Not One Step Back! – well, maybe a couple

Often you can come up with better explanation by taking a wider view. For example, I’ve heard people suggest that Europeans have lower IQs than Ashkenazi Jews because of priestly celibacy.
But a broader perspective suggests that is not key: lots of populations that never had anything like priestly celibacy score lower and accomplish less than Western Europeans. Western Europeans aren’t anomalously dumb – Ashkenazi Jews are anomalously smart. Look for an explanation based on their genetics and history, not someone else’s .

In the same way, when looking at the wave of extinctions in North America about 12,000 years ago, the story becomes clearer if you consider the extinctions in South America ( a bit later), in the Caribbean islands ( thousands of years later), in Australia ( about 46,000 years ago) , on Madagascar and New Zealand, on various oceanic islands ( flightless birds disappear in Oceania and the Azores): the common factor is the arrival of modern humans.

Similarly, when considering the origin of cognitive differences between racial groups in the US, a wider perspective is helpful. Probably low scores in Zimbabwe are not caused by structural racism or implicit bias. You might want to blame Mugabe – but scores are similarly low throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

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28 Responses to Not One Step Back! – well, maybe a couple

  1. tautology says:

    Something I have been thinking: Could priestly celibacy+ religious wars, lots of them, europeans to have become more secular, in turn causing science?

  2. dearieme says:

    The celibacy started late, vanished in much of the continent after the reformation, and was possibly quite widely violated while it lasted. It seems a thin argument to me.

    Most Europeans earned their livings as farmers: Ashkenazi Jews, in most places and times, didn’t.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Sure. It was always a dumb argument. But most of the people talking about don’t understand the necessary conditions for this kind of selection. They don’t know anything about Ashkenazi history – most Ashkenazi don’t. Although, to be fair, there are interesting parts of Ashkenazi history that nobody really knows, like origin details. They don’t even know the juicy stuff about Borgia popes.

      • Pincher Martin says:

        Not that this has any direct bearing on the comparison between the Ashkenazi and European IQ, but didn’t both Darwin and Galton loathe priestly celibacy, with Galton arguing that it deprived Europe of its best minds for a thousand years?

        • Anonymous says:

          Galton did in Hereditary Genius, yes. Not sure about Darwin.

        • magusjanus says:

          I always figured most priests were gay, so it was a mechanism to enforce celibacy on them and thus no great loss to society.

        • dearieme says:

          “arguing that it deprived Europe of its best minds for a thousand years”

          “The Church … took a stand in favor of celibacy … at the Second Lateran Council held in 1139, when a rule was approved forbidding priests to marry.” – See more at:

          A common interpretation is that celibacy was sometimes practiced before that but it became compulsory only then (and only for Roman Catholics, not for the Orthodox).

          • Tesla’s dad was a priest, and both his parents were priest spawn for several generations, I think. There was also a kind of priestly caste in greater Russia (using the word “caste” informally) and seemed to generate a lot of interesting smarties, Pavel Florensky comes to mind. A lot of them turned into intelligentsia and philosophers in the 20th c. or under Communism.

        • jason says:

          But it wasn’t a thousand years. Married priests were common until 1139 when Rome made it verboten, and the Reformation had newly Protestant priests and nuns marrying just 390 years later.

          • Pincher Martin says:


            Well, Galton made the criticism about the Catholic Church. Perhaps he was rounding up to the nearest millennium and felt that even with the addition of Protestants and their married priests after the Reformation that Catholicism was still widespread enough on the continent for the criticism to hold.

  3. I remember watching a National Geographic feature some years ago that was entited something like “Race: an Illusion.” Periodically, the narrator informed me that race is an illusion. The documentary, however, also informed me that pygmies had been separated from the San people for more than 100,000 years by an arid region (if I recall correctly). Both groups were hunter-gatherers, but in very different environments. I was required to believe that the personalily and aptitude profiles of these two groups would be indistinguishable. Not on topic, but that’s what occurred to me. Sorry.

    • RCB says:

      Race: The power of an illusion
      Clip with Lewontin, Gould, and logical fallacies:
      There’s also background reading from the terrible Jonathan Marks:
      I had to teach this stuff in grad school.

      • gcochran9 says:

        Did you wink at the kids while you lectured about it?

        • RCB says:

          At that time I was still publicly on the side of the angels. But with increasing amount of cognitive dissonance.

      • Rosenmops says:

        From the Jonathan Marks link:
        “The important thing here though, is that the extent to which genetics influences behavior in humans has got to be a very, very small part of the spectrum of the range of human behavior, because the vast majority of difference in human behavior is not genetic in origin; it’s cultural in origin.”

        Anyone who has had more than one child knows this isn’t true. Children are born with personalities. Parents have far less control than they think.

        • RCB says:

          Sort of depends what you mean. If we’re talking about variation across groups, a lot of that can be cultural or environmental. Why do Germans speak German and the French speak French? Why do different cultures around the world wear very different clothing? Not because of genetic differences.

          • Peripatetic commenter says:

            Well, Germans speak German because we are genetically inclined to learn the language around us when we are small. It’s one of those contingent things Gould was always on about, but post-pubescent boys liking girls, that’s not cultural.

            However, if you are suggesting that the German Language and their Martial tendencies are related, I would like to hear that theory.

          • Peripatetic commenter says:

            I guess my point here is that culture is downstream from genetics, and we should not look at the superficial cultural differences, like the specific vocalizations used for words but rather whether they have words, whether or not their grammar is complex, and maybe more importantly, the size of their vocabularies.

            I have seen a suggestion that Spanish is word-poor compared to English, and I suspect German. While English has a large set of Germanic-origin words and a large set of Latinate/French-origin workds, German seems to make up new words by stringing other words together.

            In addition we see some cultures with more sophisticated religions than others. Perhaps the most sophisticated I have seen is the Global Warming Religion.

            So, we should compare cultures on the deeper structure, not the superficial aspects.

    • DDeden says:

      The San are southern Twa Pygmies, in a very general sense, with localized adaptations.
      *Xyambuatla (Paleo-Pygmy) chamber (of) water
      !hxaro (KhoiSan !Kung) ostrich egg (etched exchange trade)
      zero (English) 0
      ling (Chinese) 0
      caroling (English) open-mouth sing to keep pace = !hxaro-ling
      Saras.vati (Sanskrit) saras/pool + vati/valley/wadi(Arabic)
      Yam(Hebrew) pool/pond/bound coast to coast waterbody
      Yam (Mongolian) coastal to coastal postal service

  4. Smithie says:

    The priestly celibacy theory always struck me as questionable. For one thing, the distribution of intelligence in East Asia seems wider than the old Chinese civil service exam. These are pop explanations. Too simple and conversational.

  5. Space Ghost says:

    Regarding the vanishing of large mammals coinciding with the arrival of humans – don’t you think it’s more likely the newcomers were peaceful vegans who merely interbred with the local megafauna, leading to their non-violent disappearance?

  6. Priestly celibacy .. shouldn’t the orthodox christian countries be a control group. There would still be a smaller drain because of the cultural support of monasticism and celibacy at the bishop level. The typical orthodox priest is married often with a large family. Of course most of the orthodox countries are under-performers in the IQ department to start with.

  7. iffen says:

    Wouldn’t the priests had to have actually been celibate to have the possibility of any consequences?

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