There’s some truth to this; I’m certainly no Dawkins
scholar. Still, whatever disclaimers Dawkins makes, he does seem to subscribe to what I believe is the fundamental
confusion of many anti-theists: the idea that religion is the cause of conflicts that involve religion. That’s the
presupposition of his assertion that if it weren’t for religion there would be
no Israeli-Palestinian conflicta belief that strikes me as dangerously naïve
for reasons I’ve spelled out elsewhere.
Regarding my argument that Dawkins and Dennett are tendentious in using the
term “virus” for religious belief, a reader writes:
Has anyone considered the possibility that the use of the term "virus"
to describe religion has been taken up not to illustrate the harmful effect of
religion but rather to parallel the use of the term "computer virus"
to describe those bits of code that command computer to spread copies of
themselves? In 1976, it might have been a stretch to call religion a
virus, because at that time, the only example of a virus was a DNA/RNA-based
biochemical one. Thirty years and a computer revolution later, everyone
has an expanded sense of what the word virus can mean, and the metaphorical
extension of the word is helpful in clarifying the logic of the
situation. And most of us are aware that not all computer viruses are
harmful, that some are just playful. So when I hear religion referred to
as a virus of the mind, my assumption is not that religion is being described
as harmful, but that it is able to command successfully its own replication.
Actually, I think computer users overwhelmingly think of viruses as bad things.
But, intriguingly, the same reader adds:
I suggest doing a Google search on "spread
virally". Most of the hits seems to be about non-harmful
replication of ideas. I don't think that the term "virus" as it
is used these days has the negative connotations that Wright thinks it does.
This is a better example of a usage with non-negative connotations--though,
interestingly (and I’m not sure what to make of this) it’s the adjectival form“viral”--that here has the
most positive connotations. If you describe a marketing technique that spreads
virally as a “virus,” it seems to me to then acquire a dollop of negativity.
Another reader writes:
Dawkins is first and foremost an evolutionary biologist. His strong
opinions on the existence of god flow from his extensive knowledge of biology
and genetics, not the other way around. When Dawkins came up with his
"meme" idea thirty-some years ago it was not conceived as a tool to
bash religion with. It's an analogy between how genes propagate through
populations and how ideas propagate in and between the minds of people.
Any ideas. My point is that when Dawkins says a meme is like a virus,
he's not just name-calling. He really means that it is like a virus in
some specific details - i.e., how it propagates through the population.
I guess my point is that both Dawkins (in The Blind Watchmaker and The Selfish
Gene) and Dennett (in Breaking The Spell - an entire book about this specific
topic) consider the effects of religion on society in great depth. They
both readily acknowledge the many positive aspects of religion. I'm not
sure where Robert is quoting the "virus" statements from, but he
makes it seem like this is a term they are throwing around willy-nilly without
context. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Of course, the big point that any atheist worth his salt
will always bring up now, and which every apologist will try to twist away from
by changing the subject, is that whether religion has positive effects on
individuals or society tells us nothing about whether god exists.
Point taken. But it also works the other way around: Some
atheists, having concluded that religion is wrong in the sense of mistaken,
move too easily to the conclusion that it’s wrong in the sense of having bad
OK, enough Godtalk. Let's close with some Dogtalk. I give you Frazier, a dog so cute as to constitute a one-animal argument for the existence of God. If you'd like to be Dog's best friend, here's where you start.