Practical Memetics

From: Chris Taylor (
Date: Mon 23 Jan 2006 - 10:39:53 GMT

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    I found myself in a list of people who are on the 'declared atheist' side; now this I of course do not contest, but the follow up was that I therefore think that religion should not be taught to children, but...

    Preamble: We have seen Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy put in cameos here of late, and they are relevant to my point: I actually favour their inclusion in child rearing for a principled reason; essentially to inoculate kids with some attenuated cultural confectionery in preparation to face a rather false world where stylised rituals are very common (and clearly these little occasions are key to our well being whether
    'principled' or contrived). Now that's a minor point but I feel compelled to demonstrate that the post-hoc rationalisation of my accidental self is holding together :)

    Anyway I favour inoculating kids with religion because, given that it is a little early in life to be dealing with Kant and Bentham, it provides a moral code that can be enforced based on a believable fiction (forgive me Kate...). Sloughing this carapace later in life is usually unproblematic as I'm sure the other atheists would agree; in fact there is more than a frisson of excitment to be had in realising that fundamental existence is completely baffling! However (the clincher), what I've found in my self analysis (not very deep) is that I spend most of the time firming up my predispositions with rational argument and this was true of morality. Mostly because of the way I was raised, but probably in part because of the code I got through my religious education, I ended up moral (mostly), then cast about for a rational basis for that, which I found through philosphy and evolutionary biology (as applied both in biology and memetics).

    So (to go back to the subject line) the point is that different memes are valuable at different times in mental development: Each of the memes that goes into and out of our selves has an effect on the environment (all-meme) and substance of subsequent memes (whether from outside or from recombination of residents). When microbes are used for bioremediation, we do not want that to be the climax fauna for that environment; they prepare the way for other tenants. Religious memes can help make a child moral and whether retained or cast off, their imprint is indeed lasting, but I'd argue broadly speaking beneficial (qualified by all the observations about nutcase extremists).

    Cheers, Chris.

    P.S. In court, swearing on the bible doesn't seem to stop believers lying. And anyway it is an archaic ritual; a little drama to make you more aware of the impac of lying than signing a declararion that you know what perjury is would do.


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