The other day I heard my new favorite catch phrase du jour while watching a popular T.V. show. "only the paranoid survive". And I got to thinking "What would E.O. Wilson have to say about that?" So I asking (since we're atheists here) is there a genetic component to skepticism that makes us 'slip away from the herd' and how would this have added to our species fitness?
You have asked a question that can be truely answered by a Genetic scientist. Speakink purely from a common man's perspective, if genetics had anything to with atheism, we should have found several cases of atheists down the generations, also, this could have influenced their DNA and the link you talk of could have been discovered scientifically. I believe nothing like this has happened.
I am not a determinist, no way mr chicken, takes the fun out it so it does.
From personal experience, I can say that I highly doubt it.
I am not a "natural skeptic". In fact, I'm the kind of person who will look if you tell me the word "gullible" is written on the ceiling. Calling me gullible is just seeing the tip of the iceberg. I physically have to work at being a skeptic, and while it's rewarding enough to be beyond worth it, it's rather annoying. I envy those to whom being a skeptic comes naturally, but it certainly doesn't come naturally to me.
I would say that skepticism is purely nurture. I was not taught to be skeptical. My family is highly liberally religious. What I mean by that is simple: no one on either side of my family is a creationist in the currently-popularly-understood sense. Both my mom's Catholic family and my dad's Jewish family accept the Neodarwinian Theory of Evolution as it is understood scientifically today, and accept the scientifically-determined ages of the Earth/Solar System and the Universe. They accept Inflation Theory (the Big Bang) and so on.
What's more... they all believe quite strongly in the separation of church and state. They all are pro-choice, in that while they would strongly counsel against abortion (unless there was no other choice... mother's health and all that), they would not stop a woman who's made that decision, nor do they think the Federal Government should do so... they also recognize that it is ultimately the would-be mother's choice, and that while they think the father should have a voice in the decision, they understand that it is the mother and the mother alone who has the final say. They don't understand why we don't allow homosexuals to get married, and my mom's parents actually threw a celebration dinner when DADT was repealed (despite there legitimately being no homosexuals on either side of my immediate family... the closest we have is on my dad's... he has a cousin-by-second-marriage who's gay).
However... when I admitted I was an atheist, there was a period of three months where I honestly believed I lost all of them. Now, four years later, relationships have been saved, and all is good, as long as religion is not discussed when I'm around (with the exception of my mom's dad, an RCC Deacon, and my dad, a Jewish Hazzan, both of whom relish debating me... and I relish those debates, too... they are quite fun).
I was taught that God is the foundation upon which life itself rests, and without God, all is meaningless. Heaven was real (but Hell was not, and works is a little more important than faith [in God, not Jesus]... that is, being faithful makes getting into Heaven easier, but a religious rapist isn't going to Heaven no matter how strongly he believes in God), and prayer is needed (though not, when sick, as an alternative to medicine and health care proven to work). They never cared if I was Jewish, Catholic, Christian, Mormon, Hindu, Aphrodite-worshiper, a Deist... as long as I believed in a higher power of some kind, then it was fine.
And, sadly, none of them would ever vote for an atheist as a president (actually... I may have changed my parents' opinions on that one... we had a long discussion about it recently and they ultimately admitted that, if they found a candidate with whom they agreed with on every social and economic issue, they would vote for that candidate regardless of his/her religion or beliefs, including the potentiality that [s]he was an atheist).
It's the not believing at all that is the problem, and I was taught against that.
This is why I believe skepticism is based on nurture. I was brought up to not be a skeptic, and now I have to work at it. Then again, my sample-size for this is one, thus my "testimony" is nothing more than an anecdote. We'd have to hear from others with a similar upbringing to me in order to truly understand it. I have to admit... it'd make a fascinating scientific/anthropological study...
Well, to paraphrase Aldous Huxley excellent "Brave New World":
'A Paranoid is just a guy with all the facts.'
Has always sorta worked for me.
This is a question I have asked myself (and others) many times. The real question we have to ask is what roll genetics really play in our mental development.
There is some evidence that "mental agility" can be passed down, unrelated to brain capacity but the evidence is in no way proof and as critically thinking Atheists; we must not pay too much attention to unproven ideas.
I would almost suppose that skepticism is more likely a universal trait shared by all humans. Varying degrees of skepticism most likely come from your developmental interactions, IE; If, as a young child, you find that you have been lied to, you are more likely to question things that have little to no proof. This would be a learned behavior that you would carry on into your adult life.
I guess the question becomes a bit of a "nature vs nurture" argument but based on what social and psychological scientists have been saying; Proof of nature/genetics playing a strong roll in our social development is very minimal.