Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Good news for a change

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-12-06

Maybe there is hope for the human race after all!

A few recent papers offer cause for optimism that we can eventually rid ourselves of the scourge of religion: the discovery of…

  • an unexpected positive correlation between male intelligence and sperm quality; and
  • a gene that seems to be related to suggestibility and effectiveness of a placebo.

These suggest that susceptibility to having faith in something, whether the placebo is a pill or a prayer, has a genetic basis, and we can simply refuse to breed with "people who are too stupid to question things properly of faith", and thus develop genetic resistance to meme disorders, as well as suggesting that intelligence (which correlates with a questioning, skeptical outlook, and therefore negatively with religious belief) will win out unless the religious types go for IVF in a big way (and passing on genes for decreased fertility, which means we still win in the long run).

This is made even better, because low male fertility will have a large genetic component, and is a major reason for use of IVF, which is frowned upon the the Pope.

Breeding with the religious types?  Just say no!

Arden, R., Gottfredson, L., Miller, G., & Pierce, A. "Intelligence and semen quality are positively correlated." (to be published in "Intelligence" (reported at the BBC WebSite and The Economist 2008-12-04) will report that "independently of age and lifestyle, intelligence was correlated with all three measures of sperm quality – numbers, concentration, and ability to move".  This was not merely due to more intelligent choices (like not smoking) increasing average sperm fitness.

So, ladies, if you are rational, and want a kid, get a young unbelieving male who attracts you and have them take a fertility test before becoming too attached!

(And no, this ain’t an ad, I’m old enough that epigenetic changes could be a problem – see "Older parents, epigenomics and psychiatric illness" 2008-11-11.)

It’s a slightly longer bow from susceptibility to placebo to religious belief, but not all that long.

A Link between Serotonin-Related Gene Polymorphisms, Amygdala Activity, and Placebo-Induced Relief from Social Anxiety (Journal of Neuroscience, doi:10.1523/jneurosci.2534-08.2008) is still relatively specific, but anxious times do increase the incidence of religious behaviours, and suggestibility promotes belief in something that has no rational basis.

The full paper is not publically available, but you can read reports on it at the websites of Science Magazine and New Scientist.

As I’ve noted elsewhere ("Dawkins should promote quakery" 2008-05-12), the more religious types are convinced faith healing can be effective, the more likely they are to opt for religious "treatment" for a disease that threatens death or sterility.  The more we encourage believers to take the placebo, the more likely we’ll get rid of them sooner rather than later.

Of course, even with fitter sperm and a genetic predisposition to having a faith, it would take too long to rid the world of religion, unless we sink to the level of the religious and kill them all in a crusade (the morals of the irreligious prevent this), but no-one can complain if we don’t interbreed – in fact, the religious types would probably feel a reciprocal revulsion. ("What, and risk my children not believing in God and therefore not going to heaven?  No way!")

So… both rationalists and irrationalists will want a speciation event, and H. sapiens skepticalis can happily watch H. religiosis go extinct.


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