Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Religious Darwinism

The consensus of opinion among the latest crop of 'scientific' books about religion (by Dawkins, Dennett and Wolpert. More are in the pipeline) is that religion is a by-product of some useful evolutionary adaptation. Recently, I argued that this seems unlikely. From an evolutionary point of view, our religious behavior is distinctive enough to be selected for and this can only happen if they give us a reproductive advantage. So, do they? Empathically, yes!

It turns out that today, in Europe and America, religion gives its adherents an enormous evolutionary advantage over non-believers. The facts are laid out in this article from Prospect Magazine. It turns out that religious people are 40% more fertile than their non-religious countrymen. Non-believers don't even reproduce enough to maintain their population. In other words, atheism is a recipe for rapid extinction. The article also explained that you don't even have to go to church or be a regular member of a congregation to outbreed non-believers. These so-called "believing but not belonging" folk do not have as many children as the devout, but rather more than out and out non-believers.

It seems to me that non-belief must be the "virus of the mind" postulated by Dawkins, if anything is. Non-believers have to convert believers to keep their numbers up because they don't have enough children themselves. Once converted to non-belief, they die out in a couple of generations unless they happen to turn religious again. The article suggests that some sort of equalibrium will result where religious people have the children and the non-religous convert enough of them to maintain their population. It will be interesting to find out. One thing seems to be certain. The high watermark of secularism in Europe is already past. No wonder the new atheists are in such a panic.

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1 comment:

Dan said...

The numbers do suggest that atheism is maladaptive. Another question is wether this is because neurological structures provide meaning, a critical component of our well being, do so in the form of religion OR because our socierty negativly selects atheists becasuse of historical social tendencies?

these are some goddamn hard questions....