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The Religion Virus: Why We Believe in God Paperback – April 19, 2013

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 190 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2 edition (April 19, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1482371006
  • ISBN-13: 978-1482371000
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,301,419 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Like a selfish gene or a parasite, the religion virus catches a free ride in the minds of our species, infecting our history and culture. What Guns, Germs and Steel did for anthropology, this book does for faith. It puts the pieces together into a fascinating, coherent model that makes sense! (Dan Barker, President, Freedom From Religion Foundation.) Craig A. James has written an accessible book on evolution and religion that manages to explain memetics while being both funny and touching. (Wes Unruh, author, The Art of Memetics, editor of Full of powerful, ground-breaking ideas, packaged in a deceptively simple, easy-reading style. James has created one of those rare books where, every few pages, I find myself thinking, "I need to send a copy of this to so-and-so." This is the most fun I've had reading non-fiction in a long time. (Phil Steele, Editor, Fragment and The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

By day, Craig A. James is a computer scientist who studied artificial intelligence, linguistics and genetic algorithms at Stanford University. By night, he studies religion, sociology, psychology and memetics (how ideas spread across society and down through history). James is an accomplished guitarist, a tolerable clarinet player and a deep-sea sailor. He is married and is the father of three grown kids who pursue their dreams with passion. In his spare time, he enjoys biking, hiking Southern California's beautiful beaches and traveling the world.

Customer Reviews

I wrote this review when I has half way through reading it.
Michael Oborn
His writing style is informal and engaging--it made his book a thoroughly enjoyable read!
Just as natural selection can shape genes, it can also shape the development of memes.
Fergus Duniho

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 44 people found the following review helpful By J. Leard on January 6, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Craig A. James' "The Religion Virus" has a title that sounds like a salvo directly in the face of organized religion, but it really isn't. It's a work that concerns itself with how the ideas of religion have evolved and coalesced over the years to be what it is now. James' perspective as an evolutionist allows a unique perspective that that really nails down why the major religions are still around, how they continue to grow or fall by the wayside, and how concepts of belief must evolve or die just like florae and faunae.

The first half of the book lays a foundation for James to fully express his ideas, and while this part is a bit dry, it presents the concepts that will factor in later very well. The latter half puts that foundation into action, and the book moves along at a very brisk pace through the end, where James does explain how all of this factors into his own personal point of view.

My only complaint is that he could have fleshed out the back half of the book a bit more, as there are some great ideas that he touches on before moving onto the next one, such as how what we learn as children impacts our belief system for the rest of our lives and how this fits from an evolutionary perspective. It's a whirlwind tour of exclamation point arguments, and this frenzied pace is effective but ends all too soon.

The book is a fascinating read because it breaks down what makes organized religion tick while also giving readers a crash course in basic evolutionary theory and how it applies to the schools of religious thought that thrive today, as well as those that have fallen by the wayside over the centuries. The price on the Kindle edition means that this book is an easy recommendation to anyone curious as to how religion has survived over the centuries and what makes it such a difficult institution to shake, and the tone throughout 99% of the book is merely factual, so tolerant people of all walks have something to gain from checking it out.
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51 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Hambydammit on October 30, 2010
Format: Paperback
I don't say this about very many books, but Craig A. James's The Religion Virus can facilitate a wholesale change in the way we think about religion. By itself, it stands strong and makes a great argument. When it works together with the already growing "God Virus" meme, it forms a powerful meme-plex, and gives us a great framework for examining and talking about religion.
The subtitle - Why we believe in God: An evolutionist explains religion's incredible hold on humanity - might confuse some readers. Indeed, I expected to read about cognitive mechanisms or the evolution of human psychology. And to be fair, chapter 7 does cover one possible explanation for our seemingly innate attraction to religion. But that's not what this book is primarily about.
Don't let that deter you from picking up a copy, though. The Religion Virus is an engaging, entertaining, and educational journey from the earliest animist religions to modern Christianity, with a focus on the meme as a unit of "idea evolution." James takes us on a guided tour of religion's development as both a reaction and a shaping force in history.
Since memes are a relatively new concept, with an evolving definition, James helps us out by discussing and explaining his use of the word. In short, a meme is an idea. More specifically, it's an idea that is passed from human to human and/or generation to generation, and "evolves" as it moves through space and time. He is quick to point out that it does not evolve precisely the same way as organisms, but the similarities are striking enough to use the term "evolution" in a colloquial sense and be well justified.
The most important characteristic of memes is that they have "survival ability." A meme's survival is not dependent on its truth value.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Book Shark TOP 500 REVIEWER on February 15, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The Religion Virus: Why we believe in God: An evolutionist explains religion's incredible hold on humanity by Craig A. James

The Religion Virus is a well-written book that answers quite cogently the question of why religion succeeds as a meme. It's a book that takes a Darwinian approach on how religion has evolved. The book is composed of the following ten chapters: 1. Why is Religion like an Elephant's DNA? , 2. Religion's Infancy, 3. Evolution and Memes, 4. Religion Grows Up, 5. Why Do Humans Talk? 6. Religion's Immunity System, 7. Why Is Religion So Appealing? , The Atheist's Paradox, 9. Religion, Technology and Government, and 10. Closing Sermon.

1. An excellent, well-written, accessible book that answers to satisfaction why we believe in God.
2. Great use of Darwinian concepts of evolution and cultural concepts such as memes to answer the premises of the book.
3. Non-confrontational, even-handed tone throughout.
4. Excellent Kindle value. More wisdom per dollar.
5. Great list of memes (ideas that become accepted cultural beliefs) and better explanations on how said memes help religion survive.
6. Great quotes.
7. The evolution of the concept of god.
8. Sound arguments, good use of logic and supporting data.
9. Some arguments will stay with me. "Survival isn't the relevant term - reproduction is all that matters."
10. Mr. James does a wonderful job of tying everything up.
11. Great references.
12. A treat to read. Highly recommended.

1. I would have liked a table that summarized all the memes.
2. No links to references.

In summary, "The Religion Virus", was a fun, educational, relevant book that exceeded my expectations.
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More About the Author

James began his study of religion, evolution, sociology, and memetics (the evolution of culture and ideas) during his graduate studies in linguistics and Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University in the late 1980's. His work there introduced him to "genetic algorithms" that used randomness (mutations), coupled with directed filtering (natural selection) to create computer programs to solve problems for which no other solution was known.

James realized that Darwin's ideas could be extended, applied to any type of information, whether genetic, computer algorithms, or ideas passed from one person to the next. During this research, James inevitably encountered, The Selfish Gene, in which the evolutionist Dawkins lays out these same ideas, and coined the word meme.

After completing his Master's Degree at Stanford, James went on to a career in computer architecture and design, but his study of memetics, religion, sociology and evolution became his second career.

In addition to his work, James is an accomplished guitarist, a tolerable clarinet player, a deep-sea sailor, the father of three, and the executive producer of a feature-length movie. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking and bicycling in the beautiful Southern California mountains.

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