Sunday, February 13, 2011

Talking at UC San Diego Rational Thought on Wednesday

For all of my faithful Southern California readers, I've been invited to speak at Rational Thought at UCSD on Wednesday.
Title:Is Religion's Incredible Hold on Humanity Predictable?
Speaker:Craig A. James, author of The Religion Virus
Date:Wednesday, Feb 16th at 6:00 PM
Location:2nd floor of Price Center West
Eleanor Roosevelt Room
University of California, San Diego
(near intersection of Gilman Drive and Myers Drive)
It's a concept I've been developing for the last few months: the rise of religion isn't surprising at all. Once we understand the basic tenets of cultural evolution, how ideas form, evolve and spread, we discover that religion is an inevitable side-effect of human civilization. It would be surprising to find a society that wasn't religious.

What's more, religion, like all evolving entities, has a tendency to become better and better adapted to its environment – your brain – to the point where it's become very tenacious indeed. Most of the mysteries of the world that first inspired religion have long since been demystified by science and technology, and yet the religious beliefs persist.

I look forward to seeing you there. UCSD rules don't allow me to sell books on campus, but I'll be happy to autograph copies that you bring with you.

See you there!


  1. Craig

    Consider the temporal component of the advance of religious belief. Animism appeared ~ 70,000 years back in S. E. Africa. By 60,000 years ago, ‘modern’ humans (those with spiritual beliefs) began migrating out of Africa in large numbers, displacing all archaic (non-believing) humanity in the process. Belief came first, success followed.

    Organized religion (priests or temples) was found at ~ 11,000 years ago in (present day) Turkey. (
    Civilization appeared (first in Mesopotamia) at about 10,000 years ago with priests and temples. Religion led, civilization followed.

    No organized religion? No written language, no iron working, no cities. No exceptions.
    No organized religion? There are ‘control’ groups yet surviving in our world, in their stone age camps and villages.

    Darwin 101 is quite explicit about the phenomenon: A more competitive variant is likely to dominate the population over time.

    Consider the evidence. You are crusading for a false god, er hypothesis.

  2. Anon – Interesting, but be careful. "Belief came first, success followed" means you're asserting cause and effect. It could equally well be that civilization would have fared better without religion. It seems plausible, but that's a long way from a solid proof of cause and effect.

    I don't understand your closing sentence or what it has to do with my book or lecture.

  3. Craig

    The last line was a joke, or a poke at the false prophesy of your vision, be it in tomb or talk. You have embraced a bad idea and are proselytizing as a true believer.

    The correlation between early human advances and religion is nearly universally acknowledged, though I am in a small but growing number of accepting the causal relationship. Demonstrating cause is problematic for events 70,000 years ago (that appear to have happened only once!), but organized religion arose independently dozens of times throughout the world – everywhere enough people crowded together to form a city, they formed religion first – then their city. Religion did not ‘spread’ to new civilizations, it was a founding requirement. Once founded, both religion and civilization evolved and spread in the traditional Darwinian fashion of competition, though not always violent. Rational folks often chose to change political or religious allegiances when it seemed advantageous.

    Jared Diamond reflects on this necessity in this educational and entertaining video: The Evolution of Religions -

    As for ‘could have fared better?’, Do you see the evidence? Atheism had 2.5 million years to deliver a functional human society. They did not survive into the Upper Paleolithic. Which part of extinct for 30,000 years suggests they were just waiting to get their second wind? There has never been a successful human civilization absent organized religion. There have been many attempts in the last 200 years, all have failed. We know very little of earlier attempts because they mainly failed without a trace.

    J. A. Le Fevre (browser is only allowing Anon?)

  4. J.A. – Have you read my book yet? A quick google reveals that you've criticized other author's books that you never read. You're trying to refute my hypothesis, but I have no hypothesis. The Religion Virus is more like a set of observations. I show my readers a new way of looking at religion. You can't refute observations or refute a way of looking at something – it's either enlightening or uninteresting, not true or false.

  5. The title represents a hypothesis: A is (like) B, but no. If the nonsense gets too thick (and the author is not validating my preconceptions, perhaps) I set a book aside, so what you found would be the ‘why I did not read this book’ reviews. With yours, I made it through the title, which is based on a bad joke told some years back and dismissed straight away as just another in a long string of rude insults from Richard Dawkins against people of faith.
    As you are building your brand (book and blog) on a rude insult, I doubt there was a surprise on your part that any review of your book would contain an ad-hominem attack. That is typically what insults are intended to elicit. Insulting nine-tenths of the world is probably not a productive approach to opening discussions.
    The whole concept of ‘memes’ has been dismissed by the greater scientific community as ‘unnecessary’, likely because Dawkins was so obnoxious in his promotion that others reject the idea just to shut him up (my opinion – I’ve not seen it collaborated).


Dear readers -- I am no longer blogging and after leaving these blogs open for two years have finally stopped accepting comments due to spammers. Thanks for your interest. If you'd like to write to me, click on the "Contact" link at the top. Thanks! -- CJ.

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