Natural Selection... Applied to Religion
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20-07-2012, 04:26 PM
Natural Selection... Applied to Religion
Alright, another thought guys. I think natural selection is a concept that can be extended past general biology, and into even the selection of religions (I'm sure that this seems obvious to some, but I would like to get some opinions)!

So, given several independent religions in various parts of the world, and the increased communication with the development of society, religions came to clash, and only the strongest survived. Universalizing religions, like viruses, adapted to different peoples, and spread and reproduced accordingly (the analogy is strikingly accurate.) Ethnic religions eventually die down, and fall. Once a religion goes extinct, it's pretty much gone forever (unless you have writings, such as the Greek/Roman religions, but nobody really believes those anymore.)

And so, the best religions (or, if you want to call it, the "worst") spread the most, reproduce the most, and are resistant to death. Some possible criteria for these are:

1. Be infectious (be able to convert.) You could have many carriers (missionaries), be easy to catch (rewards such as eternal salvation), and so on.
2. Be stealthy with your symptoms. Don't make people try to get rid of you, and produce a pleasant image (Jesus is pure, for example.)
3. Be hard to get rid of. If you get of the virus, you're in a lot of trouble (conversion, nonbelief = Hell)
4. Pass into offspring (like HIV.) Self-explanatory, childhood indoctrination.
5. Prey on the weak (children, the emotionally distressed, the lucky people who experience "miracles", people on their deathbed, although that last one really that doesn't help survival at all...)

And there are plenty more, and then a few things specific to religion. I guess you could call these "symptoms" to extend the analogy.

6. Deterioration of brain matter (just joking, of course, but really, critical thinking skills are thrown out the window. Religion shouldn't make your brain shrink or decrease your intelligence [although, I did hear of a correlation between religiosity and brain atrophy... Hmm...].)
7. Irrational behavior (self-explanatory.)
8. A willingness to spread (Conversions. It is possible that coughing and sneezing came about when pathogens that tried to spread survived with those behaviors.)

And the list goes on and on...

Does this make any sense? A religion is like a good salesman; pulls you in, keeps you, makes you want to spread the word, and takes your money (so, are salesman like viruses too?)

"Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned" - Anonymous
I am glad to live where there is no God, for I am moral, and mortal; I do not wish to worship He who crafts an immoral immortality.
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20-07-2012, 06:46 PM
RE: Natural Selection... Applied to Religion
Hey, NS.

I'm amazed at how deeply you tapped this vein on your own. It's quite remarkable. Kudos.

Religion, like all culture, most certainly evolves.

Cultural evolution. The term Universal Darwinism was coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976. He said that all replicators in the universe are subject to Darwinism, not just genes. He then went on to identify the second Earthly replicator, the meme; the unit of cultural transmission.

Natural selection is at work between individual memes (competition or co-evolution), between memes and genes (competition or co-evolution).

A religion is a co-adapted meme complex, or memeplex; a complex network of articulated interdependent memes that function as a system. Memeplexes evolve, but like all systems, are resistant to invasion by other memes. The more articulations an individual meme in the memeplex has with other memes, the harder it is to remove. It is held in place by lines of tendential force. For example, think of how many connections the Book of Genesis has with all of Christianity, or how many connections Darwin has with biology. They are both held firmly in place within their respective systems by lines of tendential force.

Natural selection is both at work with would-be invaders as well as between memeplexes themselves; Christianity vs Islam vs Secularism vs Judaism vs I Don't Give a Fuckism vs Atheism vs Sufism vs Confuscionism vs list goes on for a looooong fucking time.

Memeplexes are also nested within larger cultures. Islam, for example, is very firmly nested within Saudi Arabian culture and held firmly in place because Islam in that culture is not just a religion, but it is connected to school, the state, the monarchy, law and just about every other facet of that culture by lines of tendential force. Just as freedom, manifest destiny, the American Dream and militarisation are held firmly in place in American culture.

Memes have formerly been called viruses of the mind, but the analogy doesn't hold because viruses attack their host, while memes make them more capable of surviving. A meme is an endosymbiont, not a virus.

Other evolutionary terms like flow, drift, diversity, punctuated equilibrium, adaptive, maladaptive, mutation, selection pressure, replicator pool, variation and heredity all apply to memes and memetics; the study of memes, analogous to genetics.... only younger and less financed.

As in all Darwinistic thought, better or worse don't factor in. Adaptive religions increase their representation. Maladaptive ones self-reduce their representation.

Dawkins suggests the three things a good meme needs to have are:
-Fidelity: The ability to replicate accurately.
-Fecundity: They must spread and have high representation.
-Longevity: The copies need to last a long time.

Religious memes satisfy all three. They are carefully regulated by a professional cadre. They are widespread and are spread widely through missionary work. It's all written down, so they last a hell of a long time.

Similarly scientific memes are strong too. They are carefully regulated by a professional cadre. They are widespread and are spread widely through education programs. They're written down.

So:
-Infectious? Absolutely.
-Stealthy? Well, they need to give their survival machine, us humans, advantage. We don't eat brussel sprouts because they're tasty, but because they're nutritious.
-Hard to get rid of? Lines of tendential force.
-Pass into offspring? Heredity. But unlike genes that can only travel vertically, parent to offspring (or horizontally in some cases) memes can transmit omnidirectionally. And the turn around time is waaaaay shorter; as short as seconds.
-Prey on the weak: Ugh. In a very round about manner, but certainly not in the way you are connoting.

-Deterioration of brain matter: Of course not. But critical thinking and its associated skills are themselves memes. They are represented to greater or lesser degree in different memeplexes.
-Irrational behaviour: hyperbole.
-A willingness to spread: Certainly, memes that impel people to want to spread them or memes that people like to spread absolutely become more fecund.

The most important thing is to never characterise memes as good or malevolent. Memes don't give a fuck about us, their survival machines, and they have no agenda outside of replicating selfishly. Do not ever portray some memes as good and others as evil. It's like suggesting that some animals are good and some are evil. Not at all true. They are all simply part of the same system and trying to accomplish the same thing; to survive and flourish in a limited environment with limited resources.

Read chapter 11 of The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins and the entirety of The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore.

Be very careful with what I'm about to say. Don't go running into fantasy land with it. Many, not all, but many Universalising religions, like militarised societies, have within their memeplex certain memes that offer short term advantage but that have been identified as ultimately maladaptive. Read anything by Daniel Quinn to really get a handle on this. Particularly, Ishmael, The Story of B or Beyond Civilisation. One is, "There is only one right way." Another is, "Everyone should be made to live our way." A third is, "Unlimited growth." A fourth is, "The planet is ours to do with as we please." A fifth is, "We are not a part of the system, we are above it." A sixth is, "Wipe out your competition." Put all of these together and you get a system that not only acts as an Annihilator, but one that assures it has the resources and organisation to carry out Annihilation. This is why Christianity swallowed tribal cultures whole. This is why the Europeans all but wiped out aboriginals around the world in the absolute blood bath that was the colonial era. Read the The Parable of the Tribes by Andrew Smookler to understand why nothing can stand up to an Annihilator except another Annihilator. The reason all of this makes these memes maladaptive is because Annihilators overwhelm systems and eliminate diversity. Here is where the virus analogy is useful. Think monocrop. Think monoculture. Think clearcutting. Think residential schools. The ultimate result of the elimination of diversity (not to mention overshoot thanks to unlimited growth) is collapse. What we have is a planet filled with Annihilators, religions, states, corporations, whathaveyou, that is on a collision course for collapse. Read Jarred Diamond for the gory details.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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20-07-2012, 08:38 PM
RE: Natural Selection... Applied to Religion
(20-07-2012 06:46 PM)Ghost Wrote:  Dawkins suggests the three things a good meme needs to have are:
-Fidelity: The ability to replicate accurately.
-Fecundity: They must spread and have high representation.
-Longevity: The copies need to last a long time.
That's a good explanation for why the book-based religions - Judaism, Christianity, Islam and LDS - thrived compared to their predecessors and rivals. They were also good at building in pieces of their predecessors, such as Yahweh, the Jewish god of war, being blended into the bible as just another name for god, or the Christians incorporating pagan holidays and rituals.
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20-07-2012, 11:09 PM
RE: Natural Selection... Applied to Religion
I heard about memes before, in the Dawkins-sense, but I never got to go in-depth with the concept. I didn't know how much went into it. Thanks for the information. I knew I was onto something with the natural selection and religion, but you took it to a whole new level.

Oh, and the "deterioration of brain matter" was a complete joke (partially since it relates to viruses.) Sorry if there is any confusion with that. I'm pretty sure being religious doesn't make you less intelligent, but it might make you less "smart" (sorry if my choice of words is vague.)

"Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned" - Anonymous
I am glad to live where there is no God, for I am moral, and mortal; I do not wish to worship He who crafts an immoral immortality.
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20-07-2012, 11:42 PM
RE: Natural Selection... Applied to Religion
Hey, Jeff.

Daniel Quinn tackled this. I'll feebly paraphrase. It used to be, in the time when most cultures practiced the oral tradition, primary orality, that one generation would learn what was important, then as they lived their lives, some things stayed important, some became less important, and some thing became more important. So the sum total of teaching from one generation to the next was very fluid; it shaped itself to the demands of the day. But once we started writing things down, that chance of mutation reduced almost to zero because inscribed memes can be copied with miraculous fidelity and are resistant to change. Witness the Bible. 2 000 years and still kicking. The Torah even longer. Shakespeare has been performed and taught around the world for 400 years. Most people don't even understand the language but it's still performed, as written. Like the Bible, Shakespeare, historians I suppose, cobbled together the First Folio from papers and notes and whatever they could get their hands on. The folio NEVER changes. Every edition of Shakespeare you ever read was edited. They added punctuation, interpretations, but the folio never dies. It's viewed as one of the single most important documents in English literature. The Bible has been translated and re-translated. I don't know if there's an original though. Must be. Biblical scholar I am not. I suppose all I'm saying is that there is still some room for interpretation and mutation as manuscripts descend through the ages but far less so with books. Once you get to digital and the Internet, fidelity is pretty much perfect and cloning is infinite.

As for building things in, if you're an Annihilator, you can either displace, murder, occupy, or assimilate those you encounter. Like the Borg, assimilation usually means adding their cultural and technological distinctiveness to your own.

But the real culprit is not just guns, germs and steel as Diamond points out, but militarisation itself. An unmilitarised society doesn't stand a chance in hell against an army. And odds are, militarised societies have writing, because there's a lot of accounting in an army.

Now. You see. You've done tickled a passion of mine. I need to slow down before I grampa at the fireside myself into a yarn spinning coma Cool

Hey, NS.

Memes rule Cool

If you ever have any questions, I'm right here.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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