The lovely figure below is from Crispian Jago’s website, The Reason Stick. If religion really is a way of finding out truths about the universe, as many of its adherents claim, it should progress in its understanding of its subject: the divine. But Jago shows that that doesn’t happen, and any “progress” simply involves changing church doctrine to conform with changing secular morality. Those changes happen because “religious” morality is swept into the modern era by the currents of modernity described by Steve Pinker in The Better Angels of our Nature.
As for understanding whether there is a god, whether—if there is—there’s more than one of them (viz. Hinduism or the Christian Trinity), what is the nature of any god, and what he/she/it wants us to do, we know not one iota more than did Aquinas or Augustine. That is, of course, precisely what we expect given religion’s unworkable “ways of knowing,” which, in the end, come down largely to revelation.
If, on the other hand, the more Sophisticated Faithful say that religion doesn’t make epistemic claims, then they become susceptible to the devastating question, “How do you know that, then?” There is no answer that will satisfy rational people, forcing the faithful to take refuge in theological inanities (viz., Alvin Plantinga).
As a direct result of the inbuilt progress limitations inherent in religion, what religious progress we have seen over the last 50 years broadly falls into 2 camps.
Firstly there is the recognition that mainstream religion needs to catch up with modern views on items such as the equality of women and homosexuals. Despite lagging behind the rest of society, many progressive people within mainstream religious organisations recognise the need for equality beyond that originally foreseen by their religions’ founders and the need to upgrade their religion accordingly.
Alas, the second type of religious progress highlighted by the diagram above shows an ugly form of religious progress that is becoming more and more familiar. When modern society is seen at odds with religious teachings many look to progress their faith towards a more literal interpretation of their scripture. Many faiths have regrettably progressed over recent years by branching out at the fringes to a more fundamentalist stance. Hence the chart below is littered with progress in the form of new creation museums, opposition to life saving medical procedures and numerous landmark cases of bigotry and discrimination. Not the sort of progress to be proud of.
Check this out (click to enlarge), and share it on your Facebook page! What will it be, ladies and gentlemen: the eradication of smallpox or The Creation Museum?