Pagans Sharing the "Religiosity" Gene

A recently published study explores how the different fertility rates between secular and religious individuals could influence societies overall genetic evolution. Robert Rowthorn’s hypothesis and research “Religion, fertility and genes: a dual inheritance model” was printed in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. “Proceedings B is the Royal Society’s flagship biological research journal, dedicated to the rapid publication and broad dissemination of high-quality research papers, reviews and comment and reply papers.” In summary “Religious people nowadays have more children on average than their secular counterparts. [This paper] assumes that fertility is determined entirely by culture, whereas subjective predisposition towards religion is influenced by genetic endowment.” This got me thinking about how modern practitioners of Pagan religions would affect the gene pool. After all, Paganism has some vestiges of fertility cults and a broad view of marriage which includes polyamory.

It is important to note that Rowthorn is not a geneticist. He is a faculty member of economics at Cambridge University. Though he isn’t trained in biology, he does understand complex statistics. He researched many studies and applied various models to forecast population growth among the religious. The first study was by geneticist Dean Hamer who is famous or infamous for discovering two genes: one that increases a preference for homosexuality and the “God gene”/”Religiosity” gene VMAT2 which increases a person’s chance of being religious.

Rowthorn states that “For religion to influence genetic evolution it must convey some kind of selective advantage. Such an effect might come about through social bonding via ritual, formation of group identity through myth …”

handfasting
Image: A Pagan Handfasting ceremony. Provided by Liz Verran to Wikimedia.

Stories, rituals, and images of fertility are abundant in Neo-Pagan religion. The most prominent are the phallic may pole and images of a pregnant goddess. Though the specifics change from tradition to tradition the basic understanding of The Wheel of the Year is that life moves from conception or birth, through growth, and finally death. Pagan holidays are based on the solstices and equinoxes, and between times because humanity once mainly lived in an agricultural based society. Survival depended on the fertility of crops, fertility of animals both wild and domesticated, and family size. The human population wasn’t as explosive as it is today. Small settlements depended on new generations for labor. So it isn’t any wonder that sexuality was celebrated and ritualized.
However, even today religion celebrates fertility and sexuality in some way. In Western marriage ceremonies the groom removes the bride’s garter. In the Middle East wedding guests receive five almonds with one representing fertility. Paganism, as does other religions, promotes childbirth.

Rowthorn writes that “In the modern world, religious people, even controlling for income and education, have more children on average than people without religion. The reasons are cultural in the broad sense, and include social norms and the influence exerted by religious organizations.”

Is Paganism a religion? Though some in the community would dispute that, it basically is. Check. Does Paganism include myths, symbols, and rites regarding fertility? Check. But dogma is where Paganism loses it’s chance of rapidly growing based on inheritance.

Rawthorn points out that religions with the highest birthrates, such as the Amish and Hutterites and Haredi (‘ultra-orthodox’) Jews, practice endogamy. “Endogamy is the practice of marrying within a specific ethnic group, class, or social group, rejecting others on such bases as being unsuitable for marriage or other close personal relationships. . .
Endogamy is common in many cultures and ethnic groups. Several ethnic religious groups are traditionally more endogamous, although sometimes with the added dimension of requiring marital religious conversion, permitting an ostensibly endogamous marriage to be performed since the convert has accepted the partner’s culture.” Wikipedia Orthodox traditions are also more likely to teach children only their religious tradition.

There are several factors that prevent modern Paganism from rapidly growing based on fertility. Pagans are not opposed to mixed and non-traditional marriages. They view marriage as an act between consenting adults no matter the race, religion or non-religion, gender, or nationality.

In his interview with the Staff of Asclepius, Charlton Hall, therapist and Chief Druid of the Universal Order of Druids said “It’s pretty well known in the Pagan community that we are more tolerant of alternative forms of sexual expression. Even though this is usually accepted as fact among Pagans, to my knowledge no one has ever attempted to quantify how prevalent this tolerance is. The Pagan Perspectives on Marriage survey is an initial attempt to study how we view these relationships.”

The other factor is that Pagan parents usually want their children to decide if they will even be religious or not. Some struggle with teaching their children about Paganism because they consider it unjust indoctrination. There are exceptions where children are raised on a hereditary path or Pagan parenting is embraced.

Until Pagan parenting becomes a more common tradition, the religion will grow mainly through individuals who discover and embrace the Pagan path. Modern Paganism tends to be more concerned with the fertility of ideas, the birth or renewal of the inner spirit. Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, an important figure of Neo-Paganism, sculpted one of the most recognized images of the Goddess: The Millenial Gaia. He intended it to be an expression of a growing global Earth-based consciousness. Pagans plant more then one kind of seed. We nurture seeds of awareness.

Millennial Gaia
Image: Millennial Gaia by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart

References

“Interview with Charlton Hall, therapist and Chief Druid of the UOD Part 2” Staff of Asclepius www.patheos.com/community/paganswithdisabilities/2011/02/01/interview-with-charlton-hall-therapist-and-chief-druid-of-the-uod-part-2/

“Model predicts ‘religiosity gene’ will dominate society”
By Lisa Zyga Jan. 28, 2011
www.physorg.com/news/2011-01-religiosity-gene-dominate-society.html
“A new study has investigated how the differing fertility rates between religious and secular individuals might affect the genetic evolution of society overall.”

Robert Rowthorn. “Religion, fertility and genes: a dual inheritance model.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B. January 12, 2011
Abstract
rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2011/01/07/rspb.2010.2504

Full Text
rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2011/01/07/rspb.2010.2504.full

“Geneticist claims to have found ‘God gene’ in humans” The Washington Times Nov. 14, 2004
www.washingtontimes.com/news/2004/nov/14/20041114-111404-8087r/
“An American molecular geneticist [Dean Hamer] has concluded after comparing more than 2,000 DNA samples that a person’s capacity to believe in God is linked to brain chemicals.”

Dean Hamer, the director of the Gene Structure and Regulation Unit at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda http://rex.nci.nih.gov/RESEARCH/basic/biochem/hamer.htm

The Witches’ Sabbats A Collection of Articles by Mike Nichols webspace.webring.com/people/wm/mike_nichols.geo/

Middle Eastern Wedding Traditions
worldweddingtraditions.com/locations/middle_eastern_traditions.html

Wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endogamy

About Tara "Masery" Miller

Tara "Masery" Miller is a Neo-Pagan panentheist Gaian mage living in the Ozarks with her husband and pets. She's also a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church. She is the editor of Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul which you can find at Immanion press. www.immanion-press.com/info/books.asp She has a minor is religion from Southeast Missouri State Missouri State University with an emphasis in mysticism. Masery has lead various groups over the years and organized Pagan Pride Day events. Her magic and author page is at www.taramaserymiller.com

  • a_scientist

    After reading Rowthorn’s paper, I do not get the impression he , as you put it, “does understand complex statistics”. His model is based on a few very simple, but profoundly inaccurate assumptions. He models this gene as if its average number of offspring is an important number (i.e. religiosity gene has X number of offspring). His simple model shows that the unknown religiosity gene will fix in a population in less than a dozen generations. If his model is correct, either the gene is already fixed in the population, or is very recent arrival.

    This model is incorrect for the following reason: average offspring numbers are meaningless numbers when modeling the fitness of a gene. Offspring probabilities are distributions, not averages! The average of a distribution is not always meaningful (see work by NN Taleb as to why). The models that this researcher used are meaningless and cannot be applied to human evolution. The claim that all humans will carry the religiosity gene in the near future has no foundation in biology or statistics, and perpetuating this idea will only lead to more incorrect biological models in the future.


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