Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Atheism and the Selfish Gene - Objection

Now it will be argued that there is overpopulation, and so Atheism (and other negative growth memes) is a good thing. This may be true, but if you use this argument, you’ve jumped tracks. I said at the beginning, I’m not talking about what’s good for society. I’m talking biology (and, I admit, getting a bit flowery with the struggle-for-life imagery, but so do the evolutionary biologists; I’ll stop when Dawkins does J). If you say that there is something more important than fitness, then what is it? And if you have something in mind, what evidence justifies your judging the success of every species on earth by one standard (fitness), and then deciding to use another one on humans?

Further, the absolute fertility rate of white churchgoers in the US I cited above was 2.06. Is this not nearly ideal? Below that and we are we are shrinking; too far above it and we are heading ever faster toward the planet’s carrying capacity and thus starvation. It seems that Theism in the US has produced an equilibrium.
World population growth is occurring, but it is mostly in the developing world. This is not the fault of religion, but of the conditions of poverty. When child mortality drops, so do fertility rates. See the graph I made with GapMinder above (and play with it yourself here). Bottom line: if you want to lower fertility rates, save African babies.

But perhaps we are on the brink of a catastrophe. Perhaps a fertility of 2.06 is contributing to a state of collapse. But this is speculation in economics or politics. To have this discussion, we must leave biology. And politics is certainly interesting, but it is also very far from objective science. If we do see mass-starvation, then we can start doing biology again. We can watch Natural Selection and see if Atheism is adaptive in an environment of starvation. But until we have data, we have no science. We have only speculation. And such questions have their place, and that place is outside of the repeatable, observable, cold, hard facts of science. And as Bertrand Russell said, “When you are studying any matter or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only: what are the facts, and what is the truth that the facts bear out.”

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