Will religion ever disappear?

December 21, 2014 • 11:24 am

by Grania

If somebody were to ask me this question, my short-hand, non-researched reply would be: probably not.

I think that humanity currently seems set to become more and more secular as religiosity drops in the newer, younger generations; global birth rates start to show signs of coming under control and even slowing, which we know tends to have a positive effect on poverty; and as poverty decreases, so does religiosity. All these indications are pretty positive.

But humans are pattern-seeking mammals, and we have a tendency to believe the strangest things for very bad reasons, even if they are fairly smart and well educated; so I tend  to think that religion will stick around for a number of reasons.

Over at BBC Future, Rachel Nuwer takes a look at the question referring to what various books and papers have to say on the subject, and they tend to bear this out in their research.

The main points they make are are:

Phil Zuckerman, Living the Secular Life: “Humans need comfort in the face of pain and suffering, and many need to think that there’s something more after this life, that they’re loved by an invisible being, there will always be people who believe, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they remain the majority.”

Robert McCauley, Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not: Robert argues that religious explanations for how the world works “make sense” intuitively to people, whereas the scientific ones are sometimes difficult to understand, or difficult to accept.

Joseph Bulbulia, The Ecology of Religious Beliefs: Joseph points out that insecurity and suffering in a population gives them a reason for wanting to believe that religion is worthwhile and even positive for them.

Ara Norenzayan, Big Gods: the more religious people are, the higher the fertility rate, and even inside religion, the more fundamentalist sects tend to have higher fertility than liberal ones.

Jonathan Lanman, The Importance of Religious Displays for Belief Acquisition and Secularization: younger generations tend to follow the lead of the previous generations.

The general theme seems to be that religion is not going to go away, but I can only hope that future versions are de-clawed and denatured so that they no longer can be used to inflict suffering on fellow humans.


90 thoughts on “Will religion ever disappear?

  1. I agree – our brains are made for religion and we like to feel we have some sort of control in the face of adversity. I’ve often seen the ritual of religion to be versions of OCD.

    Even the most rational of people will avoid jinxing something or select favourite numbers, understanding all along that it makes no logical sense (much like the OCD sufferer knows obsessively counting also makes no logical sense).

    1. It is true that many find it hard to not be superstitious. But, if we can get most people to view their religion as just another superstition, this may allow them to get their spiritual comfort without having the certainty that makes some believers want to force everyone to follow their religious and moral beliefs.

      1. Probably, but I think some just don’t have the brain anatomy for it. They have different brains and chemistry that allows them to believe or at least gives them little choice not to.

        1. I see it as a scientific reason for the general human mind being religious in some form or fashion as the best, so far, means of collective survival. However things change which is why Nature gives us periferals on the margin like Atheists just in case the scenario changers and being Atheist and secular are the most advantageous.

          Of course humans take charge of what the scenario will be like just so long as it fits the parameters the religiously disposed brain has wanted.

          I’d say they want to believe, have a biological need to believe in order to not commit suicide and die.

          1. In order for the secular to be more advantageous, in the biological sense, people who are the opposite would not reproduce so the attributes would die out in the population. I somehow don’t see this happening, especially where disasters and such (which would be a big pressure on humans) have been shown to make people more religious.

            I don’t really think Nature gives us anything and there just happens to be variation among individuals in how their brains work, coupled with the environment in which they are raised.

          2. “I’d say they want to believe, have a biological need to believe in order to not commit suicide and die.”

            You could say that. It wouldn’t make much sense, but you could say it.

    2. Our brains are not wired for religion, they are wired to find solutions in the world around us. We don’t like not knowing things and when we cannot find the real solution, the brain is wired to simply invent a solution rather than simply admit ignorance. That’s the basis of religion, we had no real answers in the distant past so we made them up. However, as science marches forward, we’ve actually found real answers to questions that were once the realm of religion. That’s why we’re seeing a sharp decline in religiosity of late because people, particularly educated people, have little use for it now that we’ve found the actual truth.

      1. I disagree, the brain is a pattern seeking machine, as others have mentioned. It has evolved to do this quite well so it often sees patterns where there are none and mist tributes these patterns. It also sucks at understanding large data and makes a lot of false correlations, attributing events to wrong causes. Brain chemicals support all this stuff and for the most part it serves us ok. However, brain chemicals also do weird things like give us OCD. Just about everyone is afflicted with some sort of compulsion. Then there are those who though not mentally ill, may just have the brain anatomy that doesn’t allow them to reject those weird feelings, the self illusion, the feeling of otherness.

        1. But as I said and you agreed, our brains are not wired for religion, they are wired to seek patterns. Religion is just one of many different patterns that the brain can fall into. We also have the ability for our rational brain to overcome our primitive desire to seek patterns where none exist by recognizing the issue and choosing to work around it. The reality is, a lot of what goes on automatically in our brain might have been useful at an earlier point in our evolution but today, it’s mostly either neutral or downright dangerous for us. We, as an intellectual and technological species, need to purposely rid ourselves of these primitive holdovers. They do us no good today.

          1. I agree with everything you said, however I think there will always people who are either incapable of this type of discipline or just unwilling to accept the logic of its premise. For this reason, I think there will always be some religion in the world.

            1. I don’t think there is anyone incapable unless there’s some kind of bad wiring in their brain. There are plenty of people who are unwilling to be sure, they’ve been raised to think that’s how they’re supposed to act and giving it up is giving up something that’s become a fundamental part of who they are. The people who are currently locked into that position are probably never going to change, but luckily, they will die.

              It’s the next generation that matters. If we start teaching logic and reason in schools at an early age and teach kids to be skeptical of everything, they have less of a chance of being locked into that mode of belief regardless of what their parents indoctrinate them into. While it might be unrealistic to think that there will be no theists on the planet, we’re already seeing promising signs that they will be losing the majority and with it, the power, that they’ve had for far too long. I can see religion becoming a distinct minority and almost entirely powerless in the next generation or two.

              1. I really do think there are people wired much differently in the brain – different brain anatomy that makes them more susceptible to religion and I think there are more of them than we know.

              2. I think so too. I think it’s part of our adaptive variation, maintained at some level for those instances when blind following works better than logic.

      2. I believe it isn’t religiosity that is declining, just being part of official religious groups or churches.

        1. I really don’t think so. While there may be other irrational things that replace religion, unless you’re going to be so wide with your definition of religion as to make the term useless, what we’re starting to see isn’t walking away from churches, but away from the very beliefs that define religion in the first place. It will take a long time to go away, until it represents a small minority in society, but I think it will do so.

        1. Sorry Diana

          No, by which I meant, no, I don’t believe in or act as if I believe in jinxes, I don’t have a lucky number [and certainly don’t play the lottery], don’t consult horoscopes or pay heed if someone else does, don’t worry about black cats or omens in general. Doesn’t mean I always act rationally, but I can’t think of any of my behavior that refers to or requires intervention by immaterial spirits.

          Nor, as far as I know, does my wife, or any of my close friends who aren’t theists.

          On the other hand, most of my theist relatives and friends seem to have some silly beliefs that aren’t required by their faith.

          So, credulous here, credulous there… we don’t need to be demon-ridden.

          1. I know intelligent people with advanced degrees who have strong religious beliefs, and not just the ineffable crap, belief that the second coming of the messiah will happen and they will see Jesus and be in heaven with him. For some time now, the only way I can explain this to myself is that human beings are “not as rational as we like to think.” (quoting myself.) So, we (or they, if I may be allowed to excuse myself from the religious type) can have separate compartments of thought, and functioning in the real world does not upset their belief in supernatural.

            It follows that maybe I do that too, but I don’t see where. I shed religion long ago and don’t believe in things like omens or lucky numbers.

            Commenters on this website have noted their rejection of religion was aided by reading Dawkins and others, especially about evolution. This somewhat surprised me at first, because my path was so different. Deeply steeped in religion and with no science education, one memorable day in my teenage years the whole religious picture fell away like a fairy tale. Why this doesn’t happen to more people I don’t know.

            Now that I have written this, I think I am agreeing with everyone above. Some people can hold conflicting theories of reality with no problem, some reject the supernatural, others need to reject evidence of science (e.g. evolution) when it conflicts with dearly held religious beliefs.

            1. I think it does fall away like a fairy tale to some extent for a lot of people. It is the surrounding religious culture that keeps reinforcing the beliefs that causes the need for more work to be put in; i.e., finding out how Evolution works. When there’s a large amount of propaganda and many High Schools don’t even touch the topic, it’s not just a matter of seeing that these stories look like every other fairy tale, it’s a matter of understanding there are explanations with mountains of evidence behind them that contradict religious assertions.

          2. Ah but do you ever obessess wondering if you’ve forgotten something, if you’ve left something flammable on in the house, etc. Those are the same impulses. Our brains are wired for it.

  2. I think what has happened to Judaism , is what should happen to most religions and that is the evolution of Judaism into a cultured religion where history, roots and rituals mean more than the supernatural and religious aspect. I posted this before. “I consider myself more of a cultural Jew; I’m not religious in any way.” a quote By Adam Lamberg. This has been the new catch phrase for the secular atheistic Jew in America . The latest Pew study demonstrates that only 15 percent of Jews in the U.S consider themselves religious and that it is important as part of Judaism . The Cultural Jew is running rampant in coordination with atheism. While the rest of the world runs towards the dark ages away from the scientific method and the supernatural, Jews are looking at living without the concept of a biblical God but still with maintaining a secular connection to their culture. How do we get other religions to do the same. Rejecting one form of superstition leads to other forms and you are on your way. Rabbis in Israel do not like the Pew Report because they feel religion and culture should be intertwined. American Jews are not that happy with Netanyahu and settlement issues and secular Jews in the U.S are not like the secular counterparts in Israel. They relate more to centrist parties in Israel not religious based. The Pew report also states that the Reform Jews are the growing faction of Judaism and most of those though they attend synagogue are atheists. Half of the Orthodox have disappeared over the years and now many of those offspring have become secular and do not believe religion is necessary to be Jewish. The cultural Jew , not the religious, is the future of Judaism in North America. Perhaps one day we will hear the phrase the cultural Christian or Muslim and this will make us all more tolerant.

  3. Yes, I think it will mostly disappear, at least in terms of a public role.

    I think it will play a role, to what extent I don’t know, as a hobby in the private lives of some people. Hitchens spoke about this, but I can’t find a link to it.

    I do agree that humans are pattern seeking creatures. And I think the tendency for magical thinking can be curbed by teaching critical thinking skills which should lead people to look for rational explanations for phenomena.

      1. Oh, that’s great! Not the example I was thinking of, but it’s a variant on a similar theme.

        The example I was thinking of, and I can’t recall if it was written or said, foresaw a time where being religious will be comparable to being a Harry Potter fan. That was my take anyway.

  4. Part of the content of Dr. Kahnemann’s book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” focuses on the energy requirements for Type 1 & 2 thinking. Type 1 is very energy efficient but sometimes wrong. Type 2 consumes more energy over a longer period of time but is more often correct. I think much of popular religious activity and thought falls into the category of Type 1 thinking. Admittedly, pithy discussions on the number of angels dancing on pins would fall into Type 2, but the vast bulk of religion is habitual, instinctual and energy efficient to the thinker (non-thinker?). As long as humans seek to be energy efficient in mental processes (automatic process), there will be misguided beliefs and people eager to exploit those beliefs to build churches, synagogues, temples, grottoes, etc.

    1. Ben Goren below has written about the fact that we’re evolving and won’t always be human. We also, at the moment, don’t use our brains at anywhere near full capacity. I wonder if we will evolve to use our brains more or differently so that our ability to detect patterns is more accurate, so that the false patterns that make religion don’t get confused with the genuine patterns? We develop, in effect, better bulls**t detectors. Then religion would go as we evolve. It would be a useful adaption, so I see it as possible.

      1. Our brains are still being understood. I know that the idea that we only use a small capacity of our brains is a myth but I see augmentation of our existing brains being the next obvious leap if we survive long enough to be able to achieve such a technologically advanced stage in our development.

      2. Uh… No. We use our whole brain. Not all of it will be active at any given moment, but that’s for the same reason your computer doesn’t have every circuit active at once – efficiency. Having every circuit or synapse going at once would waste tons of energy, as well as being simple chaos – any useful information transfer would be lost in the noise.

        1. Having every circuit or synapse going at once would waste tons of energy, as well as being simple chaos – any useful information transfer would be lost in the noise.

          Er…not exactly right.

          How much information is carried by a signal of all “1”s? Basically none at all. Same as with a signal of all “0”s. The math can get complex, but maximum information density is going to occur with a roughly 50 / 50 ratio of “on” and “off.” But not, of course, in a simple repeating 1010101010101010… pattern. And that’s true for both computation and storage.

          The figures for the number of neurons firing at any given moment are an indication of a damned efficient computational device, indeed. There’s no significant waste going on.

          Nor would you expect there to be…the human brain uses more energy than any other organ or body function. Humans who didn’t use their brains as much wouldn’t have to eat as much or could put the energy they did get from eating to other better evolutionary purposes. But our bodies have instead shaped by evolution to have very powerful, very efficient brains…and they’re not at all wasteful nor falling significantly short of their computational potential.

          Now, of course, we’ve still got lots of room to improve upon our “shared library” of societal knowledge to use as a foundation. And maybe human-machine cognitive interfaces will radically transform the way we think. But there’s no “hidden potential” to “unlock” with our brains as they are today; we’re already running with the throttle wide open.


  5. Religions have had thousands of years to spread largely uncontested, let’s contest it for a couple of thousands of years and we’ll see where it stands.

      1. I hope so, but 100 years doesn’t seem realistic to me, even in the secular west. The great majority of people are not well educated and this probably won’t change drastically in the next 100 years.

  6. Well, for starters, there won’t always be humans. It’s pretty much a given that, even if our civilization survives, our descendants of a few million years from now will no more be human than the last common ancestor of humans and chimps was human. And that’s just an hard-and-fast upper limit; there’s no reason to think that technology will permit such sedate evolutionary change even if our line lasts into deep time.

    There are other factors to consider. Once upon a time, all sorts of other beliefs were at least as universal and uncritically accepted as true as religion is today. Astrology, that demons caused disease, the gods of all the dead religions, the Little Folk, and lots more. Today, all that’s just a colorful part of history and nothing more than a well of inspiration to draw upon for entertainment. Save for a few obviously-crazy people or outright hucksters, nobody even pretends to take any of that seriously.

    It’s not that much longer, I think, before nobody takes Christianity seriously. At least a couple generations, I should think, but it’ll happen practically overnight from an historical perspective.

    And, in the West at least, I don’t expect anything to replace it.

    As to Islam and Hinduism…I’m not so sure. Islam especially is quite pernicious. They’re not going to survive on a scale of centuries, unless our civilization collapses but not so badly that we wipe ourselves out. But it’s going to take a while for the Enlightenment to take hold in the Islamic world at least, and a while still after that for them to make it past simple humanism to secularism.


    1. “It takes a million years to evolve a new species, ten million for a new genus, one hundred million for a class, a billion for a phylum—and that’s usually as far as your imagination goes.

      “In a billion years [from now], it seems, intelligent life might be as different from humans as humans are from insects . . To change from a human being to a cloud may seem a big order, but it’s the kind of change you’d expect over billions of years.”

      —*Freeman Dyson

      1. What’s missing from Dyson’s equation is intelligence. Up until now, life has evolved by Darwinian evolution. If human civilization lasts for any significant amount of time, life will no longer merely evolve; it will rapidly become intelligently designed…and that’s a force multiplier and accelerant of truly unimaginable scope and magnitude.

        There’re roughly 2^28 stars in the Milky Way. Take however long you think it takes for a civilization to colonize a single new star, multiply by 28, and that’s how long it’ll take for that civilization to overpopulate the galaxy. A century, as portrayed in Star Trek and similar popular science fiction? Then it’ll take about as long for humans to overflow the Milky Way as it took us to get from the founding of Rome to where we are today. A millennium, if you go with the least-absurd figures for multi-generational colony ships? Then galactic overpopulation is only as far away as our own stone age. Seven million years, about the time since our shared common ancestor with chimps? Then it’s only a quarter of a billion years before we run out of room; that long ago the earliest mammals and dinosaurs were already roaming the land.

        There’s no way you can even pretend to dream about what our descendants will be like in a billion years, assuming we have any. Long before then, we’ll have become basically perfectly efficient at transforming solar energy into whatever we want…and stellar-scale energy is so far beyond human imagination to begin with you again can’t even begin to dream.


        1. Ben, the absolute limitation of the speed of light means it would take a minimum of 100,000 years for an organism to colonise the galaxy. A single galactic civilization looks unlikely because of the time lag in communications. It would take 10,000 years to get a reply from a near “neighbour” (if the neighbour was at a distance of 5% of the diameter of the galaxy).

          1. But this fact is a benefit as well. It is easy to believe that there could be 100,000 colonized planets, most of them not interacting. On several of those planets life departs significantly from what we now know and probably on most, religion is simple not even part of the equation. A single galactic civilization is almost certainly not possible.

          2. Absolutely — the fact that I used Star Trek in my first example should have made plain that such a short time period relies on fantasy physics.

            My main point is that exponential growth means that, even if it takes you 100,000 years to colonize a single star, you’re still looking at running out of stars in about the amount of time it’s been since the rise of the Homo genus.


  7. I think the question, “Will religion ever disappear” is on a par with asking, “Will we ever have a perfect world?” Our thinking appears to be somewhat “hard-wired” as to identifying patterns that do not exist in reality and, as Robert McCauley says above, it often requires more mental “work” to see and accept things as they really are. The best hope is that it can be “marginalized” by education, especially education in critical thinking.

    Unfortunately, in looking at the news nowadays, while secularism is on the rise in many developed countries, religious fundamentalism and the resultant fanaticism, violence, and oppression seem to be having a heyday of resurgence in the third world: this is not surprising at all, as religion, especially of the “absolutist”, fundamentalist variety, thrives in an atmosphere of chaos, uncertainty, and poverty. Its “empowering” force is easily hijacked and used to link with and further the aims of any pre-existing xenophobia, ethnic hatred, and economic jealousy.

    The prospect of countries possessing nuclear weapons devolving into theocracies, with their, “Our way or no way” mindset and the subsequent refusal to make decisions based on rational thought is a frightening one, indeed; I fear that things may get much worse before they ever get better.

  8. I think “religion” is in the same category as “superstition,” “pseudoscience,” “ignorance,” “violence,” and “exploitation” — unnecessary and ultimately dangerous aspects of human nature and the brain which can be minimized, controlled, and contained, but not “eliminated.”

    Trying to eliminate them is likely to result in what Jeffery above talks about, a Utopian vision of the world and the belief that we can and should make it “perfect.” That never ends well.

    Improvement is a better goal.

    Religious and spiritual thinking is sloppy, intuitive, and ‘feels’ right. Despite all the contortions and hoops and rituals which make it difficult and painful, religion still rests on easy thought processes. It’s “common sense.”

    Science and scientific thinking is, as Alan Cromer put it, “uncommon sense.”

    1. Yes, I often think that societies can become the victim of their own successes.

      For the most part, the reason why we have a virulent anti-vaccine movement is precisely because its adherent have grown up in a disease-free environment thank to vaccines of previous generations. It is the epitome of tragic irony, and hundreds if not thousands will suffer needlessly because of it.

      Similarly, those who now live in relatively secular countries with diluted religions just have no comprehension what life would be like if their religion managed to gain any of its former power.

      1. Yes, just as middle class citizens of 21st century United States will complain about how much simpler and easier it was hundreds (or thousands) of years ago, when people grew their own natural food and practiced natural medicine in cultures drenched in equal parts community, spirituality, and love and respect for nature and all living things. Then capitalism, science, fast food, and modern conveniences ruined everything and left a “hole” in people’s too busy, too materialistic lives.

        One of my friends has expressed a wistful desire to visit North Korea to “see what it’s like.” I suspect it’s because they have such a low carbon footprint and nobody eats at McDonalds or watches too much tv. The simple life.

        Hitchens notoriously said that he has seen Heaven on earth and it’s North Korea: endless praise and total control.

        1. In fairness, there are some things that earlier generations did better than we do today…or, at least, that some people in earlier generations did better than we do today. Few people cook today, and fewer still as well as their parents or grandparents. And much produce is inferior to its antecedents, save for its ability to survive intercontinental transport…tomatoes are a prime example. Lots of other bits you can pick out here and there…modern architecture has its charms, but it’s nothing like a gothic cathedral.

          But what the nostalgists overlook…is that, on balance, what we have today is far superior to anything even remotely imaginable in the past…and, save for wildlife and habitat loss, everything from the past is every bit as available to us in the modern world if we’re willing to put in the effort. If you want a truly superlative lasagne like your grandparents might have made (mine weren’t Italian, but bear with me), you’re going to have to grow the tomatoes yourself and cook them yourself, just like your grandparents did. But that’ll also mean giving up the time you spend on other things — less leisure time at the least, and possibly less time on the job and thus less money in your pocket. Is that a sacrifice you’re willing to make?

          Now…if your grandparents had the choice to devote their lives primarily to food preparation or instead to doing all the things you do, what choice do you think they’d make?

          The modern times give us the luxury of choice. The old ways are still there for those who choose them…but, when it comes right down to it, that’s a choice that not all that many really prefer.


          1. The fine tomatoes you nostalgiate (new word!) for are still available… in season. Cardboard ones didn’t offend palates in the long-ago, it is true. But neither were any others except in late summer, canned or dried ones excepted. So I don’t think the tomato is a good example of the wonders of yesteryear.

            But old stone churches are rather cool. And they don’t build castles like they used to.

          2. The fine tomatoes you nostalgiate (new word!) for are still available… in season. Cardboard ones didn’t offend palates in the long-ago, it is true. But neither were any others except in late summer, canned or dried ones excepted. So I don’t think the tomato is a good example of the wonders of yesteryear.

            But old stone churches are rather cool. And they don’t build castles like they used to.

            1. The fine tomatoes you nostalgiate (new word!) for are still available… in season. Cardboard ones didn’t offend palates in the long-ago, it is true. But neither were any others except in late summer, canned or dried ones excepted. So I don’t think the tomato is a good example of the wonders of yesteryear.

              Actually, that’s the point I was trying to make. Most people would prefer “fresh” tomatoes year-round to “real” tomatoes in season and either no tomatoes or preserved tomatoes the rest of the year. And many of the luddites forget that things like “real” tomatoes were (and still are, outside of greenhouses) seasonal.

              The short version is that people want it all, and what they wind up bitching about most are the compromises they themselves settled on.


          3. Yes, the “luxury of choice” is an excellent way to put it.

            Recently a question went around the room “If you could live in any historical era or time period, which one would you choose?” I was the only one who said “Today.”

            All (or most) of the wonderful aspects of the past which everyone else brought up are technically still available today — and more easily had by the average person. One woman longed for the calm and peaceful leisure of the Jane Austen world. But most people worked like dogs in the early 18th century — and life was no picnic for the wealthy female elite either who, like Jane, usually died young. If you want to arrange flowers and sit in a house without any modern conveniences or distractions while entertaining your relatives for months on end then hey, it’s still possible — and cheap!

            But yes, “when it comes right down to it, that’s a choice that not all that many really prefer.” You gotta look at the big picture.

  9. I think religion will disappear, just like polytheism and monarchy have disappeared from the West. China, Japan, and Northern Europe are pretty irreligious places today.

    1. Western Europe is very secular and irreligious, but it still grants religion enormous privileges in the form of tax breaks, tax subsidies and in old legislation that promotes religious agendas and penalises those outside mainstream religions.

      It’s true that this doesn’t necessarily result in suffering for the average citizen, but it by no means an ideal situation.

      1. Revoking tax-free status will just be the first step. When money gets tight enough, do you think that democratic, secular governments will be much less likely to dispossess the churches (and corporations) than despotic monarchs were? I wish.

      2. This shows that if we work at it, its influence can be minimized (though it is sometimes unclear how).

        I personally think of these things as limiting processes- only in the limit will it, and as it does it will become more and more without influence even internally to people. This does seem to be the trend, though it may be (alas) reversible if things get economically hard (as they may with resources running down). So to support secularism, support changes to other viewpoints as well.

  10. Whenever commentators begin an answer to this question with “humans need…” they seem to be leaving themselves out of “humans.” To hear someone with no religion stating that humans need religion is more than a little annoying. Guess what? You’re human. And if you don’t need religion then neither does any other human. If you can get by fine in life without believing in an afterlife then so can everyone else. You are not special. You were just lucky enough not to be indoctrinated as a child. While it is hard to get over indoctrination, it’s not impossible.

    Of course religion will eventually go away almost completely. People need religion like heroin addicts need heroin.

  11. “Robert McCauley, Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not: Robert argues that religious explanations for how the world works “make sense” intuitively to people, whereas the scientific ones are sometimes difficult to understand, or difficult to accept”

    Religious explanations don’t make any intuitive sense at all. Why would the almighty, loving God put brain-eating amoebas or flesh-eating bacteria on this planet?

    1. Because it’s all part of God’s wonderful PLAN for us, silly! When you learn to trust your “intuition” (which means, whatever “resonates” the most strongly with you), you won’t want to be bothered with disturbing facts!

  12. Doing away with religion in the modern civilized world verses religion in the whole world is a big difference. In the whole world, very unlikely but in some parts it could be likely.

    As used many times in example – Finland and other parts of that geographic area, Religion has gone down to nearly nothing. The fact that they are just about the best educated goes right along with that progress. It should give the rest of us inspiration. Why it doesn’t is just another lack of education as we have now in this country.

    Rarely do we look at other countries of the world for ideas and leadership and that is also too bad. Most of the civilized countries have some form of universal health care but look at us. Misery, bad health and religion go together.

    1. One of the things I admire about Finland is their schoolteachers. They take their best and brightest into the profession and it is respected accordingly. Their students get access to their country’s best minds. It’s an example others would do well to take note of.

      America puts the least funding into the poorest schools and areas, then wonders why poor people stay poor.

      1. There you go, trying to solve a problem by throwing money at it.
        Just kidding! In America, it’s obligatory to say that whenever someone talks about spending money on education. If you told a conservative “We’re going to discuss education. You can say whatever you want, except that you can’t use the phrase ‘trying to solve a problem by throwing money it,'” he or she would have nothing to say.

  13. Maybe with a little selective pressure we can get evolution going! Someone just needs to mass market “faith machines” for the purpose of personally witnessing the historicity of their religious doctrine. Faith machines would basically be incinerators hawked as time machines so the whole type 1, type 2 argument would take care of itself- like an extreme version of snake handling. “While their is no scientific evidence of anyone returning, have faith that all things are possible.”

    Which is more likely?
    1) A complex scientifically accountable chemical reaction took place
    2) a simple “the machine worked, those ashes are God challenging your faith.”

    1. Obviously any objections to this would be met with “you are showing a scientific bias regarding the machines efficacy.”

  14. Any prediction for the future must take global warming into account. If nothing is done very soon, there will be dire consequences. And I don’t see anything happening anytime soon.

    One of those dire consequences is going to be serious social disorder and massive environmental immigration. What we regard as civilized will probably exist only in enclave cities. Elsewhere anarchy and chaos reign, and in that environment I would argue that all sorts of religion will be back in force.

    1. I’m actually not particularly concerned about climate change…for the simple-but-depressing reason that there’s not enough petroleum remaining that’s economically recoverable to make things much worse than they already are.

      Yes, Exxon-Mobil will be quick to tell you that we’ve got lots of shale gas. But that’s more than half a lie; it’s a boom that’s already approaching its own peak. And they’ll tell you that we’ve got incredible amounts of coal…but that’s even more irrelevant. You can’t run jet planes and long-haul tractor-trailer rigs and farm equipment on coal — at least, not economically.

      Our civilization is utterly dependent on not just petroleum, but cheap, high-quality petroleum. And we’re so desperate for petroleum that we’re literally sucking up Canadian tar sands to get the stuff — the veritable equivalent of the addict running around the floorboards with a straw up the nose the night after the party.

      Sooner, not later, it’s going to cost more to extract a barrel of crude oil than our society can afford to pay somebody to extract it.

      And then the shit’s going to hit the fan.

      The good news?

      The replacements for petroleum, though expensive, are clean and cheaper than turning coal into oil. And, with economies of scale, they quickly become cheaper at making electricity than burning coal, as well.

      So, if our society survives — a big “if,” indeed — it will be by transitioning to a solar-powered one. It’ll initially be much more expensive, which is why we might not be able to afford the transition. But, if we do make that transition, the wealth of power available to us at that point literally boggles the mind.


  15. “Ever” is a long, long time. Religion will certainly disappear. Remember the heat death of the universe. Before that happens, at some point, no more religion.

  16. You could add British psychologist Bruce Hood’s “SuperSense” book (which Shermer has drawn on in his own “The Believing Brain” argument) to suggest that religious beliefs are merely secondary spandrels of human minds capable of finding meaning and purpose it all sorts of things, whether its there or not, and so, barring a substantial evolutionary rewiring of our species’ cognitive landscape, the Tortucan practice of believing things that aren’t true is unlikely disappear entrely from our species’ repertoire any time soon

  17. Re final comment

    “The general theme seems to be that religion is not going to go away, but I can only hope that future versions are de-clawed and denatured so that they no longer can be used to inflict suffering on fellow humans.”

    Dan Dennett is fairly convinced that any religion that can survive exposure to a well thought out course on the history of religions is likely to be declawed and unlikely to inflict a great deal of suffering. (It may still have somewhat of a flake factor though.)

  18. On this question I always refer to the models that show that religion affiliation can go extinct, provided its perceived utility is less than nonaffiliation:

    “The behavior of the model can be understood analytically for a = 1, in which case we have dx/dt = cx(1 − x)(2ux − 1): logistic growth. An analysis of the fixed points of this equation tells us that religion will disappear if its perceived utility is less than that of nonaffiliation, regardless of how large a fraction initially adheres to a religion. …

    Figure 2 shows the totality of the data collected and a comparison to the prediction of Eq. (1) with a = 1, demonstrating the general agreement with our model.” [ http://arxiv.org/pdf/1012.1375v2.pdf : my bold]

    I haven’t checked Rosling’s TED talks lately, but bear in mind that when better population models that included uncertainty in data were developed this spring, Rosling immediately accepted their results. They showed that the most likely population growth gets us to 11 billions, not 9, and a peak in the next century, not this. But apparently Rosling has found that we likely can manage that.

  19. “Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not”

    Really? So science is supernatural?

    In all seriousness though, I’d hardly call religion intuitive. Easy, sure. Way easier than science. But unless you are indoctrinated at a young age and closed off from all the conflicting religions out there, intuitive is hardly the word for it. It’s why religions tend to lean so heavily on that little word faith. if it all intuitively made sense why the need for all the mysterious ways?

  20. Living in the southern United States, immersed in the Bible Belt as I am, surrounded by fundamentalist creationists, well, I just find the thought of religion never going away to be another plank of depressing thought to add to the pile of what it is like to live here, where everyone believes the Universe and the Earth was created in just six days.

    Sad… Just sad.

  21. We may be pattern seeking animals but that doesn’t necessitate us always reverting to religious patterns. Religion as is practiced today by the Big 2 for example (Xiansanity and Islam) is a historical accident we might well outgrow. As a few commenters noted give secularism contesting religiousness a few years, decades, centuries and see what happens. Just because most people, cultures accept something today doesn’t make it necessary and unavoidable. The whole world accepted slavery as natural for millennia and no-one sanctions it any longer. No countries have laws to buy and sell humans anymore. The Egyptian religion had a 3,000 year run, a millennia longer than Xiansanity, twice as long as Islam and its gone, as are most religions ever practiced. Also millions of humans have lived without it utterly, maybe a billion or two do today,so it isnt at all inevitable. With continued education and disproof it can fade away. We have barely begun the conversation attacking Islam with its adherents, and its only been a few centuries since the diminishment of Xiansanity began yet most Xians, even hard core ones are incomparably less religious than medieval Xians, or Muslims today. Xians used to accept killing of apostates regularly as well. Information kills religion, education is the key. Homeopathy and astrology can go too.

  22. Re: “Will religion ever disappear?”. EVER is a very long time. The human race will eventually go extinct; the only question is if religion dies before it, or with it. Billions of years from now, there will be no humans and no religion, so the answer to “Will religion EVER disappear?” is YES.

  23. The reasons given for religion’s longevity seems to me to always neglect the ‘elephant in the room’ i.e. the powerful, wealthy religious/political vested interests in keeping it going. On a level playing field there can be little doubt it would eventually fade and become of minority interest.
    It’s very noticeable how even in places like, here in the U.K., politicians e.g. Cameron now feel obliged to proclaim their Christianity like never before because of the perceived threat of fundamentalist Islam. Most BBC Radio 4 programs now have some passing reference to Christianity or Judaism. Far too often recently to be mere coincidence.
    Emperor Constantine set the cosy mutual back-scratching in motion and it’s worked so well for rulers and clerics over the centuries that proof for evolution, etc., is a minor consideration compared with the power religious belief wields.
    But we have no chance of changing minds if, for political reasons, etc., we’re scared to introduce the real culprits into the equation. Jerry Coyne has come nearest to doing so, in my opinion.

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