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The Religion Virus: Why We Believe in God: An Evolutionist Explains Religion's Incredible Hold on Humanity

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By applying 'survival of the fittest' principles to religion, we can understand how religion became incredibly infectious to the average human, perfectly adapted to its 'environment' - your mind. By applying 'survival of the fittest' principles to religion, we can understand how religion became incredibly infectious to the average human, perfectly adapted to its 'environment' - your mind.


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By applying 'survival of the fittest' principles to religion, we can understand how religion became incredibly infectious to the average human, perfectly adapted to its 'environment' - your mind. By applying 'survival of the fittest' principles to religion, we can understand how religion became incredibly infectious to the average human, perfectly adapted to its 'environment' - your mind.

30 review for The Religion Virus: Why We Believe in God: An Evolutionist Explains Religion's Incredible Hold on Humanity

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jason M. Wester

    Craig A. James’ The Religion Virus takes Richard Dawkins’ ideas about memes and applies them to the phenomenon of religion, focusing on Christianity, the tradition that is most familiar to his English-speaking audience. His central thesis is that the memes associated with Christianity function very much like viruses that infect biological organisms. Only the most fit memes survive because they are able to spread, with high fidelity, from one person to another, and the “memeplexes” of Christianit Craig A. James’ The Religion Virus takes Richard Dawkins’ ideas about memes and applies them to the phenomenon of religion, focusing on Christianity, the tradition that is most familiar to his English-speaking audience. His central thesis is that the memes associated with Christianity function very much like viruses that infect biological organisms. Only the most fit memes survive because they are able to spread, with high fidelity, from one person to another, and the “memeplexes” of Christianity, or clusters of interworking memes, have proven to be quite fit, quite persistent, through the ages. Among those memes are: The General-Purpose God Meme: This meme is about how Yahweh transitioned from one god among many to becoming the only God, the one central god that people can pray to for any reason. Before this meme took hold there were many gods, each one with its own realm of influence. Yahweh was originally a god of war, which accounts for the violence of the Old Testament, but over time monotheism took hold, and Yahweh took on other qualities. The Intolerance Meme: Ever wonder why Christians have such difficulty tolerating those who believe differently? Why do they excoriate homosexuals and hate Muslims? It is because intolerance is built into their belief systems. Intolerance gives them license to use any means necessary to further their religion. If history has shown us anything it is that Christianity is an exceedingly violent religion, and that is by design. Religions that kill their opposition survive. The Guilt Meme: Christians take everything that is good, sex, drink, food, leisure, and make it a bad. They make human nature a sin. No one can live up to the impossible standards set by Christian doctrines, so guilt is part and parcel of the religion. The Persecution Meme: In America, everyone is free to practice religion, and Christians are the majority religion and have astounding power and voice in our culture, yet it is never enough. They continually claim they are persecuted because they can’t erect monuments on courthouse steps. Gay people are a threat to their marriages. Schools can’t sanction prayer, which means they are persecuted. They can strike out to any group they like with impunity, but if one fights back, he or she is persecuting them. This meme keeps them on the defensive, in a continual frenzy. There are several others, and James shows how they work together to ensure Christianity not only survives but thrives despite the fact that science has rendered it all but meaningless. Knowledge, critical thinking, education, are all enemies of Christianity, and that is the primary reason why so many Christians reject science and actively oppose it. That is especially apparent in the way many Christians oppose and refuse to learn evolution. Despite the copious evidence, and indeed the breathtaking self-evident truth of evolution, Christians recognize that it supplants the Genesis account that God magically created everything, and that fiction must be maintained at all costs lest the house of cards comes tumbling down. The meme metaphor is a powerful tool that helps one understand why Christians behave the ways they do, and indeed James makes a compelling case for the power of the Christian memes to keep the religion alive despite its absurdly and obviously antiquated teachings about the world. For me, the book offered a striking reminder that Christianity is a violent religion and it has been from the start. It is a persistent and very real threat to people who reject it and who prefer knowledge and reason to superstition and Bronze Age mythology. Make no mistake about it: If Christians could destroy their opposition, remake the United States into an exclusively Christian nation, they would do it in a heartbeat. I think it is important that freethinkers, agnostics, atheists, and those who adhere to peaceful religions keep that in mind. Knowledge and reason and secular law are the enemies of Christianity, which makes it all the more important for freethinkers to support causes such as education, secularism, science, civil liberty, and the rule of law. Knowing how the Christian memes work, how they keep the religion thriving, gives one a powerful tool, not only to understand it, but to oppose it. Highly recommended.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Stephie Williams

    The book casts memes as a unit of cultural evolution, equivalent to genes as a unit of biological evolution. This, in the author’s mind, makes memes viruses. With that claim in hand he goes on to describe how religious concepts are memes, and how these memes evolved over time. In the book James covers why memes are an analog of genes, how god memes developed over time, language and communication, religious memes and their immunity, the attraction of religion, an atheist paradox, religious memes’ The book casts memes as a unit of cultural evolution, equivalent to genes as a unit of biological evolution. This, in the author’s mind, makes memes viruses. With that claim in hand he goes on to describe how religious concepts are memes, and how these memes evolved over time. In the book James covers why memes are an analog of genes, how god memes developed over time, language and communication, religious memes and their immunity, the attraction of religion, an atheist paradox, religious memes’ interaction with technology, and a reprisal or summary. Interspersed among the chapters are personal interludes to illustrate ideas in the book. Because I have so many issues with James’ religious virus theory, I have chosen to cover some of these, instead of going through the various chapters in the book. At the risk of being lengthy here are some specific criticisms (location numbers are for the Kindle edition, italics are in text in less otherwise noted): Analogy criticisms: Location 151 - “Albert Einstein realized that energy and matter were really one and the same thing, just different aspects of a single concept. Before Einstein , the physicists Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell realized that electricity and magnetism, two seemingly different faces of a single thing. And even earlier still, Rene Descartes and Pierre de Fermat showed that algebra and geometry, which might seem like two entirely different studies were essentially the same thing, just seen from different perspectives. In each of these cases, a great mind recognized that two seemingly different ideas have a single underlying principle that, once discovered, unifies the two concepts into on and gives a deeper understanding of both.” The connection between genes and memes are not like these examples. All three have a one-to-one transformation between the entities, but this is not true between genes and memes. While there might be a connection between the things in the examples they maintain their own characteristics, where genes and memes are supposed to share the same characteristics. Location 225 - “both memes and genes are just information.” False. Genes are much more than just information. And, as he uses information in an abstract sense, not even memes are just that, they have content without which there would be no meme at all. Location 241 - “. . . we can now see that religion is a virus, one that infects your brain.” Religion can't be a virus, viruses destroy their host cells. Memes don't destroy brains or brain cells. Religion has some virus like behavior, but it is not equivalent to a virus. Biology criticisms: Location 230 - [Lists fear of snakes as instinctive.] Not exactly. This is not a universal fear, what is instinctual is the fear response itself. Location 1119 - “Notice the symbiosis in the Christian memeplex: the individual memes each benefit from the complex, and contribute to the survival of other memes in the complex.” Symbiosis is usually a one-to-one relationship, and one or both of the symbionts usually do not survive without the relationship. Location 2067 - “The human body has developed a magnificent and diverse set of defenses to guard against all of the bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other unpleasant creatures that take advantage of us if they could. In a very parallel fashion, religions have evolved their own immune system, the Immunity memes, that attack foreign threats that might weaken the beliefs of the faithful.” But, if religion is a virus, than the religious memes are the infection. Evolution criticisms: Location 333 - “As centuries go by, there are fewer and fewer gods.” What about Hindus and Buddhists? Also, evolution is not a pyramid; it is more like a bush. Location 457 - “. . . the relentless forces of natural forces make quick work of the less-adapted species.” Natural selection doesn't make quick work of any species. Even after the theorized asteroid strike that killed off the dinosaurs and other species, it probably took around two million years for the extinctions to be completed. Location 555 - “'Survival of the fittest' only works when there are differences between individuals, and the larger population has more differences.” Speciation tends to occur in small isolated populations. Location 1191 - “Memes, like genes, are subject to mutation, but they additionally can be modified deliberately, with intent.” Is that memes or the information they contain? Memes and genes don’t have intent anyway, if they are truly analogous. Location – 1614 “Memes replace genes as the primary adaptive mechanism for humans.” Memes are not always adaptive. He states that they are not elsewhere. They are just good at getting themselves copied. Is every part of culture a meme? Location 1623 “If the error rate gets too large, there are too many mutations, and the species dies out.” Mutations are neither harmful or helpful; they are just a change in a nucleotide. It is natural selection that determines what amounts to a harmful or helpful gene. In one situation it may be harmful, but in another it may be helpful. Location 2363 - “Becky Garrison asked the question: If religion is so bad, why hasn’t evolution eliminated it? We now know there is at least one scientific explanation: ‘Survival of the fittest’ works on individuals, not on species or societies, whether we’re talking about genetic evolution or memetic evolution.” Another explanation is that evolution is a slow process, so there hasn’t been enough time to eliminate it. Also, the belief module* in the brain is a general purpose device that generally functions well, but is not perfect. What in evolution is? History criticisms: Location 366 – In the section entitle The General-Purpose God Meme he states, “According to the Book of Genesis, Abraham made a covenant with God . . .” This meme could not have possibly started in this way because Abraham never existed. Location 389 - “This was the final step in the evolution of the General-Purpose-God meme.” The whole argument is suspect because the Bible cannot be relied on for anything of historical significance. Location 394 - “The Yahweh meme had transitioned from a specialty god who could serve you in war, to a god who served your every need. This was a huge step toward making Yahweh into the Almighty God we know today.” How does he know that this was the actual process. Location 499 - “. . . the book of Deuteronomy, probably written around 700 BCE.” There is no reliable evidence to when the book of Deuteronomy was written. It could very well have been written during or after the Babylonian captivity. Location 1317 - “The apostle Paul changed that. Saint Paul was a Jew and a Roman citizen who studied under the well-known Rabbi Gamaliel . . .” There is no historical evidence for any of the events in the life of Paul in the New Testament. Besides, the New Testament Pauline letters contradict Luke’s Acts in a number of places. Going to Arabia is one. Location 1894 - “Jewish tradition say[s] that the Torah was dictated to Moses by God himself, but history shows [my emphasis] that starting around 850-800 BCE, two writers known as the ‘Jehovist’ and the ‘Elohist’ began collecting the Jewish stories and writing them down.” Apart from the grammatical error or typo, he gives no scholarly consensus for this statement. (also, lack of proof criticisms) Location 2002 - “Never mind that the story is probably a complete myth (there is no archeaological [sic] evidence for Exodus at all, in sharp contrast to the strong archeological evidence for many other stories in the Torah).” What many others? The archeological evidence is slim. Only to the already religiously committed archeologist is “many” an appropriate word. Lack of proof criticisms: Location 892 - “The meme itself causes you to want to repeat it, to teach it to someone else.” What proof is offered for this, or is it just a just so story. I repeat lots of stuff to others. Are they all memes? Doubtful. Location 1747- “Memes have proved to be the most important adaptive trait in the history of life on earth.” What proof? Just stating something as proved is not proof. Meme criticisms: Location 940 - “It doesn't matter why it [a meme] survived and was retold, only that it did.” I would say it matters immensely why it was retold. Location 945 - “. . . you think 'Wow! That's fascinating!' And because it's a morbidly fascinating meme, one that suggests the high-and-mighty are no better than common criminals . . .” This contradicts the previous citation. Location 1001 - “The meme is the concept, not the specific words used to convey the concept. A particular meme can be expressed in many, many ways and still retain its identity.” A gene only codes for one protein, so cannot be expressed in many different ways. (also, analogy and biology criticisms) Location 1710 - “Consider skills like writing, engineering, poetry, warfare, farming, or music. It is almost inconceivable that these traits could evolve without language. Memes can carry far more information than genes.” First memes are not equivalent to language; if anything, it is a medium for memes. Granted that language was necessary for these skills to have developed, that says nothing about memes, and how they are suppose to propagate. Location 2821 - “But if we step back and look at this activity through the looking glass of cultural evolution, that is memetics . . .” Is memetics just a synonym for cultural evolution? I think James claims more without enough proof. Assumption criticism: Location – 1511 “The truth about nature is so unpleasant that this alone has driven many people away from atheism, back into the reassuring arm of religion.” First, which people? And, is “the truth about nature” really unpleasant. What’s so unpleasant about an explanation that actually explains something? Believing in any god meme does not alleviate evil; it actually makes it worse. In addition, what’s so pleasant about hell? Philosophical criticisms: Location 1627 - “In addition, the DNA’s information must be able to change (mutate). This is paradoxical because it conflicts with the need for stability, yet both are true.” Where’s the paradox here. Just because two things conflict with each other, doesn’t necessarily create a paradox. What is a paradox is two things that are both true or are both false together and still conflict with each other, or if something that if true, it is also false and vice versa. Location 2825 - “In writing this book, I wanted to achieve one goal: that everyone who reads it to experience a ‘paradigm shift’ when thinking about religion.” While his goal is admirable, paradigm shift is over used in general. Also, what makes his theory a paradigm shift? The term was introduced or made popular by Thomas Kuhn. He used it in the sense that two theories are incommensurable, so there is a shift from one way of investigating an area of science to another. Granted, for some believers this would be a change of perspective, but for those individuals it is highly unlikely that they would make such a change because they do not accept evolution in the first place, so his analogy of genes and memes would fail. For those believers who do accept evolution, there would be no paradigm shift. Location 1778 - “From the philosopher’s chair, all religions have a problem: They can’t be proved true or false.” Not so. Maybe if you require logical proof, but in the case of a particular religion the supposed proofs require some evidence. Religions can be proved false by the evidence available to an honest inquirer. Location 2129 - “The Religion Virus is good at infecting your brain. It’s damned good, because if it wasn’t, some other memeplex would be the one you believed in.” This explains very little. The same could be said about any thought--A or not A. Besides people belief in contradictory thoughts, so two opposing memes could exist in the same brain. Location 2521 - “I could just as well say that there are little green men living inside the sun, and assert (correctly) that you can’t prove me wrong.” Again he seems to think that the only allowable proof is logical. By all well verified astrophysics there is not even a chance of ice in hell that there would be little green men alive in the sun. Could the astrophysics turn out to be wrong? Of course. But, to be that wrong is such a far stretch that it is impossible to imagine. So why claim that it cannot be proven Psychology criticisms: Location 238 - “When you were born, you didn't know about religion or gods (it's not instinctual knowledge), and you didn't learn about religion by interacting with nature (it's not experiential knowledge).” Religious beliefs may not be instinctual, but are result of a cause and effect brain module* that lead to these beliefs is. What about the original animists? According to James, they learned their spirits from nature. How about the design argument for the existence of god? While most people receive their religious beliefs from others, there are people with mystical experiences throughout history that had claimed knowledge of god from these experiences. Location 1717 - “Robert Fulghams fun and insightful book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten is remarkably true – all of the really important stuff is taught to us at a very young age, and we never forget it. Children seem to go through a wide-open phase where they can be taught just about anything (even some wildly implausible stuff), and they’ll accept it.” First, Fulgham’s book is a reminiscence of things he remembers from childhood. It involves adult reflection, and there is no certainty he is actually remembering exactly what occurred in his childhood. He may have created or colored those memories through this reflection. Second, where is the research to show this is true. Children are continually reinforced in the things they learn. I doubt that a religion would stick if it were only taught in early childhood without this reinforcement, often backed up with fear and punishment. Negative reinforcement can be a powerful method of learning. (also, lack of proof criticisms) Location 1724 – “The wide open library of a child’s mind, which yearns to absorb new volumes, seems to turn into a dusty, locked archive . . . St. Ignatius’ famous quote, ‘Give me the boy, and I’ll give you the man,’ . . . if you want to teach fundamental beliefs, you have to teach the children, because by the time a person is an adult, it’s usually too late.” The brain remains remarkably plastic throughout life, and Ignatius not only would have had the boy, but would have had him captive in a monastery. Children are often insulated in religious households and communities, lacking exposure to different views and critical thinking skills. This even continues into adult life. It is these reasons that makes it difficult for the adult to change. Location 2248 - “Most of our deeply held beliefs and culturally acquired behaviors must therefore be taught to are children. By the time we’re adults, it’s too late.” Again, the brain remains plastic throughout life. A possible reason why children are more impressionable could be that beliefs come with emotional content, and children do not have the emotional maturity to filter out true from false beliefs. All thoughts are entwined with emotions. That’s why propaganda is more effective when delivered with strong emotional overtones. Religious criticisms: Location 2460 - “The competition among the various religious memes was fierce, and only the best, the ones that were the most appealing and had the best ability to reproduce, survived.” How about conquest and forced conversions? I guess there’s a meme for that. Similar considerations could be involved with children. Some children have religion beaten into them. Location 2504 - “Even though religion may be a net burden on society.” He implies that it is beneficial for individuals. He does state this elsewhere. I would question how beneficial it is for individuals. Some believers are miserable as sin. Plus, in my experience atheists seem to have more meaningful lives than theists. Even theists gain meaning outside their religious beliefs. Location 2582 - “Combine this idea [explorers have superior technology], shared by almost religions, that good things are granted to us by our gods, and it created a wide-open door for the introduction of Christianity.” Again, he discounts force. Besides the cargo cults weren’t exactly Christian or even monotheistic. Other criticisms: Location 2720 - “During World War II, he and his buddy ‘Doug’ (not his real name) . . . .” Why bother giving a made up name? He has done this multiple times. Adding a fictitious name adds no useful information. Yes, making it personal draws a person in, but that is just playing on peoples’ emotions like a good propagandist. This might not matter because any work no matter how impassionately presented carries emotional content. James’ bibliography is very limited. Most of the works are of a popular nature. The few scientific papers given are not germane to his main arguments. And it is questionable whether one should include a reference to wikipedia as a reliable source of information. These criticisms are not meant to be infallible (what is?). They are only meant to point out problems with his arguments. While James’ goal of getting people with religious beliefs reevaluate their religious beliefs is admirable, his theory is unproven, and its explanation is poorly done. If his sole audience are these people, I doubt that he would change their minds. For those people who would change their minds a straighter approach against their beliefs would be preferable, like arguing directly against those beliefs. After all, presentation of the truth seems to me a better way than to offer weak or half truths. The only reason why I found the book to be valuable is that it exercised my critical thinking skills. Therefore, the only recommendation I could honestly offer is for those who would like to do likewise. I don’t think there is much point in recommending it to a believer because how likely would one pick up and read a book with his chosen title, and even if he or she would, I would recommend far better books. * Granted this a hypothesized entity.

  3. 4 out of 5

    অভিজিৎ

    Darel Ray’s The God Virus and Craig A. James’s The Religion Virus are the two important books that I read recently. Those who are familiar with Richard Dawkins’ revolutionary idea of Meme (a concept introduced in his 1976 magnum opus The Selfish Gene ) are acquainted with the viral metaphor of religious meme. Based on this idea, numerous authors recently suggested the religion memeplex can behave like a ‘biological virus’ acting in a living organism. Philosopher Daniel Dennett (author of Breakin Darel Ray’s The God Virus and Craig A. James’s The Religion Virus are the two important books that I read recently. Those who are familiar with Richard Dawkins’ revolutionary idea of Meme (a concept introduced in his 1976 magnum opus The Selfish Gene ) are acquainted with the viral metaphor of religious meme. Based on this idea, numerous authors recently suggested the religion memeplex can behave like a ‘biological virus’ acting in a living organism. Philosopher Daniel Dennett (author of Breaking the Spell ) suggested that religions exhibit behavioral control among people in the same way that parasites invade organisms. For example, the rabies virus infects very specific neurons in the brain of a mammalian host, later inducing the host to bite or attack others. Lancet Fluke (Dicrocoelium dendriticum), a parasite, infects the brain of ants by taking the control and thus driving them to climb to the top of the blade of the grass where they can be eaten by a cow. Another parasitic hairworm, scientifically known as Spinochordodes tellinii, infects grasshoppers’ brains in a way that makes grasshoppers more likely to jump into water and commit suicide. Based on Dawkins and Dennett’s ideas, both James and Ray independently have come to the conclusion that religion meme can be viewed as virus. For example Ray lists five properties of viruses that also more-or-less characterizes religion. Viruses: 1. Infect people 2. Create antibodies or defenses against other virus 3. Take over certain physical and mental functions and hide within the individual in such a way that they are not detectable by the individual 4. Use specific method for spreading the virus 5. Program the host to replicate the virus. James also outlined some of the virus like characteristics of the religion. Particularly he provides a good answer to what he calls “the Atheist Paradox”. He quotes Satirist Becky Garrison as asking, “If religion was a truly useless and destructive mechanism with no reproductive qualities whatsoever, then wouldn’t it be extinct by now?” No, because IT IS A VIRUS. Additionally, James discusses several facts about evolution, both genetic and memetic, that Garrison and many others misunderstand: 1. Evolution works on individuals, not groups, so what benefits an individual (or its DNA) can often be harmful to the group. 2. Parasites can hijack the mechanisms that evolved for a different purpose. 3. Alien genes or memes can invade other species and take control 4. Bad mutations can often survive just as sickle cell anemia survives in malaria prone African countries. 5. and most importantly religion can survive just as virus does in evolutionary path. Now, don’t we see the occurrences virus-infected actions in our human society? On September 11th, 2001, Americans experienced an atrocity in their own land that killed almost 3,000 people and caused at least $10 billion in property and infrastructure damage. It was, of course, the virus of religion that persuaded Mohamed Atta and eighteen others that perpetrating this bloodbath was ‘not just a moral act, but also a sacred duty.’ Just as a parasite can hijack the brain of a grasshopper to promote suicidal behavior, certain texts of a holy book can influence a terrorist’s mind – as seen in the case of Mohammad Atta – into blowing up the World Trade Center through an insane sacrifice of the host’s life. In recent Charlie Hebdo attack, Kouachi brothers killed twelve people and injuring several others in the name of Allah and their prophet. Take the horrifying videos of hostage beheadings by ISIS as an example. ISIS is when the virus of faith is taken into action and the outbreak becomes an epidemic. To me, such religious extremism is like a highly contagious virus. My own recent experiences after publishing my own Bengali book on the same topic titled, ‘বিশ্বাসের ভাইরাস’ (from Bangladesh) verifies the horrific reality that such religious extremism is indeed a virus of the mind. I got numerous death threats from a virus-infected Islamic fanatic for writing the book. Rokomari, one of the online book sellers of the country even had to take my books off its list. I have written about those unfortunate experience in my blog titled “From Farabi to ISIS: The Virus of Faith is Indeed Real!” . Whatever my experience may be, I am genuinely indebted to both the authors. If one thing is certain, it is that the God and the Religion Virus is dangerously real.

  4. 5 out of 5

    April (The Steadfast Reader)

    This is actually a pretty interesting premise, but the execution was so informal I'm not completely convinced that there weren't half-truths or other ideas that were mis-presented to fit the author's premise. This is actually a pretty interesting premise, but the execution was so informal I'm not completely convinced that there weren't half-truths or other ideas that were mis-presented to fit the author's premise.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    This was an absolutely fascinating read. Basically, the author took the principles of evolution and applied them to the history of god beliefs and religions and did so - probably deliberately - in such a way that was designed to keep readers' interest. The chapters themselves are written in what I consider to be a awesome-professor lecture tone. Let me explain: Did you have a really, really great professor or teacher who spoke informally but with the clear message that telegraphed they knew wha This was an absolutely fascinating read. Basically, the author took the principles of evolution and applied them to the history of god beliefs and religions and did so - probably deliberately - in such a way that was designed to keep readers' interest. The chapters themselves are written in what I consider to be a awesome-professor lecture tone. Let me explain: Did you have a really, really great professor or teacher who spoke informally but with the clear message that telegraphed they knew what they were talking about? A professor whose lectures were not a trial, but were actually pretty interesting and maybe even entertaining? This was the kind of tone that permeated the writing of the entire book. The author knows he has a 'specialty' topic, and one can be a bit technical and dense for those who aren't really familiar with theories surrounding th topic. Because of this, he adopts a very informal tone to present the background information and the topic itself in such a way that most readers - even those who come to The Religion Virus with little or no understanding of the background information or the topic - will be able to follow all the way through the book. Personally, I think this informal tone adds to the book. I would have read the book anyway, but the way it was written made the exercise of reading The Religion Virus that much more enjoyable. Ultimately, I finished the last page feeling like I learned a lot. Plus, the bibliography means that I now have new books about religion and memes to add to my reading list. :)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jim Whitefield

    Craig James very successfully compares and contrasts the evolution of genes in species, with the evolution and (some disastrous) effects of 'memes', since humans evolved the ability to communicate through speech. It is a fascinating and thought provoking read and it does indeed give a very plausible explanation for the extraordinary hold that religion has on so many humans. It is easy to read and compelling in its conclusions. The only criticism I have is that it is replete with dozens of typos, Craig James very successfully compares and contrasts the evolution of genes in species, with the evolution and (some disastrous) effects of 'memes', since humans evolved the ability to communicate through speech. It is a fascinating and thought provoking read and it does indeed give a very plausible explanation for the extraordinary hold that religion has on so many humans. It is easy to read and compelling in its conclusions. The only criticism I have is that it is replete with dozens of typos, which kept jumping off the page and distracting me. Considering this was a second edition,they should have been eradicated long since. There were so many, and some so annoying, that they eventually began to somewhat spoil an otherwise very worthwhile read. I don't think it can have been proof read or properly edited at all. Ignoring all that, four stars for the good book that it otherwise is.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Todd Martin

    The Religion Virus explains the development and proliferation religion as a meme (a unit of information that evolves and spreads from person to person within a culture), akin to a virus. James shows how religions have evolved over time, becoming more likely to be passed on from mind to mind. The idea is a reasonable one and does explain some aspects of religion and its cultural prevalence. I think where James falls short is in failing to take the physical nature of the brain into account as part The Religion Virus explains the development and proliferation religion as a meme (a unit of information that evolves and spreads from person to person within a culture), akin to a virus. James shows how religions have evolved over time, becoming more likely to be passed on from mind to mind. The idea is a reasonable one and does explain some aspects of religion and its cultural prevalence. I think where James falls short is in failing to take the physical nature of the brain into account as part of the explanation. In addition to the idea of religion itself, the human brain is naturally predisposed to supernatural explanations. This predisposition itself was likely shaped by evolution and plays a powerful roll in religions continuing proliferation.

  8. 4 out of 5

    D Steven Ledingham

    As others have stated it builds on Dawson's concept of "memes" and for me pretty much tells it like it is. this has influenced how I look at memes, urban myths and especially those memes on Facebook with no facts,to support or verify them. I also generally agree that religion has no foundation in anything factual and this, along with other books helped to make that clearer to me. over all I really enjoyed this book. As others have stated it builds on Dawson's concept of "memes" and for me pretty much tells it like it is. this has influenced how I look at memes, urban myths and especially those memes on Facebook with no facts,to support or verify them. I also generally agree that religion has no foundation in anything factual and this, along with other books helped to make that clearer to me. over all I really enjoyed this book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    John

    A must read for anyone who cares about what they believe.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ernest Barker

    I think this book explains perfectly why religion has a stranglehold on humanity.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Shibam K. Eccentric

    🔸🔸In this book he talked about how Polytheisic Gods turned into Monotheistic God, how god with ordinary human qualities belonging to a particular region and having sexual desire becomes the God of extraordinary quality, universal and asexual. How God origin morals turned normal human instincts into sins. 🔸Guilt même, anti rationalism même, hell and heaven même, martyrdom même, underdog même are some of the important mêmes that evolved over the millennium, working together, replicating, mutating, 🔸🔸In this book he talked about how Polytheisic Gods turned into Monotheistic God, how god with ordinary human qualities belonging to a particular region and having sexual desire becomes the God of extraordinary quality, universal and asexual. How God origin morals turned normal human instincts into sins. 🔸Guilt même, anti rationalism même, hell and heaven même, martyrdom même, underdog même are some of the important mêmes that evolved over the millennium, working together, replicating, mutating, and making themselves fitter for their survival whenever there arise some opposed views that seek to threaten thier existence. 🔸Richard Dawkins was the first to recognize the parallels between ideas and genes, but he didn't think it was just an amusing analogy. Dawkins realized there was something deeper, that even though biological life and ideas are radically different, there is an important underlying theory that ties the two together. Because these self-replicating ideas were so much like genes, Dawkins coined the term meme (a "mnemonic gene"). 🔸Dawkins realized that it was the replication of information that was the underlying principle common to genes and ideas (memes). A century earlier, Charles Darwin had spelled out the principles of natural selection, which in spite of the staggering amount that has been written, boil down to three simple ideas: reproduction, mutation, and natural selection (survival of the fittest). If we rephrase these three ideas in information-theory terms, we would call it transcription (copying), transcription errors (mutation), and filtering (natural selection). And these concepts apply to both genes and memes. 🔸There are three fundamental sources of knowledge for humans: Instinct, experience, and culture. Instinct is knowledge that is inborn. Nobody has to teach you to be afraid of heights, to go to your mother in a time of danger, to fear snakes, or that bitter foods shouldn't be eaten. Nobody has to tell a teenager to have sex (quite the contrary!). This knowledge is "hard wired" into our brains, and also into the brains of many animals. Experience teaches you that grass feels nice under your feet, that thorns hurt if you prick your finger, and that fire is hot. Experiential knowledge is information that you learn by interacting with the world and the people around you. The knowledge itself isn't inborn. Cultural learning, our highly developed ability to transmit ideas (memes) from one person to the next, is a uanimals. There has been some work showing that other animals such as chimpanzees and gorillas also pass information culturally, but their abilities are primitive compared to humans. 🔸From this, we can clearly see that our religious beliefs qualify as memes. When you were born, you didn't know anything about religion or gods (it's not instinctive knowledge), and you didn't learn about religion by interacting with nature (it's not experiential knowledge). Someone taught you about religion and god. Even if you don't believe in God, you still have a god meme in your head. It's a meme that was put there by your parents and community, and they got it from their parents and community, and so on down through history.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    Fascinating The author presents a fascinating perspective on why religion (particularly Abrahamic religions) has been so successful. His treatment of the evolution of Yahweh from localized god to God Almighty as we understand him today, was of particular interest to me as I have been puzzling over fundamentalist Christianity’s shrugging-of-the-shoulders acceptance of the brutality and violence of the Old Testament God, who is believed to be the same as the loving, Father God worthy of uncondition Fascinating The author presents a fascinating perspective on why religion (particularly Abrahamic religions) has been so successful. His treatment of the evolution of Yahweh from localized god to God Almighty as we understand him today, was of particular interest to me as I have been puzzling over fundamentalist Christianity’s shrugging-of-the-shoulders acceptance of the brutality and violence of the Old Testament God, who is believed to be the same as the loving, Father God worthy of unconditional worship and adoration. His ideas around how and why religion behaves as an enormously successful, self-replicating meme, are a must read for anyone interested in these topics.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Calin Iuliu

    Monotonous craftsmanship coupled with exceedingly repetitive fragments. I had higher expectations.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bill Hopkins

    The author compares the behavior of "memes" to theory of evolution and shows that memes follow the same pattern of survival and growth, spreading through human culture in the same way that a virus might spread through a biological organism. Religious memes aren't necessarily right or even good for us just because they survive and proliferate. Interesting idea but book needs polishing. The author compares the behavior of "memes" to theory of evolution and shows that memes follow the same pattern of survival and growth, spreading through human culture in the same way that a virus might spread through a biological organism. Religious memes aren't necessarily right or even good for us just because they survive and proliferate. Interesting idea but book needs polishing.

  15. 5 out of 5

    BethK

    I have read many books about various religion, comparative religion, atheism, and the deconversion process. Uniquely, this book goes into showing just how or why many things are the way they are with the expanding role of religion in US society and in other parts of the world. Moreso, why certain reactionary political movements exist and want what they seem to want. Never though, have read a book that goes into the details of how ideas about gods and religion evolved from the early days of human I have read many books about various religion, comparative religion, atheism, and the deconversion process. Uniquely, this book goes into showing just how or why many things are the way they are with the expanding role of religion in US society and in other parts of the world. Moreso, why certain reactionary political movements exist and want what they seem to want. Never though, have read a book that goes into the details of how ideas about gods and religion evolved from the early days of humanity, through historical periods, conquest, and why it is that religions all claim to be the only religion which can serve, save, or protect their followers – or how it is that it can be used to direct followers to kill through war and conquest, then force conversion on survivors. It’s a small jump from there to the general intolerance of other religions – from the focus on evangelism of neighbors, through jihad – whether the potential converts are deeply religious followers of another faith or are atheists. This book explains the word meme very well. Meme is to idea what gene is to an organism. Memes which have attractive ideas thrive, and memes which have unattractive ideas die. So too, do memes that carry with them punishments for not accepting them, and memes with a more "live and let live" attitude wither away. This book explains how it was that religion got the hold on humans that it does, and how it maintains it. It explains why things are the way they are sociologically, and just why it is that there is such pressure to "change things back" so that religion and government become or stay intertwined with one another: If government gets its authority from God, no one can object to it or criticize it. If religion has government on its side, it can more thoroughly control orthodoxy and squash new ideas and dissenters.... through laws on blasphemy, laws that agree with the religion's teachings, and laws against other competing religions - or at least, not supportive toward competing religions. It explains how the infallibility meme of popular religion must control new, scientific and technological discoveries, refuse to accept them in deference to their belief. If one part of it can be shown as false, the whole thing can fall apart - along with the power of the religion itself - very quickly. At the same time, it is shown that throughout history, religious memes do change. Judaism, Christianity, or Islam of today is not what it was in the time of Abraham even down to its core beliefs. Nor are any of them the same as they were at the start of the common era, nor at the time of Mohamed. The problem of the infallibility meme coming into contact with new discoveries, and people either having to hold two conflicting notions at the same time, or creating an anti-rationalist meme is brought into view. In the absence of the religion not having a good hold on education and government, medicine and science, religion will either lose, or it must stop rational empirical study. Or, if it loses its infallibility meme, that religion will cease to exist after some time. Cases of where conflicting memes come into contact with one another are discussed, and the victor's memes win out, and the conquered society must accept the conquering people's ideas - including religious ones. These memes are held very strongly by their people. It is easier to get them to go to war over them than the real reasons, such as colonialism or policies left by a prior colonialism which the other country is forcing upon them. Religious war is a much more popular notion among would-be soldiers and their families.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Chris Counts

    A very good explanation of why religion and God continue to be passed down as fact.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Book

    The Religion Virus: Why we believe in God: An evolutionist explains religion's incredible hold on humanity by Craig A. James The Religion Virus is a well-written book that answers quite cogently the question of why religion succeeds as a meme. It's a book that takes a Darwinian approach on how religion has evolved. The book is composed of the following ten chapters: 1. Why is Religion like an Elephant's DNA? , 2. Religion's Infancy, 3. Evolution and Memes, 4. Religion Grows Up, 5. Why Do Humans The Religion Virus: Why we believe in God: An evolutionist explains religion's incredible hold on humanity by Craig A. James The Religion Virus is a well-written book that answers quite cogently the question of why religion succeeds as a meme. It's a book that takes a Darwinian approach on how religion has evolved. The book is composed of the following ten chapters: 1. Why is Religion like an Elephant's DNA? , 2. Religion's Infancy, 3. Evolution and Memes, 4. Religion Grows Up, 5. Why Do Humans Talk? 6. Religion's Immunity System, 7. Why Is Religion So Appealing? , The Atheist's Paradox, 9. Religion, Technology and Government, and 10. Closing Sermon. Positives: 1. An excellent, well-written, accessible book that answers to satisfaction why we believe in God. 2. Great use of Darwinian concepts of evolution and cultural concepts such as memes to answer the premises of the book. 3. Non-confrontational, even-handed tone throughout. 4. Excellent Kindle value. More wisdom per dollar. 5. Great list of memes (ideas that become accepted cultural beliefs) and better explanations on how said memes help religion survive. 6. Great quotes. 7. The evolution of the concept of god. 8. Sound arguments, good use of logic and supporting data. 9. Some arguments will stay with me. "Survival isn't the relevant term - reproduction is all that matters." 10. Mr. James does a wonderful job of tying everything up. 11. Great references. 12. A treat to read. Highly recommended. Negatives: 1. I would have liked a table that summarized all the memes. 2. No links to references. In summary, "The Religion Virus", was a fun, educational, relevant book that exceeded my expectations. An excellent Kindle value, I highly recommend it especially for laypeople. Further recommendations beyond the books the author recommended: "The God Virus" by Darrel Ray, "Man Made God" by Barbara Walker, "50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God" by Guy P. Harrison, and for those hardcore, "The Evolution of God" by Robert Wright. For those interested in evolution, my favorite book is, "Why Evolution Is True" by Jerry A. Coyne.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ron Joniak

    "Science never cheered up anyone. The truth about the human situation is just too awful. -- Kuirt Vonnegut, Timequake" "The quote from Kurt Vonnegut's above summarizes one of the biggest problems that scientists and atheists have when trying to discuss their understanding of the world with those who believe in God." - The Religion Virus, by Craig A. James Ah, yes, The book entitled The Religion Virus by Craig A. James dives deep into religions origins and how they can be explained by Darwin's theo "Science never cheered up anyone. The truth about the human situation is just too awful. -- Kuirt Vonnegut, Timequake" "The quote from Kurt Vonnegut's above summarizes one of the biggest problems that scientists and atheists have when trying to discuss their understanding of the world with those who believe in God." - The Religion Virus, by Craig A. James Ah, yes, The book entitled The Religion Virus by Craig A. James dives deep into religions origins and how they can be explained by Darwin's theory of Evolution and our understanding of Memes. I highly recommended this book to those interested in these subjects. James analyzes the rise of various religions and how we went from having Gods to a solo God. James makes convincing arguments using Evolution and supplants the material with enjoyable personal stories (often located in the Interludes). Some important quotes from the book: "Even though religion may be a net burden on society, this does not necessarily guarantee that evolution will filter it out. Our ability to speak, to pass memes from one generation to the next, gives us a huge evolutionary advantage over all other creatures on earth. When weighed against that, the religion virus could indeed by detrimental to society, and still survive." "Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines." "I hope that you can see the power of memetic evolution, and how it, not God, has shaped religion into the incredibly powerful and attractive Religion Virus that it is today."

  19. 5 out of 5

    Charles Daniel

    Religion Allows People To Believe By The Millions What Only The Mad Believe Individually! Over forty years ago I read Isaac Asimov's _Foundation Trilogy_. I mention this work of fiction in the review of a nonfiction work because, while reading Mr. James' book, I felt that I was reading the seed of a new field of science that Asimov had inspired with his writing. I can't recall the name of the fictional social science that Asimov proposed, but I do recall what it did. It applied mathematics to hum Religion Allows People To Believe By The Millions What Only The Mad Believe Individually! Over forty years ago I read Isaac Asimov's _Foundation Trilogy_. I mention this work of fiction in the review of a nonfiction work because, while reading Mr. James' book, I felt that I was reading the seed of a new field of science that Asimov had inspired with his writing. I can't recall the name of the fictional social science that Asimov proposed, but I do recall what it did. It applied mathematics to human aggregate behavior in order to analyze history and make predictions of what we (humanity) would do in the future with a high degree of accuracy. Reading this book's application of the concepts of the Theory of Evolution to the Memes that make up the complex of behaviors that we define as "Religion" brought that nearly forgotten fable to mind. James' definitions of the Memes, Memeplexes and analysis of how the Abrahamic Faiths evolved by mutating and absorbing Memes seemed so logical and plausible that, if he applied statistics probabilities to his process, he might be able to project the possible, and probable, future permutations of our beliefs and those beliefs effects upon our behaviors. In short, that Mr. James may be taking the first step in making that fictional science a reality. Or maybe, I'm engaging in some myth making of my own. Either way, Mr.James'

  20. 5 out of 5

    Chris Chester

    The basic gist of the book is to suggest that religions are no more than ideas -- memes in the common parlance. The author suggest that memes are subject to the laws of evolution, and that they adapt over time to their surroundings. Religions today have developed a number of mechanisms, like monotheism, intolerance, indoctrination, promise of an afterlife, guilt, etc, that make them less than savory in many cases, but well adapted to survival. It's a pretty neat idea to look at a religion as a me The basic gist of the book is to suggest that religions are no more than ideas -- memes in the common parlance. The author suggest that memes are subject to the laws of evolution, and that they adapt over time to their surroundings. Religions today have developed a number of mechanisms, like monotheism, intolerance, indoctrination, promise of an afterlife, guilt, etc, that make them less than savory in many cases, but well adapted to survival. It's a pretty neat idea to look at a religion as a meme, but the writing in this book relies far too heavily on analogy, piggy-backs on better works of non-fiction, and appears to use frequent summaries and interludes to pad the page count. Would have made for a cool magazine article; the book was unnecessary.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Carla

    Misnamed - Should have been titled The Religion Meme. If you enjoy studying and analyzing religion, you'll find this book interesting. If your beliefs are strictly due to faith, you won't. "This book is primarily about memes and evolution, and how religion came into existence and evolved via the forces of natural selection... These memes included monotheism, intolerance, globalization, god-given morals, kindness, and anti-rationalism... The religions we know today are the result of a hundred thous Misnamed - Should have been titled The Religion Meme. If you enjoy studying and analyzing religion, you'll find this book interesting. If your beliefs are strictly due to faith, you won't. "This book is primarily about memes and evolution, and how religion came into existence and evolved via the forces of natural selection... These memes included monotheism, intolerance, globalization, god-given morals, kindness, and anti-rationalism... The religions we know today are the result of a hundred thousand years of differential reproduction, mutation, and competition between millions of memes, most of which are extinct today."

  22. 4 out of 5

    A. J.

    Packets of information that are self replicating... DNA or jokes... is there a difference. Step back and look at it macroscopically. Wonderful discussion on how religion has evolved and how it has attached itself to our genome. Parasitic? Symbiotic? That is for you to decide. We know how Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins... feel. James presents a less forced review (but in the end, I guess I still side with Dawkins).

  23. 4 out of 5

    Doug

    Interesting premise. Liked the way the author let his theory speak for itself without really trying to influence the reader. As I was reading, I kept trying to envision his points plotted on a timeline to aid as a visual. I think that would have been beneficial for me, but probably not necessary to understand the authors points. For those on the edge, this book could very easily sway them away from religion.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mike Martos

    I really loved the book, very easy language and easy to follow, I've read books on the atheist topic before and have brushed on the topics of how the Christian religion is how it is, this book explains how the idea might've evolved, it is definitely a compelling concept and makes a ton of sense. The concept of the ideas evolving in the sense living objects have done is very new to me, but is definitely worth reading, the examples used are great and the quotes used in each chapter are the best. I really loved the book, very easy language and easy to follow, I've read books on the atheist topic before and have brushed on the topics of how the Christian religion is how it is, this book explains how the idea might've evolved, it is definitely a compelling concept and makes a ton of sense. The concept of the ideas evolving in the sense living objects have done is very new to me, but is definitely worth reading, the examples used are great and the quotes used in each chapter are the best.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    I am about one third of the way through this amazing book and Craig James is making a believer out of me. His writing is clear and to the point and his points are original. He delves into memetics and gene theory just enough to aid understanding without overwhelming the non technical reader.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Troy

    A amazing read! Highly recommend for those who want to understand how ideas and beliefs take root in humanity like genetic codes that are handed down for generations via language, and how these can help or hurt us, or sometimes both.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Fred

    I rounded up from 3.5 to 4 stars. Not everything in here was new to me, but it does put everything together to explain the phenomenon of religion all the way through. If you're curious about where religion comes from and why it's around, this is a good read. I rounded up from 3.5 to 4 stars. Not everything in here was new to me, but it does put everything together to explain the phenomenon of religion all the way through. If you're curious about where religion comes from and why it's around, this is a good read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jorge

    I really enjoyed the book.The author is talking about such abstract matters in such a simple and straightforward manner that manages to keep the readers interest. I enjoyed his examples to illustrate what he meant.Great book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Joe Broadmeadow

    An interesting look at the cause and persistence of Religious dogma An understandable and well argued examination of the similarity of religious proliferation and a virus. Well argued and with in depth research and evidence

  30. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    the virus idea does work

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