RE: HEA report on religion and mental health

Gatherer, D. (
Mon, 18 Oct 1999 09:24:39 +0200

Date: Mon, 18 Oct 1999 09:24:39 +0200
From: "Gatherer, D. (Derek)" <>
Subject: RE: HEA report on religion and mental health
To: "''" <>

The distinction you are drawing between "the level of the individual" and
"the level of the meme" is confusing to me. Individual minds are the
selective environment for memes. Are you implying that religions are
phenotypic expressions of genetic evolution? If so, how do you account for
the success of televangelism?

I don't deny that religion can, in the short term, spread like any other
craze or fad, eg the religious 'revivals' of the early 19th and early 20th
centuries, but in the long-term, those that persist are likely to be
beneficial to those that practice them. That's what I mean by the level of
the individual. I'm not sure to what degree one could say that evolution is
genetic, I admit that:

1) certain neurological phenomena, like temporal lobe epilepsy, can
precipitate changes of character towards religiosity. Of course, exactly
which religion is adopted depends on the cultural background. Some drugs
will do the same sort of thing, if more transiently.
2) some of the twin study data by the Minnesota group points in the
direction of genetic tendencies towards or against religion.
3) Cavalli-Sforza's work on cultural transmission indicates that religion is
primarily maternally transmitted. This might just be a cultural quirk (eg.
to do with mothers perhaps spending more time with infants than fathers,
perhaps), or it may point in the direction of imprinted (genetically
imprinted, not Lorenzian) genes being involved, or even mitochondrial genes
(now I'm in sociobiological guessing territory)

So together it might be possible to make a case for inherent tendencies
towards religion. Presumably these would have to have had some selective
advantage, or else we would all have quite a strong aversion to religion by

This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)