Survival of the Godliest: Does strong religious belief provide an evolutionary advantage?
|November 28, 2010||Posted by vjtorley under Intelligent Design|
Over at MercatorNet, Phillip Longman, a former senior writer and deputy assistant managing editor at U.S. News & World Report, has written a thought-provoking post on what might be described as a battle between genes and memes – the genes being those of very religious people (who are much more likely to procreate), and the memes being atheism, agnosticism and other varieties of secular belief, as well as the version of evolution put forward by Darwin, who is supposed to have “made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” (Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, 1986, p. 6). And the genes are winning. Here are some key findings highlighted by Longman:
- “[I]n countries rich and poor, under all forms of government, birth rates are declining across the globe. But they are declining least among those adhering to strict religious codes and literal belief in the Bible, the Torah, or the Koran.”
- “Indeed, the pattern of human fertility now fits this pattern: the least likely to procreate are those who profess no belief in God; those who describe themselves as agnostic or simply spiritual are only somewhat slightly less likely to be childless. Moving up the spectrum, family size increases among practicing Unitarians, Reform Jews, mainline Protestants and ‘cafeteria’ Catholics, but the birthrates found in these populations are still far below replacement levels. Only as we approach the realm of religious belief and practice marked by an intensity we might call, for lack of a better word, ‘fundamentalism,’ do we find pockets of high fertility and consequent rapid population growth.”
- “When confronted with the fact that they are being outbred, secularists often respond that many if not most children born into highly religious families will grow up to reject the faith of their fathers,” but “[a]mong fundamentalist families, it turns out, the apple does not fall far from the tree. And the more demanding the faith, the more this rule applies. Only five percent of children born to the most conservative Amish, for example, move on to other faiths or lifestyles.”
In presenting these findings, Longman draws upon the work of American academic Eric Kaufmann, currently a reader in politics at Birkbeck College, University of London, and formerly a fellow at the Belfer Center, Harvard University, whose new book, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?: Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century, has been released in the United Kingdom, and is due to come out in the United States next spring.
Here’s a quote from the Product Description:
“Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have convinced many western intellectuals that secularism is the way forward, but most people don’t read their books before deciding whether to be religious. Instead, they inherit their faith from their parents, who often inoculate them against the elegant arguments of secularists. And what no one has noticed is that far from declining, the religious are expanding their share of the population; in fact, the more religious people are, the more children they have. The cumulative effect of immigration from religious countries and religious fertility will be to reverse the secularization process in the West. Not only will the religious eventually triumph over the non-religious, but it is those who are the most extreme in their beliefs who have the largest families.”
What I found most fascinating about Longman’s analysis is that he is able to explain why he thinks religion will eventually triumph over secularism in purely Darwinian terms. Having a baby is, for most couples in the modern world, a choice, which reflects their personal values. “And so,” writes Longman, “by Darwinian process, those who adhere to traditions that preserve and celebrate the ancient injunction to ‘go forth and multiply’ wind up putting more of their genes and ideas into the future than those who don’t.”
I imagine that well-read atheists are already aware of these social trends, and I’m sure they are quite worried about them. On the one hand, atheists naturally want the percentage of people espousing their secular world-view to increase; on the other hand, most of them believe that the world already has too many people for the Earth to support – which is a natural consequence of an atheistic world-view, as I pointed out in a recent post. Now put yourselves in the atheists’ shoes: how do you think they would attempt to fight these trends? The only way they can achieve the dual objectives of keeping the world’s population down and boosting the percentage of atheists worldwide is to target the fertility of highly religious people. I can think of a few fairly obvious ways in which they might attempt to do that, and because these measures are, in my opinion, politically feasible, I don’t share Longman’s certainty that religion will inevitably triumph over secularism. Some of these measures are either currently being implemented or are already well in place in many countries; other measures are a decade or two down the track. Well, here’s my list. Recognize any of these in your country of residence?
- Conduct censuses as zealously as possible, in order to keep tabs on locations in one’s country where religious ideas are being actively propagated. Prosecute “census resisters” to the full extent of the law, as many of these people are religiously motivated. In cases where evidence emerges that the resisters are vocally religious, remove the children from the custody of their parents. In subsequent public statements made to the press, cite fears that the children may be subjected to psychological abuse if left in the care of their parents, who will already be stigmatized as “outlaws” in the public eye, after being “named and shamed” on television.
- Outlaw home schooling. Home-schooled children are virtually impervious to government indoctrination. As many of them come from a religious background at home, they also tend to have larger families when they get married. In order to drum up public and political support for a total ban on home schooling, orchestrate a campaign in the press and on television, featuring politicians, concerned parents and recognized “experts” on child welfare who argue strongly that home schooling stunts children’s social development and therefore constitutes a form of child abuse. Support this argument with an appeal to examples of “enlightened” countries in Europe which have already banned home-schooling. Finally, belittle or discredit any studies (see here, here and here) purporting to demonstrate that in fact, home-schooled children are in fact better adjusted socially than children who attend school, and that their parents tend to be more affluent and better-educated (see here) than the general population.
- Extend the number of hours that children are required to spend at school, in order to maximize their exposure to values other than those they receive in the home, and minimize the amount of time parents have to inculcate religious beliefs into their children. For example: introduce free after-school care, or broaden the school curriculum to include after-school activities, or strongly encourage students to join after-school clubs.
- Introduce compulsory “values” classes into public schools, and inculcate children with the notion that any kind of judgmentalism regarding other people’s chosen lifestyles is totally unacceptable. At a later stage, school principals would be instructed to refuse to allow students to graduate, unless they publicly pledge not to promote bigotry of any kind, and further pledge their belief that all lifestyles in which the parties involved freely consent, are of equal moral value. This pledge could be implemented as a graduation pledge which each student would be required to sign and recite aloud. Highly religious students who refused to take the pledge would thereby be rendered unable to obtain a steady job, reducing their chances of finding a spouse and having children.
- Introduce compulsory classes on “religious tolerance” into public schools, in which religions are compared and contrasted in a manner which allows teachers to highlight the atrocities practiced by religions in the past, leaving students with the unmistakable impression that religions represent a fossilized way of thinking, and that science is the way of the future.
- Deny government funding to religious schools that teach any kind of “bigotry.” Leave the term “bigotry” as vague as possible in legal judgments, in the beginning. As time progresses, issue a series of legal decisions, enlarging the list of ideas that can be classified as bigotry, so that in effect, religious schools receiving government funding end up teaching a form of “secular lite,” which is always about 15 years behind current social trends, and therefore relatively innocuous from a secular perspective, while at the same time retaining limited appeal for parents who want their children brought up with “old-fashioned” values.
- Enact laws guaranteeing free access to birth control (including abortion) at school as a fundamental human right for all students over the age of 12, who attend public schools. Gradually extend the scope of these laws to religious schools receiving any form of government funding. (I’d predict that most of these schools will probably comply, so long as the medical professional who is legally responsible for providing abortifacient pills – such as RU-486 – to students on request is someone who is not employed by the school.) Finally, extend the laws to cover independent schools as well. (Offer them an “out”: if parents object to abortifacient pills being doled out on school grounds, the school will be required to put up notices telling students that they are legally entitled to these services, and also to allow a government-appointed medical counselor to work at the school, who can arrange for students to get free transport to a nearby school providing these services, if they request them.)
- Encourage the passage of laws which make the possession of a college degree essential for getting almost any kind of job. College is an ideal time to weaken religious belief, as many young people give up their religion permanently during their college years. College also people to be exposed to a milieu where Darwinism is widely accepted, and where publicly expressed doubts can be “ironed out.”
- Enact legislative measures disallowing childless couples from adopting a child if they intend to bring that child up in a faith which encourages any kind of “bigotry” or “intolerance” (see here for a recent example). Leave these terms undefined in the original legislation, but in subsequent legal cases, render “clarifying” decisions, to the effect that any kind of religious exclusivism or moral judgmentalism which is expressed in a couple’s home (e.g. recitation of a religious creed during family prayers, or pro-life wall posters, or even condemnation of abortion at the family dinner table) can be regarded as legitimate grounds for denying that couple the right to adopt a child.
- At a later stage, enact laws extending the same “protection” to all children, regardless of whether they are adopted or not. (After all, if adoptive children have the right to be brought up in a bigotry-free household, don’t all children?)
- At a still later stage, enact laws allowing social workers to take children away by force from their parents (natural or adopted), if there is sufficient evidence that they are being raised in a household that encourages any form of “bigotry.” By this stage, parents will be too frightened to inculcate their children with religious or moral beliefs that run counter to secular practice – e.g. the highly judgmental moral belief that killing a fetus is tantamount to homicide, or the religious belief that God commanded people to be fruitful and multiply.
- Citing concerns about children’s welfare following a string of highly publicized cases of child neglect reported in the press, introduce laws requiring all expecting mothers to submit to a home inspection by a suitably qualified social worker, with a follow-up interview, in order to ascertain that they can offer their child a home that meets government health and safety requirements. The real intent of these laws would be to make it as difficult as possible for parents to have four or more children. For example, if the laws stipulated that every child has the right to his/her own bedroom and PC, parents who lacked the financial resources to buy or rent a 5-bedroom house would feel pressured into terminating their fourth pregnancy, especially if threatened with legal action if they did not comply with government requirements.
- Reduce the flow of immigration from highly religious countries to a trickle. If immigration becomes economically necessary at some future stage, when the proportion of elderly people becomes too high for a shrinking population of workers to support, give preference to immigrants from countries which score low on a “religiosity scale,” as their children will be easier to indoctrinate with secular humanist ideas, including Darwinism.
- Offer an incentive to desperate families in Third World countries wishing to migrate to Western countries: give preference to families in which the parents are willing to allow their children to spend large amounts of time in extra-curricular activities at public schools (e.g. summer camps). This will reduce their exposure to home influences, such as religion, and increase their exposure to secular humanist ideas. Alternatively, give preference to families where the parents are willing to let their children have a PC (provided gratis by the State) in their bedrooms, with Internet access.
- Strive to eliminate pro-life laws in Third World countries by showering them with economic aid, and then threatening to cut off said aid if the government does not enact more “liberal” laws. Ditto for other laws that go against the secular social agenda. Another good tactic: wait for an unforeseen economic disaster to hit each of these countries (as such a disaster will inevitably hit any country, if one is patient enough), and then offer a “rescue package” with strings attached: namely, the passage of socially “progressive” laws which make abortion legally available.
- If the geopolitical demise of the secular West as the dominant political power bloc becomes imminent (as it will in the next thirty years), encourage the transfer of economic, military, scientific and technological assistance to the upcoming world power whose values most closely approximate the secular agenda, thereby enabling the “meme” of secular humanism to retain global hegemony.
I would like to emphasize that I’m not talking about any crazy conspiracy theories here. I believe that all of the measures I’ve outlined above have a good chance of becoming “mainstream” and widely accepted in Western countries within the next 20 or 30 years, if they are not already. The “revolution” will happen right under our nose. However, I imagine I’ve probably overlooked a few more techniques that could be used to propagate secular humanism and its “enabler,” Darwinism, and at the same time inhibit the fertility of religious people. Perhaps readers would care to add some of their “proposed measures” to my list?