RE: Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Wed Apr 25 2001 - 13:51:57 BST

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    From: Vincent Campbell <>
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    Subject: RE: Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science
    Date: Wed, 25 Apr 2001 13:51:57 +0100
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            << (BTW, for me, a difference is that science has a non-arbitrary
    > relationship to reality in terms of trying to examine questions of
    > causality,
    > demonstrable in its effectiveness in providing solutions to problems,
    > and offering new capacities for human behaviour.)>>
            <All of which is true for almost any religion you can shake your
    > proverbial stick at. As far as I know, no religions have arbitrary
    > relationship with reality, their examinations of causality can
    > sometimes be very subtle and elegant, and as I previously stated, they
    > *do* produce solutions to problems while offering new capacities for
    > human behaviour (look at my already mentioned example of talibans in
    > Afghanistan: they solved the problem (solid, material reminder that
    > there are other religions out there) by ordering soldiers to shoot at
    > Buddha's (isn't that a new capacity for human behavior? How many people
    > can brag that they did *that*?;)..)>
            No, you're completely wrong here. All religions have arbitray
    relationships to reality in terms of things like appropriate dress,
    particular rituals that should be performed, the iconography utilised etc.
    etc. That these choices have material consequences is not in doubt but many
    of them are entirely unrelated to their intended aims. Take the Nazca, for
    example. They appear to have believed that the key to unlocking their most
    precious resource, water, was to devise rituals involving walking both
    animal patterns, and symobloic maps of the local geography (the famous Nazca
    'lines'- and indeed there's a bit more evidence for this reading of the
    lines than vo Daniken's!). Did these practices have any causal relationship
    to whether or not it rained? Of course not. That's not to say that in
    periods of drought, such rituals didn't serve to unite Nazca communities
    together, maintained morale etc. but they could have done all sorts of
    other things that may have equally achieved that goal. Most societies have
    these kinds rituals- important in their consequences- but arbitrary in and
    of themselves. A good, non-religious, one that springs to mind is the

            Another, religious example, would be the iconography of
    Christianity. Should one use a cross or a fish symbol? Jesus used the
    latter, there's not even any explicit evidence that Jesus was crucified on a
    cross, per se, it might have been a tree, with a beam across the top of it.
    The decision is not necessarily inconsequential (it brings to mind Bill
    Hicks' joke about it might a bit tasteless for followers to wear crosses
    should jesus ever return- a bit like fans of JFK meeting the family wearing
    little rifle pendants), but it is arguably arbitrary.

            Religions are full of them, but what's important is that religions
    often make claims about the purposes and consequences of ritual and beliefs
    that are in contradiction of reality as it is normally experienced (e.g.
    virgin births, transubstantiation etc.). Science makes claims that, at the
    very least, endeavour to be consonant with reality- and there are means by
    which to evaluate those claims that are non-arbitrary (Phoebe from 'Friends'
    and the line 'don't get me started on gravity' springs to mind). Religions
    deny and obfuscate evaluation of their claims, and ignore, reject or coerce
    and suppress challenges to them. Sometimes science does these things as
    well, of course, but doing so is essentially bad science, whereas it's
    typical religious behaviour.

            Re: the Taliban example. Of course they haven't got a problem with
    alternative faiths, one of the supposed motives behind the destruction,
    because they simply imprison, shoot or exile anyone who doesn't accept their
    ridiculous misreading of the Koran (or exactly accurate reading of it, in
    some ways it doesn't really matter because interpreting religious texts is
    an arbitrary practice too). The decision to blow up the Bhudda statues was
    entirely arbitrary- thet felt like blowing something up and did so. What do
    you mean by 'new capacity for human behaviour'? Destruction of opposing
    faiths' iconography is central to most faiths' histories, nothing new there.


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