Why Religion Needs to Accept Science, or “Religion Needs a Modern Upgrade.”

I’ll depart from the standard environmental/health/political content and present an essay on religion and why literal claims of theology have essentially been debunked and made obsolete by modern science and our current wealth of knowledge about our species, our world, and the universe. In order to move forward to a peaceful and cooperative planet, those who believe in religion need to understand what science means and how it changes the way they interpret their religious doctrines.

Religion Needs a Modern Upgrade
C. Slaughter 9/10
Mythology and religion have been around for thousands of years in attempts to explain how and why the earth began, how our world functions, how and why we exist here as humans, what our purpose is, and what happens to us when we die, each mythos developing within the cultural confines of their own time and place. The newest of the major religions, Mormonism, began in the early 1800’s, the Muslim religion began in the 600’s AD, Christianity 2000 years ago, Buddhism and the Greek Gods date back about 2600 years, Judaism 3000 years, and the roots of Hinduism can be traced back over 3700 years of human history. Regardless of how old, the origins of all major religions came before we had any meaningful scientific knowledge of the world around us. Even when we began to discover things like the shape of the earth, the paths of the planets around the sun, and natural selection, these ideas were initially (and sometimes still) dismissed as heresy, overcome or suppressed by the ancient and dogmatic ways of religion. Today, we have discovered many more facts about our universe, how basic chemicals and energy types are formed and interact, the bases for our biological function and evolution, and we have logically constructed theories supported by significant data and reproducible testing that explain the vast majority of the observable physical world. For someone who understands the scientific method, what is called “theory” is generally considered to be the truth, or at least, the most accurate truth that we can divine. Much like our scientific breakthroughs, our civilization has advanced, making great strides in religious freedom, freedom of speech, and equal rights for minorities and women, and essentially developing a secular moral code that is far more just, far more compassionate and fair than many religious moral teachings. Realistically, if we take our explanations of the world around us from religious teachings like the Bible and the Koran, magical things should be happening with fair frequency, we would find statistically significant evidence that prayer or laying hands actually heals people, the earth would be the center of the universe and was created 6000 years ago in 6 days, etc. If we take our moral teachings from the leading Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious texts, we would stone people to death for adultery, working on the sabbath, or heresy, women would be subservient to men and second-class citizens, slavery would still be acceptable, as would be killing apostates and heretics believing in other gods. Interestingly, if you take even the most diabolical of modern Public Health teachings, they will lead to global cooperation and incredible improvements in sanitation, poverty, hunger, health disparities, and other social issues. Today, many believers in religion take at least a portion if not all of their religious texts and doctrines literally, as if they are the word of God himself, with every sub-cult picking and choosing what messages they feel meld with their particular view of the current social moral structure. This self-delusion permeates our society so much, that many mainstream believers still hold fast to religious doctrine even if it means ignoring incontrovertible scientific data and facts, imposing ancient myths over reality, and in the case of many Muslim and 3rd-world Christian countries, doing away with the advances in social justice and personal freedoms that we have made over the last century.

If there is a god, there is no reasonable evidence to think that he/she has been concerned with the day-to-day machinations of human kind on this planet for about two thousand earth years. The absolute horrors which have befallen humanity over the last few centuries, including wars, natural disasters, disease, famine, cancer, etc., attest to either an elaborate and sick inter-deity chess game or a complete abandonment of the civilizations that He/She ignited. If the standard, “God works in mysterious ways” argument is used to counter these observations, this means that if there is a cosmic purpose to the wholesale slaughter of civilizations in the name of religious fidelity/decree/war/etc, then God must be a sadistic and cruel bastard from the perspective of a lowly human. While God may be dabbling in other galaxies, experimenting with evolving goo oceans, silicon-based thermal lifeforms, or pan-dimensional color wars, he’s left our planet on autopilot. In fact, the only explanation that will satisfy the possibility of a kind and loving God (as opposed to the most despotic, hyper-genius, omnipotent criminal mastermind the world has ever known) is that He/She has been off doing more important things for the last 2000 years. Have they been frantically trying to find a way to keep the multiverse he created from collapsing? Have they been busy holding off an encroaching, resource-consuming, inter-dimensional army? I hope for Christ’s sake (literally?) so. Maybe one day He/She/It will return and resume command or begin intervening on earth once again, but until that time, we have no reliable evidence that there is any supernatural power affecting our planet and only anecdotal evidence from multiple differing and incongruent sources that there ever was any such power. Believe these sources or not, there is unquestionable science that tells us that our universe is 3.75 billion years old and in about 5 billion years, our sun will explode. There are observations that bring concern of an asteroid hitting the earth and blocking out the sun, and less well supported theories of magnetic field shifts or system-consuming black holes in store for our planet’s future. There is scientific evidence with heavy consensus that the earth is changing its living conditions, likely for the worse. We know that petroleum, the main energy source for our global agriculture and transportation infrastructures is a dwindling and finite resource. Despite all of our differences on this measly planet, be they religious, political, or otherwise, the least we can do for our children’s, children, or our children’s children’s, children, ad nauseam, is to make an effort to work together to make sure the human race makes it out alive, right?

This absence of evidence for the presence of a deity and the conflicting scientific evidence that we have discovered should not be a reason to argue about interpretations of religious texts, it should be a call modernize religion. From an empirical and logical standpoint, we need to base our paradigms of reality and the world on what we can reliably see and evaluate first, and generally assume that any gaps in our knowledge will be one day filled by scientific advances. Alongside this technological and rigorously conducted scientific search for answers, if people choose, they can fill in the unknown portions like the origin of consciousness, the existence and fate of the human spirit, a greater purpose for humanity, and the force behind the Big Bang, with supernatural theories of deities and miracles, but only if their belief system fits within our modern collective morality. This means that it is absolutely unacceptable to kill or maim someone, initiate wars, or oppress others in the name of religion. This means that despite the teachings of ancient religious texts, women have equal rights to men and slavery is not tolerated. This means that literal translations of religious doctrines are not taken as fact, but as allegory and metaphor that if used properly can teach us much philosophically and can help guide our planet to peace, cooperation, and sustainability into the next century. Clinging to religious dogma has held back the advancement of human society for centuries, after all Copernicus was nearly burned at the stake for heresy, his only crimes were revolutionary breakthroughs in the understanding of our solar system. However, in modern times we see that often our technology has outgrown our wisdom to use it responsibly, which is where moral teachings, like those of the Dalai Lama or James T. Kirk, can help guide our path for the benefit of all.

 

The flippant and less serious digression:
The Case for Science Fiction as the New Religious Movement.

But how could we accomplish this peaceful and civilization-improving utopia? If we could somehow find peace and form some sort of cooperative federation like an expanded U.N., then develop technology to reach out to other civilizations in the universe, find common political and economic ground and form, say, the United Federation of Planets! Holy Vulcan Science Academy, Batman! Science fiction as a genre has much better allegories than the Bible or the Koran. Have you seen season one of the original William Shatner Star Trek? Jesus was a great man and all, but did he have the charisma of Captain Kirk, or the commanding presence and unwavering calm of Captain Jean-Luc Picard? That’s just the tip of the iceberg! Star Wars had some of the best battles and monsters in the history of storytelling! Yoda was akin to an alien Buddha with a lightsaber! And although he lacked that hippie vibe and was a bit uglier, Yoda had much more enigmatic charm and was just as much of a mentor as Jesus. Plus, when did you find monsters in the Bible like the Saarlac that takes 10,000 years to digest you, or the hammerhead guy in the cantina, or the abominable snowman on Hoth the ice planet!?! If Jesus ever fought a yeti, I would definitely watch it. Luke did, and it was awesome! We haven’t even touched the question of why didn’t God set up some fantastic crystal Fortress of Solitude like Superman had? Was God not as creative as D.C. comics writers? Could he not have omnipotently known we’d have computers and time-travel/teleport/god-power down a thumb drive with some cancer cures or something? If I pray really hard for an incredible healing factor and an adamantium skeleton and claws, will I ever be Wolverine? No matter how awesome it would be and how much I dream that I could help humanity as a superhuman force for good, I’m absolutely, yet regrettingly sure that it’s not going to happen. But I digress.

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2 Responses to “Why Religion Needs to Accept Science, or “Religion Needs a Modern Upgrade.””

  1. Sadly my reply to this has come years after the initial post. I hope my contribution and thoughts are still of relevant interest!

    My thoughts on this matter revolve around the fact that most religious (and most other) institutions in place are all about power and preservation.

    Religious leaders are never interested in new formats, interpretations, or guidance because it is far more beneficial to them to keep things as they are. There are several other reasons why they will not be interested in lets say a global debate, where religious leaders and scientists joined together around a table to find a religion for modern man, because no one can actually prove God exists (likewise I don’t think anyone can really prove that a God doesn’t exist either).

    Points on religion and people:

    * obviously one part is that people just love traditions. With everything around us changing so frequently and so often, people just like to hold onto something consistent, that doesn’t change and perhaps reminds them of a world when they were younger.

    * most people in the world are ignorant to scientific detail or education- it is far easier to pry on peoples’ emotions with traditional religious approach, because it requires far less effort and knowledge- all you have to do is “believe” as opposed to actually spending a large amount of time learning and understanding science.

    * Concerning a problem religious leaders would have with “updating” religion; I really feel that deep down in most religious peoples sub conscious, they know that there is absolutely no proof that God exists. I think in a way, since it is all based on a belief system, if one shifts the goal posts now, it will mean that they could get shifted again in the future, and again and again. It is highly likely then that religion will become so marginalised and ridiculed (for lack of substantial argument in the face of science) that it would take a lot away from the people who need religion (and hope) the most – namely the poor, underprivileged and down trodden.

    It is a real shame that religious leaders have not stepped up to the plate and embraced science. It is a complete failure, and secularism will continue to gain more and more momentum until this fundamental issue is thoroughly addressed. Let me stress this point again – religious leaders of ALL sects have massively failed in the last 50 years to adapt and improve religion. This failure has been compounded in the past few years, well basically science and technology improves exponentially, so the failure of religion is compounded in the opposite direction! They are letting the people they pretend to care about down, as well as themselves. If you are a religious leader and have some ability to get people (a community or following) to listen to you (sermons, classes etc) their lives would be made far better off by getting to grips with an updated take on religion than just regurgitating old books.

    I am not an expert on history, but I am willing to bet that thousands of years ago, religion changed often and repeatedly because leaders would change things to suit the times (all in aid of having more followers, more power and more control). It is only since humans have been able to keep better records of history and be able to readily distribute that information, that the rate of change in religions has slowed and now basically come to a halt. They are completely inversely proportional to each other, which to me is a clear indication of a systematic failure in religion – that it is not there for its represented purpose, but rather to pry on the weak because they are the easiest to control.

    We live in a world where we do not need any one leader. Information can move freely instantaneously. Whilst in some ways our bodies and brains have probably not been evolve fast enough and keep up with technology and the physical changes around us as well as social (look how much anxiety is caused by peoples brains being addicted to meaningless messages and constant contact needed with social networks and emails etc), this does not mean that something cannot be done to help a lot of people out there.

    I still feel that most people believe in something. But people don’t like being irrational, and they don’t like feeling duped, or being told what to do just for the sake of it (traditionalists). So they would rather detach completely. If there was a rational interpretation, recreated and credible twist on religion (not some lone guy trying to preach or essentially “sell” something), it really could help a lot of people out there. It would help with social guidance, acceptance, forgiveness, manners and generally make the world a better place.

  2. Well said, thanks for the comment! I do not think, however, that the concept of the “poor and downtrodden” needing religion is true, quite the opposite. I imagine those in horrific situations made even more helpless by praying to a god that will never help them, hoping in vain that they will be delivered from their plight. On the other hand, if they know that the only power that will help them lies within themselves, they will be empowered to fight and change their own lives. I suppose some may succumb to despair without religion as a crutch, but the power of the human spirit is strong, and religion is not necessary for it to be so.

    Thanks again

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