G-d’s Little Rabbits…
I find it odd that people dispute the notion that birth rates and other issues relating to population matter a great deal to society and the composition of society. People who comment here attribute my views on this matter to my religious fanaticism or whatever.
I have frequently observed the irony that atheists are often so insistent in their trumpeting of Darwin. Without commenting at all on the merits of Darwin’s ideas, it’s easy to see how secularists of all stripes are Darwin’s biggest losers. They do, after all, have the fewest children. I note with further amusement, that some of our commenters want me to believe that people of my point of view are quickly to die out and disappear from the world. Seeing as how my wife is busily gestating our fourth child, I hardly can see things their way.
But don’t take it from me. Take it from a gay, atheist (I venture to say an “anti-theist”) who recognizes and laments that fact. Witness this article.
What’s that famous quote, by Edna St. Vincent Millay? Oh, yes: “I love humanity but I hate people.” It’s a sentiment that captures my normal misanthropically tinged type of humanitarianism well, but it roars apropos on some particular occasions.
You see, right here in his first paragraph, I already disagree with Bering, the author of this hilarious article. For me, I love human beings, but I’m not exactly too partial to humanity after the gulag archipelago, the Cultural Revolution, the Holodomor, and the Khmer Rouge (how’s THAT for not running afoul of Godwin’s Law?) Sure, I hate individuals like Hadrian, Nebuchadnezzar, Mao Zedong, etc. with the fire of a thousand suns, but most people are decent. I cannot disagree with Bering more.
Leaving all this aside, on with the motley:
But in any event, the exchange reminded me of my German colleague Michael Blume’s research on reproduction and religiosity. [...]
But where all of this gets really interesting, says Blume, an evolutionary theorist and religion researcher at the University of Heidelberg, is where the illusion of intelligent design intersects with a reproductive imperative—essentially the commonplace idea that God “wants” or “intends” or “demands” us, as faithful members of our communities, to have a litter of similarly believing children. You’ve been blessed with your pleasure-giving loins for a reason, so the unspoken logic goes, and that’s to get married to the opposite sex and to breed. By God, just look at the Old Testament. “Be fruitful and multiply” is the very first of 661 direct commandments. God doesn’t seem to be merely making a suggestion here but instead issuing a no-nonsense order.
A “litter”? I think the contempt in that last paragraph will confirm Bering’s bona-fides to our commenters that he is as nauseatingly anti-theist as the best of them. It is also worthwhile to note that, according to Jewish tradition, G-d gave us 613 commandments, not 661. It is also worthwhile to mention that I take the order to procreate very seriously. Had I not recognized this obligation, I might have stopped having children at zero. There certainly would be a whole lot less of other people’s poo in my life were I to have gone in that direction.
Blume has found that those religions that actually put this issue front and center in their teachings are—for rather obvious reasons—at a selective group advantage over those that fail to endorse this stern commandment. He reviews several religions that are either already extinct or presently disappearing because they strayed too far from this reproductive principle. The Shakers, for example, hindered and even forbade reproduction among their own followers, instead placing their emphasis on missionary work, proselytizing and the conversion of outsiders. But this turned out to be a foolish strategy, evolutionarily speaking. “In the long run,” Blume points out, “mass conversions happen to be the historic exception, not the rule. Most of the time, only fractions of populations tend to convert from the religious mythology handed to them vertically by their parents and they convert into different directions. [C]ommunities who start to lack young members also tend to lose their missionary appeal to other young people. Therefore, the Shakers overaged and deteriorated.”
I guess here would be a good place to point out that it is highly unlikely that any event of mass conversion has ever happened in history ever (with the exception of the Revelation at Sinai). So, I guess I have to disagree with Blume on that point.
By contrast, similarly insulated, non-proselytizing religions that encourage their members to proliferate alleles the old-fashioned way—such as Orthodox Jews, Mormons, the Hutterites and Amish—and also emphasize “home-grown” faith in which members are born into the group and indoctrinated, are thriving.
“Indoctrinated”? If he wants to use that term, I’ll run with it seeing as how I just picked my kids up from the local “indoctrination center” (Orthodox Jewish day school). In most of the orthodox synagogues I have attended, there are children running around all over the place. Some exceptions to this apply, but this is the case of most of them. Thank G-d.
And now Bering really hits you with it (you can practically feel him cringing as he writes):
In fact, Blume’s research also shows quite vividly that secular, nonreligious people are being dramatically out-reproduced by religious people of any faith. Across a broad swath of demographic data relating to religiosity, the godly are gaining traction in offspring produced. For example, there’s a global-level positive correlation between frequency of parental worship attendance and number of offspring. Those who “never” attend religious services bear, on a worldwide average, 1.67 children per lifetime; “once per month,” and the average goes up to 2.01 children; “more than once a week,” 2.5 children. Those numbers add up—and quickly. Some of the strongest data from Blume’s analyses, however, come from a Swiss Statistic Office poll conducted in the year 2000. These data are especially valuable because nearly the entire Swiss population answered this questionnaire—6,972,244 individuals, amounting to 95.67% of the population—which included a question about religious denomination. “The results are highly significant,” writes Blume:
… women among all denominational categories give birth to far more children than the non-affiliated. And this remains true even among those (Jewish and Christian) communities who combine nearly double as much births with higher percentages of academics and higher income classes as their non-affiliated Swiss contemporaries.
In other words, it’s not just that “educated” or “upper class” people have fewer children and tend also to be less religious, but even when you control for such things statistically, religiosity independently predicts number of offspring born to mothers. Even flailing religious denominations placing their emphasis on converting outsiders, such as [J]ehova’s witnesses, are out-reproducing nonreligious mothers. Hindus (2.79 births per woman), Muslims (2.44), and Jews (2.06), meanwhile, are prolific producers of human beings. Nonreligious Swiss mothers bear a measly 1.11 children.
Is this good data to go on? More cringing from Bering provides that answer:
Blume recognizes, of course, that these are correlational data. It’s not entirely clear whether being religious literally causes people to have more children, or whether—somewhat less plausibly but also possible—the link is being driven in the opposite direction (with people who have more children becoming more religious). Most likely it’s both. Nevertheless, Blume speculates on some intriguing evolutionary factors that could have resulted—and are still occurring through selection today—from the fact that religious people have more children. Since religiosity is to some degree a heritable trait, offspring born to religious parents are not only dyed in the wool of their faith through their culture, but Blume believes that they may also be genetically more susceptible to indoctrination than children born to nonreligious parents.
The whole situation doesn’t bode well for the “New Atheism” movement, in any event. Evolutionary biology works by a law of numbers, not moralistic sentiments. Blume, who doesn’t try to hide his own religious beliefs, sees the cruel irony in this as well:
Some naturalists are trying to get rid of our evolved abilities of religiosity by quoting biology. But from an evolutionary as well as philosophic perspective, it may seem rather odd to try to defeat nature with naturalistic arguments.
As a childless gay atheistic soul born to a limply interfaith couple, I suspect, perhaps for the better, that my own genes have a very mortal future ahead. As for the rest of you godless hetero-couples reading this, toss your contraceptives and get busy in the bedroom. Either that or, perish the thought, God isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Yeah, um, good luck with that.