Richard Dawkins has famously proposed that cultural habits are passed on through “memes”: “tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches . . . . Memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation” (quoted in Sheldrake, The Science Delusion , 183).

For Dawkins and other atheists, religion is a meme complex that infects other people’s brains. But why should materialist atheists be immune to memeplexes?: “Materialism,” Sheldrake says, “must itself be a virus-like meme complex that infects materialists’ brains. When the materialist memeplex is particularly virulent, it turns its victims into proselytizing atheists so that it can jump from their brains to as many other people’s brains as possible.”

On materialist premises, memes must be material but, Sheldrake drolly observes, “no one has ever found a meme inside a brain, or seen one leaping from one brain to another.”