Re: Origin of Religion (bounce, resend)

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Fri 03 Jan 2003 - 15:47:27 GMT

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    <> at Thu, 26 Dec 2002 15:30:27 -0500 At 08:16 AM 26/12/02 -0500, Ray Recchia wrote:
    >>I have been thinking about this a *long* time. While I think "religions"
    >>are helpful symbiotes, they evolved from dangerous, sometimes fatal cults
    >>which *are* memetic parasites. (Typically takes about 300 years.)
    >>The evolution of parasites into symbiotes is a common story in evolution
    >>so this is not a surprise.
    >>Keith Henson
    >That's an interesting hypothesis. So would it apply to Christianity and

    Of course.

    >If so could you explain the particulars? If not, why not?.

    Memes and genes are involved in co-evolution. A meme that simply kills the people it infects or prevents them from breeding dies out. Shakers are the type example. Really intense cult beliefs often interfere with human reproduction, classic being a celibate priesthood. Over time this may be breeding people who are more resistant to intense cult beliefs. Over generations the intense strictures of cults typically mellow out. Consider the Methodists. In Calvin's time they were as nasty a cult as you are likely find. Calvin had at least 18 people hanged, something cult leaders dream about. Now Methodists (and the others descended from Calvin's version of Christianity) have lost most of the intensity.

    >Mormonism is now about 150 years old which would suggest that it currently
    >is parasitic and is likely to remain so for the next 150 years. How would
    >you support application of your hypothesis in that case?

    Evolution doesn't work that way. In spite of particularity of genes, there are so many influencing a specific trait that for a lot of purposes you can consider traits to be smooth functions. The evolution of a parasite into a mutualistic symbiote happens by tiny steps. Memes change by perhaps even finer steps than genes. The very first thing a parasite does is to protect its host from other parasites. I think this is a feature of religions and similar memes. Even though I consider scientology to be a vicious mental parasite that saps the life energies of those it infests, I believe it has some protective value by keeping those it infests out of even worse cults, such as the poison gas cult, or Heaven's Gate. A religious meme that fills up a persons "religious meme receptor" site without costing much, but prevents the person from joining a cult where they whack off their balls definitely a good idea (from their genes' viewpoint).

    Mormonism, which I consider about half way between a cult and a religion, still has a lot of cult characteristics in it. But it is a good deal less vicious now than it was in the past. It has also been updated by continuing revelation to get rid of the more politically obnoxious holdovers from its time of origin. Also, Mormonism is more or less pointed in the same direction as human genes. In the modern world of small families this may be as much a disadvantage as an advantage.

    The subject is complex and could really use some modeling.

    Keith Henson

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