Richard Faussette

Early in 1998, sitting at my computer, I typed “human behavior and evolution” into a search engine window and hit the Enter key. A web page titled “The Human Behavior and Evolution Society” caught my eye. A book listed on the society’s home page was subtitled; “Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy.” That phrase, “Judaism as a group evolutionary strategy” stopped me dead in my tracks. Kevin MacDonald, an American professor at California State University had written a book with that subtitle, and then two more; a trilogy on communal religious behaviors:

Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy

Toward an Evolutionary Theory of anti-Semitism

And the

An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement
20th Century Intellectual and Political Movements

I heaved a sigh and sat back from the computer. Greeted with hostility when calling Judaism a “cultural defense mechanism” (for want of a better term) in a religion and philosophy class in the ‘80s in New York, I learned to keep some questions to myself. I did, however, begin writing a paper titled Natural Selection and the Nature of God to record my observations. I noticed immediately that the construction of my title was similar to the subtitle of the first book in this professor’s trilogy. I could substitute “evolutionary strategy” in his title for “natural selection” in mine and “Judaism” in his title for “the nature of God” in mine.  

After exhausting the metaphysics, I had turned to look at Biblical religion through passionless Darwinian eyes. There I discovered a living God whose sudden appearance and Darwinian nature quite unexpectedly consumed me, but when I tried to talk about what I saw, no one responded. Most people I spoke to embraced religion blindly, others ridiculed religion just as blindly. I wasn’t able to find anyone who brought a Darwinian perspective to bear on religion. The few well educated religious people I approached responded to me with vacant stares. I seemed to perplex them. I eventually admitted to myself -- what would motivate a religionist to look at religion from the same Darwinian perspective that many religionists saw as the enemy of religion?

On the other hand, I could not be alone. The concepts were apprehensible. If a layman like myself could fruitfully bring a Darwinian perspective to bear on religious beliefs and practices, there were scholars out there in the world somewhere who were seeing the things I was seeing; men with finer eyes and more sophisticated tools than mine studying the adaptive nature of religion and willing to attest to it and end my intellectual isolation.

I had set out to look for them. Sitting straight up in my chair, I squared my glasses on my nose, and returned to the monitor display. I’d finally found one, Professor Kevin MacDonald, a member in good standing of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society. He’d seen what I was seeing - the adaptive significance of communal religious behaviors - and then gone ahead in three volumes to reveal the science in the religion; what I knew to be the very art of human family survival.  

I explored the links posted on the professor’s web page and ordered his books. I had to know how his peers were suffering the first comprehensive elucidation of a religiously applied human evolutionary strategy and its practical implications. An opportunity to learn more appeared on the society’s web page in the form of a conference announcement. I joined the Human Behavior and Evolution Society and immediately registered for what was being billed as “HBES 2000” when I read that MacDonald would be a speaker. The conference was at Amherst College in Massachusetts, a reasonable drive from home.

The full conference program of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society began on a sunny humid Thursday morning in June in the year 2000 on the Amherst College campus and it didn’t wind down until the following Sunday afternoon. I was privileged to attend presentations by such well-known scholars as Steven Pinker (How the Mind Works), Robert Wright (The Moral Animal) and Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene). As impressive as these well-known scholars were (and there were many lesser-known though just-as-able scholars at the conference) I’d come specifically to attend the panel discussion on the use of evolutionary biology in understanding religion. Dan Kriegman was listed as the organizer and its focus would be Kevin MacDonald’s trilogy on the evolutionary strategy of Judaism.

Kevin MacDonald’s trilogy covered a wide range: from the Biblical system of purity to group selection, from the ‘just so’ stories of Boasian historical particularism to the fraud of Freudian psychoanalysis. Much of what he’d written was new to me but I knew enough basic science to know he was right, and I’d been compelled by my own intellectual investment to travel to Massachusetts to hear him defend his work. I expected he might have to and I wondered what form the agonistics would take. To some extent, MacDonald’s reality within his own scientific community would mirror the greater reality we all share. I was on my way to see how his peers were receiving his most generous scholarly contribution. When I knew how MacDonald was received within his own scientific community, I would know how I fared, how we all fared out in the real world beyond the chalkboards and the books.

He’d been ignored by the mainstream publications, trashed and lionized on the Internet. He’d served as an expert witness on Judaism in the David Irving case in an English court but today Kevin MacDonald would be his own expert witness here in Amherst, Massachusetts and I was on my way to the Merrill Science Center on the Amherst College campus to see him myself and to see the reception that had been prepared for him. I glanced at the gentle slopes of the Holyoke Range in the distance, veiled by the humid June afternoon, wondering how close to the sun I would venture. I would never be as close as this professor from California

I was early for the session. The amphitheatre was already half full. I descended the steps until I was in the front row, the rest of the audience above and behind me. I sat down to read while I waited for the session to begin. I was disappointed with the skeptical tone of the abstract of the discussion in the conference program, which read in part:

“Can these conclusions be supported by the data and the theory?”

“Yes, easily” I spoke to the program text.

“Is MacDonald’s approach a reasonable application of evolutionary logic to intergroup conflict?”

“Yes.” I knew it was.

“Or is it an example of precisely the kind of self deception predicted by MacDonald’s own theory when one group tries to ‘understand’ the other?”

“No!”  I had anticipated this. The skeptical strain in the conference program betrayed the pragmatic reality. His peers would not suffer the elucidation of the evolutionary strategy of Judaism. They were firmly ensconced in their niches, and would confidently reject it with verbal gymnastics alone. Before the HBES Conference I’d imagined a panel of academics grilling MacDonald from a raised dais, and MacDonald responding with charts and tables. It didn’t happen quite that way.

The stage below was black and bare save for a podium, an overhead projector on a cart and a half dozen academics milling about until one took the microphone. I don’t remember the introductions. Dan Kriegman’s son was the first to step to the podium.

I followed the younger Kriegman’s line of reasoning until, at some point in his remarks; he alluded to an anecdote I’d heard before regarding Jewish basketball players. I grew impatient. When he referred to some aspect of Kevin MacDonald’s work as “disingenuous” I tuned him out. He did not understand the work or he was deliberately misinterpreting it.

His father was next. The senior Kriegman began with a dog-eared argument; the lack of genetic interrelatedness among those who self-identify as Jews. He was essentially saying that there are no such people of genetic interrelatedness as the Jewish people, and so any kind of theory of genetic interrelatedness was baseless. But, of course, within Judaism there are priestly core communities that bear genealogies traced many generations. As for Judaism’s genetic interrelatedness, it is commonly known that Judaism’s orthodox communities have never regarded most self-identified Jews as “real” Jews anyway and I trusted the orthodox, the true bearers of Judaism’s religious heritage, to know who was a Jew and who was not. The “true religion” was in that religious cultural core and not with the non-orthodox and irreligious apostates on the cultural periphery. Intentional or not, the elder Kriegman was making another “misinterpretation.” Dan Kriegman then placed a transparency on the bed of the overhead projector. On the large screen above and behind him were displayed two columns of text: in one column Kriegman had listed the things Kevin MacDonald had written about Jews, in the other column he had listed what “rabid anti-Semites” say about Jews. I thought, God help us. The message was plain. If Kevin MacDonald walks like a duck and talks like a duck, he’s a “rabid anti-Semite” duck. Kriegman would not entertain the obvious alternative: if MacDonald’s work, which I knew to be sound, reflects what “rabid anti-Semites” say, it could only mean that the “rabid anti-Semites” were necessarily speaking the scientific truth. That means many, if not most, “rabid anti-Semites” were neither rabid nor anti-Semitic at all. An impartial review of MacDonald’s trilogy makes that conclusion somewhat inescapable but as was now apparent, given the false and shameful analogy drawn by Dan Kriegman, objectivity was not on the menu.

I’d heard John Hartung, who had written on the evolution of in-group morality, was supportive of MacDonald and I eagerly anticipated Hartung’s taking the floor. When he did, his exaggerated air of authority struck me as inappropriate. He began to strut back and forth addressing the audience in a somewhat cavalier manner while talking about the Jewish Talmud. 

The Talmud is a compilation of Jewish oral law and rabbinical teaching dating from the 3rd to the 6th centuries with regulations for every step in a man’s life from cradle to grave. The Talmuds (there are Jerusalem and Babylonian versions) are important enough to be referred to as either the cornerstone of Jewish law or the foundation of Jewish culture. Many Talmudic passages are hostile references to Jewish adversaries such as Samaritans and Christians. In his trilogy, MacDonald cites passages from the Talmud, which speak contemptuously of non-Jews. Talmudic passages run the gamut from the permissibility of deceiving Christians and the right of Jews to appropriate the goods of Gentiles, to the inherent bestiality and immorality of Christians. 

In an effort to dismiss the Talmud as a meaningful document worthy of consideration in the eyes of the audience diverting their attention from its provocative content, I listened in amazement as Hartung cited a somewhat obscure scatological Talmudic prohibition against touching your genitals while urinating. Hartung’s unbelievable message: the Talmud is silly and MacDonald takes it seriously. Therefore, he can’t possibly understand Judaism. In a lame attempt at humor, Hartung grimaced and shook his pants leg as if to say -- you see, because I haven’t touched my genitals, I’ve pissed my pants.

It might have been funny in another place under different circumstances but as a response to Kevin MacDonald’s brilliant elucidation of the processes of the “anti-Semitic” cycle it was a tragicomic display.

Then it was MacDonald’s turn. I wondered how he would respond to such an indiscrete display of entrenched academic power. I was later able to obtain MacDonald’s e-mail address and I wrote him requesting a copy of his transcript.

Here is what Professor MacDonald had to say:

     “Let me start by saying that religion has been viewed as a form of psychopathology — a mind virus — a renegade meme (Dawkins). It’s also been considered for the benefits it gives assuaging our fears of death and the unknown. It certainly has served to reinforce and maintain, but sometimes to challenge, the existing political/economic order. Twin studies even show that there’s a genetic predisposition to religiosity versus skepticism. 

The fact that religion is so pervasive, despite the fact that science has shown so many of its surface claims to be wrong or even silly suggests that it must serve some adaptive function. The particular case I have examined and which has elicited concern and even anxiety on the part of some, is that of Judaism. I’d probably have been better off to have stuck to the Hutterites or the Ancient Spartans, but the 3,000-year record of Judaism at least gave me a lot of data. Let me just say that I can’t see how the religion and the people could have survived 3,000 years, despite the best efforts of others, from trying to kill Judaism with kindness and conversion, to killing Jews on a massive scale (the Holocaust and earlier pogroms) if it didn’t raise some important issues of human adaptation. 

Dan Kriegman sent me a 50-page, single-spaced paper discussing my many sins as a researcher, so it was a bit difficult to try to respond to all of them, especially since I was not at all sure what he would discuss in his presentation. So I decided to take this opportunity to discuss some common criticisms of my work, beginning with the idea of group evolutionary strategies. My position is that both cultural practices and evolved systems are important:

In my book I present a lot of evidence about cultural practices intended to maintain group boundaries, punish defectors and cheaters, and maintain group discipline. It seems obvious that any account of human groups will have to discuss ways in which groups regulate the behavior of members. My theory was developed on the assumption that individual-level selection was by far the most important force shaping human evolution. In a moment I will discuss mechanisms for group cohesion, but the point here is that there is no need to assume anything other than individual-level selection in their evolution. Nevertheless, cultural practices have to be discussed; indeed I suppose that cultural practices that maintain groups have to be discussed because selection is far more powerful at the level of the individual than at the level of the group. If one had a group of people or animals that were really group-selected to be altruists, it wouldn’t be relevant to discuss ways in which members of the group monitor each other’s behavior, check for cheaters or defectors, monitor marriage practices, etc. In my first book, I discuss cultural practices related to:  keeping separate, preventing assimilation and preventing intermarriage 

If indeed there are genetic differences between groups, this immediately raises evolutionary issues because there are going to be persistent genetic differences between the group and the surrounding society. In fact, I believe that the population genetic data are clear that Jews have remained genetically distinct from the peoples they have lived among. 

The historical and cultural data indicate that this is at least partly the result of self-segregative practices, but at times the push against assimilation has also come from non-Jews. Whether the genetic segregation is the result of self-segregation or the result of anti-assimilatory pressure from outside (I tend to see it as a complex feedback loop), it then becomes relevant to look at interactions between groups because these interactions have genetic consequences. There is no need to suppose that Jewish groups are always superior competitors. The historical record shows a volatile mix of good and bad fortune. There have been expulsions, pogroms, an attempt at a massive genocide, economic restrictions, restrictions on where Jews could live, restrictions on how many Jews could marry, etc. — all of which presumably had negative effects on reproductive success of Jewish groups, but there have also been times when Jews have prospered greatly. For example, there is wide agreement that until the demographic transition, Jews in Eastern Europe had a much greater rate of natural increase than gentile populations (Deshen 1986, 46; see also Ritterband 1981; A. Goldstein 1981). 

Johnson (1987, 356) notes that in the period 1880–1914, the Jewish population of Europe grew at a rate of 2 percent per year, “a rate of increase that exceeds all other European peoples for this period” (Katz 1986,).

The other area where behavior within the group is important is regulating economic actions among group members — patronage, nepotism; regulating within-group charity, etc. It is of some importance to think about whether Jewish groups are higher or lower on these practices than other groups, perhaps because in particular times and places Jewish groups underwent population bottlenecks that influenced the degree of genetic relatedness. There is a small literature now on groups from an evolutionary perspective, including the work of David Wilson, Christopher Boehm, Tony Hilton at this conference on Hutterites, Frank Miele on the Puritans, and A.J. Figueredo who is embarking on several projects, including the Mormons. And I have been working on some other groups, including the Puritans and Quakers, and I look forward to studying the overseas Chinese. Nevertheless, having a lot of comparative data is not critical. What is important is to describe internal control processes that affect economic cooperation, mating practices, and charity within the group—how group membership conditions interactions with fellow Jews and with non-Jews. 

An individualistic perspective that ignores groups and conceptualizes only individuals in an atomistic manner interacting with each other and the environment simply cannot make sense of the cultural forces that facilitate group cohesion among Jews and other cohesive groups. Failure to provide charity for poor Jews, failure to pay communal taxes, marriage to a gentile, or informing on other Jews resulted in expulsion for self and relatives. Similar consequences were in store for Jewish businessmen who made alliances with gentile businessmen or who interfered with monopolies held by other Jews. And there was intensive socialization for submerging individual interests to the needs of the in-group. These features of historical Judaism were the result of social controls acting within the community, backed by a powerful religious ideology clearly articulated in canonical Jewish religious writings.

This does not imply that Jewish elites (wealthy Jews) were self-sacrificing. Nor does it imply that anything other than individually selected mechanisms based on kinship and reciprocity were involved in producing these social controls within Jewish groups. Jewish society was an intensely competitive meritocracy with major payoffs in terms of reproductive success. The point is, the individualistic behavior of Jewish elites (wealthy, powerful Jews) was muted by the forces of community pressure.

But in the end, we have to talk about adaptations, because after all we are evolutionists, particularly systems that evolved for between-group competition. I never suppose Jews have any adaptations that the rest of us don’t have as well. In attempting to develop an evolutionary theory of groups, I ended up believing that social identity theory was an important piece of the puzzle, although I am increasingly persuaded that other theoretical perspectives, including individualism/collectivism, and genetic similarity theory, are important as well. Social identity theory is highly compatible with an evolutionary basis for group behavior, but there is no need to invoke group selection as a theory of its evolution. An early form of social identity theory was stated by William Graham Sumner (1906, 13), who concluded that: 

“Loyalty to the group, sacrifice for it, hatred and contempt for outsiders, brotherhood within, warlikeness without—all grow together, common products of the same situation. It is sanctified by connection with religion. Men of an others-group are outsiders with whose ancestors the ancestors of the we-group waged war.  Each group nourishes its own pride and vanity, boasts itself superior, exalts its own divinities, and looks with contempt on outsiders. Each group thinks its own folkways the only right ones, and if it observes that other groups have other folkways, these excite its scorn.” 

Social identity research has found that people tend to discriminate against outgroups even when the groups are randomly constructed with no conflicts of interest. Current evidence indicates that these minimal group findings can be generalized across subjects of different ages, nationalities, social classes, and a wide range of dependent variables, and anthropological evidence indicates the universality of the tendency to view one’s own group as superior, denigrate outgroups, etc. Rather than dismiss the minimal group experiments as not meaningful, I would argue that they attest to the power of “groupness” in the human mind—the tendency for even the most randomly constructed groups to elicit discrimination against outgroups. Social identity processes occur very early in life, prior to explicit knowledge about the outgroup; they also are exacerbated in times of resource competition, suggesting that this is an adaptation for between-group conflict. Among pre-state societies, “hard times” and expanding populations are often associated with warfare (Keeley, 1996, War before Civilization; pp. 129, 138–141).

As emphasized by people like Richard Alexander (1979) and Gary Johnson (1995), external threat tends to reduce internal divisions and maximize perceptions of common interest among group members. An evolutionary interpretation of these findings is also supported by results indicating that social identity processes occur among advanced animal species, such as chimpanzees. The powerful emotional components of social identity processes are very difficult to explain except as an aspect of the evolved machinery of the human mind. The tendencies for humans to place themselves in social categories and for these categories to assume powerful emotional and evaluative overtones (involving guilt, empathy, self-esteem, relief at securing a group identity, and distress at losing it) are the best candidates for the biological underpinnings of participation in highly cohesive collectivist groups. 

The empirical data derived from social identity theory indicate that perceptions of ingroups and outgroups have been the focus of natural selection, i.e., the mechanism evolved because humans were recurrently exposed to situations in which perceptions of ingroups and outgroups as groups rather than concatenations of individuals were adaptive. Social identity research indicates that people in threatened groups develop a psychological sense of shared fate. The fact that social identity mechanisms appear to be highly sensitive to the presence of external threat to the group is compatible with supposing that people continue to track individual self-interest; in the absence of threat people are more individualistic, and in times of threat, group and individual interests increasingly coincide and group members increasingly have a shared fate. 

Shared fate in human groups is likely to occur during situations such as military conflicts and other examples of intense between-group competition in which defection is not individually advantageous or is not an option at all. Warfare is the most likely candidate to meet these conditions. Warfare appears to have been a recurrent phenomenon among pre-state societies. Surveys indicate over 90% of societies engage in warfare, the great majority engaging in military activities at least once per year (Keeley 1996, pp. 27–32). Moreover, “whenever modern humans appear on the scene, definitive evidence of homicidal violence becomes more common, given a sufficient number of burials” (Keeley 1996, 37). Because of its frequency and the seriousness of its consequences, primitive warfare was more deadly than civilized warfare. Most adult males in primitive and pre-historic societies engaged in warfare and “saw combat repeatedly in a lifetime” (Keeley, 1996, p. 174).

Shared fate would be likely in situations where potential defectors were summarily executed or severely punished by the ingroup, or in situations were survivors were summarily executed by a conquering outgroup or lost access to women and other resources. There is little evidence for high levels of discipline and coercion in pre-state warfare, although it occurred at least in some cases (Hugh Turney-High, Primitive War: 1971). Nevertheless, cowards were often shamed and courage was a highly valued trait (Keeley 1996, pp. 42–44; Turney-High, 1971), so that defection from the fighting group did indeed have costs as a result of social pressure. 

More important perhaps is that the slaughtering of conquered peoples, especially males, has been a persistent feature of warfare. In their rise to power, the Aztecs probably “slaughtered those who opposed them, as all conquerors have always done” (Keegan (1993, p. 114). In pre-state warfare, while women were often taken as prizes of warfare, immediate death was often the fate of women and children and the certain fate of adult male prisoners: “Armed or unarmed, adult males were killed without hesitation in battles, raids, or the routs following battles in the great majority of primitive societies. Surrender was not a practical option for adult tribesmen because survival after capture was unthinkable” (Keeley 1996, p. 84). 

It is likely that enduring, bounded discrete gatherings of people have been a common feature of the social environment for many humans, as noted by Levine & Campbell (1972) a long time ago. The phenomenon is important because it would imply that a great many humans have in fact lived in group-structured populations where the status of ingroup and outgroup was highly salient psychologically. Examples that bear investigation include Gypsies (Roma), Armenians, Bosnians, Serbs, and Croatians, and a variety of middle-man minority groups (e.g., overseas Chinese groups) occurring in several parts of the world. 

Individual differences in evolved systems.

One could just leave it at that and settle for a theory based on the above-mentioned cultural processes and an evolved psychological system that is a human universal. However, it seems at least worth speculating on possible individual differences in identification with groups as well as different selection pressures in different regions of the world. I want to stress that discussing individual differences is not critical to my theory. I would be reasonably happy with just stopping with my discussion of social identity theory as a human psychological universal. 
Nevertheless, the theory of individualism/collectivism developed by Harry Triandis emphasizes individual differences in many of the same tendencies discussed by social identity theory, so much so that I often cited Triandis in my section on social identity theory. The theory of individualism/collectivism describes cross-cultural differences in the extent to which emphasis is placed on the goals and needs of the ingroup rather than on individual rights and interests. For individuals highly predisposed to collectivism, ingroup norms and the duty to cooperate and subordinate individual goals to the needs of the group are paramount. Collectivist cultures develop an “unquestioned attachment” to the ingroup, including “the perception that ingroup norms are universally valid (a form of ethnocentrism), automatic obedience to ingroup authorities [i.e., authoritarianism], and willingness to fight and die for the ingroup. These characteristics are usually associated with distrust of and unwillingness to cooperate with outgroups” (Triandis 1990, 55). Like social identity processes, tendencies toward collectivism are exacerbated in times of external threat, again suggesting that the tendency toward collectivism is a facultative response that evolved as a mechanism of between-group conflict. Triandis explicitly describes Judaism as an example of a collectivist culture, while Western cultures tend toward individualism.

Because of the origins of Judaism in the Middle East and their continuing genetic links to that area, it is noteworthy that Middle Eastern societies are characterized by anthropologists as “segmentary societies” organized into relatively impermeable groups (e.g., Coon 1958, 153; Eickelman 1981, 157–174). Individuals in these societies have a strong sense of group identity and group boundaries, often accompanied by external markers such as hair style or clothing, and different groups settle in different areas were they retain their homogeneity alongside likewise homogeneous groups. Consider Carlton Coon’s (1958) description of Middle Eastern society: 

“There the ideal was to emphasize not the uniformity of the citizens of a country as a whole but a uniformity within each special segment, and the greatest possible contrast between segments. The members of each ethnic unit feel the need to identify themselves by some configuration of symbols. If by virtue of their history they possess some racial peculiarity, this they will enhance by special haircuts and the like; in any case they will wear distinctive garments and behave in a distinctive fashion.” (Coon, 1958; p. 153)

Another aspect of my books that people have questioned is the discussion of IQ and eugenics. People tend not to dispute that Ashkenazi Jews have a high IQ or that eugenic marriages in which scholarly ability as indicated by mastery of Jewish religious law was the summum bonum were prescribed in Jewish law or that Ashkenazi Jews in fact practiced such marriages. From what we know about the heritability of IQ it seems very unlikely that whatever cultural pushes there have been for IQ, there is also a strong genetic component. Arthur Jensen estimates a maximum of 10 IQ points for environmental manipulations like adoption.

These selection pressures were probably fairly strong. For example, Vogel and Motulsky (1986, 609) note that in mid? 18th? Century Poland prominent Jews had 4–9 surviving children, while poorer Jewish families had 1.2 2.4 surviving children. However, there are a couple of problems that people have brought up. I noted in my book that there were eugenic selection pressures in all traditional European societies (see, e.g., Herlihy & Klapische-Zuber 1985) and presumably elsewhere, so the Jews may not have been all that special in this regard. Families of wealthy Jews in the Medieval Islamic world were much larger than those of poor Jews, but recent data do not indicate a particularly high IQ for Oriental Jews (Goitein, 1971, 140). 

On the other hand, Ashkenazi Jews are not the only Jewish groups to show extraordinary economic and cultural success. By the start of the fourth century in the Roman Empire Jews seem to have been an economically dominant group. The Sephardic Jews in Spain also practiced the Talmudic marriage practices and had a similar emphasis on scholarly ability. The rise of the Spanish Jews in the 14th and 15th centuries before and after many of them converted to Christianity in 1391 is virtually unparalleled and is certainly on a par with the rise of Ashkenazi Jews in 19th and 20th century Europe and the U.S. The Sephardic Jews are interesting because the Jews that did not convert in the 14th and 15th centuries tended to come from the lower social classes and it is this group that eventually left Spain in 1492 and became the descendants of contemporary Sephardic communities. The upwardly mobile Jews who converted to Christianity suffered the wrath of the Inquisition and eventually either became absorbed into Spanish society (like A.J. Figueredo’s ancestors) or they developed their own distinctive culture in the trading centers of the world. (For example, they were a major force behind the rise of Amsterdam and the Dutch as a world power.) This separation of the Sephardic elite could account for the undistinguished IQ of contemporary Sephardic populations. In other cases, particularly in the Muslim world where the bulk of the Sephardic population ended up, the rise of intense anti-Semitism after an initial period in which Jews were welcomed undoubtedly resulted in a failure to build a highly literate culture—that, in effect, the clear mandate to develop such a culture was not carried out. This could have had genetic consequences. I guess I am acknowledging that important questions remain about Jewish IQ, as with other questions I deal with in the books.

To conclude, I think that the study of group processes from an evolutionary point of view is just beginning. Lots of questions remain and I urge others to get into it by studying other groups or providing alternate evolutionary theories about Jews and Judaism.” (Friday June 9, 2000)

Amherst College Grounds
Merrill Science Center
is right of center
The historic discussion was in Lecture Room 2


There was applause. I sat back in my chair running his words through my mind.

The winner in the game of Darwinian selection is the survivor. The Jewish religious core had survived as a people far longer and been more materially successful than any other human group. They were Darwinian survivors, of that there was no longer any doubt. Something the Jews got from the Bible, something they kept to themselves, had empowered and preserved them, ensuring their survival.

Historically the Jewish people have maintained their separateness. What they were actually doing was genetically isolating a breeding population. It was no accident that in Genesis, Jacob, the ancient patriarch had also separated his flocks from Laban’s, genetically isolating a breeding population. Darwin had noticed the separation and the selection for specific traits in Genesis and cited it in The Origin of Species.1   MacDonald had gone on to explain Jewish separateness and its significance in great detail. There was evolutionary biology in the Hebrew bible.

MacDonald was presenting a new, relatively unexploited paradigm. The study of ancient religion would now have to accommodate a Darwinian perspective. The extant religions would be rethought. I was watching the paradigm emerge, witnessing the resistance.

In his closing, MacDonald reminded the audience that the study of group processes from an evolutionary perspective was just beginning. He encouraged his colleagues to continue the work and he challenged them for an alternative explanation of group evolutionary processes.

Professor MacDonald had not alluded to the partisan politics of the previous speakers at all. I was still reeling over the obstacles they had put in place: Kriegman’s terrible analogies and Hartung’s misplaced humor, but I understood their concerns because I knew what MacDonald was saying.

Then Professor Richard Wrangham took the floor and brought me back down to the greater reality. Shockingly direct and totally in error, he called for an ethics committee and asked MacDonald point blank if he would condemn the use of his work by right wing extremists -- those “rabid anti-Semites” who are, for the most part, neither  rabid nor “anti-Semitic” at all. Professor MacDonald, to his credit, did not dignify the suggestion with a response. 

Dan Kriegman and son had compared what MacDonald states in his “disingenuous” trilogy to the beliefs of committed “rabid anti-Semites.” John Hartung had made light of Talmudic prohibitions by pretending to have pissed himself. Richard Wrangham now threatened to begin a process that would censor what may be the greatest single application of evolutionary principles to the study of human behavior, ever. How ironic? We now had the tools to properly understand the evolution of religious beliefs and practices and the means (but perhaps not the courage) to end the “anti-Semitic” cycle forever.

Wrangham called for questions and comments. I smiled in mock submission and raised my hand. I was amazed but ready when he acknowledged me. Sitting in the first row I was able to turn and look up at the audience and address them directly. I told them that a cyclic evolutionary process that had caused so much human misery for thousands of years had to be studied, its ecology determined, its processes identified, so that the cycle could be disabled. Some of the worst conflicts in the history of the world had been precipitated by the “anti-Semitic” cycle. “All self-identifying Jews need not be genetically interrelated for MacDonald’s work to be sound,” I blurted.

My heart pounded in my chest. I might never again be in a heated discussion within the scientific community over such a pivotal event as MacDonald’s successful application of evolutionary principles to the study of human behavior. The practical application of those principles would invigorate and empower all mankind, rather than just these leveraged few who were openly and brazenly conspiring to corner the marketplace of ideas.

While some echoed the initial outbursts, it was obvious from other vacant stares in the amphitheatre that many in the audience had not brought their Darwinian perspectives to bear on religion, were not familiar with MacDonald’s work and did not appreciate the enormity of his accomplishment. We now had the tools to properly understand and rationally apprehend the evolution of religious beliefs and practices and the means (but perhaps not the courage) to end the “anti-Semitic” cycle forever.

In Steven Pinker’s excellent presentation on Saturday, he would mention the resistance of society at large to the evolutionary explanation of human behavior. He would praise the assembly for their persistence in pushing the field into the mainstream.  Here in the Merrill Science Center, nested within the HBES community, I was watching this most successful evolutionary explanation of human behavior resisted, just as the wider field has been resisted since its inception. The very same pressures retarding the entire HBES community from without were capable of limiting the community’s focus from within. I was watching it for myself. I had come here for that and to voice my own concern, but more than that, I‘d come to see what was real and what was not, to find someone who saw the things I saw. I got more than I bargained for.

The “someone” I found could prove there was science in the religion.

There was scattered applause and the session was over. I went with the choppy flow of bodies up and out of the hall in a din of heated discussion. I turned my two palms up and looked at my hands as I emerged from the depths of the amphitheatre up and out into the warm bright June sun. I thought of Kevin MacDonald. Should the “anti-Semitic” cycle continue to run its course, there was no blood on his hands. He’s provided the tools to end it. And now -- a witness in public protest -- I’d washed mine.

  1. The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin, New American Library, 1958, p.50
  2. Genesis 30:42-43

Richard Faussette © 2004

6,235 words

2 gif images scanned from HBES 2000 conference program

3,289 words from Professor Kevin MacDonald’s transcript

2,914 words by Richard Faussette