Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Moving On: Atheism's Role for Mankind's Advancement

It may seem too obvious at first glance to even bother stating that as the centuries have passed since the Bronze Age biblical era , humankind's knowledge and understanding of nature has grown at  a staggering rate and that current technology has surpassed even what the most advanced minds of 100 years ago could have imagined. What were once regarded as acts of a supreme being can be readily explained by science--or even simple logic.

Yet a consequence of this progress is that the more we have come to know  and understand about natural causes of events,  the less we have needed to depend on theistic explanation or look to scripture as a revelation about them and our place in the universe.  For that matter when we compare the universe itself based on scientific evidence on models with that as portrayed  in religious sources such as the Torah, the New Testament, and the Quran, we see that these books are shot full of errors about (as an example) the nature of the heavens, in particular the sequence of  cosmological creation, and the  placement of the Earth at the center of the universe.

The Earth is of course heliocentric, and the sun is just an average star in an ordinary galaxy among billions of other such star systems. In turn, there are more stars in the universe than grains of sands on all the beaches on Earth. Many if not most of these stars have planets. Odds are that some support life. That makes humans and our world infinitesimally minuscule in the greater scheme of things and the god of the bible as absolutely puny in light of the structure of the real universe.

However, even in this day and age,  a large number of people in the U.S. still have faith in scriptural explanations as inerrant about creation, whether they accept them literally or figuratively (It's almost comical to hear various sources resort to contorted explanations to justify acceptance of the latter as "symbolic" and to hear the literalists bend the facts to fit their religious beliefs, such as by rejecting the theory of evolution, asserting that the world is only 6,000 years old and that humans and dinosaurs coexisted, Flinstones style. Just to give a specific  example of the shocking rate of ignorance in the United States, 46% of Americans believe in creationism .

Probably every religion in the world has a creation myth. Most likely, these ancient stories were based on the attempts to make sense of and explain the world as people in ancient times understood it, which is a psychological need common to all humans.  They did the best they could with what limited knowledge they had. But that was then and this is now.  So there's no reason for modern man to continue looking at these myths other than interesting literature and a window on  the way people of that era thought and lived.    

To put it another way, if  the Old and New Testaments are true word of God  as the fundamentalists would have us believe, why is there no mention in these books to the discoveries and technology that humans have developed  (and will continue to develop) through the ages since the biblical era?  Why didn't God reveal the knowledge of science to man in ancient times instead of letting him wallow in ignorance about what we have since learned from those days?  As a matter of fact, "pagan" cultures such as the ancient Greeks and Romans made great scientific and mathematical discoveries  and expounded profound philosophies in those times.  Who knows how much further they might have gone if Christianity hadn't usurped the culture in that part of the world?

Christians might frame God's refusal to speed the progress of humankind in terms of "the fall of man"  and by invoking Genesis  3:17-20 wherein God condemned man to a life of toil for eating from the tree of knowledge. Yet as the centuries  have passed especially since the Enlightenment, as was previously mentioned humans overall are having to struggle less and less in order to survive through the powers of education, reason and science. As a result, as was previously mentioned our dependence and belief in a supernatural being have diminished accordingly.

Note that modern societies that have made the most socioeconomic and scientific progress are those that have largely secular, whose people are well educated and have outgrown belief in a supreme being. Not surprisingly, these countries are also the happiest ones in the world. One  examples is Denmark  which not only has a high rate of atheism, but also a long life expectancy and a  low rate of violence just to name a few favorable features. On the other hand, countries that have high rates of poverty, dishonesty in government, and violence are those whose people are the most religious. The Philippines, for example, has the highest rate of theism in the world and yet is beset with these problems.  Out of 183 countries, that country   is rated the 129th most corrupt.

In short the message is this: Humankind has made great strides since ancient times, but in order to reach a higher stage of maturity, we need to shed the baggage of belief in a phantom supreme being.  Until that happens, for all our progress, the burden of theism is holding back its adherents in a Dark Ages mentality.

I would like to close with a beautiful quotation from Thomas Jefferson who stated humanity's optimal goal  most succinctly:  "Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear ... Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it end in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue on the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise and in the love of others which it will procure for you."