Religion Is An App

Religion Is An App

Greetings, heretics. Verily, religion is an app.

To put this idea in an evolutionary context, let’s start with a few quotes from a powerful information processor, Dr. Jonas Salk: “The most fundamental phenomenon of the universe is relationship.” “Evolution has proceeded along the course of optimizing relationships.” 

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Nature Tech: Code 

One of nature’s technologies for optimizing relationships is code. Code—genetic, language, moral, religious, legal, software, etc.—is the technology that living beings use to optimize (organize, weight, prioritize) component relationships within a network. 

Codes are aggregated, condensed, and generally standardized information structures. DNA is an aggregated, condensed, and generally standardized information structure. 

DNA is code that functions as an application, an app that attempts to optimize a body’s myriad network relationships (digestive, immune, etc.) to sustain its life. 

DNA also seeks to optimize an organism’s relationships with geo, eco, bio, and social networks. A set of moral principles is a code. It’s an aggregated, condensed, often standardized information structure used as an app to optimize human relationships in social networks.


Science, as a reality-processing app, has been gnawing on god’s coverage map for centuries.


A moral code is an aggregate structure that optimizes relationship information. The philosophic orientation here is that all the codes mentioned above are structured information aggregates that simultaneously function as apps. 

They are information processors trying to optimize relationships within and among their respective networks. From this perspective, moral, religious, and legal codes are aggregated information structures that function—albeit imprecisely—as culture apps/information processors which attempt to optimize human relationships. 

Etiquette, sportsmanship, and diplomacy are examples of subcodes or apps. DNA and emotions are biological apps; software is a technological app. In the context of our Earth being 4.5 billion years old, these are all complexity apps, generated for more effective navigation (optimization) of increasingly complex relationships. 

So how is religion an app? Here’s an example. 

It’s 1842. You’re in a 53-unit wagon train heading west. You’re about to cross the Platte River in Nebraska, but there’s no bridge. The wagons slowly roll through the river. You and your family are on the 47th wagon. The first 46 crosses were without significant problems. 

However, their crossing has altered the contours of the river bottom, loosening a rock structure. Your wagon hits the structure, snaps a wheel from the axle, and pitches the wagon into the frigid waters of the Platte.


When you have an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent super app called god, you can cover a lot of ground.


Your mother was holding your seven-month-old baby daughter. Tragically, they both perish in the swift currents of the river. This devastating event causes your emotional apps to be fully engaged; you suffer severe crying fits and profound sadness. 

Still, like a soldier whose best friend is killed next to him in battle, the demands of survival (other codes) override the emotion apps and the next day the wagon train presses on. The pastor traveling with your group processes the horrible loss by using a religion app to soothe the emotion apps. 

He eloquently speaks of the similarity between grandmother and granddaughter, the grandmother’s kindness, and how God has called them home to heaven because of their purity, or whatever story he invokes per his app. 

You are an Atheist with a degree in engineering. You understand statistics, that crossing rivers can be dangerous, and that there is some probability a wagon will not successfully forge the river. While you agree with the pastor’s assessment of the grandmother’s strong character, you do not invoke the god/heaven/religion app to process their deaths. 

You do use the emotion app of sadness, but you also use the science app of statistical probability. Religion is a primitive information processor—part explanation app, part comfort app. Religious codes are aggregate information structures trying to help people optimize relationships with death, god, other people, ancestors, etc. 

Historically, religion’s app coverage has been huge. When you have an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent super app called god, you can cover a lot of ground from broken wagon wheels, to the color of your eyes, to superstorms, to the collapse of whole nations. Science, as a reality-processing app, has been gnawing on god’s coverage map for centuries.

Culture Codes

In earlier cultural iterations we lived in tribes. When the best hunter (let’s call him Joe) brought home a big buck, we used moral codes to process the distribute-meat-to-the-tribal-members relationship. Sure, Joe killed the buck, but it’s Omar who makes the excellent arrows that allow for greater accuracy with his new feather app that processes/optimize the arrows-moving-through-air relationship. 

And don’t forget Judy’s bow stings. They allow for greater power. Joe had a lot of information processing help. (We’re a eusocial species; we specialize.) So who should get the best cuts of meat and who should get the merely edible ones? 

Moral codes tried to optimize meat-tribe (network) relationships for the survival and well-being of everyone. 

Moses’ Ten Commandments were religious codes trying to optimize relationships in human-to-god and human-to-human networks. 

His ten-point app says if you want a good relationship with God, forget those other gods (the g-man gets jealous). If you want good tribal relationships, don’t steal and don’t covet Harry’s wife (Harry gets jealous). 

For males, jealously is, in part, a nasty, biological/emotional app, coded to secure and monitor a vital and scarce resource: fertile eggs. 

For females, jealousy is, in part, a radar app for securing and monitoring a male’s commitment to helping raise the offspring. 

When we lived in tribes of 40 hunter/gatherers roaming thousands of acres, we needed primitive moral and religious apps. 

When we evolved to 100-acre villages of 4,000 people, we needed to develop a new cultural technology to try to optimize all the new relationships generated by the more complex social structure. And so we invented a new coding technology, a culture relationship app we call law or legal codes. 

Forty nomadic hunter/gatherers could pretty much bury their dead anywhere. Four thousand people living in one place can’t. Next to the well? No. Next to the brothel? 


Legal codes are culture apps that seek to articulate optimal relationships between decaying bodies and things like drinkable water or people having sex. We processed these relationships, coded them, and survived.

Complexity and Religious Codes

Religious codes are a cultural technology/app, developed in an attempt to optimize human relationships. Ongoing increases in complexity generated by evolution (e.g., where new aggregate structures come online such as physics, biology, chemistry) have rendered the religion app an obsolete and increasingly dangerous impediment to our ability to accurately, quickly, and powerfully process the realities of climate change, population increases, etc. 

John Tooby, the founder of evolutionary psychology, said, “The mind is designed to balance these two functions: coordinating with reality and coordinating with others. 

The larger the payoffs to social coordination and the less commonly beliefs are tested against reality, then the more social demands will determine belief—that is, network fixation of belief will predominate. 

Physics and chip design will have a high degree of coordination with reality, while the social sciences and climatology will have less (” 

As Atheists, we get it. Religion is antiquated code/software, an archaic app that doesn’t coordinate well with reality.


Religion is a primitive information processor: part explanation app, part comfort app.


By Ce Atkins

Ce Atkins is the creator and editor of, which proposes the development of crowd, computer, and/or individual-sourced, post genetic codes integrated with technology to help us navigate the exponential increases in cultural complexity. He also writes regularly for the Science Interview Series in American Atheists magazine.

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