Memes are Genes

The idea that people chose their religion is obviously false, at least when looking at non-Western religions. If people chose their religions, we would expect religious beliefs to be basically randomly distributed across the face of the planet. There’d be tons of Neo-Pagans running around in Pakistan, and Hindus in Bogota. There’d be essentially no correlation between parents’ religion and their childrens’ religions, and we could not speak of wide swathes of the planet united into cultural zones with single religious beliefs.

In reality, religion is transmitted so reliably from parent to child and within cultural zones that, outside of parts of the west, it is nearly as reliable as genetic inheritance. You no more expect to find Neo-Pagans in Pakistan than blue eyes, and if you do find a Neo-Pagan in Pakistan, there’s a good chance they *do* have blue eyes, or are otherwise not ethnically Pakistani.

It is of course useful to be able to critique religious beliefs, and I believe that people should critique religious beliefs, but the idea that the average person chooses their relion is nonsense.


4 thoughts on “Memes are Genes

  1. Yup. See also:

    The Atheist Narrative | JayMan’s Blog

    Religion has a genetic character even in the West. Different religions are similar enough to each other (various Protestant sects, say) so that shared environment effects become apparent. But I say if you looked at the parameter space of religious belief (the type of belief they espouse), the c^2 effect goes away.


    • It does–Lutherans are still largely Germans; Episcopalians are English; Catholics are Irish/Italian/Mexicans; Pentecostals are Appalachians, etc. Americans like to think they chose freely to believe what they believe, but they’re generally wrong. But the genetic character is a little less obvious than that of, say, Jews and Palestinians.


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