The Unfitness of Ideas: Contraceptive Mentalities and Natural Selection

Genome SequencingBefore the Supreme Court this week will be the question of “same-sex marriage.”   The potential for a Roe v. Wade category of decision making is certainly there: a decision that may echo in American discourse for the next few generations, much as Roe is still.  A branch of the federal government, the SCOTUS, has no moral or constitutional authority to make a change here, and this could be the final straw on the proverbial camel.

Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco did a good job of explaining the Catholic position to the USA Today.

When I was Bishop of Oakland, I lived at a residence at the Cathedral, overlooking Lake Merritt. It’s very beautiful. But across the lake, as the streets go from 1st Avenue to the city limits at 100th Avenue, those 100 blocks consist entirely of inner city neighborhoods plagued by fatherlessness and all the suffering it produces: youth violence, poverty, drugs, crime, gangs, school dropouts, and incredibly high murder rates. Walk those blocks and you can see with your own eyes: A society that is careless about getting fathers and mothers together to raise their children in one loving family is causing enormous heartache.

To legalize marriage between two people of the same sex would enshrine in the law the principle that mothers and fathers are interchangeable or irrelevant, and that marriage is essentially an institution about adults, not children; marriage would mean nothing more than giving adults recognition and benefits in their most significant relationship.

How can we do this to our children?

It’s very interesting to note that, 2 months back, in Paris, “traditional marriage supporters” protested a change to the country’s laws on marriage, and among the protesters were many LGBT folks who nevertheless saw the necessity for not redefining marriage.

“The rights of children trump the right to children,” was the catchphrase of protesters like Jean-Marc, a French mayor — who is also homosexual.

However, should the SCOTUS decide to make a sweeping change, what then?

Genes, Memes, and Mental Viruses

Darwinian natural selection speaks of the “survival of the fittest”as a general structure that rules and shapes species as they grow and develop (a term developed by Herbert Spencer after reading Darwin’s work).  On the whole, those that are most fit thrive the best, and are most likely to pass on their genetic information to the next generation, catastrophes aside.  I have no real qualms with the notion as a general theory.  It’s intuitive as a general theory, hence it’s appeal within the realm of evolutionary biology.

Something has always struck me as odd about the entire mentality that accepts any form of willfully-sterilized sex as normative, be it through contraception or same-sex unions, and it’s precisely this: from a purely Darwinian perspective, they’re not fit ideologies.  Anyone who adopts such beliefs tends to simultaneously adopt a set of actions which work towards ensuring the minimization of their own effect on the gene pool.

In fact, in a sense, that’s what gave rise to the idea of the meme.  It was Richard Dawkins, about 30 years ago, when he was focused on his area of expertise, biology, who gave us the concept, in his book The Selfish Gene, that coined the term “meme” (a term which has, ironically, taken on a life of it’s own in the form of the internet meme).  For Dawkins, the meme exemplified a self-replicating unit with potential significance in explaining human behavior and cultural evolution, just as genes were the self-replicating units driving biological evolution.

1.9 birth rate

One must turn towards an explanation such as memes, to explain the persistence and transmission of such “unfit” ideologies and actions.  The fact that they have such a detrimental effect on the overriding biological imperative leaves me little else but to conclude that such memes are a kind of mental virus.  Now, I want to be clear here: I am not saying that those who struggle with homosexuality are “diseased” or that they’re “contageous,” etc.  Far from it.  But surely it’s not hard to make the leap that it’s those who forcefully seek to normalize all forms of sterile sex who are the contagious spreaders of a mental virus that thwarts their own survival.  Elizabeth Anscombe argued that it was the wholesale adoption of sex without reference to procreation that left a culture utterly unable to coherently state an argument against same-sex “marriage”.

And it is, moreover, such a mental virus that leads to demographic winter, as populations of people fall below the 2.1 children per woman level necessary to replace the population, which the US population just did for the first time in about 25 years, if the chart in the USA Today this morning is to be believed.

There is a danger in flirting with such ideology, but perhaps not a terminal one, if even some are meme resistant.  Much as many a plague has wiped out portions of the population and then subsided, we may see the rise and fall of certain “mental viruses” that wax and wane for various reasons at various times.  Overpopulation isn’t necessarily one of them.


Right now, in the church, a new (and yet old) meme has taken root: the goodness of life and of a large family.  The goodness of love.  This idea is “fit,” from a purely Darwinian perspective (let alone from the stance of congruence with the moral law).  Such people are showing themselves to be highly resistant to the mental viruses that limit gene-pool expression, and also be raising children who are inoculated against the mental disease that praises contraception as a highly esteemed good.

Nevertheless, it’s pretty clear that that we currently live in a unique time unlike any other in history, when in a special way the following words have come true:

For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ (Luke 23:29)

May we seek to continue to inoculate ourselves and the church against such an unfit-making meme.

Genetics image courtesy Creative Commons License Libertas Academica

Like us! is a growing community of Catholic bloggers from various walks of life. To get updates, click here to like our facebook page.