Intelligent Design

Biology Students Score Below Religion and Classics Students on Test of Critical Thinking

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This chart is interesting.


One wonders why biology students do so poorly while classics and religion students do so well. One hypothesis: classics and religion students learn critical thinking skills while biology students are taught to parrot the central dogma. The chart is from a study of which undergraduate majors correlated most highly with success on the LSAT. See here.

I note that my own undergraduate major (accounting) also faired poorly. It seems my LSAT score (97th percentile) was an exception if this chart is any indication.

30 Replies to “Biology Students Score Below Religion and Classics Students on Test of Critical Thinking

  1. 1
    ScuzzaMan says:

    The article at link mentions the best entrants reading Homer. But perhaps the more vital factor is simply that the best entrants READ.

    Those engaged in tertiary-level study of the classics are generally people who love to read. Those involved in study of religion might be less so, but still more than average, especially if their study of religion (generically) is motivated by their own (specific) religious convictions?

    The average person does not read a lot, and this leaves them (imho) deficient in many facets of psychological and thus, intellectual, development. To wit, critical thinking skills, development of imaginative faculties, and a systemic open-ness to new and radical ideas.

    Einstein is reported to have said that imagination is more important than knowledge.

    Perhaps this analysis is a data point in his favour.

  2. 2
    News says:

    This relates to the question, Who do the Cosmos producers think cares about science anyway?:

    Recently, we noted that people who do not “believe in” Darwinian evolution (= they are uncool), as promoted on Cosmos, are comparatively well acquainted with the theory (= they are not ignorant of science). Moreover, in other news, people increasingly do “believe in” Darwin but also believe more in ghosts and astrology.

    The people who really care about science are often the ones getting dumped on or out.

    This came in later: Oh, by the way, re the record number of people who believe in reincarnation, a publicist wants to introduce News to a past life expert. Maybe he and the budding biologists can get together. Don’t have the time here.

  3. 3
    ciphertext says:

    RE:ScuzzamanPost #1
    I’m not sure that the issue is that the biology students don’t read (as I read to be your implication). I suspect it has more to do with what they read and why. In reading a particular tome for a class, the “classics” require that the user stretch stretch their imagination more than their memory (undergraduate STEM requires more memorization).

    I suspect a great many undergraduate science, math, and engineering classes are focused more on having the undergraduate develop a capacity to properly identify and apply the appropriate mathematical formula/model to apply. I suspect that this training for the “practical application” of existing knowledge, while not to be lamented, does not train our mental faculties to perform in the same way as perhaps the guided “study” of the classics would allow an individual to intuit meaning from what is being presented.

    I think, and it is purely my opinion, that the real issue is the “intuition” versus “application” one develops in pursuit of a degree. While not mutually exclusive, I think modern degree plans tend to emphasize one over the other.

  4. 4
    jw777 says:

    Critical method is a literary study invention. Logic and critical thinking university textbooks are more often than not penned by people from the philosophy and religious studies departments.

    This is completely unsurprising. All classicists must have a handle on a wider variety of subjects than peers in any other major, and that is while developing specialization where they hope to one day publish with authority.

    Above that, serious classicists gain heavy proficiency in at least two (any oftentimes many more) non-native languages. Polyglots have a severely decreased likelihood of all neurodegenerative disorders. Thus, we know for a fact, that they are generally a subcategory of people whose brains are literally and measurably more alive and developed.

    As for biologists, I don’t know what to say. In my pre med biology and physiology courses I had the highest grade in lecture halls (a few hundred students). At the time my stated major was classics and religious studies. I now work in macro systems biology.

  5. 5
    ScuzzaMan says:


    Yes, I expressed that poorly.

    I did not intend a simple reads vs does-not-read dichotomy, but more of a comment on (as you note) WHAT is read, and WHY, and also to some degree HOW MUCH.


  6. 6
    franklin says:

    I believe Barry’s interpretation of the data is incorrect. The data show that biology and specilaized biology students perform equally well on the LSAT when compared to religion students despite their lower UGPA. You can simply ratio the LSAT score:UGPA and see this is clearly the case. The question is why do the religious students with higher UGPA score the same as biology students with lower UGPA?

  7. 7
    CrossEyed2 says:

    The data reflect scores of Law School applicants. So, if it shows anything about the critical thinking skills, based on LSAT scores, of graduates with those majors, it shows this for graduates with those majors who pursue Law School rather than the population of those undergraduates as a whole. Perhaps the scientists and engineers who actually pursued graduate work or professional work in science and engineering rather than Law School would have scored higher. This data doesn’t report that.

    The Biology, general students still scored higher on the LSAT than those majoring in Law. Also, as franklin said, this chart does not show that biology, specialization scored worse than Religion students on the LSAT but that they had much lower UGPA for comparable LSAT scores.

  8. 8
    conceptualinertia says:

    There is a very simple explanation for these results. The best classics students go to law school. Many top religion students go to law school. But the best biology students don’t go to law school, they go to masters and phd programs.

  9. 9
    Querius says:

    The amount of variation of interpretation of the reasons for the data in the comments so far is interesting.

    Ciphertext makes a good hypothesis IMHO. Biology classes do tend to focus on terminology and memorization, and certainly don’t encourage critical thinking in what’s being presented to them.

    Franklin might consider whether the religious students are actually *praying* for higher scores—the rest of his post convinces me that he’s a biology major. 😉

    Conceptualinertia’s suggestion is clever. However, the smartest biologists seem to be heading for specialization, law or both, which makes sense if one considers how much money lawyers make compared to biologists (sorry, but it’s true). Thus, it’s possible that these biology majors are indeed the smartest of the biology students (I’m not saying this is true, just looking at the data). 😉


  10. 10
    franklin says:

    Franklin might consider whether the religious students are actually *praying* for higher scores—the rest of his post convinces me that he’s a biology major.

    If that’s the case then it doesn’t appear to have worked that well for them given that they can’t even score greater than the lowly biologist (in a specialty).

    It could also be a case of grade inflation in religious students transcripts.

    I’m surprised (actually not) that folks here have difficulty interpreting a simple graphic plot of the data.

  11. 11
    Barry Arrington says:

    Thanks for the comments. They all raise fair points.

  12. 12
    Robert Byers says:

    I think these tests miss bigger reasons about who scores what.
    i doubt its about critical thinking but likely sharper kids from sharper circles tend to aim at classic/religion stuff.
    People hardly ever question that which they have no reason to question.
    Critical thinking is done by those already critical from the circles they grow up in.

  13. 13
    Joe says:

    Hi Barry. Are you conflating biology with evolutionism? A biology student can be 100% on the biology and not accept evolutionism didit- ie employ critical thinking.

    The point being is the dogma part of biology (evolutionism) is minor.

  14. 14
    TSErik says:


    Hi Barry. Are you conflating biology with evolutionism? A biology student can be 100% on the biology and not accept evolutionism didit- ie employ critical thinking.

    The point being is the dogma part of biology (evolutionism) is minor.

    I suppose I would be an example of this. I do recall in my earlier biology courses that overlapped with other disciplines, there were a marked number of students who didn’t prescribe to the Darwinian theory. The professors, however, didn’t appreciate that so much.

  15. 15
    Joe says:

    TSErik- I always got the biology correct- always. But unfortunately my temper and the biology prof’s temper got the best of us- I told him to shove darwinism up his arse- face to face. He tried to throw me out of the classroom and landed flat on his butt (with a little help from me). No one has the right to grab me.

    I then traded majors and took up electronics. I never looked back and made a better living than I would have in biology.

  16. 16
    Axel says:

    Who could ever have imagined you’d have such a colourful, even picaresque, cv, Joe? I’d buy any autobiography you wrote!

    Good for you for putting the hireling straight! It must have been a sight to see! Today, one of your class-mates would have doubtless captured it on their smartphone.

    With my own ever so slightly seditious imagination, I can imagine him roaring, as he tried to grapple with you: ‘Why you g*dam, insolent s.o.b.! Then… plonk. ‘Ouch!’

  17. 17
    Joe says:

    Lol! the 70’s didn’t have smartphones and all I did was swivel at the hips and the non-athletic prof’s momentum took him right over my big foot, and bam. It was more like a do-si-do with an uncoordinated partner. But it was by design. 😉

    How can a professor say that he isn’t going to allow someone to pass just because that person thought Darwin and his ideas were worthless and hinder biology? And then how can someone just sit there and take it?

    I wanted to be a marine biologist ever since my first encounter with Jacques Cousteau (1960s). However I also loved to mess with radios, TVs and build tesla coils using homemade parts- plate glass windows with aluminum foil on both sides as giant capacitors, hand wound secondary around 2″ D PVC using my dad’s hand-drill to spin the tube while my friend fed the wire evenly down the tube. Taking apart CBs, reversing the oscillators to get channels below the band-> where no one else was.

  18. 18
    Mark Frank says:


    Does your comment #11 mean that you accept that it is you who have failed to think critically about the diagram? If you had done a science major you might have had the education to critically assess statistics and graphs – a skill which lawyers, classicists and theologians frequently lack (with some very unfortunate outcomes in the case of lawyers).

  19. 19
    Joe says:

    Mark Frank,

    It is a given that anyone who accepts evolutionism lacks critical thinking skills.

  20. 20
    AVS says:

    Wow guys. If there was ever a post that proved how scientifically illiterate you guy are, it’s this one. Congrats. No surprise it came from your presidente.
    Biology students do NOT perform “so poorly” (they only scored 5 points lower on average than religion studies majors) first of all.
    Second of all, we’re looking at LSAT test takers. Do you think this really represents the entire spectrum of biology students? No. this represents the biology students who couldn’t make it into med school and couldn’t get into grad school.
    This means religion studies majors are not doing much better than the B-students in biology. You guys are a joke. The vast majority of the smartest individuals are in the STEM fields. Don’t kid yourselves.

  21. 21
    Joe says:

    Hey look- little boy blue is back

  22. 22
    Mung says:

    AVS, in may in fact be the case that we are scientifically illiterate, but given that you can’t be bothered to debate us on scientific grounds that claim is somewhat dubious when coming from you.

  23. 23
    AVS says:

    Hey look, it’s Joe with absolutely nothing to add to the conversation.

    Mung, I’ve tried to talk about science to you and your friends. It’s like talking to a wall.
    I’m still waiting for you to tell me about one claim from that “first cells” book.

  24. 24
    AVS says:

    Joe, are you really a 60-something year-old guy? You demonstrate the intelligence of a typical high schooler. Which doesn’t day much nowadays. I guess I’m not really surprised.

  25. 25
    Paul Giem says:

    So, AVS, I take it from your #20 that in critical thinking I am equivalent to the best of the biology students, since I made it to (and through) medical school (top in the class).

  26. 26
    Mung says:


    I’m still waiting for you to tell me about one claim from that “first cells” book.

    ok, here’s one. It was published in 2008 by The MIT Press.

  27. 27
    Mung says:

    Here’s one for Upright BiPed:

    “To create life from scratch is the ultimate goal of origin of life research and one of the great scientific challenges of 21st century. A program to synthesize wet artificial life was initiated by a group of scholars in 2000. This collective volume presents a fascinating progress report and sketches the paths that eventually will lead to an artificial cell. Life has many features, the most basic of them are compartmentalization, metabolism, autopoiesis, multiplication, and inheritable encoded information. The volume covers the state of the art in all subdisciplines with excellent articles written by first rank scientists. To bring partial solutions together and to unite them in a great experiment is the task of the future.”

    —Peter Schuster, University of Vienna

  28. 28
    Joe says:


    Joe, are you really a 60-something year-old guy?


    You demonstrate the intelligence of a typical high schooler.

    Relatively speaking, that puts you in kindergarten.

  29. 29
    SamHManning says:

    RE: #15 and 17 – Joe, do you really expect anyone to believe any of that?

    RE: the main story – had anyone considered that maybe high flying biology majors, um, don’t WANT to go to law school and thus don’t take the LSAT?

  30. 30
    CandiceC says:

    Well, biology is quite boring. It is no wonder students don’t do really well. Maybe I am saying this because I am not into biology myself. I just don’t think that it is interesting or whatsoever. Critical thinking is another story. I didn’t even need buying custom essay because I could write myself easily. You always do better when at subject that interests you. Just think of what I have said

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