In the past 20 years, the Amish population in the US has doubled, increasing from 123,000 in 1991 to 249,000 in 2010. The huge growth stems almost entirely from the religious culture’s high fertility rate, which is about 6 children per woman, on average. At this rate, the Amish population will reach 7 million by 2100 and 44 million by 2150. On the other hand, the growth may not continue if future generations of Amish choose to defect from the religion and if secular influences reduce the birth rate. In a new study, Robert Rowthorn, emeritus professor of economics at Cambridge University, has looked at the broader picture underlying this particular example: how will the high fertility rates of religious people throughout the world affect the future of human genetic evolution, and therefore the biological makeup of society?

Rowthorn has developed a model that shows that the genetic components that predispose a person toward religion are currently “hitchhiking” on the back of the religious cultural practice of high fertility rates. Even if some of the people who are born to religious parents defect from religion and become secular, the religious genes they carry (which encompass other personality traits, such as obedience and conservativism) will still spread throughout society, according to the model’s numerical simulations.

Or put another way, those who are easily led and less willing to think for themselves?

“Provided the fertility of religious people remains on average higher than that of secular people, the genes that predispose people towards religion will spread,” Rowthorn told “The bigger the fertility differential between religious and secular people, the faster this genetic transformation will occur. This does not mean that everyone will become religious. Genes are not destiny. Many people who are genetically predisposed towards religion may in fact lead secular lives because of the cultural influences they have been exposed to.”

I’ve added the bullshit meter because I think this is a case where the researcher is mixing things that result in statistical junk science.

In a related story, the Muslim-country birth rate is falling as their living standards, education rise.

  1. bobbo, the evangelical anti-theist says:

    As much as I am predisposed to dump on the religious and think poorly of them, I don’t take my grounding in SCIENCE this far. Just to start with, everything I have read says there is no “one” gene, but rather a complex of interactive genes and then its not really about religion but rather about a willingness to believe or to do what your parents tell you==Straight Up Darwinism survival. That willingness to believe can be bent towards any goal–like believing in science.

    Thats what I’m going to believe until the science gets firmed up.

  2. Airsick says:

    For real? This is the biggest load of crap I have ever read. Religion is NOT genetic! Do Amish people have an Amish gene and Muslim people have a Muslim gene? Were ancient cave people religious? Did they inherit this gene from the monkeys?

    If not, then perhaps the secular people are genetically inferior to the more evolved religious?

    Think about it. There are lots of Amish people around because THEY DON’T USE CONDOMS! The same goes for Muslims and Catholics! They don’t use condoms, abortions or other forms of birth control. Plus, having lots of kids on the farm helps spread out the labour (at least after they’re older).

  3. Floyd says:

    Belief in scientific principles is easier to justify, since there’s usually actual evidence. Religious belief is more difficult, since it’s based on religious tenets that are harder to prove.

    I read the New Testament when I was in college, and came to the conclusion that Jesus probably existed as a teacher, but the supernatural “miracles” were probably added to the New Testament many years later (perhaps by “Paul or “John”).

  4. What? says:

    I totally accept a genetic component to religion.

    Orthodox practitioners show signs of autism and OCD from my first hand observations.

  5. Ah_Yea says:

    “The models predict …”

    Yea, right. I believe “the models”. Yup.

  6. Airsick says:

    I used to be a global warming scientist, but that was all fake.

    So now I study the sexual habits of Amish people.

  7. So what says:

    “Robert Rowthorn, emeritus professor of economics at Cambridge University” If I want to know about banking I will talk with an economist. If I want to know about genetics I will talk with a geneticist, not visa versa. Genes cause religion like drunks cause alcohol.

  8. Skippy says:

    #4 you’re pretty bang on. I saw a fascinating anthropology lecture online where the instructor was talking about the role of ritual in almost all religions. The rituals are often the direct result of OCD tendencies in very early religious leaders.

    These village elders, or shamans, are usually at the fringes of society, and sometimes they’re just plain crazy (every village has one). They are often relegated to the role of spiritual advisor. The rituals don’t mean anything in and of themselves, they are just handed down throughout the ages and are given religious justifications.

  9. So what says:

    Skippy, you just described alfie.

  10. wirelessg says:

    John Lennon wrote about this, “I’m a gene, there’s no heaven.”

  11. gildersleeve says:

    “One of the differences between the United States and Britain is that the nit-wits there spout off in Hyde Park, and in America we make them professors and give them $114,000 a year, enabling them to pass along their nonsense to our children. ” – Jacki Mason

  12. dusanmal says:

    @#2 Just one of the studies: Genetic basis for religiosity and niceness discovered in twin studies –

  13. Lou says:

    It’s rubbish and should be put in the Bin.

  14. MikeN says:

    I think they have things backwards. Lack of religion leads to cultural suicide. Europe is becoming Islamic, to the point where they now arrest people for mocking Islam. Canada put some reporters on trial for the same thing. Yemen is expected to pass Russia’s population in 40 years. Yemen! Meanwhile, Japan’s population is shrinking, and is now so old that without US support they would probably be conquered by the Chinese, who appear to be the one exception to this trend.

  15. No Fly Zone says:

    TIme to start a new ‘religion’ where we worship technology and gadgets!

    Maybe name it iReligion?

  16. foobar says:

    Long term twin studies from the past 5-10 years indicate that genetics have a significant influence on religious inclination – probably more than even upbringing and environment.

    As for birth rate, I’ve spent time around Hutterites (a lot like the Amish). Basically it comes down to “What else can they do for fun?”.

  17. The Wrong Guy says:

    Gods are the pre-scientific explanation for how the world works and how it came to be.

    Religion is political construct that uses belief in a god or gods as an effective tool to control the population.

    The more you make yourself subservient to a god, the more subservient you are going to be to a government. Just what a government wants in its people when it wants you to die for it in a war, pay taxes and so on.

    There’s a reason you aren’t supposed to question and learn the truth (partake of the tree of knowledge) because you would realize the lie and no longer be willing to be subservient.

    It makes sense, then, that what they are calling a religion gene is really a trait toward accepting things like gods and governments at their word without questioning.

  18. Motorcycle Parts says:

    I was in college, and came to the conclusion that Jesus probably existed as a teacher, but the supernatural “miracles” were probably added to the New Testament many years later,

  19. Animby - just phoning it in says:

    The “God gene” has been around for a few years now. It actually codes for a specific neurotransmitter that seems to get invoked when one is involved in high order thinking. And that includes considering things like a god or an afterlife. I think most neurobiologists still sneer at the idea that it codes for religion. A belief in a god is different than a belief in a religion. Religion relies on a lot more, i.e. societal influences, family traditions, etc. The point being, this might be the gene that is partly responsible for belieiving in a higher authority or it might be the one that is responsible for beliefs in UFOs. Ain’t no “god” in the god gene, though.

    Kudos to Wirelessg in #10. I wouldn’t be surprised if the god gene were actually the pun gene.

    In other news: 7 million Amish by 2100??? Now that’s scary. Just think of all the road apples!

  20. soundwash says:

    Considering most geneticists dont know squat about how genes work.. perhaps they should work on figuring out how to yank the arrogant and ignorant genes out of their own genomes before publishing garbage like this.

    All they have succeeded in doing is identifying the surface “letters” of the language. they nothing of the syntax or how to read the stories encoded within.

    -they still completely ignore the role dna’s energy matrix plays as well how dna is directly effected by energy and emotion. they see genomes as things to be conquered and manipulated. is it any wonder they concocted a “gene gun” to facilitate their ignorance?

    our “hammer science” has no business tinkering with anything biological until they understand the energy side of the equation and harmonics in play. which at this point, the majority are not even taught that it exists.


  21. Animby - just phoning it in says:

    # 23 soundwash said,”how dna is directly effected [sic] by energy and emotion.”

    So you believe your DNA makeup is altered by emotions? ‘Nuff said. The rest of what you’ve stated will fall on it’s own.

  22. Cursor_ says:


    Rituals are everywhere. In everyone’s life.

    Do you wash and dry yourself the same way each day? Most likely until you lose a use of a hand, then it it is a pain to change.
    Go through the aisle of the grocery store the same path? Most likely again, unless some twit
    blocks your way.

    It is common for humans to develop patterns that they replicate unknowingly over and over again.
    These become tradition and are ritualised. Handed down from parent to child. That is in every animal.

    They have one for Apple.

    Its called Steventology.

    First sentence correct.
    Second incorrect.

    Religion is a system of codifying belief.

    THEN it was picked up by leaders to be exploited for their purposes.

    Religion, by itself, is not as bad as some would have you believe. It is misuse that makes it a problem. But you can just as easily misuse science.

    Overall I tend to agree that an economist should not be heavily relied upon for biology.


  23. soundwash says:

    24 said:

    So you believe your DNA makeup is altered by emotions? ‘Nuff said. The rest of what you’ve stated will fall on it’s own.

    I don’t *believe* anything, both the energy aspects and the emotional effects (esp stress) has been already lab proven years ago.

    -do the research before you dismiss that, which you have zero knowledge of.


  24. Animby - just phoning it in says:

    # 27 – No, Soundwash. YOU do your research. Show me a single reputable scientific source that says emotions affect DNA structure. Just one. It “has been already lab proven years ago.” Shouldn’t take you long at all to show us a source for your absurd statement.

    Start googling.

  25. FRAGaLOT says:

    My family history goes deep into Mormon/LDS history. My family is OG; strait outta Provo Utah. But that’s on my mother’s side, and my father’s family was primarily Catholic, but I grew up secular.

    I don’t exactly buy the religious gene, because I grew up with out much religion and don’t plan too. Even though my moron side of the family has tried to pressure me a few times, but for the most part they tend to be hands off.

    I still think that it’s a basic human desire to as “why” and for the past 5000+ years we had only religion to explain the world. It’s been less than perhaps 500 years that we have had any for of science that attempted to explain the world.

    Unfortunately Science is just as corrupted and skewed as any religion. I’m also sick of the fact that Science and religion are at odds with each other like two feuding religious that worship the same god (Catholic & Protestant).

    Just as in religion with minor differences in beliefs, they form their own church. Just as with different scientific beliefs, you have different scientists working on the SAME problem but with different results. “The science is in” for whoever gets the most funding.

  26. Buzz Mega says:

    Many pseudo estimates include the phrase “if present trends continue.”

    When have present trends ever continued?

  27. Skippy says:

    #26, I’m not disagreeing with you, I’m just reporting what the anthropologist said. However, there are many rituals in religion that don’t make any sense at all, and have absolutely nothing to do with the rituals of everyday life.

  28. TheDevilMadeMeDoIt says:

    Initially religions were a useful and effective means of enforcing the social contract, so we didn’t all kill each other because we were all living in such intimate contact with so many flaming assholes – but religion became, as many institutions do – transformed into that it was formed to fight against…

    …just like the United States government and terrorist organizations!!!!!

    If there’s a gene or two involved, so what? I didn’t even know governments had genes.

  29. Dallas says:

    A little electric shock therapy should clear this condition right up.

  30. Mr, Ed says:

    Would someone explain to #33 about hearsay?


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