Sunday, August 16, 2009

Religion could be our best invention

I believe religion is robbed of almost all of its utility by a single mistake made by its proponents: Their assertion that it's true. Without that mistake it is an invitation to contemplate a genuinely fair and just world. A challenge for our species, the starting point in understanding the evolution of our values—the basis of our concepts of justice, fairness, freedom, and responsibility. And a single thread linking the very spirt of our species from distant past to uncertain future.

This single mistake prevents religion from becoming a wonderful and useful tool to induce cooperation, kindness, and thoughtfulness throughout mankind. Even worse, it turns religion into it's own opposite, and history is littered with the horrible consequences that prove this. Searching for the god that we know doesn't exist is a pretty good description of what the most basic sciences are trying to do. That statement is almost flatly nonsensical, but I get the feeling from my study of science that almost all scientists are atheists, yet also can't help but have some notion of an underlying order and deep intelligence because the sheer beauty and outrageous elegance of our universe just seems to imply it. They look for beautiful and elegant theories rather than simply trying to fit the data for this reason. They aren't satisfied with today's standard model partly because it isn't as beautiful as they'd expected it to be.

Correct that single mistake and religion becomes a true and beautiful part of science. The study of human values, passions, and the search for that which is sacred by its nature (which I would argue is actually law, and only law. But that's off the point.) We need a god like we need the square root of negative one. But there is no number, either positive, zero, or negative, that when multiplied by itself gives negative one. Nonetheless, just by claiming there is such a beast, and using it, we can correctly solve a vast panoply of hard problems that could not be understood without that screwy figment of our imagination. That is real magic. The magic of imagination can have a power which is very real and tangible, and not the least bit impaired by our knowledge that it's only a metaphysical device, not a physical reality. Just because something is admittedly imaginary doesn't seem to limit it's utility—quite the contrary. Maybe you have to be imaginary to accomplish supernatural feats. Obviously nothing real could. Why can't imaginary things be useful, powerful, and worthy of knowing well? It isn't really possible to know something powerful very well without worshipping it in the most sincere sense.

Without the single mistaken claim, the shift moves from trying to know god, to trying to discover godliness. That's a crucial difference. We know what the former approach leads to. But consider how useful the search for godliness is, for it puts us in the position of having to think about creating a just and fair society. It lures us to see the consequences of our actions, evaluate the impact we have on each other, our children's future, etc. It leads us to forms of cooperation, measurement, and fairness. It forces religion into the very role it had originally intended to achieve: the most competent and genuine technology for discovering a very meaningful, fulfilling, and enjoyable lifestyle. And it gets there honestly—by making a legitimate science out of measuring a myriad of the most important things that are presently poorly or haphazardly measured, like human happiness, the quality of relationships, the environment created for children, etc.

By searching for godliness, instead of trying to better know the god of our ancestors, we're more apt to become better ourselves at noticing mutualistic solutions to problems rather than self-centered ones. Instead of teaching people that god wants them to love their neighbors, it asks us how we might engineer our society so that there is no need to ask. So that the very geometry of our economy and social structures make our utility to each other readily apparent—filled our lives with opportunities to cooperate rather than compete as it does now.

Converting religions into different approaches to a search for the mostly godly ways we can imagine would probably offend some of its adherents, but I think most would be deeply intrigued. If the utility really does come from faith, then it doesn't really matter whether god is real or not. Placebos are better than drugs if they work. A god that we know is imaginary, actually can be all of the things we assume God is. A faith that there is a means to empower every human born with the capacity to achieve a oneness of heart and spirit with the rest of humanity is worth working towards. Why not take it more seriously? Why not approach the challenge as we do everything else we're serious about accomplishing, using every tool and technique we've discovered in carefully measured and directed searching?

It really is impossible not to sin—not to have any negative impact on those around you, for example. What matters in that case is whether we'll take the steps to deal with it. If religion was a search for the economy that best redressed the intrinsic consequences of our choices, both positive and negative, then how could it lead us anywhere but towards the deepest mutualism, most symbiotic products, lifestyles, and perspectives. How could it leave us with anything but love and respect for each other, as well as for the imaginary god we realize is worth serving, and finally know why.


  1. Great text! Let me tell you why I liked it so much, especially today.

    For the past week I have been discussing intensively with a random person on the Net who told me he was my ''worst nightmare, a highly educated and opinionated Christian ready to tear down my presuppositions''. Turns out that this person is in fact very well informed indeed, but mostly on historical issues. He claims, for example, to accept science as a whole, but states that the Theory of Evolution is full of holes big enough to drive a truck through it... weird.

    Anyway, I wanted to mention this guy because he told me that the Judeo-Christian God he believes in cannot be proven. So I asked him how he could believe that something exists but cannot be proven. His answer was that God cannot be proven empirically, but that it could be proven using reason and logic. I told him that it's not sufficient to have a concept of something in your mind to conclude that this thing exists in reality...

    Now, I think that this is where your text comes face to face with his reasoning. Because what he is saying basically, without realizing it, is that his God is imaginary. Just like what we do for the square root of negative one, which does not exists in reality, he uses a label to identify something that he has a concept of in his mind, he calls that God.

    Your text made me realize that if he could simply admit that his God is imaginary, his whole belief system would become valid, without even needing to drop any of his values I guess. The problem however would then become finding a justification for his particular religion, but that's a whole different story...


  2. Thanks Hugo. You're note made my day!

  3. Good for beginning
    Hi dear ananias
    It's good and you can continue this way.
    but one thing that i want to tell you is why you think God have no right to introduce religion(named and introduced by people badly)
    really you can have a look on his book (Quran)
    and find the defenition of what he named deen instead of religion.
    he said deen is the way of working of this universe that i want to work in this manner.
    deen is the way of people that I want them to come in this way and have best life and best my successor being on earth.
    I can write for you more if you are interested . otherwise you can serch the word deen in the Quran(not Holy for non-thinkers only you can say holy to some thing when you understand the fact God setted Behind it)
    have nice life forever

  4. indeed . Scott , religion is a good thing as long as it is not abused , but i was also wondering , as Mohsen Bahrani , what do you think of the Qur'an , it is in fact very astonishing , how it up lifts the human values and moral values , whether you think or believe that there is a God , or not ,i was wondering whats your opinion on it , by the way , How can a scientist like S.Hawking make this claim : “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing…spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.” , it seems to me that the Professor is claiming that things can pop into being and that the universe spontaneously emerged from nothing. Philosophically speaking how can these physicists, like Stephen Hawking who adopt an indeterministic view, justify their conclusions? I don’t think they have a strong argument because everything we perceive in the universe comes into being via a cause, things change and events happen because of causes. I find Hawking's argument astonishingly stupid? It is an enigma to me how a scientist of his stature can delve into the ideological while not maintaining the impartiality and objectivity that empericism demands-for this argument is not scientific but an poor ideological foray by an atheist.

    Gravity by every definition I have ever come across is an attractive force between matter. It increases in magnitude with increasing matter. So how is it that gravity exists while matter doesn't if gravity is responsible for the birth of the universe from nothing? I think Newton would turn in his grave! As regards quantum physics, merely not understanding the system of quantum or sub-atomic physics is not a basis upon which to make grand statements about the existence of God or about the beginning of the universe. Would it not have been better to say "we don't understand how the universe came into existence through science."It's amazing how for years and years we have no answer to what created the Big Bang; what was the cause to the thing that started the universe. In 2010 we come up with a theory that it was gravity. Well, what created gravity! Back to square one i guess. It just gets to be self existing without an explanation? :)
    According to the law of physics, energy cannot be made/created and energy cannot be destroyed. It just change from one form to another.
    If we try to investigate the origin of this energy, this means that we are trying to find out how energy is created (which is opposing the law of physics).
    Another thing also , if I may , the fleeting existence of sub-atomic particles is one thing; could the entire universe also appear out of nowhere, and continue to exist for at least 14 billion years? That is a big ask, as the Uncertainty Principle requires that the bigger the amount of mass or energy conjured up, the less time it can endure - and the universe is both hefty and old , How, for example, did it explain the fact that the universe not only exists, but is expanding?
    I Hope I'll hear a response from you , Take care :)