Tuesday 15 March 2016

Richard Dawkins versus Jonathan Sacks - atheism versus orthodox religion

Professor Richard Dawkins, and ex-chief-Orthodox Rabbi Jonathan Sacks are of similar age, social background, class and education: but the first is an atheist and the second an observant, conservative Jew.

How can we concisely summarise the difference between them, in terms of reproductive success or evolutionary viability; as individuals representative of atheism and traditionalist, patriarchal religion?

Three marriages and one child versus one marriage and three children. 

That's it in a nutshell! (And consistent-with a large mass of demographic data.)

Secular liberalism is biologically maladaptive; but (some) religions are - even in the modern world, and among the intellectual elite - the only known antidote to slow extinction of the human species. 


Adam G. said...

That is too crude, too obvious, to concrete, to prove anything. Who has more retweets on Twitter?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam - I have blogged positively about Rabbi Sacks before - saying that he is the only honest UK public intellectual that I know concerning the key issues of our time - and I recently met someone who knew him personally and that could inform me that he is just a decent a man 'in real life'.

David said...

As a slight aside, looking at worldly correlates or markers of a robust or relatively uncorrupted spiritual life, or simply a lesser a degree of being wrong or discordance with reality, do you happen to be aware of any data relating to incidence of depression or other mental health problems in religious groups compared to secular groups? In particular LDS church members? I am curious because according to my thinking on the matter it would stand to reason that (with the exception of certain biological factors) 'believers' are in an important way inoculated against the faulty perceptions of reality and confusions that might result in depression (psychosocial). For example, your average nihilist or secular person (33% in harmony with actual reality, say) is clearly a sitting duck for depression and feelings of pointlessness, lack of purpose or an unmet ache that comes with the absence of God in their lives. In contrast, your average LDS member is positively robust in terms of their metaphysical harmony or resonance with reality (99% say), yes they can feel sorrow or sadness or loss like any other human being *but* the bedrock of faith, sense of meaning and purpose inoculates them against only the most insidious or biological forms of depression. Just a hypothesis I have been working on: congruence of metaphysical harmony with reality and mental robustness/ the absence of (certain) mental illnesses.

Furthermore it occurs to me that an anomalous individual such as Dawkins (-99% metaphysical harmony with reality) is paradoxically impervious to incapacitating or prolonged bouts of nihilism, despair or low mood due to the fervent almost religious like anti faith in his incorrect bottom line metaphysical assumptions. The poor chap is too far gone with his 'anti-God' delusions that he is currently in a fairly isolated orbit of reality all to himself.

Bruce Charlton said...

@D - The literature is actually rather conflicting - and indeed such studies are difficult to do well because of the confounders.

In most happiness surveys, happiness seems to behave more like a stable personality trait marker, than a state marker which responds and changes according to situation.

Depression has many causes - commonly it too is a product of personality (eg Neuroticism) - but severe depression is more like a disease (or several diseases).

So, in sum, I don't think this question is easy to study formally. Most people believe that religion increases happpiness (for example in terms of correlations measured in large surveys), but religion too is hard to measure, with several variables (psychological measures, participation measures, social measures); and people can easily be misclassified.

My belief is that this is one of those questions that are best studied by 'anecdotes' - that is, by in depth knowledge of individuals.

Of course, like all proper research, the researchers need to be honest (as well as competent) - which is not common.

Nicholas Fulford said...

I think the jury is still out on whether secular liberalism is maladaptive OR more maladaptive than orthodox Judaism OR _______.

It may be, but what you would have to show - amongst other things - is that the genetic load within orthodox Judaism is less than it is within a heterogenous secular liberal society. My expectation is that the secular liberal society will suffer mostly from genetic load problems resulting from the age of one or both parents, and that the orthodox Judaic group will suffer from genetically homogeneous types of load. Since I have no studies at my fingertips I can't really say which group has a statistically significant lower genetic load than the other.

Bruce Charlton said...


I wrote this in December and your piece reminded me of it:

I propose all atheists for the Darwin Award.

A: “Evolutionary science has pretty well made any sort of traditional religious belief impossible.”
B: “But religious people have more kids. And Rodney Stark argues convincingly that it was the early Christians faith-motivated caring for their own and others resulting in greater survival rates during the plagues of the Second and Third Centuries that gave them a small, but over time, decisive relative demographic advantage over non-believers. And it seems hard to argue against the idea that Christian traits like orderliness, diligence, thrift, etc., when combined with the mandate to multiply, will lead to growth in Christian groups.”
A: “Fine, but religion is still false.”
B: “Maybe so. But in the end if, because non-believers do not reproduce themselves in sufficient numbers to pass on their non-believing beliefs no one is left who does not believe then what does it matter? And from an evolutionary perspective, does the fact (and it is a fact) of non-believers failure to propagate not imply there is something wrong, even false, about what they believe?”
A: “But religion is bullshit and evolution proves it.”
B: “But if, as Goethe said, ‘Only that which bears fruit is true,’ (and an evolutionist would have to agree) then religion must be true if only to the extent that it leads to population growth even after you factor out the effects of modern medicine.”
A: “But of course that will lead to population overload and collapse.”
B: “So? As long as there is a remnant left who hold to some reproductively viable belief system that group will survive and begin to expand again – with non-believers even less represented than before the collapse. ‘As in the days of Noah.’”
A: “But it is the most ignorant who will survive and grow.”
B: “If you insist. But as an evolutionist you have to agree that this is a moot point. From an evolutionary viewpoint survival is sufficient to justify (as if justification were even applicable here) any ‘strategy.’ ‘Nature’ after all, ‘is, red in tooth and claw.’ If a race of philosopher-kings were destroyed by swarms of poisonous bugs, so what? And in the end we’re all just worm food anyway, right?”...

B: “Okay, then: ‘Whatever works,’ right? [if religion is] what works as an ‘evolutionary strategy’ then that’s what works. So be it.”
A: “That’s not what I said.”
B: “But you have no choice. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. ‘Only that which bears fruit is true,’ and screw everything else.”
A: “So it comes down to ‘Whoever ruts the fastest and has more kids, wins. Is that it?”
B: “As you say. But in Nature, as Evolutionists conceive it, there is no ‘winning’ or ‘losing.’ There are only facts.”... You are not even in the game.”

Bruce Charlton said...

@Nicholas - If your reproduction rate is below replacement then the population will go extinct - probably by mutational meltdown before you run out of people. The other stuff is debateable but not that.

@Albrecht - Indeed. Well put.

The way I think of it is that atheism is a maladaptive belief, and the name for a maladaptive belief is a delusion.

As to which is true and which is false - this depends *entirely* on metaphysical assumptions and *not at all* on evidence - as I have posted here and at here


Natural Selection is a metaphysical assumption which frames science - it is not itself science. It can neither be proved nor disproved. It has certainly been a fruitful paradigm for some types of biology, but that does not mean it is the bottom line - indeed it isn't the bottom line, because that leads to a 'Cretan :iar' type paradox of self-refutation.

My feeling is that we need to draw attention to the metaphysical assumptions of atheism. Of course, most atheists think that they do not believe in metaphysics and have no assumptions, so that's difficult!

Adam G. said...

@BC, I was being sarcastic. In short, I agree with you.

David said...

To the Richard Dawkins of this world,

"I am afraid that to those of my children who still think that the universe is some accident, and that they are in the position of being some strange growth out of this accident, my words will sound foolish, and they will be repelled by them, but they are in my school nevertheless, and, as they study the world itself more closely, so will this vision of the truth become clearer to them."

Quoted from 'A letter from a father' by William Arkle.

We are all children of God and we need great love to reach across the divide between those who have found a deeper understanding of the divine nature and those souls who as yet continue to deny it.