Atheists are genetic mutants who, for the most part, would never have been born if we hadn’t managed to break free of pre-industrial conditions of Darwinian selection. This was the conclusion of a paper published just before Christmas in the leading journal Evolutionary Psychological Science[The Mutant Says in His Heart, “There Is No God”: The Rejection of Collective Religiosity Centred Around the Worship of Moral Gods is Associated with High Mutational Load Edward Dutton, Guy Madison & Curtis Dunkel. (PDF).] and it sent establishment psychologists into spasms of rage.
To be sophisticated, these days, means that you’re an atheist. Academia is overwhelmingly atheist and average intelligence weakly correlates with not believing in God [High IQ turns academics into atheists,’ Times Higher Education, byRebecca Atwood, June 12, 2008]. For SJWs, the religious are at best stupid and, at worst, racist bigots who vote for Donald Trump and Brexit. So it’s no surprise that the paper was greeted with disbelief by the SJWs who fill departments of psychology.
Reactions ranged from “Amazing!” to condemning it as the worst paper of the year and “one of the most egregious papers I’ve ever read.” Reported in newspapers worldwide [Atheists more likely to be left handed, study finds, by Olivia Rudgard,Daily Telegraph, December 21, 2017], its authors presumably delighted in the reaction.
And the reaction was all the more ferocious because the paper’s conclusions are difficult to dispute. The researchers—British anthropologist Dr Edward Dutton, Swedish psychologist Prof. Guy Madison and Western Illinois University psychologist Curtis Dunkel—presented a beautifully simple case:
Until the Industrial Revolution, we were under harsh conditions of Darwinian Selection, meaning that about 40% of children died before they reached adulthood. These children would have been those who had mutant genes, leading to poor immune systems and death from childhood diseases. But they would also have had mutant genes affecting the mind. This is because the brain, home to 84% of the genome, is extraordinarily sensitive to mutation, so mental and physical mutation robustly correlate. If these children had grown up, they might have had autism, schizophrenia, depression... but they had poor immune systems, so they never had the chance.
Under these conditions, prevalent until the nineteenth century, we were individually selected for but we were also “group selected” for. Ethnic groups are simply a genetic extended family and some groups fared better against the environment and enemy groups than others did, due to the kind of partly genetic psychological adaptations they developed.
Among these, the authors argue, was a very specific kind of religiosity which developed in all complex societies: the collective worship of gods concerned with morality. Belief in these kinds of gods was selected for, they maintain, because once we developed cities we had to deal with strangers—people who weren’t part of our extended family. By conceiving of a god who demanded moral behaviour towards other believers, people were compelled to cooperate with these strangers, meaning that large, highly cooperative groups could develop.
Computer models have proven that the more internally cooperative group—which is also hostile to infidel outsiders—wins the battle of group selection [The Evolutionary Dominance of Ethnocentric Cooperation. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation by Max Hartshorn, June 2013]. This very specific kind of religiousness was selected for and, indeed, it correlates with positive and negative ethnocentrism even today.
The authors demonstrate that this kind of religiousness has clearly been selected for in itself. It is about 40% genetic according to twin studies, it is associated with strongly elevated fertility, it can be traced to activity in specific regions of the brain, and it is associated with elevated health: all the key markers that something has been selected for.
And it is from here that the authors make the leap that has made SJW blood boil. Drawing on research by Michael Woodley of Menie and his team (see here and here)they argue that conditions of Darwinian selection have now massively weakened, leading to a huge rise in people with damaging mutations. This is evidenced in increasing rates of autism, schizophrenia, homosexuality, sex-dysmorphia, left-handedness, asymmetrical bodies and much else. These are all indicators of mutant genes.
Woodley suggests that weakened Darwinian selection would have led to the spread of “spiteful mutations” of the mind, which would help to destroy the increasingly physically and mentally sick group, even influencing the non-carriers to behave against their genetic interests, as carriers would help undermine the structures through which members learnt adaptive behaviour.
This is exactly what happened in the infamous Mouse Utopia experiment in the late 1960s, where a colony of mice was placed in conditions of zero Darwinian selection and eventually died out. [Death squared: The explosive growth and demise of a mouse population. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, January 1973(PDF)].
So Dutton and his team argue that, this being the case, deviation from this very specific form of religiousness—the collective worship of moral gods in which almost everyone engaged in 1800—should be associated with these markers of mutation. In other words, both atheists and those interested in spirituality with no moral gods (such as the paranormal) should be disproportionately mutants.
And this is precisely what they show. Poor physical and mental health are both significantly genetic and imply high mutational load. Dutton and his team demonstrate that this specific form of religiousness, when controlling for key factors such as SES, predicts much better objective mental and physical health, recovery from illness, and longevity than atheism.
It’s generally believed that religiousness makes you healthier because it makes you worry less and elevates your mood, but they turn this view on its head, showing that religious worshippers are more likely to carry gene forms associated with being low in anxiety. Schizophrenia, they show, is associated with extreme and anti-social religiosity, rather than collective worship. Similarly, belief in the paranormal is predicted by schizophrenia, and this is a marker of genetic mutation.
Next, they test autism, another widely accepted marker of mutation, as evidenced by the fact that it’s more common among the children of older men, whose fathers are prone to mutant sperm. Autism predicts atheism.
They then look at data on left-handedness. In agricultural societies we are overwhelmingly right-handed. Left-handedness means an asymmetrical brain and thus, to some extent, mutation. They show that there is a weak but significant trend whereby the more strongly religious you are the more likely you are to be right-handed, just as the theory would predict. Finally, they turn to plain ugliness—asymmetry. This shows that your immune system is so deficient that you haven’t been able to maintain a symmetrical phenotype in the face of disease or that you simply have mutant genes that make you asymmetrical. Believers in the paranormal have less symmetrical hands than do controls.
So, on these key markers of mutation, the theory is—to the fury of its critics—borne out.
The authors then pre-empt a number of criticisms. They argue that though, in theory, Buddhists do not believe in gods, in practice they do either implicitly or by combining Buddhism with older religions, like Shinto. The authors maintain that firm and consistent believers in overtly atheistic ideologies are really quite close to the “collective moral-god religious,” with their implicit belief in Fate and something which may underlie it. In addition, in practice these ideologues end-up deifying their leaders into moral gods anyway.
Finally, the authors note that intelligence is weakly negatively associated with religiousness and that low intelligence is a weak sign of mutation.
But they don’t see this as a contradiction. Intelligence, they show, is now negatively associated with fertility in modern conditions, though positively correlated with it in pre-modern conditions. Intelligent people don’t want to breed and, from an evolutionary perspective, nothing could be more maladaptive. Accordingly, high intelligence is maladaptive in our current environment and so we would expect high intelligence to be associated with ways of thinking that were themselves associated with mutation.
The average atheist is likely an atheist because of mutant genes. The clever atheist is an atheist because his high intelligence, which correlates with being low in instinctive behaviour, means that in our very low stress environment he has become, in effect, a mutant. His intelligence means he can easily overcome his instinct to believe in God, especially where stress levels are low. This has led to his having very few children (with no religious belief imploring him to breed and low instinctiveness anyway), and to his genes dying out. Those of his large-brood religious friends – with their adaptive genes – will inherit the earth. The intelligent atheist is, in effect, a mutant.
The ferocity of the reaction to this study is best encapsulated in series of blog posts on the popular Psychology Today magazine website by Australian psychologist Scott McGreal, MSc; with titles like , “The Fool says in his heart that atheists are mutants” March 17, 2018, “Religiosity, Atheism and Health”; March 19, 2018, and“Are Atheists Mutants?: The Left Hand of Daftness.”] However, McGreal, a member of Atheist Nexus, simply wilfully misunderstands their study.
He highlights evidence of atheism in Ancient Greece, but this only manifested itself as Darwinian selection had been weakened by centuries of city life and warm climate and as social status (and thus intelligence) was negatively associated with fertility, just as now (See In God’s Image: The Natural History of Intelligence and Ethics Gerhard Meisenberg. ) He questions whether the religion-health nexus exists with data on “subjective health,” which is the worst possible measure of objective health. He shows that non-religious Jews are healthier than some religious gentiles; meaningless as the Jews are likely to be more intelligent. And he questions whether anything about atheism can be inferred from “pathological” autistics being atheists.
To this it can be responded that we all sit on a spectrum between autistic (defined as the inability to ‘mentalize’; to understand cues of the thinking of others), and schizophrenic, where you over-mentalize and read too much into the cues, meaning you become paranoid and perceive the world as massive conspiracy in which everything is controlled, making you highly religious. [Hypermentalism: An insight whose time has come, by Christopher Badcock Psychology Today, March 8,2009]. McGreal also resorts to assorted appeals to authority, straw-man arguments, desperate nit picking and plain insults.
Dutton & Co.’s research is so incendiary because it is presenting the SJWs with what they really are: mutants; maladapted people who undermine carefully evolved, evolutionarily useful structures—such as religion—meaning they make even non-carriers maladapted; discouraging them from breeding or from defending their ethnic group.
Under normal Darwinian conditions, prevalent until the Industrial Revolution, these mutants would simply never have been born. They are, just like the mutant mice, people whose influence will ultimately lead to the collapse of society, as intelligence declines, and we return to a new Dark Age in which people are likely to be very religious indeed.
But perhaps there is some good news. It’s quite clear from the Mouse Utopia experiments that if the mutants are removed, then the society will recover.
Lance Welton [Email him] is the pen name of a freelance journalist.