Why Does Religion Still Exist?
    By Hank Campbell | April 12th 2009 02:00 AM | 151 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    There was a time when it was virtually impossible not to believe in God.   That made sense; life had (and certainly still has) many mysteries and a divine hand made sense of an irrational world, at least in the sense that you could believe in one supernatural thing rather than many.

    But over time two important things happened that should have killed religion; the world got 'smaller' in the sense that a lot more information about people and cultures became available and science was able to explain a much larger, very fundamental and far-reaching set of things about the world in terms of natural laws.

    Yet religion die not die, as it was predicted it must.    Nietzsche could metaphor like nobody's business but he is most certainly dead and religion is most certainly not and every time I hear one of his descendants, like postmodernists, speak I want to reach for a pistol - but even Nietzsche in the beginning was downright optimistic about religion's future compared to other European philosophers of his day and since.    

    Yet it's still here.   With knowledge of multiple faiths, which would certainly seem to cast doubt on the supremacy, and thus the value, of any particular one, and the encroachment of science in explaining the natural world, religon should have become a quaint anachronism, yet it has not.   

    The  "Secular Thesis" has failed, as phrased by McGill University professor emeritus of political science and philosophy Charles Taylor.  The encroachment of the 'secular' age did not stamp out belief as a source of meaning and morality and instead it simply (the wrong word, I know, since the whole thing is quite complicated) changed the conditions of that belief.   

    It isn't moral at all, argues cultural luminaries such as Elton John, who said, "I would ban religion completely.   It turns people into hateful lemmings, and it's not really compassionate."

    How can the same thing have such different meanings to people who consider themselves truly compassionate and concerned about others?

    Perhaps it is because religion in society is a lot more nuanced and much less shallow than the fringes of the science vs. religion or intelligent vs.immature camps want to believe.  Certainly religion brings on its own public relations problems.    Catholics forgiving pederasts, for example, and giving them multiple opportunities for atonement has led to serious credibility issues and no small amount of financial impact but an inclusive church that believes in spiritual rehabilitation is expected to try and heal its own - it's still a bad idea to send them off to other areas of the country or attempt to cover up the problem.  

    It isn't just Christianity suffering from bad public image.    Muslims who circle the wagons around terrorists, imprison homosexuals or publicly stone rape victims aren't adding any credibility to their denomination either.

    Anti-religious zealots have their own credibility gaps.   They tend to slap some gnostic fanaticism label on everyone religious, which is in denial of the obvious benefits of a liturgical culture.   There's a great deal of post-modern rationalization that goes on to explain the beneficial aspects of religion in a way that denies religion any credit.   That framing by the atheist contingent is no different than ministers who can find no wrong in religion and they paint overwhelming denial of evolution by evangelicals as a religious ignorance problem, which is hardly the case.

    Yet outside the fringes of the culture war, science has gained a lot of ground but religion has held its own.   In AAAS surveys, 40% of scientists believed in God in 1933.   70 years later, the result was basically identical, a somewhat surprising statistic given the empirical nature of science.  How is that possible if science is the enemy of religion?

    It remains that religion does have some positive benefits, despite what Elton John thinks.   If there's a problem in a third world country, it is primarily religious groups who put feet on the ground trying to help - and they do so even when there are no headlines.     I don't recall the last time an organized atheist group went into a prison to try and rehabilitate people, though they are quite good about protesting if someone innocent is in jail whereas religious people tend to be in favor of more jails.  Protesting doesn't involve having to step foot inside prisons, though.   Atheists do a great deal for their fellow man indirectly, through awareness and policy efforts, but religious people do more for non-political causes in extremely dangerous conditions and it rarely gets covered by the New York Times.

    Religion also partly maintains a place in society because even for non-believers, religion is fascinating.   Recently academic researchers have tackled issues like 'do prayers get answered?', religious disparities in prostate cancer, chicken versus egg debates like did religion codify morality or did morality create religion? and even do religious people do more for charity?

    They have researched the neuropsychological core of selflessness which, oddly, is at the core of every major religion in the world.   Religion in medical care had been pushed to the back for some time but recent studies suggest that the brain's healing power, including when religiously motivated, can work 'miracles', if we can use that term.   

    Obviously there is some bad correlation that occurs too.   Are religious people more likely to be faithful?  Yes, it turns out, though religion may not be the reason.   Other studies tackle how religion is ironically a product of evolution.   

    So why does religion still exist at all today, much less remain vibrant and active in a scientifically astute society?    After 1,000 words I am no closer to an answer because it's too big an issue - and I know that's sort of a copout.    But I know what isn't an answer; religious people are not just stupid across the board any more than atheists are immoral bigots.   There are complex issues involved and over time we will converge on answers about biological processes but, like any equation with multiple variables, there won't be a solution that satisfies everyone.   The nature of faith will always be in defiance of what we can understand today.    

    However, evolutionary biologists can take comfort that neuroscientists will soon be ground zero in the science versus religion culture wars because they are trying to close in on how the brain responds to belief and then eventually 'the soul' - something people of faith might think should be left alone.


    shallow article, would benefit from an eastern religion pov, and an understanding of the relationship between mind and consciousness .... which btw is not available from science ..

    ask a yogi this question, you will get a better answer than this article allows for ..

    enjoy, gregory lent

    We can resume in one word the reason why religion still sxist: IGNORANCE.
    The nice groung needed for the born and grow of myths.
    Go to the article of last moth issue of National Geographic regarding "La Santa Muerte"

    Arturo Pèrez-Arteaga M.D.
    Ophthalmologist ahd Profesor of Neurosciences at the National University of Mexico.

    Steve Davis
    There's some good questions in that lot Hank!
    As for the chicken and egg one, which came first, morality or religion, I don't think there's much doubt that morality preceded religion. I think it was Richard Leakey who put the view that the sharing of food among our earliest ancestors was the foundation of our idea of justice, and Peter Kropotkin dealt with the matter at length in his valuable work Ethics. From memory he even gave evidence that church leaders conceded that morality came first. After all, the term is derived from "mores", being social standards, prohibitions and etiquette, not religious standards. 
    Nice discussion about religion in this religious season, Hank. I'm not surprised that religion exists along side scientific advancements. There will always be the unknown and I believe fear of the unknown is built in the human nature. We have various degrees of fears and we handle it differently. I respect that people turn to religion to ease that fear. Unfortunately, there are a number of religious leaders taking advantage of this weakness/means of survival and manipulate the followers/believers. It's the oldest trick in the book. Science can't do a thing about that, I'm afraid.
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    I did not turn to religion out of fear. I know of many people like me who were introduced to the belief in God by an experience with God. I don't believe that we should put God into one category namely one specific religion with one set of rules. I also do not believe that people who believe in God should be afraid of science. Truth is truth. I have found that with doing my own research in the bible in Hebrew and Greek that it does not conflict with science including the "Big Bang" theory. I love many of the science fields and also love my belief's and usually find that they complement each other.

    I enjoyed the article that Hank wrote as well as most of the comments. Hank please know that I do not find your article offensive but wonderful food for thought. I know that if God is indeed truth then truth will win out and we will find that science will be the proof of his existence.

    Larry Arnold
    One might as well ask why does figurative art persist in the face of photography?

    To some people it gives a greater sense of satisfaction and involvement I guess.

    Even the most die hard evolutionary biologist 'crusader' for atheism is essentially reifying the processes of science, and that 'no doubt' is because of cognitive necessity dictating our modes of expression.

    There are unknowables, and there will remain unknowables because we cannot but think in the ways we do, and we cannot think outside of them either. Ask any fish what lies beyond the ocean ....

    We can dress these great ineffables up in majesty and awe, pomp and ceremonial, and that is what humans tend to do, ask the anthhropologist, the psychologist and the sociologist (you'll get a better answer than asking a fish anyhow). The only question is whether we really have any choice in the matter since free will is as big a problem to the religious thinker as it is to the secular.

    Did God tell me to write that? Or a collection of nerve impulses, acting upon incredibly complex stimuli governed by a lifetime of interaction with other processes of that ilk, all of which could be extrapolated into some 'total perspective vortex'?

    I don't know, I only followed the dictates and consequences of being in front of my computer at this time and responding in the fashion I just did. Then maybe I just dreamed it all for you see  I am as much a fan of Bishop Berkeley as I am of  the HHGTTG :)
    Larry Arnold
    And replying again to the original question I could advance that the rational/empirical method of looking at the world has not really advanced as far as we might think it has into that big bad pre-modernist world out there.

    We might flatter ourselves that we are the pinnacle of achievement in terms of a universal epistemology but are we?

    Any individual can only reason with the tools that they are given, and the knowlege they have available, and if you are born into a society where schooling is rare because of economic disadvantage then you will continue to reason as those around you reason.

    My mum used to think that thunder was the noise that two rainclouds made when they bump into each other. It is a hypothesis nonetheless informed by what she had available to her in default of the education I have had available to me. Her formal schooling ended at age 15 and my Dad's at age 12

    Quite apart from the fact that we are not perfect logic machines, it takes a lot of training to get beyond the cognitive flaws we all have and still keep an open mind.
    Ah, Mr. Arnold, I enjoyed your comments. I do have to say though that I have my beliefs are due to a personal experience. They are not based on fear of the unknown.
    Everything lives and then at some time dies. There is no fear unless you perhaps have anticipation of what you might think of as an untimely death, or maybe a very painful one. I am a person who has an ailment that creates pain daily and I am not alone. I certainly am not afraid of death or that great unknown. If it were not for the fact that I might share or help someone, or that it would be against all that I believe in, I would indeed go quietly into the night with much relief.
    Many years ago I agreed to go into that dreaded of all places, a church. Something I would never do unless as a favor to a loved one. I had an experience. It is a very personal and very cherished one. It has been a wonderful comfort to me now and I am so very grateful that my sister in law asked me to go with her. I will say that there have been many times over the years where I experienced the pomp you mentioned. The best experiences are ones where I have been alone. I am sorry to disagree (however much I enjoy a good debate) with those who declare that "there is no God or God's or even higher powers, depending on how politically correct one wants to be.

    As I said I did enjoy your comments and love your sense of humor.
    Karen Simon

    Becky Jungbauer
    One might as well ask why does figurative art persist in the face of photography? To some people it gives a greater sense of satisfaction and involvement I guess.
    This is a fantastic analogy, Laurence, and captures a very complex issue without being judgmental. Reminds me of a great quote by hockey player/coach Fred Shero: "It's like ham and eggs. The chicken makes a contribution, but the pig, he makes a commitment."
    A superficial post,begging the question a lot.
    Btw,studies with heart attack patients showed that the ones being prayed for had worse outcomes.
    And why is there still religion?You are begging the question,the answer is not "because it gives us morals,makes us feel warm and fuzzy and jebus died for you",its a weakness of the human brain,our brain just loves superstition.
    We'll get over it eventually.

    I beg to differ, big time. Hank is pointing to an interesting issue covering several angles without being judgmental.

    As I said, fear of the unknown is not necessarily a weakness, it is just as much a matter of survival. We will never get over that. I hope - for human kind. :-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    "A superficial post,begging the question a lot."

    An obnoxious comment, and one that misunderstands the fallacy of "begging the question" as well as misunderstands the nature of faith and the nature of superstition. Religion exists for many reasons: religious beliefs and expressions are self-replicating memes, religion enriches the lives of some of its practitioners, religion is a form of social control, religion is a meaningful way of organizing one's frame of reference to the world. Your snarky attitude about religion and "superstition" offer no enlightenment. We're not likely to "get over it eventually."

    OK, there was never actually a time when it was impossible to not believe in god. In fact, most of the time it has been a rather good idea not to believe on the inside, but to pretend to believe on the outside. We're very lucky. This is the best possible time in our cultural history not to believe in god and to discuss it in open forums. Our forebears could have been tortured, burned or broken just for raising these very questions.

    The concept of a god or gods, even though your post is leaning towards the idea of one, certainly doesn't answer any of the mysteries of life, and a divine hand has always left much to much more to question than it ever resolved. The question, "If there is a loving god, then why does suffering exist?" springs to mind.

    Nobody but a perhaps few crackpots have ever predicted that religion MUST die. Maybe Elton John if you stretch. Certainly not Nietzsche. So I'm not sure where you got that from. It might be a nicer place without religion, but we'll never really know. I'm not sure I'd base my thesis on what Elton John has to say on the matter.

    And what are some of the obvious benefits of liturgical culture? Aside from nicely colored easter eggs? Lets not put your pederast priests in to the benefits column, they're certainly a part of the liturgical culture.

    Did anybody on the science side actually say that science is the enemy of religion? Martin Luther did say that reason is the greatest enemy that faith has, and yes science is based on reason. And yes, if science leads us to poke holes in the fables and myths of the bible, then those holes are still holes. I'm more or less sorry if you find those holes offensive. Science didn't set out to poke holes in your stories. Quite the opposite. Religion is often the enemy of science, trying to shut it down, obfuscate its findings, and deny the facts that are learned and proven by careful method.

    There is one point we agree on, that religion and religious behavior is fascinating. But don't mislead your readers. There are no published, peer reviewed papers showing that prayer works, only an opinion paper of an ASU assistant professor. Quite the opposite! In it was cites a study "that patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications". In short, there are no miracles. But I think it is a great thing that people continue to look for them, even though it only to adds to the overwhelming body of evidence that there is actually nothing out there.

    Becky Jungbauer
    But don't mislead your readers. There are no published, peer reviewed
    papers showing that prayer works, only an opinion paper of an ASU
    assistant professor.
    Whether I agree that prayer is a legitimate tool for physicians or not, there are a large number of published, peer-reviewed papers on the influence of prayer in medical settings, so Hank is correct. Check out pubmed and you'll find plenty of examples.
    Somnolent Aphid
    Thank you Becky - pubmed is exactly the location of the primary research, finding no correlation between intercessory prayer and recovery rates of heart patients.  Were there other studies you were referring to?
    Becky Jungbauer
    Hi, S.A. - and by the way, I like the contradictory nature of your name; sleepiness combined with an insect considered to be one of the most destructive pests!

    I did see that study and find it ironic that while intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG, certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications. There are a number of ways I found research - simply typing intercessory prayer into pubmed led to 76 studies. You can also try other word combinations, like prayer, prayer healing, etc.
    Somnolent Aphid
    Even a tiny aphid has big dreams.  Prayer and meditation can have a calming influence on the person doing them, I think we can agree on that much.
    Becky Jungbauer
    :) Good to have dreams. I personally have difficulty believing that intercessory prayer in itself is responsible for healing, but I definitely believe that the person doing the praying, or a person that knows others are praying for him/her, can benefit psychologically (and perhaps psychosomatically).
    Fred Phillips
    A teacher of mine, the same one I mentioned here, believed that it works. He was a Zen master, not a theist. I present his reasoning for your consideration, without claiming I believe it, but it's a cute notion and I would like it to be true.

    Basketball teams win more home games because of the "home court advantage." This is the added motivation and energy that comes from a larger crowd of supporters cheering the team on. What difference should it make, he asked, if the supporters are in the same room or not? Distance shouldn't matter, he said - only the focus and commitment of the fans. (This "explains" why a possibly larger number of fans watching on TV and only half paying attention, do not make a bigger difference to team win rates.)

    Cheering in the gym or stadium is cheering. Doing it at a distance is, basically, prayer. It should work, my sensei said, and should work equally well for basketball or for the recovery of a loved one who's had a heart attack.

    As for the medical study you cite, Becky, Sensei's implication is that it is the cheering or prayer of the fans - not the players' certainty of its occurrence - that matters.

    It awaits experimental verification, natch!

    And it reminds me of my father's offended reaction when he was sent from Purdue to attend midshipmen's school at Notre Dame. He found a flyer under the door of his Notre Dame dorm room, urging all to pray for the success of the football team in the next day's game. Dad was offended. "You should only bother God for big important things," he said, "not for football."
    Basketball teams win more home games because of the "home court advantage." 
    I think basketball teams win more games because the home field advantage outside cheering - it is referees being told to give home fans a reason to be happy.     It can't solve every problem, like really bad players, but on a 50 / 50 team it can make them a 53 47 and a winning season.
    Martin Luther did say that reason is the greatest enemy that faith has

    Where in the works of Luther (and I’ve read quite a few) is that?  I’d like to see it in context.  I know that some people are fond of quoting Luther as saying "Reason is the Devil’s whore" but I suspect what he means there is that "Reason" is telling the individual that he/she is too wicked to be saved, and so working to cut them off from hope of salvation.  (Again, I haven’t seen that exact phrase in my readings, but I am guessing from his Commentary on Galatians.)

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Somnolent Aphid
    You'll find it here,,M1
    Table Talk or Familiar Discourse of Martin Luther.  p 164
    This is a collection of discussions attributed to Luther 20 years after he died!  :)   And translated into english.   It feels like 16th century urban legend, but that's still a pretty good quote.
    Larry Arnold
    And the Gospels were written some 70 years after the events, so let's not go there.

    The Gospels are of course nuanced texts, not intended to be a history, the truth they contain is not intended to be a literal truth of what they had for afters during the last supper, nor an account of the bill and I suspect that Luther's discourses similarly were not intended to be history so much as a polemic, like Cabinet ministers memoirs, always embroidered to reflect the concerns of the present not the period in which the events took place. The communication between the past and the present is always polluted by interference from the noise of hindsight. What then is more important, what Luther actually said on any particular occasion but what his followers believed he said ?

    "Here I stand I can do no other", the days when you could nail a thesis to the church door are over, and it's not the Pope you would have to worry about but the Church Estates pursuing a claim for damages to their ancient door if you did. The best alternative we have today is blogging.
    "The communication between the past and the present is always polluted by interference from the noise of hindsight."
    Laurence: that is a wonderful turn of phrase.  Is it your own coinage?
    Larry Arnold
    The sentiment is of course an old one, but the turn of phrase is mine.
    If you're going to Reformation scholars, it should be noted that Calvin actively encouraged people to take up the arts & sciences.

    There are always trade-offs in an article like this; in this case, 'content creep.'   Gregory Lent notes the lack of eastern religion in my article, for example, but I originally had quite a bit of detail on Shinto that had to be edited out in order to get this down to a size someone might actually read.   Japan is another example of the persistence of religion despite its more recent downside for them - leaders in Japan must pray for the war dead at the Yasukuni Shrine; not attend but worship, in the presence of a priest, because the shrine doesn't just have the names of the dead, it has the spirits.   The way eastern religion has survived is an article all its own.

    And I agree with somnolent aphid that science studies on religion are going to be correlation/causation errors; people who pray might live longer but there are a variety of other factors that may influence that.    Ditto with religion and fidelity.   That doesn't mean anything within reason that keeps families together is bad, but I agree it's not science.

    One thing for sure; neuroscience is not the kind of cutting edge science it needs to be yet (seriously, doing a bunch of fMRIs for every little thing and declaring it a result isn't getting us very far) but it will be.    The reasons people do things, religiously or not, may never be quantifiable, but the essence of the soul certainly will be.

    Massimo Pigliucci, our philosopher/biologist, is a definite atheist but a special sort of atheist, in that he can make good points about religion and society without being the kind of sanctimonious that hard-core atheists in science sometimes are.   Here he is on Buddhism and science, human nature, the evolution of religion and superstition.   

    Even better, thanks to this article and Becky Jungbauer, Fred Schero has become one of my favorite coaches!
    Larry Arnold
    Chicken's and eggs, green eggs and ham, it is all too gallinovular (to borrow a word from Steven Rose)

    It is true that Neuroscience has a long way to go yet before it becomes the uber science, but evolutionary biology can hardly be termed the uber science either. Despite the inroads it has made into sociology, anthropology and so forth it is a metanarrative at best. The mechanics belong properly to the geneticists, for whom the uber science would be chemistry, or perhaps beyond that theoretical physics. The physicists in turn would be nowhere without the inner mathemetical "priesthood" who for the most part have a quasi religious attachment to platonism, which brings one full circle back to the birth of science as we know it which followed one particular fork after the split between natural, and moral philosophy.

    Neuroscience may ultimately be able to crack the mechanics of how we think, and even why we think the way we do, but it can never get to the bottom of why we think at all. Evolutionary biologists may think they have the answer to that question by explaining how consciousness could give an evolutionary advantage, but then to explain what conscisousness is devolves back into the neuroscientist's court. (not to leave out the AI philosophers) It all seems to be a closed system from which we cannot escape.

    If anyone has ever waded through Roger Penrose's "Emporers new mind" or Kurt Godel must sometimes wonder whether they are not the twentieth century equivalents of Hildegard of Bingen.

    As for Hildegard, one does not have to be a believer to enjoy liturgical music, or religious art in any form. The determinists can say. (and I do not disbelieve them) that her work stems from the interface of medieval philosophy with her personal experience of migraine. I have had the local neurologist poking around inside my head looking for my own aura's with an MRI but did he find them? When you look at the world through the shimmering haze of a migraine aura, even shorn of any socio/cultural mystical overlay, it does make you think about the boundaries of what is real, and how much you can ever trust your perceptions to measure anything.

    When you read George Berkeleys critique of Newtonian optics, the first work to my knowledge that deals with the role of neurology in vision, you can't help wondering between Newton and he, who was the more rational? For if anyone cares to read about the other side of Newton, they will realise that he was well "away with the pixies" in a metaphysical realm of his own despite his posthumous scientific "canonisation"

    Atheist or priest, sinner or saint. One cannot help but express a sense of awe with the notion that stars
    had to be born and to die in order for us to be here exhanging electrons in the blogosphere.
    Interesting article. I am a Christian. In my opinion science and religion are not at odds. Science had confirmed my beliefs and strengthened my faith. Its not surprising that the majority of scientist choose to interpret findings to support atheistic views. The open discussion of the facts are banned from public schools and open discussions on the topic often result in vicious attacks against anyone who questions atheistic views. Scientific is not ad odds with God, but Scientists often are. It's not surprising that those scientific views match the only ones permitted to be discussed in public schools.

    A hundred years ago it was just the opposite - science was not allowed to be taught in schools.   I agree with you that science and religion are not at odds, though I know some scientists are irritated at having to tiptoe around religion that way.    Science is about explaining the world in terms of natural laws, religion is about belief.

    As I noted, 40% of scientists are religious and a large number are neutral.    The truly vocal radical fringes in science speak the loudest against religion just like militant kooks in American religion insist that 'alternatives' (but only Christian ones) be taught in science classes.      If science gets to be taught in church, I guess it would make sense, but I think instead both sides should stop worrying about the small groups on the other side who refuse to accept each other and instead focus on making the world a better place.
    Mr. Campbell, actually, it seems that ‘Science” was alive and well and at a "cutting edge" state, a century ago in the public school systems.

    Below are just two extracts from major educational resources, as found on “Google Books.”

    A search of the words ‘science’ and ‘Bible’ in the Google search box will pull up many relevant passages, of which I submit a few…

    Item #1: New Jersey Public Schools...

    BY E. C. WINES,

    “Pour the light of science into the minds of the whole community, and imbue them early with the principles of religion, and more than one-half of those edifices [prisons] which are now devoted to the reception of convicts and paupers, might be either pulled down, or devoted to some purpose… pg. 68.

    “It has already been shown that popular education, in order to be of any substantial value, must teach the evidences on which the religion of the Bible rests” ... pg. 240.

    Item #2: New York Public Schools...

    "First Principles of Popular Education and Public Instruction, By S.S. Randall, Superintendent of the Public Schools of the City of New York." 1868

    “The times in which we live, too, and the spirit of the age in which our lots have been cast, are fertile in great events—great discoveries in science “ 203.

    “The imperishable tablets of the Christian faith can never be marred or dimmed by contact with true science, sound philosophy, and advancing civilization” 210.

    Google has hundreds more similar listings...

    I have perused hundreds of period relative titles in private collections, and at certain Princeton libraries, and can state that a view of 'science' and 'faith' that were at odds, or even cancelled each other out as being relevant to this world, and the 'unseen world' just did not exist. Harvard, Yale, Princeton &c... these schools of Theology were the solid supporters of science. In fact, many times the leading Math and Science professors also were leading Theology teachers.

    It is our last few generations that has moved to an irrational concept of the Science/Faith relationship.

    Dr. Lee Silver, in the Princeton Spectator sums up the present dilemma:

    "In the sense of religion meaning “Is there something beyond humanity?” — that’s what I think about all the time. "

    I have learned some great science from reading Dr. Silver's books...quite thrilling stuff, as he unveils natural mysteries, and my thanks go to him in explaining a significant part what the Supreme Architect has made!!

    The earlier Princeton men, however, taught about having access to both the 'seen' world, and the 'unseen' world...
    with the Bible containing the "Mystery" ( ex. Colossians 1-2 ) which permits the means of entry to the transcendent dimension...

    Any thoughts?

    I am tickled you invoke Lee Silver, he is one of my favorite contributors here on ScientificBlogging.   I certainly wish he would tackle a subject like this and I agree that most biologists think about the majesty of nature, as religious people do, but scientists want to explain it whereas religious people are more accepting.   

    As FrMatt says below, the holistic car is sexy to most people, not the transmission fluid and the type of metal in it, and so it goes with nature.   But without a centuries-long chain of materials science and engineering and mechanics there is no car to appreciate in whole form.   No one appreciates the beauty of stars like astronomers but they still want to understand them.

    On your point about acceptance of science in schools, you're taking a few examples and extrapolating them out to the nation.   Education is done at the local level and common descent was not commonly taught.   In the 1925 Scopes trial, the ACLU did not send in Clarence Darrow because science was the front runner, they needed a constitutional win (and didn't get it) because TN was just one instance of states not allowing any teaching that says man was a product of evolution.

    Obviously that got national attention because it was a bizarre case, and that's also why the TN Supreme Court threw it out, but in a real sense a small group of religious people promoted evolution by being irrational about teaching science back then.
    OMG, this article and all the comments that follow are the most pretentious bits of rubbish I have seen in a while. It is akin to people listening to themselves talk only to hear the sound of their voices.

    Get over yourselves.

    It seems lately that there is an increasing 'religious' nature (i.e. belief without "scientific" or "objective" proof) to those professing atheism that their belief is true. That is, people are "preaching" atheism or agnosticism as something to advocate in books, advertisements (one recently in London on buses), and movies (e.g., Maher's "Religulous"). I don't see how this is so far different from "normal" religion: they are professing a belief, that from the standpoint of science there is no conclusive evidence one way or another.

    Now, granted, people point to the good works that religious organizations do, as well as the evils that come out of them. Certainly religion in the past, and even still in some areas of the world, do abhorrent things in the name of their faith or God, and those things are by far detrimental to humanity. How is this any different from humanity as a whole? Would eliminating religion somehow improve life on this planet in some significant way?

    i'm an atheist but i go to church regularly. why? for my kids. if they choose to believe something as adults i'm glad i'm providing them a well-grounded alternative (instead of something super-wacky). plus, the other kids in the church give them a good, safe (relatively) extra peer group. we go to sunday church every other week (according to my church staff this is the 21st century definition of "regular church attendance").

    statistics generally offer evidence of widespread adoption of my actions (though maybe not my atheism). lot's of folks drop out of church during college, post-college only to take it up again when they have kids.

    that, in a nutshell, is a large part of the reason why "religion still exists" despite it being totally wacky and wrong.

    Sure, the downside is not so much, despite the hysteria of the Dawkins/Hitchens (and, errrr, Elton John)  contingents.   The upside is that you raise better kids, though, if you care enough to play the odds and take them to church despite your atheism, you are probably doing a good job anyway, so that's more bad correlation/causation for religion.
    Amen to that.
    and if one must belive in the bible in order for god to save his/her soul.... well I guess I will be going to hell although I am a good natured person that respects all living things.

    Amen to that.
    and if one must belive in the bible in order for god to save his/her soul.... well I guess I will be going to hell although I am a good natured person that respects all living things.

    I'm a Unitarian Universalist and theologically a pantheist (and, incidentally, a scientist). I think religion (understood very broadly) persists and will do so indefinitely because it satisfies two needs that most people have:

    1. to feel connected to something larger than ourselves
    2. to feel connected to a community of other people

    I participate in a local atheist group as well, and have a lot in common with those folks philosophically, but I haven't really found a deep sense of community there like I have in my UU fellowship. That's not to say that no one finds community as an atheist, but I think it's much easier in a religious context.

    I stumbled upon your blog here and found it to be an interesting question. Perhaps religion will always be with us because scientific reductionism cannot explain beauty. What science cannot do is reveal the beauty of truth and the truth in beauty. Perhaps the apprehension of God is not found in dissecting the parts but in appreciation of the whole in its wonderful interconnectedness with everything else. That is the mystery and the beauty of it all. While science wants to perform an autopsy on creation religion takes a long loving look at the living thing - whatever it is. And perhaps it is in the dynamic energy, the real-time whirring of all the interconnected parts that take us outside of ourselves and points to something even greater. After all, no one wants to buy a four tires, an engine and a transmission. But but that together in one aesthetically beautiful piece of machinery and pow - you have sex appeal - you have the power of beauty. And even the few scientists I know find themselves in awe of the perfection of creation. Science and Religion peer at reality from two different perspectives, each is poorer when the other is not present. Science when inspired by the beauty of religion perceives anew and stands in wonder, and religion when grounded in science expands its appreciation for creation and thereby its love for God.

    Gerhard Adam
    A belief is based on whatever is necessary for an individual to come to terms with their own lives and how they relate to the world around them.
    There are many things that I believe, that could never be proven to be true, either scientifically or otherwise, but that isn't what they are there to do.  They are strictly my own as are yours.
    For example, if I believe that someone dies only "when it is their time to go", then that particular belief may be important and useful to me, but it could never survive scientific scrutiny.  To evaluate it scientifically would require that we address "pre-destination", free-will, and the thousand other things that would have to be fit into such a belief.  However, by having it as a personal view, I can believe it and it can help me deal with whatever circumstances I find myself in and it isn't subject to analysis.
    One problem that occurs, is that people often take their beliefs and want to present them as "facts" or "truth", which is outside the scope of where they operate.  You may believe it to be true, but it isn't likely that it would stand the test of science to really establish it.  That isn't anything bad about beliefs, because a belief is based on faith whereas a scientific "truth" is based on the evidence that has been constructed from theory and experiment.  They occupy two different worlds.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hi Gerhard,

    I think belief is a natural human function of the mind and soul. So all human beings do it because there are so very many questions that science does not answer for us. The function of belief leads the mind to action (or inaction if that belief is dysfunctional). I would submit that Humans beings live more of their lives in belief than in scientific certitude. The other comment of yours, regarding truth standing the test of science - that's funny. We have a whole generation of young people who are becoming increasingly jaded because we can't tell them if an egg is healthy or not because there are too many conflicting reports. This is popular science but it does show some limitations. I think that many times the complex dynamic context that studies are performed in are not fully understood and are therefore not really true. Mention was made earlier regarding false correlations. There have also been a number of discoveries that were driven by belief, by intuition, and not by mere data.

    Gerhard Adam

    I agree, but part of the point is that science isn't intended to solve people's problems for them, or tell them how to live.  While people may want to extend science beyond that capability, my use of the word "truth" is really intended to indicate whatever the current state of knowledge is (that is logically consistent).

    There is no science that can tell people how to live, like any knowledge, it is up to the individual to determine it's appropriateness. 

    That's why the problem I have with most people is that they are looking for science, government, etc. to solve their problems for them which makes them prone to alot of false starts and abuse (I'm not suggesting that's what religion does).

    In fact, part of the power of religion is precisely because it tells people how they should behave, so they don't actually have to figure it out for themselves (which is also the role of tradition and culture).

    Mundus vult decipi
    Larry Arnold
    The question of the soul, really is one which I should fortify myself with strong liquor before embarking upon, because it leads out of the realm of science into metaphysics by definition.

    Cartesian dualism does not really hold up any more, and mind is not, nor I suspect ever was the soul.

    The soul stands in relation to ordinary existance in a similar relationship that numbers do.

    That is to say one can argue on the one hand that they do not have an inherent existance being merely the artefacts of cognition which we inevitably create from the relationships our perception allows us to recognise.

    Or that they have some independent, immaterial, eternal and anergic existence.

    Whatever the soul might be, it cannot be temporal, ones soul cannot be constrained by a particular day of the week or time of the month, it has to be the summative entity of ones entire transaction with the material universe in the same way that the divine cannot reckon by time being beyond such concepts. I think the descriptions are probably best left to Boethius and Parmenides for now.
    Fr Matt: yes, there is a beauty to be seen in all things.  Whether from the perspective of science or religious inspiration, it is a wonderful thing to discover the 'wow!' of nature.  I feel sorry for those who have a mind set in concrete.  They have no means for discovering the 'wow!', and wish to take the means away from those who do.

    Blog long, and prosper!
    "If there's a problem in a third world country, it is primarily religious groups who put feet on the ground trying to help - and they do so even when there are no headlines. I don't recall the last time an organized atheist group went into a prison to try and rehabilitate people..."

    Saying that religious organizations still have some sort of positive benefit because they help individuals in third world countries while criticizing "atheistic organizations" for not doing the same thing is a flawed argument and not to mention it's also an argument I've heard used by creationists.

    We all know that religious groups go into third world countries to give help, but you cannot ignore their true intentions which is to spread their doctrine. Introduction of a new religion via missionary help certainly has not been a positive; it's caused more conflict! Every one knows that this type of "help" has majorly contributed to the decimation of Native culture/religion and there's countless examples of this! As a whole, the cons of countries receiving help from religious organizations out weighs the pros. Furthermore, religious organizations don't give always fuck about headlines, they just want converts! Converting neophytes is the #1 priority!

    Obviously "ideal help" would be from organizations that do not have a religious philosophy behind them. Lack of religion just so happens to be the definition of "atheism." Certainly there are organizations that aren't religiously affiliated that provide help in third world countries. Atheists don't unify and make their own philosophically united organizations, but rather, organizations with no religious affiliation are created.

    Also, in order to provide help in third world countries, you need $$$$$$$$. So gee, I wonder why we don't hear specifically about atheist organizations that are unified under that particular viewpoint going into third world countries and helping (or "rehabilitate" criminals). Could it be because atheists don't give a shit about other people in the world? Or perhaps that religious organizations have more funding, support and members?

    There are many non-religious NGO's helping out in developing countries.

    I do not believe the statement below to be true.

    " is primarily religious groups who put feet on the ground trying to
    help - and they do so even when there are no headlines. I don't recall
    the last time an organized atheist group went into a prison to try and
    rehabilitate people..."

    I also think it is misleading to hold 'an organized atheist group' as the only alternative to religious organizations. Basically all non-religious groups are atheist groups.

    By the way. In some countries rehabilitation of prisoners is a built in social service by governments. The state can be humane, just like that.
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    A few thoughts.  First, thanks to Somnolent Aphid for providing the Luther link.  Interestingly, it is related that Staudinger, confronted with stubborn opposition to his macromolecular theory (which we now take for granted) shouted  "Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders" at the end of a stormy meeting (interesting comment in Nature).

    Also, Laurence's wonderful turn of phrase concerning hindsight is a gem.

    Finally, the title - Why Does Religion Still Exist?  That little word "still" suggests that Hank is buying, maybe at multiple hand, into Auguste Comte's "law" that  society has gone through three phases: Theological, Metaphysical, and Scientific.  Such an idea is to me, a priori, somewhat "iffy", in that it has a built-in tendency to flatter Modern Man in the imagination of his heart.

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    The true value of religion is that it provides a vehicle for people around the world to show their faith and participate in acts of good faith helping people around the world. Religion is not perfect and I personally am an atheist but it has a place in the world that won't be replaced until two things happen. First, we lose our fear of the unknown and our fear of death. Second, we need to find some way for science to be able to incorporate that sense of wonder with nature, or alternatively to have religion find a way to incorporate the principles of the scientific method into it's structure. I don't know if this is possible but I think that both will be a neccessity before either will go away. Both science and religion require sometimes huge leaps of faith without which they could not function but each sees the other as making a foolish and dangerous leap.

    The very fact that anyone seriously discuses the validity of organized religion only tells me that they are evolution challenged.

    Saying that "organized atheist groups" don't do as much for those in need as religious groups is unfair towards the atheists. The point is that when atheists want to do something good, they join any secular humanitarian organization to do so, they don't feel like they have to organize themselves as "an atheist group". Religious people on the other hand want to do deeds "in the name of God" and therefore join a religious group, which often also has a second (or even first) mission of spreading the religion. The atheists humanitarian work is typically purely humanitarian - they don't do it to spread atheism.

    I would say the religions' mission to spread the religion is a good part of the reason they still flourish. Atheism doesn't come attached with such a mission to spread atheism, and thus you don't as many people actively and passionately spreading the atheism view.

    Scientists experience a sense of wonder with nature just as much as any purely religiously inclined person.

    Committing science is giving us even more intense feelings for nature. Scientists are in awe every day at work in ways incomprehensible to the religious. I'll be bold and state that out of the 40% of scientists saying they are religious most of them are referring to that awe and wonder with nature rather than anything else.

    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    I think if people are only reacting to my criticisms of the fringes of atheism, and not my criticisms of the fringes of religious groups, it is because they have a bias.   In the same sentences, I have talked about the positive work that non-religious groups have done but specifically when it comes to atheist groups - groups that are composed with atheism as their core reason for existence - there just aren't a lot of soup kitchens run by them.

    Yes, non-religious groups do good works, I said that too, but UN-sponsored government programs in third world countries are shockingly laughable because they have layers of procedure and ridiculous bureaucracy that caters to petty dictators.  They don't provide anywhere near the help that religious groups do on a real level (i.e., one where supplies don't get carted off by warlords while UN people stand around).

    There is no Mother Teresa of atheists, for example.
    But you get my point.   Religious people responding here are basically being pretty good sports about the knocks on them whereas the atheists are upset that this isn't just religion-bashing.   That was my point in writing; religion still exists, when it probably shouldn't (Robert Olley's comment on phases is well placed, except I am not speaking on a personal level, I was addressing the beliefs of many in science that we are in a scientific phase distinct from all others) because it does have some value.   Obviously I am not knocking atheists either - if 80% of the members here are not atheists I will eat my Scientific Blogging mug - but I would no more want religion to be legislated out of existence than I would want a fundamentalist mullah making people attend religious services.
    Becky Jungbauer
    There is no Mother Teresa of atheists, for example.
    Do we know if Bill Gates belongs to any organized religion? Or any of the major philanthropic families? If they are non-believers, I'd say that qualifies, considering the grand scope of their reach.
    If we use that metric, the US is the greatest charity organization in the history of the world.   If doing things by individuals at great personal hardship is compared on a dollar for dollar basis against the richest guy in the world, sure, Gates has done more personally to help poor people in one week than Mother Teresa in her life without ever leaving his 60,000 square foot house - but if we use that metric, it also means Republicans are much more charitable than Democrats (and care a lot more about poor people) because Democrats tend to donate more time rather than money.
    Becky Jungbauer
    Granted, but some of the non-governmental organizations and philanthropic foundations tackle the stuff that no one else will - malaria, TB, etc - and Mother Teresa helped the ones no one else would. That was more to my point, not the individuals or the cash itself; I suppose I could have worded that better. 
    Bill Gates is an Athiest, as is his wife.

    Sorry, i know this is an internet forum where participators are pushed to be as esoteric and dense as possible.

    religion will always put itself at the edge of scientific consensus, it will always claim to be just beyond the realm of science...and once science progresses and it's field increases religion will at first bitterly deny its findings, slowly begin to accept them, and then claim to transcend them; and another generation of pastors, priests, and televangelists will be made into millionaires off their blindly devout flock.

    To quote The Economist: "Sometimes an industry can withstand pressure for many years, and then collapse abruptly. Just ask a newspaper proprietor. " ( Wouldn't be surprised if the same thing happens to religion. Of course, question is more along the lines when instead of whether.

    Time prevents me from responding to the many but.........I am saddened (but not too surprised) at the jaded anti-religious tone from many of the posts. I think it is often hubris that one supposes one is stronger without God than those who have faith. Science has produced no saints that I am aware of - no Peters, no Francis', no Cathrines, no Damiens (who lived among the lepers), no Padre Pios, no Mother Teresas. Science inspires few (any?) to give their lives for their fellow man. Rather, I find more courageous souls among the religious than in the world. Compassion is a virtue science cannot inspire. I would not consider Bill Gates a saint because he can afford to give away millions - God have mercy upon him if He did not. I appreciate science. I am fascinated by it and have loved it all my live, but it never inspired me to become a better person. And I am positive I am not the exception but the rule. Religion will not die because mankind will always strive to be virtuous in the face of the suffering of this world. Science cannot explain suffering, it cannot comfort a mother who loses a baby, it cannot provide the interpretive "keys" that can help guide the soul through pain - this is accomplished through the metaphors of religion. Ans some of those metaphors are more potent than others. I personally believe that there is no more powerful a metaphor of selfless love than the Passion of Jesus. His life speaks more about meaning than then thousand studies. .......................And now that I have, no doubt, sullied this wonderful discussion with the name of Jesus and my faith I wish you all well. I am sure this was not intended to become so religious a discussion.

    Gerhard Adam
    Without attempting to speak for anyone else, I would suggest that this is also a result of what religion itself has created.  By marrying itself to the political process and attempting to determine the direction of government, and by entering the arena of challenging science, it cannot lay claim to existing only with the area of compassion and help.

    Religion, just over the past decade, has called for nuclear annihilation of enemies, blamed whole segments of the population for terrorist attacks, and basically felt that individual rights should be given over to "their" brand of government.  When a political belief such as "liberalism" can be called "evil" and "godless", then the purveyors of such attitudes have opened the attack.  There has rarely been as much viciousness regarding people in this country as when it is couched in religious terms.  It wouldn't be fair to paint all religions and their believers with such a broad brush, but it is an attitude that has been fostered and encouraged by the fringe elements that we all have to tolerate.

    I agree with what you're saying regarding the role and difference between religion and science, and I too am saddened by the radical detour I've seen religion take in the past several decades.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Mr. Adam:

    Re your post: "Religion, just over the past decade, has called for nuclear annihilation of enemies, blamed whole segments of the population for terrorist attacks, and basically felt that individual rights should be given over to "their" brand of government. When a political belief such as "liberalism" can be called "evil" and "godless", then the purveyors of such attitudes have opened the attack."

    Writing as a liberal, and a devout Catholic, I could nto reconcile this with many facts such as the 1983 U.S. Catholic Bishops 'pastorl Letter on War and Peace - which opposed the nuclear arms race, at a time whin it was against popular sentiment in the Reagan era to do so. "A quote from taht document reads: US Catholic Bishops' The Second Vatican Council opened its evaluation on modern warfare with the statement: "The whole human race faces a moment of supreme crisis in its advance toward maturity." We agree with the council's assessment; the crisis of the moment is embodied in the threat which nuclear weapons pose for the world and much that we hold dear in the world. We have seen and felt the effects of the crisis of the nuclear age in the lives of people we serve. Nuclear weaponry has drastically changed the nature of warfare and the arms race poses a threat to human life and human civilization which is without precedent." Again - that was 1983. None of my fellow believers that I have met personally "blames whole segments of the population for terrorist attacks" nor "seeks to give rights over to a theistic worldview" . I am rather tired of having my views so mis-characterized, although I hope it is done in uninformed good faith. But just as secular people seek to have what they believe are values that promote the good of humanity enshrined in public life, so do theistic citizens seek to promote what they believe are good human values in the public debate - which is why many of us were active in the civil rights movement, and still promote economic decisions that favor the poor and a strong middle class.

    Let us understand one another better and even when we disagree, refrain from attacks - nothing invites, or excuses, one.

    Respectful regards.

    Gerhard Adam
    ...I am rather tired of having my views so mis-characterized...
    While I can appreciate that, it's also important to note that everyone's views are mis-characterized when it is the most vocal that gain the attention.  My point specifically was that there is a huge media-controlled religious audience that finds absolutely no problem with such views (as portrayed by Pat Robertson, et al).  You may not think that they are not representative, but they do provide a significant media voice and if they are not representative of religious people, then I suggest that religious people do some house-cleaning.

    Recently it was another religious representative that wanted to have a national day to burn the Koran.  I understand that these individuals don't speak for everyone and perhaps only represent a minority view.  However, when they wrap themselves in the aura of religious freedom, then it is up to other segments of religion to ensure that they are not abused in that manner.

    Just as we want Muslims to be accountable for renouncing the actions of fundamentalist extremists, so to must Christian leaders step up and take responsibility for their more vocal extremists as well.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Somnolent Aphid
    I am sure this was not intended to become so religious a discussion.
    Peace be unto you my brother but you are doing yourself no favors.  This is a typical misguided attack on science by religion.   True, science has produced no saints, but why would it?   Saints are theological constructs.  And just because you are not aware of selfless scientists only means you are not aware of them, not that they don't exist.  Dr. Albert Schweitzer, a humanist, spent most of his life in Africa building hospitals and tending to the sick.  Just go down the list of Nobel Prize winners.  You'll find more if you like.  And secular organizations, doctors without borders, greenpeace, amnesty international, thousands of organizations large and small, all selflessly doing good in this world.
    Next, this idea that science cannot explain suffering, cannot reduce suffering is complete hogwash.  Improvements in understanding physical pain are made every year.  Improved medications and theories of treatment bring relief to millions in mental pain.  Improvements in agriculture, medicine, hygiene, civil engineering all the fruits of science and all help improve people's lives immeasurably.  Pain of mothers losing children has been reduced in numerous ways, through improvements in theory of childcare, education, contraception, medical care, mental health care, all the fruits of science.   Religion doesn't have a lock on "being virtuous in the face of the suffering of this world", so don't go there.  Most people just want to do good, just want to do what's right, that is part of the human condition.  In fact, I just read an article that a certain drug manufacturer has decided to continue taking a loss on certain medications distributed in Africa because it is the right thing to do... now where did I put that pesky link?

    So, don't consider this an attack, just a defense. Save the misinformation Fr Matt.  Science has saved far more lives than religion ever will,  but we'll leave the souls to you guys.

    Mine was not meant to be an attack on science, it was a defense of religion in the face of earlier comments. As scientists who are discussing why religion still exists some folks are certainly missing the point. Ans as the only religious (by vocation at least) I see here I would think that objective scientists are broad thinking enough to appreciate the role of religion. Rather, some of the posts have reflected the stereotypical attitude some many religious people see in scientists - namely that they think that religion should not exist. In fact, if I were less secure I might have considered the entire article to be just such a polemic against religion. We could both argue the benefits each has brought to society. In the end religion only sucks as much as the people who practice it. But you missed my point regarding meaning and suffering (perhaps not surprisingly) - it is not reduction of occurrences that comforts our loss, it is compassion and those metaphors that help us make sense of pain that I was referring to. And these two things are inspired more by faith than science, and that one reason why I believe that religion will always be with us. Of course, some people have transcendent experiences, encounters with the divine, and these science will never be able to dissuade.

    Gerhard Adam
    "it is not reduction of occurrences that comforts our loss, it is compassion and those metaphors that help us make sense of pain that I was referring to. And these two things are inspired more by faith than science"

    I think it's safe to say that it's actually BOTH.  Often it's precisely various kinds of "pain" that motivate individuals to do something to address the problem (both real and perceived).  It is equally true, that compassion is a human virtue and not something that can only be driven by faith.

    Where these respective individuals get their motivation or inspiration from is largely immaterial since both are behaving in exactly the manner that human beings should.  It is ludicrous to think that scientists are all some "Mr. Spock"-type logical person, any more than it is ludicrous to think that all religious people are all fanatic fundamentalists.

    Both groups are attempting to deal with the problems in the world as they perceive them and this is precisely why they seem to collide so often these days.  When scientists want to explore the use of stem cells to address medical problems and religion argues that they can't .... we have a collision.  When we hear the creationist-evolution arguments, there is another collision.

    Despite everything that can go wrong in societies and all the bad things that can happen, it is ironic and sad that the biggest threat to peace and security on this planet is religion and the conflicts it invariably creates. 

    Your point about compassion is basically true, but it is equally true that too many deaths on this planet are a direct result of religious intolerance and nothing else.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Somnolent Aphid
    Well it was a pretty good attempt at an attack on science none the less brother matt.

    It may have  been posited in the initial post that someone at sometime said that religion should have died out by now replaced by rationality and science, but nowhere in my reading of this thread has anyone said religion should actually be abolished... ok, with the exception of the Elton John quote .  I think the intial post answered its own question.  One reason religion [still] exists is because people in general are just not rational all of the time, nor should they be.  I didn't see it as a polemic against religion, so much as asking the initial interesting question timed to coincide with Pâques.   But differnent people wear different goggles.  We see the same things differently.

    I didn't miss your point regarding suffering.  I wanted to point out that the fruits of science have greatly reduced the amount of human suffering and loss, a point which you seem to admit.  Your point was that suffering exists, obviously true, and that only the compassion found in religion can comfort us and can help us make sense of pain through some sorts of metaphores.  It is that second part that is not quite so obvious although it seems to work for some people if not for others.  The reduction of suffering vs. making sense of suffering are certainly two separate domains.  Science addresses both of them, often compassionately and with fewer metaphores. 

    When I do have my heart attack, whenever that will be, I am certain I will suffer, as will my family. But I am equally certain that I will look to science, a team of well trained doctors, a good secular hospital, I will thank the hundreds if not thousands of people who selflessly gave of themselves to participate in studies, and I'll take an asprin, all of that before I'll even think of turning to religion.  I am a pragmatist.  I think you have to look at what actually works most of the time.  Best to pray for me after I'm gone when it won't do any harm, if pray you must.

    I wish I could relate to your trancsendent experiences.  I could never be so skeptical as to take them away from you or explain them to you.  Remember science does not play the skeptic. that is a whole different realm of human endeavor.  Neuroscientists might try to explain them to you though.  I'd watch those guys pretty closely.
    Becky Jungbauer
    Hi Fr. Matt - you note that you think that objective scientists are broad thinking enough to appreciate the role of religion. I think many do, even on this site  - science and religion fulfill different roles; the problem comes when one tries to assert itself in the other's realm. I'm not sure what order you are affiliated with, but I've been very lucky with the priests I've known, and I have great respect for those particular men personally.

    I just finished a Margaret Atwood novel, "Oryx and Crake," and Atwood makes a fascinating point toward the end of her book - the engineered humans, who supposedly had all religion engineered out of them, seemed to naturally walk down that path anyway. Whether people agree with religion or not, it is an interesting idea - if we started all over again, wiped the slate clean, would we find ourselves like the ancient Greeks, creating gods to explain the unexplainable?
    Gerhard Adam
    We already do, even when we know better.  How many times have you heard Murphy's law invoked, or the unmentionable law ("if it's bad it happens, if it's good it goes away").

    I haven't met anyone hard core enough to not be concerned about jinxing something.  So, I suspect that no matter how many times we could do this over, invariably we'd still be superstitous and ultimately religious.  After all, what can you say about a society that still has difficulty putting a 13th floor in a hotel?
    Mundus vult decipi
    And, in addition to Schweitzer,

    What About Norman Borlaug? He only saved more lives than any other person on the face of the planet.

    Science has produced no saints that I am aware of - no Peters, no Francis', no Cathrines, no Damiens (who lived among the lepers), no Padre Pios, no Mother Teresas. Science inspires few (any?) to give their lives for their fellow man.
    I am aware of some: Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).

    From their charter:
    Members undertake to respect their professional code of ethics and to maintain complete independence from all political, economic, or religious powers.
    See here for examples of the dangers faced by individuals bringing scientific medicine to people in need through a secular organization.

    On a slightly different note, sacrificing one's life, although dramatic, is not necessarily the best way to use one's talents to improve the lives of others.
    Gerhard Adam
    Depends on what you mean by religion.  People will always need to explore their relationship with the world around them, and science can't perform that task.  The role of science is to help answer the questions about how nature and the universe operate, but it can't tell you what (if anything) you need to do about it to come to terms with life.

    If I have to perform some dangerous task (like rescue work, or combat), I need to have a belief that allows me to overcome my own uncertainties and doubts about what I'm doing.  If that means believing that there is a god looking out for me, or simply that you only "die when it's your time", these are important and valuable psychological tools that help me cope.  It wouldn't help in the least to be able to calculate the probability of surviving.  This applies to a variety of nuanced behaviors whether it be concepts like "hope", or "sorrow", or "ethics", etc.  All of these are governed by our beliefs and not science.

    Therefore, some belief will always be necessary and operate outside the scope of what science addresses.  You might argue that that is the role of philosophy, or culture, and I would agree.  However, to my thinking, that's precisely what religion is (when it is removed from it's formalized trappings).  It is only when people want to assert the "truth" of their beliefs that they collide with science.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Nice questions and discussions.
    These are things that I think need to be asked; however, you shouldn't just state that Nietzsche and the "Secular Thesis" are wrong. That is something that could take centuries to come around. Studies show that the number of atheists (at least in America) is rising every year, and this appears to be showing a gradual decline of religion (again, in America).
    I like how you point out that both sides have their faults, but it's not the faults or benefits that makes religion any more true or false. Just because a study finds Christians to do more chairty work, doesn't mean that Jesus any more plausibly walked the earth than he did before the study was published. Finding comfort in religion is different than believing in it.
    I think science and religion could peacefully co-habitate in todays society if people would stop asserting their beliefs to be absolute truth. No one really knows, and chances are we'll never know how we came to be.
    I do agree though, that neuro-science is the next big thing in religious studies.

    All in all, a very interesting article. =)

    Why does religion still exist ? It's because religion came from : ....... Exist but Not Exist, Not Exist but Exist .....

    Wow! You certainly know how to get a discussion going....When I was in the second grade, my mother could stand at the kitchen sink, wash the dishes, look out the window, see across the neighbors back yard and watch me walk all three blocks home from school. I didn't know this at the time. So when I walked through the door and she began tugging on my ear for the rocks I had thrown, the fights I got into, the girls hair I pulled, I would ask..."How did you know?" She would say, "The angels told me." She created in a young boy a deep, deep belief in angels based on a lie. For years I had an acute sense of the pressence of angels all around me. Then, one day, I was able to get my own glass of water. I could see over the kitchen counter and look out that window and see the doors of my school, three blocks away.
    Today, as a fifty two year old man, angels have no purpose in explaining things; a "god" does. I would label myself as Christian though most Christians would consider me far from such. I think evolution is a wonderment. The earth was not created six thousand years ago. Jonah was not swallowed by a whale. Job never existed. It's science, looking through the window, not the bible that leads me to call myself a Christian.
    The discovery of a "big bang" did not end the need for a god, it confirmed it. Eleven dimensions, an infinite number of universes, the idea of a "sum over histories", wave probabilities, all compound the need for a "constant" of another sort....a god.
    It is my "faith" that all science will eventually reveal an understanding of this god. It is my observation, that religion, all religions, are often the greatest hurdle to an understanding of this god. It is my hope, my prayer, that humankind never ceases in it's longing to come to this understanding. To me, it just doesn't matter if the physicist searching for a theory of everything is an athiest or a believer. Every truth made known, is another piece of god.
    Thanks for the aricle.

    It's a good analogy.    Your mother's existence was not invalidated by later knowledge of neuroscience, optics and everything else that went into her being able to see that you were throwing rocks.  So it goes with science.   There are angry, unrelenting types on each side who simply declare their mothers or all science invalid - which makes no sense.

    We can't account for 94% of the universe.    Some physicists prefer to call it 'dark energy' or 'dark matter' and they say that without it, the universe cannot make sense, though no one knows what it is.   Well, that's an awful lot like religion.    

    There are mysteries we all want to pursue, science just chooses to pursue them in terms of natural laws rather than spiritual ones.    People who say they can't co-exist are selling something - books and pageviews on websites and newspapers.
    Great discussion, folks. Two quick comments on religion ...

    1. Religion is a business. Participants are either selling it or buying it. The sellers "spread the word" to bring in more buyers (power, money, etc.). More buyers gives the sense that it is less crazy. The evolutionary advantage comes from the fact that the sellers correctly see the non-belivers as threats to their power and have always been pretty good at ostracizing them. It's hard to get laid when you are an outcast.

    2. The biggest drawback to religion is that it makes humans compromise on living THIS life and making this a better world right NOW in exchange for some mythical promise of another life in paradise. It seems that all religions (that I know of) are based on peace, love and harmony. If you believe in that sort of thing and you live your life based on those principals you have done plenty to earn your "reward" as they like to say in the bible belt. But too many religious people compromise by hating gays, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Americans, Russians, Republicans, Democrats, etc. All that intolerance does nothing to help get you into heaven based on what your religions are publicly teaching. Ultimately that hate leads to horrible actions that those on the fringes seem to think has implicit approval of the masses.

    Live this life like it's the only one you have. Everything else will work itself out.

    Chris, you have a very, very narrow and prejudiced view of religion. While I would need to agree with you on most all your points, I only agree to a specific degree. There most certainly is many aspects of religion that when stripped bare is nothing more than a con and a shady sort of business. Jim Bakers' PTL Club, the Catholics selling of salvation through indulgences, the crusades, televangilist, on and on and on.
    We can also point out how living for the next life can become an expression of hatred in this life. Inquistions, suicide bombers, religiocentricity (I just made that one up...wonder if there's an award of some sort for that), parents neglecting medical care for their children in favor of faith, on and on and on.
    We must also consider the Salvation Army, hospitals, the Red Crescent, the Red Cross, Christian Children Fund, food banks, missions for the homeless, on and on and on and on and on and on and on. So much of so many religions ARE about living this life...with empathy, compassion, nobility and love.
    It is the soul who refuse to look outside their own little fishbowl of life that learn to hate and fear and remain ignorant. Try this little experiment....Drive to work, every day for a week, listening to a conservative, talk radio station. Drive home while listening to progressive/liberal talk radio station. It won't take long before you begin to see the vitriol and hatred on both sides and how these extremes are miorror images of the other. Your comments, seem to me, to be the mirror images of the religious extreme. You talk about a segment that hates, Jews, gays, Muslims, etc. while at the same time express a blanket hatred of the religious. Hate is hate. It doesn't become a positive thing just because you have selected who you will choose to hate. Transend this thing.

    Both sides have their zealots, that's for sure.   I fail to see the intellectual or moral superiority of rabid, fundamentalist atheists any more than I see it for the religious sector.  Neither side is much fun to be around because they are so aggressive in their attempts to be what they think are positive that they come across as hate-filled and angry.
    Yes... I have spent a lot of time on the Richard Dawkins website, and have found most of the regulars to be very angry opponents of religion.

    I myself do not find much in religion that cannot be had without it, but the experiences there (which is really, with fanatics of both sides, as it seems that very few moderate religious people remain active for very long) have convinced me that I need to be countering the fanaticism (I tend to object to the use of words that, to them, are loaded; like "Fundamentalist").

    I have instead decided that I would rather point out the scientific inaccuracies that I am aware of (I am studying Cognitive Science and Computational Engineering at CCSF, and should transfer to Berkeley next year), which mostly deal with very basic physics or chemistry mistakes, or, in the areas I am more familiar with, the workings of certain neurological structures (Mostly the hippocampus - or memory related objects, although my real area of study is in AI and Cognitive forms of Computation).

    I enjoyed your Opening Article, and wish that I could find more people willing to find ways of just doing the right thing without having to demonize the other side of the debate.

    I will admit to one fear (and it is my deepest held belief that it is unrecognized fears that drive most of our behavior - it would be too much to relate why in the short space here) I have regarding religion is that it will ultimately prove to be dangerous, specifically because it is possible to have all of the good that it does without the accompanying bad that comes from it...

    Yet, I have another fear that accompanies this one: Reacting to one fear irrationally only makes things worse, and how does one discuss the first fear with the religious without inflaming their own fears that I am just simply looking for a way to rid the world of religion.

    I've bookmarked ScienceBlogs... Interesting site.

    There are no religious phenomena at all, but only a religious interpretation of phenomena.

    Very good article, it shows an open-mindedness that fanatically religious and non-religious people lack. I personally think that religion satisfied the spiritual need of people. This is not based on science, but I think that we humans have a spiritual side, with its needs and energy expenditure. Religious activities are most common way people fulfill this need they have. There are other ways, of course. In my own experience I know that I need to renew myself spiritually, with things like meditation or reading a good book. Hope more research will enlighten this subject.

    Pablo's Origins Blog

    religion has been around a lot longer than modern science, and it's hard to let go of tradition - although, the particular religions at any given time change and morph through the ages.

    when science education is as spread through the cultures as much as religious education has, then we'll see the ending of religion

    Lol- the answer is really really simple.
    Religious beliefs are indoctrinated, not chosen. Duh.
    Did you ever notice that Bhuddists don't give birth to Moslems, for instance?

    Gerhard Adam
    Religious beliefs are indoctrinated, not chosen. Duh.

    Well, D'uh ... I guess that's why people convert between religions?  So that a Christian may convert to Islam or vice versa.  Or someone with no religious exposure chooses to become a Christian.

    Certainly people are largely influenced and indoctrinated by the belief systems (not just religious) of those they are raised with and by.  However, a significant portion of such beliefs are formed by choice even if they are initially influenced by indocrination.
    Mundus vult decipi
    a lot of time conversion between religions is because the person who is converting is marrying someone of a different faith.

    sometimes people go "searching" for another faith that they think will provide more satisfying answers

    to me, when the core premise is so illogical and baseless - a deity or group of them running the show - the details that differ from one to the next are meaningless

    people would do better to find meaning in their own lives than try to find a deeper meaning for life

    because the only people who claim to know it, are generally trying to sell you a religion

    Religion still exist because we are self-aware creatures, and we can't handle the truth of our own corporeal existence.
    Religion still exist because we are self-aware creatures, and we can't handle the truth of our own corporeal existence.
    Gotta smile at that, as a blooper, Eric

    It is the LACK of self awareness that's the reason people can't handle the truth of their own corporeal existence.

    Don't include me in that, please!

    The conundrum people face is one of too many forked tongue words in common use

    Religion is one such word.

    The reason it still exists, is because people want to spend all their efforts looking for what cannot be found where it was not lost

    It is religiousness which has been lost, and it was no accident, - it was ousted by those 'masters of the power game'

    Religion is a power word, and spreads powerlessness amongst the unwary

    Unwariness is a sleepstate whilst awake, cured by a wake-up-call, usually imposed by nature, if a person doesn't actively seek the truth of their own awareness and acquire religiousness - or by one who is awake - a teacher, a guru, a buddha, a jesus, or even a shaman ;-)

    Religion is a power word, and spreads powerlessness amongst the unwary.

    Some religions, Henry not all. It is certainly the case with Christianity and Judaism. But it certainly is not the case with Buddhism--which I regard more as a philosophy than a religion even though it is practiced as a religion by the average Buddhist--and Native American spiritual beliefs--which again has its religious aspects.

    The dogma and litany of religion I have no use for. However, the underlying moral and philosophical principles are of value to me. By definition that would make me an eclectic. ;-)

    I think what I was trying to do was illustrate the difference between the exoteric masquerade described by many as 'Religion' and the esoteric practice that is spiritual - 'Religiousness'

    dogma and litany are just the buttons on the coat of the masquerade - they keep it together

    And here's a bit of humour for you....

    'Eric' is in both exoteric and esoteric, so where is 'eric' really? .....Shaman or unwary, since you used the word in its masquerade sense, and yet then said 'not really'

    That is EXACTLY why I said, it is a power word!

    btw, I think eclectic has the same roots as legion - to gather [no doubt Patrick will jump on me if I'm wrong]

    So I'd say you're a gatherer....sounds about right...  ;-)

    Is there any Irish in your heritage? wouldn't be collecting Blarney all these years, would you now ;-)

    1. People would rather believe in magic than labor to learn science.
    2. 1 set of people likes being led, another likes to tell others what to do, but both require an arbitrary 'Authority' in this process
    3. Religion absolves people of responsibility and ultimately consequences for misbehaviour, esp. for trespasses on their fellow man.


    Some people would rather not think at all, and the undisciplined, whether mentally , spiritually or both, are opposed to both religion and science - although they will accept the material benefits of science in a passive way. But there are many religous people who have studied science and are active in it ( I studied science, work for a company involved in space research and am a member of a mainstream Christian church myself). I cannot deny some people like being led, but that is not just true of the religious (dogmatic Marxism or hte Cultural Revolution in China - remember?) , and religous belief can take you out of your comfort zone fast, as in the case of the civil rights protestors who were set upon with fire hoses or those who are still involved in politicially inconvenient and incorrect witnessing to human values. And religion, in my experience, makes one constantly aware of one's individual moral obligation to others, even when they will not be punished for it in this life. That's a pretty tough standard.


    Spirituality is a personal journey. Perhaps it's human nature, but an 'us and them' attitude develops on so many levels with too many issues. It would be nice not to have groups of either bickering about which is 'right and wrong'. Criticisms of others are ultimately criticisms of self.

    Debating about the need for religion is like debating the need for archeology or mathematics (examples) all that's required to carry out either is questions. Look to your questions for guidance and find peace in the fact that you may not find answers. Sometimes the question is all the answer I need. The greatest value lies in that which assists me to reflect and discover myself. I am an atheist but it is said that God created man in his own image, thus a journey of self discovery would surely bring you closer to God. And if 'God' is understanding a little more about myself then belief can't be a bad thing.

    I don't need religion to be a good person and I don't need atheism to be a good person. A good person doesn't have to convince anyone they are good, they just are. I can only try to be.

    Why does religion still exist? Because we all need our stories of inspiration and comfort, and we simply haven't come up with anything better than the various religions of the world to replace them.....yet. ;-)
    Amateur Astronomer
    If religion was endangered of dying out, bad leadership would have finished it off a long time ago. Science has never been a serious threat to religion. Some times it is a nuisance, but only a secondary one, and then only from a hand full of individuals.

    Fictional entertainment on television did more harm to religion than science ever could. That threat was neutralized by cable TV. Now religion has it's own channels.

    Legal action against religion in public schools did not kill off religion, it just antagonized the believers and changed the politics and the crime rate.

    Ethan Allen one of the founders of American democracy wrote a book entitled "Reason - The Only Oracle of Man." He argued for separation of church and state with the claim that government would become rational. His fans are still waiting for government to become rational.

    When you count how many religious colleges there are teaching science, then it should become clear that science will never finish off religion. Science is not even an enemy of religion, or a topic that parents name when speaking of difficulty with children.

    The enemies of religion are heavy metal music, satanic cults, and black magic. You only need to browse in a big book store to see which groups are in contention. Religious books are lined up in battle formation two echelons deep, opposite the new age army hoard of volumes deployed in another two echelons. Math and science are not even on the battle field. They are stuck away in a few shelves of the spectator stands between the hobbies and the self help section.

    Sometimes science thinks it is a contender for control of peoples thoughts. That has never been a case for the average citizen. There was a time when science had a chance to gain the upper hand, but that period ended with the sinking of the Titanic.

    Science has been tampered with as much as religion has, but more tampering was done  by governments than by religion. The biggest upheaval in modern times was the break down of communism. It took on science and religion both at the same time and expected to win. In hind sight it was a really dumb thing to do. Notice that the biggest change in the world of recent times was brought about by science and religion working together, or at least for some of the same things.

    One of my most vivid memories of earlier years was Carl Sagan, an atheist and scientist of minor importance, telling the world that the human race would become extinct and there was nothing anyone could do to change that. Either humanity would be roasted alive in the big crunch of a collapsed universal fire ball, or all of the stars would die and humanity would freeze to death in the cold and the dark. That's the science that was expecting to replace religion.

    Science has done a rather poor job of answering fundamental questions about the origin of the universe. How did entropy become small in the past? What is mass and where did the energy come from? Why does antimatter go backward in time? What causes galaxies to accelerate? In fact science has the answer to some of these things, but has chosen to ignore it. Instead science has offered super natural dark energy and dark matter, taking the example from the new age books, and hoping to become a contender. Now that effort appears to be failing. Dark physics was not defended by anyone on this web site.

    Science cannot answer question about religion. It can't even answer questions about science from the atheist community.

    Why can science not answer these questions? Has it been tampered with too much? Is it too dangerous to express an opinion? Is the scholarship lacking?

    There is a competing view of science that says the human race has a chance for survival, beyond the confines of this world and this universe. It answers questions for believers and unbeliever alike. about energy, mass, entropy, time and space. This science has been tampered with by governments and religions, but it survived.

    The main stream of science will have to struggle for survival too, just as religion has struggled for survival. Science can take a lesson from religion in survival tactics. In religion there is a distinction made between form and substance. Science needs to learn how to do that.
    Religion has a benefit science does not have regarding big issues like the origin of the universe - religion requires no evidence or even a hypothesis.

    Religious people do not claim to have a valid answer either, that is why they use the word 'faith' instead of knowledge. 

    I do agree that science and religion are only in opposition by people on the fringes of each; militant atheists on one side and fundamentalist kooks on the other.  For most (including 40+% of all scientists as of the last survey) religion and science are complementary.

    It's only the angriest of atheists who denies the benefits of a liturgical society and seeks to rationalize it as something else.    Religion, like guns, make most people a lot more polite to each other when everyone has them.   But religion, like guns, in the wrong hands can do a lot of damage. 
    Very well put, Hank.

    What is it that Einstein said......"Religion without science is blind. Science without religion is lame."

    As as you so eloquently put it, I know the difference between "faith" and "knowledge". And as a human being, I accept my need for faith in something greater than myself that gives meaning to what I do in my life. My personal religious concepts may not be well-defined. But for me the spiritual experience is 1) deeply personal 2) more visceral than rational and 3).....well, I haven't worked out three yet. And that is perhaps the ineffable aspect of religion, or as I prefer, spirituality that only poets can elude to.

    There have been just as many Nobel laureates in physics who have been people of faith as there have been agnostics and atheists. ;-) 
    The continued existence of any religion substantiates my belief that, "No power equals that of self-deception." Theists will ignore any fact, no matter how obvious, and deny any truth to keep their illusions. Slogans, rhetoric, and deception are easier to accept than thinking for oneself. Many people will always take the easy way no matter how ridiculous and harmful it may be.

    Most of the problems of the world are, and always have been, cause by religion. Mankind will never truly be free until the black yoke of religion is lifted by the clear light of truth and rational thinking.

    As usual the reader and the writer revolve around the same questions over and over again... but the fact remains religion is taught to the child from the day he or she is born.... later if he joins school the science is taught..... And the fight between these begins after the teens are find out which one is the real world.....

    Egg and Chicken -- Why is the world so blind... When Adam and Eve can come and had babies... why can't the cock and the chicken come and lay the eggs...


    Religion persists because belief in a deity is taught at a very early age. My nephew is only four years old but when he was sent to a pre-school center one of the things he came home with is a letter from his teacher requesting the father to teach my nephew to memorize a passage from the bible.

    My nephew has no knowledge of a God. He also has no reason to believe in a creature he cannot see. Neither does he find a need to create a God. Admittedly, he has a vivid imagination and sometimes imagines magical creatures prowling around the house or hiding behind the closet. But a God who holds all the strings to this planet is not one to appear in his imagination. A few years from now, if he comes to believe there is a creature he must pray to every day, it is not because he thought of them naturally; that belief was implanted in his brain by others.

    We seem to have one voice and one message regarding religion. Scholars are critical of the entire idea. Others are ambivalent but it is the only intellectual tool that many people have to teach ethics to their progeny.
    Religions are ideologies or sets of beliefs that are sacred and, therefore cannot be questioned. They are the antithesis of the what the Greeks spoke of with, ". . .an unexamined life is not worth living and the corollary, ". . . an unexamined idea is not worth thinking." As a group, we tend to attack unexamined ideas without mercy.
    If we mount an objective analysis of religion, we find the large number of errors perpetuated in the name of a religion, but those can often be attributed to a particular clergy member, theist scholar or others who gain a following by preaching nonsense. It is not the religion or belief system itself that creates these. Conversely we might note that scientific method, canonical theories such as evolution, etc. have their fair share of anomalies. We are already turning the study of the human genome into a scientific ideology as we declare some DNA as the inviolable test for legal evidence in certain crimes.
    Perhaps each tenet of each religion, by using rational methods, can be verified as containing basic truth. It seems that people love to have ideas that they can count on, no matter what. If someone states that they are logically false that is just another opinion in the mind of the believers.
    And that gets us back to Square One.

    > We are already turning the study of the human genome into a scientific ideology as we declare some DNA as the inviolable test for legal evidence in certain crimes.

    Yes, that has happened, but it is science which is trying to correct the mistakes and misunderstandings of the past:

    Amateur Astronomer
    There is a story told in graduate school about statistics and the uncertainty principle. It says that young people come out of college with a bachelors degree knowing almost everything. Then they go to graduate school and come out not sure of any thing. Graduate school does everything with statistics.

    Reading the biographies of the most productive scientists, it usually happens that they had very complicated opinions about religion that changed from time to time over a life time.

    Albert Einstein's thoughts on religion fill 14 volumes, and cover a fairly wide range tending toward Spinoza on average, such that it was unpredictable on the spur of the moment, like the uncertainty principle.

    A lot of younger scientists tend toward atheism. Older scientists have opinions, but are really not sure. Heisenberg did that for them. The more highly educated scientists tend toward uncertainty and opinions that change over time. In recent decades the, most outspoken atheist among the scientists have also been some of the least productive in science. The religious community has missed a really good chance to challenge their opponents on the quality of science.

    It looks like the scientific community has hedged it's bets by choosing to live in a free society. There is a choice. So it shouldn't be too surprising that the religious community has chosen to practice science.

    There is a limit to freedoms, and a risk of venturing to far from the norm. My own experience found that to accomplish a major advancement it is necessary to leave the safety of the peers, take a risk, and go out on the edge. An old retired guy can do it. Scientists today are not willing to do that because of all the tampering that has been done with academic freedoms. A part of science has been suppressed and is not taught in college. It is available in print from the most famous pioneers in science. The missing parts are necessary to make a path forward for the human race.

    Survival of religion is the public's way of telling the scientific community that mediocrity doesn't win.
    Amateur Astronomer
    I neglected to say in some previous messages that some of my examples can be found in a children's museum in San Francisco. Things like radiant focusing and dark current electricity are taught to 5 year old children. The choice of museums was a good one because the topics are quite old.

    It is always surprising how many educated people are looking to the second law of thermodynamics to describe the early universe. College science does a poor job on this topic. The third law of thermodynamics began with Boltzmann in the 19th century and was fully developed by Schrödinger in the mid 20th century.

    College science was tampered with to give three generations of college educated people the wrong information about energy. Now teachers are starting over with small children to correct the abuse.

    Religion will never be replaced by a sand bagged variety of science.
    Religion is a must.

    "I believe my god is most powerful. More powerful and mighty then yours. Your god is a loser."
    Are you accepting what I say?

    Buddha is a great man. He is never all mighty and powerful. He is not god. He is just my teacher. A chapter in his teaching, I learn how to be a loser. Accept the fact that I lost and learn how to tell you that I am a loser.

    It makes me a better man as compared to my old self.

    Dear writer, do understand what my teacher buddha has to say. then delete this article off totally. thanks.

    Science is based on reason. Religion is based on faith. I will take reason any day.

    Umm...excuse me, but some of you need to look up agnostic in the dictionary. I just did, to make sure I remembered the definition correctly. Atheists believe there is no God. Agnostics admit they don't KNOW one way or another. This "knowledge" or "belief" in one or the other sounds suspiciously like arrogance and pride to me. Neither group (those that believe in God and those that don't believe) can possible KNOW. We (human beings) are so very tiny in the whole scheme of things and yet our egos are so very big. We have been around for such a short period of time too. And as individuals we live for only a teeny weeny moment when compared to the age of our planet, much less the age of the universe. Added to that, every new generation has to learn everything from scratch, again. And don't you remember playing 'telephone' as a kid? By the time word spread around the circle, the whole meaning was changed, sometimes in really, really strange ways. You honestly think it's different with our "history", our books? I was never taught in school that Abraham Lincoln violated the Constitution of the United States and yet he did. You think stuff like this didn't happen way back in the day? When people were, mostly, even less educated? Do you think scribes never made mistakes? Even not knowing how to read and being used as human copiers, mistakes are guaranteed. Besides, if the scribes couldn't read, who's to say they were actually working off the original document? Back then, some people were greedy, controlling, self-important, power hungry, sneaky, conniving and arrogant too. Some were fanatics, just like now. Some were zealots, just like now. Some were sociopaths or psychopaths, just like now. You think no translator ever put his own thoughts or beliefs into the new version? Nah, that can't happen, right? You think history isn't written by the winners? What do we know? We don't know anything. We guess, we think, some of us choose to believe. But we don't KNOW. For all we know, plants can think, in their own way, and we just don't get it. For all we know we are an alien experiment. For all we know, we are just an accident, an happenstance. For all we know there are different versions of us in those multi-universes and this is the most hellish version or maybe it's the best one.

    As for why religion still exists? Maybe because we need to believe that we know something - because we cannot handle the "not knowing". Maybe because we want "daddy" to come back and save us. Or maybe because it feels good to think we are above all else (the other life forms on this planet). Because we cannot handle the thought that we too are animals with instincts regardless of the fact that we can add two plus two and make toasters? Because we have curious minds that demand answers and at some point someone came along with some that sounded or felt good? Maybe because we are afraid. Maybe because we want a purpose, other than just to exist. Because it's easier to be told what to do and how to be than to take on the full responsibility of free will. Maybe because it makes us feel less alone and powerless. But probably it's a combination of all that and more. Lets face it, it's never just one thing when it comes to people, is it? There are always all these circumstances and connections surrounding any of our "stories". But one thing seems for sure, we don't KNOW a dang thing. If we did, history would not keep repeating itself. Do you ever contemplate that the only thing keeping us from living in a world where there is no hunger, no homeless and no war - is us? Yup, Homo sapiens; Latin for 'wise man' or 'knowing man'. Yes, that's us. Every time I turn on the news, I think to myself, "Gosh, we're such a wise species." LOL


    I agree with much of what you say, but I think you're missing an important point when you look at the dictionary definition of agnosticism and compare it to atheism. Your conclusion on that ends up as being almost dualistic, a near black-and-white interpretation with only one shade of grey. The world isn't necessarily like that.

    Instead , I would recommend considering the levels of belief which an earlier poster quoted, where on the scale of a 1-7 range 1 is an absolute belief in a god, 7 is an absolute belief in there being no god, and 4 is the agnostic position you initially refer to.

    Personally I count myself as a 6, since I don't consider that there is any evidence or any rational reason for the existence of a god, but I am well aware of the logical difficulty of proving a negative. I call myself an atheist because that is what most people would understand me to be on a day-to-day basis.

    Just for clarification, I'd be a 6 on unicorns, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster as well.

    Membership in the AAAS is NOT limited to scientists. Membership is open to anyone wanting to be a member and receive a magazine subscription. A more relevant group for the purpose of determining the degree of religious thinking amount scientists is the National Academy of Sciences, a group composed of eminent scientists in many different fields. A survey in 1998 found that well over 90% of the Academy identified themselves as either agnostic or atheistic. 7% believed in a personal deity, 7.8% believed in human immortality. The least scientifically literate group included in the survey were Academy Mathematicians. Predictably, their level of religious belief was the highest at 14%.

    It would seem that scientific literacy and religious belief are largely incompatible. The reason is that in science, belief is predicated on evidence. Authority, training, belief and teaching all yield to the evidence. In religion, belief is predicated on - can someone write in and let me know what belief in religion is based on? Someone is going to write in and inform us that some given "scientist" at some point in their career ignored evidence in favor of their established belief. That this example is actually a confirmation of the superiority of the scientific world view will be lost on this person. Authority can never trump the evidence in science, and when it does, the authority has abandoned true science.

    As for why religion still exists - the reason is easy. When I was a little boy, my mommy told me that Jesus loves me. Abdul's mommy told him that there is no god but Allah and Mohammed was his prophet. Raj's mommy told him about dharma, samsara, etc. If you get to the children young enough, you can get them to believe any silly thing you tell them as long as the contrary evidence is not blindingly obvious. Children are genetically programmed to accept without question everything their parents tell them. All of my playmates grew up believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Jesus. Skepticism is a characteristic of intellectual maturity.

     Children are genetically programmed to accept without question everything their parents tell them ... Skepticism is a characteristic of intellectual maturity.
    The first concerns me that you have no idea what genetics is, so I am not sure you can criticize religious people for a perceived lack of sense.   The second is like 'teabagger' or 'liberal' ... more an insult waiting for an excuse to be used than a part of rational discourse.   Labeling religious people as intellectually mature is silly.  I know plenty of people who claim to be skeptical but who are only skeptical of bigfoot and religion; plenty of things vaguely in the science orbit don't get skeptical treatment at all, which doesn't seem all that intellectually mature.
    Wrong - I'm a certified science teacher. I do have knowledge of genetics. From what knowledge base or credential do you criticise my background?

    I did not label religious people as intellectual mature. I did not label them at all except by implication. I implied they were intellectually immature. I've never heard a better reason for a particular set of religious beliefs other than "mommy said so." I have often asked religious people why they believe a particular dogma. Given where I live (the US), that typically translates to, "why are you a Christian as opposed to Muslim or Hindu or whatever." Invariably, it was the religion they grew up in and were indoctrinated in as a child.

    Every thing, without exception, in the "science orbit" is subjected to skeptical treatment - both when a new idea is first proposed and continuously until replaced by a newer, better idea that explains evidence not supported by the previous idea. This process is often not visible to those not a specialist in a given field - but it happens. This distinguishes science from religion in which beliefs are accepted without evidence and are never replaced by better ideas. Religious ideas are very rarely replaced by different superstitions accepted by the credulous without evidence.

    I don't know the "people who claim to be skeptical" you refer to. If they are only skeptical of bigfoot and religion, then they aren't very skeptical.

    Well put, bgman. I find little intellectual value is having a faith (the illusion of knowledge) based largely either on your parental and or cultural upbringing.

    Fred Pauser
    Hank said in the comments above:

    …and instead focus on making the world a better place.

    Patrick expressed a similar sentiment recently, and I'm sure many agree. Although that expression is almost cliché, it is immensely significant. I believe it sums up the human purpose of life.

    One problem is that different people have different ideas on how to make the world a better place. But most can agree on some major issues. For example, I suspect the most agree that many leaders of Big Banking have for years not been working in the best interest of their clients or humanity as a whole (for whatever reason).

    "Reason is the Devil’s whore"

    Robert Olley mentions above that quote from Luther. I suspect it means that people who do bad acts, tend to use reason -- they "rationalize" -- so as to justify themselves. If you saw the CEO of Goldman Sachs (Blankfein) being questioned last month by a Congressional panel, I think we witnessed some heavy duty rationalizing, to say the least.
    Indeed, and it isn't just CEOs in their shareholders' best interests doing the rationalizing, it is sometimes people in their own but for no real reason.   Obama took 10X as much from Goldman Sachs as Bush took from Enron and it would have cost him nothing in real election terms (since he didn't limit himself to campaign financing he was able to raise twice as much as McCain anyway, $900K did not tip the election) to give it back but he rationalized why that made no difference.   And he's right, but it would have been a good message to society.  Instead, his stance sends the wrong one.
    Which religion? Personally, I think Catholicism still exist because of the great Gothic architecture of the Cathedrals in France as well as the great architecture in Italy, not to mention all of that great interior design! I mean, you have Basilicas going back to the classical period of the Roman Empire, plus all of that magnificent art from the Renaissance and the Baroque. And to top it all off,  you have all of those wonderful fables going back to ancient Babylon. What's not to love for the average person? Pretty cool package deal!

    Brunelleschi's dome for the Duomo of Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore

    Look at the Rose window (below) in the Cathedral, Notre Dame de Chartre:

    And is there in anything more beautiful and sublime than Michelangelo's Pieta?

    I was Baptisted in Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, IL by a cardinal from the College of Cardinals in the Vatican itself--a body from which new Popes are selected!  And I'm not even religious anymore! But, I still love the art and architecture! What can I say? LOL ;-)

    And this is just from the European/Western tradition! We haven't even talked about Middle-Eastern or Eastern Traditions!
    There is something to what you say about the power of history.   Obviously, though there's no way to know what really happened, 50% of people can't agree on what Pres. Obama said last week much less what anyone intended millenia ago, but you certainly can never come close to knowing without going as far back as you can.

    I've been to the Basilica of Saint Peter in Chains, for example.  Science says those chains from the two times St. Peter was imprisoned could not have fused together the first time they were in the same place.  Technology will know ways they could have, of course, without delving into the miraculous.   It's still powerful to visit unless the visitors are those angry atheists who just hate everyone who disagrees with them because, in an infinite universe, it could have happened - and that is fascinating to me.
    Oh, I agree, Hank. The places do have a power and beauty to them that is awe-inspiring. And if you know the history behind these wonders, it makes the experience that much more powerful. : )
    Religion is the means by which people act out their faith. So faith is at the core of religious behavior, not the details of the particular myth. Faith comes in two major flavors of belief: the nonprejudiced and the prejudiced. The nonprejudiced can change their mind, the prejudiced can't ever do that.

    In our society most people don't learn about the core of religious beliefs when they are adults, they learn them as children, by parents droning on about their ideologies. Children, especially very young ones, can be prejudiced by whatever they are exposed to: it could be literally anything, like "Martians exist". If the child gets prejudiced by this exposure he will see his own prejudice as absolute truth for his entire life. It doesn't matter how smart you are, or how informed you are, or how rational you are: you are prejudiced. That 100% confidence belief can't be switched off. Such a person can switch religions, but they can't switch prejudices. So if you're prejudiced with "god exists" that idea will stay with you for a lifetime, because the first love of a prejudiced person is their own prejudice. They literally can't stop believing, and are evidence immune. For a prejudiced person, an entire universe of evidence is insufficient to change their mind.

    As an example that shows the significance and relevance of prejudice, let's use Hitler's "Jews are evil" prejudice he picked up in childhood. If you ask him as an adult if "Jews are evil" he would tell you, "Of course, that is an absolute truth, it's completely obvious, and I've always believed it." Then he will give you a lengthy rationalization that he has been building for a lifetime, about why he believes and all the supporting evidence, etc. On this point Hitler is not stupid, ill informed, or irrational: he is simply prejudiced. He has been acting on that prejudice, and building all of his habits, for a lifetime. He can't ever stop believing with 100% confidence that "Jews are evil", and he sees his own prejudice as "absolute truth". As a result of that prejudice he can't judge Jews, or himself.

    Though I agree prejudices are very rarely changed from childhood, I do not think it is impossible and permanent. A rational person can catch themselves later in life thinking childhood prejudice and recognizes it as so, not as truth. My philosophy teacher told me of a story of when he was in college and he saw a inter-racial couple and it grossed him out for a second, however, he then realized that the thought didn't make sense and since then is not repulsed. I have also gone through similar instances in my life. The question is, are the more extreme prejudice the way they are because of a more extreme upbringing or because of how their brain developed from birth? Probably something like a little bit of both.

    The racial example you give looks to me like normal belief, which can be changed.

    There is a difference between prejudiced behavior, and prejudiced belief that sometimes drives it. People with prejudiced belief are in a separate category because they can't change their minds, and their prejudiced belief becomes almost like a new emotion, always there and always changing behavior.

    A truely prejudiced individual, as I define it, simply can't change their mind, because the underlying mechanism of the belief is physically jammed - it's always outputting 100% confidence, no matter what shows up. I'm not sure what percentage of the prejudiced population can change their mind under some extreme circumstance, but in my experience I've never seen it happen. At best they say, "I believe, but I don't know why" and assign mystical reasons for their absolute belief.

    A rational and knowledgable prejudiced person will use all of his mental abilities to rationalize his prejudice until he dies. He doesn't have any idea that the underlying machinery of his belief could be broken, and figures that his prejudice is just another belief, and since his mind works correctly for his other beliefs, it'll work for the prejudice as well. But no amount of evidence will affect a prejudiced belief. In effect, a prejudiced person "already knows" the truth about their prejudice.

    I just looked back at other posts on this subject. Our ethical knowledge comes from a dualistic world in which there was good things . . (things that we could find and eat) and things that were bad and would try to kill and eat us. That equation easily resolves into the kind of rules that governed societies formed by humans. One of the keys to all of the rules was the underlying rule that we are all mortal and don't want to die. In past times we have consistently turned this fear into narratives that we can spin for our children and grandchildren. We also like these stories to have a moral and happy ending. Most of this writing and oral story telling carried a lot of information about our culture, dietary laws and suggestions, depending on where you live) information about our own self-loathing and even a few personal stories thrown into keep the reader turning pages.
    Naturally we wanted to make this stuff sacred and inviolable because it came from our ancestors whom we worshipped.
    . . . but ancient people were not well educated and certainly had low SAT scores. They didn't have the opportunity to sit through boring sermons and lectures and learn what is right, what is wrong, what is good, what is bad, etc. as do we lucky latter day generations. Religion or blind ideological devotion to "God" or "Jehovah" or "Allah" etc. covered that nicely. Most cultures follow religions because that is often the only way to indoctrinate the young. that's why we have religion.

    first off i want to say i really have no idea why we as humans have lived for centuaries now believing in religion. I mean really realistically i have no idea why it makes no sence. All it is is something that was made up years ago to keep uss from going insane and finding a middle ground I am not going to get into all of the politics of it becuase i do not come on threads very often but i for myself do not know why so many people get kicks out of going to church thinking there problems are going to go away when they go home and find out there electric bill just went up and there kid cannot eat i just do not understand why so many people are intrigued by a mith hundreds of centuaries ago is thinking it is true. My whole oppinion on death is when you go to a hostpital and get aneteshia in you have no idea what is going on becuase it is like you are in so many ways erased for a short while from existance in my oppinion i persoanlly think that is exactly what death is and for uss as humans to believe that a man from the bible can controll are souls and minds when we die when everything is shut down in are bodies is almost as thinking star trek is real and spock is living next door to you. Point i am trying to make is why believe in religion when it does not believe in uss for uss not knowing if it is true or not.

    GOD's thinking starts where all the so called rational thinking of man! has not even entered the arena of uniiversal thinking.................this is where religion comes in through CHRIST, is too wits...........
    I just have to say after reading some of this... I'm sick to death of this stupid fucking idea that we need to water down our belief's in an avalanche of fancy writing and anti "toe-stepping" techniques.Grow a fucking pair and voice your god damn opinion the way it comes to mind so we aren't overwhelmed with this politically correct piece of shit. I personally believe (not that anyone gives a shit at this point) that there is no god, no afterlife, and there's no such thing as a soul(in a literal sense, don't try over analyze everything). I also think that if you are a "believer" you will end up spreading your beliefs down to your children like a crack whore gives birth to a baby addicted to crack before it experiences what is technically defined as "life." Religion is a poison that infects the minds of the weak and slows down the evolution of the human race as a whole. And believe it or not this position stems from a belief that human kind in inherently good, and doesn't require a crutch such as religion to make moral decisions. I also reject the concept that religion is something developed out of fear of the unknown... but that's cuz I'm not a pussy and have something called intellectual curiosity. Humans are naturally curious and explore the unknown rather than cowering in fear of it. The funny thing here is I see all this to be pretty apparent logic... maybe you're too busy arguing the details to stop and actually think about what you think rather that, what you think they think you might think if they think what this other guys thinks. You get the picture... feel free to pick apart every word I've typed here... you'll only be proving my point (or points... doesn't matter). My last belief i will leave with you is this... you will NEVER be "enlightened" if you lie to yourself, but more importantly, if you lie to yourself about lying to yourself. Think about it.... don't read about it.

    Well, yes and no.   Part of a civilized society is not flipping out on the 98% of people in your country who disagree with your beliefs - otherwise we have a place where everyone who dislikes women is ridiculing them, or gays, black people, short people, mimes, etc.    Basically a pretty angry place.   Without 'watering down' our opinions no one could live near anyone else.
    Gerhard Adam
    I'm not sure why someone that claims to be apathetic should be so emotionally invested in something like religion.  I get that you don't like religion, but religion isn't the only source of belief systems that people embrace.  Would you be equally as intolerant of anyone that doesn't believe as you do in all matters? 

    I'm met many good and sincere people whose believes are diametrically opposed to my own.  However, I'm not prepared to wage a war of words with them, nor denigrate their beliefs and values just to advance my own.  There are many that are legitimate targets of anger and outrage as it relates to religion, but it helps to be more selective and specific in those targets.
    I also think that if you are a "believer" you will end up spreading your beliefs down to your children like a crack whore gives birth to a baby addicted to crack before it experiences what is technically defined as "life.
    What does that even mean?  Do you think that because you're not religious you aren't doing the same thing with numerous other beliefs?  Where are your moral values derived from?  Where are you ideas of patriotism, honor, or duty derived from?  They don't have to come from religion, but they also don't come from science.

    In the end, like it or not, it isn't what we believe as much as how we choose to act on it.  Religion, in the modern sense, has a history of political involvement, and even today is based on political action.  So the problem isn't what specific beliefs an individual may hold, but rather how those beliefs are organized, as well as the social forces that attempt to form them into a code of behavior (or laws) that becomes the problem.  It always involves someone attempting to force their personal beliefs on others.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Fred Phillips
    Steve said,
    After all, the term is derived from "mores", being social standards, prohibitions and etiquette, not religious standards. 
    Bravo for the social approach to explaining why religion still exists. What follows is pure speculation, but here goes:

    Before human groups had “socially constructed reality,” individuals devised their own, unique (and perhaps only semi-coherent) internal narratives to describe and explain the world in which they found themselves. The kind of thing Jaynes described in The Origins of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, and which today we might call schizophrenia. This divergent state of affairs was not conducive to social cohesion.

    So if we accept that cohesive social groups are adaptive from an evolutionary point of view, the day had to come when someone leading a group thought, “We all gotta tell the same story, or else this chaos is gonna continue.” A story got devised and evangelized. Social pressure caused everyone in the group or tribe to tell and retell the story.

    People understood that their tribal story was the first line of defense in the war between order and chaos, and they’d pretty much decided they preferred order. The leader or king enforced the story. Inevitable side-effects were:

    • The group saw their story as superior to other groups’ stories, and were willing to fight to defend or spread their own story.
    • The king made himself a prominent character in his tribe’s story. The story was the basis of the group’s laws, and now the laws were associated with the person of the king.
    • The king used the story as an excuse to go to war against tribes with inferior stories.
    Sometimes, that last one got a king killed.

    Okay, now picture one group (perhaps ancient Hebrews) noticing that kings come and go, but the story and the law need to persist. Their leaders said, “Our story and our law are now for the ages, independent of who’s king.” The people replied, “Well then, why should we believe the stories and obey the laws? Or obey the king, for that matter?” There was only one expedient answer: “Because there is a Higher King, and He says so.” (In those days there was no Cosby Show to bring to each tent and hut a daily homily on the virtue of being nice to one another.)

    This too had unanticipated and often negative consequences, but by and large it proved adaptive for these groups. As we can tell, because they’ve survived to this day. And as we know, saying that something is evolutionarily adaptive implies no value judgment.

    People are still afraid of the centrifugal forces in society – drug addiction, crime, breakdown of families – and still fear these are harbingers of chaos. So the original impetus for a tightly constructed common narrative persists.

    And this is why religion still exists. It’s my working hypothesis – perhaps a totally stupid one – and I wait for S2.0 friends to shoot holes in it.

    It implies (to believers) that vocal atheists are not simply disagreeing with religionists in a civil fashion; it implies that vocal atheists are agents of chaos (and of the Satan-style characters invented to embody chaos). This is why the discussion gets, um, heated.
    I am re-reading Poul Anderson's "Three Hearts And Three Lions", which would arguably be the strongest basis for Dungeons&Dragons (why not Lord of the Rings?   Anderson's book had Paladin's, 'alignments' like law and chaos, and magic beyond the sweeping Gandalf kind) so an argument for law versus chaos made me chuckle - but it also makes a great deal of sense.   Does religion make people nicer?  It certainly seems to, though we all know plenty of religious people who are not nice at all.   And atheists, whether they recognize it or not, benefit a great deal from a liturgical society and its lack of moral relativism.   Atheists in America have a freedom to disagree that would leave them dead in many actual fundamentalist cultures.
    Gerhard Adam
    Without getting into all the elements of your idea, it seems important that the way religion actually manifests itself is the opposite of the social structure that you suggest.  Basically, it comes from the bottom up, by offering hope to people that are trapped within the existing social structure and enforced by its leaders.  In effect, most religions provide a means by where people that aren't doing so well have something to look forward to where all these injustices will be put right.

    This also creates a problem with the athiests, because their view argues that things aren't going to get better, and whatever changes you want you'd better act on them here on earth instead of waiting for justice at a later time.  This is precisely why people tend to pray when times are tough, because the view is that God will, perhaps, extend a favor to provide a bit of help or justice beforehand.

    Older religions always took a more pragmatic approach in suggesting that the gods were a bit fickle and not to be trifled with, so the general sense was that while they might be powerful, it didn't pay to draw too much attention to yourself lest you get caught in the politics the gods engaged in.  However, Christianity changed that story by suggesting that the gods were interested in us, individually, and consequently we didn't need to view them with apprehension, but could count on them to help us out.

    In that respect, it seems that the older religions tended to view the gods as being more like arbitrary forces of nature, whereas more modern religions created the story that these events were controllable if one behaved according to the rules to obtain favor.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Gerhard, I think you have summed this up superbly!
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    Fred Phillips
    Gerhard, your view and mine are not so different. Things could have evolved the way I laid out, following which “people who aren't doing so well” would naturally see an immortal higher king as a court of last resort.

    The first part of my thesis was only about having a common tribal story. This story's cast of characters may or may not have included gods. You're right, though, that the later part of my post really applies only, or mostly, to monotheistic traditions. These traditions, in contrast to animism or belief in multiple mischievous gods, were in line with the tending-toward-order-and-fending-off-chaos trend that I described.

    You said it - people want a world in which “events are controllable if one [follows] the rules.“ One trouble with that, of course, is that uncontrollable hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. must mean not everyone's following the rules - somebody's out there a'sinnin! Or if not, then the world is ending!

    As they say over at the Santa Fé Institute, a system needs the right balance of order and chaos. Our system of social mores has not found that balance yet. We've made some good progress on tolerance and respect re race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, species, etc.  One idea I'd like ecologists, sociologists, and indeed all scientists to convey to the general public is this:
    Diversity is not chaos.
    Gerhard Adam
    One trouble with that, of course, is that uncontrollable hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. must mean not everyone's following the rules - somebody's out there a'sinnin!
    That's true, and if you really wanted to be cynical about it, it's the perfect opportunity for leaders to chastise people, play on their intrinsic guilt feelings and elicit the behavior they need to maintain order.  Of course, I wouldn't be that cynical ....
    Mundus vult decipi
    Rubbish article. Not only that, but your last few paragraphs make me want to vomit.

    You don't think neuroscientists will learn anything about the brain in the future?  Ummm, okay.  You are at the wrong site, then.   You should be reading sites about astrology or homeopathy or how GMOs will kill the world instead.
    Tony Fleming
    The above indicates that a serious and at times sensitive discussion in the modern world about religion across a scientific blog site CAN work without running off the rails. 

    Similarly I saw a debate last Sunday between Richard Dawkins and Archbishop George Pell on the Australian TV show called QANDA (question and answer) on the ABC TV network (our national broadcaster, a bit like the BBC in England).  THIS worked because both Richard Dawkins and Archbishop Pell both lisened carefully and respectfully to each other while making their respective points. I was charmed by the emotions that both displayed towards the other.  I had only come across Dawkins as an angry atheist, but he was utterly charming in his comments as was George. An entirely successful encounter between opposites. 

    Tony Fleming Biophotonics Research Institute
    "I do agree that science and religion are only in opposition by people on the fringes of each; militant atheists on one side and fundamentalist kooks on the other. For most (including 40+% of all scientists as of the last survey) religion and science are complementary."

    How can religion and science be complementary. Firstly, which religion is science comptaible with? Christianity, Islam, Rastafarianism, or Vondun? All these religions have different supernatural beliefs, all of them bizarre in their own way. For instance, spirits of the dead or spirits from hell influencing individual and societal behaviour. How is this complementary with religion? You would have to cherry-pick the aspects of the different religions which you think are most complementary with science and reject the rest. The position of complementarity is not logically consistent.

    But this applies to anything, not just religion.  A lot more Democrats than Republicans in America believe in homeopathy, ghosts, astrology and psychics - yet we do not say Democrats are the antithesis of science.  Each culture does have its own set of beliefs so if each of those eradicates science due to their own 'magisteria' it means there are about 5 people who accept science in the entire world.
    "I do agree that science and religion are only in opposition by people on the fringes of each; militant atheists on one side and fundamentalist kooks on the other. For most (including 40+% of all scientists as of the last survey) religion and science are complementary."

    How can religion and science be complementary?

    Firstly, which religion is science comptaible with? Christianity, Islam, Rastafarianism, Vodun or all of the above?

    Secondly, which specific beliefs of these religions is science complementary with? Spirits influencing individual and societal behaviour? Death and resurrection? Hell and heaven? How is this complementary with religion?

    You would find that you would have to cherry-pick aspects of the different religions which you think are most complementary with science and reject the rest. Therefore, position of complementarity is not logically consistent.

    Tony Fleming
    Omar, you're using the word complementary which can refer to two opposites summing up to a bigger picture than each single point of view,like yin and yang, negative and positive. One contemporary issue in science for instance is whether a matter is a particle or a wave.  I think both views need to be considered to give a picture that is closer to reality than either view on its own.
    Perhaps it is the same with politics, medicine, and science, which are, in general, outside the central aims of religion. It is perhaps something that God would find good in this multi-faith world where I imagine He would want us to be more united and less conflicted. I've considered in this global economy whether things like care of the elderly, and other formerly religious functions, might be done in a more standardized (more ecumenical) less religious-centric system. In other words there are ways to live together as one.  A bit like undoing the dispersion of humankind following the Tower of Babel way way back when. We can still believe our own faiths (metaphysics) but we might learn to get on even with our differences intact.

    Saw another interesting case of complementarity last night. Tyrannosaurus Rex has long been considered the king of predators until recently when he was identified as a scavenger (small forearms, round teeth-not razor like). Which view is correct? Science went around in circles for a while before deciding that Rex was BOTH predator AND scavenger. 
    Tony Fleming Biophotonics Research Institute
    I think you are confusing uncertainty with indeterminacy by conflating a particle-wave example of a hydrogen atom and religion.
    Tony Fleming
    The view of the maths in this example is that matter can be seen to be both a wave (matter is acting like, moving as a wave) AND a particle. I am not discussing uncertainty and indeterminancy in this case (although I certainly have in various blogs). 
    In classical electromagnetics as in quantum theory only the wave aspect appears, hence the wave equation and the Lagrangians. On the other hand Newton saw light only as a series of particles. When he looked at light going through a prism he saw it like a series of different weighted particles falling through the medium as different parabolic arcs since cannons balls were what Galileo had used to investigate particle motion (cf the classical wave picture of Young Fresnel, Fraunhofer). Here in the maths you get the photon acting as BOTH a series of particles AND moving in waves. So a complementary view of matter (and field) as both particle AND wave.

    Same as Rex, there are issues that can be seen as a sum of complementary views, and just like Rex, little or nothing to do with religion, just an example.

    I'm suggesting that science and religion are somewhat complementary in nature, just like politics, and medicine are complementary to the central aims of the various faiths and can done in a more or less  standardized fashion across the globe where faith (including atheism) is not an issue. A bit like separation of church and state in the West. There will always be areas where church, or mosque, or 'ism', and state differ, but this should not stop progress towards standardization of what might have once been called 'social welfare' areas of concern such as care for the elderly (as an example). More importantly we can see that the level of poverty across the globe is being reduced as time goes on.

    I think this is where the 'market', science, and technology, can play a role across cultures and faiths as is happening in China for example. Perhaps we should hope that this is what happens in the various 'stans' (Afganistan, Pakistan, etc) where a 'standard of opportunity' is every person's birthright. 
    Tony Fleming Biophotonics Research Institute
    Thanks for your responses Hank and Tony.

    Whether you view religion and science as complementary really depends on your perspective on their respective roles. One is supernatural in its outlook and the other is materialist. Tony thinks that when science and religion are combined, they help us all to live a better life together. This might be true or not based on the experiences of some people. But is this really the role of science and religion?

    Both are society's perception apparatus in competition with each other. The more useful science becomes in solving the challenges facing people, the less they cling to religion. On the face of it, many people still believe in the supernatural but much less so than in previous epochs. Most people look to material solutions for their challenges these days rather than miracles. Hence, the high crime rates in many countries. Rituals still abound but these are more cultural relics than actual beliefs guiding the day to day activities of people.

    To the extent that humanity is able to use science to solve its problems is the extent to which religion will whither away because it will no longer be as useful.

    To the extent that humanity is able to use science to solve its problems is the extent to which religion will whither away because it will no longer be as useful.
    That's kind of what the article is about.  Scientists are as religious today as they were 70 years ago and religion has been doomed since the Age of Reason.  Yet it is not yet doomed.  The benefits of a liturgical society can't be quantified by science and therefore they cannot be discounted. 

    Sagan's non-overlapping magisteria is as good a way to put it as anything.
    Tony Fleming
    "So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord." Deuteronomy 8:3 (New King James Version)

    So, we (humans) have gone hungry to learn the lesson Omar so try not to worry about God's continuing role in our affairs. I think we will always need Him to some extent regardless of how materialistically well off we might become in the future. Mother Theresa spoke of the spiritual wilderness within the West.

    You might be interested in two recent excavations that seem to support the Biblical version: 

    The first one in Turkey is a settlement going back to about 9,000 BC known as Göbekli Tepe. According to Klaus Schmidt, an archeologist who has worked at the site for a decade, thinks it gives a radical explanation of the rise of civilization, and represents the world's oldest known religious temple. According to early analysis, first came the Shrine and then came settlement. These people appear to have be hunter gatherers who did not live at the site but came back to worship between trips.  But the site will require many decades of study yet to understand it in any depth.

    The second is a 3500 year old settlement in Egypt, an oasis settlement

    "The 218-acre site is at Kharga Oasis, a string of well-watered areas in a 60-mile-long north-south depression in the limestone plateau that spreads across the desert. The oasis is at the terminus of the ancient Girga Road from Thebes and its intersection with other roads from the north and the south." ...."Describing the half-ton of bakery artifacts that has been collected, as well as signs of a military garrison, Dr. Darnell said the settlement was “baking enough bread to feed an army, literally.” This inspired the name for the site, Umm Mawagir. The Arabic phrase means “mother of bread molds.” "
    Tony Fleming Biophotonics Research Institute
    Omar Chedda
    I don't necessarily want to have the last word on this topic but I wanted to make a couple of additional points.

    Hank: "Scientists are as religious today as they were 70 years ago and religion has been doomed since the Age of Reason. Yet it is not yet doomed."

    Because I see the problem solving capacity of science expanding, I also see the domain of religion receding. Hence, I believe that religion is in fact eventually doomed in this evolutionary process; even if this means that mankind is itself doomed to be usurped by greater intelligences (of our own creation) who would have no need for religion.

    To be sure, the progress of science has its ebb and flow both technically and ideologically.  However, the long term trend is for the triumph of reason and rationality as problem solving methodology.

    Tony: "I think we will always need Him (God) to some extent regardless of how materialistically well off we might become in the future."

    The expanding problem solving capacity of science will not only increase our material well being, but also our spiritual well being, thereby negating the role of religion.  This is, of course, an optimistic view of science's progress.
    There was a time before it was common to start questioning one's faith that I did not see what was wrong with having God be a "God of the gaps;" and hence with statements like the following: "Because I see the problem solving capacity of science expanding, I also see the domain of religion receding."

    Surely, if there is a God, God is not there to be our explanation. God is there for for the sake of God's own glory.

    True religion is neither beyond nor opposed to reason, and certainly not mutually exclusive to science. For only one example, now that we're getting a peek at our blueprints, there is new meaning to the phrase "fearfully and wonderfully made." We are made of many molecules, not out of ether; does that in any way, shape, or form rule out a Maker? The greater understanding of anything in creation, from blackberries to bosons, can lead towards rather than away from worship, and it appears to me that Somebody went to an awful lot of trouble to make sure we could continue to freely choose for ourselves which way.

    Please keep the alternative hypothesis in mind, that the persistence of religion is not because ignorance, and/or desire or need to believe is still part of the human experience, but because its Object is really there. I have been given the gift of a child who questioned what he was taught, and challenged me; I have been given the gift of doubt rather than the gift of untarnished faith, and have had to look deeper into what I believed. I've ended up believing and worshiping more deeply.

    first of all i wish love&health for everyone no mater who or what they are. i think religion is a man made and created by a fear of death or you may call it unknown reasons but they are all the same is sad the see people of this world wasting their chance to enjoy this wonderful world, so they've being fighting over so called gods sent religion. one think i like to know why would god send so many books for us to fight over it to find out which is the best. religion is the bigest killer of all and it doesn't make sense to me i hope oneday everyone will see this to. (Peace&Love)

    umut, peace to you too

    I think we got different books - and different takes on the same books! - because we were not meant to just have a "recipe" for living that was just cut and dried, black and white, not possible to have any different ideas about; I think we are not supposed to "fight" over them! I know my book does NOT say I should wipe other people off the face of the earth if I think they might be doctrinally or practically failing to observe something exactly correctly and possibly offending God; some people feel that's what religion calls for, but I think that's very wrong and isn't how God really wants us to live. I think we are meant to live life forwards and fully, not on some pre-defined prescribed follow-the-dots kind of path, so our book is not quite the cookbook some people think it should be. Yes, there are some things you should do and not do, but my God isn't out to suck pleasure out of life or punish anyone who doesn't get it all exactly right.

    Fred P ? ...I want to answer the much earlier Basketball home court advantage and prayer question. 1. All games are played at a level of success based on the talent ( grade school / jr high / HS / College / Pro ) and the individuals confidence in there own abilities (at that very moment). The athlete "hears the crowd" and it gives them more confidence. The athlete hears a few silent moments and then he begins to hear his own thoughts of "doubt", as we are our worst critic. Take the free thows during a game, the person gets to shoot (2), if he misses the first, he has a 75% increase to miss the 2nd shot. If he makes the first attempt, then he is also 75% more likely to make the 2nd attempt. Confidence is everything in well individuals. If we build each other up, we are all more likely to receive a better friend or spouse. If we tear each other down, then we get that "gift" as well.

    Derek Jeter went 0 - 54 (that would be hitless for the non-sporting group) because his confidence was "in question", not his abilities.

    My personal relationship with My Lord & Savior Jesus Christ is stronger today (faith) as I get older, then when I was younger & had the S on my chest. Hank, I guess the answer to your question is this, ...religion is here because of need, not for "fire insurance" (hell). It's not fear, but a desire for a real relationship. Pure and simple.

    This is the essential answer for most all things, ...need.

    The rain falls on all types of soil, ...rocky, hardened, overgrown w/ weeds, and the soil that is ready for harvest.

    I truly enjoy technology, science, and many of the wonderful things we are given here on earth, yes, I'm greatful for the tools that make my life a little easier, comfortable, & the advancements in health. Science & Religion, well they work in my life everyday, it's called balance.