Can religion be destroyed?
I was involved in a little discussion over at Advocatus Atheist some time ago with regard to whether a secular and skeptical approach can spell the end of religion. I found this to be interesting. Even if the evidence (does it not already) overwhelmingly ruled in favour of the disbelief in a personal god, would religion still tenuously hang on to the threads of desperate hope or ritualistic comforts that humanity seems to endure?
Firstly, we must accept that, even given today’s scientific climate, religion seems to thrive. It does so not only despite of our knowledge-laden and critical climate, but in spite of it. There seems to be, as I have posted elsewhere, a concerted effort by the religious hard right to undermine science, disbelieve science, deny science or wilfully ignore it by burying one’s head in the sand. This means that the core belief one has, the overriding and the most powerful belief held by a great many people is the belief in God. This seems to base itself in the core of our beings, sitting in a impregnable fortress in the centre of our brains and minds, unable to be assailed by the most valiant of scientific and sceptical ideas.
But is this fortress really impregnable? It has survived thus far, and in some areas of the world it is growing. Evangelical Christianity grows in the far east whilst Islam grows elsewhere. That said, in more mature democracies where information is free and education is better, secular proportions of society are growing. Assuming that this trend continues, and assuming that politically we do not regress, then one must hope that eventually such secular worldviews will become the norm, especially in the intellectual communities.
Memetically speaking, though, religions have their fail-safes. Memes are units of ideas which adhere to the same ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality as units of heredity in genetics. Memes with the highest ‘value’, as it were, survive. This value does not have to be ‘true’, in fact an idea need only appeal to a very small community to endure. For example, as Susan Blackmore has exemplified, folding the end piece of toilet roll into a corner for display in hotel room toilets is a meme which endures because it is valued by hotel staff, who see it as a value to the customer. Religions, as networks of memes (memeplexes), provide many areas of value to adherents of such a religion. Adherents are, by default, members of an ‘in-group’ and this is wholly important in psychology. This offers comfort, safety in numbers, and all the benefits which go along with being a member of any (close-knit) community.
Moreover, other memes within religion are far stronger. The idea that not adhering to that religion will lead to eternal punishment (in other words the worst possible consequence conceivable) means that there is a mechanism in place that will almost certainly ensure a survival of the idea. Such emotional blackmail really is powerful stuff and can be seen in such famous arguments as Pascal’s Wager. Other than such negative mechanisms, there is also the positive offering of heaven, of having your sins atoned, of being loved by God eternally and so on. Furthermore, religion offers an ultimate purpose, a sort of purpose that atheism simply can’t offer, by definition. I have discussed purpose in one of my essays, and all the issues which go with purposing. Nevertheless, if you were one who sought a purpose imposed externally (even though I would not recognise this as a purpose for an individual) then religion is for you.
All this and more means that religions have techniques which foil any attempt to undo them by offering incredibly comforting or threatening addenda to one’s life (albeit false ones).
In other words, atheism is a tough sell. Truth ain’t necessarily comfortable. And without a QED piece of evidence, and without high levels of education for everyone in the world, and if religion couldn’t be used as a tool to manipulate and control others by unscrupulous people or organisations, then truth would have a far better chance of winning outright. It could, but I doubt it will for a very long time yet.
What I would like to know is “Is there a piece of evidence that would QED prove that God did not exist?”
Sadly, I think any theist could posit an entirely ad hoc and contrived reason as to why any piece of evidence might either be false, or might be explicable in the context of a God, or demon figure planting false evidence. If an fool really wants to believe in something, then the fool will find ways to make that belief work. For them.
[an old post from my previous blog. I am superbusy!]