How does religiosity correlate with writing proficiency?

I love OkTrends. If I owned a dating site, I too would view it as hundreds of thousands of data points ready to be analyzed in amusing ways. In their newest article, they looked at the correlation between religiosity and writing proficiency, as measured by the Coleman-Liau Index.Hm, interesting indeed. Or as they quipped, “Is there a Comic Sans version of the Bible?”

But even more interesting is when you break it down by how serious users report their belief to be:

“Note that for each of the faith-based belief systems I’ve listed, the people who are the least serious about them write at the highest level. On the other hand, the people who are most serious about not having faith (i.e. the “very serious” agnostics and atheists) score higher than any religious groups.”

And those not serious Buddhists? Totally non-theists who just want something more fancy and enlightened to call themselves. Who doesn’t know one of those types of college Buddhists?

Now, let’s remember that correlation does not imply causation. Poor writing skills don’t necessarily make you religious (poor reading skills, maybe). Religiosity doesn’t necessarily make you a poor writer (unless you worship the LOLCat Bible). If I had to propose a hypothesis, it’s likely intelligence is one of the determining factors for both religiosity and writing ability.

Of course, this is the blog from a dating site, not a peer reviewed scientific study, so take it with a grain of salt. Still interesting, though.


  1. says

    Wow, looking at the linked article is fascinating, funny, and tragic all at once. We might also note, particularly with regard to some of the racial group preferences they mentions, that this is a very narrow sample: people who use online dating sites. Actually, one online dating site. How likely is that to skew the results? But the interesting thing is the “things white dudes like/things white girls like” section. As far as I can tell the white people using this dating site are likely to have only three things in common with those of the opposite sex: country music, being a country boy/girl, and the Boston Red Sox. So if you’re not a country person or a Sox fan, you’re out of luck on this dating site. Also interesting that according to these data, white girls like NASCAR, but white dudes don’t?

  2. says

    You’re not interpreting those results correctly. Those are just words that white people are significantly more likely to use compared to other races. It doesn’t mean they’re more common overall. Every white person could love Dungeons & Dragons, but it won’t show up if white people don’t like D&D significantly more than other races. OkCupid is known for being more godless and nerdy than usual.

  3. James D says

    Nice way of expressing what we’re all wondering now: does the Blag Hag maintain an OKC profile? :-D

  4. says

    What I find interesting is the overall low level of writing proficiency. Eighth Grade level of writing proficiency, with some only just making it to a Ninth Grade proficiency is, well, quite disturbing.

  5. Thomas W says

    The low level of writing proficiency brings up the whole question of the U.S. education system. Especially with colleges requiring freshmen to take English composition classes (which didn’t exist 35 years ago when I started college, even for engineering majors who could barely put two sentences together).An alternate explanation of this result is that it’s the dumb religious and smart atheists who have the trouble finding somebody in person, thus needing to resort to an online dating site. :-)I don’t think the “serious” vs “not serious” distinction means much, the difference is small enough in most cases that it’s probably not statistically significant. Even in the Buddhist case since I’m guessing the sample size there is smaller.I don’t understand Jen’s comments about Buddhists being non-theists. Buddhism (at least some varieties) is full of the supernatural. They may not have a creator God (neither did the Greeks or Norse) but belief in the supernatural and reincarnation doesn’t really put them in the same group as atheists.

  6. says

    I’m saying I know a lot of college-aged atheists and agnostics who like to call themselves Buddhists just because it sounds cool, not because they understand or do any of its teachings :P

  7. Thomas W says

    I can understand that. Living near Boulder, CO, where there’s a lot of Wicca, goddess, etc. type religion — people looking for something “spiritual”, which obviously can’t be found in a mainstream sect. But then Boulder is weird. I’ve heard some really bizarre stories from a nurse in the hospital OB area.

  8. says

    Well, it’s to do with the scoring system. To score high, you need to use longer words and more words per sentence. Thus, txtspk brings it down, and some of the ways they ask questions on the profile really don’t encourage long sentence answers.

  9. says

    Non-theist and atheist aren’t the same thing. Atheists are by definition non-theists, but you can be a non-theist and still believe in religious, spiritual or ‘supernatural’ things. Take the case of non-theist Quakers, like myself. We don’t believe in a theistic god, or even any entity that could be called god, but we do believe in spiritual things, in the ‘inner light’ (it’s a Quaker thing), for example. Where the original idea of the inner light came from Christian concepts, we take the essential idea and divorce it from any idea of deity.

  10. says

    I know, I know. But that’s sort of how they’re putting it out there. And I really just like the idea that being a Red Sox fan is your best chance of meeting a (white) girl on this dating site. The Red Sox could be every lonely guy’s best chance at a relationship!

  11. Liz says

    It’s all fun, but I think the big problem with trying to draw any conclusions from this is that most Americans default to Christianity. So, the “Christians” pool is going to have many, many more people in it who haven’t really examined their belief system, and those people will tend to be less educated, and poorer writers. Without knowing what percentage of the total pool self-identified as Christian, hard to draw much of a conclusion.

  12. Goldarn says

    Since I changed from a Mormon to an Atheist after last November, I wonder if my NaNoWriMo book this year will be better than my last few. Isn’t experimenting wonderful?

  13. lomifeh says

    I’d say this is less about religion and more about the education system. Also what is the geographic spread? These types of things which try and ignore other factors to try and show some data tend to be shallow and often incorrect.

  14. lomifeh says

    Buddhism isn’t a theistic religion. Theism is defined as belief in at least one deity. One could argue that the idea of the Buddha and enlightenment could be construed as a form of auto theism. But it’s not what you’d normally call a theistic religion.

  15. says

    I call shenanigans on this data. These graphs of writing proficiency do not actually indicate writing proficiency. The index used measures how easy it is to comprehend the written word based on some function (Jen linked the article about the Col-Liau index, so I won’t bother). Skip to the bottom for the TL/DR version.Finding this info interesting, I decided to test a wide sampling of writing by a large number of authors. Since Christopher Hitchens has been on my mind lately, due to his illness, I started with him. I didn’t do a scientific survey (no statistically significant results from this), but I thought it would be interesting to see where most writers stand. I also ignored archaic dialects and version of english, so no Shakespeare. What I found was tremendous variety among various writers. In general, I saw 9-12 as typical scores.A low score means that someone with reading comprehension at a lower grade level can understand the writing. A higher score means whoever reads it needs a higher level of reading comprehension to understand the article (based primarily on syllable or character count and the numbers of sentences). In a certain sense it seems that the higher the score, the more impenetrable the writing style. TL/DR: This data says very little about the writing ability of anyone measured.

  16. says

    Bwahaha. Unserious Buddhists are slowly gaining in strength and number. Our unserious enlightenment will one day enlighten the world with unseriousness. None of the Zen monks I know are serious, and I have even heard that the Buddha is not serious.

  17. loreleion says

    Yeah, this data says very little about… anything. The index measures at what grade level a text should be comprehensible. If you’re writing a children’s book and score a 13, you probably aren’t very proficient. Most people aren’t writing their dating profiles with graduate-degree level reading proficiency in mind.On that Wikipedia page Jen linked, just take a look at the formula. The only variables are the average number of letters per 100 words and the average number of sentences per 100 words. No grammar, spelling, sentence structure, or any other measures of actual proficiency are tested.

  18. loreleion says

    Just checked, and it’s multiple choice. They seem to have replaced the “Christianity” option with “Protestant” in the graph, which is odd. The only option not represented in the graph is “Other”.

  19. LS says

    I was actually referring to “If I owned a dating site…” from the opening of the post. I think Jen’s blog readers need a dating site which caters to us.

  20. Becca says

    Though most of your views obviously aren’t mine, as a Christian lesbian I still find many of your articles informative and funny, and I like to read things that make me defend the way that I think. Making fun of my intelligence…okay, i’m going to stop trying to write like my english comp class and just write like I email now…it’s not cool. I was the valedictorian of my class, and I made a 5 on the Calc AP test. (And I work at McDonald’s. The world works in lovely ways, doesn’t it?) My lord and savior also kicks ass, and yes, he does love me even though I’m a dyke. (Anyone that actually studied their bible and its history, and didn’t just take their preacher’s word for it would figure this out, as long as they didn’t let their bigotry get in the way.) I go to an awesome church that accepts me, so I can attest that although a majority of Christians are misguided, or even just plain blinded by their own backwardness, we’re not all (or even mostly) stupid. And actually, the more classes on biology I take, the harder I find it to believe that all of these molecules could’ve lined up and acted in certain ways to create any life form beyond the simplest of cells, or even how life could’ve been created at all without some intelligence behind it. This leads me to believe that atheists are a little dense, too, even though you’re not. Every piece of evidence will just stack up to make me believe what I believe, and the same is true with you I’m sure.Belief is not stupidity. But when you call us stupid, it’s almost as bad as some of the holier-than-thou of us saying that you’re going to hell. Or hell, that I’m going to hell.I have a lot of atheist friends. They’re intelligent people. And I still think they’re insane in the membrane for denying him. It doesn’t mean that they’re reading level is sub par. Have you ever thought that a lot of that could be because a lot of the more hard core Christians tend to be in the southern states, where the quality of education and poorer families could lead to lower IQ?So to end this booklength thing, yeah, love your blog. Kind’ve a bit offended by this post. Keep up the….thought provoking work?

  21. says

    What’s utterly sad about the reading level results above is that hardly anybody scored anywhere near 10th grade level. That’s pathetic to the highest degree.

  22. Timmy says

    Jen’s not calling Christians stupid, she merely hypothesized that intelligence might be linked to religiosity. In other words, smarter people are less likely to subscribe to any creed. Not the same thing as saying religious people are stupid.

  23. Timmy says

    Why? A dating site isn’t a great audience for collegiate-level writing. Besides, the Coleman-Liau index isn’t a very good indicator of the quality or complexity of the writing to which it is applied.

  24. loreleion says

    Okay, here’s a little experiment you can do to demonstrate how meaningless this index is to actual writing proficiency. Go to this site and generate yourself a nice, long string of gibberish, then go to this site and paste that text into the tester. With ten 500-word blocks of gibberish, my results averaged 12.73, with no results below 11.88.You’ll also notice that the tester I linked encourages you to use less complex words and sentences, which will result lower scores on the Coleman Liau index, because in most cases you don’t want to write in a way that only highly educated people will understand.And as a final note, this blog post Jen wrote gets a score of 9.97, which does not indicate that Jen’s writing proficiency is at a tenth grade level; it indicates that one needs a tenth grade reading comprehension to understand it.

  25. Svlad Cjelli says

    There are sects in buddhism. Some buddhists can at times seem monotheistic, but more importantly some are outright polytheistic. Let’s also not forget that buddhism is a xenomorph. ;)

  26. says

    Some are nontheistic (bodhisattvas aren’t gods, nor are other Enlightened Beings, though it can seem a subtle distinction), but still pray. I’ve still not got my head around that.

  27. Thomas W says

    True, the big advantage to the Coleman-Liau index seems to be that it’s easy to compute. And many fields have examples where a model or technique is used because it’s simple or practical rather than because it has any relationship to reality.

  28. says

    That is awesome! My profile says Buddhist and laughing about it. For the record, “pseudo-Buddhist is one of the labels I attach to myself (among atheist and secular humanist) because I like the psychology of it, but none of the supernatural stuff. Buddhism definitely differs from place to place and person to person; American Buddhism has more in common with atheism than most Eastern variations.

  29. says

    Not that it’s got anything at all to do with anything at all, but the OE Wicca means a Male Witch… Wizzard… Whatever: which is ironic since the only ones I know of are Female and really ought to be Wicce. btw It was almost certainly pronounced ‘witcha’ for the guys and ‘witch-oh-hell-I-can’t-do-a-schwa-in-this’ for the girls.

  30. Eliza_munson says

    This was making me self conscious about the writing on my OKC profile. I checked and thankfully I somehow managed to fit in “bacchanal” and “the Industrial Revolution” so I think I’m OK.

  31. Chris H. says

    As a tendentious atheist, I see these observations as an ineluctable corollary of our cerebral primacy. Nevertheless, if I may momentarily assume the role of advocatus diaboli, those of inferior intellect might speciously speculate that atheists have a superiority complex, with its resultant predisposition toward grandiloquent phraseology, the higher polysyllabicity and intricacy of which would precipitate higher scores on the Coleman-Liau Index.

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