Monday, September 20, 2010

Well, that's good to know

Guardian - Weekly EditionSue Blackmore, in a friendly article entitled, "Why I no longer believe religion is a virus of the mind," has this to say about her recent discovery:
Are religions viruses of the mind? I would have replied with an unequivocal "yes" until a few days ago when some shocking data suggested I am wrong.


The idea is that religions, like viruses, are costly to those infected with them. They demand large amounts of money and time, impose health risks and make people believe things that are demonstrably false or contradictory. Like viruses, they contain instructions to "copy me", and they succeed by using threats, promises and nasty meme tricks that not only make people accept them but also want to pass them on.

This was all in my mind when Michael Blume got up to speak on "The reproductive advantage of religion". With 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.


So it seems I was wrong and the idea of religions as "viruses of the mind" may have had its day.
What strength and courage it takes to overcome one's previous assumptions.

Instead of "virus," it sounds like we can now conclude religion is more like a "bacterium of the mind."
Religions still provide a superb example of memeplexes at work, with different religions using their horrible threats, promises and tricks to out-compete other religions, and popular versions of religions outperforming the more subtle teachings of the mystical traditions. But unless we twist the concept of a "virus" to include something helpful and adaptive to its host as well as something harmful, it simply does not apply. Bacteria can be helpful as well as harmful; they can be symbiotic as well as parasitic, but somehow the phrase "bacterium of the mind" or "symbiont of the mind" doesn't have quite the same ring.
She has a point at the end, there. Although "Symbiont of the Mind" might make a great name for a math rock band.

One has to marvel at how this "shocking data" displayed in the form of a few graphs can shift a scientist's ardent beliefs about religion, while thousands of years of theological contemplation and discussion are irrelevant. But then again, this is coming from someone who admits she once had to let go of her earnest belief in the paranormal.

I guess what I have to get used to in this whole "dialog" is that there are plenty of smart people who aren't worth taking seriously.

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