The Glory of God is (Not-Too-Much) Intelligence

July 19, 2013 | 40 comments
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In a recent facebook thread (sparked by this post at Patheos), commenters have been talking about intellect and Mormonism. That conversation helped crystallize some thoughts that have been percolating in my mind for a while, about how the LDS community has a complicated and sometimes conflicted discourse about the importance of intelligence, intellect, and education — and some of the interesting ways in which that tension plays out.

On the one hand, there is a significant strand of LDS thought that puts extremely high value on intelligence. The paradigmatic statement here, of course, is that “the glory of God is intelligence.” There’s a whole lot more like it. D&C 93 is a paean to intelligence; D&C 130 arguably even more so; and there’s a lot of additional support in places like D&C 88. These are more than just the traditional Christian view on education (which has sometimes been supportive), they are uniquely LDS angles.

(I’d argue that the LDS retelling of the Garden of Eden — as a particular and uniquely Mormon kind of fortunate fall — also puts knowledge in a central place.)

Beyond that, there’s a lot of LDS history that emphasizes the importance of learning. You get the School of the Prophets and other examples of Joseph Smith striking out very early to set up intensive educational instruction among the Saints. You see early and significant investment in education in LDS settlements in Utah.

And today, there’s a huge investment of time, money, and energy in education. LDS high school kids are strongly encouraged to attend an extra hour of school per day, where they learn about the 12 Tribes of Israel and such. We’re encouraged to take extra, non-credit (except at BYU) college classes. We’re encouraged to treat education seriously. I haven’t checked the stats, but I am positive that LDS kids in the U.S. spend significantly more time in educational settings than non-LDS peers. (I’m not sure about non-U.S. kids. However, the existence of the PEF illustrates the community and institutional commitment outside of the U.S.)

Worship services also strongly emphasize the importance of learning. In sheer amount of time spent, LDS Sunday worship is dominated by learning activities rather than other kinds of worship.

And certain kinds of skills training are also heavily prized by the community. In particular, music training is highly valued (with some important exceptions), language training is highly valued, public speaking is universally taught, and peer leadership practice is almost universal. In addition, a lot of other skills (like sewing) are often valued, or valued in particular contexts.

The result is that if you randomly pulled 100 LDS kids and 100 control-group kids, you would almost certainly have a significantly higher percent of LDS kids who can play music, speak another language, and speak publicly. This is huge. You can’t throw a stick at BYU without hitting someone who speaks Spanish, plays the piano, or both.

At the same time, there are important limits to the LDS dedication to education, learning, and knowledge. And I think in part _because_ the focus on education is so strong and intense in so many other contexts, these limits (and the sometimes very harsh way in which they are articulated) can seem particularly jarring.

Because, in contrast to the learning focus within the tradition, there are some factors cutting the other way.

First, there is a significant streak of anti-intellectual rhetoric that surfaces from time to time in LDS thought.

We see it most prominently in Elder Packer’s talk, “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect.” Not surprisingly, the idea was pivotal in the September Six. It also shows up in force in Elder Packer’s Talk to the All-Church Coordinating Council. And there’s some direct support for the idea (and a whole lot of implied support) in 14 Fundamentals of Following the Prophet.

There’s also uniquely LDS scriptural support for this idea: 2nd Nephi 9 is the favorite scripture here, about the learned who think they are wise.

Second, there are important ways in which LDS cultural norms punish over-focus on education.

For one, the emphasis on marrying young and having children young severely limits people’s ability to get an education that goes beyond college. It’s certainly possible, but it’s a real challenge for young people who are following the LDS script.

Second, there is a huge drop-off in community support for education past the college level. For women, it may be actively discouraged. Even if not actively discouraged, it may be strongly channeled in certain ways. (She should become a teacher or a nurse, and not seek a career of her own, but maybe have an education as a backup “in case something happens”).

The structure of LDS leadership can reinforce this idea. We don’t choose bishops or Sunday School teachers based on their education. In fact, it may be a disadvantage. You can literally have a Ph.D in religion whose bishop will not let them teach Sunday School. (This is someone I know.)

There’s a cultural ideal that is sometimes articulated, that people who _haven’t_ received a formal education are more intuitively close to God or to the Spirit. (It’s like a version of the “noble savage” idea.)

And there’s often significant push-back from institutional and lay leaders about the danger of learning forbidden knowledge. People have had church leaders take them to task for reading Bushman, for Heaven’s sake.

You see some of the tension play out in Bushman’s book, _On the Road with Joseph Smith_. It’s also evident in a lot of other discussions.

And so, we get a paradox. We get a set of people with a very high educational floor. There are very few uneducated people in the community, and there is significant pressure not to be uneducated. At the same time, for such a high floor, there’s also a curiously low ceiling. While the education level of an average 20-year-old LDS kid is likely to be much higher than a non-LDS peer, I would suspect that, within the group of college grads, the rate of LDS grad students is at best break-even, and quite possibly significantly less than the population at large.

And while the community will totally honor and use the experiences of hyper-educated high schoolers, we have not consistently figured out a place for people who go beyond that level to really specialize in an academic field.

What does this all mean? I think it illustrates both one of the great strengths of the community, as well as one of its key weaknesses.

Which brings us back to piano. The LDS community has a _ton_ of competent pianists. And given the percent of competent pianists, we have a surprisingly low number of real, professional level musicians. We’re very well-equipped to sing hymns, but surprisingly unprepared to put together Bach concerts. And it’s quite possible that we never really notice the gap — until the time that someone suggests putting together a Bach concert.

40 Responses to The Glory of God is (Not-Too-Much) Intelligence

  1. Russell Arben Fox on July 19, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    I responded to this as an e-mail, but I might as well post the comment here as well:

    The LDS community has a _ton_ of competent pianists

    My wife, who is sick of music callings here in Wichita, KS, would kill for this to be true. (Which, I suppose, goes beyond snark to become something of an observation about how, while much of what you say is true, it arguably holds primarily for the Mormon corridor, and the sort of cultural ethos which has been inculcated in that part of the Intermountain West over the past two or three generations, basically ever since the post-McKay retrenchment began.)

  2. Jonathan Green on July 19, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Kaimi, on the one hand, I suspect you’re not quite correct about some of the details. BYU is one of the top producers of students who go on to graduate and professional school, including study of the humanities at slightly higher than the national average. (And Rexburg has a really great community orchestra that plays Bach and other challenging works of classical music. Just saying.)

    But I think you’re exactly right about the paradoxical LDS attitudes towards education, and how it plays out differently for men and women, and for different disciplines, and the tensions that are created when it’s time to get married/start a family, and get all the education you can, and stay out of debt. (In real life, you can either choose your top two, or investigate creative approaches to poverty.)

  3. Kaimi Wenger on July 19, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Huh, Russell. That’s a fascinating data point to complicate it. I wonder what the numbers look like.

    I do know that, as a 10-year-old boy living in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, my mom would drive me 20 minutes each way (I think, it seemed like an eternity) to get piano lessons, so that I would be ready to be pianist if needed on my mission, or in a ward that didn’t have a pianist.

    And it worked! I played hymns throughout my mission. And in the ward in the Bronx.

    I don’t know how much of outliers we were. Both of my folks were converts, with no Utah ties at all, but they were also really invested in Doing Mormonism Right.

  4. YvonneS on July 19, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    I live in an area that is highly educated, the Washington D.C. area. There is a regional choir and there many people who have musical talent. There are all kinds of people here including government workers at all grade levels.

    My husband is a professional musician who has played full time in a professional orchestra for many years. If you are talking about only pianists who are musicians you are leaving out many others. Unfortunately, there is no large base of adequate pianists. Those who play in our Sunday meeting are barely adequate. They miss notes every week. It has not always been this way, but of the two good pianists that played for many years one has moved away and the other is often out of town.

    It is my opinion that the church population is not much different than the general demographic when it comes to learning. Some people come to our church after learning much in the church of their parents. They have ideas that are not the same as those that have no such influences. This is where the paradoxical attitudes come from. It is not very surprising as it takes four generations to get all of another religion out of s family line.

  5. Paula on July 19, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    My guess is that the emphasis on learning piano is dying out. Or maybe has died out, most places. I do play and have really gotten tired of being one of the few who can play in most of the wards where I’ve lived.

    I agree with you about education for women, although that’s probably changing slowly.

    And you forgot dental school. :) I’d be interested to know what percentage of dentists in the western US are Mormons. Medical and dental education is pretty prestigious for Mormon men at least.

  6. Jax on July 19, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    What does this all mean? I think it illustrates both one of the great strengths of the community, as well as one of its key weaknesses.

    A high floor and a low ceiling ??? Which is the strength and which is the weakness? Do we want a high floor/high ceiling? or a low floor/high ceiling that may correlate better with actual intelligence differences in actual people?

  7. Luisa Perkins on July 19, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    This is a really interesting post, for a lot of reasons.

    My husband and I noticed the paucity of piano players when we were first married, and have forced all our kids to take piano as a result. “You can quit when you can play all the hymns” was our response to any complaining in the early years. (Newsflash: none of them want to quit once they can play the hymns well.)

    My experience has been that that one verse in 2 Nephi 9 trumps all other scriptures about learning. Get an advanced degree in something other than business, law, or medicine? You’re an intellectual (used as a pejorative). Lean to the left politically? You’re an intellectual. It’s a problem. I don’t know how to fix it, though.

  8. chris on July 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    I blame “standardized” education, which through culture naturally gets assimilated into the church.

    Aside from wondering what would Bach or Mozart or Schubert (or even Einstein) would be like if they were the product of modern standarized education, we should wonder if their greatest would even have been possible. Now include Joseph Smith into that mix…

    Standardized education appears to be really good at doing just want you suggest. Producing average results on average.

    Of course, the economic structure of our society tends to require people to be trained to fit like cogs into the machine, so we can’t complain too loudly that our schools are trying to make lots of cogs. Unfortunately, few things run on cogs anymore and the centralized nature of standardized education means the lagging indicator that something needs to be changed will be a generation of malaise (best cast, worst case seems to be lots more standardizing and funding in the same direction).

  9. Dave on July 19, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    You did not mention that LDS participation rates rise with increasing education rather than decline, as with some denominations. This suggests that LDS culture, at some deeper level, rejects the anti-intellectualism one sees from time to time at all levels (rank and file, local leaders, senior leaders).

    Another positive sign is that Utah has continued to reject the sort of anti-evolution legislation for public schools that troubles other states with a large percentage of conservative Christians. That’s a mess we have managed to avoid.

  10. Wm on July 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    “we have not consistently figured out a place for people who go beyond that level to really specialize in an academic field.”

    Sure we have: they are to a) do well in their field while still being able to b) provide for a family* and c) contribute to their ward.

    Most (perhaps all) of the issues that U.S. LDS academics face are problems are the same as members in any other field. And in the areas where they are worse, I’d say it’s more of a problem with the insane market for PhDs in the United States that anything endemic to Mormonism.

    *I will grant that there are issues with how that plays out in relation to gender and/or marital status, but those issues are no more (or not that much) different from members in any field.

  11. Sam Brunson on July 19, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    Kaimi, I’d be curious how the Bach-level pianists within the Church compare to American society at large. Back when I was in high school, I and all of my friends were very focused on music. I spent more time on sax than on piano, but I was an excellent classical musician on both, and a pretty good jazz saxophone player.

    In the end, few of us pursued music professionally; I play casually and occasionally now, and am not nearly as good as I was. But I play as much as most of my friends from high school (few of whom were Mormons)—I suspect most of them are no longer Bach-playing pianists, either.

    And, though I’ve heard about decreased focus on education for women above undergrad level, I haven’t experienced it. Both of my sisters and my wife have done graduate work at prestigious institutions (Stanford, UVA, and NYU), and all received support from family and members of the Church.

    It may be that my family is an outlier, but I’d put my anecdotal experience up with anyone’s. That said, I suspect that the reality of Church cultural support for higher education depends significantly on region, on family, and on localized culture. I don’t know what to do with my personal experience, but I do want to throw it out there.

  12. SilverRain on July 19, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    You lost me when you jumped from “intelligence” and “knowledge” to intellectualism. I’ve come to know quite a few intellectuals who are dumber than bricks. Intelligence isn’t just being well-read. It’s wisdom, wisdom to recognize a greater power and knowledge than yours, wisdom to apply what you learn to real life.

    “When [men] are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.” 2 Nephi 9:28-29

    That pretty much sums it up.

  13. Katya on July 19, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    “You did not mention that LDS participation rates rise with increasing education rather than decline, as with some denominations.”

    Dave, if you’re referring to the Albrecht and Heaton study, that finding was true for men but not for women. (Women’s religiosity peaked at the 4-year degree, but fell for women attending grad school.) See table 9.4: http://rsc.byu.edu/archived/latter-day-saint-social-life-social-research-lds-church-and-its-members/9-secularization-hi

  14. Tim on July 19, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    “Another positive sign is that Utah has continued to reject the sort of anti-evolution legislation for public schools that troubles other states with a large percentage of conservative Christians.”

    There was a serious attempt made a few years back, and it actually got pretty far–before Governor Huntsman threatened to veto it.

    Honestly, I think the strains of anti-intellectualism in the church are something we’ve borrowed from the Religious Right.

  15. Scott on July 19, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    Pew numbers on educational attainment by denomination: http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/table-education-by-tradition.pdf

  16. Mtnmarty on July 19, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    In our ward, the violin is massively over-represented as the instrument of choice.

    Kaimi, have you looked at the lowbrow, middlebrow, highbrow stereotypes?

    They are often humorous but I think you correctly point out that the LDS population disdains the highbrow and lowbrow way more often than its middlebrow.

    Dance is an interesting case. Ballroom and drill team are culturally preferred with ballet being subject to the same tipping point phenomenon you discuss and with modern dance somewhat out of favor.

    This is an old issue with John Erskine’s the Moral Obligation to be Intelligent going back about 100 years.

    I find it easiest to organize the discussion on a means versus ends metric with the cultural bias being that education is good as a means but when it becomes an end in itself then it becomes suspect.

    This was brought home to me by my father, a very intelligent man, but a member of the breed of LDS, hard-headed lawyers, asked me about my undergraduate math class in number theory. I gave him an enthusiastic rendition of the elementary proof of the prime number theorem and he responded with “So, basically you’ve been doing mental masturbation.”

    The ceiling had been reached.

  17. Jax on July 19, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    “So, basically you’ve been doing mental masturbation.”

    I’m stealing this phrase… if anyone asks I’ll give your father though :)

  18. Dave on July 19, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    Sammy Hagar.

  19. Justine on July 19, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    I think we should all applaud SilverRain (#12) for the excellent demonstration.

    So how does this relate to Mormonism’s lack of professional theologians and insistence on lay ministry? Because I’d put almost all of the blame for the low ceiling on that. In other religions, you can actually professionally study the theology and professionally minister, whereas in the Mormon church, the closest we get is CES teachers (who are in no way theologians and are completely subordinated to a hierarchy with no particular theological expertise).

  20. Steve Smith on July 19, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    You’re assuming the acquisition of intellect to come in the form of college education. I agree that college education increases the likelihood that one will acquire intellect. But I frequently marvel at the high, high number of educated idiots in this world; people who are educated in one aspect, but demonstrably bereft of any sort of intellect in another. I reference Steve Jones as an example. He was a professor of physics at BYU and well accomplished in his career. Then he fell hook, line, and sinker for the 9/11 conspiracy theory, devoted all his time to researching dust particles from the wreckage in WTC 7, and became a laughing stock in the academic community and an absolute disgrace. BYU even put him on paid leave. And I have noticed that I have to stop attending so many academic conferences in order to reduce eye strain from all of the eye rolling that I find myself doing at the idiotic arguments coming from other PhDs. On the flip side I have experienced remarkable examples of intellect from people who do not even have a high school degree.

  21. Howard on July 19, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    The problem with intellectuals is they worship the god of logic typically to the exclusion of knowing themselves or God. The problem with hearkening unto the counsels of God is knowing what actually is and is not the counsel of God and unfortunately much that isn’t is represented as if it IS. Jesus opposed the pharisees but somehow that’s who ends up running the religion show. Thus the need for both intelligence and knowing God or you’re wasting your time.

  22. Andrea on July 19, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Great post. I thought you were going to talk about the Elephant sitting in the chapel. Maybe your reference was too subtle or somehow I missed it — but if we value intelligence then why are we not supposed to question anything? Unfortunately we are too often chastised, cautioned, and punished for questioning.

  23. Cameron N on July 20, 2013 at 10:32 am

    Wasn’t President Packer’s quote, ‘so-called intellectualism?” Thus, he was saying that some of what passes for intellectualism, isn’t, and not deriding intellectualism.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, don’t have time to look it up this morning.

  24. Cameron N on July 20, 2013 at 10:35 am

    (22) Andrea, I think you’re talking about a straw-man. There is the outlier of the ’14 fundamentals’ where one of them says to stop thinking once the prophet decides. This of course contradicts Brigham Young’s counsel to pray and act in faith to receive confirmation of prophetic counsel (which has been cited much more often than the 14 fundamentals in recent general conferences).

    We should be chastised if we are questioning without having sincerely sought confirmation, which I think happens very often. They are two different things.

  25. festivas on July 20, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    Loved the article. I think the educational problem is rooted in the old power structure problem – those in power do not want their power questioned. Too much education gets the population asking too many “why” questions and that can lead to too many uncomfortable situations for our esteemed leadership – and they are simply too busy thinking of new and interesting ways to spend our tithing (sic) er the church’s investment money on even more improved shopping malls, etc.

  26. Ray on July 20, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    Yes, the title is correct – and it should be, if “not too much” means “an intellectualism which brings the person to obsessiveness or extreme pride and inflexibility”. There is a huge difference between “intelligence” (especially as our canon defines it) and “intellectualism”.

    I like the D&C clarification of “or in other words, light and truth”. That gets missed in many conversations about what it means to be intelligent within the framework of the Restoration – and it defines the heart of the tension between being intelligent and being an intellectual, as those terms are used most often by the top-level leaders of the LDS Church. Intelligence becomes about clarity and real understanding, not the accumulation of information alone. Thus, my father who hated formal education and rejoiced when he escaped high school can be more intelligent than many of the students with whom I studied at Harvard who could recite all of the information they had read in classes and debate with anyone but who had no clue what it all meant and had no clarity and real understanding of the subjects they had studied and the people around them.

    I think the Church, as an entity, encourages the type of intelligence described in the D&C – but, since it is comprised of individuals, that ideal gets emphasized, watered down or even rejected at each level moving throughout the organization. Thus, it’s difficult to make a generalized statement about “The Church” as a whole that is intelligent in nature without including a level of ambiguity that recognizes the tension of competing extremes and the widely varying mid-points most of us actually live.

  27. Craig M. on July 20, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    “Second, there is a huge drop-off in community support for education past the college level.” “While the education level of an average 20-year-old LDS kid is likely to be much higher than a non-LDS peer, I would suspect that, within the group of college grads, the rate of LDS grad students is at best break-even, and quite possibly significantly less than the population at large.”

    While other parts of this post may have merit, I think that insofar as BYU represents LDS trends, these claims are demonstrably false.

    This 2007 article (http://magazine.byu.edu/?act=view&a=2074) cites BYU producing the 10th highest number of PhDs in the country 1995-2004. BYU was the 6th biggest medical student producer, 1st biggest dental school producer, and 6th biggest law school producer. MBA and MAcc rankings would also be interesting. I understand that the professional degrees do not necessarily reflect high levels of intellectual curiosity, but they certainly suggest something about the value of post-graduate studies in the community. (And I’d point out that law and medical students studied and often did quite well in the liberal arts in undergrad.)

    This article (http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700174074/BYU-is-Top-5-launching-pad-for-PhDs.html?pg=all) says that BYU produced the 5th most PhD students in the country in 2005-2009. Note – this is not professional school, but actual PhD students. That shows a leap from the prior decade. The study does not give PhDs per capita, but it certainly shows something significant.

  28. Cameron N on July 20, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    My previous comment (24) made me think of something else.

    I think the the bad questioning attitude is similar to Laman and Lemuel. Passive skepticism with little effort to maintain spiritual strength. EG, they don’t understand their dad’s vision and question it. Nephi asks if they have sought confirmation and enlightenment from on high. They reply by saying they didn’t seek it, because it wasn’t given to them–a rather silly thing, yet how many of us do it as well?

  29. Ray on July 20, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    Cameron, I think that is a slanted and highly uncharitable reading of that verse regarding Laman and Lemuel. It might be the common reading, but it isn’t faithful to the actual verse, imo. If Nephi’s question was about seeking the kind of vision he and Lehi had experienced, their answer might have been perfectly honest and understandable.

    If you are interested, I wrote the following two years ago after reading someone else criticize Laman and Lemuel for their lack of faith:

    “The Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.” (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2011/02/lord-maketh-no-such-thing-known-unto-us.html)

  30. Chris on July 21, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    Ray,
    With Laman and Lemuel we know the end from the beginning. They abused their family, were murderers in their hearts (possibly more) and went on to divide God’s people inciting them to war that ultimately laid the foundations for genocide generations later.

    So while it’s fashionable for some in the church to identify with them, since we can’t stomach the idea of a straight arrow goody two shoes being our example for righteousness, it’s probably the wrong approach – unless we’re identifying traits we should avoid in ourselves.

  31. Ray on July 21, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Chris, we know Nephi’s recitation of them.

    I’m talking about one specific answer to one specific question, and I’m comfortable with a possible change in view to how we generally read it – that they might have been completely honest in that answer, and Nephi might have assumed anyone could receive the type of visions he and Lehi received. Our scriptures don’t support that belief, imo.

    Also, I couldn’t care less about being fashionable. I reached the conclusion in my post LONG before I was old enough to be concerned in the slightest about what others thought of it – and your “straight arrow goody two shoes” statement couldn’t be further from the truth about me.

    So, in summary, you are wrong about me and why I am open to the possibility about which I wrote. If you knew me at all, you would understand that – which is another lesson in and of itself.

  32. Stephen Marsh (Ethesis) on July 22, 2013 at 7:44 am

    I would say that the real objection is that most people do not appreciate those who act like first year law students …

  33. Clark on July 22, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    “This was brought home to me by my father, a very intelligent man, but a member of the breed of LDS, hard-headed lawyers, asked me about my undergraduate math class in number theory. I gave him an enthusiastic rendition of the elementary proof of the prime number theorem and he responded with “So, basically you’ve been doing mental masturbation.””

    You should have asked him how he thought encryption worked.

  34. Raymond Takashi Swenson on July 22, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    Clark: Bravo! I am an attorney with a BA in math and worked as a software designer before law school. Any attorney who does not recognize that large parts of the regulatory regimes we all labor under are simply the result of bureaucrats’ “mental masturbation” has missed a grounding in reality.

    At least mathematics is a self-consistent system of thought in which theorems are based on logical deduction from first principles, whereas the law in many fields is a mass of arbitrary rules piled up on each other with no regard to consistency or purpose.

    Besides, in one of the first gatherings I attended as a new law student, the dean pointed out that our class came from many different backgrounds, and he singled out people with mathematics degrees as having developed a skill for logical thought that served them well in law school and in the practice of law.

    My own observation was that the terminology and principles used in legal argument are full of logical holes, in which simply giving a name to something is considered the same thing as giving it logical value, tantamount to proof. The lack of real mathematical understanding among attorneys is demonstrated by the absurdity that law schools calculate grade point averages, based on the input of a system of two significant figures (e.g. 3.3 = B+), and assume that the 5 digit numbers they derive actually have meaning compared to other five digit numbers representign some other student’s GPA. In reality, ranking students based on differences of a hundredth or a thousandth of a grade point is mathematically invalid (in addition to the inherent inaccuracy of the original individual grade). Yet those class rankings have been used to decide who gets invited onto the law review editorial staff, who is awarded prestigious status at graduation, and how your rank relative to your peers is reported to potential employers, with major effects on your lifetime earning potential. It is a prime example of pseudointellectualism, having the form of mathematical certainty, but denying the power of numerical analysis.

    People bring verious preconceptions about the world to their church callings, including how they look at intellectual endeavors. The educational attainments of your bishop are likely to depend on the overall intellectual achievements of the ward he is called to lead. Even bishops who exercise intelligence in their daily careers may not necessarily be the kind of person who enjoys hanging out at blogs like this and discussing these kinds of topics, or reading deeply in LDS Church history or other scholarly writing in his spare time.

    My wife is in her sixties, and grew up in a family where the dads worked at the Kennecott Copper smelter and refinery. When she was considering post-high-school education, her mother and other adult relatives advised her to learn secretarial skills, and not aspire to any work in which she might have her own secretary. They simply had no educational experiences that allowed them to even conceive of higher aspirations in intellectual attainment, and in Magna, Utah, the high school counselors pretty much reinforced the same kind of soul-killing advice. Her high school principal was an exception, a man who had been the principal of my junior high and who moved into work in the admissions office at the University of Utah in time to help me get a scholarship.

    I remember meeting James Fletcher, the president of the U of U then, who went on to head NASA. When I told him where I had gone to high school, he asked me why so few of my peers even applied for admission to the U of U (they basically took anyone who wanted in). If I could rewind to that conversation, I would tell him that it was because so few of the parents in my community had any idea what college was about, and why it could be important to their sons and daughters. I would tell him that a culture that honors educational attainment is not part of the natural environment in America, and America has benefited from subcultures that have been imported, including the Jewish and Asian, that had those values even when the parents themselves were not educated. I would tell him that he needed to get out into those blue collar communities and talk directly to students about the reasons they should consider a university education.

    Ask yourself: How much does America’s popular culture encourage education and intellectual skills? Can you demonstrate that our cultural disrespect toward education is NOT trending us toward the realization of C.M. Kornbluth’s classic science fiction story, “The Marching Morons”, in which a minority of smart people are surrounded by a vast majority of incompetent idiots? Can you instead make the case that one of the few cultural movements TOWARD education is the growth of the LDS Church and its encouragement of learning, including cross-cultural and cross-linguistic understanding?

  35. Ziff on July 24, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    From the Pew data Scott linked to in #15, there’s at least some evidence for the high floor/low ceiling Kaimi proposes. Here are proportions of respondents falling in different levels of educational attainment for Mormons and a couple of other groups:

    ………………..All respondents….LDS….Mainline Protestant….Jehovah’s Witness
    Post-grad……………..11%……….10%………….14%……………………..3%
    College………………..16%……….18%………….20%……………………..6%
    Some college…………23%………33%………….24%……………………..22%
    High school…………..36%……….30%………….34%……………………..51%
    < High school………..14%………..8%……………9%……………………..19%

    Compared to the overall percentages, most groups are either overall higher or overall lower. For example, Mainline Protestants are higher: they have a higher percentage going to graduate school, and a lower percentage not finishing high school. Jehovah’s Witnesses are lower: they have a lower percentage going to graduate school, and a higher percentage not finishing high school. Mormons, though, have lower percentages than the overall in both extremes. We pile up in the middle, having a higher percentage completing some college than any other group in the table.

  36. Mtnmarty on July 24, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    Clark,

    Great point. This was in the early 1980′s so encryption wasn’t as big a topic.

    I don’t want to leave the wrong impression about my dad though. He was prescient enough to encourage me to learn as much as I could about computers and also to read widely.

    Of his 5 children, all of whom graduated from BYU, 2 have PhD’s and taught at Ivy league schools, another is an attorney that went to a top 10 school and another a math university math teacher. All still involved in the church and on their first marriages.

    He is a far more sensible and effective parent than myself.

  37. jader3rd on July 28, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    Well… God is the Gardner.

  38. Dale Wight on July 30, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    The title’s somewhat misleading because it could open the way for someone to confuse intellectualism, intellectual development, or intellectual pursuits for the intelligence of the scriptures although they are much different from and far less than it. Some of the preceding comments seem to make this error.

    A better title would be “The Glory of Intellectuality is Not-Very-Much Intelligence”

  39. TMD on July 30, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    Ziff: it would be interesting to see how those data would look with controls for socio-economic class/income.

    More broadly, Kaimi, I just don’t see you anecdata matching mine. I’ve known an awful lot of PhD’s and PhD students (and Masters’ and Professional students) who were members of the church, who did a lot for the church and who were well regarded within their wards and stakes. Within my close lds circle of friends from when I was in graduate school there are PhD’s in neuroscience, nuclear engineering, optics, biology, linguistics, economics, statistics, political science, and business; and MFA’s (usually a terminal degree) in vocal performance and cello. In addition there are the many professional degree types, including some who use their degrees for vocational training (law professors without terminal degrees (aka SJD/JSD’s) and who do not publish in double-blind peer reviewed publications can hardly be considered either intellectuals or academics).
    I’ve encountered a number of PhD’s in bishoprics and stake presidencies. These people all seem really well regarded in their branches, wards, and stakes. (I’ve never lived in the west, fwiw.)

    Perhaps less well regarded are the wanna-be philosophers, though: people who have had a couple of undergraduate courses in philosophy and put on airs while they ask pseudo-profound “skeptical” questions about the church.

  40. Raymond on August 2, 2013 at 10:20 am

    I think the founders of the Church were extremely intelligent people and the Church has been able to attracted more of the same over the centuries. I think some of the female founders of the Church specifically, were head and shoulders above the rest. Polygamy was going to give them the opportunity to have careers in a society that was just beginning to accept professionals of their genderas doctors, lawyers, university professors etc. They could have been part of a family and also have a career. Unfortunately, that was shut down.

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