Volume > Issue > Jesus & the Bell Curve

Jesus & the Bell Curve


By John Warwick Montgomery | January/February 1995

The Bell Curve by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein (Free Press) is causing an uproar on both sides of the Atlantic. The book is stuffed with graphs, bar charts, and tables, yet at the same time contains not a little tendentiousness, even soap-box ideology.

The book endeavors to make three overarching points. First, intelligence is more or less a constant, virtually unalterable by training, education, or other forms of social manipulation. Group differences in I.Q. are considerable: For example, African-Americans are one standard deviation (15 percent) inferior to white Americans on analytical and spatial intelligence tests — while East Asians can be 15 percent superior to American whites on the same tests! (Such findings — indeed, the very idea of such studies — have called down the wrath of the liberal opinion-makers.) Second, welfare-state efforts to raise some minorities and socially disadvantaged groups are simply unrealistic, and a colossal waste of taxpayer money and a country’s resources. Third, pessimism about the future is in order. Those with low intelligence (which correlates with crime and social deviancy) “breed” faster and younger than those with higher I.Q.s. The result, as Sir Keith Joseph, education minister to Mrs. Thatcher, noted with alarm: Western societies are in danger of descending to mediocrity and lawlessness, perhaps requiring a police state to survive.

What can be said to all this? Even if intelligence does correlate with race or social class, and even if I.Q. is shown to be hereditary and basically unalterable, would it necessarily follow that the welfare state should be dismantled? Alan Ryan, who teaches Politics at Princeton, perceptively notes that the Murray/ Herrnstein view on intelligence is “in principle consistent with the politics of almost any persuasion…. Socialists might think that ineradicable differences in I.Q. should be met by making sure that the less clever were compensated with more education than the gifted, and with income supplements to make up for their difficulties in the competitive marketplace.”

From the Christian viewpoint, several points cry out to be made: (1) Truth, even if it is not what we would like it to be, must be discovered and faced. There must be no suppression of research into sensitive and politically incorrect areas. (2) Our Lord informs us, in the Parable of the Talents, that the important thing is not how much we have been given relative to others, but what we do with what we have been given: The servant with two talents who doubled them received exactly the same praise from his master as the servant with five talents who doubled his. We all know those who have dissipated great talents, in contrast with others with far less who have accomplished far more. (3) The test of moral living and acceptance before God has never been intelligence or social standing. Quite the contrary: “Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called.” The receptive child symbolizes the Kingdom, and he is given no intelligence test. By virtue of the “foolishness” of preaching and witnessing, God saves those who believe. The answer to crime is not fewer people with low I.Q. scores; it is the Spirit of God changing hearts and wills and motivations.

Pessimism for the future? Not on the grounds of declining intelligence, rather on the grounds of declining faith and declining evangelism.

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