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The Future of Secularism: a Biologically Informed Theory Supplemented with Cross-Cultural Evidence

Abstract

For over a century, social scientists have predicted declines in religious beliefs and their replacement with more scientific/naturalistic outlooks, a prediction known as the secularization hypothesis. However, skepticism surrounding this hypothesis has been expressed by some researchers in recent decades. After reviewing the pertinent evidence and arguments, we examined some aspects of the secularization hypothesis from what is termed a biologically informed perspective. Based on large samples of college students in Malaysia and the USA, religiosity, religious affiliation, and parental fertility were measured using self-reports. Three religiosity indicators were factor analyzed, resulting in an index for religiosity. Results reveal that average parental fertility varied considerably according to religious groups, with Muslims being the most religious and the most fertile and Jews and Buddhists being the least. Within most religious groupings, religiosity was positively associated with parental fertility. While cross-sectional in nature, when our results are combined with evidence that both religiosity and fertility are substantially heritable traits, findings are consistent with view that earlier trends toward secularization (due to science education surrounding advancements in science) are currently being counter-balanced by genetic and reproductive forces. We also propose that the inverse association between intelligence and religiosity, and the inverse correlation between intelligence and fertility lead to predictions of a decline in secularism in the foreseeable future. A contra-secularization hypothesis is proposed and defended in the discussion. It states that secularism is likely to undergo a decline throughout the remainder of the twenty-first century, including Europe and other industrial societies.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the following persons for helping to recruit research participants for this study: Drew H. Bailey, Jennifer Blanton, David Geary, Richard D. Hartley, Richard Lippa, Emi Prihatin, David Puts, Malini Ratnasingam, Anthony Walsh, and Alan Widmayer. Data utilized in this study were collected with funding from a University of Malaya grant (Number RG143-10HNE) to its Department of Anthropology and Sociology.

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Correspondence to Anthony W. Hoskin.

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Lee Ellis and Helmuth Nyborg are now semi-retired.

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Ellis, L., Hoskin, A.W., Dutton, E. et al. The Future of Secularism: a Biologically Informed Theory Supplemented with Cross-Cultural Evidence. Evolutionary Psychological Science 3, 224–242 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40806-017-0090-z

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Keywords

  • Religions
  • Religiosity
  • Secularization
  • Parental fertility
  • Cross-cultural