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An Interview with Emeritus Professor James Robert Flynn, FRSNZ on Intelligence Research, Evolutionary Biology, and IQ Gains and Advanced Moral Views (Part One)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/06/08


Dr. James Robert Flynn, FRSNZ is an Emeritus Professor of Political Studies at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. He discusses: current intelligence research; evolutionary biology; and the correlation between IQ gains and the advanced moral views.

Keywords: evolutionary biology, intelligence, IQ, James Flynn, morals, political studies.

An Interview with Emeritus Professor James Robert Flynn, FRSNZ on Intelligence Research, Evolutionary Biology, and IQ Gains and Advanced Moral Views: Emeritus Professor, Political Studies, University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand (Part One)[1],[2],[3]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let us start from the current empirics of intelligence research. What are the overall findings now? What is the consensus of the field, if there is one?

Professor James Flynn: One of the consensuses of the field is one that I will not explore, that is, the relationship of intelligence to brain physiology. People seem to be inventing all sorts of wonderful new tools to investigate the brain beyond magnetic resonance imaging and see what type of thought processes are going on, and that should be extremely illuminating.

Obviously, cognition has a physiological basis. If we have illusions as to just what the physiological basis of certain cognitive abilities are, they certainly need correcting.

As to other areas of research, many people are not sufficiently sophisticated about the phenomenon of IQ gains over time. They do not seem to entirely grasp its significance and its limitations.

For example, the fact that people are better at generalization often produces a rise in moral reasoning. If you talked to my grandfather about race, he had certain fixed racial mores. But if you take a young person today, they are more flexible. If you ask, “Should you be underprivileged because your skin is black?”, and then ask, “What if your skin turned black?”, they would see the point. You must render your moral principles logically consistent.

They would not do what my father would do. He would say, “That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard of. Who do you know whose skin turned black?” He would not take a hypothetical seriously, or the demands it entails for logical consistency. And once you concede that sheer “blackness” does not count, you would have to list personal traits that made someone worthy of persecution. That immediately gets you down to individuals as individuals, not individuals as a member of a particular race.

In my lifetime; students are less subject to racist and sexist stereotypes. That has had a good deal to do with the nature of the IQ gains over time, our ability to take hypothetical situations seriously, our ability to generalize and to see moral maxims as things that ought to have some type of universal applicability, rather than be just a tribal inheritance.

2. Jacobsen: Does a modern understanding of evolutionary biology help with this?

Flynn: They do not need anything as sophisticated as that. However, in saying that people today are better at moral assessments, I may give a false impression. Because they do need basic knowledge about the world and its history. You can have a very enlightened point of view towards social justice, and you can be free of racial stereotypes and yet, you can be colossally ignorant. All recent studies show that Americans are reading less and are less aware of how nations and their histories differ.

I emphasize this point in several of my books such as The Torchlight List and More Torchlight Books. People are surrounded by the babble of the media, Fox News and even CBS News. They are surrounded by the rhetoric of politicians. When people reach false conclusions about what ought to be done, it is often just sheer lack of the background knowledge that will allow them to put their egalitarian ideals to work.

Remember how America was talked into going into Iraq. This was not to wreak devastation on Iraqis, it was going to help Iraqis. This was going to give them a modern, stable society. Put that way, it sounds very good, does it not?

All people would have had to do would have been to have read one book on the Middle East, like Robert Fisk’s The Great War for Western Civilisation. They would have found that no Western power that sent troops into the Middle East has had a credit balance. They have always managed to get more people killed than would have been killed otherwise, and when they left, they left behind nations that had to “nation build” themselves, like every other nation in history.

I have often used an example that any properly educated person would think of immediately. That is The Thirty Years’ War in Germany (1618-1648), between Catholic and Protestant. It killed off half of the population. Let us imagine that a Turkish sultan, who in 1618, looked at Germany and said, “Look at how these Catholics and Protestants are torturing each other. Surely if I go in with a Turkish army, I can punish the wicked ones who do the most drawing and quartering, and I can reward the people who are more tolerant, and I will teach Catholic and Protestant to live to together in a nation-built Germany.”

We can all see the absurdity of this. But we can’t see the absurdity of a “benevolent” America sending an army into the Middle East to punish the bad guys and help the good guys, and make Sunnis and Shias love one another and nation build together.

The Thirty Years’ war also teaches us a lesson about Israel’s policy in the Middle East. What was Cardinal Richelieu’s policy from1618 to 1648? He said, “I am a Frenchman first, and a Catholic second. What I am going to do is meddle in this war and whoever is losing, I will back. I want these wars to go on forever. The more dead Germans, Catholic or Protestant, the better for France.”

This foreshadows Israel’s stand about the wars that rage in the Middle East. Israel believes that the Arabs will never accept them. It will always have to be stronger than the Arab nations to defend itself, and the weaker and the more divided the Arabs the better. This, of course, has nothing to do with the interests of American foreign policy. America must be talked into creating chaos in the Middle East so as “to do good”.

America is going through a trauma now. We backed Saudi Arabia against Iran, and now it turns out that Saudi Arabia is at least as wicked as Iran, killing people by the millions in Yemen. It still lops people’s hands off for theft. The women who pioneered against the restrictions on driving are all in jail. Until recently the Shiite population could not have cellars because they were suspected of conducting filthy rites down there.

Americans do not know enough to assess either US or Israeli policy. The average person’s “knowledge” is limited to what they are told. They may be well-meaning. But they are told that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant. They meet exiles who dress like Westerners and look like themselves. These exiles use the language of democracy and free speech. However, their real goal is to get back into power in Iraq and their only hope of that is American intervention.

Academics are fixated on whether the 21st Century will see IQ gains or IQ losses. The real question for the 21st century is whether we can produce a better-educated population. The odds seem to be all against it.

I have a book coming out this year called In Defense of Free Speech: The University as Censor. More and more of America’s students lack either the knowledge or the critical intelligence to come to terms with the modern world. There is nothing the matter with our hearts but the problem is our heads.

If anyone had told me, 50, 60 years ago, when I began lecturing, that we would double the number of university graduates, and have a smaller elite of well-educated critics of our time, I would say that was insane. But all the studies show that adults today read less serious literature, less history than they did 30 or 40 years ago, that they are at least as ignorant of the same basic facts as they were 30 or 40 years ago.

To some degree, America is a special case – it is strange beyond belief. In other countries, people may not be well-educated. But few of them have an alternative view of the world that challenges science and makes education almost impossible. About 35 percent of Americans are raised in a way that provides them with a kind of world view that makes them suspicious of science.

At least in France, over one-third of people do not believe that the solar system began ten thousand years ago, that dinosaurs and human beings existed at the same time, and that if one species differs from another it was because God designed them that way.

This world-view was typical in many nations in the late 19th century. Take Britain: people were enraged by Darwin and thought their next-door neighbour was going to hell because they didn’t baptize their kids correctly. But slowly this world view faded in Britain, and Canada, and Australia, and England, and Spain, and Portugal. People who thought of modern science as an enemy, and had this 19th-century perspective, began to disappear.

What the hell happened to America? It is as if a third of the population was taken to Mars, and then came back a hundred years later, and their minds had been in a refrigerator. That is a terrible burden America must carry: about a third of its population has a world view that makes them systematically opposed to learning and critical intelligence.

3. Jacobsen: How much is there a correlation between IQ gains and the advanced moral views that you mentioned before?

Flynn: That is hard to tell. I am only familiar with data within the US. The mean IQ is lower in the South than in states like Minnesota, or like Massachusetts. Despite the preaching of the Southern Baptists and Southern Methodists about the value of fundamentalist Christianity, you have more murder, rape, and early pregnancies than you have up north.

You find a correlation that as IQ rises, people have what I would call more enlightened moral judgment. But you must look at all the confounding variables. Ever since the Civil War, the South has been in a state of schizophrenia. Of course, it is a less prosperous part of the nation. It is a more rural part of the nation. It is a more religious part of the nation. How is one to pick out the causes here? I suspect that thanks to IQ gains over time, some kids raised as Southern Baptists, have learned to be skeptical and to think for themselves. But why has the number been so small?

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Emeritus Professor, Political Studies, University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.

[2] Individual Publication Date: June 8, 2019:; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2019:

[3] Image Credit: James Flynn.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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