Smart, Religious, and Gay: Was there Group Selection?

The first thing you need to know is that personality is mostly genetic.

I recently watched this interview with Michael Woodley. I cannot verity the veracity of his claims, but they are interesting.

There is a lot of controversy, in the study of evolution and society, about the term “group selection.” Mostly unfair.

Here’s a simpler way of thinking about it. Your genes want to perpetuate themselves. Your genes are often present in other people. Therefore, to the extent other people share your genes, those genes can perpetuate themselves by promoting other people. We need not call this group selection, any more than a mother loving her child is group selection.

But, for lack of a better term, I’ll call this phenomenon by the term Michael Woodley uses: multi-level-selection. I do so with hesitation.

According to Woodley, Europe was subject to very high levels of multi-level selection for centuries before modernity. He attributes this to deadly wars, plagues, and cold temperatures, among other things. Disasters wipe out the bottom of the gene pool, increasing downwards mobility via children of the upper classes replacing the lower classes.

Examples of traits associated with multi-level selection:


Woodley points out that geniuses throughout history often did not have children.

It is often said that behind every great man was a woman. Tell that to Newton, Tesla, Beethoven, The Wright brothers, Nietzsche, Galileo, Leibniz, and so on to fill a page.

You could chalk that up to cherry-picking, but even so, wouldn’t you expect the men with the best genes to have the most children, from a Darwinian standpoint?

Although many geniuses were childless, by making great inventions and discoveries, they created progress for others in their societies to enjoy.


Most religions incorporate some aspect of self-sacrifice, to varying degrees. This can be viewed as multi-level selection.

Additionally, religious were historically the centers for promoting morality. (We may, in hindsight, accuse religions of promoting immorality, but that’s because our concepts of morality have changed). I here mean “morality” in a very particular sense: putting aside your own selfish pleasures for the benefit of some bigger project of society.

Male homosexuality

It is a common question: is homosexuality a challenge to Darwinism? Why hasn’t it been bred out of the human population? What purpose does it serve?

This is a graph of men’s and women’s sexual preferences. We can use it to analyze heterosexuality and homosexuality.


As you can see, virtually all women are some degree of bisexual. Women experience arousal very differently than men, not as an “on” and “off” switch but an emotional sensation. The cause of female bisexuality is outside of my scope here.

The interesting thing is that male sexuality is bimodal. Male homosexuality is a distinct trait.

I suspect there are many different components to male sexuality. I also hypothesize that what distinguishes gay men is not the presence of a trait, but the absence of a trait, in particular, the trait for directing sexual urges at women. When this trait is present, men are not attracted to other men, because their attraction is directed at women. In gay men, the link between their sex urges and women is removed. As a result, their urges are cast onto something else (other men) out of desperation for an outlet.

So why do gay men have such a sexually flamboyant image? I think that image is mostly for show. There are plenty of non-flamboyant gay men who do not receive as much focus on the flamboyant types. Straight men would arguably be just as flamboyant, if not for the tempering force of women.

Now we can understand a benefit of male gayness as a force for altruism. Competition over females is a huge cause of intra-group violence. Men being not attracted to women lessens that competition. Gays only help; they exert the social “costs” of neither women nor men. This allows the tribe to focus on inter-group competition. Here, the “group selection” label actually seems appropriate.

These things correlate:

If I told you that genius, religiosity, male homosexuality, all correlated with each other, I suspect I would be met with skepticism. I have to show my work a bit.

Homosexuality and Intelligence.

This is the least complicated. There is evidence that gay men are more intelligent than straight men.

Homosexuality and Religiosity

How does religiosity correlate with homosexuality? Today, aren’t gay people famously politically opposed to the Christian right?

That question makes a critical error. It assumes Christianity is the dominant religion in the West.

The most institutionally powerful religion in the West isn’t Christianity, it’s Progressivism*. And if you doubt that Progressivism is a religion, read my post here.

Intelligence and religiosity

This may throw some people. Contrary to popular belief, the renaissance geniuses weren’t just religious, but particularly so. Today, most university professors (and students) are progressive, but of course there are many other factors at work.

I suspect that Jews are more group selected than Christians. Jewish IQs are higher, and there are many Jewish geniuses. Moreover, ethnic Jews tend to be more devout. Orthodox Jews are more devout than Orthodox Christians (Judaism famously being a very strict religion). Today, most American Jews are progressives, and they tend to be more devout Progressives than are Progressives of other backgrounds.

Multi-Level-Selection as a waning trait:

So there is a clustering together of a set of traits, associated with altruism and group cohesion, that tend to correlate. It is as if it’s a single trait, multi-level-selection “ness,” that people can have more or less of.

Today, “religious” people are known for having higher birth rates, but I wonder if that is a recent phenomenon associated with contraception.

If a particular group has a low birth rate, it indicates that people with the temperament of that group were more common in the past (they must have been decreasing so long as their birth rate was low).

Progressive white people have a low birth rate, which indicates that whites of the progressive temperament were more common in the past. But progressivism certainly wasn’t more common in the past.

How do we explain this? In the past, the progressive temperament manifested as a form Christianity.

Similarly, we do not think the past had more homosexuals. Open homosexuality seems like a recent phenomenon. Unless: homosexuality is just one manifestation of a genetic trait, and this underlying trait can manifest differently in another environment. The environment of medieval Europe was sexually puritanical; most people had 0-1 sex partners in their lifetime. This fits with my theory that homosexuality is an absence of a sex drive component, that paradoxically manifests as sexual experimentation.

Finally, if you doubt that people in the past were more innovative, watch the Michael Woodley interview. He is a strong advocate of the position that human populations have gotten less intelligent with time, starting around the mid-1700s.

Isn’t the present better than the past? Of course, technology has improved. Some people romanticize the past. This causes scorn from history experts who actively emphasize how much living conditions have improved. It’s a sad thing: reacting to ignorant people makes you go too far in the opposite direction. Of course, the present is a better place to live, but only because the accumulation of knowledge has made our decadence feasible. (Not to say people in the past weren’t decadent, only it wasn’t feasible, and the weak died sooner). Status quo bias blinds us to the ways things could be, and indeed have been, better.

The tough conditions in Medieval Europe were so grueling that they allowed for the what could be improperly termed “multi-level-selection.” The product of those tough circumstances was a genetic revolution to which we all owe credit.

Multi-level selection selects for social capital, read my article about it.

In conclusion, the past was more inventive, religious, and puritanical. But, another way of saying that is that the past was more intelligent, progressive-temperament, and gay-temperament. Despite being less enlightened, less progressive, and less gay.

To leave you, I suspect that autism is a product of multi-level selection. The only hiccup is that autism seems inversely correlated with religiosity. That’s something to ponder.