A Critique of Dawkins' "Virus of the Mind" Part IV: A-religious Arrogance

Recently, in reading up on this neo-atheist evangelist, I was introduced to his essay, Viruses of the Mind as an innovative work. In "Viruses", Dawkins writes that religious belief, as a meme, is akin to a computer virus thereby reducing the former (which in many people's minds is a high and lofty thing) to the level of the latter (which is acknowledged by virtually everyone to be something undesirable). This is Part II of my comments on that essay. For Part I, see here, for part II see here, and for part III see here.


The Fourth Symptom: We Don't Do What We Should

4. The sufferer may find himself behaving intolerantly towards vectors of rival faiths, in extreme cases even killing them or advocating their deaths. He may be similarly violent in his disposition towards apostates (people who once held the faith but have renounced it); or towards heretics (people who espouse a different --- often, perhaps significantly, only very slightly different --- version of the faith). He may also feel hostile towards other modes of thought that are potentially inimical to his faith, such as the method of scientific reason which may function rather like a piece of anti-viral software.

This is a problem area for Christians, but not for Christianity. Christianity teaches us to love our enemies. It says if a man slaps your right cheek, you should turn to him your other. In other words, while the teachings of Jesus Christ says that belief in Jesus is the only way to the father and that other faiths are ultimately false, there is nothing in Christianity that would lead people to conclude that they are to attack and kill unbelievers or heretics.

Having said that, I recognize that Christians have, at times, engaged in such despicable activity. But that is not the fault of Christianity but a flaw in humanity. I am confident that if Dawkins were to get his way and the borderline people who profess trust in a religion but are mostly agnostic join him so that they represent the largest block of people, Dawkins' hateful statements about people of religion will help to spur more vile acts towards people of religion in a very short time than the combined evil acts of all people supposedly acting in the name of Christ over the past 2,000 years.

The Fifth and Sixth Symptoms: Stalemate

5. The patient may notice that the particular convictions that he holds, while having nothing to do with evidence, do seem to owe a great deal to epidemiology. Why, he may wonder, do I hold this set of convictions rather than that set? Is it because I surveyed all the world's faiths and chose the one whose claims seemed most convincing? Almost certainly not. If you have a faith, it is statistically overwhelmingly likely that it is the same faith as your parents and grandparents had. No doubt soaring cathedrals, stirring music, moving stories and parables, help a bit. But by far the most important variable determining your religion is the accident of birth. The convictions that you so passionately believe would have been a completely different, and largely contradictory, set of convictions, if only you had happened to be born in a different place. Epidemiology, not evidence.

So what? Certainly, people born to atheist parents are extremely likely to be atheists when they grow up, aren't they? So, why is it that atheists aren't conditioned to believe atheism against all rationality?

6. If the patient is one of the rare exceptions who follows a different religion from his parents, the explanation may still be epidemiological. To be sure, it is possible that he dispassionately surveyed the world's faiths and chose the most convincing one. But it is statistically more probable that he has been exposed to a particularly potent infective agent --- a John Wesley, a Jim Jones or a St. Paul. Here we are talking about horizontal transmission, as in measles. Before, the epidemiology was that of vertical transmission, as in Huntington's Chorea.

So, when someone convinced Dawkins at some age -- contrary to the beliefs of his parents -- that God didn't exist, that wasn't a horizontal transmission by a "potent infective agent"? It is only such a horizontal transmission when what is being transmitted is religious? People often accuse Christians of "special pleading", but if this isn't special pleading, nothing is.

The problem with this whole line of thinking is that any faith, even the faith that God, a god or gods don't exist, is unable to be accepted as rational. All faiths, including his own non-faith, is simply the result of the "agents" to whom each of us have been exposed in the course of our lives.

Adopting this viewpoint means that we are incapable of coming to any knowledge, period. Christians believe what they believe because they were raised to believe it. Likewise, atheists believe what they believe because they were raised to believe it. Stalemete. There are people who change sides, but they don't do so out of reason. Rather, they do so only because they fall under the influence of a hyper-charismatic person who is able to reach beyond their intellect into the non-rational selves to draw them to the other side.

Oh, but wait . . . in Dawkins' view it is only the religious that is based on the non-rational. Atheists, when they leave religion, only do so because they're finally acting rationally. But that's begging the question by assuming that only the atheistic point of view is rational. That simply isn't the case. Why is it that Dawkins' faith in the non-existence of God rises to being strictly rational when all of the religious faiths of the world are the result of mind viruses? Because Dawkins, in the divinity of his own self, says so. But, of course, Dawkins only believes this because he is infected with the "atheism mind virus." Someone who is extremely charismatic reached past the religious mind virus in which he was raised and changed it to an atheism mind virus which has convinced him -- against all reason -- that it is atheism that is rational.

Do you see how this is a stalemate? Both sides can argue that it is the other side that is saying what it says because of a mind virus, and there is no way to prove them wrong in the Dawkins' framework. Let's stop the nonesense and recognize that the question isn't one of the accident of the place of birth; the question is whether the particular faith stands up when it is evaluated rationally. Christianity does so.

The Seventh Symptom: Don't Go There

7. The internal sensations of the patient may be startlingly reminiscent of those more ordinarily associated with sexual love.

This is so simply absurd as to not deserve a response


Frank Walton said…
It seems like Dawkins is getting more and more famous for all the wrong reasons, huh? I don't know if you heard but it seems that he now advocates eugenics.

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