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Atheists a dying breed as nature 'favours faithful' - Comments

The Plc's Avatar Comment 1 by The Plc

Isn't the argument that religion is passed on through spread of information, not biologically determined? Doesn't seem likely that athiests can possibily die out. It isn't a very convincing argument, as most people who don't believe in a supernatural god come from religious backgrounds, and the long term trends, even in Fundamentalist societies like the United states, have been pointing to the steady decline to a belief in some kind of god.

There is a very clear and distinct correlation between higher standards of living and education, and the levels of atheism. Marx wasn't wrong when he said that religion was the sigh of the oppressed creature. So, when a society becomes more free and open, and people become more empowered with greater opportunities, there will be little need for the consolation of false ideas. That's just a common sense observation, not some spuriously argued theory from a social 'scientist' :)

Sun, 02 Jan 2011 08:09:43 UTC | #572200

Austin K's Avatar Comment 2 by Austin K

I sure hope I have more than on and 1.7 children.

Sun, 02 Jan 2011 08:10:29 UTC | #572201

rod-the-farmer's Avatar Comment 3 by rod-the-farmer

While it may be true that some religious communities tend to have more children, that is like saying that short people (i.e. small children) will soon outnumber those of normal height. There is no reflection on either of two points.

First, how many of those women change from kiddie factories to more 'responsible' mothers (they have fewer children) as education, literacy, access to information and the general level of civilisation increases in their society ?

Second, there also seems to be no accounting for the number of religiously born/raised children who abandon their faith as they become mature adults. Yes, yes, I know this happens far less in certain mulsim societies, but generally the level of non-faith has been on the increase in most western countries for decades.

How then to reconcile these two questions with the original study ? When you do a study based on one side of the story, you will catch all those minds predisposed to believe only that side. I suspect, given this sort of meme will penetrate the general background in western societies, that there may come a time when the current tiny pressure to restrict immigration from muslim countries becomes far too big to ignore. We already see signs of it.

Sun, 02 Jan 2011 08:30:34 UTC | #572204

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 4 by Richard Dawkins

This whole argument rests on the unspoken assumption that children automatically take on the beliefs of their parents. Let us hope – perhaps along the lines suggested by The Pic – that this link can be broken.


Sun, 02 Jan 2011 08:31:55 UTC | #572205

Markyboy01's Avatar Comment 5 by Markyboy01

I think I'd be fine with .7 children. I could keep it in a jar on the mantle.

Sun, 02 Jan 2011 08:34:35 UTC | #572207

Pete H's Avatar Comment 6 by Pete H

I personally have 2.00 children. High for an atheist. Perhaps I'm not as atheist as I thought I was.

But both are boys, which may change the weighting. Boys can leave more descendants than girls. Perhaps religious parents have more girl children?

This research might yet be the basis of an excellent recruiting tool for churches. No more of the bland boring stuff about what Jesus wants etc. Instead they could put up a sign encouraging hormonally desperate young men to join up because the church girls are obliged to have sex as a religious duty. (Which may partly explain the mega church phenomena.)

They've overlooked that atheists as a distinct species don’t depend on numerical superiority of their offspring because they employ a more anti-competitive reproductive strategy.

Taking religious claims seriously, that the world’s genocidal mass murderers tend to be atheist (i.e. atheists are extremely dangerous) then you’d have to look at the bigger picture of whether, on average, atheists take out more religious victims compared to atheist victims when we respond to our genocidal urges.

It’s not how many kids are born to parents who claim to be religious that counts, it’s whether the parents claiming to be religious really are religious (rather than just pretending as many do), whether they stay religious after dealing with the reality of having kids, and whether their children successfully inherit religion genetically or environmentally, and whether the children themselves reproduce. Atheists have opportunities to foul things up at multiple steps in the sequence.

Sun, 02 Jan 2011 08:36:12 UTC | #572208

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 7 by Stevehill

There's an assumption here that breeding beyond a replacement rate leads to survival where, surely, taken to extremes it probably leads to extinction. (7 billion carbon footprints and rising; global conflicts for diminishing food and water resources....)

Atheists are generally better educated. They probably try a bit harder to avoid such an outcome (though they can't do much to control the choices others make), and at an individual level probably, on average, prefer to bring up say two kids in relative comfort rather than 6 kids in relative poverty.

Whilst humanity may become extinct for any number of reasons, I don't see much evidence supporting the primary cause being lack of human beings.

Sun, 02 Jan 2011 08:59:44 UTC | #572210

Jiffy's Avatar Comment 8 by Jiffy

I can't check the original article (or rather won't given the paywall) but assuming that China is one of the 82 countries the results may be skewed. Can a one child policy properly be described as an evolutionary pressure?

Sun, 02 Jan 2011 09:09:18 UTC | #572211

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 9 by Jos Gibbons

I know I already debunked the last article on this, but I’m doing it again. I’m not going beyond the paywall – not after so much rubbish appears before it. That this is nonetheless one of my longer posts is worrying.

Atheists a dying breed

I don’t call doubling in 20 years a dying breed.

nature 'favours faithful'

You may as well say it “favours” the diseased whenever a pathogen evolves faster than does the immune system of the host species (i.e. almost all the time).

those whose inhabitants worship at least once a week have 2.5 children each

Those WHAT whose ... are we talking households here? (Don’t forget people often have children by second marriages or even out of wedlock, or who don’t live with them.)

Religious people have evolved to produce more children than non-believers

It’s not the religious that have evolved; it’s the religions. There is no indication any “God gene” even exists, let alone that natural selection favours it. By contrast, we can point out the exact memes which encourage more children, both directly (“Be fruitful and multiply) and indirectly (prohibition of contraception).

societies dominated by non-believers are doomed to die out.

So the Swedish will go extinct will we? Really? Every country where the mean number of children per woman is under 2 will see its population exponentially decay, will it? Or could it be, as population experts have found time and time and time again, that birth rates grow as populations shrink and shrink as populations grow? This author clearly understands nothing of economics and sociology. I suggest he look up societies’ “stages”. (Stage 1 etc.)

just 1.7 — below the number needed to replace themselves.

What makes you think new atheists are purely due to atheists’ reproduction? Haven’t you noticed more than half of America’s atheists are first–generation? People are leaving religion in droves. Atheism is not seeing the same problem. Study the Price equation, which states the rate of evolution, and you’ll find if you go through its derivation it is the ratio of sizes of each phenotypic class in successive generations which actually matters, and not the mean number of offspring per members of each phenotypic class. (The two aren’t the same thing, because children aren’t their parents’ clones in sexually reproducing species, so phenotypic class can change – especially when, as in the memetic case of religion, phenotype is more at the hands of environmental than genetic factors.) Put simply, Blume doesn’t measure what he should, but tries to use something else as an indicator of it, even though the correct metric has already been measured, and has given the opposite conclusion.

evolution, credited by atheist biologists such as Richard Dawkins as the process solely responsible for creating humanity

It IS the process solely responsible for creating humanity, or indeed any post–LUCA species of life. That’s not the conclusion of atheism; it’s the conclusion of science. A bunch of idiotic Christian biologists who want to somehow squeeze God into the middle somewhere doesn’t change that. (Anyone who thinks I’m being unfair to them should go read about Morris’s and Miller’s view our intelligence was directed by God through convergent evolution, and then learn why by definition convergent evolution can’t be the right answer.)

favours the faithful

Again, memes and genes are very different. When you get a cold, who has natural selection favoured there? The virus!

over evolutionary timescales of hundreds or thousands of years, atheists have had fewer children and the societies they belong to are likely to disappear.

Blume didn’t date any DNA sequences to get that conclusion. On the basis of 2010 birth rates, he thinks he knows what’s been going on throughout most of the history of Homo sapiens. If he wishes to claim every society with birth rates under 2 will go extinct, he should at least have some REAL evidence to back it up/

It is a great irony, but evolution appears to discriminate against atheists

“Appears to”? I’m not even subject to such an illusion, let alone the delusion of thinking it is real. But even if such discrimination (a poor choice of word here) is present, I wonder why it is considered an “irony”. The only reason I can think of is because knowledge of evolution is taken as a reason to be an atheist. Somehow I doubt religion’s defenders are likely to accept a claim like that.

in direct contradiction [to the idea] religions are like “viruses of the mind” which infect people and impose great costs in terms of money, time and health risks.

There is no contradiction here at all. Having more children isn’t necessarily the best way to serve your own genetic interests, especially in humans, where we have grandparents and low infant mortality rates$ and (until recently) the likely death of the mother in childbirth and gay people likely functioning as carers rather than bearers (evidenced by men being more likely to be homosexual if they have more elder brothers). In pushing people to have more children, memes may well be doing our genes a disservice. There’s a very good reason women don’t automatically breed like rabbits; what’s good for rabbit genes isn’t necessarily quite so good for human genes. That the only known mechanism which can account for the observed birth rate differences between the religious and the secular is memetic, and that we know which memes are responsible and can trace their development, and that we even know of examples where they counter–intuitively didn’t work (read a recent fuller description of the study!), and that the only known mechanism seems enough as far as we know, and that there are none of the known genetic factors Blume’s conclusions keep postulating, suggests very strongly that the contradiction isn’t between old ideas and new findings, but between how evolution works and how Blume thinks it does, and between what evidence is needed to substantiate Blume’s claims and what evidence he’s providing.

$ Compared with most other species, even before modern medicine & surgery.

evolution favours believers so strongly that over time a tendency to be religious has become embedded in our genes.

Again, why postulate genes? (Genes we’ve hunted for a long time, but which neither Blume nor anyone else has ever found.) Stare carefully at the following question: “Why do people who want to have sex but believe sex must be procreative procreate more?” And then tell me it doesn’t answer itself. The belief does it – a memetic belief. If you claim the belief has any genetic underpinnings, be my guest – but bear in mind that, while most statistical indicators of religiosity are exclusively environmental, the main one that’s genetic – intelligence – can only involve natural selection favouring religion if it also favours the unintelligent, something which it isn’t exactly known for doing in its shaping of the smartest species in the history of the planet. (Perhaps recently...)

Sun, 02 Jan 2011 09:11:19 UTC | #572213

sbooder's Avatar Comment 10 by sbooder

Yet atheism is on the rise. Hmm, this argument is weak, as it presumes (as RD pointed out) that religion is past by birth and children will always take their parents religion. Also I think any right mined person especially David Attenborough will be reading this article and dropping their head into their hands and crying…please don not encourage people to have more fucking children.

In the words of Agent Smith:

“I'd like to share a revelation I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus.

Sun, 02 Jan 2011 09:46:48 UTC | #572215

evotruth's Avatar Comment 11 by evotruth

Does this mean that we're going to have a ?

Sun, 02 Jan 2011 10:21:29 UTC | #572219

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 12 by AtheistEgbert

As professor Dawkins says, the article is based on a false assumption.

Sun, 02 Jan 2011 10:39:21 UTC | #572222

CleverCarbon's Avatar Comment 13 by CleverCarbon

"Religious people have evolved to produce more children than non-believers, researchers claim"

Have they claimed this? Or has some hack Journalist at the Sunday Times claimed this out of laziness and stupidity?

This article is poor even by forgiving, low standards.

Sun, 02 Jan 2011 10:45:56 UTC | #572223

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 14 by Peter Grant

1.7 legitimate children. Without genetic testing we can only speculate about how many little atheist bastards there might be.

Sun, 02 Jan 2011 10:54:23 UTC | #572225

Corylus's Avatar Comment 15 by Corylus

The academic who led the study argues that evolution,...favours the faithful because they are encouraged to breed as a religious duty.

Either that, or they have trouble working out what causes pregnancy.

(I say this tongue in cheek, but I am also making the point that to assume does indeed make an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me'.)

Sun, 02 Jan 2011 10:59:34 UTC | #572226

Raiko's Avatar Comment 16 by Raiko

The cynical comment lays on my tongue that we're not as likely to kill our children by praying instead of sending them to a doctor (but I know that this factor doesn't weigh much ;)).

But really, the author should have considered that polls on the percentage of atheists in a society increasing, not declining, flies in the face of his whole idea.

Sun, 02 Jan 2011 11:00:44 UTC | #572228

Analytical's Avatar Comment 17 by Analytical

What was it that Stephen J Gould said about the relationship between correlation and causation ?

There was an interesting TED talk a couple of years ago (something about perceptions of "3rd World" Countries) which included a number graphics showing, amongst other things, how number of children per family decreased (quite dramatically) over time as standards of living increased. After all, you don't need to have so many children once most of them start surviving beyond their first few years.

  • Better standard of living => need for fewer children ?
  • Better standard of living => better education ?
  • Better education => more likely to question religious hand-me-downs ?
  • Fewer children => more likely to be atheist ?
  • Where do we see correlation, how do we decide causation ?

    Sun, 02 Jan 2011 11:01:15 UTC | #572229

    helen sotiriadis's Avatar Comment 18 by helen sotiriadis

    i'm not going to pay murdoch, but this is the usual jumping from phenomena to rushed conclusions that is typical of the superstitious mind.

    Sun, 02 Jan 2011 11:08:57 UTC | #572232

    beanson's Avatar Comment 19 by beanson

    Comment Removed by Author

    Sun, 02 Jan 2011 11:09:25 UTC | #572233

    Heliopolitan's Avatar Comment 20 by Heliopolitan

    Oh my god - what a load of bollocks. So they take a phenotype of a country and suggest that that tells them what is going on at the genetic level among that population? Great leaping pixies, that absolutely does not support the hypothesis that "atheists are a dying breed". There is no genetic variant that confers the phenotypic trait of "atheism" that gets selected against (or for) in the population.

    What this lame study appears to be showing is that countries where religion has a stronger hold have a higher birth rate. KMDWAF. And we find that such countries are, on average, poorer, with lower levels of educational attainment and opportunity - particularly for women, more autocratic, and with poorer access to healthcare and family planning facilities. Indeed, sometimes it's religiously forbidden. Higher infant mortality, oppression of minorities, domestic violence. Yet for all that, religion is not growing - the proportion of people within any population who are prepared to state that they have no religion is increasing everywhere - even in the households of fundamentalists like Phelps and Behe.

    So the question these researchers should be asking is: out of all these 2.7 children, how many end up religious? In atheist households, how many of their kids also become atheists? That would show (I hypothesise - I'll leave someone else to do the hard work like a real theoretician ;-) that kids of atheists are more likely to stay atheist, and the kids of theists - particularly if they are well educated - have at least a fighting chance of ending up freethinking.

    I forecast that there will be more members in the Church of Jesus Christ Atheist before Jesus comes back ;-)

    Sun, 02 Jan 2011 11:18:37 UTC | #572234

    seals's Avatar Comment 21 by seals

    Are we supposed to be surprised? I refuse the paywall, but there is a childish element of ya-boo-shucks about what is visible of this article.

    Even supposing that evolution does favour faith, a short term view at best considering overpopulation and overconsumption of resources, it doesn't make religion true if that's what he is implying.

    Sun, 02 Jan 2011 11:22:32 UTC | #572235

    Stafford Gordon's Avatar Comment 22 by Stafford Gordon

    Nullius in verba; even as a non scientist I know that it's vital to see the data and confer before accepting any of it.

    There is so much utter drivel around on the net.

    Sun, 02 Jan 2011 11:25:08 UTC | #572236

    oclarke's Avatar Comment 23 by oclarke

    Has he checked infant mortality and life expectancy. It may be a morbid fact but countries dominated by the religious are usually pretty poor ones. I don't know which countries were included because I can't afford the Times website, but who didn't already know that the religious have more children? Contraception, along with the emancipation of women, is a pretty good antidote to poverty. Atheists don't have an omnipresent dictator to tell them these things are wrong.

    Sun, 02 Jan 2011 11:28:44 UTC | #572238

    Dr. monster's Avatar Comment 24 by Dr. monster

    still it should be a wake up call to all atheists to breed more. our contries are run by democracy not merit. it is those that breed who get to take power.

    it seems there is part of his theory missing. he needs another theory showing what proportion of off-spring carry on their parents bilefs. i think at the moment we only have loose statistics.

    Sun, 02 Jan 2011 11:43:22 UTC | #572243

    Myrick's Avatar Comment 25 by Myrick

    I haven'r read the firewalled article, let alone the study, but suspect "dying breed" is hyperbole on the part of the headline writer. Non-theists are becoming more open about their lack of belief, not less! I suspect a similar study of fecundity among homosexuals would determine that they are also a 'dying breed' (my, somewhat radical, hypothesis is that gays breed less). Nevertheless, being gay clearly carries less of a stigma now than it did in the past.

    Sun, 02 Jan 2011 11:58:08 UTC | #572246

    Tronberman's Avatar Comment 26 by Tronberman

    Comment Removed by Author

    Sun, 02 Jan 2011 12:02:03 UTC | #572248

    Duff's Avatar Comment 27 by Duff

    To see the effects of this viewpoint drawn to ridiculous extremes, go see the movie Idiocracy. Pure nonsense, but fairly clever.

    Sun, 02 Jan 2011 12:03:27 UTC | #572249

    Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 28 by Nunbeliever

    Michael Blume, a social science researcher at Jena University in Germany, said that over evolutionary timescales of hundreds or thousands of years, atheists have had fewer children and the societies they belong to are likely to disappear.

    Oh come on! First, hundreds or thousands of years are not primarily an evolutionary timescale. Second, what evidence does this Michael Blume have for his claims. There might be a thousand other factors playing in. Factors much more probable like for example modernization and increased well-fare and education. Perhaps the real study is more nuanced, but this article sucks BIG TIME! What a load of rubbish! A new phenomenon seems to be that dubious people use evolutionary biology in the most dishonest and absurd ways in order to promote some weird idea that specific person seems to endorse. Especially evolutionary psychology seem to be a discipline filled with bullocks which is a shame since I think evolutionary psychology is a very important and interesting subject. It seems like any lay-person can do som arm-chair reasoning and come up with a new "theory" regarding evolutionary psychology! Don't let the evidence (or lack thereof) get in the way of a good story!

    Sun, 02 Jan 2011 12:04:38 UTC | #572250

    G0LCU's Avatar Comment 29 by G0LCU

    Hi all...

    (Just to let you all I know, wouldn`t go beyond the paywall.)

    "A study of 82 countries has found that those whose inhabitants worship at least once a week have 2.5 children each, while those who never do so have just 1.7 — below the number needed to replace themselves."

    Hmmm, I am trying very hard to picture what 0.7, (1.7 - 1), or 0.5, (2.5 - 2), of a child actually looks like.

    If you round the 2.5 down to 2 and round the 1.7 up to 2 then simple maths shows that Athesits are at least equal to 1 day a week Theists in the reproductive rates... ;o)


    This whole argument rests on the unspoken assumption that children automatically take on the beliefs of their parents.

    Writers make too many assumptions and NEVER quote them first, therefore creating a Confirmation Bias inside their articles. Most readers are pretty gullible and believe anything and everything without question that they read to be fact.

    I can sometimes be guilty of that detail too, but I do try my hardest to "read between the lines".

    Oh the power of the Press, Internet and TV...


    Bazza, G0LCU...

    Team AMIGA...

    Sun, 02 Jan 2011 12:17:23 UTC | #572254

    Stevehill's Avatar Comment 30 by Stevehill

    Michael Blume seems to be behind the Wikireligiosus project "Scientific perspectives in Evolutionary Studies on Religion", whatever that is all about...

    He's also tied up with Evolution of Religion, which is funded by the Templeton Foundation.

    He's part of a "Christian-Muslim" family and his ambition seems to be to find a God gene.

    My woo sensors are on full alert...

    Sun, 02 Jan 2011 12:21:51 UTC | #572255