Thursday, January 20, 2011

A "Religion Gene": A Cause for Concern?

Evidently, Cambridge University professor and genetics researcher Robert Rowthorn, has developed a mathematical model (paper published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B) that discloses why religious people have a better chance than us non-believers of inheriting the Earth. (Which makes me wonder why any non-believer would want to be around when they do!)

Rowthorn proceeded by examining via his combinatoric model the likely evolutionary outcomes issuing from assorted strong combinations of traits that are traditionally associated with the "God-fearing". Past work in this area (for example in identical twin studies- that show "50% of religiosity can be attributed to genes" - as per an August, 1997 Psychology Today Report) has already indicated people can carry a "religiosity gene".

But perhaps more critical than the trait itself is how it's spread: Rowthorn declares in his paper that all the religious engage in a highly genetically advantage practice: they have more children than the non-religious or non-believers.

Rowthorn concludes on this basis, that the offspring will then carry forth the religion gene or combination of genes to spread to their offspring, as well as spread their particular traits by attempted indoctrination of others.

He writes:

"Provided that people with a religious allegiance mate mainly with people like themsleves, the religious gene will eventually predominate despite a high rate of defection - or people losing their religion during adulthood".

Rowthorn further contends that most scientists agree that religion has biological foundations. I actually noted these in earlier blogs, pointing out that brain neural hard wiring seems to confirm that it's very important that humans remain ‘dumb and happy’ in the evolutionary scheme. We also know that uninformed optimism and religious faith clearly emerge as symptoms of a general brain defect that abhors reality and has a decided tendency to paint over it with rose -colored glasses. (One reason so many religious are invested totally in the belief they will survive beyond their physical deaths, in some kind of "afterlife".)

By contrast, non-believers usually face reality head-on, know there's no cosmic Daddy presiding over the universe, so know there's nothing there to provide a support- and when we're dead, we're dead. That's it. Finito. This leads to existential distress, anxiety and a certain free floating fear and hyper-sensitivity to surroundings. However, it also appears to be an evolutionary advantage in the race to survival. After all, to quote one wit, Harvard's Daniel Gilbert: "We have a word for animals that never feel distress, anxiety or fear: DINNER!"

In this way, unlike religiously -infused folks, you'll never see an "NB" being self-satisfied or smug, or getting fat and happy. Also, since s/he recognizes that it's just a matter of time before the cataclysm and mass "die off" - see:

For sure, the NB isn't going to bring offspring into an already overpopulated and contentious world just to spread NB genes.

According to the World Values Survey of 82 nations between 1981 and 2004, adults who attend worship services more than once per week average 2.5 children, while those who never attend average 1.67. There are other secluded sects, like the Amish and ultra-orthodox Jews, who exhibit fecundity at 3-4 times the secular average.

Meanwhile, global birth rates have fallen dramatically in modern times, as people opt to make do with fewer kids, translating to less of an economic burden. (After all, the latest data show it takes nearly $237,000 to raise each kid to high school graduation! How many can afford that, especially if they want any kind of decent retirement?) It is also true that secular birth rates, especially in Western Europe, are well below replacement levels.

But again, is this something to fret over?

Take a step back: If as data shows we are in for a runaway greenhouse climatic catastrophe in as little as twenty years, then what is the advantage of over-producing people - any people? There is no advantage, since it is simply more fodder to be added to the 'die off'. (Take note, Economist, vis-a-vis your proposal to start another "baby boom" with enough babies to become future workers to support existing baby boomers!) In a runaway greenhouse world, the effects will he horrendous as temperatures world wide climb to over 120 F by day and never go below 110F at night - even as the ice sheets in Greenland melt, sending ocean levels up by 7 m or more.

We are ensured of seeing more than 20 million more a year dying and that's before the oceans reach the temperature of boiling water 212C. At that point, it's all over but the planetary dirges.

Even if the Greenhouse threat doesn't happen that fast, there's Peak Oil (as elaborated at the above link I gave) and the major effect of that will be a massively starving world - as petroleum sources used for food production and transport disappear.

In this sense, all Rowthorn's statistics to the contrary, we unbelievers ought to be glad we aren't producing babies like the religious.

Rowthorn claims:

"Provided a core of high-fertility sects continues to exist, and those sects remain highly endogamous (marrying within their own group) they will transform the genetic composition of society.....some of our present fertility differentials are so large that, if they persist, they may have a significant genetic effect within the space of a few generations."

It is concluded on this basis, the world is getting more religious, not less.

Alas, the fly in the ointment isn't atheism but rather the critical problems humanity faces, especially massive climatic disruption - which threatens to pull the plug on Rowthorn's fertility projections within less than one generation. Stay tuned!

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