January 9, 2015

Richard Dawkins
c/o Richard Dawkins Foundation
1012 14th Street NW
Suite 209
Washington, DC 20005

Dear Dr. Dawkins:
I see you are in the news again.  Your worst enemy cannot but respect your durability; consider me a friend if perhaps in hostile clothing.

I am sure you have reflected on the selective advantage of a belief in religion; after all the disadvantages are clear.  Putin has seen such a strong correlation between religion and fertility that he promotes religion.  At the same time the inverse correlation between the education of women and fertility simply must have a causal basis.  An understandable conclusion would be to say that empowered and educated women will choose to have fewer babies.  Experience shows that “fewer” means below replacement, and if the past is any guide to the future the empowerment and education of women must ultimately result in extinction of those very things.  You could call it the Liberal Death. 

I think this is unnecessarily bleak.  To begin with consider the Industrial Revolution.  It began in a place where, most unusually up until that time, women were empowered to the degree that they could own land.  Land was the only real wealth.  So a wealthy man would look for a wealthy woman to marry who lived nearby.  In short there was good economic incentive to marry cousins. 

Gregory Clark in A Farewell to Alms says that the upper classes had more children than the poor, resulting in what he calls downward social mobility.  Since a lot of us would hesitate to return to a pre-industrial culture, we should logically wish that the productive people marry cousins so that they will have more children, downward social mobility will return, everybody will be overqualified for their job and thus extend what the job can do until ultimately we tread on worlds near distant stars. 

The tiny little hooker is, “Who says marrying cousins means having more babies?”  Well, everybody who looks into it, actually.  You know when we all married cousins there were lots of babies and now both those trends have reversed.  It’s true in animals according to a study of over a thousand animal populations. (Sibly, R; Barker, D.; Denham, M. C.; Hone, J.; Pagel, M., On the Regulation of Populations of Mammals, Birds, Fish and Insects Science 2005, 309, 607-610.)  It’s true of Scandinavians.  (Helgason, A; Pálsson; SGudbjartsson, D. F.; Kristjánsson, T.; Stefánsson, K, An Association between Kinship and Fertility of Human Couples Science 2008, 329, 813 – 816, Labouriau, R.; Amorim, A., Comment on “An Association between Kinship and Fertility of Human Couples” Science 2008 322, 1634b and Labouriau, R.; Amorim, A., Human Fertility Increases with Marital Radius Genetics 2008 178, 601-3.)  One of the Danish studies specifically looked at the issue of choice and found that once questions of kinship were controlled for, the number of children a couple had was totally unrelated to education or income.  So yes, there is no question about it.  Cousins have the children.  If you want more check http://www.nobabies.net/A%20January%20summary%20for%202015.html

Of course I am available for any explaining.  And I’m a doctor, so call me night or day.  (Might give me a day’s notice you’re going to do so; I’m not as young as I was.)

So let’s run back to the top and look at our correlations; education correlates inversely with fertility but does not itself lower fertility.  Imagine an adolescent girl at school.  She’s doing more than studying.  She’s falling in love.  The studies are merely a slight distraction and even so she’s doing better than the boys, who give it their all.  So you can imagine how much psychic oomph goes into falling in love.  The farther she goes in school the more different boys she meets and the less likely she is to marry a cousin.  All right then, what about religion.  I own (and that’s borderline criminal – it’s really a world heritage treasure) a terra cotta figurine of a woman some seven thousand years old (the figurine, that is, the woman is of child bearing age).  It is a one of a huge number of such works; they are probably fertility icons of some sort, but not one ever made a woman pregnant.  I suppose you will forgive me for assuming that modern religions do no better.  So religion correlates positively with fertility but does not by itself raise fertility.  A church is a tight social group.  If everybody marries within their own church ultimately they will all be marrying cousins at just the right distance out (3rd or 4th seems to be pretty good for fast growth; take it farther out and you eventually get to zero growth.  Keep marrying out past tenth cousin and within a few generations heavy, heavy hangs over your head.  (For us Southerners that expression is a bit more chilling than the innocent children’s game.)   

So the whole point of a religion … wait … let me get this right.  The reproductive advantage of a religion depends on its exclusivity, and this is enhanced if those around it find it offensive.  If you want to say that the point of religion is to annoy outsiders, I shall not try to stop you. 
So a fair minded person should expect religions not only to have unattractive features but for those features to seem to be deliberately crafted to be unattractive.  The good news is that once the fertility issue is understood religion need no longer be called upon to partition people.  People just need to marry cousins or not at all.  Deprived of the need to offend and the reproductive advantage of so doing, religions might evaporate or might simply lose their now dysfunctional negative components.

What do you think?

M. Linton Herbert MD

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