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Survival of the splitters

Have you ever wondered why religions are more numerous in the tropics than in temperate regions? I'm guessing not, but I'd hate to underestimate you. Either way, we have an answer for you.

A paper written by Corey Fincher and Randy Thornhill of New Mexico University, and published by the Royal Society, argues that the greater the variety of diseases in a place, the greater the variety of religions.

The further you get from the equator, the more diversity you get in both. Infectious diseases are far more rampant in the tropics than in chillier climes, while Brazil has ten times as many religions as Canada.

The connection between the two dispersal patterns, Fincher and Thornhill suggest, is this. When the land is a melting pot of pathogens, it pays to keep yourself to yourself. In such situations, evolution favours those who shun the worshippers of different gods (or worshippers of the right god in the wrong way).

If your church's way of dealing with religious questions was to split up and never see one another again, then you had a built in resistance to contagious disease. Treating unbelievers like lepers has advantages if it turns out that's what they are.

If there's any truth in the theory - and the jury is definitely still out - then ecumenism and schism, like most things these days, are in your genes.