Predisposition to Religion?

on January 22, 2011

LiveScience: “Predisposition for Religion Can Spread QuicklyWatch as one researcher tries desperately to implicate population biology and genetics in the spread of religion.

Cambridge University economist Robert Rowthorn has developed mathematical models to investigate the spread of religion based on two simple variables. First, Rowthorn notes higher birth rates among the religious. Second, he adds in a genetic “predisposition” for religion that is passed on in religious families. Together, this leads to a rapid increase in the proportion of religious individuals in a society.

For example, the model shows that a religious group encompassing just one half of one percent of the members of a society can swell to half of the entire population within ten generations.

The key assumption in the model is that it’s genetics that predisposes individuals for being religious (although we presume that being raised in a religious family may have the same effect). Otherwise, the offspring born to religious parents are no more likely to adopt religion than are others in society. “All people who work in this area know there is a genetic basis to being religious, in the sense there is a genetic basis to all human behavior,” Rowthorn argued.

The model shows that a religious group encompassing just one half of one percent of the members of a society can swell to half of the entire population within ten generations.

For “secularists,” perhaps including Rowthorn, the combination of differential reproduction rates among the religious and a genetic basis for religious belief are a dangerous combination. Even if more people “defect” (his term) away from religion, their lower rate of reproduction may doom secularism to perpetual minority status. Of course, we frequently note that secularism is itself a religious view, given that it begins with by-faith assumptions about the nonexistence or irrelevance of the supernatural world. And while Rowthorn’s fears may be justified in one sense, his analysis ignores the great secularization that has occurred during the past century. Even if the masses remain “religious,” in many circles that “religion” has become diluted and secularized through compromise with the world (see our reports in Christian Post: “Survey Offers In-Depth Look at Mainline Protestant Clergy” and No Religion Rising and Lack of Knowledge of Church History and Other Faiths).

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