Is belief in God a virus?

Evolutionary psychology is the attempt to explain human culture through Darwin's "survival of the fittest." It's a belief that every change in an individual's thought or a society's norm is accidental, and those ideas that are the "fittest" survive and thrive. An individual idea is called a "meme," as analogous to the genetic data found in a gene. A cluster of "memes," which could manifest as a philosophy, a belief system, or preference for a certain fashion style, does not grow out of those ideas that make the most sense, but out of those which are the most durable and can spread easily. People who "carry the meme," or have absorbed the idea into their worldview, are called "vectors" and spread the meme to others through speech, writing, and example.

The concept of the "meme" is a model. A model is a group of beliefs that appear to explain how something works—and does so well enough that it can accurately predict future events. Pure science does not always search for truth because there are so many unknowns that if a scientist were to declare something to be "true" one day, they would lose all credibility the next when a more accurate observation was made. The meme is a model that appears to accurately describe human nature and the spread of ideas. It also shares some characteristics with the gene: Ideas are generally passed on from parent to child. The meme that is most prevalent is that which spreads the easiest—not the one that is actually most useful. And, like genes, memes can spread even if they are harmful to the host who carries them.

In the development and application of any model, no matter how acutely the researcher applies the scientific method, certain assumptions must be made. Those assumptions may be in the form of another, more established model, like Newtonian physics, or a fluid, less-proven model, like quantum physics. The least scientific assumption is that which is based on personal bias. This bias may be supported by evidence, but by its nature it either isn't testable or it is too incomplete to accurately predict future events. It is chosen for convenience or emotion, not for objectivity.

One of the most influential assumptions in scientific research is that regarding the existence of God. Creationists assume that God exists. Many scientists believe the data is inconclusive but allow that evidence shows He might. Adamant atheists begin with the assumption that God does not exist, and attempt to explain the physical data in light of that assumption. (How "adamant"? Adamant enough to insist the non-existence of God is "truth.")

The reasons for not believing in God vary. Some are so enamored with science or their own abilities that they want to figure it all out on their own; they don't want God to get in the way. Some consciously reject God because they don't like what He has to say or what He tells them they should do. Others, too many others, did believe in God once. But abuse from and disappointment with people and churches who claimed to be godly caused them to pull away. They connected the harshness of their childhood congregation and clergy with the God of the Old Testament, and refused to delve deeper into the mysteries of grace.

Whatever the reason for their disbelief, adamant atheists who wish to spread the applicability of Darwin's natural selection into the softer sciences of psychology, sociology, and anthropology have built on the concept of the meme as a belief-spreader and applied it to belief in God and participation in religion. They do not use the metaphor for genetic code, however. For (in their view) the malicious, non-intrinsic world of religion, they call on the malicious, non-intrinsic virus. The virus is a damaging force that enters through outside sources and uses the subject's innate nature to reproduce, infect, damage, and even kill. This, they say, is a suitable metaphor for the spread and proliferation of religion.

Memes and mind viruses are not science. They are not even a cohesive philosophy. But the idea does "tickle the ears" (2 Timothy 4:3 NASB). It is an ill-formed model of the way religion and belief in God works. For those who don't want to believe in God, it provides justification and support to do what they want to do. It also, in their minds, explains that the origin of religion was to comfort scared, ignorant people, and that religion is the cause of much of the evil in the world.

But the idea of the God virus offers no proof, logical or scientific, for its point of view. If people needed comfort, they wouldn't have invented the malicious, psychopathic, abusive god that adamant atheists believe inhabits the Bible. And the supposed benignity of atheism has yet to explain how Stalin and Pol Pot were able to infuse fear and terror over thousands without the use of religion. Atheists do have a point, however, about the potential harm of manmade religion. Whether believers are speaking to a child or an adult, we should preach "Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2)—the true theology of the Bible—and de-emphasize manmade rites that have nothing to do with "true religion" (Matthew 23:4; James 1:27).

The remainder of the adamant atheist's argument dissolves into contradiction. There is no manmade worldview—political, social, religious, scientific, or other—that is able to completely and accurately describe the truth of the universe. None of us thinks that clearly. And, yes, theists do begin with the assumption that God exists and interpret their daily experiences–scientific and personal—through that filter. But starting with the assumption that God doesn't exist is just as influential on one's worldview and actually less qualified to fit the evidence.

Once the passion and the "deep enough voice" (Colossians 2:23, The Message) are filtered away, the "God virus" leaves very little logic to argue. Much of the argument against religion makes no sense to those who believe. The stance that it is unnecessary and even unhealthy to save sex for marriage holds no water theologically or psychologically. (Although it can be conceded that some attitudes and religious training regarding sex can cause great harm.) Adamant atheists also claim religions have misguided priorities because they emphasize their belief system over social causes. Even dismissing the thousands of church-supported orphanages, hospitals, and social ministries, as well as the emphasis the Bible places on caring for others (Luke 10:30-37; Matthew 10:42), it should come as no surprise that organizations designed to teach their beliefs would be designed to make teaching a priority. When a believer thinks they know the truth about God and humanity, it is natural for them to want to tell others—even while providing meals, homes, and family.

Calling religion and belief in God a "virus" is a convenient way to emotionally discredit spiritual beliefs and marginalize believers. It is a justification for rejecting God, but it's also a comfort for those who have walked away from faith because of abuse experienced by the hand of those who claimed to be devout (Ezekiel 34; Matthew 23:6-7). To cause another to stumble because of disobedience is one of the worst sins a believer can commit (Matthew 18:5-7). We cannot convince the adamant atheist (Psalm 14:1, 53:1). And we can only have limited effect on how an atheist sees the manifestation of Christianity as a culture. But we can influence how others see Christ in us (2 Corinthians 13:5; James 1:22-25). One of the defining characteristics of the mythical meme is that it is most likely believed if it is easy to be believed. We can choose what we believe about Christianity—is it filled with grace and love, or legalism and shame? When we live out grace and love, others will find it easier to believe, as well.

Related Truth:

Is faith in God a crutch?

Can the existence of God be proven?

How does the cosmological argument support the existence of God?

How does the teleological argument support the existence of God?

How does the moral argument support the existence of God?

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