Susan Blackmore: religion is not a virus

November 8, 2010 | By | 4 Replies More

Susan Blackmore recently announced that evidence regarding the higher birth rates among religious believers has convinced her that religion is not a virus.

Data from 82 countries showed almost a straight line plot of the number of children against the frequency of religious worship, with those who worship more than once a week averaging 2.5 children and those who never worship only 1.7 – again below replacement rate.

Blackmore has thus renounced her previous view that religions are maladaptive:

All this suggests that religious memes are adaptive rather than viral from the point of view of human genes, but could they still be viral from our individual or societal point of view? Apparently not, given data suggesting that religious people are happier and possibly even healthier than secularists. . . . So it seems I was wrong and the idea of religions as “viruses of the mind” may have had its day . . . unless we twist the concept of a “virus” to include something helpful and adaptive to its host as well as something harmful, it simply does not apply.

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Category: Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (4)

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  1. TheThinkingMan says:

    I wonder what Richard Dawkins would have to say about this.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      TheThinkingMan: I am also curious about what Richard Dawkins would say. If reproductive success is the gold standard, it would seem that (many forms of) religion are adaptive. I'm not sure that it's simply a matter of counting the babies. I would think that it would be about making babies who will successfully make more babies, who will make more babies. To the extent that biological success means something other than reproductive success, it starts sounding less biological.

      If you see any reaction by Dawkins, let me know. I'll also keep my eyes open.

  2. TheThinkingMan says:

    I am not so much interested in his opinion concerning the apparently Biological successes of religious belief but more on the idea that Religious ideals are not destructive to society as a whole, which is ultimately his major premise in "The God Delusion."

    He seems more than willing to knock down any idea that religion can be helpful towards society, even stating numerous times that Atheists are generally more intelligent and therefore even better than theists or those who "Don't believe in God, but believe in belief."

    I am just interested to see if he agrees with the premise that many with religious ideals are better of psychologically and emotionally than others. I am also curious as to the legitimacy of this statement, statistically.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      TheThinkingMan: Every bit of research I've seen shows religious believers to be more "satisfied" with their lives than non-believers. See here, for example. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7302609.stm I do need to look into these studies further. To complicate things, it might be that intellectual satisfaction doesn't correlate well with many measures of "life satisfaction." Most intellectuals I know drive themselves hard intellectually, and their friends and family wonder why they push so hard, rather than sitting back watching more TV and eating ice cream. Most of us wouldn't have it any other way, however. Our intellectual pain brings an ineffable pleasure that, perhaps, doesn't show up on typical surveys.

      I have other concerns about those tests too. But I must admit that believers almost always come out better than non-believers. Which makes me unsatisfied, of course. Damned self-perpetuating tests!

      Therefore, I'm much like you when it comes to these tests–skeptical and curious. To answer your question, I don't know what Dawkins thinks of them, and I would be interested in knowing that too.

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