“A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down” is a concept familiar to many parents - and manufacturers of medicine. In contrast, some medicines with potential to be harmful have a purposely bitter taste. Nobody wants their toddler to swallow the “sweeties” unintentionally left within reach. Similarly, a portion of nutritious food, say a pellet of wheat meal, may very effectively carry a small but fatal payload of poison for killing a rodent pest.
The mental hop from comparing the effect of poisons and antidotes on the health of the body, to health of the human mind, requires a conceptual ‘model’. There are risks of over-simplifying or over-complicating any model. One convenience of a model is that, if it appears inadequate, you can apply your intellect to revise the model. So useful is the analogy of a model, that in the majority of mind’s association with reality, models are essential to understanding. Nobody has seen an atom. We use a frequently-revised model of what an atom could be. Some models are very accurate in behaving like the real thing that they demonstrate. Others are not so close to perfection.
A respected spokesman for evolution, Richard Dawkins, authored a publication titled “Viruses of the Mind”. In that article, Dawkins models the faith and activities of religion as if religion was a viral infection of the human mind. Dawkins’ model environment is presented as the mind of a beautiful, six year old girl that he knows. This innocent mind accepts the existence of Thomas the Tank Engine and Father Christmas - and has ambitions to be a Tooth Fairy one day.
The narrative reveals that this vulnerable mind is being subjected, without the consent of her father, to Roman Catholic religious instruction. While the locomotive and jolly fat man pose no threat, all is not so well when it comes to absorbing the notion that all bad children will roast in hell, as Dawkins explains. A brief description then follows, of how DNA can be corrupted and passed on.
Next, a lengthier description, with examples, explains how computer viruses propagate. Dawkins underlines that an important characteristic of a virus is to remain undetected. It also requires two qualities in its host; a readiness to replicate information and a readiness to obey instructions.
To develop his conceptual model, Dawkins proceeds to describe how a meme, (his concept of a unit of human behavioural, conceptual or cultural traits) is replicated among human minds. He expounds how negative the religious memes are, giving examples. He notes that some of the examples are trivial or extreme and some readers may notice that some examples are not fully informed. Criticism of these deficiencies is unnecessary here.
Ultimately these religious memes are replicated virally to the detriment of numbers of human hosts - and one would infer, also to the detriment of uninfected humans who are collaterally disadvantaged.
“Viruses of the Mind” is sometimes invoked by other atheists to affirm criticisms of religious memes. Malicious or not, a mind-virus is merely an agent of intent, not the source. The article itself manifests several viral memes. Expansion on those themes is for another time.
Now, Dawkins’ viral model is also useful in the hands of the Christian believer. It can be applied intelligently to the fall of man. Adam and Eve were created with flawless DNA. Yet they chose to believe the outright lie of Satan (“You will certainly not die but be as gods”), vehemently contradicting the statement made by God (“Enjoy everything else I have given you but do not eat of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, or you will die”). As a result, the whole of creation was cursed and the perfectly made human couple came under a death sentence.
The curse can easily be conceptualised as a viral infection of all DNA/RNA (as applicable) on earth. Aging, death, mutations into thorns and weeds, pests, animal predation - and all the other ills of living organisms appeared as a result of the now-degenerating, coded-for-life, double helix. Ever since then the defects have slowly multiplied. DNA started devolving, having lost the capability to auto-correct flawlessly with every replication.
Having three billion DNA base-pairs in the haploid genome and six billion in the diploid genome meant it would take a significant time before some defective genes became a concern. For example, ageing was very slow to begin with. Similarly, reproduction between relatives would be successful, with near-perfect genes. As these genes continued to devolve, a few at a time, it became undesirable for closely-related couples to reproduce and incest became intolerable. Aging accelerated very gradually. Remember that this is only a model and I am not a geneticist, so don’t get too caught up.
Along with the physical deterioration that came with this viral infection, came a deterioration of the mind. Where is the mind? “Fallen” man will say that the mind is in the brain but it is not the brain per se. We cannot be entirely specific but we know that memory, emotion and reasoning can be affected by trauma or disease in various areas of the brain. So the mind, at a conceptually higher level than the physical brain, having functions of intelligence, is in there somewhere.
A reasoning mind would conclude that the lower level (the physical body) should be subservient to the higher level (the mind). A viral infection can reverse this hierarchy and the mind becomes subservient to an ill body, particularly if the ill part is brain tissue.
Christians postulate that there is a third and higher level to being human; the soul (or spirit).
Christians can postulate the soul being undesirably dominated by the virally-influenced mind. It is not a physical problem, unless the mind is being dominated by the body. But it is a mental problem if the soul is being dominated by the mind. The infected mind is not able to detect a mind virus, in the concept of our model. So an infected mind would be unable to detect that it is infected. It could compare itself to other minds and decide that similar minds were uninfected - and that dissimilar minds were infected and thus, defective. It may even attempt to treat those ‘defects’, for self-preservation. Failed treatment may call for elimination of what it thinks is the ‘defective’ mind.
In the meme model of a mind virus, an anti-virus was introduced via a momentous action on the part of the creator of the mind. Flawless DNA was sacrificed to make this anti-virus. It was injected into a small population, over two thousand years ago. The anti-virus continues to replicate as responsive minds begin restoration. A recovering mind gradually submits to the soul’s authority. It takes time – but eventually the soul is asserted and takes on its purpose. We beings, thinking previously that we were a mind, discover that we are more than that. We are spirits, companions of God, with an eternal existence. We are purposed for a perfect makeover in a new creation. Even the elements then will be different - and current models will no longer be relevant.
One of the attributes of the anti-virus is that it is designed to replicate. Scant surprise then; that an inoculated mind is driven to spread it, long before it understands why.
Saul of Tarsus, who hated Christianity with a deep passion, experienced the consequences of receiving his own irrefutable evidence of the Christ. He later wrote “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”. It is a comfort to Christians to see that the intellect of a militant atheist like Dawkins can work for good. Imagine what he could achieve with a renewed mind.