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Will denial of evolution prove an evolutionary advantage?

melian          2 August 2015 11:26 AM

The XXth century transformed children’s economic status. Traditionally, children used to play the role of a retirement account expected to provide for parents in their old age. However, the creation of social security institutions and the relatively high returns on savings removed the financial benefits of having children. From the economic perspective, instead of being an investment, children became an expensive consumption item.

It has taken some time before the change in economic incentives translated into behavioral changes, but gradually small families have become a cultural norm. Starting around 1950s, the trend of declining fertility rates has continued for about two generations until in almost all developed countries an average adult had less than two children. Paradoxically, the effect of improving living conditions on humans was not to increase reproduction rates (as would be the case in any other species) but to reduce them below replacement levels.

Recently, however, in several developed countries this trend has been reversed. The main reason for the reversal can be traced to the growing share of certain population subsets, rather than to the behavioral changes in the general population. Roughly in the same time period when bacteria developed new strains that were resistant to antibiotics, humans developed large communities with an effective resistance to modern civilization.

The resistant communities can be very different from each other, but in addition to high reproduction rates all have one obvious trait in common – a deep attachment to religion. Regardless of whether they live in isolated agricultural communities (e.g., Amish in the US) or in a close proximity with the urban secular population (e.g., Ultraorthodox Jews), religion provides them with an effective immunity against the negative influence of modern civilization on reproduction.

Thanks to a large number of children (6-8 is often the norm) the resistant communities grow exponentially and from a barely visible presence a few generations ago, they became a majority in many formerly secular areas. In some cases entire countries experienced a demographic revolution. For instance, in Lebanon, where the more secular Christian population used to outnumber the more devout Muslims two to one, the ratio between the two populations is now reversed. In Turkey, the differential between the fertility of observant and nominal Muslims has been a crucial factor in the eventual victory of the Islamic Party.

It has often been predicted that over time all religious communities would succumb to the attractions of the Western civilization. To some extent this prediction has been correct, as many religious communities either mellow over time or suffer significant attrition. Yet, this trend is far from universal and there seems to be no obvious reason why it should be. The theory of natural selection suggests that, unless Singularity or other Deus ex machina factors intervene, over time those who deny natural selection are poised to become a majority.

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Dahlen 4 August 2015 09:41 AM

Denial of evolution is mostly incidental to high religiosity, and aside from being amused by the irony of it, it's not a relevant factor in this discussion. After all, it's not like there are genes for specific propositions.

I'd say that high fertility is also partially incidental to high religiosity. Both trends can be lumped together as features of traditional living, but then you have strongly sex-negative religious sects such as the Shakers, which have followed a demographic trend opposite to the Amish.