Thursday, 5 July 2012

Adaptive evolution, increased worldliness and the decline of Christianity


Few books have had a greater impact on me that Gregory Clark's A farewell to alms: a brief economic history of the world.

The describes how a process of natural selection operating generation upon generation created a population psychologically adapted to generate the industrial revolution and modernity.

This happened because the 'middle class' of cognitive specialists (merchants, clerks, craftsmen) had larger surviving families than the peasants, and even than the aristocratic upper class.

Biologically, the middle classes had higher fitness.

Since attributes such as intelligence and personality are substantially hereditary, this meant that the middle class psychology (intelligent, hard working, placid etc) permeated the whole of the English population (by some upward, but mostly downward, class mobility).


One aspect of this may have been a population-wide increase in 'this-worldliness', and a decline in spirituality, other-worldliness, devoutness.

If reproductive success in medieval England was associated with an orientation towards long-term security and prosperity, and  increased effort at economic success - as apparently it was - then the population of England would, generation-upon-generation, become more this-worldly.

Or, at least, the personality-type would make this outcome more likely (since free-will potentially enables a person to choose against their disposition).


If this happened in England, it presumably happened in similar places.


The process went into reverse from about 1800 when middle class behaviour (high intelligence, conscientiousness) became associated with lower reproductive success due to self-limited fertility.

And this has continued until the middle classes are reproducing at at half the rate necessary to replace themselves.

Later work by Clark has shown that a poor man in 1800 left behind many more descendants than a wealthy man in 1800.

Thus, since 1800, it is a plain fact that the poorest classes have (biologically) the highest fitness.


So we may assume that if psychological traits associated with worldly success (worldly traits) were selected from about 1000-1800 AD, then the opposite has been the case since then.

But the native English population was, by 1800, very worldly by international standards - so it would take several generations for this to be reversed.

However, probably, by now, the native English worldliness is well on the way to being reversed - rapidly assisted in the past decades by mass immigration form nations which never had been through adaptive selection for worldliness.


This resembles a pendulum swing in relation to worldliness.

In a religious society, there will always be potential for some groups to enhance their reproductive success by aiming at worldly success rather than spiritual goals.

(Inserting a wedge between religious success and worldly success.)

Insofar as they are successful they will change the population in the direction of increased worldliness, until fertility declines in the worldly group.

(Fertility will tend to be lower in worldly people since worldly goods must be foregone in the short term in order to have children.)

Then the unworldly will out-reproduce the worldly to make a more religious society.


And so on...

...for a while anyway; because this is not a true cycle with periodic return to a prior state, since adaptations can seldom wholly be undone nor lost adaptations precisely replaced. And because history has a direction and an end.



  1. If this theory be true, then the 'worldly people' are not really worldly. They just have different genes pushing them towards a more worldly way.

    I have not read Gregory Clark but I suspect, if he is not a Christian, then his definitions could be problematic, as it generally is in sociological and socio-biological investigations.

    For instance, it is said that the people with long-term horizons pursue enlightened self-interest. But by Pascal's wager, it is my self-interest to believe in God and be not too-worldly. So it is a question of my belief and not about short or long time-horizons.

    And purely secularly, people with long-term horizons could be Randian optimists, stoical pessimists, Buddhists interested in getting a good re-birth.

  2. I had rather hoped that today you'd have something to say about the absurd usage "God Particle". Another time, perhaps?

  3. @dearieme - but why?

    I am interested in science, not bureaucracy.

    (Spending billions of dollars to 'discover' exactly what you already knew was there doesn't count as science in my book - just 'project management'/ job creation. No wonder they have to resort to the hype of 'GP' to make it seem interesting.)

  4. Ooh, even I think you're being a little harsh. You don't know it's there until you do a suitable experiment. What the papers haven't grasped is that it is, in one way, a disappointing result. Stuff is as expected - theoretical physics is just where it was thirty or more years ago, save for that one compelling item of support. (Well, reasonably compelling.) It would have been much more headlineworthy if they could have said they'd found proof that it didn't exist.

    I suppose it's a bit like Eddington's expedition to test General Relativity; though, on reflection, there have been people who say that Eddington's measurements weren't accurate enough to back up Einstein anyway.

  5. @D - to be quite candid I don't believe Big Physics.

    Ever since reading a biography of Carlo Rubbia some 25 years ago I have realized that neither the project leaders nor the thousands upon thousands of people that they employ, are even trying to discover that elusive thing 'the truth'.

    Truth-full-ness is not the bottom line for them.

    And if you aren't really trying to discover (nor to speak) the truth, then you certainly won't discover it (nor will you speak it) - and the more money you waste, the less likely.

  6. "I don't believe Big Physics": it's easy to sympathise. A discipline that can't account for 95% of the mass in the universe could always say "Oh dear, our theories must be wrong". Instead it prattles about 'dark matter'.

  7. I'd better admit that I am not remotely equipped to make expert judgements on Big Physics: I always ask my chum the particle physicist. Save in one regard: I do know that all public statements by physicists translate as "Give me da money!"

  8. Yes - when I say I don't believe Big Physicists, it is not that I also claim to know better than them (like I do with economists), but simply that I don't believe them.

  9. Maybe they're constructing the particle rather than discovering it.