OK, you younger godless guys and gals, it’s time to get busy, and Valentine’s Day is as good a day as any to start — we’re losing, so get out there and breed!
A new book reports that we are being outcompeted, in an ironically Darwinian sense, by the more rabbit-like fundamentalists, who are reproducing at a rate that threatens to swamp us in a sea of believers. The liferaft of rationality on Earth soon may be swept away by a new Children’s Crusade.
This is not a completely new development. Writers and researchers who documented the growth of secularism in the last twenty years were aware of the compound growth potential in believer populations. In the Cambridge Companion to Atheism (2006), for instance, contributor Phil Zuckerman asserted that nonbelievers as a group were the fourth largest belief system in the world — outnumbered only by Christians, Moslems, and Hindus (in that order).
But Zuckerman noted:
On the one hand, there are more atheists in the world today than ever before. On the other hand, worldwide atheism overall may be in decline, due to the demographic fact that highly religious nations have the highest birth rates in the world, and highly irreligious nations have the lowest
birth rates in the world.
He also noted:
Secularization is quite limited to specific advanced industrialized nations (with relatively low birth rates), and has not occurred throughout much of the rest of the world.
In a 2008 article for Intelligent Life, Anthony Gottlieb of The Economist wrote:
The huddling of the faithful is mainly explained by the fact that religion runs in families. If you have a religion, it is probably the same one as your parents. Nearly three-quarters of American adults professed the religion in which they were raised. … Some religious groups are dramatically outbreeding others, in ways that have an impact on America, Europe and elsewhere.
And now, with the publication of Eric Kaufmann’s Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?: Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century, an entirely naturalistic argument for the dominance of religion, the issue of issue makes another appearance.
Kaufmann’s book reports research that shows that not only are religious families more likely than nonbelieving families to produce lots of children, but also shows that the more fundamental that religion is, the larger the family will be. Ultraconservative Jews outbreed less conservative Jews, with skewing results that are already apparent in Israel. Among Christians, “cafeteria Catholics” have smaller families than do mainstream Protestants, who have smaller families than do Pentacostal Christians. The trend is present in all the major faiths.
Thanks to the multiplier effect, it won’t take very long for the higher birth rate among the religious to overwhelm other social and economic factors. It’s a simple matter of compound growth — if four religious children grow up to have four children each, and two nonreligious children have two children each, in just two more generations there will be sixty-four religious children and only eight nonreligious children. That’s a lot of potential Conservative and Republican voters, and more than one analyst has suggested that George W. Bush’s wins in 2000 (not really a win, but that’s another topic) and 2004 can be attributed to the religious right’s higher birth rate in the 1970’s and 80’s. In fact, research shows that fully 3/4 of the growth in the numbers of fundamentalist Christians in America in the 20th century can be traced to the effects of higher reproduction rates.
And since, despite secularist hopes for the triumph of reason, the vast majority of the children of religious parents remain religious — 15% of these children leave the faith, but they are more than replaced in the U. S. by the 20% of outsiders who convert to some kind of fundamentalism — there is no indication that the large-scale re-orientation of values many of us experienced in the 1960’s is occurring again, or about to happen anytime soon.
Simple Darwinism points to the apparent inevitability of the triumph of the God brigade. They’re pushing a lot more genes into the future than we are, and only a concerted spasm of dedicated procreation can stem the tide.
You’ve been warned!
One interesting sidelight to the reproduction quandary is the obvious and crucial question: “Why is this happening?”
As Philip Longman notes in his Big Questions Online review of Kaufmann’s book:
For secularists, the least upsetting explanation depends on the familiar “forces of reaction” excuse. Too much change, too much freedom, too much bright-light-of-reason affects some people like a virus, causing them to regress into “magical thinking” and or to “cling” to other forms of primitivism.
Other possible reasons were posted by commenters on Gottlieb’s Intelligent Life article. Since it’s impossible to identify posters accurately, these comments are reproduced without attribution. The most common responses are similar to these:
Religious people, of many denominations, are less concerned with overpopulation and find greater comfort in producing more offspring, regardless of the long-term consequences on the world and the environment.
Religious people have larger families because Western religions encourage having children.
The larger a family is, generally, the earlier one has to start producing it. Smaller families means more time for education and intellectual exploration that would otherwise be taken up caring for children. And more education is strongly correlated with nonbelief.
Another reason for the link between large families and religiosity is that those children are brought up in an environment where lots of folks around them reinforce the same beliefs.
Certainly some combination of these factors is at the root of the family size differential, along with such other circumstances as differences in access and attitude to birth control and abortion; the different social, economic, and educational status of women in different cultures and religious subgroups; differences in marriage rates and the age at which women typically marry; and more.
Whatever the reasons, the task is clear, fellow nonbelievers — multiply. Encourage your post-pubescent children to multiply. Urge your like-minded friends, and those of your neighbours who sleep in on Sundays, to multiply. How about a little saltpetre in the water fountain at the local Pentacostal church? These are desperate times, so, in as many ways as you can, for your own sake, be creative.
Our future depends on it!