On tonight’s episode of The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart asked Richard Dawkins the following question:
Do you believe that the end of our civilization will be through religious strife or scientific advancement? What do you think will, in the long term, will be more damaging to our prospects as a human race?
(***Update***: Mediaite has the video.)
Dawkins responded by saying “Both.” His argument was essentially that scientific advancement would give us weapons that, in the wrong hands, could be used for evil. And if religious fundamentalists ever got their hands on those weapons, we’re screwed.
That’s a fair point.
If Dawkins had the chance to elaborate, though, here’s what I wish he would’ve said:
Science can give us the opportunity to do amazing things — we can discover the secrets of the universe, we can fix the problems previous generations suffered from, and we can create technologies that have extraordinary power. For all the good scientists can do, we have to be aware that the same knowledge can be used for purposes we never intended. Still, we shouldn’t stop experimenting or researching because of the possibility of what someone might do with that knowledge. It’s hard to argue that scientific advancement has been a net loss for society, even if it’s had blips along the way.
Religion, with its ability to organize and inspire, can get people to do incredible things. Unfortunately, for all the charity work churches do and for all the donations churchgoers have given to worthy causes, we’ve seen too many instances of religion going the wrong way. Religion has been used to remove science from science classes, to withhold rights from gays and lesbians, to shame and silence women, to offer false hope to people who had other options available, to make people do the right things for the wrong reasons, and — to be blunt — to kill those who believe or act differently from you. Religion has told us to stop questioning and just have faith when an answer was ever in doubt. Yes, religion is capable of doing good, but we’ve seen it fail too often for us to treat religious beliefs with respect.
Unlike science, religion offers us a moral imperative for doing things that are bad for society. We can legitimize bad ideas by simply citing a holy text.
Expert scientists working on potentially dangerous experiments don’t bother me. Religious leaders preaching dangerous verses from a religious book do.
But with a British accent, of course.