How should we live our lives? Philosophers have taught us about ethical behaviour by argument and rational discussion over millennia. How could any intelligent and well informed person believe that it is preferable that we should base our behaviour on what someone wrote following what he believed was a discussion with a god hiding in a burning bush (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) or after receiving instructions from an archangel in a cave (Islam)?
Religion has led people to do horrendous things over thousands of years. I have written about some of the many examples of genocide and killing in a piece on Christian intolerance. As Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg said, "Good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things – that takes religion."
How obvious does it need to become that religion causes more harm than good before people will drop the delusion? There have been long and bloody wars between Protestants and Catholics (both calling themselves the 'true' Christians) and between Sunni and Shia (both calling themselves the 'true' followers of Islam). Of course there can be no resolution to these disputes because both sides are equally deluded.
In the twenty-first century we have Islamic extremists killing other Muslims as well as non Muslims, the rise of the bloodthirsty Isis group in the Middle East and similar religious fanatics in Africa, Thailand, the Philappines and elsewhere. In Indonesia, which has been a example of tolerance between adherents of different religons in the past, the Christian governor Ahok of Jakarta was recently jailed for two years on the charge of blasphemy. His crime: he said clerics had used a Koranic verse to mislead voters by telling them that Muslims were not allowed to vote for a Christian.
It is human to look for explanations for anything that happens. Before science people looked to the supernatural in an effort to understand the world; it didn't work, but the habit continues to this day. Over the last few centuries it has become increasingly obvious that science provided a path to enlightenment and superstition is a dead-end.
If the science of genetics was known at the time of Jesus geneticists could have worked out which parts of Jesus’ DNA came from which parent.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to study God’s DNA?
Why do so many people believe these unfounded cults?How could any thinking person believe the nonsense printed in the bible and other 'holy' books? Yet billions of people apparently do. This, I believe, has to be at least one of the world's greatest mysteries; how can humans, who have come so far in the understanding of the Universe, believe such absurdities? Is it any wonder that we can’t control our climate changing emissions and other environment destroying ways?
I am reminded of a story I once read:
"An alien searching for intelligent life forms visited the Earth. He came across two people arguing about some point on religion. After recording that there was no intelligent life on Earth he went on to the next planet on his list.
What advantage could being gullible in this way give to humans in the 'survival of the fittest'?Humans developed the strong propensity to believe in the supernatural, gods in particular, through evolution. Features do not normally develop by evolution unless there is some survival advantage to them, or at least to the genes that they pass on to their offspring.
What possible survival advantage could a false belief in sky fairies have had for our ancestors?
Richard Dawkins, in his book, The God Delusion, suggests that religion might have developed as a secondary, accidental, effect hitching a ride on some other feature that did have a survival advantage, but in my reading of his book he didn't convincingly suggest what that primary thing might have been.
Religion and the Absurd: A Skeptic's View of Judaeo-Christian Scripture and Tradition, Compiled by Stephen Johnson. Johnson writes:
"Spirituality or Religion? I personally am not an atheist - it seems self-evident to me that there is something behind the wondrous universe in which we live, and that intuitive knowledge can lead to insights into its nature - but I am wary of pre-scientific legends that later claim factual credibility (inerrancy)."I mention his pages here simply as 'food for thought'; Johnson has certainly put a lot of thought into his pages.