Social Question

kevbo's avatar

Does this study mean atheists have higher reading, writing, and comprehension skills?

Asked by kevbo (25649points) September 8th, 2010 from iPhone

Plus, what else do you make of this study? I had to laugh because one of my good buddies is totally into beer, mountain biking, and Van fucking Halen.

What’s the deal with Alicia Keys? I don’t even know her stuff.


fixed the link

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59 Answers

nikipedia's avatar

It certainly suggests as much.

Nullo's avatar

Nope. Keep in mind that religion figures in very highly in a population that tends to perform very poorly in academics, for unrelated reasons.
I personally hit the reading level ceiling waaay back in fifth grade.

Also keep in mind that this is a study of OKCupid users, which is not necessarily representative of humanity as a whole.

Rarebear's avatar

Hm. I like beer, mountain biking, and Van fucking Halen.

gggritso's avatar

For those interested, here is the original link. Not that I hate Gizmodo or anything (even though I totally fucking do) but the OkCupid people are great, the post a ton of simiarly interesting studies and I’m a stickler for citing original sources whenever possible.

Zyx's avatar

Did those people actually consent to being run through a computer 7 billion times?
Anyway it doesn’t mean anything, this cannot be considered an experiment.

ETpro's avatar

As an agnostic who likes sashimi even though I am not Asian, I’d like to think it was true. Maybe it is. But no survey of a group of users of a particular website is a valid measure of national or international public values. There is no way to pick a representative sample of all people from a specific group. Random selection still looks only at the values of the people within that unique group, and may tell you more about what attracts users to that website than what all Americans or all humans are like.

jerv's avatar

Do not confuse correlation with causation ;)

Qingu's avatar

OKCupid is not a representative or statistically relevant sample!

Qingu's avatar

That said, I’m particularly intrigued by the relative appearance of “different cultures” for various races/ethnicities. It was #1 for Middle Eastern women.

Sarcasm's avatar

As an Atheist, I totally wish I could say yes.
However, all this study shows is that the Atheists show proper English usage more than Theists. That doesn’t mean they know it better, just that displaying their knowledge is a higher priority.
There have also been studies between Religiosity and mean IQ internationally. And you’ll see the two are inversely related. But not every person has equal opportunities. The world’s poorest countries are highly religious. Poor countries don’t have great education opportunities. Thus, large amounts of the highly religious population don’t even have a chance to have a high IQ. It’s not as if they are all Harvard-educated and just choose to be dumber.

wundayatta's avatar

This is all very nice, but I don’t know what word counting means. As far as I know, the best that can be said about word counting is that it is a way of identifying things you might want to look at. Unfortunately, there is no substitute for actually reading all the essays and trying to get a handle on what they mean. If you do that, you might possibly be able to make a link between race and words and meaning. But the simple fact that different races use words at differing frequencies? I mean, could I yawn any wider?

I guess what I’m saying is that this survey is a big “DUH.” Do people from different cultures use different words? Oh my! What a surprise! They do use words at differing frequencies.

Counting words is far, far away from saying anything meaningful about the essays. It doesn’t help us understand how the races differ in terms of how they think at all. You better not draw any conclusions from the word counting data, if you don’t want to be laughed out of town.

The religion and writing proficiency data are more substantial. They are also, however, a bit difficult to interpret. The index used apparently counts the number of characters in words, and purports that to be a measure of writing proficiency. The longer the words you use, on average, the more proficient you are at writing?

That’s a pretty big assumption. I doubt it has proven to be true. Does word length correlate with IQ or grade level, or writing proficiency?

The most we can claim, I think, is that the Atheists on the site use longer words, on average, than anyone else, although we don’t even know if the differences are statistically significant. For all we know, the Protestants use shorter words because they can communicate more efficiently that way.

I think it is a huge stretch to say that these data show that atheists have higher reading, writing, and comprehension skills. Like I said, the only thing I think you can conclude is that atheists tend to us longer words. Interpret that as you will.

Ben_Dover's avatar

Whatever the study shows, it is not true that atheists have higher reading, writing, and comprehension skills than non-atheists. That is too funny.

Some of the most intelligent, learned people on earth are/were theologians. Have you not heard of the Jesuits?

Nullo's avatar

@Ben_Dover Heck, back in the Middle Ages, higher education was through the Church, and they did a darn good job of it.

Ben_Dover's avatar

@Nullo That’s what I’m talking about. Even today, some of the best institutions of higher learning are operated by priest/jesuits and/or nuns.

Loyola Marymount.
Gonzaga U.
Loyola High
Immaculate Heart High School
Notre Dame.

The list goes on and on and on…

ratboy's avatar

I think I’d like fucking Alicia Keys.

fundevogel's avatar

Is anyone else concerned that even the highest average is only reading and writing at a 9th grade level? I’m assuming the majority of these folks are out of highschool.

@Ben_Dover I don’t think the Jesuits have been setting the bar for a while. If you wanted a more thorough cross section of smarty-pants to analyze for religiosity you might check the Nobel Prize winners.

@Nullo It’s not very impressive that in claiming religious schools are counted among “some of the best institutions of higher learning” 2 out 6 you list are high schools. I’m not interested in checking all of the top 100 colleges for religious affiliation, but your picks didn’t make the list.

ETpro's avatar

@Ben_Dover I think @fundevogel is right. Those are good schools, but none are top-rated. The most recent ratings have it this way:

1—Harvard University
2—Princeton University
3—Yale University
4—Columbia University
5—Stanford University (tie)
5—University of Pennsylvania (tie)
7—MIT (tie)
7—California Institute of Technology (tie)
9—Dartmouth University (tie)
9—Duke University (tie)
9—University of Chicago (tie)

The only one of your list ranked in the top 25 is the University of Notre Dame, ranked 19.

Nullo's avatar

@fundevogel I wasn’t listing anything, tyvm. But I think that I will now.
Cambridge and Oxford were both founded by the Church, as were most other venerated European universities.

Qingu's avatar

The Catholic Church sure is doing a bang-up job educating Africans. Especially on the evils of birth control—which I understand is doing wonders for AIDS-ravaged populations.

Also, scholastic education was well and good, for the time, but many natural philosophers (i.e. Galileo, Newton) were considered heretics. The Enlightenment wasn’t a church-sponsored event. Europeans only developed advanced scientific knowledge when they secularized.

Nullo's avatar

@Qingu I had the impression that Galileo was only attacked because he made fun of the Pope. I was unaware that Newton had any ecclesiastic adversaries whatsoever.
Copernicus, yes. Newton, no.
Though Nick would have had less trouble if he’d considered how he went about saying things.

Qingu's avatar

Newton was a Arian heretic. He didn’t believe in the Trinity.

The Church didn’t make as big of a stink about Newton as they did about Copernicus and Galileo because by that time, they weren’t nearly as powerful, and secular nation-states had emerged.

jerv's avatar

@fundevogel You mean to say that the average person reads and writes at the same level I did in the 2nd grade?
Okay, now I am fucking depressed! I hate to think that I was more astute and literate at age 7 than many college kids today are.

nikipedia's avatar

@jerv: Readability indices measure how difficult it is to read a given piece of writing, but this doesn’t necessarily reflect the upper boundaries of the writer’s capability. If I am writing a journal article to be published an academic journal, it will be written at a completely different level from that of an OkCupid profile. I would not want to read an OkCupid profile that was as difficult to read as a journal article.

fundevogel's avatar

@nikipedia Thank you for explaining that. I was curious about if I was properly understanding how the reading standards worked. I assume there is a top level that simply can’t be topped. For instance, if someone were to reach super-awesome college level in grad school they’d still be reading at super-awesome college level when they were 63. I was just hoping that whatever the boundaries of reading skills were they would be a good bit better than 9th grade reading levels and that more adults would approach them.

reading is awesome.

@Nullo “Cambridge and Oxford were both founded by the Church, as were most other venerated European universities.”

If this were the 19th century you would have point. However, how religious schools were 100 years ago doesn’t have any bearing when it comes to evaluating the merit of contemporary religious schools. It’s a bit like using statistics from 1863 to prove that the cavalry is indispensable in modern warfare.

Ben_Dover's avatar

@fundevogel @ETpro
The Jesuits teach a method of schooling far superior to many of the so-called better schools. they teach you to think for yourself.
There is no superior method of teaching than one with that result.

nikipedia's avatar

@Ben_Dover: Weird, I’ve never been to a Jesuit school and I still seem entirely capable of thinking for myself.

Ben_Dover's avatar

Weird indeed. But some people manage to do so on their own. However, most schools teach you to memorize a lot of facts and to fit in and not to think for yourself. These jessies actually promote the idea that you can solve problems on your own, without resorting to the thoughts of others.

iamthemob's avatar

I think that @Ben_Dover was commenting on the fact that a school with a religion-based curriculum or philosophy doesn’t mandate that the students are taught in a way that prevents independence of thought and a reasoned, rational method of analysis, anymore than a school which teaches based on an utter ABSENCE of religion mandates that the students are taught to think independently, etc. Both can teach students to think that they’re right before they are taught to think why they might be wrong.

fundevogel's avatar

8@Ben_Dover “The Jesuits teach a method of schooling far superior to many of the so-called better schools. they teach you to think for yourself.
There is no superior method of teaching than one with that result.”*

Care to provide evidence for that statement? I’m not generally swayed by unsupported assertions. At the very least you could explain what you think makes them superior to other teaching institutions so I can evaluate it.

“Weird indeed. But some people manage to do so on their own. However, most schools teach you to memorize a lot of facts and to fit in and not to think for yourself. These jessies actually promote the idea that you can solve problems on your own, without resorting to the thoughts of others.”

l think you will find most four year colleges do this, certainly all the ones worth their tuition do. It’s grammar schools and high schools that have some trouble with this. I don’t think besting a typical high school education requires the sort of academic excellence to put you in the same league as the best colleges. If nothing else the best universities generate research and discovery, high schools don’t play any role to expanding the scope of human knowledge.

fundevogel's avatar

@iamthemob I see your reasonable and quality religious school and raise you Liberty University.

iamthemob's avatar


I don’t think anything involving Jerry Falwell can be used as an example in any rational discussion. ;-)

Tinky Winky, dude…Tinky Winky.

Liberty University is the Debbil

Ben_Dover's avatar

@fundevogelI’m not generally swayed by unsupported assertions.

You have made my point. thank you.

fundevogel's avatar


I did? When? How? Kindly provide suport for your assertion that I have made your point for you.

downtide's avatar

I think it’s more an economic thing. Rich people are more well educated, on average, than poor people.
Poor people are, on average, more inclined to be religious (because, I guess, they don’t get much hope or help from anywhere else).

fundevogel's avatar

@iamthemob “I don’t think anything involving Jerry Falwell can be used as an example in any rational discussion. ;-)”

I think you’re thinking of Hitler. Liberty is a fine and reasonable example of a high profile religious school, not all religious schools, but it can’t be ignored. Accreditation be damned :0

iamthemob's avatar

@fundevogel – Whatever – it still ascares me. :-)

fundevogel's avatar

@iamthemob no shame in that

jerv's avatar

@nikipedia That makes sense as far as it goes, but it still means that many adults read like they haven’t graduated high school. As our society heads more towards iconography and easily digested sound-bites, it seems that semi-literacy is becoming more commonplace.
Granted, for day-to-day stuff that is not such a problem as we can’t all be expected to write to the sort of standards expected in a college thesis when just hanging out on the ‘net, but it seems to me that more and more people pretty much top out at a writing style normally associated with a photo caption on LOLcats.

nikipedia's avatar

@jerv: Off-topic, but I’d be interested to hear your take on this blog post. Make sure you get to the part with the study.

jerv's avatar

@nikipedia Appealing to the lowest common denominator is not my definition of “great”. And considering how much of the internet is devoid of content, I fail to see how that blog post can be accurate. Granted, they raise some interesting points about catering to the audience and tailoring your style accordingly so as to enthrall them rather than alienate them, but if most of the audience is incapable of critical thinking then writing is irrelevant anyways.
A truly great writer can convey nuances concisely whereas a lot of what I see on the internet these days seems less about getting a point across and more about just amassing an audience; it matters less what you say and more about how many people read it. Seinfeld was a popular show about nothing. Was it great? I don’t think so, but enough people watched it to generate a lot of advertising revenue so there are a few million people out there that apparently like content-free stuff and would call it “great” based solely on it’s popularity. And nowadays, we have fewer Shakespeares and more Seinfelds.
Just because the internet allows more people to demonstrate their writing talents, that doesn’t mean that the ‘net creates better writers. The old adage about “garbage in, garbage out” still holds true, and the ‘net is merely a widely accessible medium. There are more talented writers that get read, but there is still a lot of crap out there as well, just as it’s always been.

fundevogel's avatar

@nikipedia & @jerv For what it’s worth I’m a better writer because of Fluther. Niikipedia’s article is correct in that people have more reason to write with the internet and thus more opportunity and motivation to improve their writing. Not everyone will do it, but a lot of people do. I think it’s safe to say with the caliber of writing expected here we do put greater care and effort into writing because of the internet, at least we do on Fluther.

jerv's avatar

@fundevogel Maybe I just have a different take on things. However, I think that a lot of that perceived “improvement” is more about just remembering what you learned in school and applying it as opposed to letting your skills get rusty.
It could just be a matter of perspective.

fundevogel's avatar

That certainly doesn’t hurt.

ETpro's avatar

@Nullo Galileo was imprisoned for denying that the Earth is the center of the solar system, not for making fun of the Pope. He and Pope Urban VIII were actually friends. Galileo originally ran into trouble with the Inquisitors upon traveling to Rome to try to persuade the Church to read scripture allegorically, as Augustine had suggested, and not literally. There are several passages that literally say the Earth stands still and the Sun rises and sets, thus moving around the Earth.

Under pressure Urban VIII eventually placed Galileo under house arrest, and there he remained till his death. In 1758,.the Vatican recinded their ban on publication of books proposing a heliocentric solar system. But they did not relent on their stance officially. In 1990, then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, said in a speech about the Galileo affair, “The Church at the time of Galileo kept much more closely to reason than did Galileo himself, and she took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s teaching too. Her verdict against Galileo was rational and just, and the revision of this verdict can be justified only on the grounds of what is politically opportune.”

The Vatican did not get around to admiring that Galileo was right and it was wrong till 1992, 358 years after imprisoning him for the crime of disagreeing with biblical literalism. Pope John Paul II wrote: “Thanks to his intuition as a brilliant physicist and by relying on different arguments, Galileo, who practically invented the experimental method, understood why only the sun could function as the centre of the world, as it was then known, that is to say, as a planetary system. The error of the theologians of the time, when they maintained the centrality of the Earth, was to think that our understanding of the physical world’s structure was, in some way, imposed by the literal sense of Sacred Scripture….”

A formal apology for the imprisonment finally came in 2000, again from John Paul II. Seems when popes are infallible, it’s difficult to admit being wrong. And based on his 1990 statement, Galileo is lucky he got the apology before Ratzinger ascended to the Papacy. Otherwise, he would likely still be waiting.

jerv's avatar

@ETpro “Seems when popes are infallible, it’s difficult to admit being wrong.”
If you can discredit, imprison, or smite all dissenters and non-believers, you never have to admit you’re wrong.

ETpro's avatar

@jerv That’s just it. The Vatican can no longer do that. And it can no longer stand on the now clearly ridiculous claim that the Earth is the center of the Solar System because the Bible says so.

Nullo's avatar

Alright, alright, fact-wagon comin’ through.
Da Roolz say that the Pope is only infallible when he talks ex cathedra. This was established at Vatican 1 in 1870 and has only been exercised once, to proclaim that anything that the Pope says ex cathedra is infallible.

* adds to List Of Things I Don’t Like About Catholicism *

@ETpro, in fact the Bible makes no assertions of geocentricity.

jerv's avatar

@Nullo If The Church says The Bible says something and most followers are illiterate, it doesn’t matter what The Bible actually says. Such was the case centuries ago. Even now, people claim all sorts of sources say things that they really don’t. Heavy Metal music says to kill yourself, D&D says magic is real, and the Teletubbies advocate homosexuality.
It’s not what is said that matters so much as what is believed. After all, perception is reality.

ETpro's avatar

@Nullo wrote, “in fact the Bible makes no assertions of geocentricity” Au contraire. For those who insist on literal interpretation, the Earth is the center of the solar system and the Sun revolves around it according to the Bible. Pope Urban VIII cited these following scriptures to prove his case that geocentricity is the word of God. Understand that he insisted on a literal reading of every word.

Psalm 93:1 The LORD reigneth, he is clothed with majesty; the LORD is clothed with strength, [wherewith] he hath girded himself: the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved.

Psalm 96:10 Say among the heathen [that] the LORD reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved

1 Chronicles 16:30 Fear before him, all the earth: the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved.

Psalm 104:5 [Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God,] Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever.

Ecclesiastes 1:5 The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

Nullo's avatar

@ETpro And that’s why there aren’t really any literalists. There are, in fact, those who maintain that the Bible is to be accepted as it is presented, poetic language and all. Can you think of anything that we can do to knock Earth from its orbit?
@jerv One of the gripes that Protestants tend to have about Catholics is the tendency to advocate a certain Biblical illiteracy.
I disagree with your claim that perception is reality. Wile E. Coyote perceived many a tunnel, only to be met with the reality that they were merely painted rock faces.

iamthemob's avatar


I disagree! Wile E. Coyote always knew that there was no tunnel, and it was the Roadrunner who perceived the tunnel and was therefore able to go through. Wile E. Coyote attempted to follow thereafter, but knowing or believing an underlying truth that the tunnel was actually painted rock, he always failed.

This can also be seen in the instances where Wile E. was able to run on thin air and did not begin to fall until the Roadrunner (maliciously) brought out a “Look Down!” sign, damning Wile E. to his fate.

ETpro's avatar

@Nullo Where do you make up this stuff. Creationist insist the Earth is no more than 6,000 years old despite the absolute mountain of evidence showing otherwise. Why? Because if we interpret the Bible literally as they insist we must do, the creation myths plus the begats get you to a number like that.

jerv's avatar

@ETpro Well, it’s possible that both sides are right. Of course, that would mean than Creationists would have to admit that the “days” used in the Creation story were not the 24-hour ones that we now know and love. I mean, who is to say it hasn’t been 6,000 years for God but a few million or billion years for us mere mortals?
Of course, this goes back the the Theist’s ability (or lack thereof) to be able to parse syntax.

@Nullo I only deal with a few dozen people a day and I see a few different types of insanity. Extrapolate that out to the size of Christianity (approximately 2.2 billion people according to some estimates) and I think you’ll agree that there are some really batshit crazy Christians out there.
My wife’s uncle fervently believes that the Bible was written in Modern English as opposed to Greek, Latin, or the English language as it existed centuries ago; he refuses to acknowledge that it has ever been translated or updated! So look me in the eye and tell me that there are no literalists, and do so without committing the “No True Scotsman” logical fallacy.

ETpro's avatar

@jerv In the Creationist Museum, they have dioramas with Dinosaurs and early man together. They are absolutely, loudly, insistently talking 24 hour days and 6,000 orbits of the Sun, each taking the same length of time it does today. Enough said.

jerv's avatar

@ETpro I bookmarked many links to a wide variety of facepalms, but I do not have one in my repertoire for that degree of fail.

jerv's avatar

@fundevogel I just found something more topical.

fundevogel's avatar

@jerv Good one, though I’m not sure when Jesus gave up.

crazyivan's avatar

The methodology of the study was kind of laughable, but the notion that atheists have better reading/writing/comprehension is consistent in a number of studies. The question puts the cart before the horse, though, in my opinion. I think that people who have better readsing/writng/comprehension are more likely to give up on religion.

It also tends to be that atheists know a lot more about specific religions than people who actually believe in them.

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