Gods and Bacteria
by Jody Nagel
Humor / Inquiry
When consciousness and intelligence eventually both grew to some critical level, the first problem interfering with survival was the new need to cope with one's own mortality. Rather than face psychological panic, and, therefore, reduced capacity for interacting with the environment, fanciful notions of god(s) and heaven were invented to alleviate fear. Those groups inventing gods were better capable of surviving, for that and other reasons, and their genes ultimately were more prosperous in the arena of natural selection. Over hundreds of thousands of years, the human race has developed an instinctive tendency of identifying their sensation of consciousness and being with that of "spirit." It is so inbred to think this way, that, bizarre as it is, it must be regarded as distinctively "human."
Gregory Cochran, physicist and infectious disease expert, believes that whenever a disease effects more than about one in a thousand, it is probably going to be discovered that the disease has an infectious cause. (Atlantic Monthly, February, 1999.) Non-infection-based items leading to death or lack of reproduction success that are below one in a thousand are explainable as within natural mutation rates. Items greater than one in a thousand would (mathematically) over time seriously effect the evolutionary "fitness" of a species, and, thus, are naturally weeded out of the gene pool within several generations: that is, unless the problem is caused by an external microbial attack. Recent links between heart disease and Chlamydia pneumoniae, and between duodenal ulcers and Helicobacter pylori, are just two examples backing up this growing suspicion. Cochran, with enthusiastic reception from Amherst's evolutionary biologist Paul Ewald, has written an article (not yet published) "elaborating an audacious theory that human homosexuality might result from a 'manipulation' of a host by a germ with its own agenda." (Atlantic Monthly, February, 1999, p.47.)
I wonder. If human brains are naturally predisposed to believe in a fanciful god as a protection against mortality panic, and since in recent centuries there has been a steady increase in the number of rationalists and non-theists, could it be that the part of our brains which provide us with a fulfilling veil of illusion is under attack by some as-of-yet unidentified microbe which thrives off of this part of our neurological system?
Maybe rationalists, these days, are being bombarded by monotheists and microbes alike! What to do? What to do?!!!
If we discover the nasty little germs, should we give ourselves antibiotics to get rid of them? Maybe it has been all the antibiotics of the 20th century which has produced the recent increase in fundamentalism (relative to the Age of Enlightenment.) Eeks! What if my choice is between knowingly keeping a microbe in my mind as the price for knowing reality, or "curing" myself and sinking back into the oblivion of peaceful self-deception.
Just think! What if our mental evolution IS GOD, and SATAN turns out to be a virus.
Ahh. Once you know things, you can never enjoy not knowing again.
(Wouldn't it be nice if everybody knew things?)
(Especially in academia?)
February 4, 1999