In its essence the traditional notion of general intelligence may be a secularised version of the Puritan idea of the soul. … perhaps Galtonian intelligence had its roots in a far older kind of religious thinking. (John White, Personal space: The religious origins of intelligence testing)
In chapter 1 of Alas, Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology, Dorothy Nelkin identifies the link between the founder of sociobiology E.O. Wilson’s religious beliefs and the epiphany he described when he learned of evolution. A Christian author then used Sociobiology to explain and understand the origins of our own sinfulness (Williams, 2000). But there is another hereditarian-type research program that has these kinds of assumptions baked-in—IQ.
Philosopher of education John White has looked into the origins of IQ testing and the Puritan religion. The main link between Puritanism and IQ was that of predestination. The first IQ-ists conceptualized IQ—‘g’ or general intelligence—to be innate, predetermined and hereditary. The predetermination line between both IQ and Puritanism is easy to see: To the Puritans, it was predestined whether or not one went to Hell before they even existed as human beings whereas to the IQ-ists, IQ was predestined, due to genes.
John White (2006: 39) in Intelligence, Destiny, and Education notes the parallel between “salvation and success, damnation and failure”:
Can we usefully compare the saved/damned dichotomy with the perceived contribtion of intelligence or the lack of it to success and failure in life, as conventionally understood? One thing telling against this is that intelligence testers claim to identify via IQ scores a continuous gamut of ability from lowest to highest. On the other hand, most of the pioneers in the field were … especially interested in the far ends of this range — in Galton’s phrase ‘the extreme classes, the best and the worst.’ On the other hand there were the ‘gifted’, ‘the eminent’, ‘those who have honourably succeeded in life’, presumably … the most valuable portion of our human stock. On the other, the ‘feeble-minded’, the ‘cretins’, the ‘refuse’ those seeking to avoid ‘the monotony of daily labor’, democracy’s ballast, not always useless but always a potential liability’.
A Puritan-type parallel can be drawn here—the ‘cretins and ‘feeble-minded’ are ‘the damned’ whereas ‘the extreme classes, the best and worst’ were ‘the saved.’ This kind of parallel can still be seen in modern conceptualizations of the debate and current GWASs—certain people have a certain surfeit of genes that influence intellectual attainment. Contrast with the Puritan “Certain people are chosen before they exist to either be damned or saved.” Certain people are chosen, by random mix-ups of genes during conception, to either be successful or not, and this is predetermined by the genes. So, genetic determinism when speaking of IQ is, in a way, just like Puritan predestination—according to Galton, Burt and other IQ-ists in the 1910s-1920s (ever since Goddard brought back the Binet-Simon Scales from France in 1910).
Some Puritans banned the poor from their communities seeing them as “disruptors to Puritan communities.” Stone (2018: 3-4) in An Invitation to Satan: Puritan Culture and the Salem Witch Trials writes:
The range of Puritan belief in salvation usually extended merely to members of their own communities and other Puritans. They viewed outsiders as suspicious, and people who held different beliefs, creeds, or did things differently were considered dangerous or evil. Because Puritans believed the community shared the consequences of right and wrong, often community actions were taken to atone for the misdeed. As such, they did not hesitate to punish or assault people who they deemed to be transgressors against them and against God’s will. The people who found themselves punished were the poor, and women who stood low on the social ladder. These punishments would range from beatings to public humiliation. Certain crimes, however, were viewed as far worse than others and were considered capital crimes, punishable by death.
Could the Puritan treatment of the poor be due to their beliefs of predestination? Puritan John Winthrop stated in his book A Model of Christian Charity that “some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity, others mean and in subjection.” This, too, is still around today: IQ sets “upper limits” on one’s “ability ceiling” to achieve X. The poor are those who do not have the ‘right genes’. This is, also, a reason why IQ tests were first introduced in America—to turn away the poor (Gould, 1996; Dolmage, 2018). That one’s ability is predetermined in their genes—that each person has their own ‘ceiling of ability’ that they can reach that is then constrained by their genes is just like the Puritan predestination thesis. But, it is unverifiable and unfalsifiable, so it is not a scientific theory.
To White (2006), the claim that we have this ‘innate capacity’ that is ‘general’ this ‘intelligence’ is wanting. He takes this further, though. In discussing Galton’s and Burt’s claim that there are ‘ability ceilings’—and in discussing a letter he wrote to Burn—White (2006: 16) imagines that we give instruction to all of the twin pairs and that, their scores increase by 15 points. This, then, would have a large effect on the correlation “So it must be an assumption made by the theorist — i.e. Burt — in claiming a correlation of 0.87, that coaching could not successfully improve IQ scores. Burt replied ‘I doubt whether, had we returned a second time, the coaching would have affected our correlations” (White, 2006: 16). Burt seems to be implying that a “ceiling of ability” exists, which he got from his mentor, Galton. White continues:
It would appear that Galton nor Burt have any evidence for their key claim [that ability ceilings exist]. The proposition that, for all of us, there are individually differing ceilings of ability seems to be an assumption behind their position, rather than a conclusion based on telling grounds.
I have discussed elsewhere (White, 1974; 2002a: ch. 5) what could count as evidence for this proposition, and concluded that it is neither verifiable nor falsifiable. The mere fact that a child appears not able to get beyond, say, elementary algebra is not evidence of a ceiling. The failure of this or that variation in teaching approach fares no better, since it is always possible for a tracher to try some different approach to help the learner get over the hurdle. (With some children, so neurologically damaged that they seem incapable of language, it may seem that the point where options run out for the teacher is easier to establish than it is for other children. But the proposition in question is supposed to applu to all of us: we are all said to have our own mental ceiling; and for non-brain-damaged people the existence of a ceiling sems impossible to demonstrate.) It is not falsifiable, since for even the cleverest person in the world, for whom no ceiling has been discovered, it is always possible that it exists somewhere. As an untestable — unverifiable and unfalsifiable — proposition, the claim that we each have a mental ceiling has, if we follow Karl Popper (1963: ch. 1), no role in science. It is like the proposition that God exists or that all historical events are predetermined, both of which are equally untestable. As such, it may play a foundational role, as these two propositions have played, in some ideological belief system of belief, but has no place in empirical science. (White, 2006: 16)
Burt believed that we should use IQ tests to shoe-horn people into what they would be ‘best for’ on the basis of IQ. Indeed, this is one of the main reasons why Binet constructed what would then become the modern IQ test. Binet, influenced by Galton’s (1869) Hereditary Genius, believed that we could identify and help lower-‘ability’ children. Binet envisioned an ‘ideal city’ in which people were pushed to vocations that were based on their ‘IQs.’ Mensh and Mensh (1991: 23) quote Binet on the “universal applications” of his test:
Of what use is a measure of intelligence? Without doubt, one could conceive many possible applications of the process in dreaming of a future where the social sphere would be better organized than ours; where everyone would work according to his known apptitudes in such a way that non particle of psychic force should be lost for society. That would be the ideal city.
So, it seems, Binet wanted to use his test as an early aptitude-type test (like the ones we did in grammar school which ‘showed us’ which vocations we would be ‘good at’ based on a questionnaire). Having people in Binet’s ‘ideal city’ work based on their ‘known aptitudes’ would increase, not decrease, inequality so Binet’s envisioned city is exactly the same as today’s world. Mensh and Mensh (1991: 24) continue:
When Binet asserted that everyone would work to “known” aptitudes, he was saying that the individuals comprising a particular group would work according to the aptitudes that group was “known” to have. When he suggested, for example, that children of lower socioeconomic status are perfectly suited for manual labor, he was simply expressing what elite groups “know,” that is, that they themselves have mental aptitudes, and others have manual ones. It was this elitist belief, this universal rationale for the social status quo, that would be upheld by the universal testing Binet proposed.
White (2006: 42) writes:
Children born with low IQs have been held to have no hope of a professional, well-paid job. If they are capable of joining the workforce at all, they must find their niche as the unskilled workers.
Thus, the similarities between IQ-ist and religious (Puritan) belief comes clear. The parallels between the Puritan concern for salvation and the IQ-ist belief that one’s ‘innate intelligence’ dictated whether or not they would succeed or fail in life (based on their genes); both had thoughts of those lower on the social ladder, their work ethic and morals associated with the reprobate on the one hand and the low IQ people on the other; both groups believed that the family is the ‘mechanism’ by which individuals are ‘saved’ or ‘damned’—presuming salvation is transmitted based one’s family for the Puritans and for the IQ-ists that those with ‘high intelligence’ have children with the same; they both believed that their favored group should be at the top with the best jobs, and best education, while those lower on the social ladder should also get what they accordingly deserve. Galton, Binet, Goddard, Terman, Yerkes, Burt, and others believed that one was endowed with ‘innate general intelligence’ due to genes, according to the current-day IQ-ists who take the same concept.
White drew his parallel between IQ and Puritanism without being aware that one of the first anti-IQ-ists—and American Journalist named Walter Lippman—who also been made in the mid-1920s. (See Mensh and Mensh, 1991 for a discussion of Lippman’s grievances with the IQ-ists). Such a parralel between Puritanism and Galton’s concept of ‘intelligence’ and that of the IQ-ists today. White (2005: 440) notes “that virtually all the major players in the story had Puritan connexions may prove, after all, to be no more than coincidence.” Though, the evidence that White has marshaled in favor of the claim is interesting, as noted many parallels exist. It would be some huge coincidence for there to be all of these parallels without them being causal (from Puritanistic beliefs to hereditarian IQ dogma).
This is similar to what Oyama (1985: 53) notes:
Just as traditonal though placed biological forms in the mind of God, so modern thought finds many ways of endowing the genes with ultimate formative power, a power bestowed by Nature over countless milennia.
But this parallel between Puritanism and hereditarianism doesn’t just go back to the early 20th century—it can still be seen today. The assumption that genes contain a type of ‘information’ before activated by the physiological system for its uses still pervades our thought today, even though many others have been at the forefront to change that kind of thinking (Oyama, 1985, 2000; Jablonka and Lamb, 1995, 2005; Moore, 2002, 2016; Noble, 2006, 2011, 2016).
The links between hereditarianism and religion are compelling; eugenic and Puritan beliefs are similar (Durst, 2017). IQ tests have now been identified as having their origins in eugenic beliefs, along with Puritan-like beliefs have being saved/damned based on something that is predetermined, out of your control just like your genetics. The conception of ‘ability ceilings’—using IQ tests—is not verifiable nor is it falsifiable. Hereditarians believe in ‘ability ceilings’ and claim that genes contain a kind of “blueprint” (which is still held today) which predestines one toward certain dispositions/behaviors/actions. Early IQ-ists believed that one is destined for certain types of jobs based on what is ‘known’ about their group. When Binet wrote that, the gene was yet to be conceptualized, but it has stayed with us ever since.
So not only did the concept of “IQ” emerge due to the ‘need’ to ‘identify’ individuals for their certain ‘aptitudes’ that they would be well-suited for in, for instance, Binet’s ideal city, it also arose from eugenic beliefs and religious (Puritan) thinking. This may be why IQ-ists seem so hysterical—so religious—when talking about IQ and the ‘predictions’ it ‘makes’ (see Nash, 1990).