The germ theory of religion

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I’ve been thinking.

About religion. And I was wrong – religion is not a quantum phenomenon as I have previously postulated.

I have a new theory. This theory seems pretty solid, because, as with any good theory, it seems to explain all the observed behaviours of its subject. What remains of course, it to test the theory’s predictive ability, but that’s for another day. So here it is – the germ theory of religion.

The Theory

For a long time, stomach ulcers were thought to have been caused primarily by stress, until we made the discovery that there are bacteria at work, namely Helicobacter pylori. Now that we know that this is the dominant cause, antibiotics can be used to treat the illness.

Similarly, I believe religiosity is actually caused by a bacterial infection in the brain, at the nano-scale. As yet, it is not possible to isolate and look at these bacteria, but I’m sure they will be shown to exist, and in time, be capable of being treated with modern medicine.

While I believe the bacteria to be small, they are fairly intricate, and capable of  controlling the host to some extent – a phenomenon we’ve seen with other species and their parasitic brain infections. So it is with religion.

Observed behaviour

The modus operandi of the putative religiobacter rationalbrainius is to infect its host, with the sole aim of propagating the species in the most efficient way possible. In this sense, it is a beautiful example of Darwinism in motion, the irony of which is superb. By forcing its host to suspend disbelief and critical thinking, the organism is able to coerce it to:

  1. believe in dieties and other fantasy figures, which in turn,
  2. encourages the organism to congregate with other infected hosts for the purpose of encouraging genetic variation of the organism, and hence enhancing survivability, to enable,
  3.  coopting of uninfected (potential) hosts to attend gatherings of infected hosts, to facilitate transmission of the organism.

In fact, some variants of the organism are so adept at open air transmission, that they (via the host) attempt propagation on a door-to-door basis.

It further appears that certain types of neural activity have the effect of counteracting the parasite, and even killing it. We see excellent examples of this – for example, strongly religious behaviour which suddenly stops – as in the case of priests who undergo a reverse ‘conversion’. In such cases, the cognitive dissonance which accompanies the acquisition of information which strongly contradicts the fictitious beliefs established by the parasites causes a catastrophic breakdown of the neural pathways which are critical to the survival of the parasite. This in effect reboots the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for critical thinking (amongst other things).

It has been found that inoculation  is possible if done at an early age. Children who are presented with reality in the early years of their development, are able to develop neural structures which resist infection. This is a pronounced effect; so much so that even children cohabiting with strongly infected adults can resist infection.

One of the interesting aspects of this infection is its self-limiting behaviour. Without such a mechanism, growth and spread would have been exponential, and would have consumed humanity entirely. But this is clearly not the case.

This is due to competition between the strains of the organism, and is analogous to wars between sections of the human population. The determination of some strains of the organism to dominate, ultimately results in the destruction of large swathes of its cousins. Such is its competitiveness, that its density across the human population is kept in check.

We do however find concentrations on different parts of the planet, and this is due to the greater control exerted by the organism over its hosts. In these areas, such as southern United States, the hosts are sufficiently well represented in the government structures that the spread of  the organism is assured. In particular, these hosts are also able to influence the educational structures in those areas to limit the ability of the society to inoculate its young. In these areas, the organism is highly evolved, and has adapted to allow a higher density of infection before achieving equilibrium.

Other clues

While not constituting strong evidence, there are other observations supporting the theory. These include:

  • Debates between infected and uninfected individuals are characterised by the infected host often babbling incoherently. This is thought to be interference by the organism with the speech planning areas of the frontal lobe, and may event extend this influence into the temporal lobe which is responsible for speech production. Involvement of the temporal lobe is further supported by the propensity of infected individuals to seemingly ignore auditory stimuli, although this may be deliberate strategy, again caused by the planning section of the frontal lobe.
  • Early music generated by infected individuals was simplistic, but nonetheless beautiful. This demonstrated the ability of the organism to influence the host to find other means of displaying ‘worship’, and other means of attracting uninfected individuals to gatherings. This was initially effective, but also has self-limited. The organism has apparently only limited control of these functions, and this is amply demonstrated by the puerile attempts at modern music by so-called ‘christian rock bands’. Attempts to attract uninfected people to these events inevitably fail due to the failure of this organism to master the neural pathways which control ‘hipness’.
  • The ability to repeatedly read books such as the bible, and interpret the same words in many different ways is indicative of influence over the occipital lobe – that is, visual processing is flawed in such a way that different meaning can be ascribed to the same set of words, to the extent desired by the reader. This effect is a form of paradolia, which is the perception of a pattern where none exists, and extends to the ability of infected individuals to perceive the face of Jesus in a piece of toast.
  • Close to the point of death, uninfected individuals are at their weakest, and most susceptible to the infection. Influence from infected family and/or a socially embedded carrier (i.e. minister), facilitates rapid infection. (The evolutionary advantage for this behaviour is unclear, since the host is about to die. Either the organism is not sufficiently aware of the difference between life and death on the macro scale, or, it sees the higher purpose of encouraging family and friends to remain susceptible. This is pure conjecture at this stage and requires further study).

Evidence to date and predictive power

In addition to the above brief observations,  more solid evidence is already available, in the form of longitudinal studies, comparing children who are inoculated in the early years, versus those who are indoctrinated – for example, by examining outcomes from religious instruction classes and clear thinking classes. To date, all meta-studies support the hypothesis that an infection is at work. While there may be other explanations, by Occam’s Razor, the existence of an infection requires the fewest new assumptions, and is consistent with all that we know about human physiology.

If this theory is indeed correct, then what predictions could be made in advance, or tests run, to confirm it?

  1. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging could be used to compare brain activity in the relevant areas, before and after deconversion, though the number of participants may be prohibitively high to ensure a sufficient number of deconverted individuals are available. To increase numbers, targeting certain groups will be necessary to ensure a high deconversion ration – for example, mormons and jehovas witnesses.
  2. Physical isolation – the raising of children in an environment known to be free of the relevant bacterium, should result in zero cases of infection.

I’m sure there’s many more, but that’s a starting point.

I’m happy to hand over this idea to any infectious diseases researchers out there who may wish to follow it up.

I think it’s a winner.

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8 thoughts on “The germ theory of religion

    @blamer said:
    April 23, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    Anecdotal accounts suggest that adults hosting a religious strain of “disbelief suspension” bacteria have increased vulnerably to non-religious strains.

    More research required.

      rationalbrain said:
      April 23, 2012 at 4:42 pm

      Do you mean that people infection with religion are more likely to contract other diseases, like Alzheimer’s etc? If proven, then this would have incredible consequences. Think of the reduction in societal cost and misery of families if we were to eradicate such diseases by eliminating religion. Oh boy! Carry on with your research.

    It’s the bacterium I tell you! « rationalbrain said:
    April 28, 2012 at 8:42 am

    […] in response to my challenge for researchers to test my theory that religion is a bacterial infection, New Scientist has published this article, which clearly provides confirmatory […]

    @blamer said:
    May 1, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    Naa not Alzheimer’s Disease, I mean other non-religious strains of “disbelief suspension” bacteria.

    For example, does exposure to religious bacteria increase one’s vulnerably to contracting woo bacteria.

      @blamer said:
      May 1, 2012 at 12:10 pm

      Clearer if I say; “suspending disbelief” bacteria.

    […] the risk of being accused of grasping at straws, and given my recent discussion regarding the germ theory of religion, this article naturally piqued my […]

    […] embed their disciples in public schools. These disciples are known to be carriers of the now-famous reliobacter rationalbrianius germ, hence Ron’s concern for his […]

    rational follower said:
    May 22, 2013 at 2:56 am

    So interesting rational brain!

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