Why do you read me and who are you

The first time I tried to get through Scott Atran’s In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, I gave up because it seemed so pretentious and impenetrable. My curiosity was piqued by the fact that the subtitle alluded to evolution, and I was interested in evolutionary psychology. But though In Gods We Trust does talk somewhat about the evolutionary origins of religion, fundamentally it’s a work of cognitive anthropology.

Because I did not know about this field, its lexicon struck me as totally opaque, and there seemed something almost Post-Modern and French about Atran’s prose. Actually though this perception made some sense, Atran, Dan Sperber, Pascal Boyer, and Larry Hirschfeld actually came up with the naturalistic paradigm in anthropology while meeting at Sperber’s home in Paris in the early 1980s.

I did end up reading In Gods We Trust front to back a year after I initially tackled it, along with some other books on religion from this perspective (e.g., Religion Explained by Pascal Boyer). Up until 2007 or so I would write extensively on cognitive anthropology and religion, but I got what I wanted to in terms of insight after period and do not write much on this topic (in 2006 I actually got invited to a conference with a press pass on the topic of religion and evolution, my interests had become so well known in this domain).

So I was surprised to see this comment:

I’ll give it a go. I tried starting with Principles of Population Genetics but found it heavy going (Ive only been reading here for a few years and mainly got into it for the posts about religion, but the genetics stuff is quite interesting)

I suppose I still write about religion enough that that might hook some people. Though honestly I don’t have anything original to say…it’s just that much of mainstream commentary strikes me as totally dumb and uninformed.

But that prompts me. Consider this an “unlurk” thread. Two questions:

1) Why do you read me? (and implicitly, what should I write about more?)

2) Tell me anything about yourself that you think would be of interest to me or other readers (some of you are not anonymous, so I know those who are lawyers in Colorado or engineers in Australia; that sort of thing)

67 thoughts on “Why do you read me and who are you

  1. 1) I’ve been reading your blog(s) on an occasional basis for around 7-10 years — it’s hard to recall precisely as I started by going through a lot of your older stuff. Politically and ideologically I’m much further to the left, I guess, but I find your blogging fascinating nevertheless, especially on the history of populations and cultures, religion, psychology and society at large.

    2) I’m a lawyer from a Nordic country. I kind of want to know where you stand on death penalty, but at the same time I’m afraid your answer might piss me off for no good reason, putting me off this blog for a while, until I return again…

    [i’m generally opposed. i think in the 15 years i’ve been writing online i’ve mentioned it. though not something i have blogged about -razib]

  2. 1) I read you because you are among the dwindling population of right leaning scientists who are actually not afraid to speak their voice, and have kept doing that for so long

    2) I may be the only PharmD degree holder among your readership, unless someone else steps up and claim otherwise

  3. The storm of information that Davidski puts out gets me confused too – but not that I don’t appreciate his efforts; I do, very much.

    My understanding is that ANE (Ancient North Eurasian) is a ‘ghost population’ (i.e. no longer exists in ‘pure’ form and has never been identified (i.e. human remains) in pure form, but is inferred to have existed from analysis of other ancient aDNA) that once existed at low population density right across the northern Eurasian steppe; and that ANE would be part of ANI (i.e. Ancestral Northern Indian).

    If David is reading, I would welcome him correcting me.

  4. Not to witter on endlessly, but to quote from David’s latest post: “Reich argued that, based on currently available ancient DNA, all of the main Indo-European daughter branches, apart perhaps from Anatolian, may have expanded from the Yamnaya Horizon on the Pontic-Caspian Steppe in Eastern Europe via a series of massive migrations soon after the Neolithic. In other words, even Indo-Iranian, including Indo-Aryan, languages might be from the Yamnaya horizon.” IOW, David Reich is saying that the Yamnaya culture ultimately contributed steppe ancestry to India, and that steppe ancestry included a component of Ancient North Eurasian.

    [think this is right -razib]

  5. I started reading you because I had sort of side stepped into a genetics project and was learning what I could about genetics. Then I really got hooked because of the history and religion posts.. And the great book reviews. I miss the long book reviews these days.
    Bottom line:I love the fact that whatever you write about, you want to get to wherever the evidence may lead. Which is rare, and awesome

  6. I mostly read for the history, of which I know little.

    I’m a mathematician. Everyone seems to think I’m a logician because I do things that are the sort of thing that logicians might care about, but I haven’t done anything involving what-proves-what, and prefer to think of myself more as an unusual sort of combinatorialist (who isn’t afraid of the infinite). It’s just one of those quirks of how people tend to group subject, seems to me…

  7. I discovered your writing through a Steve Sailer link from somewhere around 2004-5 (I think).

    My academic training is in Philosophy, with a grad degree (MA) focusing on Philosophy of Science. So I appreciated your appreciation of intellectual history, and how insights from modern genetics, etc. could shed light on some of the hitherto intractable questions-of-fact.

    I was raised as a strict Catholic, but rejected it at age 13. This lead to a sort of doubleing-down by my elders re Church doctrine and an adversarial stance towards the Catechism and religion-in-general on my part. Looking back, I think I viewed philosophy as a sort of “referee” in the bout between religion and science. (E.g. Hume’s Fork as a tool for refuting Aquinas, Anselm, etc.)

    My anti-religion stance grew milder as I aged (I’m 43), and reading “Religion Explained” by Boyer years ago was pivotal in my own coming to terms with the existence of religion and religious belief. (I’d been exposed to a fair amount of Cognitive Pysch. previously).

    And then I stumbled upon Razib, who was the only blogger to I knew to ever talk about the POV of Atran and Boyer, and integrate that POV into his analysis of religion/current events. That was a huge, huge selling point for me on Razib-the-blogger.

    Razib also was one of the co-founders of the Secular Right blog. While I don’t read it much now (is it all Andrew Stuttaford now?), at the beginning it was like a musical supergroup to me. Many writers and thinkers I admired and read were under one banner!! I couldn’t believe this site had Derb, Razib, AND Heather McDonald!! Holy smokes!!

    Whatever armchair understanding (shallow as it may be) of genetics, deep history of homo sap, etc. I have has come from reading Razib, Greg Cohcran, etc. The field is alive and bursting, and I read what I can to kinda/sorta keep up. (Nicholas Wade has been great for this.)

    I’ve bought probably half a dozen books based on Razib mentioning/recommending them.

    Keep up the great work!

  8. 1) I read Steve Sailer/Hsu, Greg, James Thompson, you & others bc together you are an accessible approximation to John von Neumann’s polymath breadth of interests and knowledge. Again, I’d appreciate if you’d dumb down your articles on genetic research, else a tl;dr would be great.

    2) Same as 10 years ago, programmer, Berlin, Germany. Keep up the good work, much appreciated. Makes me mad that MSM is filled with so much crap while there’s such excellent stuff online for free.

    [von neumann was a god! most def not worthy -razib]

  9. I found out about you when I was in university studying Biology. I stopped keeping up with your blog though long time ago, when you moved to Unz, thought it was a bad move.
    I just found your blog again a couple of months ago!
    So why I follow you? Well because you are a very eloquent writer and I like to keep up with human genetics, even though humans are the most boring species (I study eusocial insects).

    I would like to see you write more about genetics, population genetics, maybe expand on techniques and methodology. And of course coverage of new insights in human genetics!

    Also I agree that most popular commentary on religion is really disheartening. Especially the prevalent naive atheism (Comte-positivism?) that seems to dominate the internet arena.

    By the way, Scott Atran’s book is a good counter for David Sloan Wilson’s group selection arguments in Darwin’s Cathedral. I also really enjoyed his Talking To The Enemy book.

    also since everyone is sharing their politics, I’m an sjw.

    Anyways keep up the good work!

    [i think i need to write a new admixture post -razib]

  10. Thanks Sandgroper. The latest Reich’s lecture seems to have caused a lot of excitement. I need to catch up once the webcast archive is available.

    Thanks for clarifying the ANE issue. I have seen it referenced somewhere in pop science article that Europeans and Chinese having common ancestor since aDNA from east asia has ANE. My understanding is very spotty and hopefully it would all come together as the field matures.

  11. I think I found your blog about 3 or 4 years ago, probably via Andrew Sullivan’s “The Dish” but I don’t remember for sure. I don’t think I have posted here before so it definitely counts as an unlurk.

    I think one reason I read is that you have a clear writing style. I loved Isaac Asimov’s science books when I was younger and I think you are also very good at expressing things clearly. I like a wide variety of science topics and you cover many interesting things. I like how well thought out the ideas you post on are. You know how to evaluate the credibility of a source and make an effort to back up social observations with data.

    I’m ex-mormon and left religion fairly young (though not as young as you). Like you it never really worked for me and seemed to go against my nature. I have degrees in physics and computer science and worked as a programmer. I have always been curious and interested in understanding things.

    I like quite a few topics you cover. I think my interest in population genetics started from reading your blog. It is exciting time for the field with so much new data and more on its way. Also, having ancient DNA data coming in on top of everything else and revealing even more is amazing.

    I have gotten more interested in history too since reading your blog. I like hearing about the less discussed civilizations that had their impact in their day. I’m also interested in philosophy and sociology.

    I like that I have found interesting things in your comment section. It is kind of surprising how rare it is for comment sections to have anything besides people spouting.

    One of the big reasons I read your blog is the books I find out about. I heard about “The Nurture Assumption” from you and read it on your recommendation. I was blown away. Many of our cultural assumptions on the impact of parenting just seem so quaint now (maybe we can blame Freud for much of it). I read “The 10,000 year explosion” and “Theological Incorrectness”. I have a copy of “In Gods we Trust” that I will get to one of these days. I enjoy when you write about books you have just finished.

    One thing that would be nice is a page with links to some of your more memorable/significant/popular posts. I had just googled Scott Atran and Razib Khan and found an interesting older post called “Against the seriousness of theology”. I wish there were a way to find more like it. Maybe you could have readers submit their favorites.

    I just want to say thank you for the blog. It is one of the better ones I have stumbled upon.

  12. 1. When I was about ten, I tried to read the Bible. I wanted answers to questions like, “Where did we come from?” “Why are we the way we are?” “Why are things the way they are?” A book starting “In the beginning …” might provide them. But I gave up fairly quickly. I wanted “science.” When I was ten, “science” was a magic word. (At one point, I got excited by the Church of Christ, Scientist. Boy, was I disappointed.)

    In a sense, I’ve been writing that book in my head ever since. You fill in passages and point me to chapters I don’t know much about.

    Modern American intellectual life seems predictable and shallow. You provide intellectual diversity at a high level. Where else would I have read something like, “We Are Not Your Asian American (Political) Sidekick”? And even when I disagree with you, I trust you.

    2. I went to law school and did some graduate work in economics after college, then was a “househusband” for a wife and two kids for almost two decades, and wound up as a high school science teacher (so both left and right writings on education bother me: shallow, predicable, and so often wrong). Now retired.

  13. I started reading when Andrew Sullivan linked to you:


    I re-read that article every few months. It speaks to my own personal experience in this world. It stuck with me when encountering conversations with progressive people who blathered on about integration and racial harmony whilst actually living a closeted white middle class lifestyle. Lots of interactions struck me as just a sham for social signalling. I’m glad you had the words to put into place what I felt. I much prefer your posts regarding Religion, culture, social norms etc. than genomics, mainly because that goes above my head. I would love if you posted more regarding the current changing of the political wind within Europe and to a lesser extent the Western world.

    About me? I am a police officer from London who does not want to be publicly recognized on this site for professional reasons. This would be the death of my career. Any public show of deviation from the acceptable public narrative regarding racism, sexism etc. is a job loser. In fact, the main jokey conversations between colleagues is regarding who may or may not have broken a taboo in general chat and therefore may get the sack. Hope that livens your day.

  14. I am glad to hear that. I hope a solid community of interested people can be maintained.

    The other features I really like are the ability to edit comments for at least a small amount of time, and the ability to delete comments. Sometimes… I just won’t say anything unless there is a failsafe.

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