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The Selfish Meme? 
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Post The Selfish Meme?
I got into a row on another forum about religion. Yeah, I know, so what else is new. Specifically, I was arguing against the idea being put forth that Islam is not a religion, at least not by Judeo-Christian standards. I thought this was a bunch of nonsense. I wasn't arguing against Islam being a catalyst of violence. I was saying that the arguments against islam being a religion could easily have been applied to Christianity in the past. I said if Islam isn't a religion, then neither was Christianity 500 years ago.

My ideas were not well received on this other forum. And to make a long story short, I had to remove myself from those premises. But a couple of days ago, I realized the problem. Without even realizing it, I was (and still am) thinking of religion from a meme-centric perspective. Just as Dawkins advocates a gene-centric perspective in the study of biological evolution, it seems that Wright in his Evolution of God is really using a meme-centric perspective. I'd be really interested in hearing what others in this forum think about that.

From a meme-centric perspective, we can see that all religious ideas are virulent. And those that appeal to the masses are propagated and those that don't are not propagated. Islam resonates with Muslims—and especially those on the fringe—precisely because the political and economic structures in those areas of the world are conducive to it. It takes a culture to raise a religion. Religion isn't an autonomous thing. We made it. It comes from us. Of course it directly reflects the values and habits and politics and psychoses of its host (culture). As a culture changes it will reinterpret its religious texts or focus selectively on those parts that resonate. Christians do that a great deal, especially with those offensive parts of the Old Testament.

As for Islam, I don't know enough about that religion to know if it can evolve to the point where it is not a catalyst for violence or whether it can ever be compatible with other religions. I suspect Wright will suggest that it will evolve because the conflict is becoming a non zero-sum scenario.


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Thu Sep 23, 2010 11:02 am
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Post Re: The Selfish Meme?
A meme centric perspective is the correct one, at least mostly. The ideas have contagious properties. A couple of factors that complicate things are that each set if ideas pulls from a book. That can influence the zeitgeist in unpredictable ways. The Muslim book is more violent than the Christian one, but it is a matter of degree, not category. Christians rationalized violence as well in the past. Another factor like you've said is the local government. Without separation of church and state, men's evil bubbles to the surface.

What's really silly is the attempt to move the goalposts when it comes to defining religions. Apologists sometimes see the word as representative of something holy, so want to restrict what the word applies to. In other words, if Islam is a religion and it is evil, then what does that make Christianity, which is also a religion? The trick is to redefine one of the two to abort the association. Another reason to equivocate is if there are, for example, 3 religions, which have mutually exclusive belief systems. So only one of the three can be true. Well, if you're a fanatic for one of them, you either need to defy the odds or attempt to redefine your belief system so that it's no longer in competition with the other two.

Religion is a word like animal or plant. It is categorically broad, because(hold your breath), it's meant to reference a category of belief systems. People attempting to redefine away from the word on either side of the fence are simply practicing failed apologetics.



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Thu Sep 23, 2010 11:13 am
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Post Re: The Selfish Meme?
geo wrote:
I got into a row on another forum about religion. Yeah, I know, so what else is new. Specifically, I was arguing against the idea being put forth that Islam is not a religion, at least not by Judeo-Christian standards. I thought this was a bunch of nonsense. I wasn't arguing against Islam being a catalyst of violence. I was saying that the arguments against islam being a religion could easily have been applied to Christianity in the past. I said if Islam isn't a religion, then neither was Christianity 500 years ago.

My ideas were not well received on this other forum. And to make a long story short, I had to remove myself from those premises. But a couple of days ago, I realized the problem. Without even realizing it, I was (and still am) thinking of religion from a meme-centric perspective. Just as Dawkins advocates a gene-centric perspective in the study of biological evolution, it seems that Wright in his Evolution of God is really using a meme-centric perspective. I'd be really interested in hearing what others in this forum think about that.

From a meme-centric perspective, we can see that all religious ideas are virulent. And those that appeal to the masses are propagated and those that don't are not propagated. Islam resonates with Muslims—and especially those on the fringe—precisely because the political and economic structures in those areas of the world are conducive to it. It takes a culture to raise a religion. Religion isn't an autonomous thing. We made it. It comes from us. Of course it directly reflects the values and habits and politics and psychoses of its host (culture). As a culture changes it will reinterpret its religious texts or focus selectively on those parts that resonate. Christians do that a great deal, especially with those offensive parts of the Old Testament.

As for Islam, I don't know enough about that religion to know if it can evolve to the point where it is not a catalyst for violence or whether it can ever be compatible with other religions. I suspect Wright will suggest that it will evolve because the conflict is becoming a non zero-sum scenario.


It should be of immense comfort and satisfaction to you to know that I agree emphatically with you that Islam is most definitely a religion. I am unable to imagine on what basis a contraray argument would be constructed.

I'm sure you will sleep well tonight.


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- G.K. Chesterton


Thu Sep 23, 2010 11:30 am
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Post Re: The Selfish Meme?
Interbane wrote:
A meme centric perspective is the correct one, at least mostly. The ideas have contagious properties. A couple of factors that complicate things are that each set if ideas pulls from a book. That can influence the zeitgeist in unpredictable ways. The Muslim book is more violent than the Christian one, but it is a matter of degree, not category. Christians rationalized violence as well in the past. Another factor like you've said is the local government. Without separation of church and state, men's evil bubbles to the surface.

What's really silly is the attempt to move the goalposts when it comes to defining religions. Apologists sometimes see the word as representative of something holy, so want to restrict what the word applies to. In other words, if Islam is a religion and it is evil, then what does that make Christianity, which is also a religion? The trick is to redefine one of the two to abort the association. Another reason to equivocate is if there are, for example, 3 religions, which have mutually exclusive belief systems. So only one of the three can be true. Well, if you're a fanatic for one of them, you either need to defy the odds or attempt to redefine your belief system so that it's no longer in competition with the other two.

Religion is a word like animal or plant. It is categorically broad, because(hold your breath), it's meant to reference a category of belief systems. People attempting to redefine away from the word on either side of the fence are simply practicing failed apologetics.


It does seem like moving the goalposts. These folks on this other forum were redefining religion in order to frame their own in a more positive light. Whereas I tend to lump religions together. I see no reason to give special treatment to any one religion except to acknowledge that many good things have come out of Christianity. But it's still a belief system and that means that it is only an extension of its culture, thereby reflecting values that already exist. Those values don't come from religion. They come from culture generally.

Remember the necker cube from The Selfish Gene? The meme-centric perspective is a completely different way of looking at religious beliefs and, as such, yields incredible new insight. I think this is a paradigm shift.


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Thu Sep 23, 2010 3:43 pm
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Post Re: The Selfish Meme?
stahrwe wrote:
It should be of immense comfort and satisfaction to you to know that I agree emphatically with you that Islam is most definitely a religion. I am unable to imagine on what basis a contraray argument would be constructed.

I'm sure you will sleep well tonight.


That doesn't surprise me. Your biases come into play only with anything that contradicts your interpretation of the Bible. Lacking that insight cripples your thinking.


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Thu Sep 23, 2010 3:46 pm
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Post Re: The Selfish Meme?
Well, but all parties here agreeing on something...maybe that's worth noting. My bugbear about memes is by now known, I think. Not to flog the topic again, but Wright in The Evolution of God seems to me to present a most un-memic view of religion. I know that the word appears a few times in his index; he seems to make a bow toward the concept. But in his treatment the term seems completely unnecessary. When the emphasis is so much on "facts on the ground," the possibility that we're dealing with viral ideas with some defined, inherent power seems to fade into the background. If the practical needs at the time in terms of politics, economics, or whatever determines the course of religion, then the driver would not seem to be memes at all. We might say that the facts on the ground influences which memes are chosen, but this seems to me a weaslely way out and makes memes superfluous at best.

As far as the evolution of Islam, away from the virulent, violent form it has taken with a minority, Wright sees it as hopeful that scripture doesn't have to forever define a religion--even when there is quite a bit of dangerous stuff in the scripture, as is the case with Islam. The memes in the scripture have little inherent force, or are no match for the human ability to rationalize and selectively attend.


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Thu Sep 23, 2010 6:56 pm
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Post Re: The Selfish Meme?
DWill wrote:
Well, but all parties here agreeing on something...maybe that's worth noting. My bugbear about memes is by now known, I think. Not to flog the topic again, but Wright in The Evolution of God seems to me to present a most un-memic view of religion. I know that the word appears a few times in his index; he seems to make a bow toward the concept. But in his treatment the term seems completely unnecessary. When the emphasis is so much on "facts on the ground," the possibility that we're dealing with viral ideas with some defined, inherent power seems to fade into the background. If the practical needs at the time in terms of politics, economics, or whatever determines the course of religion, then the driver would not seem to be memes at all. We might say that the facts on the ground influences which memes are chosen, but this seems to me a weaslely way out and makes memes superfluous at best.

As far as the evolution of Islam, away from the virulent, violent form it has taken with a minority, Wright sees it as hopeful that scripture doesn't have to forever define a religion--even when there is quite a bit of dangerous stuff in the scripture, as is the case with Islam. The memes in the scripture have little inherent force, or are no match for the human ability to rationalize and selectively attend.


To be honest, I have largely ignored your ongoing debate with Robert regarding memes. One of these days I'd like you to spell out for me your resistance to the idea because I came in late and never quite got a handle on it. It might be interesting for us to read and discuss Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine sometime.

It seems to me that Wright examines religious beliefs from both a macro and micro perspective and that the micro perspective is more or less meme-centric. Neither way of looking at religious beliefs is right or wrong per se. But being able to flip back and forth, as with the necker cube, is a potentially paradigmic (is that even a word) way of seeing religion.

The idea that certain religious concepts can be embraced by a culture while other religious concepts from the same religious text can be largely ignored seems very meme-centric to me. It breaks down the larger religious texts into individual memes, a meme being a unit of culture. Many Christians ignore a good part of the Old Testament, but cannot jettison it completely because original sin is so intrinsically tied in with the New Testament's message of salvation. But these days almost nobody pays much attention to the Old Testament. Its God is laughably cartoonish. The New Testament's message of universal love and salvation, on the other hand, remains very appealing to the masses. And Christianity is alive and well, although arguably becoming less relevant. I wonder, at what point is critical mass reached wherein a culture rejects so much of a religion's texts that there's almost nothing left?

Another meme-centric way of examining religion is to examine a belief or tenet outside of its religious context. For example, we can isolate the idea that sex is for procreation only. I have no idea if it says this in the Bible, but certainly many people believe this comes from the Bible and the Catholic Church even goes so far to say birth control is sinful. In a hunter-gatherer society, maybe it was beneficial for the tribe to encourage procreation. Or to really take a gene-centric perspective, we can see that the natural urge to have sex is simply nature's way of propelling genetic material into the next generation and that our early shamans deemed that procreation was God's or the gods' will, essentially creating a religious tenet.

Likewise, you can fairly easily see how the patriarchy "meme" was encouraged in early societies and reinforced in various religious texts. The same with the idea that the shaman had direct contact with the gods and this eventually led to the king being divinely ordained. So I think Wright takes a meme-centric approach to religion all the time simply by isolating certain religious beliefs and examining them within political or economical contexts. Probably atheists naturally look at religion in this way without really thinking about it. As you say, Wright doesn't really talk about memes much. You don't need to refer to memes to examine religious ideas this way and maybe that's where your criticism of memes comes into play.


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Fri Sep 24, 2010 10:05 am
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Post Re: The Selfish Meme?
Quote:
Star wrote:

It should be of immense comfort and satisfaction to you to know that I agree emphatically with you that Islam is most definitely a religion. I am unable to imagine on what basis a contraray argument would be constructed.

I'm sure you will sleep well tonight.


You are doing exactly what those other people were doing, but instead of discrediting Islam as "not a religion" you attempt to elevate christianity as something different, and i am sure you think "better" than religion.

Quote:
I am unable to imagine on what basis a contraray argument would be constructed.


What about the argument you use to rationalize and elevate your own belief?
"Christianity isn't a religion. It's a relationship."

right.


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Have you tried that? Looking for answers?
Or have you been content to be terrified of a thing you know nothing about?

Is this the virtue of faith? To never change your mind: especially when you should?

Young Earth Creationists take offense at the idea that we have a common heritage with other animals. Why is being the descendant of a mud golem any better?


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Fri Sep 24, 2010 10:10 am
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Post Re: The Selfish Meme?
Quote:
Geo,

It takes a culture to raise a religion.


This is a great quote. It implies quite a bit in just a few words.


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In the absence of God, I found Man.
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Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.

Have you tried that? Looking for answers?
Or have you been content to be terrified of a thing you know nothing about?

Is this the virtue of faith? To never change your mind: especially when you should?

Young Earth Creationists take offense at the idea that we have a common heritage with other animals. Why is being the descendant of a mud golem any better?


Fri Sep 24, 2010 10:13 am
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Post Re: The Selfish Meme?
I'm not so sure the Meme Machine would convince Dwill. I had many issues with Susan Blackmore's ideas. She seemed to force the idea more than she should have, and in doing so raised the skepticisms of mine that DWill also seems attuned to. Such as attempting to show that memetics in part drove the evolution of language. Perhaps the practice of mimicry did co-evolve with language, but the presentation was a bit off for me.

The person best able to sell the idea, I think, is Daniel Dennet. He's so pedantically thorough and pragmatic that you wish he'd be more bold sometimes. He seems reluctant to discuss anything which he hasn't devoted thousands of hours of careful consideration towards, and disclaims any presumptions. He doesn't push the idea of memes very far, but he sets a solid base for them. He also gives voice to the myriad problems, such as how different copying fidelity is from genetics, what constitutes a 'discrete' meme, and other technical details of how the evolutionary algorithm applies.

Maybe a new threads specifically for memes? Is there one already?



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Fri Sep 24, 2010 10:15 am
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Post Re: The Selfish Meme?
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You are doing exactly what those other people were doing, but instead of discrediting Islam as "not a religion" you attempt to elevate christianity as something different, and i am sure you think "better" than religion.

------------------------
What about the argument you use to rationalize and elevate your own belief?
"Christianity isn't a religion. It's a relationship."

right.


Oh snap. Nail meet head.



Fri Sep 24, 2010 10:17 am
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Post Re: The Selfish Meme?
Interbane wrote:

The person best able to sell the idea, I think, is Daniel Dennet. He's so pedantically thorough and pragmatic that you wish he'd be more bold sometimes. He seems reluctant to discuss anything which he hasn't devoted thousands of hours of careful consideration towards, and disclaims any presumptions.


Yeah man, I would love to read Dennet's stuff. I read Darwin's Dangerous Idea a long time ago. What book specifically would you recommend?


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Fri Sep 24, 2010 10:26 am
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Post Re: The Selfish Meme?
I think the one I'd recommend most is the one I haven't read yet. :P

He explains memes a bit in the back of "Breaking the Spell", not sure which other book he expands on the idea even more.

http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_dennett_on ... memes.html

The ted talk is a bit too compressed. A book would be better.



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Post Re: The Selfish Meme?
Interbane wrote:
Quote:

You are doing exactly what those other people were doing, but instead of discrediting Islam as "not a religion" you attempt to elevate christianity as something different, and i am sure you think "better" than religion.

------------------------
What about the argument you use to rationalize and elevate your own belief?
"Christianity isn't a religion. It's a relationship."

right.


Oh snap. Nail meet head.


I can't expect any of you to understand because you immerse yourselves in the equivalent of pulp novels when it comes to God, religion and Christianity. TEog is an excellent example. That book has no substance to it. It is self contradictory and full of fluff and speculation.

The point about Islam is that Allah is an impersonal god. One's postion (not relationship to him because that concept is alien to Islam) is based on works (the five pillars of Islam) and even then one's ultimate fate is unknowable. The only exception is Jihad. I realize this is a brief and simplified explation but I really don't want to get bogged down in a discussion of Islam. My point in providing the summary was to contrast it with Christianity. In pure evangelical Christianity there are no works, no five pillars, no requirements. Once a personal relationship is established between the believer and Jesus that's it. No sacrifices, no ritual, no nothing. Ideally, one will mature, become more like Jesus over time, and that yields 'fruit' but that is a benefit, a manifestation and not requirement.


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Post Re: The Selfish Meme?
stahrwe wrote:

I can't expect any of you to understand because you immerse yourselves in the equivalent of pulp novels when it comes to God, religion and Christianity. TEog is an excellent example. That book has no substance to it. It is self contradictory and full of fluff and speculation.


I know, it's so unfeasible. All those, like, words!

When it's so much easier to believe that 6,000 years ago Magic Sky Daddy made the earth and later flooded it, destroying all humans except for Noah, a few friends, and a pair of every single species on the planet, who survived by living on Noah's boat. And then, even later, Magic Sky Daddy sent down his son, Jesus, to save all humans from original sin, a badness caused by Adam and Eve--the very first humans--when they ate an apple in the Garden of Eden.

Yes, so much more believable! So less self-contradictory, and so unfluffy! :P


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MurdockThe Glass Bead Game: A Novel by Hermann HesseA Devil's Chaplain by Richard DawkinsThe Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph CampbellThe Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor DostoyevskyThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainThe Moral Landscape by Sam HarrisThe Decameron by Giovanni BoccaccioThe Road by Cormac McCarthyThe Grand Design by Stephen HawkingThe Evolution of God by Robert WrightThe Tin Drum by Gunter GrassGood Omens by Neil GaimanPredictably Irrational by Dan ArielyThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel by Haruki MurakamiALONE: Orphaned on the Ocean by Richard Logan & Tere Duperrault FassbenderDon Quixote by Miguel De CervantesMusicophilia by Oliver SacksDiary of a Madman and Other Stories by Nikolai GogolThe Passion of the Western Mind by Richard TarnasThe Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le GuinThe Genius of the Beast by Howard BloomAlice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll Empire of Illusion by Chris HedgesThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner The Extended Phenotype by Richard DawkinsSmoke and Mirrors by Neil GaimanThe Selfish Gene by Richard DawkinsWhen Good Thinking Goes Bad by Todd C. RinioloHouse of Leaves by Mark Z. DanielewskiAmerican Gods: A Novel by Neil GaimanPrimates and Philosophers by Frans de WaalThe Enormous Room by E.E. CummingsThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar WildeGod Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher HitchensThe Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama Paradise Lost by John Milton Bad Money by Kevin PhillipsThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson BurnettGodless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists by Dan BarkerThe Things They Carried by Tim O'BrienThe Limits of Power by Andrew BacevichLolita by Vladimir NabokovOrlando by Virginia Woolf On Being Certain by Robert A. Burton50 reasons people give for believing in a god by Guy P. HarrisonWalden: Or, Life in the Woods by Henry David ThoreauExile and the Kingdom by Albert CamusOur Inner Ape by Frans de WaalYour Inner Fish by Neil ShubinNo Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthyThe Age of American Unreason by Susan JacobyTen Theories of Human Nature by Leslie Stevenson & David HabermanHeart of Darkness by Joseph ConradThe Stuff of Thought by Stephen PinkerA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled HosseiniThe Lucifer Effect by Philip ZimbardoResponsibility and Judgment by Hannah ArendtInterventions by Noam ChomskyGodless in America by George A. RickerReligious Expression and the American Constitution by Franklyn S. HaimanDeep Economy by Phil McKibbenThe God Delusion by Richard DawkinsThe Third Chimpanzee by Jared DiamondThe Woman in the Dunes by Abe KoboEvolution vs. Creationism by Eugenie C. ScottThe Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael PollanI, Claudius by Robert GravesBreaking The Spell by Daniel C. DennettA Peace to End All Peace by David FromkinThe Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey NiffeneggerThe End of Faith by Sam HarrisEnder's Game by Orson Scott CardThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark HaddonValue and Virtue in a Godless Universe by Erik J. WielenbergThe March by E. L DoctorowThe Ethical Brain by Michael GazzanigaFreethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan JacobyCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared DiamondThe Battle for God by Karen ArmstrongThe Future of Life by Edward O. WilsonWhat is Good? by A. C. GraylingCivilization and Its Enemies by Lee HarrisPale Blue Dot by Carl SaganHow We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God by Michael ShermerLooking for Spinoza by Antonio DamasioLies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al FrankenThe Red Queen by Matt RidleyThe Blank Slate by Stephen PinkerUnweaving the Rainbow by Richard DawkinsAtheism: A Reader edited by S.T. JoshiGlobal Brain by Howard BloomThe Lucifer Principle by Howard BloomGuns, Germs and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Demon-Haunted World by Carl SaganBury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee BrownFuture Shock by Alvin Toffler

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