Is religion necessary to humanity?
Posted by robertpriddy on November 23, 2009
“As my friend Matt Ridley has written, ‘Most scientists are bored by what they have already discovered. It is ignorance which drives them on’,
Mystics exalt in mystery and want it to stay mysterious.” Richard Dawkins ‘The God Delusion’ (p. 151f, Black Swan 2007 edition)
The reasons for supposing the benevolent existence of a caring God are very many and powerful, not least the need of adults to assuage anxiety and fear about existence and death, of suffering and possible divine punishments over and above those exacted by our own kind (or for the weak-mind, that of an eternal hell run by demons or a devil). Whether faith in religion has an overall positive or negative function for humankind is inseparable from the ultimate question of the existence of a God, whether as a Supreme Intelligence, the Creator of the Cosmos, and Omniscient and Omnipotent consciousness – or the like expressed in other terms.
To place faith in a being that does not exist cannot be genuinely fruitful in the longer term. It may certainly have a temporary or even quite extended consoling or uplifting effect on people. Yet it is really an expression of ignorance which, obviously, cannot be fruitful for humankind and whatever future it may have.
As science continues, decade after decade, to fill more and more of the gaps in our knowledge, there is less and less space for the mystical explanation and the supposed ‘divine hand’. The process of cumulative human knowledge based on massive observation and experimentation – instead of superstition and speculative theology – has continued since earliest human history, when the actual causes of some natural phenomena began to be understood. In the last century it has been progressing geometrically and shows no sign of slowing down.
“If the history of science tells us anything, it is that we get nowhere by labelling our ignorance “God”.
Jerry Coyne, US geneticist, reviewing the legally discredited ‘creationist’ theory of Behe.
Creationism – the belief that the world was created by one or more intelligent beings (usually God, spirits or deities) – was almost (though not entirely) universally believed before European science and philosophy progressed. The creationist belief came under strong attack as the science of evolution advanced to become accepted by most world scientists and intelligentsia. The body of knowledge explaining the development of all living beings has developed and grown by leaps and bounds at an ever-increasing rate. It is so many-sided, so empirically fact-based that religionists’ counter-arguments have fast narrowed down to a very limited scope. The so-called ‘unknown’ causes – which were the main support of creationism and other forms of mysticism (including belief in evil deities like Satan) – have been largely explained in phenomenal detail and tested by observation and experiment. The once universal awe and fear of a Divine Creator whose planned and rules the natural order – red in tooth and claw – and the near endless series of calamitous hells that world history had recorded became less and less convincing and effective.
Beliefs in supernatural phenomena and beings has most often been due to sheer ignorance of causes of what are natural phenomena and events. The sense of being looked after by an omnipotent protective parent is natural and all but unavoidable for children to survive until adulthood, but many cannot make the transition and find some other imaginary being as a substitute – angels, spiritual beings of all conceivable (but unobservable) description and not least the most often vague catch-all belief in ‘God’. Such conceptions formed and became ritualised and a part of a primitive developing culture, and remained in the long run (though constantly modified in the transition of cultures – even beyond recognition).
When science gave rise to the versatile alternative form of understanding of the universe and superstitions were shed on a huge scale, the keystone idea of all traditional religions – an all-powerful, all-knowing God creator (and destroyer) – appeared more and more superfluous, even ridiculous. The idea of such an insuperable (and often most fearful) being was used to control people, whether or not cynically was discredited. However, even today the priesthoods are powerful influences and even belief in a strong, determined and clever person as being holy, divine, or even God Himself in human form is most common in history. (Rama, Jehova, Jesus, Roman and Eastern emperors… and countless more since). Today there are plenty who profess to be holy, divine and even to be God Incarnate, and they often have very large followings (especially in the East) and countless charlatans proclaims they are God’s Messenger, God’s Mouthpiece, or God’s Representative on Earth (e.g. not forgetting the Catholic Pope as ‘Vicar of God’, meaning ‘deputy’).