Is belief in God a virus of the mind, as atheists claim?

by Chaitanya Charan dasMay 27, 2014

From Peter

Dawkins makes this argument in his books. What is a response that we can give to people who are between theism and atheism?

Answer Podcast

Question: Is belief in God a virus of the mind?

Atheists claim that religious people are infected by a God virus, which makes them have an irrational belief in a God that cannot be seen- or for whom there is no rational reason to believe. How do we respond to this?

Answer: First of all, this usage of belief in God as a virus is an intellectually charged attempt at emotional manipulation. It is simply emotional manipulation – to bias people against believers in God- Oh these people are infected by a virus! It is intellectually charged- viruses can come from one person to another, that is known to educated people-  and a virus can also affect computer programs or digital systems- it can propagate through pen-drive or emails etc. It is meant to create an untouchability around religious people so that people can be polarized against them. This is what it is. Lets look at it rationally. First of all, when we talk about a virus, if it is an infection, then there is a tangible thing called a virus- which can be put in a lab, in a plate, examined, and killed. Is belief in God a tangible thing? Which can be moved from one person’s head to another through touch? Obviously not. Is it a computer virus- even that is a program. Software may not be a thing in the physical sense of a thing but still there is a code which represents that. Now if we say that the belief in God is like a software program that infects the mind of people- then the problem comes up – how do you decide which beliefs are like viruses? Essentially all beliefs including atheistic beliefs are basically modes of thinking of the mind. So now we call a certain program as a virus because it has a destructive effect. Are we going to say that those programs that have a destructive effect are viruses? If that is the case, then belief in God makes people do many times good things- charity, compassion- yes some people may become suicide bombers and commit violence in the name of religion, but comparatively speaking millions and millions of people are inspired toward good because of a belief in god- it has an uplifting effect on people.

Then the atheists will argue that those beliefs that are rational are not viruses. Because atheism is rational and theism is irrational so atheism is by no means a virus whereas theism is a virus. This sort of self-serving taxonomy- system of classification- is egregious. It is so transparently self-serving that no rational person will actually subscribe to it. But still lets analyze it further- this sort of logical sophistry- trickery – leads to. If the rational beliefs are not viruses, irrational beliefs are viruses- the question comes up who is going to decide wht is rational and what is irrational? Many of the ideas mainstream in science today were considered irrational when they were first introduced. For example when some pioneering scientists proposed that humans could fly using some machine- they were laughed at. Was it that the idea was irrational then and become rational later? An authority no less than Einstein criticized quantum physics- but today it is indeed considered mainstream science. Albert Einstein considered it to be irrational practically speaking- does that make those people who propagated quantum physics irrational and infected by some irrationality virus? Or the fact that quantum physics is now commonly accepted as mainstream science- does that make Einstein irrational? He was the best scientist of the last century.


A further problem comes is that many of the topmost scientists in history have been believers in God- starting from Copernicus, Galileo down through the ages, even today  Francis Collins, pioneer of the genome project, Polkinghorne –many others believe in God- they are eminently rational people if we look at their scientific work. Then how do we simplistically divide – that rational people- those who believe in God have the God virus- and those who don’t believe in God are free from the virus- but what about those who believe in God and are rational from all other angles?

The Bhagavad Gita offers a far more intelligent classification- rather than simply labeling belief in God as a virus which is simply an intellectually charged attempt at emotional manipulation, it has no rational substance, it falls when subjected to serious intellectual scrutiny. But the Vedic scriptures describe that there are three modes of material nature goodness, passion and ignorance. People who live in ignorance tend to be destructive. People in goodness tend to have contributive roles in their life- they do good to others and to themselves. Significantly this classification- goodness passion and ignorance- is done based on objective qualities. The Srimad Bhagavatam describes that even religion can be practiced in the mode of ignorance. Religionists who have faith in God but are in the modes of ignorance- they will be destructive. And similarly there are atheists who are in the modes of ignorance– they will be destructive.

So the viruses in the mind are not belief in God- but the modes of nature. The lower modes which especially gender desires- like lust anger envy pride illusion-  these are the destructive mental patterns within us- they are the programs which we act on them they get deeply programmed and they start programming us. This system of classification in the Vedic literature is non–sectarian. Its not saying that those who are Hindus are in goodness, and those who are Christians and Muslims or people who don’t agree with Hinduism are in passion and ignorance. No. It’s a universal typological system.  Hindus can be in goodness passion and ignorance, Muslims and even atheists can be in goodness passion and ignorance. There are atheistic people who for whatever reasons may have chosen to disbelieve in God but their lifestyle may be in overall goodness. That is also possible. Rather than simplistically trying to demonize believers or non-believers for that matter, the Vedic scriptures gives us a universal method of analysis by which we can understand what is what, and move forward in life. This idea that belief in God is a virus is something which itself we could say is a virus that has been propagated by atheists in the hope of emotionally isolating believers and manipulating public opinion against them. We should be intelligent enough to see through these machinations- these sort of evil tricks of the atheists.

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Chaitanya Charan das

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