Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review of Craig A. James's The Religion Virus


The Religion Virus: Why We Believe in God: An evolutionist Explains Religion's Incredible Hold on Humanity. By Craig A. James (John Hunt Publishing 2010).

James has a Masters degree in Linguistics and AI at Stanford. Worked in computer industry.

A friend brought to my attention an add he saw for this book, an endorsement by the Amazing Randy which claims it was the most significant atheist book ever. this is the one that is going put religion away. These glowing endorsements are from the ad on the book's portal.

"Ingenious ... Craig James has cracked open the mystery of religion's tenacity. What Guns, Germs and Steel did for anthropology, The Religion Virus does for faith. It puts the pieces together into a fascinating, coherent model that makes sense!"

Dan Barker, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and author of Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists

"I don't say this about very many books, but Craig A. James's The Religion Virus can facilitate a wholesale change in the way we think about religion ... an engaging, entertaining, and educational journey ... packed with a lot of good information."
Secular News Daily book review

"The Religion Virus will open your mind, offering a perspective on religion and social evolution that few have presented, and none with such delightfully reasoned enthusiasm and varying analogies. ... This book will keep you awake and engaged. I learned something new on so many levels that it was truly enjoyable and informative reading, and the ideas presented reverberated in my mind for days after each chapter. So much so, that as I sat down to write this review, I decided to read it all over again, just for the sheer joy of it."
– Julie Clayton, New Consciousness Review

After reading large portions it from the preview on Google books, it seems to be a brightly colored back age, tinsel and pretty colors, making the same old BS. This one has the advantage of a bright shiny technological sounding gimmick that always impresses Dawkies, the "meme." When we strip away the shiny stuff and the gimmick and get to the real point it's nothing more than this: religion is meme and that's why it survived. The actual account itself is no better than any other atheist account of religion and it really just amounts to saying "people want to believe they will go to heaven and their enemies go to hell," so that's why we have religion.

It's really a gimmick within a gimmick. It metaphorically casts the role of religion in the guide of an organism vying to survive in cold cruel nature, and demonstrates how the law of survival of the fittest determines which ideas ("organisms") survive. That gimmick is jacked up a step by calling these ideas "memes" and strapping on the useless metaphor of a virus that makes it seem disease-like.

This is nothing more than the very same things I've seen atheists bandy about on message boards for years. I can think of several mediocre posters with whom I argued who said the very same things James is saying. The whole lynch pin of the book is this Meme gimmick. It does a lot of the heavy lifting for Jame's ideas when we get down to it it's really saying nothing more than that religion wont out over other ideas. Since the New atheists are determinants they think humans are mindless robots anyway. They are highly impressed by the illusion of technique so if one disguises an old piece of dung in brightly colored shiny metallic seeming metaphors then they reductionists are fascinated with them. What is a "meme?"

Google definition

memesplural of meme (Noun)

  1. An element of a culture or behavior that may be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, esp. imitation.
  2. An image, video, etc. that is passed electronically from one Internet user to another.


A meme (play /ˈmm/; MEEM)[1]) is "an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture."[2] A meme acts as a Linkunit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.[3]



[meem] Show IPA
a cultural item that is transmitted by repetition in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes.

The important thing to notice is that this concept is just a metaphor. The real pervayers of it such as Dawkins don't for a minute believe that it's really a disease or an organism. Some more naive types think it works like a computer virus but it's not even that. It's just a way of talking about idea that enables one to sarcastically dismiss them by implying they are diseases but what's really being said is just a loose parallel and bad argument from analogy. Notice the use of the term "analogous" in that last definition. It's not an organism, it's like a computer virus in the mind, it's merely an analogy.

The disease model is cleary put to use by James: it blends so well the survival of the fittest idea.

From Google Books Preview:

..as it is passed from on person to the next;Ideas compete with each other for "space" in your brain; ideas compete for reproduction time by being told to the next person. The best jokes are the survivors the worst jokes become extinct. As we will see the same principle applies to religious ideas. The fittest religious ideas survive, the unfit one's become extinct. And by Fittest we do not mean ideas that are true. Rather these are the ideas that make people want to believe them, weather true or false, beneficial or harmful. An idea can be a survivor becuase it appeals to our hopes, our vanity, or the promise that heaven awaits. (21)

Why would ideas that seem to be horrible notions, like hell, have this kind of appeal? "An idea can also be a survivor becuase it plays on fears, and prejudices. We are afraid of eternal punishment in hell, we need protection form our enemies we are afraid of dying and we are afraid of the unknown."(ibid). So in other words ideas when out when they are ideas we want to believe and also when they are not. In other words, they are not saying anything. they have both ends covered so they are not telling us anything we didn't already know. The idea that some jokes win out over others is hardly a mystery those would be the fun jokes. The answer is obvious: people tell the jokes they laugh at and they don't tell the one's they don't laugh at. The bother to learn, remember and passion ideas they like and that makes sense and that they think are true, and they don't pass on the ideas they think are BS.

Atheists can't put it in stark terms like this it would tends to drive home the point that religion just might be successful becuase there' a reality behind it. James tries to ward off this possibility by stipulating that the survival of memes is not based upon the idea being true. Yet there's no reason not to assume that's a major factor. Not just that it's true but that it strikes a cord, it hits home and seems true becuase it explains things and fist one's experience. There's a lot of evidence that religious experince of the type known as "mystical" stands behind the worlds great religions.

Gackenback, Transpersonal States:
"The experience of pure consciousness is typically called "mystical". The essence of the mystical experience has been debated for years (Horne, 1982). It is often held that "mysticism is a manifestation of something which is at the root of all religions (p. 16; Happold, 1963)." The empirical assessment of the mystical experience in psychology has occurred to a limited extent."
That would be a good reason why an idea survives because people have powerful reasons based upon person experience to consider it true. But of course the point of using the disease model is to explain its success while implying some negative taint attached to the idea.

Book after book by atheists appears to be nothing but a gimmick, a big shiny package hiding a bunch of hot air. The meme idea itself, in addition to being gimmicky is just a ruse. Of course ideas spread from one person to another. That's how humans communicate. Of course the better ideas are kept becasue people want truth, so they keep what seems to true to them. That's easy to confuse with the "beguiling nature of an idea" if we are stuck on the unpopular notion and we are tiny minority that can't accept it's own fringe status.

One very important study that needs to be read by all is by a major religion researcher at U. Chicago, Andrew Greely, The Demand for Religion. Greely disproves a very sophisticated notion of the simple idea that James is trying to sell, this is the supply side notion of religion. A demand is created by the supply side.

This paper examines the conflict between the "secularization" theory of religious decline and the economic model of religion which assumes a fairly constant need for religion and attributes variation in devotion to variation in the supply of religious services. First the analysis reveals that the number of "hard core" atheists (those who firmly reject the existence of God and the possibility of life after death) in seventeen countries are a relatively small proportion of the population. Then it turns to Norway to determines that one can hardly describe that country as "unreligious." Next it discovers that there is a higher level of Catholic religious practice in the competitive environment of Northern Ireland. Finally it considers the one thoroughly secularized country – East Germany – and concludes that the "demand" for religion can be diminished considerably if a ruthless government takes control of the process of religious socialization.
I urge the reader to read this study first then read the Google book preview of the Religious virus. Linked above.


JBsptfn said...

On Facebook, an Atheist said that fear of death is the reason for Religions. Also, the concept of bad going to Hell that was mentioned in your review also sounds like something they would say.

Christianity, though, didn't start for any of those reasons. It isn't even a religion because starting another one of those wasn't even Jesus's intention.

Metacrock said...

Fear of death a good reason to try and find out what it's all about as far as I can see. Religion is not a bad thing in itself. I agree Jesus didn't come to establish a religion. Religion is man's attempt to find truth, that's ok but Jesus is the answer to religion.

yonose said...


I agree. But Atheists are sooo intellectually superior than us... that became sectarian and organized, "to spread the word". Quite ironic, obviously.

Religions are for a reason: to be oriented to the knowledge of the spiritual.

I'm not Theistic Personalist, but I agree with the concept of Classical Theism. I have a question:

It is still adequate to say that the moral basics may be attributed to the interaction with animistic compounds of the spiritual path (I mean saints, angels), while God being the creator of those rules?

Kind Regards.

Metacrock said...

modern theologians don't do that much with saints and angles. Morality is a subset of ethics and is based upon values systems. It's going to be determined by axioms that are grounded in values and epistemic methods.

yonose said...


Thanks for the information. I'd like to be well informed about those aspects, so I humbly accept my ignorance on these issues.

I have another question –I hope they are not too much, as I don't know how to organize interviews at all :) – :

What would be a key connection between morality and spiritually-oriented religions?

I hope my question is not too vague. As I told you, I've had mystical experiences that are recent and others that happened a while ago, but I'd like to understand where is the connection between such experiences and at least some (if not most) basic aspects of Theology I'm not aware of.

I apologize, if I'm just asking too much, I'm really curious to know important axiomatical process regarding Theology, spirituality and morality.

Kind Regards.

Metacrock said...

I'm not real sure what you are asking.Mystical experience is an awareness of the reality of our place in being. That's my theory about it. What that means is its an awareness of the reality of God as the basis of all that is. It's an awareness that, in my opinion, stems form a capability God designed into us.

yonose said...


I agree with the definition regarding your ME theory. It is a way of experiencing the truth of God, but at the same time, is the practice and the recognition of us having a living soul :)

I apologize I'm not [and was not] clear enough. I've read some time ago about the difference of perspective regarding Theology and Mysticism. I still don't thoroughly understand where are some of the key differences between theory and practice, regarding both Theology and Mysticism. I'd like to have more sources to understand this better (I apologize if I'm asking too much).

Also, about the question I made, it's very likely that it comes from some big misunderstanding I'm having. I'd like to know more about the first principles about ethics and morality, and if there could be a possiblity where such first principles could be attibuted to a non-material entity at all.

I appreciate your patience.

Kind Regards.

Metacrock said...

Thanks. I'll have a book on the subject out in or around the beginning of the new year.

yonose said...

Thank you!!

Metacrock said...

you are welcome. ;-)