A Place for Religion in a Faithless Future

A Place for Religion in a Faithless Future December 3, 2014
focus on god or man
focus on god or man

David Mason over at Aestheism blog here on Patheos has written about “The Death of Humanism and Our Religionless Future.” Oh really… Mason, who comes from a Mormon background, seems to consider Lawrence Krauss’s opposition to religion to be just like religion. Krauss himself is a scientist as opposed to a philosopher or a sociologist, so even at the start, we can be a bit skeptical about any expert opinions Krauss might have on the future of religion. To be fair, it’s not his area of expertise. But it’s not mine either, but Mason has a sociology-related degree so maybe it’s worth listening to what Mason has to say.

“Change is always one generation away… so if we can plant the seeds of doubt in our children, religion will go away in a generation, or at least largely go away. And that’s what I think we have an obligation to do.” said Krauss, in the talk to which Mason refers.

Krauss’s arguments seem to rely on two main premises 1) gay marriage has been made a reality when it was unthinkable just a generation ago and 2) that all the facts are against religion and a bit of data will, as Douglas Adams put it, cause God to simply vanish in a puff of logic. On the first point, I think the activists at Stonewall in 1969 and the many gay couples who have been together for generations would object, strongly. On the second point, I think religions of all stripes have been amazingly resilient to facts at least since Francis Bacon stopped to thank God before first publishing the scientific method in 1620. It’s not religion but people who are resilient to facts. From anti-vaxxers to homeopathy to the blood type diet to Fox News, people are very open to mythology and always have been. I’m all for fighting the fight, but let’s not kid ourselves about how difficult it will be.

But what is Mason’s argument against Krauss? He first has to lay out humanism as a religion, and to do this he refers to a federal court decision. In Mason’s defense, this was ill-reported, but to make a long story short, it is far from truth to say the court ruled secular humanism to be a religion. In an administrative motion to dismiss (not a final decision) the court agreed to hear arguments (not a final decision) that affords secular humanism rights equal to a religion for establishment clause purposes (not just ‘it’s a religion). While this is an interesting case, it’s lots and lots of legalese that doesn’t in fact declare once and for all that humanism is a religion.

More importantly, humanist values reject anti-science, closed-minded faith which is really the fatal flaw of religion Krauss is targeting. So it’s not the label of religion but rather that specific affinity for fairy tales that makes religion vulnerable to extinction, and humanism does not have that weakness. Though I agree with Mason’s assertion that religion is strengthened by its diversity. He rightfully points out that lumping all religions together “effectively asserts that Evangelical Christianity is Reform Judaism”. But at best, they lie on a scale of blind faith, with less blind faith making them less vulnerable, with respect to Krauss’s arguments. But Krauss is correct in that any belief system that includes a god is detached from reality.

Mason celebrates religion that “not only adapts to the falsification of propositions that can be falsified, but evolves earnestly to accommodate doubt in unfalsifiable propositions.” I have always pointed to Mormonism as the most highly evolved form of religion. Though that is a separate discussion, they have shown the ability to reject racism and bad ideas due to the direct connection of the President to God. So they can truly change over time. And I think we can see in Europe that falsifying religious propositions – lampooning religious nonsense – leads to a rotation of religion from a severe, scary, and powerful institution into a harmless entertainment. That has been the history of religion and will likely be its future, contrary to the vanishing of religion that Krauss suggests. 

Mason closes by saying religion should, “make manifest how people are related … and what it might reveal about the gods is secondary to what it reveals about us.” I would whole-heartedly agree, other humanists would, and Krauss would too, I think. But I think those fundamentalists out there, on the strong (and blind) faith end of the spectrum would reject that wholeheartedly, choosing connectedness to capital-G God to be the primary and exclusive purpose of religion. Those people are in trouble, and I think Krauss and Mason would both agree with that.



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