“As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God”

Matthew Parris, longtime fixture of center-right British journalism at publications like The Spectator, has been thinking about the intractable problems of Africa:

…I observe that tribal belief is no more peaceable than ours; and that it suppresses individuality. People think collectively; first in terms of the community, extended family and tribe. This rural-traditional mindset feeds into the “big man” and gangster politics of the African city: the exaggerated respect for a swaggering leader, and the (literal) inability to understand the whole idea of loyal opposition….

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosophical/spiritual framework I’ve just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

Another version of the oft-heard “useful whether or not true” argument? An analogue to what economists sometimes call the “theory of the second best“? Or some third thing?

About Walter Olson

Fellow at a think tank in the Northeast specializing in law. Websites include overlawyered.com. Former columnist for Reason and Times Online (U.K.), contributor to National Review, etc.
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68 Responses to “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God”

  1. “Diogenes” is symtomatic of the worst aspect of blogging,i.e. one is exposed to troubled, hostile folks, Mensa rejects or otherwise, who cannot handle honest discussion and argument. Flagrant name-calling should not be tolerated if we wish to respect members who play by the rules and truly want to grow intellectually.

  2. abe says:

    “The Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study showed that from age 7 to 17 black and blended children living in advantaged white families ended up with the same IQ deficit they usually have with black parents.Compared to white controls the difference was 16 points on IQ tests.”

    There have been problems noted with that study–namely, later placement of the black children.

    “Bruce Lahn discovered 2 kinds of brain-building genes which spread at about 37,000 years ago and 5800 years ago. These correspond to cultural leaps that are not matched in an Africa that lacks these genes. Here is genetic evidence for very important racial differences. Lahn, however, is in hiding because of the flamability of the issue.”

    It is curious then why someone like J.P Rushton would discount Lahn’s findings.

  3. For Abe,
    You are right that the experiment was not perfect, but the fact that the blended group scored midway between blacks and whites is difficult to explain away. In addition, Headstart and other funded intervention programs have been complete failures vis a vis ” bridging the gap” in academic performance.Only one program seemed exceptional- the Abecedarian Project.The black children getting very intensive training gained 5 IQ points by age 15. However, this gain faded by age 21. Still, it showed that IQ could be modified slightly by a full-scale cognitive assault. Two problems come to mind: (1) In the real world such a multi-million dollar crusade to raise IQ and academic performance is totally unrealistic, and (2) IQ has always resisted much change because it is largely genetic, as Jensen predicted. Obama, unfortunately, has no intention of relinquishing his egalitarian mythology, so millions, if not billions, will continue to be heaped upon losing strategies. This can only have ugly consequences if the science is correct about IQ differences.

    Of course Lahn’s finds must be worked out in detail but they promise to be intransigent realities fitting the actual historical record of Humankind. Darwin never promised happy endings!!Rushton may be waiting for further studies but surely this nicely supports his own general theory of human development.My own book deals with these matters in some detail.

  4. Bill of MD says:

    Though an atheist, I was inclined at first to believe in Parris’ notion of African salvation through Christianity. He writes: “Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa … In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”

    Then I took a look a the stats for Malawi, the country he specifically mentions:

    Life expectancy at birth: 43.45 years (US: 78.14 years)

    HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate: 14.2% (2003 est.) (US: 0.6%)

    People living with HIV/AIDS: 900,000 (2003 est.) (US: 950,000; US
    population = 22 x Malawi)

    Religions: Christian 79.9%, Muslim 12.8%, other 3%, none 4.3% (1998 census)

    The rebirth is real? The change is good? Apparently everywhere but where it matters.

  5. Bill of MD says:

    Bill ofMD: …but I have never heard friend or foe of IQ testing assert that they “get real fat”, or words to that effect, beyond a certain point.

    David Hume: See here (this is a friend of IQ [La Griffe du Lion]).

    It is to be expected that scores obtained in the upper and lower reaches of the IQ distribution will be inaccurate. The items that go into IQ tests and other standardized tests are initially evaluated on a sample population. In such a population there will inevitably be small numbers of subjects at the extremes of the distribution, so the accuracy of the normalization procedure will suffer as a consequence. But there is no reason to think this would bias the extremes in one direction or the other (i.e. to fat rather than thin).
    It is also possible that an IQ test constructed to generate normal scores in one population will generate scores with non-normal features, e.g. fat tails, in another. This is particularly true of Ashkenazi Jews or any populations of which they are a significant part, given the strange origin of their high intelligence (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashkenazi_intelligence, see section Cochran et al.). If the effect described by LGDL is real, this may be the cause.

  6. Bill of MD says:

    David Hume: IQ is a normally distributed trait

    Strictly speaking it is not distributed at all; tests are constructed and/or scored so that results across a population will be normally distributed:

    … in constructing a test it is possible, within broad limits, to produce almost any desired form of frequency distribution of the raw scores in a given population. If we have no basis for arguing that the obtained scores have true measurement properties in addition to merely having a rank-order correlation with the latent trait that they measure – and this seems to be typically the case for psychometric test scores – the precise form of the obtained score distribution is essentially arbitrary. The very most that we can say in this case is that (within the limits of measurement error) our test scores have some monotonic relation to whatever the test really “measures.” If we could truly measure whatever latent variable, such as g, accounts for the variation in the obtained scores on an absolute scale (i.e., one having a true zero and additivity of scale intervals), the form of its population distribution could turn out to be quite different from that of the test scores we have actually obtained. Certain forms of distribution are simply more useful than others, psychometrically and statistically, and it is this consideration that mainly determines the form of the distribution test constructors decide to adopt.
    Jensen “The g Factor,” p 101, note 16.

  7. Bill of MD says:

    David Hume: I doubt the races are different in the nature of fat tailing, just as they seem not to differ in variance

    They do differ in variance; see Jensen, “The g Factor”, Chapter 11, “Population Differences in g”, page 353; the white stdev is 15, that of blacks varies across tests from 11 to 14, with an average of 13. Of course this increases the black-white disparity for higher ranges of IQ above and beyond the disparity caused by the median difference.

  8. Bill of MD says:

    @Cornelius J. Troost
    “(1) In the real world such a multi-million dollar crusade to raise IQ and academic performance is totally unrealistic, and (2) IQ has always resisted much change because it is largely genetic, as Jensen predicted.”

    Charles Murray, in a debate with James Flynn at the AEI, made an interesting point that bears on the still-contentious item 2 above: it doesn’t matter whether IQ is largely genetic, somewhat genetic or not genetic at all – whatever the truth of the matter, we have no idea how to close the B/W gap; everything has been tried, everything has failed. John Derbyshire remarked: “An academic sociologist of my acquaintance refers to the famous one-standard-deviation black/white gap on IQ scores as “the fundamental constant of American sociology.””

  9. Watching the bowl games reminds one of Jon Entine’s brave book called Taboo in which he provided evidence for black athletic superiority. The NFL and NBA were once white domains entirely. Once the race barrier was broken the culture increasingly favored blacks who gradually responded to the incentives made available in larger doses.Now we see a total reversal because blacks are genetically superior in sports where speed, power, and agility matter.Racial differences in intelligence must remain The Big Lie because even intellectual blacks seem unable to discuss the issue openly.The intense efforts to discredit Murray and Jensen are monuments to the intolerance of liberals and most blacks.A PC culture punishes even a Nobel laureate geneticist for telling the truth re IQ differences.

    Our athletic gladiators today are almost entirely black.We tolerate their violence in private life because we savor their violence on the playing field. We spend untold millions on tutoring programs to try to fit square pegs into round holes in colleges and universities that reap great financial rewards for their coffers. Corruption abounds in all aspects of college sport in order to retain “student” athletes.University administrations are willing to hide criminal records and delay rape investigations to protect black athletes who are freguently unqualified for academic work of any kind. The curriculum has been transformed to include enough basket weaving courses to accomodate the heroes of sport.Sport, however, can claim to be a real meritocracy while academics is full of grade inflation and postmodern gobbledegook in the humanities and social sciences!

    The federal government is determined to modify human nature in its quest for equality not of opportunity but of outcomes.Thus, millions are now spent training teachers to “accommodate” blacks and Hispanics normally unsuited for high school AP courses. Insanity in education will not be overcome by Charles Murray’s new book called Real Education. He is already widely ignored.Romance is in the air and who needs to know the truth when we have Obama.Religion may not save Africa, but what will save America?

    Lastly, the ultimate weapon in a new liberal order is the “racism” defense. People’s lives are destroyed if they blink the wrong way at sensitive or paranoid blacks. Thinking openly about racial IQ differenes cannot be done even in psychology classes. The inversion of values allows blacks to overturn jail sentences and have their grades raised.No-one wants to be accused of racism.Surely, we live in plague times.

  10. abe says:

    “Racial differences in intelligence must remain The Big Lie because even intellectual blacks seem unable to discuss the issue openly.”

    Liberals run away from such theories for the same reason that those on the racist right are drawn to it. After all, Neo-Nazis and the KKK are race realists, right? I think liberals are right to ignore Jensen/Murray until physical, irrefutable evidence is found for genetic intellectual differences. Until then it’s more than possible that racial IQ differences could merely be due to culture/familiarity with test taking. Black Americans today have the same IQ as whites did 50 years ago. How could that be possible if it’s all genetic? Decades ago there used to be all black schools with average test scores higher than the national average (Thomas Sowell mentions them somewhere.) This suggests that the effect of culture matters more than you’re giving it credit for.

    I think ultimately discoveries in this area will disappoint the “Race Realists.”

    For instance, consider this section from the Rushton-Jensen paper “THIRTY YEARS OF RESEARCH ON RACE DIFFERENCES IN COGNITIVE ABILITY”:

    “Could it make a difference that Africans have less experience in solving problems such as those on the Raven’s, are less testwise, and have less access to coaching than non-Africans? Raven (2000) showed that students who were encouraged to engage in complex cognitive tasks increased in self-direction, understanding, and competence. In South Africa, Skuy and Shmukler (1987) applied Feuerstein’s (1980) Mediated Learning Experience and raised the Raven scores of Black high school students. Skuy, Hoffenberg, Visser, and Fridjhon (1990) found generalized improvements for Africans with what they termed a
    facilitative temperament. In an intervention study with 1st-year psychology students at the University of the Witwatersrand, Skuy et al. (2002) increased Raven’s test scores in both Africans and non-Africans after intervention training. Both experimental groups improved over the baseline compared with their respective control groups, with significantly greater improvement for the African group (IQ
    score gains of 83 to 97 in Africans; 103 to 107 in non-Africans). The question remains, however, whether such intervention procedures only increase performance through mastery of subject-specific knowledge or whether they increase g-like problem-solving ability that generalizes to other tests as well (te Nijenhuis, Voskuijl, & Schijve, 2001).”

    Jensen/Rushton are quick to dismiss it, but it’s interesting that the Non-African students improved only by four points while the African students gained 14 points. If IQ the scores for both groups were initially equally valid–that is, a true barometer of their genetic mental capacity–then practice should not given the black students such a drastic improvements as compared to the Non-African students.

    By the way, one of those genes Lahn discovered are found in Amerindians. Supposedly he also tested himself and didn’t like the results.

    These are embarrassing inconsistencies that can’t be dismissed with charges of political correctness.

  11. abe,
    Liberals who know little or nothing of genetics attacked Murray long ago and displayed blind hostility in defense of their sacred belief in total equality. Bradlaugh has written of their persistent belief in “The Blank Slate” which was refuted by Pinker a few years back. You speak of “race realists” as though they were all KKK nightriders. You are wrong about that and such a bias is part of our national problem.Liberal absolutism is an ugly reality which current college environments cultivate assiduosly.

    Can you imagine that your single “exceptional case” out of hundreds of studies might be wrong?? What if Jensen turns out to be right? The genetic basis of “g” may turn out to be correct and your one marginally interesting case rejected due to methodological error.The preponderance of evidence lies in one direction only. I think you have a real problem if you use the Sowell quote. Sowell is in the top 5% of blacks and earned his status without affirmative action. He is very unique. Ralph Bunche was unique, as was Paul Robison. Put them all in one school and it would beat the mean IQ results of many public high schools. That surely did not happen in our history.

    Your flippant remark about Lahn betrays your strong bias.Lahn is a brilliant geneticist who was naive enough to believe that anthropology had room for genetic findings without political fallout. He was very wrong, but if you grasp the nature of evolution in modern terms you know very well that the genetic basis of human nature is likely to displease liberals whose ignorance protects their myths.

    Unless we open our minds to the realities mentioned in London by James D. Watson, we will live a lie and must suppress science much as Stalin did.Liberalism has its pathologies and this suppression is among them.

  12. abe says:

    I understand that liberals automatically reject the suggestion that races are unequal. I don’t blame them. Quite frankly, it’s a horrible thesis and likely to be abused. Already so called “race realists” are using that knowledge as a basis for White Nationalism. Are you familiar with American Renaissance?

    Fortunately for liberals, there are simply too many inconsistencies and outright contradictions that need to be worked out in “race realism” before the subject can shed its unmistakable stench of pseudo-science. Blank Slate theories are quickly becoming untenable, but I doubt that means everyone will be embracing Racial Reality.

    What strikes you as exceptional about that study Jensen and Rushton mention? Are you comparing it to other studies that involved training individuals on cognitive tasks and then measuring the gains different groups made?

  13. Ivan Karamazov says:

    abe :


    Quite frankly, it’s a horrible thesis and likely to be abused.

    Hey, you’re at least half right. It’s a compelling thesis and likely to be abused. As the evidence continues to mount, a Perfect Storm awaits the data: Mainstream Media ready to distort and demonize; a Political Party ready to demagogue and exploit; and a President and Administration that literally dare not acknowledge the (unfortunate) facts.

  14. Hello abe and Ivan,
    My own book on this subject is called Apes or Angels? Darwin, Dover, Human Nature, and Race. This book could serve as a strong wedge into the public consciousness if it ever reached the mainstream but that likely will not happen. Ivan is right about the cultural alignment that flows from the triumph of liberal idealism. People everywhere believe a myth that BOTH anthropology and genetics have been quietly undermining.The MSM are actively aiding and abetting this colossal scam with the exception of Nicholas Wade, the genetics writer for the NY Times, who wrote Before the Dawn, a very good discussion of human evolution. He even touches on the Bruce Lahn discoveries. Liberal reviewers tried to make him look naive via journalistic tricks but what he produced was a solid intro based upon much research.It made few ripples.

    Race realists are a convenient strawman for rabid egalitarian dreamers unable to grapple with scientific realities. In national polls Stalin receives 3rd place as one of Russia’s greatest men despite his status as one of the worst tyrants in history. The True Believer has enormous trouble moving away from emotionally warming ideas. For some it is well nigh impossible. How many Chinese still love Mao?? Science has historically overturned popular beliefs but enlightenment comes far more graduallyif at all.Indeed, I believe that only a highly educated elite can pave the way with little hope of genuine mass enlightenment.Look what the polls tell us about our knowledge of evolution! It is a sad fact that most Americans are plainly ignorant of the entire topic. And remember that blacks are far behind whites in general knowledge before they finish high school. They would be in even worse shape.

    That some of the world’s best scientists endorsed my book suggests that abe is wrong about the racial differences thesis being on shaky ground.It is rapidly gaining momentum in legitimate science and not in “race realism” which is a term fraught with ambiguity because it lumps white nationalists with people like Henry Harpending, a great scholar in genetics who calls my book “wonderful.”

    For abe and Ivan( and curious others) I suggest reading Frank Miele’s Intelligence, Race, and Genetics as well as my little book. Two of our distinguished leaders, Bradlaugh and David Hume, gave it(my book) very positive reviews without the lavish praise of Harpending.See apes or angels.com for more. Steve Sailer’s circuitous review is at Amazon.com

  15. gene berman says:


    Leftism blinds, cripples, deforms, and sometimes accomplishes all three together. The best I can say of it is that it’s curable.

  16. Greg says:

    @David Hume
    Just wondering about your experience level on the ground in Africa?

    And I am curious about the impact of culture and geography on IQ scores. For those who grew up and were educated outside of the western, or even Eastern, model, is the IQ test relevant?

  17. ◄Dave► says:


    It happens that I have lived in Africa and worked closely with natives of both the well-educated and relatively uneducated varieties. I also have earned my living for the past dozen years assisting children from the age of 2.5 thru 6 years-old to create their minds, so perhaps I have some unique perspective to offer. Education cannot begin until a child acquires the faculty of language, and learns to name things.

    Yet, we do not teach our children basic language and syntax, they absorb it out of the environment by listening to adults speak. This is the primary “work” of a two-year-old, and observing the rapidity with which they go from their first attempts to speak, to putting together whole sentences with surprisingly accurate syntax is breathtaking when one contemplates the difficulty of the achievement.

    It was incredibly easy to learn “kitchen kaffir,” which is what the pigeon language used for communicating with the African natives was called. Since their language only had about 700 words and very rudimentary syntax, all one had to do was memorize those words and plug them into English syntax. Objects that had no native name were simply called by their English name. E.g. “Faga” was their word for “put,” and “lapa” meant “over there.” It didn’t much matter where one inserted “ashtray” in the phrase “faga lapa” to be clearly understood.

    Without language, there could be no rational thought or even human consciousness. Words are symbolic representations of concepts, whether simple or extremely complex, and are the scaffold on which we construct our ideas. The quality and efficiency of our thinking is dependent on our vocabulary. Whole lifetimes of research and contemplation, which can and does fill volumes, can be expressed in the shorthand of a single word, e.g. Marxism or capitalism.

    I don’t think it requires getting into the debates over genetics, or nature vs. nurture, to recognize that if a child grows up in an environment surrounded by adults that know and use only 700 words or less in their presence, while they are teaching themselves their native tongue and creating the scaffolding for thinking, they are not going to end up with much to work with.

    This is true whether it is in the African bush, or our own blighted ghettos, where using proper English gets one accused of “acting White. Unfortunately, the sensitive period for language acquisition in the stages of mind development for a child is long past by the time they start attending school, and learning a new language at that point, or even refining the one they supposedly know, is infinitely more difficult.

    If then thrust into the typical teacher-centered environment, where they are expected to sit still and pay attention, while the all-knowing teacher fills their empty little heads with “age appropriate” knowledge according to a fixed curriculum schedule, the prognosis is not good. Children learn best by doing and exploring whatever interests them at any particular time, and Socrates was right when he said that true education is more like the kindling of a flame than the filling of a vessel.

    All that said, I too reject the tabla raza hypothesis, and think not enough interest has been given the subject of temperament, which all evidence seems to indicate is somehow innate. We all know of siblings with personalities that could not be more contrasting, born of the same parents and raised in the same environment; perhaps intimately. A Meyers-Briggs test will tell one more about the efficacy and structure of a particular mind than any IQ test.

    Finally, any suggestion that African natives would be anywhere close to the achievements of Western civilization, without our influence during the colonial period, is laughable. Even today, were all Westerners (and Easterners) to pull out of Africa completely, it would devolve in short order, into the superstitious netherworld, of disorganized tribal conflicts that the White Man delivered them from.

    When I was managing that farm where I studied African culture back in ’74, Rhodesia was the bread basket of Africa, and Salisbury was one of the cleanest, safest, and most modern cities in the world. Today, after the hand-wringers and do-gooders of Europe and America used UN Sanctions to force the Whites to turn it over to the Marxist terrorists they were pleased to call “freedom fighters,” it is called Zimbabwe. Ask the now starving natives there if we did them any favors… I rest my case. ◄Dave►

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