Why Science Can’t Replace Religion

By Keith Kloor | August 24, 2012 11:25 am


Hero twin

Myths about the Hero Twins, one of whom is shown holding a bow here, are an important part of Navajo identity.

In certain circles, there is a violent allergic reaction whenever someone suggests that religion and science are compatible. A particular type of atheist is especially vulnerable to this immune disorder. For example, P.Z. Myers, the evolutionary biologist and pugnacious blogger, became famously symptomatic at a 2010 gathering of atheists. After one participant suggested that non-religious people could still be spiritual, Myers nearly retched:

Whenever we start talking about spirituality, I just want to puke.

I hope Myers didn’t have too much to eat before reading the headline from this week’s commentary in Nature: “Sometimes Science Must Give Way to Religion.” The column, by Arizona State University’s Daniel Sarewitz, suggests that rational explanation of the universe’s existence, as advanced recently by discovery of the Higgs boson, can’t match the feelings evoked by spectacular religious symbolism, such as that found in Cambodia’s ancient Hindu temples, which Sarewitz explored this summer. He writes:

The overwhelming scale of the temples, their architectural complexity, intricate and evocative ornamentation and natural setting combine to form a powerful sense of mystery and transcendence, of the fertility of the human imagination and ambition in a Universe whose enormity and logic evade comprehension.

Science is supposed to challenge this type of quasi-mystical subjective experience, to provide an antidote to it.

But in the words of Time magazine’s Jeffrey Kluger, “our brains and bodies contain an awful lot of spiritual wiring.” Religion is the antidote our evolutionary history created. And even if you don’t buy that particular theory, you can’t simply dismiss the psychological and cultural importance of religion. For much of our history, religion has deeply influenced all aspects of life, from how we cope with death and random disaster to what moral codes we abide by. That science should (or could) eliminate all this with a rationalist cleansing of civilization, as a vocal group of orthodox atheists have suggested, is highly improbable.

For many—including scientists—religion is not just an emotional salve and existential life preserver, it’s also the glue that holds one’s identity together. For instance, I’ve covered archaeology stories located in the American Southwest that have put science at odds with the history that some Indian tribes hold on to. I’ve written about Native American archaeologists who “sometimes find themselves torn between their culture and their profession, as tribal traditions clash with scientific inquiry.” This tightrope was revealed to me while reporting another story, during time I spent with Taft Blackhorse, a Navajo archaeologist. My piece was about the intersection of Navajo history (as Navajos told it) and archaeology. Blackhorse was my guide; he straddled both worlds—the traditional worldview of his culture and the professional world of archaeology. This is what he conveyed during one of the stretches we were together:

When discussing Navajo history, he [Blackhorse] recounts famous oral stories in a matter-of-fact fashion. I’d get snippets, such as the one when we were driving across the Navajo reservation in Shiprock and he’d point to a particular mesa and say: “That is where the hero twins shot down thunderbird with a lightning arrow.”

This sort of thing happened everywhere we went, with Blackhorse describing key events in Navajo oral tradition, involving the Hero Twins, Changing Woman, and other mythical figures central to Navajo creation stories. The easy, conversational manner in which he communicated these stories puzzled me until I came across this passage in literary scholar Paul Zolbrod’s book on Navajo oral history: “Navajos commonly point to landmarks on the reservation made prominent by episodes in the creation story.” Zolbrod went on to explain: “If Navajos relate to their landscape in a special way it is because one version or another of the creation cycle is immediate and familiar to them, whether they are young or old, modern or traditional.”

I don’t know if Blackhorse literally believes the mythical stories he told me. But it was obvious how important they were to him, and how strongly they affirmed his cultural identity. As the title of Sarewitz’s Nature column says, “Sometimes Science Must Give Way to Religion.”

Critics of the column—and there are many of them—seem to misunderstand this. One reader in the comment thread writes:

But although Mr Sarewitz is clearly correct in pointing out that particle physics is an unsatisfactory way of understanding the world for the large majority of people, it is dangerous nonsense for him to conclude that religion is therefore an acceptable alternative, just because it makes them feel better.

I don’t believe this is what Sarewitz has concluded. He’s merely pointing out that some people, no matter their background, are prone to experience a more spiritual, as opposed to rational, connection to the universe. That doesn’t mean that spirituality will (or should) supplant science. Rather, I think Sarewitz is saying that certain needs unique to the human condition cannot be satisfied by science alone. Scientists who prefer a strictly rationalist lens have a hard time accepting this.

I can understand why many of them strongly feel that religious belief has no place in modern society. Absolutism is one of the uglier traits of religion that still pervades too many corners of the Earth today, breeding intolerance and normalizing abhorrent actions. But a response that indicts all religion as a stain on humanity is equally absolutist. It is also inconsistent with the spirit of science.

Keith Kloor is a freelance journalist whose stories have appeared in a range of publications, from Science to Smithsonian. Since 2004, he’s been an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. You can find him on Twitter here.

Image: New Mexico Bureau of Land Management 


  • phanmo

    “…Myers nearly wretched…”
    Retched surely?

    Ed: Fixed

  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    “it’s also the glue that holds one’s identity together”-Racism also makes a good societal glue. That doesn’t mean it’s good or tolerable. Some people also need fake scapegoats for real problems. That doesn’t mean their scapegoatism is a thing we should not oppose. The very nature of religion is “inconsistent with the spirit of science”.

  • http://nrrd.de/ bronsen

    No we do not have to tolerate intolerant bigots.

  • Adriana

    Science and religion are more often than not, not compatible because they offer different accounts of our origins as a species, or the origins of our universe. Unless a person chooses to keep them compartmentalized (by cognitive dissonance, for example), clashes are inevitable. I dislike the word spirituality, but I can understand the awe experience by Daniel Sarewitz in Cambodia while seeing the majestic temples, I have felt that before many times when visiting sites of cultural importance, especially if magnificent architecture is combined with beautiful scenery. As a scientist, I have also felt the same awe every time we come closer to a scientific explanation of a natural phenomenon. The awe boil down to: “wow, what a fascinating species we are, always wanting to know more and to carry out more and more impressive feats.” I marvel at the human mind. We all yearn for connection with other humans and with our ancestors, which is why creation and hero myths exist. Personally, I can enjoy the narrative of the myths and the connection to the particular cultural group. I don’t need a supernatural explanation to feel that connection, for the connection is to other humans, whether living or long gone. The problem with religious beliefs is that more often than not in human history, they have contributed to wars, mayhem, domination, discrimination. Religion, especially organized religion, could safely disappear today, and we would not lose our capacity for feeling awe of human connections. We would for sure, lose one of the reasons to hate or kill other groups who do not share our beliefs.

  • David Ashleydale

    It’s an interesting thought, but I’d just like to see more evidence of this “spiritual wiring”. I’m not sure there’s proof that some (most?) humans are sort of hard-wired to “experience a more spiritual, as opposed to rational, connection to the universe.”

    It seems more likely to me that religion came about because we weren’t born knowing how the universe works. Humans are certainly creative, and good story tellers, and as long as this kind of “guessing” about origins and meanings sounded right, it made sense to just continue believing it.

    I wonder what would happen if a race of beings could be created with an innate knowledge of how the universe works. Would religion still develop?

  • Terri G

    As a neuroscientist I understand that when I sing gregorian chant with my catholic choir in that magnificent building surrounded by candles and the scent of incense, that there is a multitude of chemical reactions happening in my brain including endorphin (wOOt!) release and activation of the reward pathway (Yay dopamine!) . The experience however is not diminished by the scientific reality. And both the experience and the science are frankly absolutely thrilling. There are many people on both sides who are positional about their own particular viewpoint (scientific method vs. spirituality), and won’t understand how they can exist together. When in reality, they just do.

  • Chris

    I wonder if evolution is actually why we are religious. The whole survival of the fittest thing. Imagine you were living at any time up to a few hundred years ago. You came to the realization that there is no God and religion is a bunch of BS. What’s going to happen? At the best shunned and exiled from your community, at the worst killed. Your nonreligious genes are at an end. Meanwhile the very devote keep on being fertile and multiplying.

  • lee

    Science can’t replace religion in the same way that physics can’t replace historical fiction. They relate to two different things. The fact that people have emotional responses to meaningful or beautiful things, like landscapes or architecture, isn’t irrational; it’s part of being human. What science does do is reveal that religious creation myths are exactly that: myths.

  • Jason

    Just by my own personal experience, and from reading over some of the comments, I would say atheists have become some of the bigoted people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I suppose looking at history its natural for a group of people that have felt like they have been held down to try to do the same once they come into power. I do not see the inherent conflict between science and spirituality. Science answers questions of how, not have why. In fact they try to stay away from it. Spirit is all about the why, and little on the how. If you really want to show that you’re different than the people that you say you’re not like, I would suggest showing tolerance and judging people on their actions. Just a thought.

  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    What does appreciation of reality have to do with religion?

  • http://rusrus.bandcamp.com/ rus

    When people talk about the incompatibility of science and religion, they typically only relate to a specific type of literalist fundamentalist religion currently dominant in the united states and a few other states still stuck in the dark ages. But Buddhism does not have a creator god or a soul, neither do many traditional societies or systems treat their stories as literal fact. Science itself already HAS replaced other belief systems and practices as the dominant religion for many people. People who believe in the scientific method often object to this notion because of the mistaken assumption that religion requires god, superstition, etc. Some do, but not all.

  • http://chrome Skip Glancy

    To the neuroscientist who gets goosebumps singing in a magnificent building surrounded by candles and incense, Methinks you weren’t an acolyte. Take it from one, nothing demystifies the church quicker than espying a priest in the sacristy drinking sacramental wine out of the bottle.

    I wonder if those who admire magnificent temples built in adoration to insecure deities consider the broken backs of the laborers who built them.

    Religion has less in common with science than I do to the carrot in my refrigerator.

  • nunsuch

    “…rational explanation of the universe’s existence, as
    advanced recently by discovery of the Higgs boson, can’t
    match the feelings evoked by spectacular religious
    symbolism, such as that found in Cambodia’s ancient
    Hindu temples, which Sarewitz explored this summer”

    Don’t know about that- I followed the discovery of the Higgs as best as my lay mind could and got easily the emotional reward of any spiritual experience I’d had back in my more spiritual days. Ditto the Curiosity landing.

    And I remember seeing an early tokomak at LBL when I was a much younger person. Far more awe-inspiring for me than any church. I get a similar feeling looking at the grand projects like the LHC, the nutron detectors, et alia.

    TL;DR. Don’t confuse aesthetic preferences with spiritual need.

  • Henry

    When one talks about origins and evolution or creation, science addresses matters of how things came into being but it is not in the realm of science to address “why” things came into being and why things are the way they are…if by science we try to do this then it has crossed its realm….in the same way religion or religious truths is concerned of the why and should not try to have claim to the how and leave that to discoveries by science…….both in the end are like two wings of a bird…..any one claiming to have one alone is simply trying to justify their position…..the only position we must strive to take is to seek out what does exist today beyond all our attempts to do otherwise….and that precisely it is.

  • http://jonathan-peterson.com Jonathan Peterson

    Science tries to explain HOW, religion and sprituality tries to explain WHY.

    But while a lot fewer people have died in the name of science than in the name of god, a rationalist who ignores that WHY is an interesting (and unanswerable) question for many humans is no less an extremist than a zealot who insists on his particular set of beliefs being the only acceptable explanation of HOW.

  • Matt

    @David Ashleydale: Read “The Believing Brain” by Michael Shermer. There is plenty of evidence that belief in the supernatural/unnatural developed for survivability reasons. What strikes me as funny about your comment is that you say “It seems more likely to me…”, which falls more in line with your beliefs than any research that has been presented on the topic recently.

    @Chris: I think you’re confusing evolution with social Darwinism.

  • gameshowhost

    Frankly I’m more amazed by the things we keep discovering than I am with any religious tale. Being satisfied with clumsy, irrational “answers” is no way to go through life.

  • Illogical


    […we do not have to tolerate intolerant…]

    Please tell me you see the irony in your statement.

  • KarlVonMox

    Religion should go away and nothing should replace it – no one is saying science should replace religion. Form new identities and find new sources of psychological importance. If you want to continue to find value in these obviously manmade, fabricated and mad ancient texts that is your perogative, but it just shows how you fail to realize the damage done to society in the process.

  • yonnie

    Yes it can! Now that we know we are wired for religion, we can make use of this “god-spot” in a scientific way. Science can be used to make others aware of this mental wiring and our human weakness towards religion. It’s obviously very addictive but can be easily thwarted by using meditation to achieve a similar mental “high.”

    Warning others, perhaps posting signs about mental health hazards around churches and posting techniques to use to lessen the effects of religion. Science can then be used to grow and improve everyone’s mental health. Freeing the human race from religion forever! (via Science)

  • Shine

    If religion is so irreplaceable and/or intrinsic, one has to wonder why it’s dying. Belief in God(s) is lower than ever and declining further year after year. A one-way trajectory that’s showing no signs of reversal. In fact, sort by age and you can see that the only thing holding up the number of believers is the faith of the elderly people. And they’ll be dead soon enough. The younger generations in developed countries have given up on religion by and large. Even a “yes” on do you believe in God(s) is merely superficial these days.

    So much for the glue that holds together identities.

  • Hudasx

    Why should scientists be too worked up against spirituality? If we don’t have all the answers to important questions, why should we ruin it for everyone? So what if you know how this movie ends? Shut up and let others enjoy it.

  • http://chrome Skip Glancy

    There are far too many religious apologists who’s only response to a logical argument is to yell ” shut up!” Intolerance is sometimes a major religious tenet.

  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    @Hudasx #22

    “If we don’t have all the answers to important questions, why should we ruin it for everyone?”-Because their assertions are unsupported by the evidence and some of them are in power. “So what if you know how this movie ends? Shut up and let others enjoy it.”-And let millions suffer because of their enjoyment?

  • Darren

    Religion does indeed require a belief in a deity or at least some “supernatural force”, very often on faith alone. It’s a false equivalence to say “well, others believe in science. it’s a wash, we’re all religious”
    @ Jonathan Peterson –
    Yes, WHY is an interesting question, but what religion will concede that it is also “unanswerable”. It is precisely the idea that they think they have an answer that is problematic. And frankly, a rationalist who says “The WHY of it all isn’t interesting” is very much less of a zealot than one who insists on their own particular beliefs. When was the last time a zealot of the church of “meh” pushed for all schools to teach their particular “lack of interest”?

    finally, @ the article/author-
    Your final lines are utter nonsense. Are the absolutist positions of math and logic in any way meaningfully comparable to the positions of various religions? If I say “it is wrong, at all times, for all people, to believe in a proposition without adequate evidence”, I have both indicted religion and captured the spirit of science. So science and religion are compatible, so what? So is science and schizophrenia, it doesn’t mean schizophrenia is an acceptable way to relate to the world.

  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    #15 Jonathan Peterson

    “Science tries to explain HOW, religion and sprituality tries to explain WHY.”-One by observation, the other by making stuff up.

  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    @rus #11
    ” neither do many traditional societies or systems treat their stories as literal fact…”-Then why do they have these stories? To entertain? Let them than experience Technicolor!

  • rtcdmc

    It’s disappointing to read the comments of so many closed minds. There is no functional difference between a “scientist” who demands that others believe what they’re told to believe, and a religious zealot screaming the same thing. As for the article, I found it be a nuanced treatment of the subject. I have only one question, how do we know that there weren’t Hero Twins in prehistory that actually did shoot down the Thunderbird?

  • http://chrome Skip Glancy

    “I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong. If we will only allow that, as we progress, we remain unsure, we will leave opportunities for alternatives. We will not become enthusiastic for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth of the day, but remain always uncertain … In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar.”
    “We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on.”
    ― Richard P. Feynman

  • Eric

    My favorite point of contention with religious folk is their questions along the lines of “So how did we get here/how was the universe created/what’s our purpose in being here?” My response is “Why does it matter?” We exist, the Universe exists, and we are alive in the here and now. Does a reason have to exist in order to enjoy ourselves in this life? Does our life have to have a Purpose other than to simply live?

    What does clinging to a mythical story about creation add to your life that wouldn’t be there without it?

  • Mike A.

    Some of the most religious people I know are scientists. They can be bigoted, dogmatic, opinionated and down-right nasty to opposing views. Sounds like the symptoms of religious ferver to me…

  • Howard

    Science and faith are incompatible: In god we trust, all others pay cash.

    People confuse faith with the predictable physiological and psychological responses to religion sponsored fiction, art, wine, incense, chanting, etc that induce people to faith. Religious entertainment/indoctrination, like hypnotism and magic tricks can be easily explained by science. The “god” wiring is just a neurological placeholder for stuff we don’t understand.

    Try to imagine explaining eclipses, sunrise and sunset, lunar cycles, the seasons, animal migration patterns, lightening, thunder, earthquakes, floods, dust storms, hurricanes, etc. 100,000-years ago. Back then, people were not standing on the shoulders of giants, they were huddled in caves. Then try to imagine the power bestowed upon the few who could predict future occurrences of some things and fanciful explanations of others. Scientific discovery was the power behind religion and scientists were the voice and face of god.

    As we understand more and more from scientific discovery, the need for god declines. As is the case, sociology advances faster than biology as vanity continues to reign supreme.

  • User 0

    The transcendent, earth-repudiating warrior Gods of JudeoChristianIslamic religions will naturally attract those of similar inclination. A nice Agrarian God would be a welcome target for worship but hasn’t been in vogue since the stone age.

  • Dennis

    Religion served a purpose in our past. It provided answers and gave us the sense of being part of a grand plan, with the added benefit of many religions’ offering immortality or afterlife. Who wouldn’t want that? Absent scientific evidence against such things, or scientific answers to those other mysteries we clung to magic since there was for most of our history, no alternative. It is only in the last few generations that a preponderance of contradictory information, science, has been substantial enough to offer more definitive answers to most of those mysteries.

    Traditions die hard, especially here in the western world where organized religions encourage indoctrination to begin immediately in a child’s life. Indoctrinate early, indoctrinate often, is a tried and trued method of instilling religious thought as the default, go-to, reaction for hard to understand phenomena. Even to the point of trumping rational thought and intelligence.

    Once parents, in vast numbers, stop taking their precious cupcakes to primary indoctrination classes every week or more, the default, go-to thinking will diminish. I believe that we are seeing this now, just not as quickly as some would like.

    Religion will continue to be less and less meaningful over time, at least in economically tolerable societies. I doubt that it will disappear in our or our childrens’ lifetimes, but there will be a point where it will slide under the radar. Many European countries, the hometowns of our own religious traditions, are already near this point.

  • Joules Beef

    I dont have a problem with religion per se, just those who try to legislate it, So I am not one of those that want to “cleanse” religion from society. But I think where are basic disagreement comes in, is where you talk about how much religion has affected society. I think this goes back to the culture/alt question and which drives which. But by suggesting that “religion” influenced our moral codes, suggests that we did not in fact create religion, and seed it with the morals we already believed. When you look through history and how many religions are used and come to be and change, you see this is often due to people injecting their own moral codes, which they derived themselves.

    You can see it in the change of Christianity in the US, at least with the vocal political christians, they are less concerned about the poor and working on sundays than they are about gay people getting married. While their is evidence against gay sex in the bible, it isnt the bible driving morals, as their is evidence that slavery is ok, rape is ok, working on sunday isnt, lying isnt and yet these arent part of our modern morals.

    I say it isnt religion influencing man, more than a few men influencing religion and then using that to influence a lot of men. Guns dont shoot people, people do. Religion doesnt influence, those that weld religion do.

  • JimmyDean Breakfastsausage

    The vast majority of the “religious” that I have met, talked to, read or seen don’t have a clue what their religion entails. They don’t understand the bible, how it came to be and all the inconsistencies in it.

    Many don’t have any idea what they believe, they just have an empty headed “faith”. So, is spirituality simply being ignorant? “I don’t know how that works, it must be GOD. I’m so impressed! I’m so spiritual!”

    Then there are those who not only know what its about, they know what God wants, what he wants from him or her, and what God wants him or her to do to the rest of us. Namely convert us, or at least ensure we follow his/her particular version of their religious tenants and make them into laws.

    Thank you, but no thank you.

    I get enough “spiritual joy” from simply looking at a well developed storm cloud. The milky way. Lightening and thunder. Micro biology. My dog. Dwelling on the size of the universe.

    I simply don’t understand how any thinking being can possibly believe in a God that “cares about and loves and interferes” in human lives. There is simply NO EVIDENCE AT ALL. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero.

    Could there be an omnipotent being? Possibly. Is there? Maybe. Is he, she or it catching the smallest sparrow? No. He is not saving babies, stopping plaques, tidal waves, plane crashes, starving children. It isn’t happening. Neither a burning bush or a burnt grilled cheese sandwich in the shape of Jesus is proof of HIS existence. Lets get real folks.

    Yet a whole bunch of people want me to live my life by their rules. No shopping on Sunday. No drinking. No smoking. A good portion of the world wants us to get down on our hands and knees and pray many times a day, and are prepared to kill us if we don’t. But some fine Christians want to protect us from them, and re-enact mandatory prayer in school. It just has to be THEIR prayers. To THEIR God. And if you don’t believe in God, your a terrible person.

    Oh, but it’s the atheists who are such terrible people, what with suppressing the majority of those poor minority Christian folk. What with our war on Christmas, and preventing those poor children from learning about how God created the world in six days, Adam and Eve, who’s children fornicated, incest being the only way to produce the human race, if you believe the Bible.

    Spirituality? Oh! The wind is caressing my cheek! Or is it God? Mama got cancer and died. She’s with God now. Or maybe, she didn’t get cancer, it was just her time, and God decided to take her. He just took her real slow like, making her live in agony for months, screaming with pain so bad she urinated herself. She screamed herself horse until she passed out. Thank you God.

    Yes, every time I hear someone say we need to get in touch with our spirituality, I want to hurl as well.

  • Kevin Foster Keddie

    Human civilization is based on religion. Humans used religious thought (beginning with ritual burial) to build a model to gain control of the natural world. Think of religion as the rule set that humans use to order their relations. These rules contravene instinct. In the movie “Gran Torino”, what is the behavior of the hero at the end of the story? What do most societies honor and revere as the ultimate sacrifice? Giving one’s life to save members of one’s community. This behavior goes completely against human instinct. If you examine the rule sets of religions you will see that, at their most fundamental level, they are behaviors that go against our natural instincts and benefit members of the community, not necessarily the individual (except in the long run).

    As history has unfolded, what is it the history of? It is the history of competing rule sets (religions) testing the efficacy of their rules against another rule set. In God and Gold, Walter Russell Mead outlines this history in the Western World with the development of capitalism. It was capitalism and Christianity together which drove the engine creating the amazing standard of living we enjoy today.

    And where did capitalism begin? Most would point to the development of the city states of Italy. And what was the source of that surplus wealth that was created? Finished wool. The process for finishing wool was developed by Italian monks applying the Rule of Benedict over hundreds of years. Ritual, repetition and rules repeated over many, many iterations.

    And what do we see today? Sunni and Shia fighting the same fight that Catholics and Protestants fought during the Reformation. And remember, it took a few hundred years for the Catholics and Protestants to sort that out.

    How do the top Brands in corporations survive and thrive? By adopting certain rule sets to order the behavior among the employees in their organizations. St Augustine of Hippo was the first leader I have identified to use branding, marketing jingles and ritual to convert the rural tribes in Northern Africa.

    When examining the impact of religions on human development, look not so much at the dogma as the rules and the behaviors of the adherents.

    We have a Mormon running for President. Before looking at the dogma, what are the behaviors – and, more importantly, what are the outcomes for members of that community? Life span? Health? Happiness? Standard of living?

    The science of complex systems evaluates natural systems and how other living systems adapt to their environment by adopting rules between their respective communities. Ants, bees, birds, termites, slime mold, fish, all these natural systems have much in common with the natural system that is human society. One big difference is that human social systems – conscious complex systems in general – have the added feature that the agents in these systems seek to understand their role in the systems and may attempt system modification.

    Religion is an adaptation in human social systems that improves the resilience of the system.

    The interesting thing to ponder is the amazing amount of similarities between all these systems and how they adapt. One might begin to think the similarity in system design suggests … something.

    For those who are interested, you might explore Bayes Theorem, the history of its development, its rejection and eventual adoption as a fundamental basis for much statistical analysis. In the context of this piece, reading how contemporaries viewed Bayes theorem is interesting. (Hint: basically, they believed it proved the existence of God mathematically).

  • Sam Walker

    Really, the only question here worth considering is “What is the appropriate response to take when scientific fact comes into conflict with one’s faith?”. And the only sane response is “One must revise one’s faith.”

    Anyone who argues anything else is not someone whose opinion I can take seriously.

  • Ted

    Before criticizing the compatibility between science and religion, people need to understand the context in which scripture exists. If the exegesis is understood, then I think people can better understand how the two can harmoniously occur. Buttressing this point, my scripture professor even accepts the big bang theory, etc.

  • Ralph Lynch

    Why any argument at all? If you or don’t believe, what’s the problem? Believe as you want. Note that the impulse to use force to control the beliefs of others usually comes from those who worship government. They want to worship, to believe in something. What a tragedy that their holy impulses are misdirected to such a profane institution. Government as God, yuck. Just don’t force me, either way, mofo.

  • Marius

    Religion doesn’t need replacing. Do you replace a cancer you cut out?

  • Steve D

    Religion is not going away. Period. People who think they can outlast it or beat it down are in for a sad letdown. Voltaire predicted nobody would be reading the Bible in 200 years. That’s why every motel room has a copy of Voltaire’s writings in the nightstand.

    I once heard a State Department analyst tell how he expressed a desire to learn about Islam early in his career. “Forget Islam,” he was told, “MARXISM will dominate thinking in the Middle East.” Guess what? Somebody forgot to send the memo. Sorry, Shine, organized sects are breaking down. Not religion. But wishful thinking is comforting.

    Jonathan Peterson: “a lot fewer people have died in the name of science than in the name of god..” Unless you count the purportedly “scientific” theory of history and economics offered by Marxism. The reality is that people will kill if they think they have some transcendent justification. In the past that was nationalism and religion. Nowadays social justice (fascism and Marxism) and environmentalism promise to step up to the plate. And if they can cobble together a “scientific” justification, so much the worse.

    We see in visible light because the atmosphere is transparent in those wavelengths. We think the way we do because we’re huge compared with atoms, tiny compared with the universe, slow compared with atomic time scales and the speed of light. That’s why relativity and quantum mechanics aren’t intuitive for most people. So if we’re hard wired for religious belief, maybe it’s because there’s some reality there?

  • usrename

    #15 Jonathan Peterson

    [i]”But while a lot fewer people have died in the name of science than in the name of god…”[/i]

    That’s an odd statement to make in the 21st century. Very odd.

    Look around; we are the most efficient killers that have ever existed. And yes, we have made a science of it all, from the development of weapons and training of the soldiers to the identification of the enemy, it’s all VERY scientific. As a matter of fact, the only place that religion even enters into the picture is that it’s probably easier to train a religious person to kill a stranger, which explains all the proselytizing in combat zones. Other than that, it looks like pure science to me.

    Once the cost/benefit analysis shows a positive return, they’re going to nuke us all. You do understand that don’t you?

  • tanboontee

    It would be naive to claim that science could replace religion. They cater for different yet essential domains of human life, one functionality, the other spirituality. Both are irreplaceable, they equally serve the fundamental needs of man. (btt1943)

  • Mr.Lynch

    I used to believe only in science, and had come to think that science had better, surer answers than religion. I was the picture of a modern, atheistic scientist/engineer.

    But I eventually began to realize that my belief in the complete sufficiency of science was predicated on several assumptions:

    * that only observable things could be real
    * that religions were invented to fill gaps in scientific knowledge.

    These things are often assumed without question, rather than concluded as a result of inquiry. Once I began to inquire, a hitherto unknown universe of knowledge opened up to me, with great thinkers, scientists, playwrights, poets and historians of past ages sharing their struggles to know and share Truth. I learned that those people were not as stupid as I thought they were. And then I realized that it was I — with my pseudo scientific attitude — who was living in a world that I had constructed for my intellectual and emotional comfort, and not they.

    The most important things in existence cannot be measured, nor predicted with models — this is the realization that drives people — even scientists — to be at least spiritual if not outright religious.

  • Mr.Lynch

    @30 Eric: “My favorite point of contention with religious folk is their questions along the lines of “So how did we get here/how was the universe created/what’s our purpose in being here?” My response is “Why does it matter?” We exist, the Universe exists, and we are alive in the here and now. Does a reason have to exist in order to enjoy ourselves in this life? Does our life have to have a Purpose other than to simply live? ”

    Your last question is especially pertinent. Yet it begs the questions, “what is my life?” and “is this all there is?” and “Is there something better?” The religious folks you speak of — if they are genuine and not some sort of manipulative frauds — are convinced that the next life is better than this one for those who love God and love their “neighbor”, and they don’t want you, Eric, to miss out. They want you to experience the joy of love from God and your neighbors, the joy of giving love to God and your neighbors, and to prepare to share in the divine life when you pass from this world. Frankly, if someone were of these beliefs and DIDN’T want to share them with me, I would feel hurt. I hope you can learn to see it the same way.

  • Icelander

    My opinion: Spiritual realities are the result of a growth stage every person can go through if s/he decides to and has had the luck of receiving correct information about it. It´s about real new perception of the world and new insights one couldn´t have imagined before experiencing that stage. Like every growth stage it requires attention, care and personal investment. Spiritual PRACTICE results in a new worldview of the participant that is hard to communicate through scientific proof, plainly because it requires a personal experience and is above logical growth stages.

    Scientific method is though very useful to watch some of its phenomenal world impacts. Like changes in the body (endorphins have been mentioned here) and to explore cross-cultural aspects in a comparative way (the many truly esoteric traditions of the world often have identical structures even though those where developed independently of each other).

    In so many ancient settings, spiritual aboriginals have seen that the world is a living consciousness and so many esoteric traditions say the same. But could I communicate such knowledge with you scientifically even when loving science? Mostly one can only point towards implications. I recommend Ken Wilber´s work for groundbreaking conceptual clarity of spiritual worldview. And I recommend spiritual PRACTICE as a method for honest inquiry for knowledge (not as believe-system).

  • Mike A.

    Sam Walker says, “Really, the only question here worth considering is “What is the appropriate response to take when scientific fact comes into conflict with one’s faith?”. And the only sane response is “One must revise one’s faith.” Anyone who argues anything else is not someone whose opinion I can take seriously.”

    That’s an interesting viewpoint – blindly accepting that science is always “right”… Remember BPA laden plastics? DDT? Bhopol, India? Eugenics? Nazi Medical experiments? (I’ll stop now but the list of scientific bloopers is at least as long as Islam’s or Christianity’s bloopers and most of them cost people’s lives…)

    Interestingly, blind acceptance of a set of guiding principles in an unquestioning manner (faith) is at the heart of all religions… It is how we are wired. It appears to me that “science” is simply attempting to become the new religion. Beware. “Science” is certainly not always right and it doesn’t tolerate competing views well… It will make a terrible religion and a very harsh master.

  • Garth M.

    Mike you say – ““Science” is certainly not always right and it doesn’t tolerate competing views well”. I’m afraid I have to disagree with this statement. Science is almost never complete. Science is contantly looking for better answers and by definition will have times when it is not “right”.

    One of the key elements of science is in fact “competing views” and its is the only method of study known to man that allows and tolerates “competing views” as part of the method. This characteristic of the scientific method is in fact at the core of the difference between science and religion. Religion allows only one opinion, the opinion (with many interpretations) based on a single religious text. Religion has faith and dogma as its basis which by definition does not permit critical analysis of evidence.

    Scientific method doesn’t care much for the religious oppinion of the scientist and is most certainly not a religion and can never be.

  • Nolan Winters

    Science and Religion (in their pure forms, un-misused) are tools of understanding existence. The one indisputable fact that science teaches us — if we’re willing to listen — is that science is limited in its ability to explain things. Science can, through theory and experimentation, explain the how or why of events or cycles of events but it can not — and indeed is conceived in such a way as to be unable to — determine “meaning.” To simplify: science can tell you every possible physics equation to describe the motion of ever quanta of energy in a car going from A to B, the effects it has on the energy states around it, and more details than a sane person would want to know; however, it can not provide insight into the ‘why’ of the going from A to B. Religion seeks to understand the ‘meaning’ of all the bits of data science discovered, even though it may misinterpret or utterly miss that underlying meaning (some poor guy dashing out at 3 am to find ice cream for his pregnant wife.)

    This isn’t troubling except to the faux-scientists who wish to supplant classical religion with the religion-of-science.

    When either Science or Religion seek to dominate the entire range of human experience, the pogroms begin.

  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    “Remember BPA laden plastics? DDT? Bhopol, India? Eugenics? Nazi Medical experiments?”-These errors were corrected, apologized for, or understood as wrong. Show me a single religionist who thinks the tale of the Noahic flood was a story about evil done by the god. “It appears to me that “science” is simply attempting to become the new religion.”-Critical thinking, consideration of evidence, and argument is a religion? “certainly not always right and it doesn’t tolerate competing views well”-Because all the other views, if they contradict it, have no solid basis. “It will make a terrible religion and a very harsh master.”-That is why it attempts to be neither.

  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    @Steve D #40- What was scientific about Marxism? What evidence was it based upon? “So if we’re hard wired for religious belief, maybe it’s because there’s some reality there”-A reality of patterns, yes. A reality of religion itself, no.

  • Mike A.

    Enopoletus Harding Says: “…-That is why it attempts to be neither.”

    Well said sir, your unwavering *faith* in “Science” simply proves my point. Humans will always be religious. Be careful though, it was “critical thinking, consideration of evidence and argument” absent morality that lead us to our current environmental impasse. So, if you are going to worship the gods of science, please, at the very least follow in Einstein’s footsteps and study a bit of philosophy along with it so you aren’t too easily lead astray by the current consensus of the scientific community.

  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    @ Mike A #46

    I do not have faith in science. As says the great xkcd, “It works, b**ches”. Be careful about trying to predict the future. What “environmental impasse” are you talking about? There are no gods of science-does not your god say to “not bear false witness”? What parts of philosophy do you recommend I study?

  • Shine

    Steve D #40, Voltaire simply got the time scale wrong. Everyone knows religion has fallen apart in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. But in fact, belief has collapsed in Western Europe as well. Germany, France, and possibly the UK are all below 50% for belief in God (the UK’s crossover was recent, hence you may find some conflicting data). And there are plenty of surveys (such as the census or Pew’s polls) that keep track of American beliefs. Although Americans still hold on to primitive beliefs much more than their cousins, you can see the % atheist/agnostic/irreligious inch up a bit at every iteration.

    Sorry, the trend is there. For us to not conclude that religion is dying, there would have to be evidence of a counter trend. But it seems to be one-way: if a religious family raises a non-religious child, religion is usually permanently lost from that line; on the other hand, few lines seem to gain religion. So it’s a war of slow attrition. Voltaire just needed to add a hundred years or two. But wishful thinking is comforting, isn’t it? How terrible it must be to look out at the world and see the young spit on what you consider ultimate truth.

  • The New Religion

    I challenge the premise of the article title. Science will become religion.

    The theoretical physicists will be the high priests. As the only ones capable of truly understanding their secret and complex mathematical knowledge of the nature of reality, the less educated masses will need to take them at their word. After all they focus on many of the eternal questions that are central in many religions e.g. life after death, creation, and immortality.

    As technology increases, miracles in medicine and engineering will extend life, cure disease, cause the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and paralyzed to walk. Already, only those with the best access capable of paying (whether through health coverage or not) are able to receive the benefits of our new healers and miracle workers.

    All we need are temples. Maybe we have them already. Anyone care to join me on a pilgrimage to the Large Hadron Collider. I am told they discovered proof of God.

  • JimmyDean Breakfastsausage

    Mike A says:

    “That’s an interesting viewpoint – blindly accepting that science is always “right”… Remember BPA laden plastics? DDT? Bhopol, India? Eugenics? Nazi Medical experiments? (I’ll stop now but the list of scientific bloopers is at least as long as Islam’s or Christianity’s bloopers and most of them cost people’s lives…)”

    Your confusing science with marketing, pseudo science, and further you are confusing a way of seeking knowledge with morality. Science is neither good nor bad. Science is a method of seeking knowledge. It can be used for an infinite variety of things, but it has no purpose in itself except for what people use it for.
    If its used for evil it’s hardly science to blame. If products are used that are unsafe, it isn’t “science”s fault, its the fault of humans for being short sighted. Certainly don’t blame a method of collecting and analyzing information for what the Nazi’s did. It’s no more sciences fault then the stake the Catholic church tied people to and burned them on is to blame. It’s silly to blame science.

    Don’t blame science for BHopal. Blame cost cutters and corrupt greedy politicians. Don’t blame science if humans want their new toys without any real testing. Until science came along people defecated, drank and ate all from the same water source. We wash our hands today (some of us) because of science.

    At least science has methods of self correcting and searching for truth. Religion is just the opposite. They hold onto lies, myths, fables and fairy tales for as long as possible, often willing to kill to ensure those lies are allowed to continue. The USA is exporting their spirituality to South Africa in the form of witch burning. They are also exporting creationism. The provably false notion of a young earth and that man was created by God. Is spiritualism sticking your head in the sand when given facts that conflict with your world view? Sticking your fingers in your ears, closing your eyes and screaming out loud to prevent any facts from infiltrating your beliefs?

    Mike A further says:
    ” Be careful though, it was “critical thinking, consideration of evidence and argument” absent morality that lead us to our current environmental impasse.”

    Funny, its the religious right who is rallying against environment laws, campaigning against and denying global warming. It’s the religious right, Catholics and Islam that hate birth control. Birth control that is so sorely needed to control our ever burgeoning population. On the opposite side, its science that has humans living well into a hundred years. It’s science that has measurably improved humans well being. No prayer has cured any plague. Microbiology has. Science has increased the harvest-able crops.

    Perhaps if Islam hadn’t banned math and science a thousand years ago we would have had a jump start on realizing our mistakes. Perhaps if the Catholic church hadn’t brutally repressed any ideas that conflicted with the churches teaching we would have learned more earlier and learned to be better stewards.

    I keep hearing about “spirituality”, but in reality, this means nothing, because it means something different to different people. Does a Baptist consider crystals spirituality? Do Muslims consider Jews spiritual? How about Scientology? How spiritual are they? What about Wiccans, druids, or those who worship Ra?

    Another commenter is probably right. Religion is here to stay. It’s here to stay because humans are deeply flawed animals. And even though science is a tool that seeks truth and is self correcting, it may always be the minority because so many humans would rather live in ignorant bliss then face some hard truths.

    It’s so much easier to have others do your thinking for you. Religion makes that easy. You don’t have to form your own opinions over whats right or wrong. You just take the word of the local Imam (when he isn’t busy sending out suicide bombers). Or Priest (when he isn’t busy raping children). Or Minister (When he isn’t busy burning the Koran, or busy condemning homosexuals, or busy condemning working mothers or busy condemning birth control or busy condemning atheists, or busy telling everyone the Indonesian tidal wave happened because of the Gays, or busy telling everyone looking at naked women makes you insane, or busy telling everyone the Japanese tidal wave was caused by Gays, or busy telling everyone the Hatian earthquake was Gods warning, etc, etc, etc, etc,……..)

    The religious often say they know the truth, even though they all contradict each other, but in reality science is the ONLY TESTABLE method of determining what is true.

  • Frater NNN

    “We place no reliance on virgin nor pigeon; Our method is Science, Our aim is Religion.” Motto of the A.’.A.’.

  • will knutsen

    Well said, Mike A!

  • Keith Kloor

    Thanks, all, for the interesting discussion.

    I happen to be a long-time atheist. Bertrand Russell converted me at a young age. :)

    But I also consider myself a “humanist” in the broad sense of the term. So I’m open and tolerant of others who find meaning in a spiritual realm and take comfort from a religious faith.

    I also can relate to the perpetual struggle laid out in this excellent comment by a reader at my blog (where I posted a link to this essay). http://www.collide-a-scape.com/2012/08/24/why-science-cant-replace-religion/comment-page-1/#comment-118709

  • Bruce W. Fowler

    Can we tell the difference between a refereed article and a piece of opinion? Apparently not.

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  • Ramon Casha

    I disagree with the premise of this article. Religion is not needed at all, period. It does not follow that the replacement is science.

    For the most part, gods were created as a way to provide an explanation for every phenomenon for which no better explanation existed. Volcano? There’s an angry god in there. Lightning? Clearly an angry god in the clouds. Rainbows? A forgetful god put them there to remind himself not to commit genocide via drowning again.

    From this, and possibly our unwillingness to accept that at death we are gone for good, came religion which is a formalised, systematic way of dealing with gods.

    As science progressed, we learned a lot about the world surrounding us. The Montgolfier brothers proved there are no gods in the clouds, and Gagarin didn’t find him beyond the atmosphere either. We’ve long since learned the principles of light refraction so rainbows are accepted as a natural phenomenon. Science has removed the original need for gods. Every single thing that we know of has explanations in science – the latest discoveries in science are usually at such small scales (subatomic particles), or so distant (other galaxies etc) that they’re not things we interact with in our daily lives.

    Of course religion usually offers some story about what happens after death but let’s face it – it doesn’t really do anything to stem the tears. It is possible for science to create some kind of real immortality but that won’t be for a very long time. What we can do – and this is not a matter of science – is to change our attitude from looking ahead at the end of our life as it inevitably approaches, towarsd looking back hopefully with some satisfaction at what we’ve done in life.

  • JimmyDean Breakfastsausage

    Regardless how I come across, I too believe in letting others believe what they want to believe. I doubt very much I could change their minds in any case.

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  • Peter

    Science gives us the true by knowledge studying the reality.

    It’s a great blessing because only science has increased our conscious, expanded our vision, propitiated increase of the life quality. It brings more and more possibilities of cures, it gives us the true dimension of what are both the life and the universe.

    For what religions? Where has religions there are darkness, intolerance, prejudice, archaic moral judgements, fear, segregation, mental virtual worlds and not realities. Where has religions have beliefes in the what? Minds in dimensions out of reality.

    Religions will end for themselves.

  • IW
  • BrentAZ

    Science and religion are 100% compatible and the human desire for a relationship with God is undeniable.

    For those attempting to blame religion for hatred and intollerance, your argument lacks merit in basic scientific thought around causation. While certainly there are instances where humans have used religion as an excuse for violence, this does not mean that religion is the cause. In fact, if we look at the past century, three very clear instances of Atheistic violent and hate-filled regimes dominate the view. German Nazis, Russian Communists, and Chinese Communists are all devout atheists, yet they inflicted great harm on their people. Using scientific reasoning we must conlcude that violence and hate are human conditions, not ones born out of religion itself.

    The answer to this lies outside of psychology and other sciences and in something much less tangible. The answer lies in a Father’s love for his creation. God created the world, maybe not in a literal 6 days (considering that the days and nights wer created during those six days) but it was created, He created us with free choice, so that we may seek Him. Science brings us closer to God, when it is done with the glory of God in mind. We must understand that what was written through divine inspiration in the Bible, was written for human consumption only as late as the first few centuries A.D. The creation story was written to explain something unexplainable to a human a couple thousand years, B.C.

  • vel

    Religion does one thing, it tells a story to make a human feel important. It makes them sure that they can control the universe, generally by beseeching a being that is no better than those who have invented it.

    It may be a cultural link, to get you to agree with your fellow “tribesmen”. So does eating certain foods, enslaving the “other”, deciding that you deserve that piece of ground, slashing at a woman’s genitalia, etc. It is based on ignorance and superstition and it can be thrown away. You aren’t that special, and you need to worth with others to improve the world. No imaginary friend is going to do that for you.

  • Peter


    Faith doesn’t explain anything. Faith neither moves machines nor airplanes. Faith didn’t build the computer, nor satellites nor it treats our decayed teeth. The science doesn’t base on Faith to find the truth on the things.

    The real knowledge needs to be proven to have the certainty that works, and for that he cannot count with help of the Faith, because the Faith doesn’t have Mathematics, Physics, doesn’t have algorithms, it doesn’t have anything of real base that it can use as measure or as a proof tool.

    In the same way, when some try to use the justification of the Faith to explain because scientists are going for one road of theoretical speculation among several available, they are wrong.

    Hawking didn’t use Faith to create to their Theories on the black holes, many of them were proven and little other, not. He simply decided for roads based in the knowledge that he had access, with the contribution portion that came from his own mind, but the chosen theoretical road it didn’t crystallize for faith of him, but for logic, for reasoning, with help of mathematical base, not for Faith. Only the rational base using science tools really explains most of his successes, no the Faith in “a road”.

    The Faith doesn’t give base none for them to get right more than wander in the theories that formulate, if it went like this, they would wander much more and they would lose credibility.

  • http://www.facebook.com/numandina Huss D

    This is a stupid article that made me shake my head and laugh more than once. While it’s true that we’re wired to be SPIRITUAL, this is only the result of us being previously wired to evade death and to avoid ignorance. But only because we hadn’t yet grown to the mental capacity to describe phenomenon around us and only because we tried to relieve ourselves from thoughts of death as much as possible did we invent religion. It is not the ‘antidote our evolutionary history created’, on the contrary, it is a huge misdirection of our evolutionary instincts!

    These instincts (most notably fear) is the fuel religions use to bring people together, all under the false guise of love and truth. This is no different than the KKK being an organization used to bring people together, where it’s use and comfort provided was beneficial to those in the group itself but harmful to anyone outside of it and harmful to humanity as a whole. This type of short term bounded comfort is a constraint that holds our species from ever reaching our full potential! It’s always worse to live in ignorant comfort no matter the circumstances.

    Religion did come to embody itself as a social construct over time (natural as one of its purposes was social control), but it is still one that is very poorly constructed since it depends on local traditions and values to move its point across. Again, while this is useful for the certain group it is still harmful to ALL of humanity since it divides each group into living according to its own rules. This was possibly helpful in early times so that each group would survive but the current civilized world doesn’t need any more divisions by dogma to continue its survival.

    While science itself can be seen somewhat dogmatic (read: Problem of induction) and personally I am beginning to doubt that science holds any kind of truth at all, at least it isn’t as set in concrete as religion is. The problem with religion is that it doesn’t keep with the times as it is supposedly perfect, but even if science is a wrongful model to pursue the truth with, it is at least much less of a self-propagated delusion and more of a self-propagated useful delusion than religion is. The useful part is that it doesn’t stop at helping individuals or certain groups in the short term, but rather helping humanity as a whole for the long term.

    You give religion too much credit. I’d rather be a cancer patient that knows I won’t be going anywhere after I die than being weak enough to bask in the comfort of fantasies. Abiding by the most plausible of the two truths is more comforting to me. Religion is nothing more than a vestige of the early stages of advancing civilizations and should not be regarded as anything more.

  • Peter


    Only a detail regarding his interesting comment.

    It’s very simple to see where is the true (or trues).

    Sits down in a char and simulate a fall. One thousand of times. All of te times you will fall. There is a real explication for that fact. Gravity. Beliefs or Faith don”t explain it. Science finds an equation. You can calculate both time and velocity of your falls. It runs always. Only in Earth? Not, in Moon, Mars, anywhere in universe, the same equation. So the gravity is a true.

    All the trues are quite corroboration. Only science has a efficient method to discovery them and comprovate them, as well.

    The trues can be found only in this reality.

    When the things work there is many built-in truths in them.

  • Johnpier

    I think Atheism will be the next system that will govern the way people think given the development in technology. The war later on will be about ethics and environment. Religion will be history. And 2000 years will be considered by history as an age of religious barbarianism

  • Kellorn

    Many “highly improbable” things have already happened recently, or are happening now. For example it seemed highly improbably that slavery, with its enormous cultural baggage, so deeply wired into our social brains, would be outlawed, eradicated, considered impossible. And yet it happened, and very quickly by historical standards – in just a few centuries.

    What about the brain wiring you may ask? It’s still there, and being exercised in BDSM practices by those who find it irresistible. Same fate awaits religion: it won’t “completely” disappear but only by becoming a game, an art, a conscious titillation of our religious brain wiring – always, at the basest level, understood to be “not real”, just as mutual-consent BDSM is not real slavery. People are increasingly apt, and consciously so, to compartmentalize their souls – run all kinds of “virtual machines” just for the fun of it.

  • JimmyDean Breakfastsausage

    Johnpier Said:
    August 29th, 2012 at 6:08 am

    “I think Atheism will be the next system that will govern the way people think given the development in technology.”

    Highly doubtful. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. It is remarkable in its ability to thrive in a modern world yet ignore modern education. It is spreading by way of fundamentalist leaning oil rich countries opening schools around the globe and teaching it by way of rote memorization while at the same time stressing the evil of western society. Islam requires the conversion of everyone to the religion. Those who are of the faith and think otherwise are a minority.

    As it is, right now, western society IS the modern world. Yet even in western society fundamentalist Christians are buy pushing their religion around the world and and home and have done a remarkable job of putting a large number of fundamentalist Christians in government, including on various science panels, including Christians who don’t believe in evolution, climate change or teaching children how to think for themselves.

    And as I write this close to have the United States is ready to vote in a man who believes a theology almost as stupendously silly as Scientology. You can’t get to be president of the US unless you profess a belief in religion. It’s frightening how narrow minded so many Americans are.

    So to suggest that atheism is going to sweep the world is to ignore all available evidence, which is just as bad as believing in religion. The entire point of religion is to ignore evidence and use “faith”. We see these people everyday on TV and in real life, people who believe the most silly things and can’t be dissuaded by any rational discussion. Psychics, astrology, crystal healing, faith healing, healing through prayer.

    I used to see a bright future for the human race. Not anymore. We enjoy sticking our heads in the sand too much for out own good.

  • stringph

    What religious experience could replace the feeling of awe on witnessing the way DNA is replicated within human cells, or the beautiful nebulae formed in the aftermath of a distant supernova, or the first pictures sent back by Mars Curiosity? Sarewitz can keep his mouldy old temples…

  • Peter

    Jimmy, your conscience of all “landscape” is great. Congratulations.

  • Anastasia Nemcova

    What bullshit. You make such sweeping, ignorant generalizations as any religious person I’ve ever encountered. You take bad headlines and apply them to all religious people, you ignore the thousands of different ways to practice religion, you ignore all the good religion has done, the charity, the priests who also practiced science and wanted to discover the world, the creation of alphabets and reading vital to science and development, the art and architecture that religion has commissioned and inspired. Most of the great men and women of history, from all cultures, were religious. I just love how when religion goes wrong atheists like you scream it loudly and use one error in all that history of religion (since humans first breathed) as a huge stick to beat every single religious person with (even though that is very bigoted, illogical and supposedly unscientific), but when science gets it wrong or falls into the wrong hands its not really science, it’s “pseudo science” hahaha just brilliant. Whatever helps you sleep. You know nothing. You say some people wash their hands because of science? Islam cherishes cleanliness. The Vikings practiced bathing regularly and what did they know about science? There are many examples where cultures that heavily used religion had practices that they called witchcraft and religious devotion and today is called science. The fact is, science and religion can live hand in hand and we can all get along just fine, the only people who don’t accept this are the bitter, emotionally unstable extremists in BOTH camps.

  • Anastasia Nemcova

    I like this, it’s balanced and logical, fair to both sides <3

  • Anastasia Nemcova

    Seeing the exact same things and feeling the power of the greatest artist we could ever know is behind it rather than a series of random incidents?

  • Anastasia Nemcova

    I’m religious and I don’t believe everything I read in religious texts, or agree with every action ever done in the name of God, and I don’t have a problem with science, in fact I applaud it for the good it has done. Of the misuses of science; the Nazis still have a following which has spread worldwide and despite some apologies it’s interesting that many Jews don’t feel Germany has done enough to show contrition. The Catholic church is almost verbally beaten to death by atheists who claim it never uses “critical thinking, consideration of evidence and argument” but do you think you can just walk up to a priest, say you’re possessed, or saw Archangel Michael or whatever your story is and have them take you seriously? Religion is far more complex than some people here are making out. I’m actually shocked at the ignorance and shortsightedness of all you self proclaimed logical thinkers. I’ve made some discoveries of my own today and that is that far too many atheists know nothing about history or the actual religions they are trying so hard to bring down, and by that i mean a whole lot more than just this dark evil American version of Christianity that haunts your dreams. Are atheists just a bunch of 90’s kids who aren’t able to forget those heady student days of easy weed, Nine Inch Nails in the CD player and rebelling against the mainstream?

  • DoesItReallyMatterAnyway

    This comment would offend me 6 months ago but I have grown since then.

    You are correct to a degree. Some Atheist are bitter (I’m one on them). It is difficult to be tolerant with people who hold onto things that don’t make any sense to us. I’m learning. Absolutism is disgusting on all sides. I must admit that as long as someone is “damning” me to hell I don’t respect them but now I try not to disrespect them either. I still have a lot of issues with religion but when separated from how I live my life and the rights I have (as well as others) I can tolerate it.

    I’ll still continue to fight practices that force it as an absolute like swearing on Bibles in court, the word “God” in the pledge of allegiance, the anti gay marriage agenda, and denying women their rights to their bodies. Those are the big 4 that tick me off in this country because they are imposed on everyone (not just the religious). I have tolerance for religious people but I have no tolerance for that.

  • DoesItReallyMatterAnyway

    You see… right there. You are making assumptions about something without proof. How do you know God created the world? Because it’s in a book? Who wrote the book? People who claim to speak for God. How do you know they weren’t lying? You don’t.

    So let’s recap. You made several statements in your comment that are basically saying “my religion is right”.

    Well maybe there is no God. Maybe a huge Octopus made the universe. Are you going to defend the Octopus? Why only defend the concept of God? If we are defending religion then why not defend Witchcraft as a religion? How about Pokemon?

    Why is God a “him”? Why not a “she”? Why not a “they”? Why not an “it”?

    I don’t “believe” your God exist and you can’t “prove” that he does so half your comment is null and void to anyone who doesn’t think God’s existence is a certified fact. If you want to defend “religion” start by not pushing your specific beliefs as universal truths.

  • Pearl

    Great and honest article. Thank you for also pointing out that religious misapplication of doctrine is by no means OK. Even us religious people must come to terms with this fact and need to be humbled by it. Both the believer and non-believers can only move forward by pulling each other along, not pushing us all back.

  • http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com/ Gary

    I thought it would be interesting to look at the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus from the orthodox/conservative/evangelical Christian stand point, excluding, however, baseless assumptions. I am excluding fundamentalists in this discussion because fundamentalist Christian views are so extreme that it would be hopeless to try and reconcile them with the actual evidence. Some fundamentalists would probably believe that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John sat down and wrote their gospels within ten minutes of the Ascension.

    A. The Gospel of Mark

    So, let’s start with the first gospel written, as almost all scholars agree: the gospel of Mark. Most scholars believe that it was written sometime between 65-75 AD. So let’s accept an earlier date for the writing of this gospel: mid 60’s, prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.

    1. Who wrote Mark: the gospel itself does not tell us. No clear assignment of authorship is given until Irenaeus in the late second century. Yes, Papias in the early second century mentions that someone told him that John Mark had written a gospel, but Papias does not identify the gospel.

    2. Where was Mark written? We don’t know. Most scholars do not believe that Mark was written in Palestine, but let’s just say that it was. So the gospel is written 30-35 years after Jesus’ death in 30-33 AD. Historians tell us that the average life span of people in the first century was age 45. How many people would still be alive in 65 AD who had been old enough to witness the crucifixion of Jesus? If you were fifteen in the year 30 AD, you would now be fifty in 65 AD, above the average first century life span. And I would bet that even most fundamentalist Christians would believe that the disciples were older than fifteen at the time of the crucifixion. So let’s say that the disciples of Jesus were between twenty and thirty years old in 30 AD. That would make them fifty-five to sixty-five years old in 65 AD, if they were still alive! We have no proof that any of the disciples were still alive in 65 AD.

    3. Even if Mark were written in Palestine, 30 years after the death of Jesus, and there were still people alive who witnessed the resurrection, how soon was the gospel put into public circulation? Maybe the author wrote it for just one wealthy benefactor. Maybe he wrote it just for his small group of Christians, none of whom were old enough to remember the crucifixion. Maybe the gospel was not put into public circulation until after 70 AD. If true, the entire city of Jerusalem has been destroyed, most of its inhabitants are dead or carried off. If there had been a tomb of Jesus, who would now be alive to point out where it was. Remember, all this is assuming that the gospel was written in Palestine or at least circulated in Palestine in the 60’s or 70’s. For all we know, the gospel of Mark was written in Rome and copies of it did not arrive in Palestine until after 100 AD or later! Who would still be alive to say, “Hey, that’s not what happened!”?

    4. Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple.

    Even if Jesus did prophesy/predict the destruction of the Temple, is this proof that he is God? If someone living in Europe in the mid 1930’s had predicted that Europe would be devastated by a second world war, that Germany would lose, and that Germany would be partitioned as punishment for starting the war, would we believe that this person was God? Just because someone predicts something that comes true is not proof that they are divine.

    5. Was the author of Mark an eyewitness to the Resurrection?

    The author of Mark never claims to be an eyewitness. He even writes in the third person. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the author was not an eyewitness but to say he was is simply a guess.

    B. The Gospel of Matthew

    1. Who wrote Matthew? The author does not tell us. The assignment of the apostle Matthew as author of this gospel is not mentioned until the late second century by Irenaeus.

    2. Most scholars believe that Matthew was written after Mark and that one can find 70% of the content of Mark within Matthew, often word for word.

    3. Where was Matthew written? We have no idea. Again, for all we know, it could have been written in a foreign country, far away from any eyewitnesses to the crucifixion. We have no idea when it was first circulated in Palestine for any elderly eyewitness to say, “Hey. That isn’t what happened!”

    4. Was Matthew an eyewitness to the Resurrection?

    The author of Matthew never claims to be an eyewitness. He writes in the third person. Again, not proof that he was not an eyewitness but to say he was is no better than a guess. The author of Matthew could simply have been writing a story he had heard third, fourth, or twentieth hand.

    C. The Gospel of Luke

    1. Who wrote Luke? The author of Luke does not say. No clear assignment of authorship of this gospel is given until the late second century by Ireneaus.

    2. Where was Luke written? We have no idea.

    3. The author of the Gospel of Luke also borrows heavily from the Gospel of Mark. Approximately 50-55% of the content of Mark can be found in Luke, frequently, word of word.

    4. Was the author of Luke an eyewitness?

    Luke very clearly states in the first few verses of chapter one that he is not an eyewitness. He states that he carefully investigated the writings of others (Mark and “Q”?) which he didn’t seem to find satisfactory, and that his sources had given him eyewitnesses testimony. However, he does not identify his sources. Were his sources eyewitnesses themselves or were his sources associates of eyewitnesses giving him “eyewitness” testimony from their source or sources, which would make Luke’s information, at best, second hand information.

    D. The Gospel of John

    Many conservative Christians believe that the author of John infers that he is John, the son of Zebedee, by using the term “the beloved disciple”. I personally (and many scholars) do not think that the author of John is referring to himself as the beloved disciple but is claiming to be recounting the story of the beloved disciple. But let’s assume that the author of the Gospel of John does claim to be John, the beloved disciple. What evidence do we have to determine if his claim is true? Do we have any contemporary Christian or non-Christian testimony that states that John, the son of Zebedee, wrote the Gospel of John? No. We do not. The assignment of authorship of this gospel is not made until the end of the second century, again, by Ireneaus. Papias makes no mention of this gospel.

    So just because someone claimed to be John, the beloved disciple, recounting an eyewitness account of the life, death, and supernatural resurrection of Jesus, should we take him at his word?? Many, many “gospels” were floating around the Mediterranean world in the late first and second centuries. The non-canonical Gospel of Peter may have been written even earlier than Mark! Yet, no one, including fundamentalists, believes that the apostle Peter wrote the Gospel of Peter. So, how do we know that the author of the Gospel of John, if he really was claiming to be John, was really John, the beloved disciple, son of Zebedee?? The fact is, that we have no more evidence that John wrote the Gospel of John than we do that Peter wrote the Gospel of Peter, other than Irenaeus’ declaration in 180 AD, in France, one hundred and fifty years after the crucifixion, that the four gospels we have today were written by the persons that he asserts, based upon evidence, that he never gives!

    E. What Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus do we have so far?

    We have four first century books describing the alleged facts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but only one, (maybe), claims to be an eyewitness testimony.

    Dozens of Romans senators claimed that the first Roman king, Romulus, was snatched up into heaven right in front of their eyes…but no Christian believes this eyewitness testimony.

    Thirteen men living in the early nineteenth century signed legal affidavits, swearing under oath, that they personally had seen the Golden Tablets delivered to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni with their own two eyes, and three of these men signed affidavits that they had seen the angel Moroni himself with their own two eyes…but yet no Christian believes this eyewitness testimony.

    Thousands upon thousands of devout, pious Roman Catholics have claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary, alive, often many hundreds or even thousands together in the same location, at the same time…but no Protestant or evangelical Christian denomination believes this eyewitness testimony to be true.

    Yet, Protestant/evangelical Christians will believe as absolute fact, that a first century dead man walked out of his tomb after three days of decomposing, ate a broiled fish lunch with his friends, and then levitated into outer space based on the testimony of…one…,possible, eyewitness’ testimony!

    F. But what about the Apostle Paul?

    The testimony of Saul/Paul of Tarsus is used by Christians as secondary proof of the Resurrection of Jesus. Christians do not allege that Paul saw a resurrected Jesus prior to his Ascension into Heaven. In I Corinthians Paul makes this statement, “Have I not seen the Christ?”

    But when Paul says he has “seen” the Christ, what did he see actually? Well, Acts chapter 26 tells us exactly what Paul saw, in his own words: Paul saw a talking, bright light that told him that it (the talking, bright light) was Jesus. And, Paul very specifically states, that he saw this talking, bright light…”in a heavenly vision”.

    Talking bright lights are not resurrected bodies and visions are not reality.

    Yes, Paul came to believe that Jesus had been bodily resurrected, but there is no evidence that Paul believed this due to seeing a resurrected body. Paul was a Pharisee, and Pharisees believed in a bodily resurrection, so if Paul believed that the talking, bright light speaking to him on the Damascus Road was the executed Jesus, then he would of course believe that he had seen the (bodily) resurrected Jesus, even if he had actually not seen a body, but only a bright light!


    The belief that a first century dead man, named Jesus, walked out of his tomb with a new, superman-like body that could teleport between cities (Emmaus and Jerusalem), could walk through locked doors (the Upper Room), and could teleport into outer space (the Ascension) is based on one alleged eyewitness who wrote a book 40-60 years after the alleged event, whose authorship was not mentioned by any Christian or non-Christian until 150 years later, at the end of the second century, when it was finally called the Gospel of John…and…on the “heavenly vision” of a vision prone Jewish rabbi, Saul/Paul of Tarsus (who also said that he was teleported to the “third heaven”. What other writer of the Bible refers to the concept of multiple heavens?)

    And we are asked to believe that based on this “evidence”, Jesus of Nazareth now sits on a throne in the far reaches of outer space, ruling as our Almighty Lord and King of the Universe??

    The Romans and Mormons have better evidence for their supernatural tall tales than this tale! It is an ancient legend, folks. A fantastic, supernatural superstition. The chances that it is true are infintisimal.
    This supernatural superstition is responsible for the suffering and death of millions of people over the last 2,000 years. it needs to be abandoned.

  • Donny Danielson

    Science can explain much. however, because it can not explain EVERYTHING; especially the question “why” we exist, (not to mean, why we “biologically” exist) – but the “why” of EVERYTHING existing. to know our true conceptual origin. this answer is unknown, & many religious beliefs at least provide a potential answer to this ultimate question! (mind you, there is no more ultimate question) it is an intangible problem, & science inherently hates that; its inability to measure & quantify! But, oh well, life is complicated. Try to explain some of the most profound human characteristics such as conscience & consciousness. Humans are aware of this intangible, yet they (these “feelings”) seem very real. Indeed, these “feelings” usually illicit/affect action. However science can not explain such a powerful “thing”. Science does attempt to explain conscience & the (our knowing of) consciousness. But science is severely inhibited to come to a definitive answer “why”. So, it really is okay to take a leap of faith of the complete unknowing; (read: God/ultimate creator). Does someone rush into a burning building to save a human being because they believe it is the logical thing to do.. or that they are immune from the effect of fire? No. They rush into the fire because of an almost unfailing faith, “love” of fellow man, & omnipresent conscience. Simple. illogical. wonderful. unproveable.

  • gwaltluv

    “Science can’t replace religion.” Not true. Religion is PART of a worldview. Science can replace religion as part of someone’s worldview. But a person HAS to have a worldview of some kind. It can’t be empty. 97% of elite scientists are atheists. The reason is that they don’t cling to religion is that they take great comfort in understanding how the world works. It stands to reason that the majority of ordinary people are scientifically illiterate, and attribute everything they don’t understand to a magic wizard in the sky.

  • gwaltluv

    I see religion and science as being part of one’s world view. They are interchangeable. One reflects reality more than the other, but still useful in understanding one’s place in the universe. But a person has to have a worldview, it can’t be empty.

  • Roder51
  • Roder51

    Yes because there are no religious bigots. LMFAO!


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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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