A recent blog entry by Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist, recently came across my desk that made the outrageous claim that one cannot chose one’s religion. If one’s family is a Muslim, you will be too, no matter what you actually practice — genetically speaking.
He relates this piece of news by suggesting that Obama cannot choose to be a Christian, because his family was a Muslim. He suggests that, genetically, Obama is a Muslim no matter what he practices.
If this doesn’t pass the basic logic smell test for you, then you’re not alone.
Like other world religions, Islam not only is a religion but also comprises largely endogamous ethnic groups. When a group of individuals remain largely or entirely endogamous (marry only other members of the group and not outsiders), forming what geneticists call a deme, they become genetically distinct over time.
This is a dubious claim at best that falls under the “red herring” logical fallacy. Here’s why.
Genes contain the code for all of our physical, and some would argue, much of our mental traits and personality. It is the building block of all life — not just human life — on Earth. Our eye and hair color is determined, for instance, by our genes, which are passed down in families from parents to children.
Religion, unlike eye or hair color, is not something we’ve discovered as a genetic trait. There has been no discovery of a “religion gene.” So while Kanazawa provides the analogy of Michael Jackson and his apparent attempts to become lighter-skinned, it is a false analogy. Skin color is encoded into our genetics. Religion is not. If it is, I would ask Kanazawa to point out the gene (or set of genes) religion is encoded on.
Kanazawa uses genetics here as a red herring — a typical logical fallacy. While certainly it is true that people who marry within their same ethnic (or religious) group will have more similar genotypes, religion itself is not encoded onto that genotype. Free will continues to exist in every generation, and every generation is therefore free to choose the religion they would like to follow and practice. If anything, it is cultural and societal norms that push us toward a specific religious practice — not our genes.
So while there may be an association (or correlation, if you will) between a certain genotype and a certain religious practice, the actual practice of religion — and one’s identity — is not encoded anywhere within your genes.
It’s like arguing that since most people in Newark, Delaware marry other people from Newark, Delaware throughout the past two or three centuries, Newark, Delaware is encoded into one’s very genes. Does that make any sense?
But Kanazawa makes other generalizations that demonstrate how his argument is just so much smoke and mirrors, based upon a specific political or religious opinion — not so much science or hard data:
Muslims, both in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, are a largely endogamous ethnic group, just as Catholics and Jews are throughout most of the world.
In fact, there are only certain specific factions within major religions that enforce strictly endogamous religious groupings — that is, marrying only within your own religion. It is not all of Christianity (as Kanazawa claims), nor is it all of Islam.
And because one’s religious is a choice unlike one’s eye or hair color at birth, it is just as readily changeable as what one chooses to become in life — such as the President of the United States.
I’m all for a blog entry about the interesting practice of marrying only within one’s religion. But when it’s turned on its head as some sort of odd attempt at saying that people’s free will doesn’t exist when it comes to their religious choices, I see politics at work, not scientific discovery or sharing of scientific data. Especially disappointing for a blog entitled, The Scientific Fundamentalist.
Read the full article: If Barack Obama Is Christian, Michael Jackson Was White
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 Aug 2010
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Grohol, J. (2010). Obama, Kanazawa, Endogamy and Religion. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 23, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/08/23/obama-kanazawa-endogamy-and-religion/