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EDITORIAL: For Whom the Bell Curves

Intellectual smugness devalues the Christian teaching that one's character is vastly more important than what one knows.
1994This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

In "The Bell Curve", Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray suggest blacks are less intelligent than whites and assert that intelligence cannot be improved significantly enough to merit policies designed to help blacks. The authors' conservatism may give "The Bell Curve" a stronger than usual hearing among some evangelicals, but the methodology and the implications of their findings ought to raise serious concerns.

Many of Herrnstein and Murray's arguments are not new - they are the 1994 version of what other researchers have proposed over the past century. Nor are their methods and conclusions universally accepted by scholars. Thomas Sowell challenged Arthur Jensen's claim in 1969 of black/white IQ differences by tracing 50 years of European immigrants. Sowell found that as ethnic groups rose categorically in socioeconomic status, so did their IQ scores. Jerome Sattler, one of the leading authorities on intelligence testing, argues that we cannot determine genetic IQ differences among races as long as systematic differences in opportunity and environment persist.

ABANDON PROGRAMS

Whether or not the authors intended it, "The Bell Curve" perpetuates racism. Herrnstein and Murray would have us abandon programs like Head Start for disadvantaged children, differential financial aid for black college students, and affirmative action. They argue that affirmative action is "manifestly unfair" and is "leaking a poison into the American soul." Yet their acceptance of the validity of intelligence testing leaks a different type of poison - one that demoralizes people of color and undermines efforts to overcome the effects of 250 years of oppression.

How should we as Christians respond? First, we need to think critically about claims regarding ...

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