Over at ENV, David Klinghoffer reports on an article in Live Science about research into why atheists disproportionately score higher on standard tests of intelligence. The article states:
[Researcher Edward] Dutton set out to find [the] answer, thinking that perhaps it was because nonreligious people were more rational than their religious brethren, and thus better able to reason that there was no God, he wrote.
But “more recently, I started to wonder if I’d got it wrong, actually,” Dutton told Live Science. “I found evidence that intelligence is positively associated with certain kinds of bias.”
For instance, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that college students often get logical answers wrong but don’t realize it. This so-called “bias blind spot” happens when people cannot detect bias, or flaws, within their own thinking. “If anything, a larger bias blind spot was associated with higher cognitive ability,” the researchers of the 2012 study wrote in the abstract. . . .
If intelligent people are less likely to perceive their own bias, that means they’re less rational in some respects, Dutton said.
Klinghoffer writes about his own experience trying to push smart people off their prejudices:
These are intelligent men and women. Yet the bias instilled by their social peers is so powerful in many cases that it cannot be overcome. Perhaps it’s something about high intelligence that itself results in the inability to see or hear what’s right in front of your face, if it conflicts with what your biases are telling you, what you think should be true if your picture of the world is to be maintained.
This is exactly right. And it accounts for why smart people often say really stupid things. When I read the story it put me in mind of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s now infamous tweet from last summer: “Earth needs a virtual country: #Rationalia, with a one-line Constitution: All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence.”
Let’s concede that deGrasse is a smart guy. From his Wiki entry: “he completed a bachelor’s degree in physics at Harvard University in 1980. After receiving a master’s degree in astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin in 1983, he earned his master’s (1989) and doctorate (1991) in astrophysics at Columbia University.” Those are the educational accomplishments of a highly intelligent person.
But if deGrasse is such a smart guy, why would he send out such a gobsmackingtly stupid tweet? The answer lies in his Bias Blind Spot. Neil deGrasse is an atheist materialist who believes that science can answer all important questions. His tweet demonstrates that he is literally unable to comprehend the limits of the types of questions science can answer, as Kevin Williamson points out here in a withering assessment of deGrasse’s tweet.
Why are smart people more blind to their biases than the rest of us? The answer is easy: Because they are smart. That does not mean that intelligence makes one more blind to bias. It means that the pride that often accompanies intelligence makes one more blind to bias. Hubris limits one’s perception of his own flaws and limits. Which is why we would all do well to remember a variant on an ancient Greek aphorism: “Whom the Gods would destroy, they first make proud.”