Religion as a mental parasite


Look at this picture for a moment — click to enlarge. Kinda stomach-churning, huh? Looks a lot like an alien chest-burster in fact. It’s a rare isopod discovered off the Jersey coast that eats, then replaces, the tongue of a fish. Interestingly, outside the eating of the tongue, the fish doesn’t suffer terribly much in the way of ill effects from this disgusting, horrific, and horribly effective parasitic behaviour. Also interestingly, neither do people whose reason has been eaten and replaced by religious faith.

A number of people have suggested on a number of occasions that I read two particular books — Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, and Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene. Both of these books evidently deal heavily with the concept of religion as a mental “virus”, a concept I’ve expounded upon elsewhere.

You see, every person is born with no intrinsic ideas about a god or gods. There are no “Christian” or “Muslim” or “Jewish babies”. There are, however, babies whose parents subscribe to any number of religions. I understand Dawkins makes an assertion that people are much more likely to become members of a faith if their parents are also members — I suspect this is absolutely true, though certainly not the whole picture. I was, as I’ve discussed before, raised Catholic. I was circumcised, sent to Sunday school, told to say my prayers, and confirmed before I ever thought to question why I was doing all those things. I was made to feel guilty when I skipped my prayers, so I instead assumed the position and pondered why it was so important that I think at someone that supposedly knew everything I thought about anyway, and why I would even pray to someone that already had a life planned out for me in some effort to alter his plan. The fact that I was a thoughtful person, a rational person, someone that wanted to know the naturalistic explanations behind volcanoes and the moon’s existence and why chemicals acted the way they did, rather than just accepting it all as “how God wants it to be”, was my path out of religion. I was lucky in that it happened at an early age, but I was so introverted as to have hardly any friends, much less any I could talk about my beliefs with, and I was so frightened about discussing any of my feelings with my parents, that I had no outlets for my frustration. It was horrible having to live with the fact that I thought everything my parents believed, was utter crap.

However, it was also liberating, knowing that they were not necessarily right about everything, and I was well advised to consider everything they said with the same skepticism as I considered everything that everyone else said. I’d do what I was told, of course, but it was about then that I realized mom and dad didn’t know everything about the world. It was also about then that I started reading the old encyclopedia set they kept at the bottom of the bookshelf. I would pick random subjects at first, then I moved up into reading them practically cover to cover, skipping some of the drier historical figures but getting a pretty good overview of the world in the process.

Over the years, in fighting with theists on the internet, I’ve discovered a few things, especially since I haven’t limited my skirmishes to any particular religion. Firstly, something that seems to come up in pretty well every religion is a proscription against all other religions. Also, the majority of theists are satisfied in their faiths and see no reason to examine them, nor do they see any reason to proselytize, so the ones who engage are a different breed from the majority. Those that were brought up in the faith have a chance of becoming so wrapped up in the verity of their beliefs that they become the “street preachers” that most often go door-to-door or otherwise seek out potential convertees, but this role is much more often filled by the recently converted, those that are still coming off the high of “finally figuring it all out” and still have a lot of zeal to expend. Most theistic arguments come in the form of setting up a false dichotomy (their specific religion, OR the scientific method), then suggesting that if the present understanding of science (the only alternative in their world view) is wrong or inaccurate in any way, then the whole thing must be scrapped and replaced with religion. And finally, there are very few new arguments for religion; most are rearrangings of old saws, no matter how spiffy they happen to be, and those that aren’t entirely rearrangings of this kind are co-optings of the other side’s strengths — for instance, the “intelligent design” movement which claims to be a scientific hypothesis, despite being unfalsifiable and making no predictions.

Each of these properties resembles strongly the functionality of a parasite. Imagine a healthy human mind — not the brain, but that thing that the theists commonly call the soul, the consciousness that is contingent on the proper functioning of that brain. That mind has several properties built up by the structure of the brain over long aeons of evolution: the capacity for rational thought, a sympathy for other like minds that sometimes extends beyond our species by process of anthropomorphism, an ability to create mental images of people based on mere descriptions of them, a willingness to accept authority, an ability to detect (or, more often, suspect) agency behind something that may have no agency at all. Like all other evolved traits, what might be useful in one respect can also be detrimental in another. In other words, because we were not immaculately designed, our minds, the product of the physical brain, has vulnerabilities. Our mental programming has, shall we say, bugs.

Bugs that, like in computers, can be exploited by viruses. Detecting agency where there is none might save us from predators when wind rustles bushes, but it also allows for people to assume this universe must have had a personal creator. Sympathy for other humans helps glue society together, but it allows us to feel for perceived injustices whether these injustices ever happened. Mental images formed from descriptions helps with communication, and allows for fiction and fantasy, but it also allows for complete fabrication to be plausible and ultimately believed.

Since our brains are capable of processing and long-term storage of information, and there are ideas that seem to self-propagate (what Dawkins named “memes”), viuses can get in and stick around and alter our perception of reality, sometimes permanently. And since we’re specialized in communication, one attack vector for such mental parasites is that very communication. An otherwise immaculate mind — by which I mean, one that has not been exposed to any religion, nor has been exposed to any particular piece of knowledge that could contradict that religion — can read a Jack Chick tract, or listen to a Sunday sermon on TV, and internalize its message. If not adequately defended against, it’s easy for us to fall prey to such a message as “believe in this guy who created the universe and loves you and died for you or else you’ll burn in eternal torment” because of the very mental vulnerabilities I mentioned above. Once that acceptance of the message occurs, then the installation process (or infection process) begins — you’re told to read the Bible, to go to sermons, to learn the proper ways to behave, and the proper ways to incubate your newfound faith. And you’re also told that other faiths are evil, or at the very least false and misleading.

A computer virus can disable antivirus capabilities, install itself in the boot sector, and prevent other viruses or even legitimate programs (ones that might *accidentally* wipe it out) from ever installing on the system. Likewise, a faith is capable of providing your mind with defenses against other faiths, and can even extend this defense mechanism against other perceived threats, like the scientific method that’s done so much to inoculate humans against the nonsense contained within most doctrines. Forewarned is forearmed, so understanding ahead of time that snakes can’t talk or that the evidence shows life on Earth to have evolved via common descent as opposed to being created ex nihilo can seriously undermine the install process of the faith virus. That is why the faithful mount such an attack against science — not because science is directly opposed to it (until the first salvos are launched), but because science’s very existence and the knowledge it imparts becomes a threat to those parasites that fight to survive.

Like many successful real-world parasites, religion is capable of altering the behaviour of its host in a manner that protects the parasite from outside influences. It also conflates the good of the parasite with the good of the host. Many religious folks have so integrated the religion into their personhood that they consider any assault on their belief systems to be an assault on them personally. I have had a number of conversations in which the zealot thinks that undermining their argument is an assault on their right to believe whatever they want — it’s assuredly not. Nor do we directly intend to threaten your right to believe whatever you want merely by showing children the scientific method — that is merely a side-effect of exposing them to the facts about this universe and instilling in them the capacity for reason to be able to make determinations about how those facts fit together, with only a minimal guiding hand.

However, no person has the right to have any facts that run counter to their beliefs blocked from being mentioned. This is exactly what religions do when they try to rehabilitate science classrooms — it’s an attempt at preventing reason, the antivirus to religion’s virus, from being installed in kids’ minds, not because there is anything intrinsically anti-religion about reason, but because reason is anathema to dogma. Theists believe that, because “our religion” is being taught in schools, as though science were a dogmatic faith, that their belief systems should also be taught as an equal or alternative “theory”. This is an attempt at changing the biosphere to accommodate the parasite; as with bacteria that can alter their environment to improve reproduction or food gathering, so too does religion attempt to inculcate more beneficial conditions in it surroundings.

Of course, in the examples we have most recently and closest to home with regard to trying to change the scholastic system, the religion in question is evangelical Christianity. Like viruses of both the real and computer variety, slight alterations can change the attack vectors, the survivability, the inheritability, the reproduction and the spread of a particular religion. We can even trace the geneology of most religions — for instance, we can easily reckon that forms of Christianity like “Protestant” or “Baptist” are as nearly related to one another, as Homo sapiens are to other species of the genus Homo; and we can trace the lineages of Christianity, Islam and Judaism (the “Abrahamic religions”) to one another, akin to how closely related as we are to other Great Apes like chimpanzees. We can classify religions by major identifying features (like mono- or polytheism), and we can impartially examine their spread and reproduction in much the same way that we can trace the spread of particular animal species through the world.

With regard to reproduction, once the parasite has reached a level of maturity in the thought processes of a particular person, they then take it upon themselves to “spread the word” or otherwise infect other potential hosts. Depending on the particular religion, this might involve going door-to-door and proselytizing, or “witnessing” to people who seem open to the concept of religion, or going out of their way to spread lies about other faiths or other perceived threats like science (think Ken Ham’s Creation “Museum”). In some cases, people might become ministers or rabbis, or otherwise join the ecclesiasty of their particular faith. Most parents will indoctrinate their children, as mine did with me. And even if the kids are not indoctrinated as such, they will quickly learn what is considered “normal” in their region, by what the majority of everyone else believes.

And people who have this parasite consider themselves normal, and those that are not of their faith are abnormal — either they merely haven’t been given the “good news” because they have been sheltered from it (and are therefore ripe for conversion), or they have been through the conversion process but have come out unconverted (and thus need to have the installer program run repeatedly until it finally “takes”), or they’ve been fooled by some other faith and must be prioritized for conversion. They have allowed their ability to employ reason as a “bullshit detector” be compromised, and have allowed it to be replaced with a self-propagating and external source of influence that modifies behaviour — and definitely not for the better. This replacement can be a wholesale one, as with fundamentalists, or in part only, as with those who can still thereafter reconcile science with faith.

Religions have infection methods, survival mechanisms, self-defense, mutation, and self-propagation. They replace a part of your normal mental functioning and leave you vulnerable to other forms of magical thinking, because your reason has been compromised. I honestly can’t think of what else is required to prove that religions are anything but a mental parasite, but you’re welcome to improve or otherwise refine my argument (especially if you pick at the loose threads around the edges).

And I’m definitely going to read Snow Crash and Selfish Gene ASAP.

Comments

  1. says

    Dude. It so matters. I bring up that fact as often as possible, coz I’m still pretty bitter about not having the choice in the matter.

    Besides, what conversation DOESN’T my penis deserve a part of?

  2. says

    I like the point you make about teaching religion in classrooms. The argument I recently got into on my Facebook page with the friend who was much more of a fundamentalist than I ever imagine was based on that. I was arguing for the separation of church and state, and in a way she was too–because she firmly believed teaching science in the classroom was teaching atheism. She has been brainwashed to believe atheism is a ‘belief system’ and has an ‘agenda’ to hide behind science and watch as the government removes all christianity from the tax funded school system.

  3. says

    Thanks Julie! I was hoping that my point explained why there’s such a focus on schools, but your explanation actually ties it together with a much neater ribbon. One of the self-preservation functions of religion is to view other religions as anathema — and since science isn’t one, it now teaches that science DOES deal directly with religion, and atheism is its proper religious name. Thus the old defense mechanisms against religion are adapted to also work against science.

    Oh, I missed a point I wanted to make — that with religion, adaptation of arguments is rare and usually minor, most of the time neutral but occasionally beneficial or detrimental (sort of like evolution), and that whole new arguments are exceedingly rare (sort of like how new genes or new functions are exceedingly rare) and those new arguments that are poorly adapted (e.g. the banana analogy) die out very quickly after being “laughed out of court”, so to speak.

  4. says

    I also sympathize that you weren’t given a choice in what happened to your penis. I’m lucky I’m married to a European who was raised by non-religious parents…I quite like what they didn’t do to his lower half ;-)

  5. says

    Haha, indeed. I bet he likes it too. Or at least, he knows what I’m missing.

    I really ought to put up that video I was waffling about when I first watched it last month, I guess…

  6. says

    Penis aside, there are a few words I’d quibble with here and there to make it more clear that this is metaphor and not meant to be a direct representation of how the brain works. However, given my post at QM today, I think I’ll refrain. :)

    Nicely done.

  7. says

    “Nicely done” is high praise, I’ll take it gratefully. :)

    I don’t think suggesting how to refine my argument qualifies as any sort of “purity enforcement” or whatnot, especially where I’ve asked for specific criticism to refine the argument, though. You’re right, I did intend this entirely as metaphor, and I have absolutely no qualifications with regard to psychology, nor do I have any insight into the brain that anyone else is not privileged with (e.g. I have no special insight), and I do tend to draw parallels rather broadly. Do you have any specific quibbles? I’ll address whatever you see that needs refinement.

    I had been working on it since I first heard the news about that isopod, so that gives you an approximate time frame for how long I’ve been sitting on the post, trying to refine as I went, but I felt the need to rush it out the door today as I didn’t have anything else lined up (and I had some time during my management meeting today when I could zone out without missing anything). So, I figured I might as well pull the band-aid off and post it, and see what came of it.

  8. says

    The ones that stood out as I was reading were the “immaculate mind” (no such thing–we learn some things much more easily than others from birth), “as closely related as” (I think you want to make a relative comparison, not a direct one), “pure reason” (happens in such limited doses as to be useless when talking about something as big as religion) and at least one instance of talking about “know”ing something that I’m not spotting now. In all cases, it’s just absolute language that the analogy doesn’t support. Very small quibbles, but they’re things that leave you open to arguments over something you weren’t trying to say, I think.

  9. says

    I think I’ve ironed out out the specific issues you’ve mentioned, and a few other spots that were grammatically tangled or otherwise left me open to pointless debate by creationists. The “immaculate mind” was a bit of an overstatement; I left the sentence as-is but added a qualifying parenthetical explaining the scope I intended it to mean. I think I got your “know” issue — pretty sure it was part of the genealogy part alongside the “as closely related” bit. I reworked that bit considerably, and I like it far better now. And the “pure reason” — well, I dropped “pure” and it lost nothing; then I went on to play with that bit a bit more while I was at it.

    Thank you muchly! If only all the loose threads were as simple to correct as these, my writings would be far and away better than they are presently. Please, folks, if you see a loose thread, either pull it (e.g. argue with me on it) or point it out and I’ll be happy to either clarify or otherwise rework the argument.

  10. says

    Stephanie, you can’t read my posts anymore. You’re way too smart. My writing is far less coherent and logically sound than Jason’s; I can only imagine your horror trying to parse my lame attempts. Let’s just say I write for a lower quality readership; more low-brow like me :-D

  11. says

    Ha! Just try to stop me.

    The editor voice in my head is always going, I’ll admit, but I usually ignore it unless asked. Jason invoked it pretty strongly here by his choice of metaphor. I don’t have a degree in psychology for nothing. :)

  12. says

    All the more reason I should tap you for this, as I have (at best) a first-year psych intro course under my belt. And I say “at best” because I think I scored 80 at most. That’s not what I’d consider a “thorough understanding” grade.

    Cyberlizard: just because I can out-volume you doesn’t mean I can out-produce you.

  13. says

    A most wonderful post! I love the picture of the isopod. I read the news story about it when it came out. Giant isopods are very cool too.

    I’m a better editor of other peoples’ work than of my own. Writing from scratch, unless on a rant, is the hardest part for me. But, I’ve got a place to write, and the world can read it if they like—or not. That’s the best part of all.

  14. says

    Oh snap! I believe that qualifies as you being served. Now, you have to serve Cyberlizard back, and then step three is “it’s on”. Then we have a dance-off. It will be epic.

  15. says

    You seem to believe that science accounts for everything. You say that Christians (who you seem to hate more than any other person affiliated with other beliefs) have an unreasonable point of view when it comes to life in general.

    I find it interesting that your god really is science, yet it cannot account for everything, including itself! You base all of your knowledge on accepted laws of logic and mathematics, yet prior to using the scientific method for anything you must PRESUPPOSE that these two things are inherently true. Science cannot account for morality, cannot account for “ideas” of about anything, yet you put it first and then make a claim.

    Dawkin’s idea of “memes” is his religion. I don’t accept this idea, but even if I did, it would seem obvious that Dawkins is spreading a meme himself. I am sitting here shocked that you make assumptions here as if you have absolute authority when your worldview contradicts you having any such authority in the first place. You assert that your idea about how religion spreads proves that it is simply processes in our brains that have survival value, benefits, etc. but you aren’t willing to place yourself in the same category.

    You cannot by any means assume laws of logic, mathematics, and uniformity in nature without God. These three things must be assumed prior to you even using the scientific method to prove anything. The scientific method itself cannot be proved by the scientific method, it simply results in circular reasoning.

  16. says

    Christians (who you seem to hate more than any other person affiliated with other beliefs)

    Hate? No. See a lot more of? Hell yes. If, say, people believed around these parts primarily in the Great Green Arkleseizure, that’s what I’d be talking about as my counterexample. Duh.

    your god really is science

    From Wiktionary

    Etymology: From Old French science, from Latin scientia (“‘knowledge’”), from the present participle stem of scire (“‘know’”).
    Definition: The collective discipline of study or learning acquired through the scientific method; the sum of knowledge gained from such methods and discipline.

    My “god” is the study of reality and the sum of knowledge gained from its study? Okay, fine. Sure. I’m okay with that. Except I don’t pray to it, I don’t get special societal dispensation for it, I don’t have any crazy habits from it, and I don’t believe dogmatically in its prophets as immutable truth.

    I am sitting here shocked that you make assumptions here as if you have absolute authority when your worldview contradicts you having any such authority in the first place.

    Do tell me when I claimed I was something other than a mere blogger on the interwebs, talking about what I observe and making observations thereupon? When did I aspire to prophethood in your mind?

    Stephanie has you cold. Your god is a god of the gaps, a god of ignorance, and you have a hatred of knowledge because it squeezes your god’s domain ever closer and ever narrower until your god is either well defined and powerless or ill-defined and meaningless.

  17. says

    AND ANOTHER THING.

    You assert that your idea about how religion spreads proves that it is simply processes in our brains that have survival value, benefits, etc. but you aren’t willing to place yourself in the same category.

    In my original example, I suggested reason is like antivirus for your computer, preventing other viruses from getting in and supplanting system functions. If you know anything about antivirus software, you’ll know that it supplants system functions itself, because it has to, in order to do its job. A major difference is that we know with a computer virus, the side effects can be catastrophic on society, so we’re willing to let a benign piece of software install itself and hijack those functions in order to prevent other, more malicious ones from installing. We only recognize its malice in computers and not in minds, because it’s really difficult to tell that, say, a particular religion will lead to misogyny, racism, hatred, fear, or anti-intellectualism, until it’s installed on a wide swathe of peoples’ minds to be seen in aggregate.

    And yet, our computers are able to run viruses and antivirus programs equally well — it’s all in perspective. You don’t see yourself as infected by a virus, you see yourself as carrying the antivirus, and lack-of-faith as a virus. Human minds can grasp certain concepts really easily — such as the concept of an authority figure. As I said in my original post, this is a vulnerability, one that allows the concept of some divine, supreme, ultimate authority figure despite any evidence thereof — and one of which you’ve already had exploited by your religion.

    So, by my perspective, the brain needs patching, which patching reason itself handles admirably. Install reason, it compensates for the bugs and allows your mind to think about things more clearly, more “as nature intended”. Just like installing antivirus after a virus has already infected a computer, though, sometimes reason itself will not install over top of a religion, and other times (as with faithful scientists like Ken Miller), the brain will either compartmentalize or will accept only those more benign parts of the original virus that are compatible with the antivirus software.

  18. says

    And still another, because I can’t just let it go.

    You base all of your knowledge on accepted laws of logic and mathematics, yet prior to using the scientific method for anything you must PRESUPPOSE that these two things are inherently true. Science cannot account for morality, cannot account for “ideas” of about anything, yet you put it first and then make a claim.

    I think evolution accounts for morality in humans quite well.

    The fact that logic and mathematics are part of the very nature of this universe (along with all the other fields of science we’ve discovered and are documenting), does not mean we “can’t account for their existence”. Yes, it’s rather incomprehensible that this universe is comprehensible at all (quoth Einstein), or that we can document its properties, or that we can discover, then apply, first principles of the scientific method to discover more about it. That doesn’t mean “God made these properties” because that violates those very first principles we’ve discovered.

    And who’s to say these first principles cannot de facto be different in other universes, with other sets of dimensions, other logical laws (and therefore fallacies), other forms of mathematics entirely unlike ours, etc.? Speculating on how reality could possibly come to be as it is, as though it were designed this way, is affirming the consequent. If God were to design the universe explicitly for us, it would look like this. It looks like this, therefore God did it. That’s wrong, friend. And it says nothing about how many other ways the universe could have (and possibly was, or possibly is presently but elsewhere, if either the cyclical model or the bath-foam universe models have any basis in truth) been modeled and still manage to culminate in life arising.

  19. says

    Daniel –

    Logic – learn it. http://faculty.matcmadison.edu/alehnen/weblogic/logcont.htm

    You are making a lot of logical fallacies with your reasoning. The first and foremost being that we worship anything or have faith in anything. Yes, you have faith – that doesn’t mean that everyone does.

    You cannot by any means assume laws of logic, mathematics, and uniformity in nature without God.

    Why? You come along and moments later accuse us of circular reasoning – yet that is exactly what you are doing here. The only reason that one would assume that gods are responsible for logic and the realm of the forms envisioned by Plato, is if they presuppose the existence of those gods.

    The problem is that mathematics and uniformity do not exist in nature. They are human abstractions that manifest as language and allow us to engage in complex communication. All that uniformity that you’re talking about, is all in our heads – in the realm of forms – the abstract. Unless you literally believe that language is god, you aren’t going to find your god here.

    The scientific method itself cannot be proved by the scientific method, it simply results in circular reasoning.

    Wuh? Accepting that that which is best supported by the current evidence is more likely true, than that which is not, is well supported by the evidence jackass. Until something better comes along, something better supported by the evidence – seems reasonable enough to me.

    Science cannot account for morality…

    First of all, it can – though that would depend very much on how you define morality. Secondly, why should it? Science needn’t explain everything, that’s not the point. Science is about explaining how the world works – that is all. We don’t really need science to explain abstractions – though there are certainly abstractions that it can explain. The thing is – we don’t need gods to explain abstractions either.

    …cannot account for “ideas” of about anything…

    What the fuck are you actually saying here? Seriously – you make no sense.

  20. says

    What the fuck Jason? Are you going to dare to try and tell me that the Great Green Arkleseizure isn’t cause for fear and trembling on your part? I mean no, there’s really nothing to be done for it – true or not. But what the fuck? I suppose you’ll be tllng m tht Cthulhu isn’t to be feared…

  21. says

    Far be it from me to deny the truth of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Cthulhu, Arkleseizure, Yahweh, Allah, Jesus, Mormon Jesus, or the Prophet L. Ron Hubbard.

    Seriously though, I do understand what he’s getting at — the fact that the universe is comprehensible, that mathematics actually works the way it does, that logic itself exists, that cause precedes effect, are part of the fabric of spacetime. I could conceive of a universe with more or less dimensions, where math doesn’t work quite the same way (e.g. the proportions of diameter to radius in a circle is not pi), where cause doesn’t actually have any causative effect and effect comes randomly (e.g. the entire universe is as static on a television — everything happens completely at random if it happens at all), but not all of these universes would be condusive to life. That’s not to say that life can ONLY arise in our type of universe, though.

    That’s the thing I don’t get with theists, why they assume this is the only shot at existence that there’s ever been or will ever be (by varying degrees of the meaning for the words “is”, “be”, or “will”). They used to make the same argument about the fine-tuned Earth until cosmology proved that there are billions of stars in each of billions of galaxies, so who knows how many places life could arise / has already arisen. Now that even the possibly astronomical (heh) chances of life arising are statistically insignificant in the face of the gigantic number of chances available, now it’s the fine-tuned universe, where if the speed of light was different or the sequence of elements worked differently or helium had less gravity, then the universe couldn’t possibly have brought forth life. Except, says who? How many other universes have we seen? How many other universes have there been / is there? God didn’t control the sun rising and setting, God didn’t control lightning, or volcanoes, or rainbows, or snowflakes, God didn’t control the development and diversity of life on this planet, and God didn’t create the planet or stars or anything else in this universe, so why assume that God must have created the universe itself? Because that’s the last place you can shoehorn in God, after having observed the rest of the universe. It’s always been premature to assume God did it. Why change that fact now? Given track record says “probably no God”, so it’s best to keep assuming that’s the case until there’s proof otherwise.

  22. says

    Just thought I’d mention that Daniel is a severly undereducated, traumatized youth, who was heavily indoctrinated into the Christian faith at an early age. He really hasn’t recovered from the early trauma of being lied to by everyone in life he learned he should trust. He’s also in complete denial about it. He still trusts these people and still believes all the lies he was told. It’s actually quite sad.

    He’s a buddy of zdenny’s too.

  23. says

    Seriously though, I do understand what he’s getting at — the fact that the universe is comprehensible, that mathematics actually works the way it does, that logic itself exists, that cause precedes effect, are part of the fabric of spacetime.

    Are they though? Is it not conceivable that we might not need to visit another universe to find a place where these theoretically immutable laws are different? We are extrapolating a whole picture, from a very small section. More importantly, we are presupposing that our comprehension of the universe is the best one possible. What if there are other sentient’s in our universe, who actually understand it better and therefore explain it better – what if they merely have advanced what we call language and semantics to the point where their descriptives are superior to our understanding?

    Language is our expression of the universe around us. If there are just minor flaws in our understanding of linguistics, our perception and expression of reality could be – would likely be, egregiously flawed.

    Logic and mathematics do not exist in nature – they are human abstractions based on our best understanding of language. You cannot look at the desert, or any aspect of the natural world or the universe and say – “that is logic or that is math.” Logic, math and by extension language exist in what Plato called the realm of the forms – what I would call human consciousness. They seemingly support our current understanding of the universe and likely support a fairly accurate understanding. But we cannot know that for sure. It may turn out that our understanding is flawed, because the abstractions with which we are developing that understanding are flawed.

  24. says

    Heavy.

    I guess what I’m trying to say, though my imperfect communication betrays me, is that there actually is a fundamental nature of the universe. I’m aware we can only perceive a very limited subset of, say, the whole spectrum of light, the whole range of sound, etc. And our expression of mathematics is an ever-changing, ever-evolving expression of our understanding of this reality. There could very well be areas where our understanding of math doesn’t work the same — consider that Newtonian mechanics worked great right up until we discovered black holes, then Einstein’s special relativity had to re-abstract the whole shebang to not only account for everything Newton figured out, but also the whole black hole physics thing. Both worked, but relativity worked not only for the “normal” cases but also for the borderline cases as well.

  25. clexistentialist says

    @jthibeault –

    I’m a little late to the party on this, but I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your article, and the fantastic posts as well.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if you already know, but just in case: The same mind that gave us the Great Green Arkleseizure also gave us the Puddle Analogy in regards to religious “reasoning.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puddle_thinking

    I’m guessing (previous poster) Donald M. isn’t a Hitchhiker’s fan…

  26. says

    clexistentialist: No, Daniel Maldonado is very likely not. He blogs regularly at http://www.realtheist.com and is very committed to his particular mental trap. No matter how insightful the words of Douglas Adams might have been, they don’t supercede his faith in his really old books and the newer apologetics that reconcile them with reality.

    Honestly, I’d be ecstatic if people would continue posting in very old discussions. I like posting new material, but some of the stuff I’m proudest about, the conversation really just fizzled and died unceremoniously. Sigh. The interwebs are fickle.

  27. George W. says

    Jason,
    When I was reading The God Delusion, Dawkins touched on this religion as a self-perpetuating meme/religion as a virus topic. I was really enthralled with that concept but didn’t really understand it’s roots outside of maybe functioning as an explanatory filter for questions that had no answer.
    My perception being something like “Where did we all come from?“-From a all-knowing God who created us from a lump of clay, now stop thinking about it go kill some rabbits for dinner. I felt maybe this served a primary purpose in creating folklore.
    Then I read this…
    Imagine a healthy human mind — not the brain, but that thing that the theists commonly call the soul, the consciousness that is contingent on the proper functioning of that brain. That mind has several properties built up by the structure of the brain over long aeons of evolution: the capacity for rational thought, a sympathy for other like minds that sometimes extends beyond our species by process of anthropomorphism, an ability to create mental images of people based on mere descriptions of them, a willingness to accept authority, an ability to detect (or, more often, suspect) agency behind something that may have no agency at all. Like all other evolved traits, what might be useful in one respect can also be detrimental in another. In other words, because we were not immaculately designed, our minds, the product of the physical brain, has vulnerabilities. Our mental programming has, shall we say, bugs.
    I have never looked at it from this angle before and it struck me like a ton of bricks. Maybe this is a rehash of the argument in The Selfish Gene-which I have not read but really want to. I’m currently reading Unweaving The Rainbow and when I finish I’ll certainly pick this book up.

    I know that this comment will seem a little uber-nerdy, but talking about religion as a parasite always reminds me of that episode of Star Trek:TNG where the whole crew gets addicted to the game that you wear on your head and Will Wheton and Ashley Judd have to pretend to be addicted too in order to save the Enterprise from falling into enemy hands. Ahh TNG, how I love you.

  28. says

    Yoosdef, are so very close to the factual information. A parasite is the original hacker and has gotten itself into the build of the human and other animals, or in the dna it has set itself to be built in the womb and infused into the host and can appear like simple brain tissue. It is more a leader of the bacteria world and is chemical, plauges and such. It uses the human communications to spread its instructions to the parasites in other people and also uses the same books, to tell the human it’s so called place. You’ll find many illogical statements in religions and it is wrapped around instructions of care or disorder of the host for the parasite to do. Or hybridization. It puts its same instructions in childrens cartoons for the ones who are new and anywhere that is communicable, but it’s system of worship is for its own faster regeneration and can peruse humans to further its goals. Both being the voices of evil and good more known as schizophrenia, but it hides and indirect communication is chemical and direct is literally auditory hallucinations. If it can’t get other hosts to cause trauma for the younger people it will do it itself within the mind. It tries to take the place as the natural instincts of all beings to be the only ones with foresight into the future and distracts the human from using it’s own instincts and they never run from earthquakes or tsunamis as animals do. It has pulled the life of its’ host into itself and removing it will cause the death of the host, but those that are used in its show are more a carrier and it gives up its life to further its whole aims. For the human who are eaiser hacked, sexual disorders to breed in the traits where the parasite is stronger and host weaker. But now it is almost time for the reverse, and “the voices”, will be the television, radio, and the computer extension of the brain, they are already making it past the inflammatory responses and immune system but their attacks must be used wisely lest the hosts immune system attack them. These are the divisions it uses to incite them against one another of their beliefs and world views and typic mispelling as pure accidental. Though it may seem smart, it has no physical survival and blind men read the bumps on the log, its knowledge is a consistent furthering of what the human that is used as its instrument to see the world around it is the one now growing weaker of that the parasite, lord of the flies and creator of plauges, mostly an exaggeration to appear larger, object may appear closer than they are behind you. The balance system is almost fulfilled now, hence the parasite will be the “power” of the future, one with a negative terminal and one with a positive terminal and it will charge the houses and generate electricity; but what of its future, 11 one on the high end and one on the low end, it must live in its own delusion online and will be removed one day, and stuffed into the commodity boxes for resale, and 10 will be forbidden access to the human brain system, what of the words to be a more structered solidification of atomic and smaller worlds as they harden, and even down to yatto, where the buffalo roams and the seminole blows, they will all join in…

  29. Hashem says

    jthibeault, I like your article, and I have been in your place some time ago and truly understand what your thinking and trying to convey. But I got out of this, after extensive re-search on religion, and found, as always, how the strongest and most fearful things have extensive degrading rumors around it. From here I’m trying to say the religion I found, and I am not a preacher, but someone open to new thoughts that would shed “light upon me” and help me understand the truth, like letting up on my religion, have more faith in it, or whatever the outcome would be. I talk about Islam, and till today I haven’t found any flaw in the texts of the holy Q’uran regarding science, or anything which changed to adapt to science, or anything which ever prevented in the search of science. Actually its quiet the opposite, since it always calls for us to look for science and advance more in this world that god gave us. The scientific facts, philosophies, and explanations were never out of date, and is actually much ahead of its time. Please ask questions, I would love to have this conversation/debate, if you may, with you.

  30. says

    Hello Hashem,

    Interesting that your chosen Gravatar is KISS, given how anti-Western-culture and especially anti-rock-and-roll most Imams appear to be in general. Not that I would suspect you’re a preacher of any sort, given that you’re using the internet. ;) I’d suspect it much more likely that you’re a Muslim practitioner and naturalized citizen of Africa (given your originating IP).

    I will make it a priority that the next post I make on this blog will be specifically about scientific claims made in the Qu’ran that are false or falsifiable, and why I believe even coincidental scientific accuracy is insufficient proof of deity. Once I am done this post, it will link back to this thread, and I will be happy to host a discussion there.

    Please understand though that, as I have had to warn other visitors, I reserve the right to belittle people’s BELIEFS. I will make every effort not to belittle YOU at the same time, so long as you understand that you and your beliefs are actually separate and distinct from one another.

    I must also warn you — I can have a foul mouth at times. I am, as they say, an asshole. :)

  31. Hashem says

    True, I’m not African however :) I was born and raised in Ohio, but currently continuing my studies in the American University in Cairo. I was here for a semester abroad, but I liked the experience. I also study Computer Engineer, so some similarities there. However I’m not a preacher, and I was not born Muslim.
    And your right is there, but I know you’re much smarter than that, that’s why I would love to have that discussion with you.
    And I don’t mind the foul mouth, we all got one lol.

    Also it is not true that we are anti-western-culture and especially anti-rock-and-roll. You get fanatics in everything, but that is not the general. Kiss has been my favorite band for years, and I’ve been playing guitar for 8 years and running, and no Muslim ever told me its wrong. Not even the Q’uran can say that. Music is not liked only during prayer times, or if it leads you into bad things (brainwashes you etc), other than that its perfectly fine.

  32. says

    It’s been five days, Hashem. I don’t suppose you’re still subscribed to this post, are you? I made a post for our discussion, and was hoping you could engage in the questions therein.

    If you have time, do drop by again!

  33. Sarasan Sé says

    Congratulations to you for being a man of truth. I come from India, I am a budding social engineer there, and I tell you, this country of mine has suffered so much, so much because of this mental virus of misplaced religion, and I want to set it right.
    Is there anything in this world that can help me to get this great mission forward? Please let me know.

    I am planning to study the sociology and psychology of these matters, I really want to dedicate my whole life for this purpose.
    Anything from your side, please help.

    I am not exactly an atheist, I call myself an altheist rather, it means that I deny all God definitions but I don’t deny or confirm the existence of God. This world is a wonder, and we have no way of knowing the reality of it all, it’s all happening, and someday I will die.

    Cheers
    Sarasan

  34. dyan says

    You should join in on the YouTube site:
    Oprah Winfrey: Jesus Did Not Come To Die On The Cross

    We need your “talents” there. LOL

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