I agree that religion exerts considerably less direct control over political institutions in the developed world than it once did here and still does elsewhere, but I’m still not as optimistic about the decline in religiosity as you are. I think people have learned to accept the findings of science in practical, everyday matters and yet completely suspend reason and skepticism when it comes to the myths they’ve learned as children. Religion may occupy a smaller role in the economy and government and in how people spend their daily lives today as compared with the Middle Ages, but it still has deep meaning for many people, and defines their sense of purpose and identity. It still influences policy very directly (c.f. the “culture war” issues). And even apart from religion, the same general mistakes of thought that support religious belief support a vibrant and virulent acceptance of unscientific believes in medicine (the domain I struggle most directly against it) and other areas of life. And let’s not forget that more deirect religious control of science, political life, and daily life is still widespread in much of the world outside the developed West.
Have you had a chance to read Thomas Kida’s Don’t Believe Everything You Think or some of the other recent books on how our brains fool us? I think the evidence is strong that for all the real progress in knowledge and reason, we are still very irrational creatures by nature, and the most “progressive” of us (in the sense of leaving superstition and cognitive illusions behind) are still more in the grip of faulty, irrational ways of thinking than we care to admit. Of course, I don’t think the situation is hopeless, since progress does occur. But I think we have to be careful not to underestimate the pervasiveness of the behavioral mechanisms that lead to relgiion and other forms of illusion, and I am not sanguine that these will ever go away. Hopefully, they can be marginalized at least.
Hey Mckenzie. I will submit to readily to built-in frailties of the human pysche.. capacity for self-deception and the astoundingly awful proliferation of psuedo science but then the topic on the table is religion. I recall Penn Gilette saying that progress is like a graph of the stock market. Any one segment.. any one day it goes up or down seemingly at random.. but stand back and look at 100 years and there is no mistaking the direction (even including the great depression). Stand back and look at all recorded human history on one graph and there is no mistaking the direction religion is heading. It would require magical intervention indeed to reverse all the factors that have driven it that direction for thousands of years. Progress hasn’t simply been made, progress has been stark and in the big picture, unstoppable. The fact that it has not been instant and reached every corner of the globe is not an argument to the contrary. In fact I would argue the fact that atheism is tied so closely to economic and political growth, that religion dominates poor/autocratic nations proves the point rather well. The number of autocratic nations has fallen over time and the trend is unlikely to cease.
The only evidence that would convince me otherwise would be widescale reversals such as a Nation-state reverting to chiefdom, chiefdom reverting to feudal system or tribal groups etc.., This sort of thing of course is sometimes observed, but these occurences are like an occasional Black Monday on the market. A drop in the proverbial bucket of nations and time.
Religion, superstition and other awful ideas will never be 100% gone but certainly religion will one day enjoy the same population ratio that the Flat-Earth society now enjoys (which by the way, also once dominated thought).