Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Birth Rates and Competing Ideas

An article in “The Nation” magazine that I received last week discussed a “demographic” problem in Europe and America. The problem is that “the right people” are not having children, which means that other groups are out-producing us, and will soon take over the planet in virtue of their greater numbers. In order to prevent this disaster, “the right people” need to get busy producing as many children as possible, so that “we” can maintain control of the social and political institutions.

The Nation presented this strategy as being racist and tribalist fear-mongering for the sake of promoting a religious-right agenda on reproduction. The problem, the proponents of this view state, is that women are working rather than staying home and having children, which is the ‘proper’ role for women. Secular, liberal culture supports abortion, homosexuality, contraception, and a number of other policies that interfere with reproduction, each helping to ring about a state in which “the right people” are becoming extinct, to be replaced by the children of the barbarian hordes.

Atheists are particularly prone to this problem. Atheists have a far lower birth rate than theists – well below the level needed to maintain its population (in the absence of recruiting). So, atheists themselves are at risk of becoming extinct – allowing the world to fall into the hands of Muslims, who are busy having as many children as possible and moving them to Europe as a way of trying to take over their countries. Or so it goes.

Paradoxically, one of the assumptions that is built into the idea that birth rates are important is that the primary influence on a child’s beliefs about religion and the like is the family. There is an important correlation between what a parents believe and what their children believe. These “Muslim” children (for example) are simply trapped in a system where they adopt a false religion only because they were born into parents who brainwashed them into that position.

Yet, theists who make this type of claim ignore an obvious implication – that perhaps they also have adopted their religious beliefs, not because those beliefs are true, but as a matter of childhood indoctrination. Indeed, they are supporting the idea that their children will acquire their religion in virtue of a parent’s indoctrination. That is precisely why they need more children, so that they have more people to indoctrinate.

In fact, this is true. The religious beliefs that people acquire have nothing to do with an encounter with some sort of transcendental reality. If it did, then something has to explain why the people in one part of the world so reliably encounter one transcendental reality. Yet, people in the other part of the world encounter yet another transcendental reality. Nothing better explains the acquisition of religious belief than the theory that they are a set of fictions that have nothing to do with reality that the child learns from those closest to him or her while growing up.

Now, recognizing that religious belief is the product of one’s culture and not the product of an encounter with transcendental reality, it is true that birth rates will affect the numbers of people who accept one religion over another. It is true that the numbers of Muslims there are versus the numbers of Christians there are does not depend at all on which religion has the most accurate understanding of God. It depends on which one gets the ability to indoctrinate the most children in the least amount of time.

This part of the argument is true. The reasons that different religions are concerned about birth rates are accurate in that birth rates are, indeed, important to the numbers of people who adhere to a particular religion. Failing the birth-rate war does, indeed, carry the risk of falling into being a minority, and then being subject to all of the burdens that the majority religion might impose on minority views. Historically, these have included some extremely bloody burdens.

There are those who claim that atheism is just another religion. As such, it would be a part of the same birth-rate war as genuine religions are. However, atheism is not a set of beliefs acquired by culture with only a pretend relationship to a fictional transcendental reality. Atheism is nothing more than the claim that, in the absence of no evidence of a divine force, the chances that one exists are very, very small, that we could never know anything about its nature even if it did exist, and the question of its existence is of no practical importance.

In a sense, the claim can be made that I am a part of the problem, where secular birth rates are concerned. My wife and I have no children, and will not have any children. So, we will not be contributing to the numbers of atheists by indoctrinating our children.

But, then again, birth rates are not important when what one values is truth and a connection to reality.

This blog, in a sense, is my child. It will soon be 2.5 years old – still an infant, clearly incapable of taking care of itself. It has grown respectably well for the past 2.5 years and seems to be healthy – with no serious problems as far as I have been able to tell.

With luck, the blog – or at least the ideas contained within this blog – will survive my death. They will go on into the future. Even though they, too, will eventually fade away and die, they will, in part, be absorbed into future ideas, which will then be absorbed into other future ideas, leaving behind a long chain of children ideas, grandchildren ideas, and great grand children ideas, for years to come.

It is my hope that my child will make a positive contribution to society – that it will be known for providing society with things of value. Yet,, as many parents will tell you, the children do not always turn out as well as the parents will like. Time will tell how this one turns out.

The point is that this blog is concerned with identifying certain propositions in the fields of ethics, moral theory, and meta-ethics, are true or false. If a proposition is true, then it is true. It’s truth or falsity does not depend on demographics. So, even if the world should become overrun by ‘the wrong type of people’, the real question is whether those people have true beliefs or false belifs. If the proposition is true, and a religion that denies its truth comes to dominate, those people will suffer the consequences of their error. And, eventually, given enough time, they will tire of paying the cost of being wrong and discover that embracing the truth has its benefits.

The crace or gender or cultural identity of the child or the religion it is brought up in all have absolutely no affect on the truth. Either people will come to actually embrace that truth, or suffer the consequences of failure to match their beliefs to reality.

Let us not forget the possibility that I could be wrong. In fact, this is a good time to ring out one of my favorite slogans yet again. I know, as an absolute fact, that at least one of the propositions contained in my writings is false. I simply do not know which proposition(s) it (they) are. In these cases, it would still be the case that society is better off to find truth than to embrace a fiction.

So, I will in no way endorse a policy that as many children as possible must be indoctrinated into the system that I have described here. That would mean indoctrinating them into the at least one fiction that I know for certain exists. I will, instead, repeat my assertion that society is better off to the degree that it embraces truth and shuns fiction – including the at-least-one-false-statement that is contained within this blog.

People who have nothing to go on in defending their ideas but the ability to indoctrinate children and lock them into a particular way of thinking have reason to be concerned about the numbers of children they have unrestricted access to. Whereas people who value truth based on evidence have less of a need for these types of machinations. The evidence will always be there, and it will always point to the same truth, even if people are indoctrinated from childhood on to ignore the evidence or that truth.

Another way of identifying the same point is this:

Take a group of babies too young to know any of our culture and raise them on a distant planet where they will eventually invent their own languages. It is a virtual certainty that they would never invent Islam or Christianity. There is almost no chance that they will develop exactly the same myths that are found on Earth. However, as they grew and intelligence and in their understanding of the scientific world around them, there will eventually be atheists.

People who need to worry about how many children their membership is having that they can indoctrinate are simply admitting that they have nothing to base their beliefs on but the myths that they pass onto their children.


Anonymous said...

In a sense however, the problem is not so much that atheists don't need to indoctrinate our children but rathers in that, since Muslims in foreign countries (especially liberal leaning European ones) generally exhibit great solidarity and tend to cluster in their own communities while shunning external culture, they are impossible to be changed in any significant numbers.

All would be well if Muslims came to Europe and were open to the same values that they came here for, but far from it. Not only do they not, but they tend to try and force their opinion and values (usually the same ones they left their countries to escape) on everyone else (see cartoon fiasco, death threats and whatnot).

In the end, it is not so important if we Atheists are having the better arguments. If the opponent is not willing to listen, but it willing to kill (or change the laws) for his cause, we may end up reaching a situation (again) where our voices are not being allowed to be heard

I do not know how to counter this problem without forcing the parents to allow their children to have normal education.

What is your idea?

anticant said...

The following exchange took place in a BBC radio programme between the interviewer and the headmaster of an Islamic school:

IBRAHIM LAWSON: "The essential purpose of the Islamia school as with all Islamic schools is to inculcate profound religious belief in the children."

INTERVIEWER: "You use the word 'inculcate': does that mean you are in the business of indoctrination?"

IL: "I would say so, yes; I mean we are quite unashamed about that really…"

INTERVIEWER: "Does that mean that Islam is a given and is never challenged?"

IL: "That’s right…"

This led to an extended debate on Stephen Law's philosophy blog which is well worth studying:


Samuel Skinner said...

Simple- we have to spread faster than the birth rate. Once a population reaches a certain level of explicit atheism it probably won't backslide and believers are neutralized. Getting that to happen though...

Anonymous said...

@Samuel: This is exactly what I think, and I also think that with correct education then many problems will dissapear (i.e. more critical thinking = less vulnerable to fascism and religion. More scepticism = Less Woo-woo etc)

Unfortunately, the powers that be seem hell bent on keeping people uneducated which is understandable since knowledge is their enemy.

wiseintellectual said...

"A little philosophy leads one to atheism. Depth in philosophy leads one to God" - Francis Bacon

Truth is on the side of Catholicism, although it cannot be proved scientifically but can be reasoned logically. Catholicism never contradicts reason or science, but does contain supernatural mysteries that is above reason so a rational leap of faith is required. I was once a rationalist, in the sense that it was my subscribing philosophy, and was never indoctrinated by religion, but rather by practically atheist parents. I am still a rationalist, but I have come to embrace a totally reasonable faith. Reason and Truth are on the side of Catholicism. An honest search for truth will lead everyone there. Ultimately only falsely rational people, or rather shall I say unwise, are Atheists. Agnostic would be a better position, although basically you are sitting on the fence. But you are close, since if I was not a Catholic, I would be a Deist, and third and last a Rationalist. Atheism gives no peace, not even true freedom but license.

Anonymous said...

I suggest that the men and women who have given up religion because of the impact on their minds of modern science and philosophy were never truly religious in the first place, but only superstitious. The prevalence and predominance of science in our culture has cured a great many of the superstitious beliefs that constituted their false religiosity. The increase of secularism and irreligion in our society does not reflect a decrease in the number of persons who are truly religious, but a decrease in the number of those who are falsely religious; that is, merely superstitious. There is no question but that science is the cure for superstition, and, if given half the chance with education, it will reduce the amount that exists. The truths of religion must be compatible with the truths of science and the truths of philosophy. As scientific knowledge advances, and as philosophical analysis improves, religion is progressively purified of the superstitions that accidentally attach themselves to it as parasites. That being so, it is easier in fact to be more truly religious today than ever before, precisely because of the advances that have been made in science and philosophy. That is to say, it is easier for those who will make the effort to think clearly in and about religion, not for those whose addiction to religion is nothing more than a slavish adherence to inherited superstition. Throughout the whole of the past, only a small number of men were ever truly religious. The vast majority who gave their epochs and their societies the appearance of being religious were primarily and essentially superstitious.” Mortimer Adler

Eneasz said...

WI - your "supernatural mysteries" aren't very mysterious. In fact they're quite simple. The mysteries of the real world are much more complex, relevant, and interesting.

Anon - can you please provide an example of a "truth of religion" that is both religious and demonstrably true? As religion is purified by increased knowledge it is purified out of existence.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy your comment on the survival of a small part of atheist's beliefs resting in the pages of your blog; as opposed to your indoctrinated offspring. Reason wins because it is accurate, not because we educate people from birth to believe it.

Mitchell Powell said...

Hello, I'm one of those folks from a large family of indoctrinated believers, but I'm quite happy to stay that way and I'm not here to debate. What I was wondering, though, is whether the author or any of the rest of you know of anywhere I can get some hard data on atheist fertility rates. You see, I'm in the process of trying to figure out how long it will take my tribe to inherit the earth.


Mitchell Powell