[thechat] rationality is not enough (was: New Year's Resolution)

Judah McAuley judah at wiredotter.com
Mon Jan 6 13:17:00 CST 2003

Joe Crawford wrote:
> Dawkins seemed to be implying that religion was the cause of badness. that
> the lack of religion would bring about less badness.
> This is what I was taking issue with.
> Some of my best friends (and indeed, I pretty much am - but I'm more
> agnostic - maybe I'm the uncertainty principle in action -
> athiest/theist!)
> It's interesting, I see athiest dogma and religious dogma as very closely
> related. And evangelists for either tend to get tedious.

I would have to argue that, all things considered, the world would be a
better place today if religion had never been invented.  I do believe
that it is a great cause of suffering in this world and while there have
certainly been some great things accomplished by religion, on the whole,
it has been more destructive than constructive.  Certainly an arguable

However, the thing about religion that strong darwinians are trying to
get across is this:  religion is a meme.  For those of you not up on
Memetics, a Meme is a unit of thought that gets learned by others.  It
is the heritable part of conciousness, analagous to genes in the body.
The important part about religion being a meme is that meme and genes
are both fundamental units of selection.  They replicate, they mutate,
and they have fitness (in the evolution sense of the word).  Therefore
they exist for their own benefit and not for the benefit of their host.

The gene for red hair will increase its fitness as there are more copies
of it in the gene pool.  So it might be more likely to be found in hosts
that also have a genetic tendency toward mating with those that look
similar.  This kind of co-relationship will benefit both sets of genes
and tend to increase in the population even if it is to the deteriment
of the host because it will likely increase the chances of inbreeding.
Religion works the same way.  Its not necessary that religion memes are
good for their hosts.  Its only necessary that religion memes are good
at being remembered and passed on.

A good example is agriculture.  Agriculture has been incredibly
successfull.  Why?  It has long been assumed that it is because people
who had it were healthier, happier, and had more children.  Research
doesn't indicate that was the case.  Hunter gatherer groups, especially
early on, had a healthier, more balanced diet, they had more leisure
time, and they were less susceptible to plague, drought, flooding, war,
etc.  So why did agriculture suceed?  Because its an idea that fits well
with the organization of our brain and people who accepted it lived
close together which made it easier for more memes to propagate.  It is
alot easier for an idea to gain critical mass in a large, dense
population than it is in a small, dispersed population.

So what Dawkins and others are trying to say is simply this:  religion
is there for itself, not for you, and its best not to be deluded about
that point.

> Sometimes I really wish we were all in the same room having
> <?=$beverage_of_choice?> and talking about this stuff. Maybe with a jazz
> trio playing in the corner.

Ah, I wish so as well.  Perhaps we will get another evolticon together
in 2003.


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