Friday, September 12, 2008

Germs and Religion

Reading this article in the Economist - Praying for Health, reminded me of my abortive attempt to read Jared Diamond's book Gun, Germs, and Steel. A friend had recommended the book and his short summary of the book's central themes sounded interesting. Diamond's book is not made for easy or even enjoyable reading.

If you can push yourself hard enough, you might get through it and get something out of it for your troubles. But if you are attention span challenged like I am, you'll be lucky to make it to page fifty. The Economist article cites the following conclusion of two researches Corey Fincher and Randy Thornhill :

The two researchers also looked at anthropological data on how much people in “traditional” (ie, non-urban) societies move around in different parts of the world. They found that in more religiously diverse (and more disease-ridden) places people move shorter distances than in healthier, religiously monotonous societies. The implication is that religious diversity causes people to keep themselves to themselves, and thus makes it harder for them to catch germs from infidels.

This seems similar to Diamond's argument that ancient societies succeeded or failed based on the luck of the geographical draw. Likewise, people would be more or less disease-ridden based on the religious make-up of their environment. The case for tying germs and religion does actually come in the conclusion of the article :

Perhaps, then, the underlying reason why there is so much hostility between ethnic groups is nothing to do with the groups themselves, but instead with the diseases they may bring.

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