Monday, February 11, 2019

Data: The end of religion? Maybe not.

Social thinkers have been predicting the end of religion for many decades.  For example, Auguste Comte (1798-1857) predicted that religious faith would decline as scientific knowledge spread.

Over the past two centuries, religion has proven to be more resilient than thought, but there has been a serious decline in regular church attendance in the US in recent decades, and confidence in the existence of God has slipped some, too.

Modernists like Comte were not aware that at least one powerful factor might work against their hopes of a secular world: genes.  Studies have found that religiosity is influenced significantly by genetic differences. 

And there's a related factor: the correlation between religious involvement and family size.  Look at current data for American women (General Social Survey, women ages 40-55, N= 1,441):
















Women who never go to church average 1.92 children, while those who go more than once a week have a mean of 2.48 offspring.  The gap between the two groups is about four-tenths of a standard deviation, a medium-size difference.

Notice how the least fertile women (1.66 kids) attend once per year.  (I'll document in a future post that atheist women have more kids than agnostics.)

Religious people tend to be more conscientious and agreeable than the irreligious, and fertility differences are favoring these genetically-influenced traits.

If the greater fertility of religious women turns out to be a long-term trend, evolution might work against secularization.  Combine this with the mass movement of religious Muslims, sub-Saharan Africans, and Hispanics to the developed world, and Comte's vision might be undermined. 

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