Saturday, July 29, 2006

Evolutionary Dead Ends

Mike Gene:

[F]or the purpose of this blog, let us imagine that their thesis is completely valid – there is no God and natural selection simply shaped our brains such that we are predisposed to accept the God delusion. Such a reality is a sad place for Dennett and Dawkins.

According to Dennett and Dawkins, millions of years of evolution have shaped human beings to be religious. If an alien species were to study humans, religious expression and belief would, in essence, be part of the human phenotype. And thus we see the first dimension of Evolution’s cruelty to Dennett and Dawkins. In their quest to rid the world of religion, they have chosen to do battle with human nature. But not only do they struggle against something that evolution has produced, they appear doomed because they are still struggling against evolution.

According to Miles:

Fertility rates in the relatively secular blue states are 12 percent lower than in the relatively religious red states, according to Philip Longman in the March/April issue of Foreign Policy. In Europe, a similar correlation holds. As Longman writes: "Do you seldom, if ever, attend church? For whatever reason, people answering affirmatively . . . are far more likely to live alone, or in childless, cohabitating unions, than those who answer negatively." For the most secular cultures in the world, Longman predicts a temporary drop in absolute population as secular liberals die out and a concomitant cultural transformation as, "by a process similar to survival of the fittest," they are demographically replaced by religious conservatives.

A reproductive differential of this sort, of course, does not prove the truth of the patriarchal religion that Longman sees positively correlated with it, and Daniel C. Dennett would be the first to point this out. But the sense of siege that haunts the eminent philosopher's "Breaking the Spell" may owe something to a background anxiety that though his side, the skeptical side, may have the best arguments, it is dying out anyway.

In fact, Longman gets more specific than this:

So where will the children of the future come from? The answer may be from people who are at odds with the modern environment — either those who don't understand the new rules of the game, which make large families an economic and social liability, or those who, out of religious or chauvinistic conviction, reject the game altogether.

Today there is a strong correlation between religious conviction and high fertility. In the United States, for example, fully 47 percent of people who attend church weekly say that the ideal family size is three or more children, as compared to only 27 percent of those who seldom attend church. In Utah, where 69 percent of all residents are registered members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, fertility rates are the highest in the nation. Utah annually produces 90 children for every 1,000 women of childbearing age. By comparison, Vermont — the only state to send a socialist to Congress and the first to embrace gay civil unions — produces only 49.

Does this mean that the future belongs to those who believe they are (or who are in fact) commanded by a higher power to procreate? Based on current trends, the answer appears to be yes. Once, demographers believed that some law of human nature would prevent fertility rates from remaining below replacement level within any healthy population for more than brief periods. After all, don't we all carry the genes of our Neolithic ancestors, who one way or another managed to produce enough babies to sustain the race? Today, however, it has become clear that no law of nature ensures that human beings, living in free, developed societies, will create enough children to reproduce themselves. Japanese fertility rates have been below replacement levels since the mid-1950s, and the last time Europeans produced enough children to reproduce themselves was the mid-1970s. Yet modern institutions have yet to adapt to this new reality.

Current demographic trends work against modernity in another way as well. Not only is the spread of urbanization and industrialization itself a major cause of falling fertility, it is also a major cause of so-called diseases of affluence, such as overeating, lack of exercise, and substance abuse, which leave a higher and higher percentage of the population stricken by chronic medical conditions. Those who reject modernity would thus seem to have an evolutionary advantage, whether they are clean-living Mormons or Muslims, or members of emerging sects and national movements that emphasize high birthrates and anti-materialism.

And thus we see Evolution’s Final Act of Cruelty imposed on Dawkins and Dennett. Rather than get distracted by arguing whether they are correct, consider, at least for this moment, what it means if they are correct. Evolution has given Dennett and Dawkins a reality where they do not “fit” - the majority of their fellow species believe in some form a religion. Evolution has shaped the human brain to be religious and evangelistic efforts of Dawkins and Dennett are not going to undo the blind watchmaker’s handiwork - religious circuitry that exists within in our brains. Then comes the ultimate insult. Even if it is possible to “secularize” a population, this appears to be a fleeting, transient transitional phase. The fecundity of a population full of Dennetts and Dawkins plummets and this population finds itself with an inferior fitness compared to a population of Falwells and Robertsons. Evolution itself ensures that the religious mindset will persist. It’s been doing so for millennia.

And therein may lie the most cruel irony of evolution. While it may make it possible for Richard Dawkins to be intellectually fulfilled, it also means that Dawkins, from an evolutionary perspective, embraces a world view that is maladapted to his biological essence and thus is nothing more than another evolutionary oddity whose lineage is a dead-end.

1 comment:

Michael Poole said...

I am left with little wonder any longer about the shallowness of understanding by evolution critics.

Hint: Extremely vigorous bicycle racing is "maladapted to [human] biological essence". That has not stopped famous or near-famous bicycle racers from having children or securing the trappings of success (which are often a proxy for reproductive desirability).