I haven’t written any posts in awhile, partly because I have been having a long debate with someone on another blog post, in the comments, about the conflict between Religion and Science, which has gravitated, as usual, to the existence of god. This is as it should be. It is where atheist/theist debates should properly end up. One can talk about the merits of religion, or the efficacy of religious belief, or the overwhelming preponderance of theists in the world, but ultimately none of it means anything in the debate until you’ve resolved the TRUTH of religion – i.e. does god exist. If he does, then there should be significant consensus, if not universal and unanimous acceptance, of that one truth. It should be obvious. The fact that there isn’t even something close to human consensus gives the lie to the proposition.
If he doesn’t, then it really doesn’t matter whether the religious give more to charity, or are more moral (a subjective opinion, anyway), or are in the majority in the world, or create great art and music and literature, because the reasons for doing so are not bottomed on the existence of a supernatural being, but on the belief in the existence of that being.You can’t give credit to the being believed in, unless that being actually exists, any more than you can give Snoopy credit for shooting down the Red Baron, no matter how fervently you believe he did. And if that’s the case, then all of those results of religion are human based, and credit should go to the human spirit that embodies those things, not to some divine entity that created us as his little playthings.
What got me writing today was a remark by PZ Myers on a broadcast of an interview with Minnesota Public Radio that he posted yesterday. He said, well…here is part of the transcript, a response to a question from the audience:
Debra: Yes. My name is Debra. I’m from Minneapolis. I’m wondering what you think the future of religion is, both in this country and around the world. It seems like there’s this growing religious fervor whenever I read the news or see things, and so I’m wondering if you think it’s something that will grow or kind of fizzle out.
Myers: I think we’re in the middle of a serious backlash right now, that the fundamentalist religions are really in fear of the changes happening. This is a reaction against modernity. The world is changing, right? And one thing you know about fundamentalist religions is they don’t like change, so they’re getting very, very upset about this. But I think the path of history is going to go against them. That we’re seeing the American public, for instance, shifting very rapidly on issues that were considered very important to the evangelical Christians, like gay marriage. You know, a majority now supports this. The more they rail against us, I think the more people are seeing them as an alienating force in society.
So I think they are going to fade away.
Knowledge is empowering. Ignorance and fear are used to take away power. The history of civilization has been the history of the continuing accumulation of knowledge about the reality of the world around us. Science has played a very large role in the accumulation of that knowledge, with the scientific method predominating in all disciplines of inquiry. Another way of putting this is that the more we know, the more intelligent we get.
I understand and accept that religion was a useful mode of inquiry when there was nothing else, back when we were primitive, unsophisticated, uneducated humans and didn’t know better. Religion conveniently placed-marked those areas of reality we had no capability of understanding, until we advanced to a better method of understanding. That place marker was the supernatural – gods – conveniently contrived to explain the unexplainable in nature.
But since we discovered the usefulness and truth-rendering ability of science, religion has been pushed father and farther into the background of our collective intelligence, to the point that only those with a stake in the continuation of the influence of religion continue to rely on it. Anyone else with even a modicum of critical thinking abilities rejects religion, in favor of science.
This doesn’t mean that everyone is going to reject religion, because as a function of human development, superstition is hard to shake. We don’t know everything, and as long as the fear of the unknown exists, we’ll always have superstition, and hence we’ll always have religion. I liked Myers description:
Anyway, they asked me the same question and my answer there was, I think, as science progresses that we’re going to slowly move away from this kind of religion. That I think what will happen is it won’t go away ever, because people do find consolation in tradition and ritual and they find happiness in the traditions of the forebears. And so, yeah, it’ll stick around, but it will acquire a more proper place in our lives. And the comparison I made in that movie is I said that religion will become like knitting, that it will be something that people will do and nobody will be condemned for it. It will be regarded as a pleasant hobby and a good thing for some people to do. It keeps them occupied and it’s intellectually interesting, all that kind of good stuff.
Everyone needs a hobby, and if one finds it intellectually stimulating to ponder the what-ifs of religion, then knock yourself out. Please don’t insist, however, that I take up your hobby.
I do think it’s much ado about nothing to worry too much about what the Christian Right is doing to this country. In the short run, yes, but in the long run, I think the country will grow up enough to see the silliness of religious belief. As evidence for this, first, we have the precedent of other, older First World countries doing just that. European countries are far less religious that we are in America at the present, at least overtly. But we are a young country, with growing pains yet to be experienced.
Second, indications are that the Christian right is simply a vocal minority, with a voice that sounds more like a death rattle than an exclamation of might or right. They make a lot of noise, with much flame but little heat, if I’m permitted to mix a few metaphors. The great vast middle of America doesn’t buy much of what they are selling. Many of the social issues that comprise the broth of their soup are religiously based – like abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, etc. But poll after poll indicates that while they can mobilize to create controversy, Middle America doesn’t agree with them.
Take abortion. Despite almost 40 years of constant objections to abortion, trying to elect politicians and judges with their mindset, influencing or enacting legislation to restrict the right to abortion, and other means of intimidating abortion providers and recipients (including outright murder and terrorism) the majority of Americans still think that abortion should be legal. They have failed to convince us.
Take Gay marriage. There was a time when homosexuality was considered a loathsome disease. Now it’s pretty much accepted by most Americans. Only the hard core religious seriously object to it. This is because we have become educated to the fact that a sizable minority of Americans are, in fact, gay; that it is not contagious; and that there is no “agenda” to homo-sexualize our children. In short, as we’ve become more knowledgeable on the subject, the demonization created by religious dogma is supplanted in favor of intelligence and tolerance.
So yes, we have to tolerate a short term response to secularism and non-religion in this country, before we are able to break the bonds of magical thinking. All we are experiencing is a bit of backlash to the counterculture changes of the last 50 years, almost all of which, by their very nature, shake religion to its core. The so-called sexual revolution, gay rights, science supplanting religion in the schools, the list is all encompassing, and very threatening to the hegemony of religion, so it’s natural to see religion, as a meme, fight back.
But it is a fight religion will lose. Collective human intelligence will override superstition, fear and ignorance, because it always has.