Suggested Reading: Can Science Deliver the Benefits of Religion?
The centuries old battle between science and religion is continuing to heat up. With each passing year it is more clear, not only that, religious creation myths are wrong but even that classic religious texts are historically inaccurate. There is, for example, little to no evidence to back up the idea that there ever was a Jesus Christ or that Exodus ever happened. There is no real question that religion is holding back scientific and social progress however, setting aside religion is not going to be an easy task.
While there is a growing atheist / agnostic / humanist / secular movement in the west, most people in most countries, even progressive democracies, still claim some religious belief. In the developing world religious belief of some kind is almost universal. It is important to consider why this is so and what need religion fills in humans.
The need to make sense of the world around us appears to be universal, however for people of limited intelligence or limited education many modern scientific concepts may be difficult to grasp or seem less plausible than simplified, religious concepts, especially if those individuals are indoctrinated at an early age. The idea that an all knowing, all powerful being simply created everything and set down some rules provides an “understanding” of the world, along with a moral code and a coping mechanism for difficult times.
For people who live in poverty, people who are surrounded by war and disease, people who work long hours with little pay or others who deal with great hardship the idea that good behavior will be rewarded in another, eternal life provides a respite from despair, hope for the future and, in some cases, a deterrent to criminal and anti-social behavior.
In short, while there are obviously intelligent people who use the need for religion for personal, political power and financial gain there is no easy solution to it. Even if people could be convinced to abandon their religious beliefs, the consequences could be dire if those people also abandon hope and their moral code.
With that in mind is it also possible that in the not too distant future, that science will offer and end to poverty, and end to manual labor and the possibility of physical, earthly immortality. All of this means though that the battle between religion and science will continue to intensify. Religious people will not give up their beliefs easily, even in the face of irrefutable evidence and a better offer and religious leaders will not give up their social and economic power base without a fight.
In the Boston Review this week Tania Lombrozo laid out the current state of one of the key battlefields (creationism vs. evolution). The article “Can Science Deliver the Benefits of Religion?” is well worth a read:
“The claim that humans evolved from non-humans is among the best established in science. It is backed by overwhelming evidence from diverse sources and fits into a rich and elegant picture of the biological world, with modern humans appearing around 200,000 years ago, more than three billion years after the origins of life on earth. Yet, according to a Gallup survey, nearly half of Americans reject evolution, instead endorsing the view that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”