CPBD 047: Darrel Ray – The God Virus

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 16, 2010 in Podcast

(Listen to other episodes of Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot here.)

Today I interview psychologist Darrel Ray. Among other things, we discuss:

  • How religion functions as a virus
  • How religion exploits the guilt cycle
  • Religion and sexual guilt
  • How to protect your kids from the god virus

Download CPBD episode 047 with Darrel Ray. Total time is 38:27.

darrel rayDarrel Ray links:

Links for things we discussed:

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Jscottkill June 16, 2010 at 9:36 am

I’m not sure what is so unique about the “God Virus.” It seems to me that many controlling ideas might be described this way. People who hold a particular political ideology or another behave just as if they were infected with a virus as Ray describes them–they just happen to have a “Communist Virus” or “Libertarian Virus,” etc. Most people get their political ideas when they are young, they are able to criticize other views but not their own, etc. It would seem, by singling out religions notions, Ray is painting a very uneven and biased picture of how all ideologies work.

Even Freethought might be described as a “virus.” How many freethinkers have ready responses to all the traditional theistic arguments without being able to coherently construct an alternative theory of reality? Is this because they have built up the “anti-bodies” Ray describes? The metaphor works for all ideas, not just religious ones.

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Rob June 16, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Jscottkill,

Ray says early on that the metaphor does not only apply to religions, but other ideologies as well.

——

I think this metaphor is most useful when you realize how religions must evolve to survive. You won’t find many Christians defending slavery by pointing to the bible, but you used to.

That said, what bothers me about this metaphor is that it can be a conversation stopper. I read this book a while back, and I think he says that engaging with believers is pointless, as their brains are so addled by the virus that they are immune to reason. Perhaps this is true of some, but I for one want to have the conversation.

Also, making this claim is similar to the Christians who claim atheists are unable to reason because their minds are so corrupted by sin.

So, both of these approaches are unfalsifiable conversation stoppers. Taken to the extreme the metaphor is counterproductive.

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Martin June 16, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Jscottkill is correct. So-called “freethought” seems to me to be just the same. How many times do I hear the meme that “it’s not possible to prove a negative so I don’t need to provide an argument” from atheists? They just parrot it from someone else, and it spreads just like a virus.

I think this virus idea is universal to almost everyone.

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Bill Maher June 16, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Martin,

Demanding evidence of a negative is a logical fallacy. I understand the concern towards metaphysical naturalism though.

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Haecceitas June 16, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Bill Maher,

It’s not always a logical fallacy. It’s only a fallacy if one argues that in the absence of a proof for the negative, the positive must be true. Especially, it’s not a fallacy to demand evidence after someone has presented a negative claim like “God does not exist”. Even if it’s impossible to prove a negative (which isn’t true in all cases), that just shows that one shouldn’t make such claims.

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lukeprog June 16, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Haecceitas,

What does it mean to ask for evidence of the non-existence of fairies? Of elves? Of magical flying teapots behind Pluto?

Is such evidence required in order to justify belief in the non-existence of fairies? Of elves? Of magical flying teapots behind Pluto?

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Atheist.pig June 16, 2010 at 5:47 pm

I think this virus idea is universal to almost everyone.

Your right Martin, of course its universal to everyone. Dawkins’ idea of the meme applies to every idea whether true or not. People think of viruses as necessarily bad but as we know some are good, some are neutral, and some are harmful. Its a fantastic metaphor for explaining culture in general but especially religion. But we can distinguish between true memes, false memes, good memes, neutral memes, etc.

Think of the “meme” that Barack Obama wasn’t born in America. This is false and potentially harmful. It parasitizes the hosts brain and spreads nonetheless.

Then think of the “meme” that water is the chemical substance with chemical formula H2O. This is true and could be considered good or neutral.

Religious memes can be good, neutral, or harmful.

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Martin June 16, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Bill Maher,

Demanding evidence of a negative is a logical fallacy.

Interesting that when professional atheist philosophers write about how God does not exist because of the problem of evil, or the argument for non-belief, or the omniscence paradox, or the conflict between ominpotence and free will, or the paradox of divine justice and divine mercy, that they are engaging in logical fallacies.

How did they get their PhDs? Maybe you could set them straight…

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Justfinethanks June 16, 2010 at 7:32 pm

Interesting that when professional atheist philosophers write about how God does not exist because of the problem of evil, or the argument for non-belief, or the omniscence paradox, or the conflict between ominpotence and free will, or the paradox of divine justice and divine mercy, that they are engaging in logical fallacies.

You’re a bit confused. Just because it is rational to disbelieve in some things based on nothing more than a lack of positive evidence doesn’t mean it’s impossible to provide evidence against such a thing.

For example, the existence of a Mermaid is biologically impossible, because it violates the nested hierarchy within taxonomy. And therefore, we can actually provide an argument against such a being.

However, even if I was not able to provide evidence against mermaids, I would be rational in rejecting the existence of it based upon nothing more than the weak state of positive evidence for merpeople. In fact, even if arguments against merpeople totally failed, I would still be rational in rejecting their existence.

And so it may be the same with God.

Basically, it’s perfectly legitimate to provide evidence against the God hypothesis. However, it’s not legitimate to demand arguments or to conclude that, should all such arguments fail, that this gives us any reason to believe in the falsity of atheism or the truth of theism.

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Justfinethanks June 16, 2010 at 7:50 pm

While I do think the “negative atheism” is a perfectly legitimate position to hold, I really wish more atheists would at least be somewhat aware of the arguments against the coherence of the God concept.

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Rob June 16, 2010 at 8:01 pm

It is only possible to demonstrate the likely non-existence of God if the theist is willing to adhere to a concept with certain well-defined properties. But that is rare indeed. All the theist has to do is play the mystery card. So in that situation, the non-believer is forced to say “I can’t disprove a god with mysterious properties.” And the theist thinks that’s a win. LOL.

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Martin June 16, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Justfinethanks,

I totally disagree.

Imagine that you were born only a few hours ago, assuming that you have the ability to speak fluent English but not yet having any facts about the universe in which you live.

If someone postulated mermaids to you and failed to make a strong positive case for them, you still would have absolutely no way of knowing whether they exist or not. It is only after you learn facts about the world (as you say, the nested hierarchy, among others) and build a positive case against them that you can take the position that they do not exist.

Russel’s Teapot is another one. I don’t believe in it not because no one has made a good case for it, but because I have good arguments against it: neither Americans nor Soviets have sent a ship out that far, and matter does not spontaneously organize itself into teapot shapes.

Thanks for the PDF.

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Bill Maher June 16, 2010 at 11:07 pm

JFT,

I know a good bit of arguments against god. I think they vary in potency. Some succeed IMO and some don’t.

Martin,

You are just being silly. Of course I can give negative evidence for many things that aren’t real. It is just not required when the arguments for the thing are so terrible.

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Haecceitas June 16, 2010 at 11:53 pm

“What does it mean to ask for evidence of the non-existence of fairies? Of elves? Of magical flying teapots behind Pluto?

The evidence could come in many forms, but much of it is perhaps better characterized as “reasons for” or “considerations for” than “evidence for” (I take the latter to imply more specificity/particularity whereas the former ones can be more general in nature). So I can reformulate my claim as “it is not always fallacious to ask for reasons for a negative claim”.

Take the elf hypothesis. Depending on the exact definitions given for elves, it may be the case that the elf hypothesis would predict more positive evidence than we actually have and this tends to count against the hypothesis. So under these circumstances, the absence of evidence could be evidence of absence. The existence of a teapot (at least the non-magical variety) could be verified or falsified some time in the future, but currently we’d have to rely on more general considerations like the intrinsic implausibility of any causal story that would result in the teapot being behind Pluto.

But in some cases, it’s much easier to know what it would be to have reasons for a negative claim (“there are no elephants in this room”, “married bachelors don’t exist”, etc.) You can think of examples of this type just as well as I can. So you can’t possibly mean that all negative claims are such that having evidence for them is very hard or impossible.

“Is such evidence required in order to justify belief in the non-existence of fairies? Of elves? Of magical flying teapots behind Pluto?”

General reasons to disbelieve in some particular claim certainly seem to be required since we seem to be rational in not treating every single negative claim with equal amount of disbelief even in the absence of clear positive evidence. These reasons could be things like considerations about the intrinsic plausibility of the claim either a priori or in light of well-established background beliefs.

Then there’s also the issue that we can reformulate positive claims as negative and vice versa. “There are elfs on our planet” could be reformulated as “our planet is not elfless”.

Anyway, let’s suppose that it really is true that the whole concept of “evidence against” doesn’t make much sense and the only reasonable thing to do is to demand positive evidence or hold that the claim is false in the absence of such evidence. Would it follow that the strong atheist can now hold his/her view by default even in the absence of serious intellectual work? Clearly not. The strong atheist would still have to examine the purported positive evidence that has been presented for theism and (s)he would need to have reasons why this isn’t evidence isn’t sufficient to support the theism.

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Martin June 17, 2010 at 5:04 am

Bill Maher,

Ah, so “terrible” arguments like the ones that atheists have been easily crushing in hundreds of debates with WLC.

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Mark June 17, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Russel’s Teapot is another one. I don’t believe in it not because no one has made a good case for it, but because I have good arguments against it: neither Americans nor Soviets have sent a ship out that far, and matter does not spontaneously organize itself into teapot shapes.

Oh, well, Russell’s teapot is a special teapot that’s always existed (though not always materially) and stands outside the laws of physics. Problem solved!

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TV's Mr. Neil June 17, 2010 at 9:25 pm

While the guest was talking about being exposed to multiple different God concepts, I thought back to my own childhood, and that is indeed the component that made it easy to dismiss religion.

Although, I grew up in a very liberal household when it came to theology. We weren’t raised Christian, but my sister and I were raised with a very generic idea of God. It was almost universalist in nature. We still put the nativity scene out at Christmas, but the meaning was pretty diluted.

I was thinking, though, that some liberal forms of Christianity may be a mutation to resist the sort of immunity phenomenon that he was talking about. Liberal Christianity in particular is not as easily ejected from the mind as other forms. It’s almost like the AIDS of the religion viruses, because liberal theism attacks the immune system directly and reduces the efficacy of multiple exposures.

If you’re a liberal theist, you may view other forms of Christianity as extreme, but at least they’re still Christians. Likewise, you may even see other religions as being different from your own, but at least they worship some being named God, who may, in some way, be the same being you worship. In other words, “We’re all God’s children”.

The infection of the liberal theist mind virus makes other mind viruses seem innocuous.

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dgsinclair June 18, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Jscottkill,

The fact that the meme idea applies to any ideology kind of weakens his underlying assumption that there is something wrong with religion – in fact, in the extreme, he might be arguing for rejection of all ideologies for a sort of absolute relativism with respect to knowledge – a kind of ‘safe’ neutral stance of mandatory ignorance and lack of discrimination.

However, at least, it is useful to recognize that ideologies can often be taught in such a way as to impede and warp our normal epistemological tools, and keep us from determining truth without unfair manipulation or unrecognized a priori biases.

However, I found his arguments similar to evolutionary arguments – really interesting and appealing in their supposed explanatory power, but in real life, entirely useless with respect to determining the truth of what is actually going on, and at worst, so absolutely wrong that it masks the truth – that we were created, not evolved (evolution), and that Jesus is the Savior of mankind, not just a legendary creation of a manipulative idea.

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Rob June 18, 2010 at 2:17 pm

“However, I found his arguments similar to evolutionary arguments – really interesting and appealing in their supposed explanatory power, but in real life, entirely useless with respect to determining the truth of what is actually going on, and at worst, so absolutely wrong that it masks the truth – that we were created, not evolved (evolution), and that Jesus is the Savior of mankind”

Ha Ha ha! Nice Poe. Well played, sir.

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max benser July 29, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Super Speech of Mr. Darrel Ray!!!
1. He talking about Deformationsideology in the Bible!
2. About Deformationsmind in Bibleideology of New Testam.
3. The Bible is a most criminal Book of the World!
4. Mr. Darrel Ray is honestly Person of 21-st Century!
5. I liked his Speech to much, because I know the Bible!
6. He talking in my Name to!!!

Atheist 100%

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max benser July 29, 2010 at 4:48 pm

I admirat Mr. Darrel Ray!!!
1. First, he is honestly Person, he talking about dark Soc.
2. About dark christian Society, about Indoktrination and
3. Churchsmanipulations by Masspeople, not only in U.S.A.,
4. round the World. America need more Mr. Darrels. Because
5. american christian Society is a moral addled!
6. Criminal Bible is a biggest Virus in U.S. Society!
7. Bible is a biggest problem for Education and Culture!
8. And Mr. Darrel therefore talking about corruptionsmind!
9. By black and white people against people!!!
Atheist 100%!

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max benser July 29, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Christian white+black criminal-mindcorruption!
1. Christian Missioners and Priest manipulade with people!
2. People against people in “Name of God.”
3. Mr. Darrel Ray talking about religious Manipulation!
4. People make another people stupid with the Bible!
5. Authority is the Biblecode!
6. Don,t think is most important Code in New Testament!
7. Don,t think, please well be stupid! Jesus Message!
8. Don,t use Your Brain! Matth.5:3.
9. Don,t mess with God and Jesus! Kol2:8.

Atheist!

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M. Nietzsche September 30, 2010 at 8:30 am

Bible, most criminal Book of the World!
1. Every time only Blood and Killing, this is a Bible!
2. Internetbible, or Onlinebible are Killingspropagand!
3. Onlinebiblepedophily, Onlinebiblegenocide!!!
4. Internetbiblecannibalism, Internetbiblerape!
5. Jesus+Moses are the biggest Rapists. Num.31:18.
6. Matth.1:1., Matth.5:48., John 10:30., John 14:6.
7. Internet: Online=God love You! Deut.7:1.

My best Friend is Mr. Darell Ray!!!

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M. Nietzsche September 30, 2010 at 8:33 am

Religious memes can be good, neutral, or harmful. Never!

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prescott October 1, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Jewish Religion is a not neutral!
1. Jewish Religion is a criminal, christian same to!
2. I dont see Diference between Jehova and Hitler!
3. Jehova is a Killer in Old Testament. John 10:30, 14:6.
4. Ideology for Psychopats!
5. New Testament is a Ideology no Logic!
6. The Bible is very good Book for Manipulation!
7. If You want will be stupid, Bible is the best Book
8 for You. This is Inaugurationsbook of Mr. B. Obama,
9. Mr. Clinton, Mr. Bush, Kennedy, Johnson,…

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metal October 14, 2010 at 3:50 pm

What is a Religion,…
Korruption, Manipulation, Money, Indoktrination=War!

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Mademoiselle Jacqueline December 30, 2010 at 8:25 pm

It is man outside of love that corrupts;and manipulates; this is what the spiritual person or scriptural book of new age testement and also the talmud or older versing from supposed prophets or sages says. I grew up christian wondered; and doubted my own indoctrinization(learn how to spell hooked on phonics worked for us) no insult; cuz i cant speel either- tried rebellion, no thought, corrupt thought, positive thinking, atheism, agnostic prospects, self-help books, and also kabbalah, esoteric stuff and tantra dabbeling, estern religion, the occult- and the perceptio n of looking at it that the occult is right and the others are imposters, also majic, read on witchcraft , ancient religions, hinduism, etc. and Zorantrianism, you could say i’m stupid or quack; but i became mentally ill; ( retrobate thoughts, and acted unsensible in many ways) I can’t say why some innocent or moldable people are molested or treated bad, mentally or physically, i can’t explain why some of us get away with the wrong we do and others are unjustly persecuted for their pure acts, or unadulterated character.( thought you would like the religious jargon.. hah, but why does a kernel or seed of a perennial and deciduous seem to die and jus disappear and then resuurect and rise again, oh i’m sorry am i brain washing you with my stuff, but the media can give us perverted and overused ideas that are bodies are jus orifices of pleasure, and we put poison in rationed amounts into our bodie( not judging, i ate dirt granuels and liquified raw meat; { told you i lost my mind, was it choice, an evil tantra influencial spirit, my own creative lie, a bush medicine misunderstood secret, a slick way to sabotage self and rebell;, dumb idea- or a chemical imballance, all of the above, or none of these possibilities; you tell me. But what i do know is this; their is love and their is hate. Two Gods, a hurtful controlling searing the conscious, hurting others for power or sadisism, i.e. profane words and torcherous ways, and one that is whooooing, slow to indignation and punishment, lets us falll on our faces and ffigure it out or become stuck, calloused, egotistical, hard hearted, and selfish or loathing. Schemes to show us good things but doesn’t jus let them fall in our laps. whaiyt eminnuteuiwhl;e;trwsd i made a new ideology; ie;n esl xmlsd msdln’;as’g'awelskgjasldtjpwoaeit that we are the powers that choose. So we are the gods and goddesses; however i didn’t put my daddy’s and mommy’s spermoah and oviuym together or cause them to copulate, So Lets say all the god and goddess stuff is made up; then why is nature a subtle mirror to the divine; and whom the heck do you think created the law of gravity and thermodynamics?????? Oh, thats right these things jus popped up like spam does, or an unwanted computer add. No there is a big comptroller- or C+++++ designer; we are the ones that fuck things up with our viruses, and our ” opinions”

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jhkawsdtkuiret;|}E)(T80|w934u5 OASejkr qwkle;apsory December 30, 2010 at 8:31 pm

God is Love. We choose whether or not we want to operate by that protocol or some other operating system.

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