scilogs Biology of Religion

Attributing Value to Life - About a distinct potential of religiosity

from Michael Blume, 14. February 2011, 21:38

Some years ago, I stumbled upon a lecture by nobel laureate Friedrich August von Hayek (1899 - 1992), which he had held in 1982 at Schloss Klessheim near Salzburg. Therein, the great economist, evolutionary theorist and social philosopher had pondered his lifetime quest, the complex implications of rationality and creativity in evolutionary theory. And suddenly, he had turned to the evolution of religiosity and religions. Although his great lecture was not really understood by most of his fellows, Hayek would later finish his respective thoughts in the very last chapter of his last book ("Religion and the Guardians of Tradition" in "The Fatal Conceit", 1992). I had found a scientific treasure.

The core idea developped by von Hayek that struck me was his calm observation that non-empirical convictions could be able to surpass rational deliberations in evolutionary terms. If people believed in a God that commanded them to "Be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1,28), there was no scientific way to verify this belief or claim. If they believed that children were a "blessing from God" and a "miracle of the Lord", there was (and is) no empirical way to test this religious narrative. But then, such beliefs could result in individual choices as well as communal traditions contributing to more children than any rational deliberation would bring about - and thereby a reproductive advantage of the religious!

These last years, I have worked on that subject together with lots of colleagues - and there is a general finding now beyond any serious doubt. On average, members of established religious traditions "do" have distinctively more children than their secular peers, even if controlled for other variables such as education, income or urbanization. And there are lots of religious traditions such as the Old Order Amish, Hutterites or Mormons who managed to keep up high fertility levels throughout the generations - whereas we didn't find a single case of a secular population retaining replacement level for just a century. You may want to check out a whole directory with available studies from various scientists on religion & demography here on the Web-Resources on Religion & Reproduction page. 

In a wonderful study, Newman & Hugo combined empirical data to the influences of religion(s) and education with interviews. You can access it through the Web-Resources on Religion and Reproduction. 

And here is a video-clip by a Christian group combining scientific and religious narratives into a shared story espousing the value of (every) life. Please note that I am not posting it because I would like to endorse any specific mythology. I just want to emphasize the evolutionary potential of religiosity with a contemporary example from the Web which has been accessed more than 300.000 times within a year - supporting the observation that Friedrich August von Hayek had formulated three decades ago.

* German Version of this post.

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Biology of Religion: Friedrich August von Hayek about the Evolution of Religion
Biology of Religion: Evolution and the Personification of the Universe
Biology of Religion: Why Religion is not going to die - The Quiverfull Example of Religious Fertility


  1. teresa Prolife, Dr. Nathanson
    22.02.2011 | 20:32

    Dear Dr. Blume, I visited your site before, and thank you for the kind response you wrote to me at that time. I've been following your blog with great interest. After having read this article, it occurs to me that you might be interested to know that Dr. Nathanson died recently with 84. He was the founder of the American pro abortion / pro choice movement, but then, after having performed 5000 cases of abortion, including a child of his own, he repented because of new scientific insights, as he assured, but he did convert to Catholic (he was born a Jew) and became one of the strongest voice in Pro life movement.

    On our blog there is a report on him, including the famous video he made for the Pro-life movement.
    I won't link to it but I've typed below the web address of our page.

    Btw. I am in Germany too! (I lived for several years even in Stuttgart and know this city very well)

    best regards

    P.S. I would like to write an article on your research field for our blog, as religion studies are usually viewed by conservative Catholics with suspicion (suspecting modernism etc.), but I think your research is more obliged to positivism and is very objective and free from ideology, it is quite different from what William James did several decades ago. And it would be great to let them know that researchers of the science of religion are actually our friends. Could you give me some clues if you have time? Many thanks.

  2. Michael Blume @teresa
    23.02.2011 | 20:39

    Thank you, I am glad if you like my blog. And I would be very happy if you could do a feature about evolutionary studies of religion at yours. As you are able to understand German, you might like that one:

    I think that my duty as a scientist is to describe & to help in understanding evolutionary & religious phenomena. Although I am having opinions on matters just as anybody else, I hope to be able to inform about diverse perspectives. Thanks for your lively interest!

  3. teresa Thanks
    28.02.2011 | 00:05

    Dear Dr. Blume, sorry for the late answer. Thank you a lot for your kind reply, I've read your article on Pope Benedict and Teilhard de Chardin. It is very interesting. Teilhard de Chardin is a controversial figure so I must think of a way to represent him to our readers so that they will understand the motivation of Pope Benedict when he gives him credit in regard of his theory of evolution. It will takes me some time as I have to read some books on it but I will inform you as soon as something relevant is published on our blog.

    Thanks again and best greetings

  4. mormon Attributing Value to Life - About a distinct potential of religiosity
    06.06.2012 | 16:36

    Wow.. That was amazing! Thank you for sharing this video and article. It was really enlighten me how God created a miracle in our life.

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