[ExI] hard science

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Sun Feb 16 20:25:19 UTC 2014

Tara Maya <tara at taramayastales.com> , 16/2/2014 7:58 PM:
Take the role of the Church. There are two rival theories, both congruent with sociobiology:
1. The Church actually INCREASED the genetic success of followers: in exchange for a very small number of celibate workers (1-2% of the population) they tirelessly advocated for early, monogamous marriage and against birth control and infanticide, arguably increasing family size. That would have more than made up for the few priests they took "out of circulation," as it were. 
2. The Church acted like a memetic virus, and DECREASED the genetic success of its followers, but increased its memetic success so greatly by creating full time vectors (celebrate priests devoted full time to creating memetic offspring -- converts -- rather than wasting money and time investing in their own biological offspring) that it spread anyway. In this theory, religion is like a parasite that debilitates the host, yet must not be too successful (like the Shakers) as it also depends on the continued survival of the host.
I doubt either theory works. The population history of Europe since the fall of the Roman empire(s) does not look like it outperformed similar regions (consider the growth in the medieval Muslim world, where priests were not celibate and monks were rare), nor did the church have a chance to convert that many heathens once it got fully established. People are religious in general, their culture affects their fertility patterns, but it seems rare that a particular meme radically affects fertility patterns consistently over a long time. 

I would very much to like to do a historical study of the Church to test the theory of whether families who had monks and nuns in them actually thrived and had more surviving children because of it. Probably the study would have to be of noble families only, since generally there aren't enough birth records before the 1500s to compare. 
Maybe one could use the methodology from Gregory Clark's "Farewell to alms". His data is post-1500 so it is not suited for this study, but one could likely apply it (with plenty of elbow grease) to pre-reformation environments. 
I suspect that even if there is a fitness enhancing effect, it gets swamped by the "memetic noise" of people changing beliefs, moving between communities etc.

Anders Sandberg, Future of Humanity Institute Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University
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