Science has failed to prove or disprove the existence of God, but recent studies suggest certain beliefs are better for you than others, and that includes your Darwinian fitness. These ideas aggravate moral relativists who argue that no way of life is superior to another. “You can’t judge,” they scold. “It’s all the same.” That’s exactly what someone would say before convincing you to do something stupid. Which tradition you follow matters, and its effects can be measured.
Both the Old Order Amish and the Hutterites are at the front lines of the resistance to modern life and its myth of progress. But a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last summer reveals a crucial difference. Because the Hutterite sect takes a more liberal approach to industrial farming than their Amish brethren, Hutterite children are far more likely to suffer from allergies and asthma.
The authors control for cultural and genetic variables. The two religious groups hail from the same sixteenth-century Anabaptist tradition and share a closely related bloodline. Casual observers can barely tell them apart. Both maintain traditionalist dress codes, are known for their impeccable piety and baffling pacifism, and subsist through a rural agrarian lifestyle. It’s the machines that make the difference.
Some Religions Are Healthier Than Others
The Old Order way of life derives from the sacred Ordnung, or “rules and discipline.” This code rejects the moral and intellectual authority of the Enlightenment, with all of its bells and whistles and brain-numbing TV shows. It looks backward to the values of ancient tradition and communal identity. However, each Old Order community has its own unique standards, and the extent to which the Ordnung is interpreted to reject technology affects children’s health.
While the Amish get down and dirty with old-school barn-raisings and horse-drawn plows, the Hutterites live and work and produce an astounding number of babies in tech-savvy communes. They employ computer databases and industrial farming techniques. As a result, the Amish are grubbier, and Amish children are less allergy-prone.
The Amish homes tested in the study had nearly seven times more endotoxic bacteria than Hutterite homes. The researchers found allergens in the dust of 4 in 10 Amish homes, while only 1 in 10 Hutterite homes had comparable levels. Yet Amish kids were four times less likely to have asthma and six times less likely to have allergies.
Due to the remarkable genetic similarity of the two populations, the study’s findings indicate a hearty immune response to a pathogen-rich environment. This provides strong evidence that soft-palmed kids who don’t play in the dirt are more likely to become asthmatic Eloi. It also shows how different approaches to the Ordnung produced unforeseeable effects.
What You Believe Affects Your Survival
Social experiments will always have unexpected results. For instance, belief in germ theory led to effective sanitation and the discovery of antibiotics. On the other hand, the secular faith in endless medical progress—coupled with reckless sexual liberation—led to the rise of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea. Of course, strict monogamy precludes the possibility of gonad-devouring superbugs ever getting a foothold, but only a sex-negative yahoo would ever entertain the notion.
None of this is to say that religious traditions that reject the modern world will produce healthier children. Christian Scientists refute the benefits of modern medicine entirely, and the few studies we have on them indicate a lower life expectancy. Various religions clearly motivate all sorts of counterproductive behavior. Whatever the spiritual benefits of martyrdom may be, strapping bombs to your children is rarely good for their long-term health.
What we can conclude is that the structure of a society’s moral universe will have critical downstream consequences. Some strategies will be more successful than others, depending on the environment and our standard of measurement.
From a Darwinian perspective, the Hutterites are doing alright, sneezes be damned. After a hard run of Old Country persecution in the late 1800s, adherents began immigrating to America. Most wound up on the harsh Dakota plains, where they’ve been breeding ever since. An 1880 U.S. census found just 443 Hutterites living in four communities. Despite a steady stream of sniffling kids who abandon ship and defect to pop culture, today there are more than 40,000 Hutterites in America spread across more than 480 communities.
Alongside Mormons and Hispanic Catholics, the Hutterites’ reproductive work ethic is paying off, especially when compared to their fellow secular Americans. Underlying belief systems appear to drive differential reproductive rates—a demographic trend that may determine the next century’s ideological landscape.
Religious People Make More Babies
A paper published in Evolutionary Psychological Sciences this month contributes to the mounting evidence that the future belongs to the children of God. The cross-sectional study, led by Lee Ellis and Anthony Hoskin, looked at a population of 2,511 university students in America and 2,059 in Malaysia, with a large female majority in both. The researchers used questionnaires about the subjects’ families to measure the connection between religious commitment and fertility rates.
Their results showed a strong correlation between the intensity of religious belief and number of offspring, particularly in the Muslim population under study. As another liberated generation screws around and tosses its gametes into the void, their devout neighbors are pairing off and making babies.
The authors readily acknowledge their sample isn’t a global representation. The data only considers the parents of university students, which means childless people are excluded. Also missing are those sections of the population who send their children to religious colleges, or who shun secular institutions completely, such as Hutterites. Having admitted these limitations, the researchers offer their results as fuel for an important debate that is largely suppressed.
Is Darwinism Self-Defeating?
Secular progressives have imagined no religion for over a century now. Multiple academic disciplines put forward variations on the “secularization hypothesis,” but it was just their imaginations. Ellis and Hoskin condense these into a core assumption: “As humans become more rational and scientifically enlightened, religiosity will fade.” The authors then propose a biologically informed “contra-secularization hypothesis” which is based, ironically, on the very evolutionary principles which are supposed to replace primitive superstition.
The contra-secularization hypothesis is supported by plummeting birth rates in numerous zygote-squashing secular nations, especially Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, as well as the exploding populations in more traditional regions of the world like Africa and the Middle East. Even if we bracket the genetic aspects of Ellis and Hoskin’s argument, it’s obvious that the belief that this life is all we have, paired with birth control and abortions on demand, can make a serious dent in demographics. Creationists may be completely wrong about how the cosmos was born, but they clearly know how babies are created. And in a Darwinian calculus, expected reproductive rates are what count.
By its very nature, the postmodern mind can’t conceive of religion’s objective advantages. At least their New Atheist counterparts are sane enough to know that ideas make a difference, but they insist religion is a virulent meme that drives its hosts insane. The loudest antichrists warn us that religion will push us to civilizational collapse. What they fail to recognize is that traditional religion is the scaffolding that every great civilization is built on.
The secular utility of religion, as biologist D.S. Wilson calls it, is an open question. But it’s a question we have to take seriously. Society is the aggregate of individual behaviors. Behavior is motivated by belief. Different belief systems yield very different societies, and some societies are better equipped to respond to shifting historical circumstances than others.
That’s why I advocate for the absolute freedom of religion, including scientism, hedonism, and other secular variants. You never know what might work. But the freedom to conduct social experiments is empty unless we’re also free to openly criticize the varied results.
You can judge a healthy tradition by its fruits. If civilization is teetering, it may be because the supporting spiritual structure was torn out before another, sufficiently sturdy foundation was put in place. And if your sneezy offspring are getting thrashed by Morlocks, you should let them play outside more often.