Bad Times Lie Ahead

As a semi-follow-on from my earlier post about religiosity and graphs, I present another view that illustrates an issue that I believe we are experiencing now, and one which will only get worse.

I find human behaviour fascinating, and while working through some of the earlier chapters of the Portable Atheist, a pattern with regard to religious conviction through the ages formed in my mind.

The graph below is an approximation of my thoughts at the time. The actual values aren't the thing to concentrate on here (they have no hope of being accurate), rather it is the trend that is important.

It would be fair to say that as people grow up, they are exposed to different amounts of religious teachings, and combined with their own personality and circumstances, this results in some value of religious conviction. Along the X axis, lies a number of events in history from the enlightenment period of the 1600's onwards, and the Y axis refers to how much conviction in their beliefs various groups of people - split roughly by how much of a theist they are - have. It could be argued that conviction rates would differ due to events earlier than this, but it was the likes of Newton that kick started critical thinking, and thus some change for the first time since the ancient Greeks.

As you would expect, with increasing knowledge and discoveries, there are less things to attribute to whichever god they believe in, and it follows that this would have a detrimental effect on the rigidity of a persons' convictions, so the trend is almost universally downwards. I freely admit this is a simplified depiction, and that some other events may temporarily send the strength of public belief back up for a while, but the trend is down.

So in the future, as more and more things are discovered, and the gods have less and less to hide behind, most people's religious beliefs will tend towards the agnostic and atheist viewpoint. Even the orthodox members of society - those who spend a lot of their time in pulpits wearing silly hats, will gradually let go of their theistic dogma in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and adopt a more theistic-agnostic standpoint. This is exemplified when the church (eventually) accepted that Galileo's heliocentric model of the universe was correct, or that Evolutionary Theory was the best current explanation for the diversity of life.

Up to this point, everything sounds pretty positive, but unfortunately one group on the graph steadfastly refuses to budge by their very nature. Human civilisation will on the whole no doubt tend towards some form of agnosticism or atheism, which will eventually result in two disparate groups with very little shared opinion, and few people occupying the middle ground and acting as a bridge between the two sides; and it is the nature of fundamentalism to take this natural oppression and attack it. Fundamentalist groups will work to recruit from the more conservative theists of the orthodoxy who bear up well to the reason and knowledge that are continually being refined and deduced. Unable and unwilling to unshackle themselves from their dogmatic and unchanging beliefs, and the cognitive dissonance they must surely feel when they compare those teachings and beliefs with what they see on the television and in front of their eyes, they will retreat still further into the security blankets of their holy books, and cut off contact from increasing amounts of the rest of the world.

Their dogma is unbend-able, and their teachings say that everything that contradicts it is heretic, decadent, and needs to be purged from the earth to please their gods. I fear that in the future we are not heading towards a society which has resolved the science-religion issue, but has tempered it to a point that will result in increasing amounts of bloodshed.

I wish that we had some measure of mitigating this but can see little; passing laws the world over to ban religious teachings to children until they reach an age where they are capable of assessing whether religion makes sense to them or not is nice to think about but unworkable in practice, and human diversity of mind and behaviour will always produce those who are receptive to dogma and resistant to reason.

The survival of humanity depends on a solution in the coming years, or it may destroy itself. But I see none on the horizon.

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