Here is a popular press piece on Geert Vermaij’s paper in PNAS where he argues that evolution is not highly contingent process on particular historical events, in other words, if you rewound the clock and let it flow the rivers would occupy the same channels. These ideas seem rather similar to those of Simon Conway Morris. In the end, I think this might be a “hillist vs. mountainist” issue, draw a conceptual line somewhere, give it a label and defend your position like hell. All the while characterize your position as reasonable and moderate and caricature your “opponents” so that they seem like loons arguing either for perfect determinism or total lack of adaptional constraint.
But hey, perhaps in the end I’m just not interested in the “controversies” of paleontologists…but these macroevolutionary issues do end up percolating down to the microevolutionary level at some point in the discourse, so I better pay attention.
I’d like to give a shout out and request submissions for evolution & genetics related raps. Yo, you heard that right. Raps. Something that is redolent of “Lazy Sunday,” I’m not looking for hard-core mimics of West coast thuggin’ style. Incorporations of R.A. Fisher, Chuck D. (Charles Darwin) and W.D. Hamilton into the lyrics would be good. Doing some conversions like, “I’m going to smack your ass,” to “I’m going to stat your ass” would be cool too. Get into a mindset of genomicists and statistical geneticists unintimidated by artful integrations of physical scientists. Not frontin’ or trippin,’ but calling out for respect.1 Remember, evolution and genetics is in the end all about “playin.”
Keep them short and sweet, and post them into the comments box. I’ll take the best ones and repost them (with attribution if offered) on this and my other blog. Evangelicals have their “praise music,” the evo-thugs need to represent!
Thanks ahead to all participants.
1 – Please keep intimations of gang-land style violence subtle and to a minimum. I’m look for a “positive” but hip face for evolution and genetics lyrics.
This new Science Blog is hilarious. I love their tagline!
Update: OK, I take it back. What kind of dreamworld do these bitches think they’re living in? I post something EDT giving props to their blog, and they’re still on top of the Science Blogs front page because they posted at “5 P.M.” It’s 11 AM while I write, what the hell? Are these fuckers on another continent or something???
Yo cousins, new boys don’t jump to the front of the line!
Just found this web site that has a good bibliography of R.A. Fisher’s work. Good supplement to the R.A. Fisher digital archive. Why do I obsess with Fisher? First, ANOVA is ubiquitous. Second, stories like this would shock & awe a lot less if people read The Correlation Between Relatives on the Supposition of Mendelian Inheritance (PDF of full paper). Now, the text of the paper can be rather opaque, and the dancing flow of algebraic manipulations and moments magic can elude your grasp, but the gist is simple: the variance components of the offspring of heterozygous parents can be predicted a priori from Mendelian assumptions. And, this variation is not exhausted through admixture because of the discrete character of Mendelian genetics.
Update: I’ve been told that “the variance components of the offspring of heterozygous parents can be predicted a priori from Mendelian assumptions” is well nigh unintelligible. OK, the PDF of the paper is provided above…and it is a rather opaque piece of prose. Fisher tends to leap around a lot more than I think is warranted, but hey, that’s life. Basically what I was trying to get at is that variation on a trait is easily derivable from small discrete differences within the genome. People who are “mixed” in appearance are not analog mixtures, or “blends,” of parental types, they are discrete combinations of parental genotypes. This explains the link where I show two “brown” parents giving rise to a “white” twin, the standing genetic variation is preserved within the parental generation, even if it is expressed in particular specific genotypes. In the next generation it simply reemerges from the parental type in a way that can be understood assuming simple Mendelian genetics.
Mendelian genetics is a trivially easy dodge of the classical problem in Darwinian evolution: how to preserve variation for selection to work upon as a population “mixes” randomly. If offspring are mixes of the “essences” of the parental generation, then over time you will have a blurring and smoothing of the initial population variation. Darwin and others appealed to various factors, some straightforward like demographic or sexual disruption and differentiation, to preserve the range of traits, but Mendelian genetics was an elegant solution to the problem. Traits are simply reduced to the sum of their genetic parts, which themselves are never destroyed except through processes like random genetic drift and selection. Fisher’s paper shows in part how to derive exactly how the variation between relatives can be discerned, and Mendelian assumptions clearly show that parents who are genetically varied will give rise to a host of offspring, many of whom will recapitulate the variation extent within the population.
To make it even more boring, to some extent population genetics can be thought of as drawing balls from an urn.
Nathanial Blake, editor of the conservative campus publication at Oregon State University, has a good piece addressing the issue of evolution and evangelicals over at the Town Hall website. He points out that even C.S. Lewis, that exemplar of modern Protestant Christian orthodoxy, accepted evolutionary theory. The coupling of anti-evolutionary feeling and a segment of conservative Protestant movement goes to show that culture can tack in bizarre directions not under control from on high, the fact is that evolution was generally a marginal issue in early 20th century Christian circles, and not even William Jennings Bryan was a Young Earth Creationist. Today elite conservatives like George Will amd Charles Krauthammer still resist the conservative populist zeitgeist on this issue.
There has been a lot of discussion on Science Blogs about convincing the public about evolutionary theory. Well, people like Nathaniel Blake have credibility because they attend pro-life protests. What does that have to do with evolution? Fundamentally nothing. Cognitively and socially, a lot. Only Nixon could go to China….
Today’s London Sunday Times has an article here about a forthcoming theory on the evolution of blondeness in Northern Europe. The theory is that blondeness become common around the end of the last Ice Age as a result of strong sexual selection on females. Food was short and men had to go on long arduous hunting trips. A lot of them died, leaving a surplus of females, so there was pressure for females to attract mates, resulting in variant hair colour, etc., being selected.
The theory sounds to me like what is technically known as ‘a load of bollocks’, but hey, what do I know? Actually, what I do know is that women, unless they are very old or seriously ugly, have no difficulty in obtaining mates – all they have to do is to be available. The theory might be more plausible if the society were strictly monogamous, and women found it difficult to get a husband to provide for their children, but very few hunter-gatherer societies are strictly monogamous, least of all if there is a surplus of women.
Added: I see from a Google search that the theory is not that new. The author, Canadian anthropologist Peter Frost, has been touting it in one form or another for some time. I should also say that even in a polygamous society sexual selection on females might operate through the quality of husbands, but I guess this would be a comparatively weak force, and what is needed for the theory is unusually strong selection.
Addendum from Razib: Remember, “beware of British newspapers.” The story concludes with this old false story from 3 years ago:
A study by the World Health Organisation found that natural blonds are likely to be extinct within 200 years because there are too few people carrying the blond gene. According to the WHO study, the last natural blond is likely to be born in Finland during 2202.
John Hawks has more. A “recessive” trait like blondness will disappear when the frequency is so low within a panmictic population that the expectation of alleles conferring blondness coming together becomes very low. If you think of it as a monogenic trait (say on MC1R), then it is just a matter of Hardy-Weinberg, p2 + 2pq + q2 = 1, so if q was the frequency of the blonde allele than frequency of blondes would go to q2. As it is, I don’t see the process of panmictia in the near future….
re: this theory. props to peter f. for throwing something out there. but, i must say that i am starting to feel that sexual selection is the new deus ex machina in lieu of random genetic drift. ?’s
1) is the asymmetry between Y and mtDNA long term effective population greater in northern/eastern europe than in southern/western europe (the blonde-non-blonde gradient).
2) what about other populations, like eskimos, where this process occurs? since selection can be stochastic it is not inevitable that blondness will be the novel or padaeomorphic cue. could east asian padeomorphism evolve from the same bias?
3) how did blondness increase in frequency among some australian aboriginals? the probability seems high that the trait is endogenous because its transmission mode seems different than that of europeans (though there isn’t a perfect coupling between blondness and fair skin, they are connected in europeans via MC1R). i know that blondness is considered attractive among the women and youth there as well.
4) recent work points to selection on non-MC1R loci to generate light skin in europeans. this might have freed up MC1R to explore genetic space and evolve novelty. but, it might be that this process of sexual selection is ubiquitous in many (most) populations and that it stochastically fixed on different traits. (eg., epicanthic fold in asians)
5) is this runaway sexual selection? that implies coupling between the preference and the trait, and extremely fast evolution toward fixation of the trait sans functional/selective constraint. it doesn’t seem that blondness has ever fixed, almost no population has a majority of adult female blondes (in c.s. coon he states that only in southern sweden does the intersection of blonde hair and blue eyes exceed 50% of the population).
6) what about traits like blue eyes? that seems unrelated to MC1R.
Just thought this tidbit from The Corner, by Tom Bethell* was interesting:
“Incidentally, this criticism, that Darwinism amounts to the retelling of Just-So Stories, was brilliantly made in the 1970s by Richard Lewontin of Harvard, now emeritus.”
*The author of “The politically incorrect guide to science”
Sweden just won the Olympic Hockey Gold!!!! Whohoooooo! 😛
Update from Razib: Derb schools The Corner on the Left & Right Creationists.
I began this series at my other blog before I became a poster here. You could read this on its own, but the first four parts — I here, II here, III here, IV here — provide the necessary background (esp. part I, first 3 paragraphs of part II, and part III, all of which are short). Briefly, the idea was to investigate whether microbes could affect human cognition in ways more subtle than rabies. Now comes the empirical support I’ve uncovered: a strong winter-spring birth seasonality effect on “genius,” which I take to reflect early infection. (Somewhat long read.)
We present evidence that early infection likely contributes to “genius” status — recall from part II our definition of “genius” as anyone who had an Index Score (IS) of at least 50 (from 0-100) in the inventories of Charles Murray’s Human Accomplishment. The prediction is that at the highest level — the “giants,” who score in any category’s 10th “decile” (i.e., IS at least 90) — the births will be the most lopsided toward winter-spring (WS = Dec-Feb and Mar-May), when infant infection is most likely; that the top 5 deciles will show less lopsidedeness though still toward WS; and that the bottom 5 deciles will not necessarily show the pattern. More, we predict that the more abstract the field (and thus the more it requires superhuman creativity), the more pronounced the bias. We first examine the giants, then the geniuses of the most abstract fields — Philosophy in the humanities, Music in the arts, and Math in the sciences — and finally the geniuses of the remaining fields. In our research, we found birth month data only for Westerners, which constrains the scope of the argument w.r.t. the arts, though no non-Westerner is among the geniuses of any science category. All lists of births available by email (see my bl*gspot profile).
First, in HA 18 Westerners scored 90 or above in any field, though only 16 figures had known birth months (unknown: Aristotle & Hippocrates). Of these 16 giants, 14 are WS: Galileo, Kepler, Darwin, Newton, Einstein, Euler, Pasteur, Koch, Edison, Watt, Beethoven, Mozart, Michelangelo, Shakespeare. Among these, 10 are winter, 4 spring. Only 2 of 16 are summer-fall (SF): Lavoisier and Lyell. The prediction checks out: 87.5% are WS, and the actual value of winter births is 2.5 times the expected value of 4.
Next, the most abstract art: Music. Homo sapiens’ natural mode of expression is linguistic, and we can grope our way through visual modalities such as gesture, mime, etc. But we are utterly at a loss when it comes to non-linguistic sound. Moreover, Western music emphasizes both complex melodies, which are serial, as well as complex harmonies, where notes are stacked on top of one another. Juggling these elements for various instruments in one’s head, all while attempting expression in the most foreign of artistic languages, is the greatest test of artistic genius. The Western Music inventory is particularly instructive since birth months are known for all figures save a neglible number down in the 2nd decile (2D: we use XD as short-hand for the Xth decile). There are 5 geniuses (people in 6D-10D), all 5 of whom are WS: Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Wagner, Haydn. All graphs visible here.
Turning to the most abstract science, Math, there is little role for “inevitable discovery,” and the objects it studies are farther removed from the real world than in other sciences. Moreover, we have less innate / intuitive scaffolding to hoist ourselves up by when it comes to math as compared to physics or biology. There are 8 geniuses, 1 of whose birth months is unknown (Euclid in 9D). Again, the hypothesis checks out, though not as strongly as in Music — of the known 7, 5 are WS: Euler in 10D, Newton & Gauss in 9D, Descartes & Cantor in 6D. The 2 exceptions constitute 8D: Fermat & Leibniz.
As for Philosophy, it is the only humanities field Murray included, presumably because it is (at least for now) the only one demanding genius thought, fields like history being closer to (extremly important) clerical work. Again, we only found data for Westerners. There are 4 geniuses, 1 of whose birth months is unknown — unfortunately, the top-ranked and only figure in 10D: Aristotle. We admit this weakness. Still, the hypothesis checks out — of the known 3, all 3 are WS: Plato in 9D, Kant in 8D, Descartes in 6D.
To sum up so far: there are 17 geniuses in the three most abstract fields, and 15 of their birth months are known. 13 of these 15 (~87%) are WS, and the 2 exceptions show up in 8D in Math. So, the percentage of WS is almost identical to that among giants, though the gross overrepresenation of winter births is gone: of these 15, only 3 (or 4 — Plato was born in either Dec or May) are winter, which, depending on Plato’s birth, is either 0.25 above or 0.75 below the expectation of 3.75.
The link to the graphs begins w/ raw number and percentage of summer-fall births in the three most abstract fields; SF are shown in order to highlight data points that falsify the hypothesis. A dashed line indicates no data points in that decile; a red numeral indicates the number of points in the decile for which data were not found. Depending on the inventory, some of the lower deciles were not examined since 1) they did not bear on the hypothesis, 2) they had larger numbers that would have required more hard labor to collect, and 3) these are the people most likely to fluctuate in and out of the inventory depending on which encyclopedias are consulted (unlike, e.g., Mozart or Newton).
Next is a graph of the other arts, Western Art and Western Literature. In Art, there are 5 geniuses, 1 of whose birth months is unknown (Titian in 6D). Of the known 4, 3 are WS: Michelangelo in 10D, Raphael in 7D, Leonardo in 6D. The 1 exception, in 7D, is one of the few people widely considered by reviewers of HA to be an epochcentric anomaly (see, e.g., this review by Denis Dutton): Picasso, who scores two deciles above DÃ¼rer, Rembrandt, Giotto, Bernini, Cezanne, & Rubens (5D). The least abstract art, Lit, we predict to be least lopsided toward WS since Murray explains that creators of Lit encyclopedias strongly consider the role the writer played in social movements, since writing is used not only for expression but for communication and persuasion. (The Art and Music inventories do not show such an effect.) E.g., for his political impact, Rousseau (in 5D) ranks two deciles above inter alia Aeschylus, Ovid, Whitman, & Proust. There are 5 geniuses, 1 of whose birth months is unknown (Homer in 6D). Of the known 4, only 1 is WS: Shakespeare, the lone figure in 10D. As
the graph shows, Lit is the most SF-friendly art, as predicted.
We continue w/ a graph of the Combined Sciences. Murray only listed the top 20 figures, though his point was only to illustrate the “big fish in a small pond” effect for figures such as Lyell who dominate their small pond but don’t show up in the larger pond. There are 6 geniuses, 1 of whose birth months is unknown (Aristotle in 8D). Of the 5 known, 4 are WS: Newton in 10D, Galileo in 9D, Kepler & Descartes in 6D. The 1 exception is Lavoisier in 6D. So considering the sciences as a whole, the prediction is met.
Considering each scientific pond, we turn next to the three most established sciences after Math: Physics, Chemistry, and Astronomy. In Physics, there are 9 geniuses, of whom only 4 are WS, though these include the two in 10D — Newton & Einstein — along w/ Galileo in 9D and Thomson in 6D. The exceptions are Rutherford & Faraday in 9D and Cavendish, Bohr, & Maxwell in 6D. In Chemistry, there are just 3 geniuses, 1 of whom is WS: Scheele in 6D. The 2 exceptions are Lavoisier in 10D and Berzelius in 7D. In Astronomy, there are 9 geniuses, 1 of whose birth months is unknown (Ptolemy in 8D). Of the 8 known, 5 are WS: Galileo & Kepler in 10D, Laplace & Copernicus in 8D, and Brahe in 6D. The 3 exceptions are Herschel in 9D, and Halley & Cassini in 6D. So, by zooming in closer on each pond, the actual value of WS is 0.5 below expectation (10 of 21 in these three fields), which weakens the hypothesis. Alternatively, sub-giant-level insight in these sciences may not require as much “outside the box” creativity as does giant-level insight in these sciences, or as does sub-giant insight in the arts.
Now we consider the two least abstract sciences (as of 1950, when Murray’s survey ended): Earth Sciences and Biology. In Earth Sciences, there are 4 geniuses, 2 of whom are WS: William Smith & Agricola (Georg Bauer) in 6D. The 2 exceptions are Lyell in 10D and Hutton in 8D. This matches the prediction that the least abstract field will not show lopsidedness toward WS (as w/ Lit). Biology is another case in point, since by 1950 it was barely established as a field and not very abstract at that. There are 7 geniuses, 2 of whose birth months are unknown (Aristotle in 10D and Harvey in 6D). Of the known 5, just 2 are WS: Darwin in 10D and Linnaeus in 6D. The 3 exceptions are Lamarck in 10D, Cuvier in 9D, and Morgan in 8D.
None of the geniuses who developed biology into a mature science during the 20th Century even made it to 4D, again because Murray’s encyclopedias focused on periods before 1950. For example, Darwin the Second — Bill Hamilton — is not included at all, while R.A. Fisher barely shows up in 1D. Though it is too early to provide a ranking of who encyclopedias 200 years from now will consider the equivalents of Newton and Rutherford, we can at least come up w/ an unordered list of newcomers and their birth seasons: Hamilton (sum), Haldane (fall), Fisher (win), Wright (win), Smith (win), Trivers (win). This is not definitive, but on the right track.
Haldane is clearly an exception, and though Hamilton’s data point may appear to falsify the hypothesis of higher likelihood of infant infection among geniuses, the fuller story is revealing. Unlike every other European genius, he was born in Cairo, Egypt’s most crowded, slum-ridden urban area, in Aug 1936 — less than 4 months after Egypt had even established a Ministry of Health! More, his mother was a medical doctor, who would’ve been exposed to god knows what in those days and potentially have brought it home. In this sole case, we consider geographical location to be more informative than WS birth in assessing likelihood of infant infection. The geniuses in other categories show a general bias toward urban birth, but the effect is not as strong as birth month, and it is susceptible to alternative interpretations. We return to this point later.
Finally, we consider the two applied sciences: Technology and Medicine. While Technology is by definition creative and inventive, we are agnostic on whether it requires the genius of Beethoven or Newton; and Medicine is largely discovery, not creative model-building. Nevertheless, next is a graph for these two. In Technology, there are 6 geniuses, 1 of whose birth months is unknown (Archimedes in 6D). All 5 of the known are WS: Edison, Watt Leonardo, Huygens, Marconi. In Medicine, there are 8 geniuses, 3 of whose birth months are unknown (Hippocrates in 9D, Galen in 8D, and Paracelsus in 7D). Of the 5 known, all 5 are WS: Pasteur in 10D, Koch in 9D, and Ehrlich, Laennec, & McCollum in 6D. We interpret these data as not falsifying the hypothesis, though hardly a ringing endorsement of it, given the conceptual nature of the fields, their relative immaturity up to 1950, and the lacunae among the data for Medicine.
So, overall the hypothesis passes the tests for finding lopsided seasonality among genius births in abstract, creative fields, as we believe the Combined Sciences ranking better highlights scientific genius than the rankings in the separate fields which compose it. This was especially so for the mostly-winter “giants.” But how do we interpret this finding? First, imagine we examined another trait w/ 0.5 probability of occuring in the general population — say, male vs female sex. If we observed a similarly lopsided male to female ratio, we would need to account for it somehow: sex discrimination, different distributions in cognitive ability, a mix, etc. We find it implausible that social factors contribute to the seasonality of genius births: there is no evidence that WS children are encouraged more, that SF suffer Zodiac “stereotype threat,” that either of these would make such a difference in magnitude anyway, and so on. In epidemiological studies, seasonality of births is typically taken to reflect the role of infection, as it cannot be easily confounded w/ other variables, unlike the effect of urban birth — the latter could reflect selection bias for higher IQ, class structure, better access to mentors, and so forth. But the only powerful, non-magical explanation for seasonality is infection.
In principle, WS seasonality could also reflect, e.g., lack of sun exposure and thus lack of vitamin D. But unlike vitamins, microbes are alive & evolving, meaning their presence (or absence) can have either positive or negative effects, depending on whether they are mutualist or parasitic. We cannot easily conceive of how lack of vitamin D would help smart people become singular geniuses, so we find subtle microbial influence much more plausible. Indeed, a recent study done to assess seasonality of schizophrenic births also found higher cognitive development among normal WS children, as measured by various psychometric tests, though the data do not report adult IQ, which would be more noteworthy.
Now, are we saying that early infection is all there is to genius? No, because we already know from Behavior Genetics that in adulthood, the broad-sense heritability of g is ~0.7, so genes certainly play a crucial role as well, not to mention access to mentors, etc. Recall that in the lower 5 deciles of the inventories, there was no apparent seasonality, so this infection likely plays a role in a tiny minority of cases indeed — though these are the most impressive of cases — an
d again we assume the affected individuals already had a high IQ due to additive genetic effects. But since we do not know exactly what the germs are, we cannot tell what effect they would have on an average or below-average intellect; in principle, it could go either way. Therefore if the germs were identified, administering them in the hopes of turning one’s child into the next Mozart would almost certainly fail, since presumably many more individuals were infected in addition to Mozart, Newton, et al. Now, if the parents had good reason to believe their child’s IQ would already be quite high, the prospect would be more promising.
Where, then, does this leave us as far as exploring the cells in the “brain germ” matrix outlined in part III? We are utterly clueless as to the route, aside from knowing that it must begin early after birth, and we are also unsure of its impact of reproductive fitness. We could not easily locate data for average family size in the times and places that produced the “giants,” but here are the numbers of children sired by each of the 14 WS giants: 0 (Newton, Beethoven, Michelangelo), 1 (Koch), 3 (Galileo, Kepler, Einstein, Shakespeare), 5 (Pasteur), 6 (Edison, Watt, Mozart), 10 (Darwin), and 13 for the man whose genetic output was second only to his mathematical (Euler). How these actual values compare to the expected values given the time & place in which they flourished, we leave open for now.
So if early infection is one piece of the puzzle behind Galilean excellence, might better hygiene play a role in the decline of the per capita *rate* of accomplishment that Murray wrestles w/ in HA (Ch. 21), which accelerated downward after 1800? Part of his argument is that the secularization of Europe left each generation after ~1800 w/ less motivation to pursue their calling in life. As in our discussion in Part IV of Judith Rich Harris’ personality model, we don’t discount social influences such as the ones Murray mentions. However, in Murray’s own list of “Significant Events” (Ch. 9) for Medicine, he has boldfaced the entry of 1796 to underscore its importance: “Edward Jenner systematizes vaccination for smallpox, founding immunology” (p.194; original emphasis).
During the 19th Century, the scientists Paul Ewald calls “the microbe hunters” in his book Plague Time began searching out infectious causes for diseases and proposing cures or preventative measures, including Semmelweis’ efforts to introduce rigorous hygiene among doctors who were delivering newborns in order to cut down neonatal mortality rates, not to mention Pasteur’s establishment of the germ theory of disease and Koch’s formulation of Koch’s Postulates to determine infectious origin. Conversely, we interpret the increasing rate of accomplishment up to and shortly after the Renaissance to reflect in part the increasingly frequent exposure to microbes as a result of urbanization. Similar reasoning suggests a partial reason for why advanced civilizations produce more geniuses than hunter-gatherers.
The early immunological efforts and their present-day descendents have surely improved the quality of life for the average person born in Western nations. Yet they might also have contributed to the decline in the rate of genius-level accomplishment. As elsewhere, science can only illuminate a trade-off — if our interpreation is correct, in this case between level of public health and rate of genius-level excellence — and the value judgment of where to resolve the trade-off is ultimately up to the individual or the society, not scientists. More big thinkers are better than fewer, ceteris paribus, but few will accept a larger percentage of geniuses if it requires diminishing the effect of public health on quality of life for the average person. Still, we feel a certain optimism is in order: after all, the Industrial and Information Revolutions took off when the rate of accomplishment was declining, suggesting that what matters on a day-to-day level — e.g., having electricity so you can listen to a Chopin CD — is more a function of the raw number of big thinkers rather than their proportion of the general population.
Epilogue: Psychology. I can hardly drone on about genius cognition w/o mentioning the geniuses of Psychology. Now, the field is far too immature to show up in Murray’s survey, but I came up w/ the tiny handful of psychologists I estimate will compose the top 5 deciles in the 200th anniversary edition of HA. There are two main groups in psychology: those that deal w/ universals and those that deal w/ individual differences. From the former, I’d wager that Francis Galton (win) will make it. From the latter, I’d wager that William James (win) will make it, and perhaps the founders of the two fields of cognitive psychology that are best understood: language pioneer Noam Chomsky (win) and vision pioneer David Marr (win). Just as I assume Cuvier will fall from the top 5 deciles in Biology once Hamilton & Fisher work their way into the encyclopedias, I assume the following will drop from their (even now decreasing) Deity status: Freud (win), Skinner (spr), & Piaget (sum).
Michael J. Totten has an interesting piece where he interviews the religious leader of the Yezidis. I read a book on the Yezidis in college…and their “history” is difficult to untangle. If I had to bet I would contend that their assertion of the being the ur-religion of the Kurds is a rather late invention. I once talked a Kurdish cab-driver in Chicago who repeated the idea that Yezidism was the Kurdish ur-religion, so this idea seems accepted among Muslims. The Yezidi beliefs are a melange, and there are indications from their rituals that they were either Jacobite Christians or strongly influenced by Jacobite Christianity. Additionally, there are historical records of paganism within the mountains of Kurdistan, during the 17th century a Ottoman padishah was making his progress through this region and stumbled upon a village where everyone worshipped the sun. This solar paganism offended the padishah, and eventually the village converted to Jacobite Christianity (at least outwardly) to avoid his wrath. This area has a long historical record of solar paganism, the city of Haran in upper Syria was spared forced Christianization1 during the 6th century because of special protection that the Persian shah extended to it (though it was in Byzantine territory, its nearness to the Persian Empire rendered it vulnerable to attack). Haran remained a pagan city with an indigenous religion at the time of the Muslim conquest.
The Middle East certainly has many peculiar cults. One observation I have read is that the closer you get to the center of the Islamic world the greater the variation in belief and tendency toward heterodoxy. For example, the frequency of Shiism drops to zero at the antipodes of the Dar-al-Islam. The Muslim nations with non-Sunni majorities or large minorites are generally part of the “Islamic core,” many of the Gulf states (including Saudi Arabia), Oman, Yemen, Syria, Iran and Lebanon. Heterodox semi and quasi Islamic groups also seem far more prominent in the Fertile Crescent than elsewhere. Aside from the Yezidis you have the Druze, the Alevis, the Alawites and the Mandaeans.
1 – The Baalbek valley was forcibly Christianized while missionaris were sent into central Anatolia during the 6th century under Justinian so as to finally complete the nominal unification of the Byzantine Empire religiously.