by Robert Wright
Is religious belief a “virus” of the mind? My post on that question got some blowback from readers who say that the answer is yes; that the effect of belief on believerson the “hosts”and/or their reproductive prospects is sufficiently negative to warrant the term.
What about the millions of people who have died throughout history because of religion? Have the protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland been "flourishing?"
And, in reference to my point about the Catholic ban on contraception having helped Catholics flourish in Darwinian terms, another reader writes:
Is there nothing at all to be said about the potential Darwinian effects of the vow of celibacy taken by priests and nuns?
Both of these are good pointsand neither is inconsistent with my argument. As I said, sometimes the effects of religion are positive and sometimes they’re negative. My point was that when Dan Dennett and Richard Dawkins use the term “virus” to describe religious belief generically, they’re implying that all the effects are bad; the popular connotation of “virus,” after all, is “parasitic.”
However, a couple of other reader emails have convinced me that my proposed alternative term (“symbiont,” which denotes a co-habitant, regardless of whether the effects of the cohabitation are good or bad) has problems of its own, and can be improved on: