Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Memetics and Christianity part 1

Memetics has a lot to say about Christianity. This is to be expected : Christianity has proven itself as a very resilient meme complex. It has existed for about 1950 years (no, that's not a typo), is the second-oldest major religion apart from Hinduism, and yet still has a follower base of 2.1 billion people. It has mutated within a large variety of cultures, and survived even in the most rigorous social conditions. For its complexity, it is probably the most powerful meme complex to ever evolve, pound-for-pound.

Now of course we must not confuse survival and truth. The survival of a belief system is not truth, but memetic adaptation. Genes do not always survive because they correspond to reality, but they survive because they contribute to genomic survival and reproduction. Christianity, like all belief systems and ultimately all ideas, and as proven by history, is not the product of intelligent design but rather of memetic evolution.

It is not surprising that Christianity is so powerful, because it is a well-adapted meme complex. Each of its parts contribute to the purpose of reproduction and blind belief. Let's look through each part and process of a meme complex in turn :

* process of transmission : childhood brainwashing through indoctrination, strong vector of the Bible.
* bait : salvation, improved life, personal well-being, sense of community, emotionally satisfying worldview.
* hook : saving the world from eternal torment, extending one's community, spreading "morality"..
* threat : damnation, the Bible is the "word of God" and must not be changed.
* vaccime : faith, competing meme complexes are "sinful" and part of "the world".

Another important property of the Christian meme complex is that the doctrine and the belief are very independent. Multifarious sects have been able to emerge because of this independence. So the ratio of, for instance, hellfire sermons to lovey-dovey sermons can change depending on the social context, without affecting the Christian status of the preacher. Likewise, Christianity throughout the ages has adapted through moral relativism, while still pretending to adhere to an absolute system of morality. Otherwise, it could not have survived at all. Can you imagine second century Christianity in modern Canada or the United States ? It would be outlawed or destroyed faster than you can say "Waco". So if this independence between doctrine and belief did not exist, then there would have to be a way to adapt the doctrines themselves, which contradicts the notion itself of a doctrine (although some smaller sects such as the Mormons have found ways around this).

Christianity is a very powerful meme complex, but it is not omnipotent. Even in heavily Christian countries, there are minds that resist to Christian memes, although with great difficulty. Social saturation has a lot to do with it. So we get one of the factors (well, our second factor, after doctrine-belief independence), which is exposure to other meme complexes. We assume from testimonies that children raised in families with two or more religions are more likely to be atheist, and exposure to comparative religion classes are also conductive to atheism (I would very much like to see actual data on this topic, by the way, so send it in if you have any).

The flip-side of this is the factor of individual curiosity. A child born curious and whose curiosity has been properly fed will naturally gravitate towards either scientific inquiry or the domain of the interreligous. But in this case, the fact that information is available is also of major importance. Without this information, it would be very difficult for any individual to come to rational conclusions unassisted.

Other factors concern the vulnerability of an individual to religion. They include childhood gullibility and the absence of children's rights (such absence being still in effect in our modern societies), emotional and mental insecurity, and the existence or absence of competing vaccimes (such as skepticism and falsification). Since Christianity preys on the vulnerable and the ignorant, one could say that the level of religiosity in a society is a good indication of the status of the most vulnerable amongst us in that society, and ultimately an indication of the strength of the social fabric and the moral compass in the people of that society. As has been demonstrated by studies on cult propagation, the weaker the social fabric and moral compass of the people (because of war, disasters, poverty, government coercion, and so on), the more religion we have in a society.

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At 11/08/2005 2:52 PM, Blogger Aaron Kinney declaimed...

Can atheism be considered a meme? What about secularism or rationalism?

At 11/08/2005 3:08 PM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

Pragmatism? Skepticism? Empiricism?

At 11/08/2005 5:16 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

Well, I suppose so. The single memetic advantage of atheism is that it's true. As I've said before, that seems to be enough.

At 11/09/2005 8:15 AM, Blogger Niels declaimed...

.'' Scientific ideas, like all memes, are subject to a kind of natural selection, and this might look superficially virus-like. But the selective forces that scrutinize scientific ideas are not arbitrary and capricious. They are exacting, well-honed rules, and they do not favor pointless self-serving behavior. They favor all the virtues laid out in textbooks of standard methodology: testability, evidential support, precision, quantifiability, consistency, intersubjectivity, repeatability, universality, progressiveness, independence of cultural milieu, and so on.

At 11/09/2005 9:20 PM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

Dank u neils.

There is also a kind of "genetic drift" effect to scientific ideas. What I mean is, that we can accept an idea without fully understanding the underlying research. Different people have different criteria for acceptance. For example, I accept that gene splicing works because other people have analyzed the results and declared them to be valid. I can give a person a layman's overview of the process, and that person will accept my vague description and pass it on with further errors and omissions. The idea, and the assertion of validity gets passed on, but the actual proof and the details do not.

At 11/09/2005 9:22 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

breakerslion : what you're describing seems to break the principle of rationality - evaluating a position on the basis of its evidence.

At 11/11/2005 5:27 PM, Blogger Niels declaimed...

That sounds to me like simply evaluating based on known information. Don't see a problem. Obviously we have to stay skeptic and be prepared to change views when new information arrives. This change of view has happened to me numerously.



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