When humanity first ventured into the river valleys, began to farm and become sedentary, create cities and societies, they also invariably created inventions to make their lives easier. Some of them are easily recognizable, common amongst all those disparate societies, and permeate society to this day. We've heard of most of them: The Wheel, Irrigation, Masonworking, and Religion.
The purpose of an invention is to fulfill an end. It is usually, but does not have to, make the life of the user easier somehow. They also must be examined periodically, and replaced if deemed obsolete. The principle exception to this trend is the Scientific Method. This invention is unquestionably the most unique, and certainly one of the most significant of the last several thousand years. Its potential uses are broad. Its current primary use is finding the most accurate truth possible, given known facts. When applied by millions of scientists worldwide, simultaneously, it yields a truth-finding mechanism unrivaled in the rest of human history. It can be applied quite successfully to decision-making as well, although this use has not been explored yet much. The Scientific Method is the product of thousands of years of logical and scientific progress, and has upheld its reputation as the best way humanity has at understanding the universe for hundreds of years with solid, and improving, success and consistency.
Religion, to the contrary, is not based on science or logic. The most fundamental concept common to all Religions is the idea of Faith. Faith is acceptance of tenets or ideas without proof. This is the antithesis of deductive and inductive reasoning, and logic as a whole, which represents the foundation upon which the Scientific Method is built. Justifications for and defenses of Faith usually incorporate a sort of perverted "innocent until proven guilty" concept: that something is true until proven decisively otherwise.
This logic fails within the circumstances for a number of reasons. First, nothing can be proven completely true in Science, largely the real-world application of Logic. Science is, by definition, constantly reexaming itself and its own theories, conclusions, laws, and facts. Things can be proven to be almost certainly true, like Gravity, but still they are not considered beyond reexamination; we continue to preform experiments with modern technology, such as satellites, lasers, and robotics, to review Newton's several hundred-year-old theories. In fact, to dispel all doubt regarding anything, you would have to possess complete knowledge of everything in the Universe, something already being accepted as utterly impossible by recent advances into quantum physics. Nothing is considered sacred, above question, in true Science. This is part of the reason why it is so consistently successful; it takes nothing for granted, and is arguably the humblest of all human pursuits. It is ironic at first glance, but profound and impressive upon further examination, that in the most anal, precise, and calculating of all human activities, nothing is ever considered certain.
Second, the idea of accepting truth until it is proven false is the complete opposite of Science's basic principles. Facts must not be accepted until proven true, and supported with more evidence than any other potential explanation; even then, they may be unseated from their throne of being the accepted truth, or rearranged into a more comprehensive, complete, and true worldview at any time, pending further research and discovery.
Hypothetically speaking, if Faith and the Scientific Method arose simultaneously in human society, culture, and consciousness, it is quite possible that Scientific Method would have emerged the dominant concept and means by which we explain both the most mundane and extraordinary phenomenon in everything from our daily lives to the strangest aspects of the far-flung universe. As it happened, however, Faith achieved a foothold that is only now being slowly, but steadily beaten back by Logic and Rationality's finest champion.
Now, we should proceed to examine, armed with the Scientific Method (it being the most powerful tool for rational discernment currently available to us), what the majority of humanity believes, who have used Faith to explain phenomena and events in their lives.
Section Two - Theistic Tradition
All religions are based upon a belief in one or more gods. A god is a very old way of describing natural forces that, on the invention of this concept, defied all explanation. Literally, it is the manifestation of one or more natural forces. Attributing the unexplainable to a god, or multiple gods, is the simplest, oldest, easiest, and least scientific way of explaining natural phenomenon.
As humanity developed methods of determining how the world worked around them, through progressively stronger and more reliable science and scientific instruments, the study of theology developed as a way to explain why proof of these rather powerful entity or entities rather didn't show up in any in-depth search whatsoever. A sort of arms-race developed, with Science not so much trying to disprove God as merely reporting its findings, and Theology trying, progressively rather desperately, to justify why a god hasn't shown itself in the face of hundreds of years of scientific measurements, or ever had any reliable testimony to its existence as opposed to the usual sensational, unfounded claims and assumptions common of all religions.
Science as a whole has not tried to disprove theistic traditions on the whole. There has been no systemic analysis of the subject, ever. The vast majority of scientists are atheists or agnostics, but on the whole have made little attempt to spread their beliefs. Atheism is the fastest-growing 'religion' in the world, make up close to a fifth of the United States' population, and yet do not send missionaries on their behalf. Despite this, many religious adherents, in particular Christians, have grown increasingly alarmed at this news and redoubled their efforts, as a system, to reaffirm their basic tenets. Thus, the relatively recent reemergence of religious fanaticism in Islam and Christianity over the past few decades.
Imagine how these theistic traditions would react if atheism acted like they have done over the past millennia. If they sent out missionaries, centralized, indoctrinated billions of children to (in this case, not) believe.
The fact is that there never has been, and there isn't, any significant proof for the existence of any deity. The belief systems that affirm this belief in spite of this complete lack of evidence exist only for two reasons. First, they have simply existed for so long, and have been passed down from generation to generation by essentially manipulating childrens' natural openness to ideas and trust of their parents, that they have stuck. But even this would not have been truly sufficient without societal intervention. For the second reason religion has existed for so long is because it is a vital part of a larger system: society.
This is not to say that society could not function without religion. It is certainly possible, and perhaps far easier, to run a just, peaceful, and kind society without religions. Religions are used to divide and unite people on essentially rediculous, arbitrary distinctions the same way race and nationality are; in addition, all three are also destructive human inventions that society would be far better off without.
What role does religion serve in society? Its function is to organize the collective morality of a group in ways that benefit the society. From this we get some beneficial shared morals, general rules like not to kill or steal. However, this is not all a religion does. It also plants psychological cues, enables appeals to irrationality that may override all other reasoning. This is evident from the various crusades, holy wars, and general 'special' circumstances in which the usual laws of morality are completely subverted under direction from the institutions which provided them in the first place. Finally, the last major 'contribution' that religion has given to society is the dilution and compartmentalization of logic. Through its sensationalism it works to disassociate rationality from individual's opinions and perceptions of society. In this way it is extremely similar to the way capitalism's inevitable and excessive materialism functions in society. The irony is that the two systems are often at loggerheads; which only serves to further distract people from important issues, which is simply the shared purpose of both subsystems. In this way, they fulfill their function, purpose, and niche within society as a joint unit: a rarity in the natural world.
Section Three - Concluding Thoughts about Morality and Logic
God is Dead.These are the words of Friedrich Nietzsche. To many, shocking and vitriolic despite its brevity, its simplicity. It has been repeated often by many, too many of whom do not understand what meaning they were intended to convey.
The phrase does not intend to impart the belief that a literal God had existed, and now has died; rather, the implication is one of a serious, yet momentary moral crisis that all those who reject theistic tradition generally face. He means to say that now that religion has served its purpose, and has become obsolete, we now must find some other source for our morality and sense of purpose. This temporary confusion inevitable from any major values shift is often cited by the religious in order to casually dismiss the rejection of their value system as patently ridiculous.
However, that choice remains as serious, legitimate, and possible as ever.
Despite scare tactics and claims to the contrary, it is an achievable, and even necessary, goal for every individual to separate their own morals from any unnecessary and useless societal controls like religion. Such controls are used by society to manipulate personal convictions, and thus public opinion, to positions that will promote the society's interests. Unfortunately, this usually does not coincide with the best interests of the majority of individuals in that society. This will be explored in following essays with greater detail.
Now, allow me reiterate the conclusions of the following chapter:
All theistic traditions are outdated belief systems that have been, since their inception, used by societies to control and conquer hearts and minds. This turns thinking individuals into unquestioning believers, flocks of sheep with subliminal and emotional triggers that may be invoked to control them.
Knowing this, it is unavoidable that we must confront the problem of morality in an non-theistic mindset. Morality must be based off of certain basic principles; that much, society may and must provide. This includes basic things like a certain respect for living things, teaching not to steal or kill, and a desire to do no harm. However, beyond these principles society must not indoctrinate or train its citizens, especially children. It may and must educate, but only with a cautious air and constant encouragement of free thought at all times. Children are most susceptible to indoctrination; their minds must be protected from authoritative learning environments of all kinds.
So, morality should take the form of a few basic principles, necessary for societal preservation and individuals' safety, and many subtle ones, which individuals are free to decide for themselves without any social pressure whatsoever.
This is only possible in a society without mainstream religions, nation-states, and capitalistic economies. Even then, it will require diligent vigilance on the part of its citizenry.
But we can do it.
Section Four - Exhortation to Moderation
There has been some deception in the above essay.
I do not wish to use secrecy or deception to get points across, so I will be open with you. Let me show you at least some of the biases in this paper.
Faith is not an inherently bad thing. In fact, it is necessary to function in society. Without it, we could not get beyond Rene Descartes' conundrum; how do we know what we sense, exists? We cannot; thus, we take it on faith, and function in the world based on that fundamental leap.
However, beyond that initial leap, faith is unwarranted unless backed up by evidence. It is impossible to know everything about the universe, or even a particular situation, and all too often not even enough to make a confident decision. However, we must minimize how much faith we use in all circumstances. Unnecessary faith is the crutch of intellectually dishonest, weak cowards. Some faith will always remain; and that is acceptable. Nothing is entirely certain; but that must not dissuade us from the pursuit of knowledge and rationality, despite the impossibility of total certainty.
We must not be driven from the pursuit of perfection, merely because the ultimate goal is unattainable. The path is its own reward.