Science in Christian Perspective



James 0. Buswell, III, M.A.

From JASA 8 (December 1956): 14-16.

Psychologist Claims Negroes Inferior

In 1772 the Reverend Thomas Thompson wrote a monograph, "The Trade in Negro Slaves on the African Coast in Accordance with Humane Principles and with the Laws of Revealed Religion." In 1952 the Reverend Josiah Priest wrote "A Bible Defense of Slavery." In 1900 Mr. C. Carroll wrote The Negro as a Beast or in the Image of God in which one chapter was entitled "Biblical and Scientific Proofs that the Negro is Not a Member of the Human Race."

In 1956 two articles have been published which, in the context of today's racial understanding, are almost as bad as those mentioned above. One is by a theologian,1 who attempts to prove, on the erroneous basis of the Hamitic ancestry of all Negroes, that absolute segregation of all races is demanded by the scripture. The other is' by a professor of psychology2 who attempts to prove that "Negroes as a group do not possess as much capacity for education as whites," on the equally erroneous basis of a comparison of psychological test scores from the time of World War I to the present day.

Readers of this Journal are well enough acquainted with the arguments against the thesis of the Hamitic ancestry of Negroes, so we will only discuss the second of these articles, which is one of the slickest jobs of "proving" a biased position by means of carefully selected "scientific" data that this reviewer has seen in a long time.

Psychologist's Main Thesi s

The psychologist's main thesis is that socio-economic factors could not be the explanation for the inferiority of World War I Negro scores because psychological tests administered to groups of Negroes and whites of like socio-economic position up to the present day continue to come out in about the same ratio, or even worse for the Negro. It is explained that although there has been an obvious improvement in the socio economic conditions since World War 1, that the whites have "profited the more from them."

A significant number of crucial considerations for r ing author, this problem are either minimized, explained away, or entirely ignored by the autho r. Basic, entire question of the validity of to measure the differences in native minority group in the first place. It may that all of these tests were composed by whites in terms of their own values and traditions.

It is further quite transparent that the psychologists reported upon, as well as the author, have appreciate the differences between "socio-economic conditions and the "culture", anthropologically speaking, of the Negroes selected. A special attempt was made to construct a test with one-half composed of "cultural questions." The rest were "questions that required a minimum amount of cultural experience for their answers". These were called the "non-cultural" questions! The reader is left to imagine what these questions could possibly be, and just what criteria were used to decide what knowledge does and what does not require "cultural experience."

Method Leads to Unwarranted Conclusion

The of pairing white and Negro subjects leaves much to
be desired from a sociological point of view. 11he author points out that

"a white subject was paired with a Negro subject when the white subject was identical or equivalent to the Negro in terms of fourteen social and economic factors thought to be important. This means that, in terms of socioeconomic status, there were no white subjects higher than the highest  Negro subject.  Also, in terms of socioeconomic status, there was no Negro subject lower than the lowest white subject. Each Negro subject was permanently paired with a white subject so that both subjects were equal or equivalent in terms of fourteen socioeconomic factors."

'Thee readier is not told what these fourteen factors were. That the subsequent scoring of white and Negro students thus paired could prove to have no particular correlation with these fourteen factors may be true. But to derive from this that (a) the socio-economic status of Negro since World War I has improved (we are not told hoe this is measured); (b) so has that of the whites; and (c) the differences in test scores betwee the two groups has not changed in favor of the Negroes. Therefore the Negro does not "have more capacity for education, relative to the whites, than he did in 1918" is an unwarranted conclusion.

In the first place, to base educational capacity upon such an extremely limited "equal or equivalent" status judgment leaves entirely undefined all of the multi tude of other factors which would have a significant bearing upon the scores.

In the second place, socioeconomic equality does not necessarily indicate educational background equality. The author's own tests prove his fallacy here, for he chose two sets of matched groups, those with high, and those with very low socio-economic status. According to the

"If social and econonomic forces were so important, there should have been no differences between Negroes and whites in any of these comparisons."

Again, completely ignoring any other cultural factor of mentality or background which might have been responsible for the Negro's lower scores. But he goes on to say,

"As it actually turned out, the difference between Negroes and whites is much greater when both groups are of high socio-economic status than when the racial groups are of deprived socio-economic status," " . . . the performance of the Low Negro Group is identical with the performance of the Low White Group."

This is extremely revealing in view of the author's exclusive focus on a limited aspect of the total cultural environment. Ruth Benedict has pointed out that

"The environmental advantages of the Negro in the United States never equals those of the Whites of the same economic level, but wherever they become more similar the 'inferiority' of the Negro tends to disappear."3

It is easy to understand that the two low groups would possess a far more similar set of environmental advantages than would the two high groups. This serves only to throw into relief the vast amount of cultural diversities to take into account when examining educational capacity through psychological test scores.

The third reason why the author's conclusion is not warranted is that all possibilities for comparison are not explored. The manner of pairing allows only those of "equal" status to be matched, and the scores are presented only in terms of group averages. This tends to ignore completely the individual high scores made by Negroes in spite of their cultural disadvantages. Furthermore, no Negroes of high socio-economic status are compared with whites of lower socio-economic status. This would have to be done in order to prove whether or not such status has a bearing upon intelligence test scores. The author's entire case would seem to rest upon this one consideration. We are not told, for example, how the scores of the high Negro group compared with those of the low white group.

1918 Test Fallacies Exposed

Nor are regional differences in environmental opportunity taken into account. One of the most significant criticisms of the 1918 tests was the re-grouping of scores to show that the "inferiorities" tabulated originally by racial and nationality groupings were due to linguistic and cultural circumstances and not due to racial and national differences. The tabulation of median scores for Southern whites as over against Northern Negroes revealed the Negroes above the Whites:


Mississippi ......41.25
Kentucky ........41.50
Arkansas .........41.55


New York....... 45.02
Illinois.............. 47.35
Ohio ............... 49.50

The author's attempt to show the Negroes as inferior in capacity for education is the more startling because of the tremendous weight of opinion from psychological as well as anthropological circles against him. Otto Klineberg, with whose opinions the author's admittedly "are markedly at variance," has pointed out that

"Intelligence tests may therefore not be used as measures of group differences in native ability, though they may be used profitably as measures of accomplishment."

Finally, one tends to be sceptical of a psychologist, no matter how unassailable his professional testing proficiency might be, who, after analyzing the conclusions of only six articles on Negro-White test score differences which "presented enough material to permit us to compare the World War I performance of Negroes and whites with latter-day performance," including one of his own, has the temerity to say in his concluding paragraph, 

".... it should be remembered that the studies described in this article are not a selection of studies intended to emphasize a point of view. They are the only existing studies that relate to the problem."


Summing up our criticisms of this article, we would say that (1) the value of psychological tests in measuring racial educational capacity has long been questioned on the basis of the virtual impossibility of devising a test which would be "culture free." (2) To compare the results of a basically invalid measurement over a period of time and to find that the Negro-white score ratios have not significantly changed, would seem to have no practical significance for the problems of educational desegregation which face our nation. (3) Within whatever significance psychological testing of racial differences may have, it is hardly realistic, where a minority group is involved, to attempt to I( equate" socio-economic statuses by an arbitrary selection of factors, believing that this alone could even approximate equal environmental advantages and educational backgrounds. (4) The author fails to reveal to the reader all of the specific inadequacies, in terms of regional, , national, racial, linguistic, and cultural considerations, of the original test score tabulations in 1918, with which he compares all subsequent investigations. The analysis as presented, thus takes on the aspect of strictly propaganda-use of an impressive amount of psychological testing data carefully selected and tabulated to present the desired results.

Slightly previous to the author's professional contributions, a man named Cicero wrote:

"Men indeed differ in learning but are equal in the capacity for learning; there is no race which under the guidance of reason cannot attain to virtue."


1. Kinney, Kenneth, "The Segregation Issue", Baptist Butletin, October, 1956.

2. McGurk, F. C. J., "A Scientist's Report on Race Differences." U. S. News and World Report, Sept. 21, 1956, pp. 92-96.

3. Emphasis mine. Benedict, Ruth, Race: Science and Poli tics, Viking Press, 1943, p. 77. (All subsequent quoted ma terial except that from McGurk is taken from this volume, pp. 71-96 on "Who is Superior?")

Wheaton College
November 26, 1956