RE: Serious concern

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Mon 18 Aug 2003 - 22:38:51 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "RE: Serious concern"

    >From: "Virginia Bowen" <>
    >To: <>
    >Subject: RE: Serious concern
    >Date: Mon, 18 Aug 2003 12:33:14 -0700
    >If those numbers are true, this is indeed a VERY serious concern. I
    >myself have tended to believe in "live and let live" with regard to
    > fact mostly preferring their company and tend to live in
    >areas that are primarily Christian. But I carefully avoid religious
    >conversation with those folk. Only very, very, very close friends know
    >of my non-belief.
    >I DO, however, mention evolution and don't *think* I get strange looks
    >or cold shoulders. But now I wonder if they think I'm "one of those"
    >behind my back...
    >I'd like to know where the numbers come from. So I will do an internet
    >search. Thanks for bringing this column to our attention.
    >But this leads to something I've been mulling lately. Do you all think
    >that memes are *genetically* inheritable? I was wondering just
    >yesterday if the general level of introspective intelligence in the
    >populace at large would be affected with the seeming lack of huge
    >reproduction numbers among the more academic sorts. If more gullible
    >memes are genetically inheritable, then we're on a downslide for sure.
    There's no way I'm aware of that cultural information (artifacts or socifacts) or neurally encoded memory (mentifacts) could breach through the barrier between the somatic cell and germ cell (ie- stuff such as "memes" or neural correlates passing from neurons to sperm or eggs into the genetic material that influences subsequent generations). I don't know that it can be shown that superstitious people (as a putative type) are genetically distinct from intellectual people (as a putative type) whereby the changes in relative proportion of the former to the latter would have the genetic basis to influence subsequent generations. The differences AFAIK between superstitious and intellectual people (if superstitious means religious/mystical and intellectual means scientific) are ideational. One learns their mindset towards reality, they can either approach reality through cognitive tools of reality testing or they can approach it in the clutches of superstition or an admixture of the two poles. One could switch from one mode to the other even in the same day, if they leave work at a laboratory and go to evening church services, so the dichotomy is strained at best.

    Ideas (of intellectual or mystical emphasis) can be passed between people either horizontally across a generation or vertically through generations without distinct genetic changes working in unison. If there was an adaptive reason for a certain tendency to have evolved in the context of the so-called environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA), there very well could be subtle tendencies for certain sorts of ideation to develop, if some mental module exists that serves as a categorization device for relevant culturally acquired information. This would be different than the somatic induction model where a breach opens across the barrier from somatic cell to germ cell. In this EEA model, a harsh selection regime resulted in genes that influence mental development in adaptive ways to have been selected when our ancestral population was much smaller and confined to the primordial savannah the ev psychers love so much. However limited in applicability (ie how do we actually identify and map them genes instead of speculating about them endlessly- such as the recent "gene for longetivity" hooplah in the press), the Panglossian model is much preferable to the neo-Lamarckian model of somatic induction.

    There's probably not going to be enough of a genetic basis for these ideational differences between the superstitious and academic to impact the gene pool that crafts future generations. We're all not very different in potenetial, its just social influences that tend to pull us down different pathways. The next Einstein could wind up a pulpit pounding preacher with a massive grasp of scripture instead of learning the requisite math and physics.
    >-----Original Message-----
    >From: [] On Behalf
    >Of Keith Henson
    >Sent: Friday, August 15, 2003 8:24 PM
    >Subject: Serious concern
    >Believe It, or Not
    >By Nicholas D. Kristof
    >Op-Ed Columnist, New York Times
    >Friday, August 15, 2003 Posted: 9:49 AM EDT (1349 GMT)
    >Today marks the Roman Catholics' Feast of the Assumption, honoring the
    >moment that they believe God brought the Virgin Mary into Heaven. So
    >a fact appropriate for the day: Americans are three times as likely to
    >believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus (83 percent) as in evolution (28
    >So this day is an opportunity to look at perhaps the most fundamental
    >divide between America and the rest of the industrialized world: faith.
    >Religion remains central to American life, and is getting more so, in a
    >that is true of no other industrialized country, with the possible
    >exception of South Korea.
    >Americans believe, 58 percent to 40 percent, that it is necessary to
    >believe in God to be moral. In contrast, other developed countries
    >overwhelmingly believe that it is not necessary. In France, only 13
    >agree with the U.S. view. (For details on the polls cited in this
    >go to
    >The faith in the Virgin Birth reflects the way American Christianity is
    >becoming less intellectual and more mystical over time. The percentage
    >Americans who believe in the Virgin Birth actually rose five points in
    >latest poll.
    >My grandfather was fairly typical of his generation: A devout and active
    >Presbyterian elder, he nonetheless believed firmly in evolution and
    >regarded the Virgin Birth as a pious legend. Those kinds of mainline
    >Christians are vanishing, replaced by evangelicals. Since 1960, the
    >of Pentecostalists has increased fourfold, while the number of
    >Episcopalians has dropped almost in half.
    >The result is a gulf not only between America and the rest of the
    >industrialized world, but a growing split at home as well. One of the
    >poisonous divides is the one between intellectual and religious America.
    >Some liberals wear T-shirts declaring, "So Many Right-Wing Christians .
    >. .
    >So Few Lions." On the other side, there are attitudes like those on a
    >site,, explaining the 2000 election this way:
    >"God defeated armies of Philistines and others with confusion. Dimpled
    >hanging chads may also be because of God's intervention on those who
    >voting incorrectly. Why is GW Bush our president? It was God's choice."
    >The Virgin Mary is an interesting prism through which to examine
    >emphasis on faith because most Biblical scholars regard the evidence for
    >the Virgin Birth, and for Mary's assumption into Heaven (which was
    >proclaimed as Catholic dogma only in 1950), as so shaky that it pretty
    >has to be a leap of faith. As the Catholic theologian Hans Küng puts it
    >"On Being a Christian," the Virgin Birth is a "collection of largely
    >uncertain, mutually contradictory, strongly legendary" narratives, an
    >of virgin birth myths that were widespread in many parts of the ancient
    >Jaroslav Pelikan, the great Yale historian and theologian, says in his
    >"Mary Through the Centuries" that the earliest references to Mary (like
    >Mark's gospel, the first to be written, or Paul's letter to the
    >don't mention anything unusual about the conception of Jesus. The
    >of Matthew and Luke do say Mary was a virgin, but internal evidence
    >suggests that that part of Luke, in particular, may have been added
    >by someone else (it is written, for example, in a different kind of
    >than the rest of that gospel).
    >Yet despite the lack of scientific or historical evidence, and despite
    >doubts of Biblical scholars, America is so pious that not only do 91
    >percent of Christians say they believe in the Virgin Birth, but so do an
    >astonishing 47 percent of U.S. non-Christians.
    >I'm not denigrating anyone's beliefs. And I don't pretend to know why
    >America is so much more infused with religious faith than the rest of
    >world. But I do think that we're in the middle of another religious
    >Awakening, and that while this may bring spiritual comfort to many, it
    >also mean a growing polarization within our society.
    >But mostly, I'm troubled by the way the great intellectual traditions of
    >Catholic and Protestant churches alike are withering, leaving the
    >and religious worlds increasingly antagonistic. I worry partly because
    >the time I've spent with self-satisfied and unquestioning mullahs and
    >imams, for the Islamic world is in crisis today in large part because of
    >similar drift away from a rich intellectual tradition and toward the
    >mystical. The heart is a wonderful organ, but so is the brain.
    >Nicholas D. Kristof is an op-ed columnist for the New York Times.
    >This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal
    >of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For
    >information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
    >This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    >Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    >For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

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