Can Religion Be Explained Without God?

From Robert Lawrence Kuhn, host and creator of Closer To Truth:

I want to believe in God, but “religion” stops me. I hope God has less to do with religion, and religion with God, than we usually think.
Some claim that religion needs nothing supernatural, that religion, without God, can form and flourish. To others, the claim is blasphemous: God exists and religion is God’s revelation. All agree that religion affects humanity profoundly.
Why is religion a force so powerful? Even those who believe in God should understand how personal psychology and group sociology drive religion.
Philosopher Daniel Dennett’s book Breaking The Spell describes religion as a “natural phenomenon.” No one naturalizes religion better than Dennett, who defines it succinctly as “belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought.” He suggests that, “the question of whether God exists is actually of less importance to the modern world than maybe it once was.”
Dennett encourages us “to think not just historically, but biologically or evolutionarily.” He says, “We have to realize that Homo sapiens—us—descended from earlier hominids; we share a common ancestry with chimpanzees going back about 6 million years. Can we see what religion adds to the mix that makes us so different from all other animals?”
He thinks that we can. “I think we can discern religion’s origins in superstition, which grew out of an overactive adoption of the intentional stance,” he says. “This is a mammalian feature that we share with, say, dogs. If your dog hears the thud of snow falling off the roof and jumps up and barks, the dog is in effect asking, ‘Who’s there?’ not, ‘What’s that?’ The dog is assuming there’s an agent causing the thud. It might be a dangerous agent. The assumption is that when something surprising, unexpected, puzzling happens, treat it as an agent until you learn otherwise. That’s the intentional stance. It’s instinctive.”
The intentional stance is appropriate for self-protection, Dennett explains, and “it’s on a hair trigger. You can’t afford to wait around. You want to have a lot of false positive, a lot of false alarms [because you can’t afford even one false negative!]”
He continues: “Now, the dog just goes back to sleep after a minute. But we, because we have language, we mull it over in our heads and pretty soon we’ve conjured up a hallucinated agent, say, a little forest god or a talking tree or an elf or something ghostly that made that noise. Generally, those are just harmless little quirks that we soon forget. But every now and then, one comes along that has a little bit more staying power. It’s sort of unforgettable. And so it grows. And we share it with a neighbor. And the neighbor says, ‘What do you mean, a talking tree? There’s no talking trees.’ And you say, ‘I could have sworn that tree was talking.’ Pretty soon, the whole village is talking about the talking tree. The talking tree idea has entered the world. It has made multiple copies of itself. Everyone in the village has a copy of the talking tree idea. What’s it for? It’s for itself. It just happened because it could. It’s like a virus.”
He goes on: “When I first started studying religion, people said, ‘Oh, an evolutionary account of religion. What do you think religions are good for, Dan? They’ve got to be good for something [for evolution to have selected it for propagation]. After all, every human group that’s ever been studied has some kind of religion.’ And I said, ‘Every group that’s ever been studied has the common cold, too. What’s it good for? It’s good for itself. Similarly, these ideas are just good for themselves. They’re good at reproducing in minds.’ They start out, as it were, as wild superstitions that happen just because they can. They enter through cracks in our cognitive machinery. Then, they’re around; they can be used. People begin appreciating them; people begin to use them for other purposes—and now we’re on our way to organized religion. And the ones that we see today, the ones which have the big budgets and the big churches, the musical histories and all the rest, those are the hardy survivors of a very large competition.”
Dennett says that, “If we think about all the features of religions from an evolutionary point of view, we see lots of ‘design’ features that are otherwise a bit baffling. Were they consciously, deliberately designed by clever priests? For the most part, no. It’s just that the religions that happen to have this ‘mutation’ did better than the religions that didn’t. And so they were better able to spread themselves.”
To Dennett, religion is explainable by modern methods of social science. And there’s no residual, nothing left hanging: There’s no need, or room, for God.
I like his arguments; I buy them all. But still I wonder: Even if religion as we know it, particularly organized religion, is entirely of human origin, does it then follow that there is no God?
I speak with a theologian who appreciates religion as a social construct, but also believes in God. J. Wentzel van Huyssteen, an expert on “theological anthropology,” seeks ancient origins of religion. The core of religion, he says, is “how to make sense of our own vulnerability of death and suffering,” and religion provides “great incentives for ethical behavior … in spite of the many harms it has done.”
To van Huyssteen, “God is always going to be a deeply personal commitment.” He agrees that “we can make strong scientific arguments why religion can function perfectly well without God” and that “for getting God back into the picture, science is not going to be helpful.” And he is “deeply impressed and overwhelmed by science,” he says, “but at the same time, do I need to accept that empirical methodology should always have the absolute last word in explaining away religion? Science has no reach beyond the empiricism that it itself professes.”
This is indeed the core issue: In seeking ultimate truth, can we ever be epistemically justified in going beyond empiricism?
Van Huyssteen argues that “a very clear commitment to religious traditions and to the kind of God or gods that we believe in is not something that ordinary science, such as evolutionary psychology, can explain to me.”
On the other hand, he does not argue that “the more we find religion, the more likely for God to exist.” He admits that even though “our ancient ancestors had a clear sense of symbolic activity, ritual, religious faith,” this is not a good argument for the existence of God. Similarly, he says “people today, the world over, are still religious, and this, too, is not a good argument for God”—“but it is an argument for what it is that we humans, or most of us, feel we need,” he adds. He then says, “I’m willing to prune back all kinds of excessive or extravagant beliefs, but I don’t think this goes to the heart of the spiritual sense, which I find to be so important for many people.”
Van Huyssteen agrees with Dennett that religious belief is a natural and continuing human need. But they part ways in that van Huyssteen gives credence to the content of that belief, which, at its core, is a deeply personal connection to the divine. But to do so, he must reach beyond empiricism, venture beyond science.
To psychologist Susan Blackmore, that’s an egregious error. She is an expert on how certain cultural ideas, called “memes,” can grow and propagate and take hold of people’s minds. She proffers that religion originated with early cultures wanting control over an uncontrollable world. “Our ancestors invented spirits,” she says, “to explain the weather or certain events. That’s the ground of it all, and at some point, there were competing ideas about God—competing memes (which is any information that’s copied from person to person). The idea is to treat cultural products like biological products, all of them in competition. Take songs and jokes and playground games and clothes: The ones we know are the ones that won the competition.”
She continues: “Religions are like that, too. They compete to infect people’s brains and thus propagate into more people. What makes a successful religion? Originally, perhaps, one that seemed to bring the rain. But at some point, we started some major religions which evolved to have some really, really nasty tricks. So if you look at the major religions on the planet today, particularly the Judeo-Christian traditions, you see the most incredibly well-evolved complexes of memes that hang out together.”
Blackmore takes Christianity’s story of Jesus, from virgin birth to resurrection from the dead, as an example of “intrinsically unbelievable things.” Why do people go around believing these things, then? The “very clever packaging,” she answers, which is “basically a ‘copy me’ instruction backed up with threats and promises. If you’re a Catholic, you have to learn the catechism all at once. You put on your white dress, you attend the ceremonies, keep the traditions. This discourages people from picking and choosing because once you start to pick and choose, then memes loose their power. If ordinary rationality enters, these things look ludicrous, don’t they?”
Blackmore continues: “You are infected with these ideas when very young, when you have almost no mental immunity, no skills of argument—and it’s heaven if you believe and pass on these ideas to other people, and it’s the hell of toasting forks and pits of sulfur if you don’t. It’s the same in Islam: If you die propagating these memes, you’ll get so many virgins (I don’t know what women get).”
She explains that, “religious memes are very infectious. There’s room for only one per brain because it encompasses and regulates so much of one’s life. It takes over a whole lot of jobs in your brain—giving you meaning in life, a reason to get up in the morning, a social life. Once you understand how the memes of religion work, you can see the awful effects they have on people and how difficult they are to get rid of.” She concludes with her hope: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just let go of believing in those daft things?”
Blackmore sees religion as almost all bad—founded on false, silly promises and empty, vile threats. But because religion is empowered by memes—these infectious, parasitic ideas that lock minds and control belief—it can commandeer belief systems, institutionalize itself, and jump generations.
To explain religion without God, memes are crucial, so I’ll put them to the test. Because memes are analogized to viruses, I speak with Denis Alexander, a biologist and a believer. How does he defend religion against the explanatory onslaught of memes?
“The meme metaphor has no substrate,” Alexander says. “We don’t actually absorb ideas, especially complex ideas, as a sort of viral invasion of our brains. The anti-religious rhetoric of the memologists seems kind of like medieval ideas of demonology when people kept their windows closed for fear that demons would come in, infect their brain, and do terrible things to them without their knowing. But in reality, we have beliefs that we have to justify, that we have to give reasons for. And that’s why the memes rhetoric doesn’t work for me.”
Alexander admits that religion does fulfill psychological and sociological needs. “We are social animals,” he says. “When a bunch of skeptics and atheists get together to listen to a well-known speaker supporting their skepticism and their atheism, they’ll have group cohesion, they’ll feel good about it, they depart with their belief supported, they feel happier—their atheism has been nurtured by the group. It’s the same when football fans go to a football match. And when people go to church, the same processes are going on. But so what? At the end of the day, none of that tells us about the true status of what’s really going on.”
So whereas religion can be explained without God, the question is: Even though you are explaining it, could there still be a fundamental reality to it?
“All we can do is to give descriptions,” Alexander says. “We, as scientists, can measure the brainwaves of religious believers, but that doesn’t tell us whether those beliefs are actually true or not. We could do similarly with scientists. We could hook them up, observe their brainwaves, but that wouldn’t tell us whether their scientific theories are true. Truth is based on different kinds of evidence, whether for scientists or religious believers.”
A Christian and a scientist, Alexander agrees that the methods of science can analyze the activities of religion, but disagrees that the findings of science can adjudicate the reality of religion.
As for me, I respect the clarity of categories, differentiating religious behaviors from transcendent truths. But this internal consistency, which generally I like, here shields religion from any assault, making religion impossible to challenge. That I don’t like. Anything impervious to scrutiny troubles me. So in my anxiety, I turn to my favorite skeptic.
Michael Shermer is an expert on belief systems. “Religion is a social institution,” he says. “It can be explained like any other social institution, political institution, or economic institution. It’s just in that same category. You can believe that and still believe in God.”
He continues: “Where it gets interesting is to examine the reason for religion. What purpose does it serve? Here’s where we begin to see human construction, not only of religion, but of gods. To me, there’s just overwhelming evidence that humans constructed all of this, religion and God, as a belief system. Humans have what I call a ‘belief engine’—modules in the brain whose function it is to find causal connections between things in the environment. It’s called learning. Everybody does it. You have to do it to survive. All animals do it. We do it spectacularly well.”
But, he says, “not perfectly well. We are pattern-seeking animals—for example, keeping track of when migrating herds were going to return next year and when the fruit was going to be ripe. Those are patterns that help us survive. However, we also sometimes find patterns that don’t really exist. These are sort of false positives, superstitions. Maybe I believe that if I twirl around three times clockwise and twice counterclockwise, the rain gods will spare us the lightning. So a tendency toward superstition—‘magical thinking,’ we call it—is part of the baggage of being a pattern-seeking animal.”
I ask Shermer why, as science expands and religion contracts in their respective capacities to explain the world, the power of religion is still strong.
“Because the primary function of religion is not to explain the natural world,” he answers. “It is mainly a social institution. People don’t go to churches, temples, or mosques to hear a lecture about the big bang. They go for some other reason—for family, society, social group, often to hear a message of inspiration about helping other people, doing the right thing, avoiding sin, and so on.”
As for the future of religion, Shermer worries about “the negative side of religion and its intermixing with politics and social policy.” He says: “I don’t care what gods people believe in. I’m happy for them if that makes them happy.”
“In a patronizing way?” I ask my friend.
“No. In a respectful way,” he answers. “Because, ultimately, I can’t prove that my beliefs are absolutely true either. So, hey, you believe what you believe, I believe what I believe, let’s go our separate ways, and can’t we all get along?”
Go 10,000 years into the future, or 100,000 years. Assuming humans are reasonably similar, does Shermer see religion still existing in something akin to its current form?
“Yes, probably so,” he responds. “My secular humanist friends would disagree with me and say, ‘Oh, no! Someday we’ll move beyond religion.’ Yeah, well, maybe. But it sure doesn’t look that way. The trend is going in the opposite direction.”
Here’s my take. Religion, all of it, can be explained without God; nothing supernatural is needed. I’ve not much doubt about this. To account for religious beliefs and behaviors, even those who believe in God should accept this demonstrable truth.
While arguments about God are philosophical and cosmological, those about religion are biological, psychological, and sociological. Thus, the methods of science can analyze religion.
But is there residue? After doing all the science, does anything religious remain? This is the ultimate crux of the matter.
Frankly, I can hope, but I don’t know. This I do know: Even after explaining religion without God, nothing follows regarding the potential existence of an actual God. No analysis of human religion can ever disconfirm a supreme being.
Conversely, anyone hoping to convince me that God exists should not hold up “religions of the world” as an affirmative argument. For me, institutional religion offers scant help for coming closer to truth.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn speaks with Daniel Dennett, J. Wentzel van Huyssteen, Susan Blackmore, Denis Alexander, and Michael Shermer in “Can Religion Be Explained Without God?”—the 22nd episode in the new season of the Closer To Truth: Cosmos, Consciousness, God TV series (61st in total).
The series airs on PBS World (often Thursdays, twice) and many other PBS and noncommercial stations. Every Thursday, participants will discuss the current episode.

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19 Responses

  1. “No analysis of human religion can ever disconfirm a supreme being.” Of course not. It is not falsifiable. Just like we cannot disconfirm the existence of unicorns, fairies, and goblins. What we can do is examine the evidence we have and make a logical judgement of whether or not something is probable to exist. We can make a reasonable assement on whether or not something is “probable” to exist, but not whether or not it is “possible” to exist.

  2. My take on religion is different. For me the role or purpose of religion is to find the Meaning of Life. Non-human living creatures do not need a reason to live, because they cannot reason. Humans for better or worse are rational creatures, which means or should me that they seek to act rationally.

    If we are to live rationally humans need a reason or purpose for living. Dennett and friends insist that there is no real or objective reason for humans to live. Living for the sake of living or out of fear of dying does not qualify for a rational reason to live.

    If life has a rational purpose, it must come from a rational Being. Nature could give life a rational purpose, but Nature is not a rational being. If life does have purpose and it seems that everyone or almost everyone acts as if it does, then its purpose would seem to come from God Who is by my definition the Source or Creator of the Universe.

    As for institutional religion, institutions can be problematic, but we have institutionalized science, government, art, etc. Institutions provide community, organization, and stability. Many scientists it seems prefer the labratory to other people. That is well and good, because we need people in the labs, but they need sometimes to be more understanding of people who need to work within other institutions.

    For more on this important topic check out my new book, DARWIN’S MYTH, on my website, rightrelates.org

  3. Interesting that you should raise this. These topics are at the very heart of my book, The Religion Virus. You might find it interesting, it’s a detailed application of memetics to the peculiar history of religion.

  4. Michael Dowd says:

    Dan Dennett’s book is good, for sure, with respect to seeing religion as a natural phenomena. But I and many others have found Loyal Rue’s book, “RELIGION IS NOT ABOUT GOD” to be a more useful natural theory of religion. Here’s a short 6 minute YouTube clip of Rue from the Beyond Belief conference a few years ago that will give you a flavor for him: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JH493NsM31Y

    One of Rue’s main points is that human beings have always required maps of reality that set forth ‘how things are’ and ‘which things matter’, and that simultaneously foster both ‘personal wholeness’ and ‘social coherence’.

    Evidence from around the world and from many different disciplines suggest that, despite whatever religious believers may claim, God concepts are personifications of reality or some significant aspect of reality. In other words, God is a personification, not a person. (How else to interpret the hundreds of competing stories around the world about what God supposedly said and did?) “Believing in” God translates emotionally as trusting reality.

    For humanity to continue to be guided by ancient maps of reality, and for billions of people to value ancient maps and outdated language for reality over evidence (the main way reality is, in fact, revealing itself today) is no longer sustainable. Thus, IMHO nothing is more important than for the religions of the world to begin valuing the findings of science over the proclamations of ancient mythology.

    With respect to numerous fully naturalistic and deeply inspiring rational reasons for joyfully living, and for working to co-create to a healthy future for all, see here: INSPIRING NATURALISM: http://inspiringnaturalism.libsyn.com/
    and here: IS THIS THE MEANING OF LIFE? http://thankgodforevolution.com/node/2017

  5. Chris says:

    Daniel Dennett’s “definition” of religion is not very good. It excludes many systems of belief or practice that have been considered to be “religions” for a very long time, and which would clearly fall into the category for most people, such as Buddhism, to choose one notable example. Better to work from Clifford Geertz’s more rigorous definition, from his Interpretation of Cultures: “(1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.” (The numbers mark off sections which he proceeds to unpack over the next 30-odd pages.) Dennett, despite his popularity among the New Atheists, is as clueless as the rest of those Angry Young-ish Men when it comes to understanding religion as a phenomenon, system of belief, or practice outside of their immediate opponents, the Creationist Christians.

  6. Michael Dowd says:

    I agree with Chris, that Dan Dennett’s definition of religion is the weakest part of his book. It’s just plain wrong. Demonstrably so.

    As Benson Salem compellingly showed in his 1977 American Anthropological Association Ethos paper, “Supernatural as a Western Category”, the ‘supernatural realm’ only came into being as a thought form after we began to understand things in natural, scientific way. Only after the concept of “natural” emerged was it deemed necessary by some to speak of the “super-natural”: that which was imagined to be above or outside of nature.

    For those interested, I recently wrote a brief blog post and recorded a podcast titled: “Supernatural Is Unnatural Is Uninspiring (When You Think About It)” (follow the links at the bottom of the blog post for more information):
    Blogpost: http://thankgodforevolution.com/node/2024
    Podcast: http://bit.ly/cSazLD

  7. Michael Dowd says:

    IMHO, the most helpful place on the internet to go for expanding one’s understanding of religion from a naturalistic, evolutionary perspective is this “EVOLUTIONARY RELIGIOUS STUDIES” website: http://evolution.binghamton.edu/religion/

    I especially recommend David Sloan Wilson’s excellent “Beginners Guide”: http://evolution.binghamton.edu/religion/resources/guide/

    David Sloan Wilson and Loyal Rue (mentioned in my first comment above) have independently developed very helpful and remarkably similar evidential views of religion.

  8. The question that I think none of these “evolutionary” studies answer is the rationality of nature. Is nature or the universe rational? Yes or no? If the answer is no, then why are we wasting so much time trying to understand it scientifically? If the universe does have a rational, comprehensible structure, what is its Source since nature or the universe cannot think?

    If nature cannot think, then thinking must be supernatural. Doesn’t that make humans, as well as God, supernatural since they can think?

    How can it be irrational to believe in a rational God Who created a rational universe as a home for rational human beings? How can it be rational to believe that irrational matter/ energy created a irrational universe that irrationally produced rational(!?)humanity?

    How can it be possible to live rationally in an irrational universe? Or how can it be possible to live rationally in a rational universe without recognizing the Source of its rationality?

  9. “Consciousness in limbo”…”Love on the run”…”Relativity in light energy”…”Money for when you’re broke”…I actually believe Einstein was greatness in scientific rationality…Perpetuity in light force will allow creation it’s justice in reason, and the greatest love light known in existence is that of infinite resonance throughout the universe! notice: I didn’t say the “G” word! ; /

  10. Ben says:

    Good article.

    The logic is sound, but sidesteps the point a little. You cannot ask an argument to do something outside of its bounds, nor take the fact that it doesn’t as a valid reason for the continuance of another argument.

    It is true that a natural theory of religion that can explain religious features in relation to neurological features does not invalidate any specific (or especially non-specific) God claim. All it does is allow us a window on how these myths become as intricate and powerful as they do, as well as understand why certain bizarre features correlate across multiple religious platforms.

    If you want to objectively try and test a certain religion then you need to break it into its corresponding features and investigate them with the relevant toolset. The scientific toolset and the philosophical toolset need to be applied correctly to see the errors. Many an argument is based around false use of incorrect toolsets, religion often retreats behind philosophy when faced with scientific evidence; in this area science cannot be used and a good philosopher is required to show false notions and assumptions – to show that it is not good philosophy to make assumptions and hide behind them as Truth, even if it is good theology. Theology as the daughter subject of philosophy has been allowed great leeway. Science cannot touch the philosophical aspects of theology, but philosophy has a great deal to say about the sensibility of going out on a limb with a commitment to unproven assumptions if what you really want to do is find the truth.

    Create a checklist of what God is historically supposed to have done and begin checking off those that have been explained scientifically as naturally occurring features of reality and at the very least you will see great claims underlain by the philosophical over-estimation and that underpins theology. Retreat into philosophy is as unsafe a nest as science has proven to be for theology. Any assumption should be treated as such. If people want to believe in assumptions then that is up to them.

  11. gregorylent says:

    mind knows it is a subset of consciousness … something larger … that is enough to explain “god”

  12. RichardA says:

    “To explain religion without God, memes are crucial”. That may be so, but the ‘god meme’ is there to articulate an experience – “a deeply personal connection to the divine”.

    The problem is therefore not that we “value ancient maps and outdated language for reality over evidence” but that we value the former over experience. To have the experience makes possible the updating of language used to describe it.

    “If we are to live rationally humans need a reason or purpose for living.” The irony of this statement is lost on the rationalists!

  13. Richard,

    I think that I agree with the point you are making, but am disagree with the way you define the problem. I do not think the problem is with the God experience. Many people still experience God, but I believe that today we have lost the language to effectively communicate that experience, because the philosophical world view of the today’s world is adrift.

    Today we have the modern point of view based on modern Newtonian absolutist thinking, which is not unscientific, but based on an outmoded scientific point of view. This is what people usually want to update.

    Also we have the postmodern point of view based on a misunderstanding of Einstein’s theory which is supposedly relativistic. This what people accept as the standard for today’s thinking, but in actuality both of these points of view are fatally flawed although each has its strong points.

    The need is to stop attacking each other and start thinking positively and creatively to find a new, over looked point of view which can satisfy the basic needs of the moderns and the postmoderns and meet the positive criteria of modern science.

    Check out information about my new book, DARWIN’S MYTH on my website, rightrelates.org

  14. Frank John Reid says:

    During a phone call, a friend asked me what I really thought about God, etc. I said I was a “deistic late Platonist.”

    “What the hell do you mean by that?”

    “What I want,” said, “is Neoplatonism without any of the mysticism.”

    He was silent for a few beats, then said, “Well–good luck!”

    Of course, I was joking, in a way. I do think there is a First Principle describable with much the same difficulties that Plotinus struggled with. I do not think that mystical experience of any sort qualifies as verification of this (though it may suggest, to the by-stander if not to the experiencer, concepts to use re God). As God, so described, is the Good, He presides over the logic of a lot of lot of life, even morality. But I have no “religion”–I certainly can’t make any literal sense of trying to “seek God’s approval” (though even the sophistocated religionist knows this is a metaphor).

    But reductionism here is naivete–you might as well reduce mathematics and molecular modeling to movements of electrons in computers AND TO NOTHING ELSE AT ALL. How the hell are you going to get ideas into a can of meat, but through pressing practicalities and emotions and pattern-recognition?

    Truth-value, once you’ve gotten them in there, is totally a distinct issue.

    Frank John Reid

  15. David S. Lafferty says:

    I’ve always felt you not only have to explain the topic but explain how you able to explain it. The difficulty with “cultural” explanations is that they tacitly assume that their rational stance is not, itself, a cultural product. If ideas are memes, that realization itself can’t be a meme if it is to have any explanatory force. Where, then, does it originate? It looks like Dennett, Blackmore and Schermer sidestep this issue.

    Memes are usually plausible, but rarely testable or provable. I read a meme explanation for the Catholic prohibition of masturbation arguing that the prohibition survived because it enhanced the concentration of sperm and thus increased fertility in times of depopulation.
    Plausible? Maybe. Testable? Hardly.
    How distinguish a meme from a sophisticated “just-so story”?

  16. Mike Franklin says:

    Belief in deity has become something of a mirror for the so called experts who study the reflection of themselves while claiming to stand a comfortable distance away, studying yours.

    One cannot evaluate God without studying God. Even if man created him/her, you must allow for the distinction, if not even complete separation. To do otherwise will consistently miss God in concept and/or being.

  17. hello :D says:

    I am not actually that religious and am personally unsure on what to believe – i sort of believe multiple things a bit of everything. Even though i am not religious and i find some scientific theories total rubbish i believe in the famous qoute of ” science is the how, religion is the why…” religion isnt just about god it is about faith and belief but religion has a sense of community and in latin religion means religio meaning friendship and in a way i think religion is/can be a freiendship. Science is also an inportant tribute to the community we wouldnt know not even probably half or maybe even less than a quater of what we know now without science – they make medicines and tell us what not to do they also help us in many ways, inventions everything. So even though both can be as useless as causing wars and doing horrible things like animal testing both still remain two of the most inportant things to society. Science has saved so many lives it is unvelieveable and so has religion even if this may sound silly it is true as when you are sad even some non religious people or unsure people like me may say a prare to god or ask for help or pray for help for someone else millions have done it and millions have believed for at least a few seconds. So science saves lives, religion saves lives. no matter how hard people debate or try to persuade people into believing their belief of science or religion there will alway be doubt and curiousity and questioning in the world. I quite enjoy the questioning and i personally think that people shouldenjoy it too of course i would like to know the answers but really if we were meant to know or find out we probably would and even people can find out for the future good on them but for the mean time i dont really despite and hate that we dont know everything i like to think that no matter how much we know there will always be things we dont and the meaning of life is a reallly tricky none to answer but maybe its just to keep finding out things and to wonder as it will us going forever – wouldnt it be well not rubbish but it wouldnt be as exiting if we knew everything and i really enjoy just going off thinking about everything really 😀 i like thinking deeply and knowing that theres always more layers of things to think about. if we knew all the answers you wouldnt be able to think deeply. I hope you understood my maybe deep and very confusing thoughts – by the way the qoute i used earlier on was by a scientific vicar or a religious professer as he was both! Thankyou 😀

  18. jeff says:

    beautiful argument/discussion everybody! simply great i just want to say good job. i am in the very vast and very thick search for who or what is god, and i can say that this journey is addicting simply because it boggles the mind. I naturally think as a physical scientist who wants proofs and definite answers but i equally ponder in the realm of searching for the things that we dont quite know yet. science does not have all the answers just like religion does not either. i was born into a catholic religion and it was about when i graduated high school that i began to listen to my heart. and my heart told me that nothing about organized religion really makes sense. you are told to believe something without any proof and if you dont you go to hell forever. i am searching for god everywhere and i can say that i am getting closer. god to me is whoever is the next step up from our observable universe, whether he ‘exists’ in the next dimensions that we cant see or sense, or if god is just a cleverly complex trick of biology to keep our advanced human race multiplying as it appears all living things are born to do. whatever or whoever god is, one thing i have come to agree on time and time again, religion is a great place to feel good and to turn yourself into a better person, and religion is the best place to find answers to all the huge scary questions that you cant answer yourself. but religion does not make god any more real than shooting an arrow and painting a bullseye around it make it a perfect shot.

    either way i just finished the article and comments and will now continue on to reading the books mentioned above, thanks guys keep it coming.

  19. referencegirl says:

    As a UU, I was taught to be respectful of all beliefs, I found Susan Blackmore’s attempt to narrow the belief in God down to a meme and her negative judgements about faith that come out through words like “daft” and “nasty” to be offensive, base, and ignorant. I have noticed that some people who grew up with religion and later lose faith are incapable of grasping the idea that one can have faith without having been exposed to dogma early in life. After all, if you needed to be exposed to the “meme” of God during formative years, missionaries wouldn’t be so successful. Even though the goal in this article is to separate religion from God, that the only person who does so successfully has faith. I grew up UU, without dogma. I found faith in my 20s, on my own. I do not believe in religious dogma at all. I don’t believe anything the bible or any other religious text claims. I just know there is a God and that is it. I am not a better person for it but I do experience the world in a way that I feel is richer then my experience when I did not have faith. You cannot bring science into faith. It doesn’t work. The whole point of faith is to believe in something that exists outside of human definition. It is something you feel, like love, that we know is there but attempts to quantify it fail every time. I also find attempts to explain the human belief in god or gods as having roots in superstition and ignorance to be reaching and scant. If a scientist is being honest with themselves, they know that such explanations are merely over simplified attempts to define the human experience without having any idea what that human’s experience was. People who don’t have faith, who don’t feel it, never do get it. It is kind of sad to me, just because I feel enriched by my faith. But it is also no real loss if they never know what they are missing out on. So why be rude or disrespectful about someone’s faith or lack of it? Who does it hurt? No one. Religion is a different matter. I do believe that religion exists outside faith in God and that it can be helpful as well as hurtful.

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