Readers of this blog might have noticed that my main focus of research (and those of colleagues such as Eric Kaufmann) has been the reproductive potential of religiosity. Lots of data and studies have conclusively demonstrated that the religious tend to have - on average - more children than the secular.(More)
Maybe the most exciting finding of this year has been the result of genetic studies comparing DNA from Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis. To the surprise of most, some of those Homo sapiens that left Africa and spread throughout Asia, Europe and beyond have been found to have interbred with Homo neanderthalensis. As a result, non-African humans have neanderthals among their ancestors. I am looking forward to observing whether these findings might contribute to changes in our self-understanding.
I found a YouTube-clip putting together the respective news-coverage from various TV stations. Enjoy.
Note from the Blogowner: I met John at the "Explaining Religion"-Conference in Bristol, where he presented a well-done poster. And I am glad that he is using this blog to present his works and thoughts online for open debate. Please feel free to ask any questions or to make any suggestions you have.
For decades, religiosity (defined as beliefs or behaviors towards superempirical agents) has been explored like other traits such as musicality, intelligence or skin color by Twin Studies - which conclusively found it to be partially inherited by genes and partially dependend on environmental (cultural) clues. In fact, religion turns out to be fully comparable to other biocultural traits such as speech or music.
Atheists a dying breed as nature 'favours faithful' - Sunday Times Jan 02 2011 - Jonathan Leake - Full Draft Version
For atheists it is the ultimate irony. Evolution, the process they believe is solely responsible for creating humanity, actually weeds out non-believers while favouring the religious, new research has shown.
It suggests that, over evolutionary timescales of hundreds or thousands of years, people with strong religious beliefs tend to have more children, whereas atheists have fewer children and the societies they belong to inevitably disappear.
"It is a great irony but evolution appears to discriminate against atheists and favour those with religious beliefs," said Michael Blume, a researcher at the University of Jena in Germany who carried out the study. "Most societies or communities that have espoused atheistic beliefs have not survived more than a century."
The idea that being religious is an evolutionary advantage is in direct contradiction to theories developed and promoted by atheists like Richard Dawkins who have suggested that religions are like viruses of the mind which infect people and impose great costs in terms of money, time and health risks.
In a recent post and article, I wrote about the high-fertile Old Order Amish and their reproductive success. The United Believers in Christ's Second Appearing commonly called The Shakers are another religious tradition proving that religiosity is able to influence human fertility: They lived all-celibate, with the numbers of births nearly about zero. In fact, the Shakers flourished throughout the 18th and first half of the 19th century due to proselytizing and the adoption of poor children. But finally, the interactive rules of biocultural evolution won out: Without reproducing, the traditions and communities began to overage and to dwindle inevitably.
Among those scientific conferences I had the pleasure to attend, "Explaining Religion" at Bristol University won (and will hold) a very special place. It had been very well-organized by Finn Spicer, Nathalia Gjersoe, Andrew Atkinson and Samantha Barlow, who not only provided for a beautiful yet concentrated space for lectures, debates and come-togethers, but also for a caring, open and humorous atmosphere among all those attending. Thus, the meeting of diverse scientists interested in the evolution of religiosity and religions managed to bring together hypotheses, fresh data and especially people enjoying to share thoughts and findings during captivating lectures and intensive debates right into the nights. Thanks to Bristol, BIRTHA and Finn, Thalia, Andrew & Sam!
As more and more among us start to explore the evolution of religiosity and religions from a range of scientific disciplines and nations, e.g. in the Evolutionary Religious Studies-network initiated by biologist David Sloan Wilson, I keep wondering about a peculiar fact: Why are so many dedicated evolutionists (and even declared "darwinists") ignorant or silent about Charles Darwin's own thoughts on the matter? (More)
For a long time, "evolutionary" puns have been an almost exclusive domain of atheists and religious critics such as Richard Dawkins and his followers. But it seems that the tide may begin to turn. Here is a new YouTube-Clip, based on demographic findings published by Eric Kaufmann, contrasting the reproductive advantage of religious people with some "memetic" assumptions of Dawkins, who assumed religious memes to function as mind parasites. And as was to be expected, the clip prompted furious and highly emotional responses - this time predominantly by critics of religion. As human beings, we are ready to enjoy puns only so long as they are aimed at the worldviews of others.
If you are interested in data about the complex interactions of religiosity and fertility, here is a sample:
* "The Reproductive Benefits of Religious Affiliation", in: Voland, E.; Schiefenhövel, W.: "The Biological Evolution of Religious Mind and Behaviour", Springer Frontiers Collection 2009.
And there are related blog posts available, e.g. on Eric Kaufmann, the high fertility of religious groups as e.g. the Amish and another clip by Tübingen biologists about the evolutionary relevance of reproductive advantages.
At first glance, nothing would appear to be more different than the Amish on the one side and scientific evolutionary studies on the other. After all, the Amish are a Christian group which branched from the Mennonite Anabaptist movement in Europe during the 16th century and whose members do not seek "worldly wisdom" as e.g. higher education. But on the other hand, the Amish are actually living the very riddle of evolutionary religious studies: They are accepting numerous religious commandments and costly requirements and they had to face discrimination and prosecution throughout Europe - and they nevertheless managed to expand demographically and culturally, passing on their genes and religious-cultural traditions with extreme success. While "modern" and secular Germans and Swiss are dwindling due to the lack of children, the Old Order Amish from the same stock are thriving. How do they do that?