Reason and science – the wonderful idea that a person should be moved by a superior argument and nothing else. This after all is
“[…] science should adopt a methodology based on falsification, because no number of experiments can ever prove a theory, but a single experiment can contradict one.”
This view of
Wanting to understand the scientific argument behind the ‘mind virus theory’, I went through the
The article describes a chain letter that propagates itself by “inducing guilt, fear, greed and piety” and thereby ensures self replication and takes this as “confirmation for the existence of human mind viruses”. Ok – fine, so ‘mind viruses’ exist, but what about the causal connection to religion? Undeterred, I turned to the high priesthood of atheism and asked for
Digging yet a bit more I stumble across an article titled
“It is argued that the blanket view of religion as a disease, advocated by Dawkins, is inconsistent with the principles of parasite ecology. These principles state that vertically transmitted parasites evolve towards benign, symbiotic states, while horizontally transmitted parasites increase their virulence. Most of the world’s established religions are transmitted vertically, from parents to children, and are therefore expected to be benign towards their hosts. Yet, certain horizontally transmitted cults, such as the Aum Shinrikyo, seem to effectively exploit their hosts in a way similar to an infectious disease.”
Seems like a falsification to me. But what alternative ideas are out there that could possibly provide a relatively less wrong explanation of the religion phenomenon? The answer of course is
“For humans, a highly pro-social, cognitive thinking species, social norms can be seen as a means of reducing the individual level variation and competition and shift selection in humans to the group level.”
By now it is getting clear that Popper’s notion of a steady progress of scientific understanding upon the emergence of a better argument is rather naive. Human beings cling to their assumptions even if the evidence to the contrary is staring them right in the face – all claims of reason and rationality to no avail. But even for that understanding exists a better theory: the idea advanced by
“[…] the evolution of scientific theory does not emerge from the straightforward accumulation of facts, but rather from a set of changing intellectual circumstances and possibilities.”
In his view the current scientific paradigm is maintained by the mainstream as long as possible until it simply becomes utterly untenable and the new paradigm takes over.
“I can’t stand the phrase ‘militant atheist.’ I don’t see any atheist suicide bombers around or atheists killing abortion providers or blowing up trains full of Muslims in India – those are the militants.”
But what if, humor me Mr Scott, what if multilevel selection is true? Wouldn’t the atheist stance of a blatant rejection of religion, without replacing it with an alternative that is at least as adaptive, be equivalent to rejecting general relativity or quantum electro dynamics while we are still without a workable theory of quantum gravity? Surely you would not scratch someone’s eyes out simply because they are not 20/20 – so why would you do the equivalent with religion? Reducing the degree of adaptation in a group can lead to nothing but unnecessary suffering and endangered lives – more subtle and less direct, but just as real in its result as terrorism.
Religion in its current form is a crutch – some clunkier than others, granted – but better than none, especially now that we are finally about to return to a proper interpretation of scripture: “that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate”. Contrary to what some people claim in regards to conveniently reinterpretations of scripture, this particular guideline is arguably a damn good one. I say lets keep the crutch for now – recognize it as such but keep it. At least until we have designed an arguably better alternative that is based on a thorough understanding of evolutionary dynamics, supported by a conducive political/economic framework, and are ready for roll out.
The inconvenient truth remains that Dawkin’s mind virus theory is about as supported by science as intelligent design and just as motivated by blind ideological fervor. I am convinced, that Dawkins will end up being judged by history as having effectively stifled a more enlightened understanding of religion by at least a decade. Shame on him. Yet as so often, we are not stuck with Dawkins at all – there are lots of free thinking alternatives out there.