but problem-solving.” That is naïve. That’s what the developers of these tests try to do… and they do it with some success. But there are plenty of cultures that do not have the exposure to things we take for granted… like columnar data. In the USA, we are continually bombarded with the lists, spreadsheets and ordinal data in all our media… but the whole world is not like that.

Children who’ve grown up in traditions that are primarily oral, do not have the same media exposure as children in industrialized societies, and they would be at a disadvantage physically managing tests with columnar answer sections — and that assumes questions could even be leveled across cultures perfectly. But they can’t… I mean… we can’t even translate across languages perfectly… and that’s only one component of culture!

So, when you see data that shows sub-Saharan Africa scoring lower on the IQ tests than the industrialized countries in Asia, Europe and North America, the conclusion should not be that Africa’s progeny are intrinsically intellectually inferior to the developed world’s progeny. The problem is that our measuring tools are imperfect. But you can see where people in the eugenics movement, xenophobes and white supremacists might use this data for evil.

Now, I think I found the same map that your friend was referring to… and I do not question its data or its analyses. I do question your friend’s conclusions, though… and I also challenge his faith that the IQ tests have leveled the playing field by emphasizing “problem-solving” over education. They simply have not.

But I am not saying that these IQ assessments are flawed beyond usefulness… nor am I saying that their developers are not trying to obtain the purest results… nor am I saying that they are not trying to level these tests across cultures. What I am saying is that we are nowhere near achieving parity yet. So, how do I proceed as a Christian? I re-examined the anthropology section of my Christian worldview.

I believe that God created humans with enough genetic potential to separate out into the different races we see today… so there is nothing inferior or superior with anyone’s DNA. It is all working within its designed range. In like manner, I believe that God created humans with the capacity for intelligence and that this intelligence can be plotted along a bell-shaped curve. So, let’s imagine a curve with lower IQs on the left and higher IQs on the right.

The lowest IQs will be found along a gradually sloping line that will come from the left. But the line will start to curve dramatically upwards. This is where most of us live — between the steep left and right slopes of the bell. The higher IQs will be found where the right-hand curve of the bell trails off into a more gradual slope, roughly mirroring the left side. All of humanity’s intellectual capacities fall within that curve. What an IQ test purports to do is describe an individual’s intelligence within that curve.

Now, the data might show that certain groups of people test lower than other groups. But I repudiate the idea that this is because the persons have a lower intelligence because of their group. They will have performed worse because of their circumstances — some of which are generational… but none of which are genetic.

These are just people operating within the normal ranges of intelligence. God fine-tuned that range so we may flourish or founder as we apply our energies to life’s challenges. Therefore, whole groups of people may be depressed by their circumstances for very long periods of time (the Australian Aborigines come to mind), but they have the same intellectual capacity as those who are living in industrialized societies. It just doesn’t have the opportunity to show up with parity across cultures… or in tests.

So, here’s what I think of IQ tests: they are flawed tools, invented and administered by flawed people… although these flawed people have good intentions. However, until these tests show parity across all nations, peoples, cultures and races, I will not consider them the perfect tool for measuring the comparative intelligence of individuals.

The fact that some cultural entities are testing more poorly than others proves to me that the test is flawed! But this is because I believe that God designed our propagation so that all peoples would have an equal range of intelligence throughout all ages so they may understand his written word and process his general revelation (Romans 1:18-20).

As a final note, the Bible emphasizes wisdom over knowledge. Knowledge is a step towards wisdom… to be sure… but it is not an end in itself. Data is like that. It can be ignored, used or misused… depending on the heart … depending on what the person wants to do with it.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV)

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21, NIV)

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NIV)

I hope all this helped. God bless you.

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