The Atheist Narrative
Post updated, 1/14/15. See below! Let me start by once again giving the disclaimer that I am an unapologetic atheist. Of course, I would conclude that being an atheist is the only natural position one can have if one is being a true scientist. Now, that said, I realize that I am only able to come to that conclusion because I have had the good fortune of being so minded. This is not the case for everyone, however. Religion comes to the religious because that’s how their brains are wired. A believer cannot think any different. The strength of the belief isn’t necessarily a good gauge of this. A lackadaisical believer can be just as hardwired to be tenuous about his belief as the deeply devout is about his beliefs. Believers literally have God/Earth spirits/Buddha on the brain. To such a person, their deities are as real as the Sun in the sky (since, after all, the believer’s brain is the only brain he’s got). Religiosity is highly heritable (as are all behavioral traits)…
…as seen by the high values of “A” (additive heritability) here from this behavioral genetic study (click image for paper). Also note the 0 effect of the shared environment (parenting and the home environment), consistent with the lack of effect of these forces on behavioral traits. EDIT, 1/14/15: [I wanted to correct the matter of the shared environment contribution to religiosity cited here. It is in fact zero, but the study originally cited here didn’t show this. Most behavioral genetic studies on religiosity do find a non-insignificant shared environment impact. However, standard twin studies confound shared environment with the effect of assortative mating. A review of behavioral genetic studies, Koenig & McGue, 2011 found that comparison of reared-apart twins with reared-together twins showed a shared environment contribution of 0 (A = 0.46-0.52, C = 0.00, E = 0.48-0.54). An extended-twin study (Zietsch et al, 2012) from Australia did find attenuated heritability and inflated shared environment thanks to assortative mating for religiosity, unfortunately, they don’t report their C value in the study. Another extended twin design, based on the Virginia 30,000 (see Eaves et al 1999) found that the reported C value on religiosity (and many other things) was entirely due to assortative mating (Coventry & Keller, 2005).
Note that the true heritability is even higher than the above figure, thanks to the issue of measurement error. See my posts Environmental Hereditarianism and The Son Becomes The Father for more on that issue. This point is additionally butressed by the lack of carryover for E from time 1 to time 2 in the Button et al study. However, the twins in this study were young even at time point 2 – age range 17-29 (with only 6.3% older than age 23) – which may be too young for stable E influences to manifest.]
This indicates that religious belief – or lack there of – is largely intractable. It is a futile effort to get people to give up religion en masse (or, for that matter, to get non-believers to believe). You may have some individual “successes”, largely because of changing the environmental context of people who already had the genetic potential for whatever belief you want to instill, but you’re not going to achieve broad change in the population.
However, the “New Atheists” don’t seem to see it that way. Many of these speakers, including the likes of Richard Dawkins, or groups such as American Atheists proselytize atheism. Indeed, Dawkins, a self-described “militant atheist”, is very much an atheist evangelist.
The belief that these individuals’ actions appear to be based is that by spreading atheism and getting people to give up their religious beliefs, society can be improved.
As I have previous written, that is a foolhardy goal. The unsavory traits the New Atheists seek to change stem not from the religion, but from the people. Indeed, in the spirit of what HBD Chick would ask, where do religious beliefs come from? Sorry atheist zealots, you can’t get Muslims to behave like modern civilized (Northwestern European) people by getting them to give up Islam. You can’t turn the U.S. Deep South and Greater Appalachia into Yankeedom or the Midlands by getting the former two to give up fundamentalist Christianity. It’s just not going to happen. It’s not any more likely to happen than democracy bringing modernization to these groups – instead, you’re likely to end up with this.
However, the futility of this notwithstanding, these New Atheists have – in their criticism of Islam – breached some highly politically incorrect truths. Indeed, they have been crusaders against the politically correct lies spun about Muslims and the crime and destruction they cause in the West and in their home countries. Indeed, see this video of Bill Maher debunking the P.C. narrative shortly after the Boston bombings EDIT, 1/14/15: Video taken down, but a new one is up – however, it doesn’t allow embedding. See it here
There is one key problem with this refreshingly frank criticism, however: it is predicated on the nation that these negative facts about Muslim peoples can be changed if they just no longer believed in the faith. Dawkins and others like him hope that – one day – these peoples can be reformed and will live like organized, peaceable, tolerant Westerners. He believes getting them to abandon religion is the key.
Of course, strictly speaking, that would work. But Dawkins would never live to see the results. You’d need many generations of change – centuries worth – to see a difference. One of those changes would need to be putting an end to cousin marriage, which is far and away the rule in Muslim societies. You’d need to wait because the changes would need to happen on a genetic level (i.e., evolution), and you’d need a fair amount of time for these evolutionary changes to occur.
As noted over at the blog Occam’s Razor, the problems with Muslims stem from their race(s), not their religion.
Indeed, on that, most people don’t consider that – broadly speaking – religion highly correlates with race:
We see that, in general:
- Christianity = European/European derivatives
- Islam = Middle Eastern and North African
- Hindu = South Asian
- Buddhist = East and Southeast Asian
Where ever each of these peoples have gone, they’ve brought their religions with them. (Africans are the interesting exception; sub-Saharans may be the most impressionable people religiously and have absorbed religions from the outside, particularly Christianity and Islam.) Even within major regions, we see some ethnoracial breakdowns, as with Sunni and Shia Islam, as noted here by HBD Chick. We also see them in Europe, where there are interesting ethnonational divisions (from Wikipedia): This is something that HBD Chick has noted:
an ages old divide in europe — latins+the british isles (-the anglo-saxons, of course) versus the germans versus the slavs… this tripartite division of europe has influenced|dictated so much in european history. i mean, look at the (broadly speaking) religious divide in europe… latins+british isles=roman catholic; germans=protestant; slavs=eastern orthodox.
Religion seems so inextricably tied to people that the New Atheists hopes seem quite futile.
However, it’s worth mentioning here that while there seems to be genetic underpinnings to religion – even the particular religion one adheres to (at least on the level of ethnic groups) – for the religious there is quite a bit of flexibility in what particular beliefs one holds. Many belief systems can fit the various “god-shaped holes” in people. Indeed, today’s atheists evolved from quite theistic earlier people. We can see that all across the developed world, where previous traditional religions have given rise to de facto and nominal atheism.
Of course, in many of these societies “atheism” is a bit of a stretch. Even in many of these nominally atheist societies, belief – or more accurately faith – is not absent. Secular religions have replaced spiritual ones. The belief in the supreme rational faculties and universal similarity of man that New Atheism (and for that matter, much of modern liberalism) is predicated on – essentially a watered-down blank-slatist view – is such an example. Dawkins – someone who, as a premier evolutionary biologist, should know better – seems to have such a view. Indeed, it has been suggested that Dawkins’s evangelism is a type of neo-Puritanism, in the same vein as American Yankee liberal views are. For the modern-day Puritans (who are the literal descendents of the colonial Puritans), evangelical liberal ethos have replaced the Calvinist spiritualism of their ancestors. The mental faculties have just been co-opted for something else, something that functions similarly. “God’s chosen people” have now become the enlightened cosmopolitan minds spreading the gospel of tolerance, diversity, and reverence of knowledge and learning.
As such, many of these New Atheists were delighted by a new study that forecasts the end of religion:
Author and noted biopsychologist Nigel Barber has completed a new study that shows Atheism is most prevalent in developed countries, and, according to his projections, religion will completely disappear by 2041. His findings are discussed in his new book “Why Atheism Will Replace Religion.” A new study that clarifies his earlier research will be published in August. His findings focus on studying trends within countries around the world and the fact that “Atheists are heavily concentrated in economically developed countries”
Dawkins announced this study with a tweet asking if it was “too optimistic.”
Of course, nevermind that “atheists are heavily concentrated in economically developed countries” because religiosity is negatively correlated with IQ, both on an individual level (Edit, 8/14/13: also see a recent meta-analysis that confirms the negative relationship between religiosity and intelligence, The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity: A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations, Zuckerman et al 2013) and on a group level:
I went to Dawkins’s site and replied with links to my previous post on HBD and Atheism, as well as my posts on fertility and political orientation (and by extension, religiosity), as well as my post noting that all human behavioral traits are heritable. And, interestingly – and perhaps tellingly, they deleted my comment.
They were not interested in any criticism of their view. I find this quite fascinating. While they may have deleted my comment out of some silly rule against self-promotion (which is a bullshit policy anyway), what if this suggest an awareness of the realities of the situation – or at the very least, of some uncomfortable facts about the situation they discuss? (As an aside, it’s worth noting that one report claims that the population is continuing to get more liberal – despite the fertility trends; however, it’s not broken down by race. The Audacious Epigone also found data suggesting similar.)
Dawkins may be committed to a narrative, one that says that all peoples have the potential to be “uplifted” into right-thinking folks – if we just get them to abandoned their backwards superstitions (religion). Indeed, he even recently doubled down of his “We are all Africans” mantra (as if absolutely no relevant biological changes could have happened since then – as the esteemed evolutionary biologist and author of The Selfish Gene should know). Can’t have inconvenient facts about human biodiversity coming along messing that up, now can we?
This got me to seriously consider a recent post by Heartiste (emphasis in original):
An anonymous commenter at Sailer’s left this interesting remark about the psychology motivating the lords of lies: “Some of the virulence… stems from an underlying chain of logic in elite thinking that I find scary: If young black males really do tend to be more crime-prone, then…oh, no, the Nazis were right! So if Americans ever become embarrassed by the insipid political correctness we instruct them to spout, they will immediately thaw out Hitler’s cryogenically preserved brain and elect it president. Or something.“ … Look at all the hip SWPL charities that swear their mission is to “End ______ forever!” (Insert “poverty”, “child abuse”, “racism”, “gun violence”, etc.) In contrast, dour conservatives (whether religious or secular) tend to agree with the Gospel warning “the poor you have always with you“. …
When you believe (at least implicitly) that 1) Society can be perfected by human means, or at least come reasonably close to perfection, and 2) any practical means to achieve that objective should be seriously considered, the progressive dread of politically-incorrect Hatefacts starts to make more sense. If “genetically inferior” blacks are all that is standing in the way of turning every city in America into a hipster SWPL paradise, what can’t be justified? My theory, then, is that, despite what they say, progressives are not really worried about what crotchety conservatives and religious zealots out in flyover country will do if frank discussions of race become commonplace- they’re worried about what they themselves will have to consider doing. Already, most urban progressives aren’t bothered much by the NYPD’s institutionalized racial profiling, the disproportionate abortion rate of blacks, or sex-ed programs clearly targeted at black teens. How big of a leap is it to, say, forced sterilization? I don’t presume to speak for progressives, but it doesn’t seem like much of a leap to me.
So, oddly, this whole exercise got me to think about a factor that could be at the root of HBD-denial: do HBD-deniers do so because they fear what are fairly rational policy implications from the biological reality? Indeed, is Dawkins himself such a man, and that’s why he sticks to the narrative (at least his version of it)?
A clue that this could be the case is that many – if not all of the principled detractors who articulate objections to investigation of genetic explanations for individual and group differences always invoke the slippery slope to coercive eugenics and Nazism.
This touches on a deep issue, one which, in many ways, underlies much HBD discussion: why is HBD taboo? The idea that liberals, for example, fear what others might do if biological group differences were known is nothing new; indeed, I made the very same case. But understanding a finer element would be interesting and useful; if the problem is that good liberals fear what they themselves might do with the knowledge, it may suggest another way to approach the issue.
This seems quite fitting: