Monday, September 20, 2010

Dawkins' Dumb Idea Dies

Sue Blackmore argues that "the idea of religious belief as a virus has had its day" — Why I no longer believe religion is a virus of the mind. The author is, or now was, a devotee of Richard Dawkins' idea "that religions, like viruses, are costly to those infected with them."

What caused her to change her mind? At a conference in which she "present[ed] the view from memetics that religions begin as by-products but then evolve and spread, like viruses, using humans to propagate themselves for their own benefit and to the detriment of the people they infect," a later presenter showed her "graph after convincing graph he showed that all over the world and in many different ages, religious people have had far more children than nonreligious people," something most of us non-Brights have known all along.

She also mentions a discussion of "whether secularists should be terrified of an impending world dominated by religion or not" and notes the "given data suggesting that religious people are happier and possibly even healthier than secularists" and "experimental data showing that religious people can be more generous, cheat less and co-operate more."

"So it seems I was wrong and the idea of religions as 'viruses of the mind' may have had its day," she writes, the adds smugly, "This is how science (unlike religion) works: in the end it's the data that counts." All I can say is that it took a lot more than a few graphs and a couple of presentations to alter my beliefs on my fourteen-year hegira from Religious Indifferentism to Catholicism.

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OpenID danightman said...

I wonder if, in some way, Dawkin's hypothesis isn't a projection of his own philosophical commitments. The religions that begin as by products as polytheism, especially in the Middle East and Rome, and modern occultism and UFO cults.

Often, the polytheistic cults in Egypt and the Middle East were a projection of the power of the kings that ruled those lands. This is also seen in the Roman Empire as well, where even Julius Caesar claimed to be descended from the goddess Venus. This is mentioned by St. Augustine in The City of God, and taken from the biography of Julius Caesar written by the Roman historian Suetonius.

Modern cults do this as well. Scientology, for instance, derived directly from L. Ron Hubbard's science fiction output, as seen in the Xenu doctrine. One can also see much of the core ideas of the Enlightenment in the sacred texts of the Raelian UFO cult, such as the idea of a individual as a cell in a racial body, and the idea of Technocracy, the rule by scientists and technical experts, reflected as "Geniocracy", the rule by "the genius class."

6:55 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Funny that his "hypothesis" of religion being a virus is and can be nothing other than an unverifiable metaphor. Is it too much to ask scientists to stick to science and leave philosophy and theology to the big boys?

2:18 PM  
OpenID danightman said...

Re: Western,

The "virus" description fits Darwinism itself most perfectly. However, I tend to prefer the description Dostoevsky gives in The Possessed, "a fire in the minds of men."

Darwinism itself arises out of and enthrones in nature the principle threads of the Enlightenment. There is no final kinds, according to it, just as Kant said there was no absolute truth. There is struggle of life forms, the thesis, against nature, the antithesis, leading to stronger species, the synthesis. Is it any wonder then that Marx saw in Darwinism, as he wrote to Engels, "the basis in nature for our views."

8:12 PM  

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