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Bering in Mind

Bering in Mind


A research psychologist's curious look at human behavior
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God’s little rabbits: Religious people out-reproduce secular ones by a landslide

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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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. For example, making conversation at the pizza shop in my small village in Northern Ireland one recent evening, the topic turned to what I do for a living. Now, this simple query is usually a hard question for me to answer; when I say I’m a professor, inevitably I’m asked what I teach. When I say psychology, they giggle uncomfortably about their problems or say—as if it’s the most original line—that I’m in the right town for that. When I correct them and say I’m not a clinical psychologist, but a researcher, I have to explain what exactly I research. "Evolutionary psychology" tends to conjure up some bizarre ideas in the non-academic. And so it did on this occasion, as I struggled to articulate the nature of my profession in a cramped pizza parlor with about a half dozen locals eavesdropping on as I did so. Somehow or another, as conversations with me so often do, homosexuality came up as an example of a complex human behavior which evolutionary psychologists try to understand.

I wish I’d had a notebook in hand to scribble down the young employee’s comments word-for-word, so as to provide you with a proper ethnographic account. But here, in a nutshell, is what he very confidently said to me, flavored with the peculiar vernacular flourish found in this part of the world: "Aye. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothin’ against gay people. But what I don’t get is why they’d choose to be selfish and not ‘ave a family and kids-like which is what we’re here for, how’s you’s go against evolution by not continuin’ the line cause you’s can’t help the species without having kids. Just seems selfish-like to me." I replied that, as a gay man myself, it’s not quite as simple as ‘choosing’ not to breed; since women are as arousing to me as that half-eaten pepperoni pizza sitting on that table over there, I said, I couldn’t get an erection to inseminate a woman for the life of me. I do, however, I continued, get a mighty erection by seeing other men’s erections, so therein—I pointed my finger to the heavens for emphasis—lies the true Darwinian mystery! I then took my pizza and left. In haste. And now I’m writing this from Ohio.

But in any event, the exchange reminded me of my German colleague Michael Blume’s research on reproduction and religiosity. And it occurred to me that religiously motivated homophobia may be at least partially rooted in this assumption that gay people are shirking their human reproductive obligations. I detected a strong whiff of religious residue in the employee’s comments about homosexuality, which given the churchliness of Northern Ireland probably wasn’t my imagination.

In evolutionary biological terms, where natural selection occurs at the level of the gene, not at the species level, there are serious flaws in his conjecture about lineal reproduction. Modern technological methods helping gays to be parents aside, there are many ways that childless individuals can still be genetically successful, in some cases more so than simply being a biological parent, such as investing heavily in biological kin who share their genes. (In scientific parlance, this is known as kin selection or inclusive genetic fitness.) Having said that, he was not entirely wrong about the prime evolutionary significance of reproduction either. People really do need to reproduce, either directly or indirectly, for nature to continue operating on their genes. This is not the "reason" or "purpose" we’re here, as that would insinuate some form of intelligent design for human existence, rather it’s just a mechanical fact.

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.

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."

Some religious splinter groups have also tinkered a bit too much with God’s reproductive imperative, even exploring eugenics by attempting to "perfect" communal offspring. Such a calculated, deliberate scheme of human breeding may backfire, however, if it also means preventing couples from reproducing at their own personal discretion. This was part of the downfall of the Oneida Community of upstate New York, a 19th-century Christian commune that had a very practical—almost too practical—view of human sexuality. Reproduction was tightly regulated by a eugenics system known as stirpiculture. Over several generations, Oneida community physicians mated men and women that were carefully selected for their genetic health (I saw some of the handwritten medical records while going through the archives at the Kinsey Institute this past summer, and I can assure you that the breeding system was real and meticulous). Children born through this process of artificial selection were raised communally and maternal bonding was discouraged.

To prevent unplanned, non-engineered children, the Oneida members implemented a variety of controls, including encouraging teenage boys to have sex with postmenopausal women. This simultaneously stemmed both parties’ libidos and also, in forging personal alliances between the two, provided important ecumenical tutelage to the youth by the very devout older women. Adult men practiced male continence, a sexual "technique" in which males do not ejaculate during intercourse; given that Oneida also had polyamorous relationships, this was key for stirpiculture purposes. All of this may sound logical in theory, even unusually rational as far as religions go, but the tight regulations meant a quick death for the Oneida Community. After only about 30 years and peaking at just a couple of hundred members, the religious commune officially dissolved in 1881. Its members, presumably of good genetic stock but scanty in ranks, went into the silverware trade instead; today the Oneida Community is known as the hugely successful company Oneida Limited.

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. The story of the Amish is particularly impressive, having seen an exponential explosion in their numbers over a very short span of time. Emerging as a branch of the Anabaptist movement in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation in Europe, about 4000 Amish fled Germany to avoid persecution and found refuge in the US and Canada during the 18th- and early 19th-centuries. Most people know that the Amish are extremely insular, shunning almost all contact with the non-Amish world—except during the brief "Rumschipringa" (transl. "jumping around") period, in which not-yet-baptized Amish youth flirt with the devilish goods outside before deciding whether or not to return to their family and faith. For boys, one incentive for retuning to the community is that if you want to have sex with (i.e., marry) a local Amish girl, you have to first be baptized, which is only for those who come home. Eighty percent do.

What you may not know is that the Amish population has been swelling since its New World inception. With growth rates hovering between 4 to 6 percent per year, their numbers double every 20 years or so. In 2008 they numbered 231,000; the year before, it was 218,000. Having children is a heavenly blessing but it’s also an official duty. With an average of 6 to 8 children born to each Amish woman, and with 80 percent of those returning to the group after Rumschipringa, this extraordinary growth rate—which continues to soar—is easy to understand. What’s especially ironic, points out Blume, is that like many increasingly secularized countries, the original Amish countenance of Germany has been succumbing to sharp population declines for decades. "The closing of churches has been followed by that of playgrounds, kindergartens, schools and whole settlements." At least in sheer numbers, then, it seems that the Amish—long-ridiculed by their European countrymen as the "dumb Germans" who wouldn’t give up their silly archaic beliefs—are getting the last laugh.

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 Yehova’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.

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.





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  1. 1. nkachuck 3:52 pm 12/22/2010

    Love this conversation. The social requirements for effective parenting — community resources, networks of family and non-family — are all critically available in the successful religious institutions that I have experienced. These establish important ways for families to make babies into citizens and people. Religion obviously provides positive reinforcement for such activities, which also support and strengthen the institutions which religions require for social cohesion and economic success. While these are multi-generational when most successful, it is clear that people can participate in them for different reasons. In developmental models of our life cycle which see growth and change after childhood, there is clearly a demarcation between youth and post-youth, if I can call it that euphemistically, in our capacity to think and feel. I wouldn’t put it past us to be able to associate a certain kind of religious affiliation that is is concord with reproductive needs, present and desirable in our youth as we couple and procreate; and another phase of capacity to think philosophically/psychologically/spiritually/religiously which kicks in when those productive years are over. I am being coy, of course; many cultures identified this process before Jung and Erikson and Maslowe (and of course William James) and everyone else discovered it. Jews studying Cabalah, post-householder Hindus becoming saddhus, etc. And there is always the pre-mortal later life reconversion back to a more simple religiosity. Bottom line, religion serves important social and individual psychological purposes, is a part of the way we epigenetically express our evolutionary capacity to adapt and thrive, and throwing it out as the anachronism of a pre-scientific age leaves both baby and bathwater where we can’t love (and recycle) them….

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  2. 2. vagnry 4:30 pm 12/22/2010

    2 comments

    1) If homosexuality was heriditary, it wouldn’t exist.

    2) are the data om fertility made among similar groups (income, education etc.) in the same country?

    In Denmark, where I live, fertility among muslims (who only started moving to the country about 50 years ago) has dropped dramatically from 3-4 children pr. woman, to slightly below 2, only some 10% more than the fertility of the original population of about 1,8.

    And quite a large proportion of our "muslims"do celebrate christmas, though probably not with roast pork, as tradition dictates.

    But I sure don’t see any "important social and individual psychological purposes" in religion" it is early historic middle-eastern mumbo-jumbo (not that I think they even knew words like "epigenetically express our evolutionary capacity", basically a "contradictum in adjecto"), probably in part to explain the world, in part to control the populace, but mainly to acquire power and wealth for the cleresy. Apparently, it still works fine!

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  3. 3. spleeness 9:02 pm 12/22/2010

    You know what’s interesting though? You’d think that the number of religious folks would rise because so many are born to godfearing parents. But actually atheism seems to be on the rise. Maybe this is a result of greater access to info or improvements in education? I’m not totally sure but yay.

    Great post.

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  4. 4. rationalrevolution 9:27 pm 12/22/2010

    "1) If homosexuality was heriditary, it wouldn’t exist."

    Not necessarily true. Down Syndrome is a perfect example of a trait that is genetically caused, and is hereditary, but which almost always results in lack of procreation, but which still persists.

    Why? Because it’s caused by common "spontaneous mutations", which means that even in people who don’t carry the genetic conditions that cause Down Syndrome, the condition can spontaneously arise, and it does so relatively frequency. Now, once it does arise, it is heritable.

    I’m not saying that homosexuality is comparable to Down Syndrome, but I’m saying that it is possible for traits to be heritable, to be detrimental from a selective perspective, and to continue to persist indefinitely in a population.

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  5. 5. J'Carlin 9:34 pm 12/22/2010

    In evolutionary terms fecundity in excess of resources is not a successful strategy. We are entering an era of scarcity of resources, particularly for those at the low end of the educational achievement scale. One wonders if the churches are going to be able to find employment opportunities for all those new additions to the faith. Particularly when the ALL educational paradigm is discouraged as a challenge to the faith. The well educated are breeding later, and having fewer children, but the children will get an excellent ALL basis for the technological employment that will increasingly drive the economy. A successful child or two per couple well positioned for the requirements of the technological society, may be more useful for the species than a bunch of children that are a net drain on the resources of the society. I see a ring speciation in progress along intellectual achievement lines.

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  6. 6. kfreels 10:58 pm 12/22/2010

    Thanks for bringing something so important to me to the forefront! This is something I talk about with friends all the time. I’ve had my three little atheists and I think it’s important for those who want to spread reason to do their part by bearing children with excellent critical thinking and reasoning skills.
    If having children isn’t an option – such as with gays – I’d like to see more adoption.

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  7. 7. xponen 11:15 pm 12/22/2010

    "In Denmark, where I live, fertility among muslims (who only started moving to the country about 50 years ago) has dropped dramatically from 3-4 children pr. woman, to slightly below 2, only some 10% more than the fertility of the original population of about 1,8."-vagnry

    I believe maybe it is because in Denmark there’s less religious meeting (for muslim) to attend, you said yourself; fertility among muslim who had only started moving to the country 50-years ago had dropped from 3-4 to below 2.

    In muslim country; sermon is more common and religious atmosphere is almost omnipresent, you can’t replicate the atmosphere of a muslim country in non-muslim country.

    For example: if in New York there’s a problem with too many mosque; in muslim country that’s never an issue, another example: if in muslim country sermon can be aired on TV; but in non-religious country that would be an issue.

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  8. 8. oldvic 3:39 am 12/23/2010

    A gigantic improvement to "Go forth and multiply" would be "Go forth and multiply, but stay below the sustainability limit", which means that from a standpoint of future human well-being, low-breeders are selflessly taking upon them the burden of increasing our collective chances of achieving sustainability without excessive suffering.
    High-breeders would do well to consider this, and to keep in mind the sort of future they are ensuring to those they bring into existence.

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  9. 9. iggleton 9:35 am 12/23/2010

    As an atheist, the findings of this research do not particularly worry me. So maybe religious people do have more kids than non-religious people, it’s still a fact that levels of atheism in Europe have been rapidly increasing for hundreds of years now. One survey found that 85% of the population of Sweden do not believe in a god. Now maybe there are small communities of ultra-religious people in Sweden who are firing out kids like television sets from a Chinese production line, but they will never be able to reverse the demographic change of Sweden from a religious to a non-religious country.

    I think the roots of this change can be traced back to the European Enlightenment. Once the cogs of freethought and scepticism have been set in motion, they can’t be stopped from eating away at the exalted position of dogma and tradition.
    It may also be the case that some people are genetically inclined to be religious. But I don’t think it’s clear that the spiritual needs of such people can only be fulfilled through traditional religion. Look at the increasing popularity of non-theistic Buddhism in the Western world, as well as the rise of "New Age" spirituality, which emphasises the achievement of worldly goals. New Age writers are more interested in helping you get that car you have always wanted than in saving your eternal soul.

    And lastly my attention turns to China. As a communist country, it is unsurprisingly one of the least religious countries in the world. Religion does have a presence, but it’s in the form of more philosophically flavoured religious such as Confucianism and Buddhism as opposed to the more supernaturally-inclined religious of the West. What will the rise of China on the world scene mean for the future of humanity and the role that religion will play in it?

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  10. 10. Laertes 9:42 am 12/23/2010

    First, the math is somewhat misleading. A growth rate among the Amish of 4 to 6% would produce a doubling closer to 15 rather than 20 years. However , the loss of members to Rumshirpringa or other factors may have been taken into consideration.

    Second, the positive social affects of religiosity have been accepted by many for centuries, e.g.Voltaire’s "If there were no God, it would be necessary to invent him."

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  11. 11. iLarynx 11:39 am 12/23/2010

    Unless Blume or Bering show which gene is the "religious" gene, I’ll call BS on the conclusion that the fecundity of those with a dogmatic bent necessarily bodes ill for those with a non-theistic bent.

    >>>"…statistically, religiosity independently predicts number of offspring born to mothers."

    That statement seems fair and accurate enough. But to extrapolate that this bare statistic portends the end of non-theistic rationalism is quite simply, pure speculation – nothing more than a wild, specious guess. Statistically speaking, larger families will see a greater likelihood that the beliefs of the parents will be passed down in some degree to their children. This is true for almost any aspect of family life be it mono-theistic vs. non-theistic, GOP vs. Dem., carnivore vs. herbivore, or Mac vs. PC. However, the aspect that is avoided is the degree to which these family traits are inculcated into the children. Obviously, this is less than 100%, but how much less? Is it 70%? 50%? 20%?

    The author assumes a high degree of inculcation but provides only anecdotal evidence. The only statistic he provides on this point is the lone stat of 80% on the Amish who he presents as having a population explosion [emphasis added throughout]:

    >>>"…the Amish population has been swelling… their numbers double every 20 years or so… this extraordinary growth rate–which continues to soar…"

    Wow. Look at all those adjectives! They must number in the, what, millions? Not quite:

    >>>"In 2008 [the Amish] numbered 231,000…"

    So, the Amish comprise less than one-tenth of one percent of the US population – not statistically significant, but the author still draws dramatically significant conclusions from it.

    The author then draws yet another bizarre conclusion with this statement about the declining population of Germany:

    >>>"At least in sheer numbers, then, it seems that the Amish–long-ridiculed by their European countrymen as the "dumb Germans" who wouldn’t give up their silly archaic beliefs–are getting the last laugh."

    "Sheer numbers?" Take a look at this graph using data compiled by the World Bank over the past half-century which shows that Germany’s population from 2000 to 2009 decreased by less than one-half of one percent (roughly a quarter million – or about the same number as the entire population of Amish in the US). How could anyone conclude, as Bering has, that "…Germany has been succumbing to sharp population declines for decades?"

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  12. 12. iLarynx 11:39 am 12/23/2010

    As for "getting the last laugh," in the highly unlikely situation where the population trends of both groups (+200% every 20 years for Amish and -0.5% every decade for Germany) continue unabated, the Amish can count on getting the last laugh about their numbers being greater than that of Germany’s by the year 2175. Ha, ha haa! Something for the Amish to really look forward to! I won’t even go into the absurdity of taking the lifestyle of a technologically-averse population of less that 250k, and trying to apply it to a European country of 82 million. That would be truly laughable.

    Furthermore, if the simplistic assumptions linking religiosity and fecundity were accurate, history should show a constant and steady increase in the numbers of the religious, along with a constant and steady decrease in the numbers of the non-religious. This is not the case. The dark ages gave way to the enlightenment, and dogmatic ways of the puritans gave way to the non-theistic politically enlightened documents of America’s founding. The ratios ebb and flow as there are a multitude of factors which influence one’s religious beliefs. Genetics almost certainly does not play a big role, although one’s family upbringing probably does – to some degree. But even this does not provide the full picture as a significant percentage of the children successfully indoctrinated into the religion of their parents eventually choose a different religion (or non at all) after reaching adulthood.

    Atheists, rationalists, and other non-dogmatic types need not fear the statistics on birth rates. The bigger concern is the prevalence of irrationality and mindless dogma. Those are things for all to fear, and fight.

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  13. 13. iLarynx 11:41 am 12/23/2010

    Link to Germany population graph: http://www.google.com/publicdata?ds=wb-wdi&met=sp_pop_totl&idim=country:DEU&dl=en&hl=en&q=population+germany

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  14. 14. anilb 12:00 pm 12/23/2010

    I agree with you in the sense that there is no data that I know of which would indicate that homosexuality is a selected trait. So, I doubt it too. On the other hand, it is also not very safe to assume that it is just a pervasive trait.
    Mine is just a hypothesis, but a testable one. So I stand by it as a testable hypothesis. It would be interesting to look at the prevalence in different species, whether it is more common in social species. But I haven’t heard of any such studies…

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  15. 15. BobNSF 1:45 pm 12/23/2010

    First off, I almost stopped reading when I came across the assertion that Mormonism is one of the "non-proselytizing religions".

    Another thing that surprised me was the casual way in which you project Christian antipathy to homosexuality to all religion so you can speculate as to whether there is some "natural" basis for oppression. Keep in mind that when the Jewish condemnation of homosexuality — which we have unfortunately inherited — was pronounced, the context included forbidding it in order to distinguish the Jews from everyone else.

    As for population growth among the religious, especially in the developing world, we were once on a trajectory of population control, modernization, secularlization (including the guarantee of <i>individual</i> freedom of religion). Sadly, America’s internal political machinations ended all that.

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  16. 16. OneEye 7:43 pm 12/23/2010

    Unlike Dr. Bering, I see children as a blessing, not a curse. (And yes, I have more than 1.11 of them.)

    Also unlike Dr. Bering, I see "religion" (specifically, Biblical Christianity) as a blessing and not a curse.

    I am stymied as to why anyone would think otherwise. But then, Dr. Bering appears to have classed himself as part of a dead-end race. So it seems to be a problem that will work itself out eventually.

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  17. 17. BobNSF 10:10 pm 12/23/2010

    "I am stymied as to why anyone would think otherwise."

    You might want to reflect on 1000+ years of oppression of folks like Dr. Bering and me. It leaves an impression.

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  18. 18. BartKing 10:12 pm 12/23/2010

    The most disturbing part of this was imagining what Irish pizza tastes like.

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  19. 19. seatown 4:32 am 12/24/2010

    A few commenters seemed to imply that the article suggested a heritability of religious thought. I only read that a cultural indoctrination occurs in religious families. This indoctrination can be overcome obviously, because it isn’t genetic.
    I see a problem in the overbreeding of religiously inclined individuals, though. I see a problem with reproduction in general. As one commenter mentioned the resources the world has to offer are finite. As we approach a world population of seven billion, I worry that people are still reproducing like they were in the 19th century. Children may be a blessing to you OneEye, but their cost on resources is distributed to the rest of us. In the end, I believe your children are a selfish fulfillment that only makes you and/or your spouse happy.

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  20. 20. MichaelBlume 4:38 am 12/24/2010

    Dear Jesse, dear all,

    thanks for the post and the lively interest. Although only a small part of my German works has been translated to English, let me try to address some specific points.

    1. Homosexuality can be adaptive – as can Celibacy by a few members help a religious community to survive and reproduce. In fact, shamanism is quite often cast in transgendered-terms, as are clothes of many Celibate traditions. I would like to recommend "Evolution’s Rainbow" by Joan Roughgarden on the matter.

    2. Religious people tend to have more children (on average) than their secular peers. In fact, we are exploring numerous cases of high-fertile religious traditions throughout the generations. In contrast, we still didn’t find a single secular population, community or movement that was able to retain at least replacement level for a century. Without exception (yet), secularization is leading into demographic decline. That’s not a moral argument, but very important if we aim to understand the evolution of religiosity and religious traditions.

    3. In Germany, there have been more deaths than births in any single year since 1972 – although we won millions of immigrants. Secularization is taking place, but it is leading into demographic dead ends and is about to be replaced by (more dynamic) religious pluralism. People interested in these questions might take a look at Eric Kaufmann’s "Shall the Religious inherit the Earth?" or Philipp Longman’s "demographic winter"-observations.

    4. Actual work on the matter is depending on the combination of statistical studies and specific case studies (with the Old Order Amish, Hutterites, Haredim, Shakers etc. constituting "examples" of interest). If someone is really interested in the field, I assembled some Web-Resources on Religion & Reproduction here:
    http://www.blume-religionswissenschaft.de/english/wrrr.html

    Recent data about religious demography in the US can also be found here:
    http://www.scilogs.eu/en/blog/biology-of-religion/2010-06-03/religions-and-fertility-in-the-us-gss-data

    I would also like to recommend Jesse Bering’s "The God Instinct" as a very good introduction into the fresh but already flourishing field of evolutionary studies on religiosity and religions. It’s a fascinating and important topic – just join the fray! :-)

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  21. 21. E-boy 4:42 am 12/24/2010

    Good article I think there is more to the disparity in birth rates than just religious obligation though. Just as many religions actively encourage being fruitful I believe there’s a counter obligation among atheists.

    Atheists tend to be educated (the precentage of atheists is higher among highly educated people anyway). I’m willing to bet that there are more educated people in cities too. City dwellers in general tend to have lower reproductive rates, add to this that many atheists actively determine to have two or fewer children for reasons they consider every bit as morally imperative (IE population concerns) as the more religous among us find making lots of babies (So far I’m just dealing with the heterosexual atheists).

    I don’t see the statistics on atheist reproduction getting better. I’m not terribly worried about getting overrun by fundamentalists though. A) I won’t be around. B) my genes have never had any pity on me and being a cultural animal with some ability to fight back I give them a heartfelt THPPPPT! Lastly, maintaining an open forum on ideas and making quality education widely available will probably balance things out. Yes, I said that with a straight face…

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  22. 22. MichaelBlume 4:42 am 12/24/2010

    Add-on: Charles Darwin himself was the first to assume that religiosity had a biological basis, which then was shaped into distinct cultural traditions. We are talking about a biocultural trait, fully comparable e.g. to speech, musicality or intelligence. See some quotations on the matter here:
    http://www.scilogs.eu/en/blog/biology-of-religion/2010-07-01/charles-darwin-about-the-evolution-of-religiosity-and-religion-s

    Twin-studies exploring the partial genetic heritability of religiosity are introduced here:
    http://www.scilogs.eu/en/blog/biology-of-religion/2009-05-21/religiosity-partly-inherited-by-genes

    With the best wishes for the holidays for all.

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  23. 23. Elodie 10:40 am 12/26/2010

    Reproduction is one important tool for the survival of human species. Another not less important tool is diversity. We would have been extinct a long time ago if it was not for the diversity… Homosexuality, atheism, religion are just part of that diversity and I bet all of that will still exist in the far future no matter what the current trend looks like.

    Link to this
  24. 24. zstansfi 11:48 pm 12/26/2010

    "1) If homosexuality was heriditary, it wouldn’t exist."

    Ugh, why do people who clearly don’t understand genetics bother to comment on this topic. While I don’t know of any direct evidence demonstrating homosexuality as a heritable trait, the above statement is obviously false. Please, go back to school.

    Link to this
  25. 25. royniles 5:36 pm 12/28/2010

    My somewhat educated guess is that homosexuality is an adaptive trait and serves as a consistently selected part of the hierarchical array of strategic options in social organisms.

    Link to this
  26. 26. rwstutler 7:24 pm 12/28/2010

    Culture – the spread of ideas is all that seperates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Cultures infected with a meme that results in more baby making, and closer community ties will out compete, and out fight other, neighboring (rival( cultures. Evolution has been at work not only on ourselves, but on the ideas that define our cultural environment.

    And yes, homosexuality can be an inherited trait – as not all inherited characteristics are expressed by every progeny of any given generation. The expression of genes and gene complexes is subject to the environment.

    Link to this
  27. 27. Diesel67 11:28 pm 12/28/2010

    Just walk around in Boro Park or Williamsburg in Brooklyn, or in certain neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and you will see Bering’s observation dramatically illustrated. And it’s having a large impact on electoral politics in both Brooklyn and Israel.

    Link to this
  28. 28. BuckStern 10:06 am 12/29/2010

    Well, for one thing it’s made with O’lives.

    Link to this
  29. 29. geowiz875 12:31 pm 12/29/2010

    Firstly, I want to congratulate all of the contributors to this thread for rational, non-religious, non-political rants. Everyone; thank you and take a bow!
    Now someone mentioned ‘memes’ as well as genes. Well, I have raised a stepson who is now a successful doctor (and good human) and am embarking on the process again with a Chinese boy of 10 years age.
    I have also never forgotten the year 10 math teacher who encouraged me to write the year 12 exam.

    So memes as well as genes are involved here.

    Also consider China which is an essentially non-religious society. Nonetheless, for centuries, the ideal of the fruitful clan dominated Han society, yet this has been shattered in a single generation by the ‘one child’ policy.

    I would opine that more than religion is involved here – as the Swedish stats suggest. Economics and self-gratification rear their head.

    Link to this
  30. 30. Diesel67 1:16 pm 12/29/2010

    China a non-religious society? Confucianism and Taoism are religions, albeit not in the Western sense. Confucianism in particular stresses fecudity and filial piety. Religious faith and practice is hindered by Communist oppression, and the one-child policy was imposed on the Chinese people by their Communist oppressors. When Chinese people escape to freedom and can have as many children as they want, they do.

    Link to this
  31. 31. ormondotvos 4:38 pm 12/29/2010

    Ah, time changes everything. Religion is, nonetheless, a cultural element, not a biological one. Note how teenagers behave with their peers when they’re looking for identity. The Internet, social media, television – all work against religion.

    I don’t think there is a "religious ability" so much as there’s a credulity when young. Read Dawkins, I think.

    Homosexuality is to me merely a failure to connect sexually in people who aren’t particularly triggered at all sexually, and where the sexual impulse is replaced by an empathic impulse, through simple differences in connections to triggering mechanisms to hormones and excitation. Not demeaning, just different, and certainly human.

    Perhaps looking at it from the memetic viewpoint would make it look like the religious meme works better at over-populating the world, eh? Definitely gonna be a strong anti-population meme coming on soon. Had you noticed?

    Link to this
  32. 32. ormondotvos 6:13 pm 12/29/2010

    @11 " I’ve had my three little atheists and I think it’s important for those who want to spread reason to do their part by bearing children with excellent critical thinking and reasoning skills."

    I think atheists would do more good by spreading atheism by example. That doesn’t mean a foolish desire to outbreed the religious. That’s no example of rationality in an overpopulated world. Support Planned Parenthood, condom distribution, adoption, and work against the whole idea that large families are necessary for any reason, including comfort and support in your old age. Modern societies have support networks, both physical and psychological. Use them. Don’t compete with excess children.

    Link to this
  33. 33. ormondotvos 6:53 pm 12/29/2010

    "Cultures infected with a meme that results in more baby making, and closer community ties will out compete, and out fight other, neighboring (rival) cultures."

    Maybe true if wars are won by hand to hand combat. Ever hear of the neutron bomb? Gas? Drones?

    War is a contest of intelligence, and religion often warps intelligent behavior into madness.

    Link to this
  34. 34. Peter C 12:18 am 12/30/2010

    To vagnry

    Am pleased to read that the Danish Muslim immigrants are integrating in the sense that they adopting much the same fecundity figures as the "European" Danes. However, I am a little doubtful about this but could be convinced if you could provide the source of these figures. Can you, please?

    Link to this
  35. 35. MichaelBlume 8:08 am 12/30/2010

    @geowiz875

    I do understand that the results are unsettling to many. But they are hard. @Diesel67 already responded to the China-example: Of course, Chinese culture has been ripe with a lot (overwhelmingly pro-natal) religious traditions. And currently, the resurgence of religious movements (ranging from Falun Gong to Protestant House Churches) is among the hot topics of Chinese politics.

    Sweden is a very good example how far massive state contributions to children’s care can go: But even there, the Swedish birth rate is below replacement level and those populations exceeding it – are the religious.

    In fact, there is an ongoing revival of a religious-demographic market even in this most secular country, as the Washington Times noted three years ago:
    http://www.kevinandkathi.com/pdfs/God%20Is%20Not%20Dead.pdf

    Link to this
  36. 36. LolaHeavey 1:36 pm 12/30/2010

    I have put your article in my website. I hope you don’t mind!
    http://churchandstate.org.uk/2010/12/gods-little-rabbits-religious-people-out-reproduce-secular-ones-by-a-landslide/

    Link to this
  37. 37. Magnificent Minimalist 7:21 pm 01/13/2011

    Well the more time you spend in church, the more time someone else is looking after the kids–so that all makes sense to me. ;)

    Link to this
  38. 38. nandan 12:43 pm 01/22/2011

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  39. 39. nandan 12:47 pm 01/22/2011

    India is a country.
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  40. 40. nandan 12:49 pm 01/22/2011

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  41. 41. nandan 12:51 pm 01/22/2011

    A research psychologist’s curious look at human behavior.
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  42. 42. nandan 12:53 pm 01/22/2011

    Rose is a nice flower.
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  43. 43. nandan 12:57 pm 01/22/2011

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  44. 44. precisedcom 1:26 pm 02/7/2011

    Love this conversation. The social requirements for effective parenting — community resources, networks of family and non-family — are all critically available in the successful religious institutions that I have experienced. These establish important ways for families to make babies into citizens and people. Religion obviously provides positive reinforcement for such activities, which also support and strengthen the institutions which religions require for social cohesion and economic success.
    A successful child or two per couple well positioned for the requirements of the technological society, may be more useful for the species than a bunch of children that are a net drain on the resources of the society. I see a ring speciation in progress along intellectual achievement lines.
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    Link to this
  45. 45. indeseo 1:08 am 02/12/2011

    i have to wonder why you would read anything scientific at all
    i doubt literature would do you much good either
    perhaps it’s propaganda that suits you
    may your children curse you and your grandchildren not know of you

    Link to this
  46. 46. indeseo 1:39 am 02/12/2011

    i wish otherwise intelligent folk would take the time to learn to distinguish between superstition, religion, morals, ethics, philosophy, and other terms similar- e.g. buddhism, except at the most intellectually impoverished level IS NOT A RELIGION, and never was, in the general western sense- and that is because the word itself, religion, has been so bastardized by the tussles amongst the various xtian sects – ancestor worship might be the most easily characterized as religion, thus giving the truer sense back to the word – look to its roots -. Confucianism is better thought of as a political philosophy; Daoism, a natural philosophy; on the other hand, christianity is superstition, as well as anti-scientific and pro-ignorance, with morals added on like chrome on a ’58 Oldsmobile. There should be a chart with graphs and statistics to demonstrate where particular ‘belief systems’ lie on a truth scale (is that a pun or did i use the wrong word?) VooDoo is the only thing that i can think of off the top of my head which is more superstitious than xtianity. No offense Haiti.

    except for a couple poorly thought-out remarks by few, and my own hot-headed comments, this has been a most thought-provoking article and series of shared thoughts – thank you

    Link to this
  47. 47. eanassir 2:00 pm 03/21/2011

    The trying of atheists to give their atheism a scientific veil is not accepted; athiesm has nothing to do with science, and in fact their words are like the word of a politician or a propaganda man working in some of the media.

    Link to this
  48. 48. Greg001 3:19 am 04/16/2011

    Strongly identifies with the quote: "I love humanity but I hate people." Between the title and that the first word that came to my mind was "atheist" and he revealed I was correct. And enough with the ridiculous claims of "religiously motivated homophobia". Nobody’s afraid of those who, as educated as they always seem to be reminding us they are, can’t seem to understand very basic anatomy such as the fact that the penis and vagina were designed (for lack of a better word at the moment – let’s not let this become an argument about Einstein saying “In the view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support for such views.” ) to do specific things. It’s not homoPHOBIA. For the record, I agree it’s silly to suggest or believe we have a duty to reproduce. But you know, what I really want to know is how atheists, homosexuals and atheist homosexuals will respond to Robert Rowthorn’s supposedly finding a "Religiosity" gene – apparently religious people "can’t help it", they’re "born that way".

    Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

    Link to this
  49. 49. Greg001 3:24 am 04/16/2011

    Do you use the spelling "xtianity" because you really don’t know how to spell or because you’re deliberately doing your best to provoke those who you know will be offended by you doing so?

    Either way, you lose.

    Plus you lose whenever someone checks "Buddhism" in response to the prompt "religion".

    I left this link out of my last post, above:

    http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2011/01/07/rspb.2010.2504.abstract

    Link to this
  50. 50. Greg001 3:38 am 04/16/2011

    Well… I would agree perhaps that when you’re in prison, at least, being open to homosexuality could definitely be seen as a plus. Or not.

    I got news for you – in animals (I’m talking other than humans, though others might not agree we should make this distinction) homosexuality is an expression of dominance, not affection – essentially it is rape.

    I believe you are correct where you admit that sexual preference is influenced by experience/environment, as all reputable studies show. I have yet to see anything that strongly establishes or supports theories suggesting any genetic cause of homosexuality. And I have looked – found the propaganda.

    Most amusing was your suggestion (not necessarily in those words, so let’s not play semantic games please) that one must become homosexual to escape being a sexual rival to others of the same sex. No, not true – the same result is achieved through monogamy or abstinence. So all one has to do is practice good moral behavior and we can "start the critical transformation from an individual species towards a social species."

    Wait – from what I’ve seen, we already have! Or are you suggesting otherwise?

    Link to this
  51. 51. CosmicSeaman 9:50 pm 11/6/2012

    I don’t believe that philosophy/ideology is in any way determined by genetics. What you come to believe is determined by your environment, your upbringing, and the culture you’re integrated into, etc… It seems ridiculous to say that we genetically inherit our philosophies. The religious tend to create religious children because they indoctrinate them. I come from a long line of deeply religious people, and I’m a total atheist. The trend has ended with me. Our beliefs are complex in nature, and our psychology doesn’t just form complex beliefs out of the blue. Genetics may influence what general direction we tend to gravitate towards in terms of thought, such as being highly emotional vs. less emotional (emotions being linked to the feeling we call ‘spirituality’). But having the tendency to feel ‘spiritual’ does not automatically mean you are predetermined to buy into some complex ideology of a religion. You could take the most pious believer, go back in time, and have them raised in a secular household where there is no indoctrination, and have them turn out to be non-religious. Nurture, not nature, is what overwhelmingly determines whether or not you’ll be a religious person.

    Link to this
  52. 52. chipsteve 5:38 pm 01/4/2013

    I have a serious question and I would like my fellow atheists to respond, because I feel a logical discussion is going to be helpful in the long run.

    My question stems from the main point of this article. Religious people outnumber us and, unless something is done proactively, their numbers will increase exponentially, while ours will increase on a more linear plane over the next few hundred years. If this trend continues it is inevitable that our numbers will eventually start to decline in some conceivable time frame.

    Having known this to be the case I’ve attempted to postulate the most effective approaches to thwarting our religious counterparts on the reproductive level.

    So far the best fit I have found is sperm banks.

    So, at last, my question is, “Should I sell my sperm to every sperm bank within my power and encourage all other atheists to do the same?”

    I realize this raises some moral issues. And I want that to be a part of the discussion. But to those of us that are truly scientists please treat the discussion in the usual manor.

    Link to this
  53. 53. gb6566 7:17 pm 01/4/2013

    I’m sure it is much harder to “convert” believers than it is to “produce” them. They have much more time to mold their malleable minds and indoctrinate them into a specific dogma. Sad but true. Or maybe they are just mad because we have more than one book to read.

    Link to this
  54. 54. Nicky Knight 10:40 am 02/28/2013

    If religious people live longer and have more children, why wouldn’t any good evolutionist join them? They would seem to be doing a better job of evolution than the empirical evidence only scientist way of life.

    Link to this

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