A Question I Was Asked:
“Since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment have now passed, is not religious belief a useless tool of the ignorant?”
Here is the comment and question:
“As a rational person I find all
religiousness to be an insult to human intelligence. I read the
following statement somewhere and it seems to sum up where I
We are no longer a religious country, we have had the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Science won, and the rest is just cultural inertia. (Inertia: inaction, passiveness, laziness). Is it not fair to say that religious belief should only now be seen as a useless tool of the ignorant?”
You will have to excuse me when I say that I was somewhat amused by your comment. Why amused? Because it is a rather old-fashioned comment on religion. Culturally, the statement really seems to epitomize the age of great scientific optimism which, I would say, was circa 1870-1960. Modernism was then in its heyday and the feeling was truly widespread that science could solve all the problems of mankind, as long as we gave scientists sufficient money for research! Yes, some bastions of Modernism continue to exist, without doubt, but it is they which are now anachronisms (mistakes in time), for Post-Modernism is now much more the new and current worldview.
Modernism essentially dismissed religion which it tended to view as either animistic or as established religion, but the Post-modernist would be bound to question such a narrow view of what 'religion' is and the Post-modernist says, 'We were wrong to place all our faith in science. We have had two devastating world wars as a result of the thinking that science could solve all ills. Also, what of the tragedies of thalidomide and similar scientific failures?'
Post-modernism is much more interested in people and in their culture and places great importance on the poetic, inspirational, religious and especially on the interpretation of such poetic/inspirational/religious areas. Unfortunately, it places all religions on an equal basis and has a strong liking for multi-culturalism, but let us at least recognise that post-modernism is not necessarily anti-religious whereas Modernism sought to place science on the throne formerly occupied by established religion. That is why I say that I find your question rather old-fashioned in approach. The old idea that religion and science had to be enemies is just that: very old and, in the light of current knowledge, a somewhat foolish concept. Of course, the media still loves to assume this outmoded notion but deeper philosophical thinkers will admit that things have now moved on. For example, it is now increasingly recognised that “religion” is not necessarily something that people do in a church or in a mosque. New Ageism reminds us all that religion does not have to worship a God in heaven; large areas of New Ageism believe that men and women are already gods who are answerable to no one. No, a person's religion is the major motivating/devotional factor of their lives: it could be a football team and it could even be Neo-Darwinism!
You start off by calling yourself “a rational person” and therefore you feel that what you call “religiousness” is an insult to human intelligence. I feel that you might be a devout evolutionist, but did you know that the latest thinking on Neo-Darwinism would state that, whatever evolution is, it is NOT a rational belief. The odds against macro-evolution having occurred (human descent from apes) are so incredibly huge that they defy belief! If your mind is open enough, here is an article which discusses just a few of the scientific problems which frankly, make evolution virtually impossible! You think I am exaggerrating? No, I am not. Scientists will frequently say things like, 'We know that life arising from non-life is frankly impossible, yet as scientists we must support it!' If you have never read devout evolutionists making such frankly absurd and unscientific statements then, frankly, you have not read too much on the subject! Mathematician William Dembski calculated that if the probability of something occurring by chance is less than one in 10150, it has no possibility of happening by chance at any time by any conceivable process throughout all of cosmic history. He further estimates that the probability of evolving the first cell (yes, just the first cell!), is no better than one in 104,478,146. (Source: Impact magazine, November 1999). You may also want to check out the incredible odds against just randomly spelling 'The Theory of Evolution' with scrabble letters here.
Hoyle put it this way. He said that the probability of evolution
creating the living world by chance is like believing that "...a
tornado sweeping through a junk yard might assemble a Boeing 747
from the materials therein." (See Evolution from Space,
Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasingne, J.M. Dent & Sons,
Michael Denton states that probability science comes "very close to a formal disproof of the whole Darwinian paradigm of nature. By what strange capacity do living organisms defy the laws of chance which are apparently obeyed by all analogous complex systems?" (page 316, Michael Denton,, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Adler & Adler, 1986). Denton, a physician and molecular biologist, provides a stinging intellectual attack on evolution. This book is one of the classics on the topic.
So I personally would agree that “religiousness” may occasionally be an insult to ones intelligence, especially if the “religiousness” under consideration is evolution. You say that 'science won' but actually it did not. All that happened with the Renaissance and then the Enlightenment was that religious belief and religious adoration was moved from God to Man, and “science” was the loser. Good science and good scientists cannot live with the contradictions of evolution. And some of the greatest scientists of all time were not evolutionists but avid supporters of Divine Creation though you have probably never heard this before. Some of the great scientists (past and present) who have supported belief in Divine creation include:
Gerald E. Aardsma (physicist and radiocarbon dating)
Louis Agassiz (helped develop the study of glacial geology and of ichthyology)
Alexander Arndt (analytical chemist, etc.)
Steven A. Austin (geologist and coal formation expert)
Charles Babbage (helped develop science of computers / developed actuarial tables and the calculating machine)
Francis Bacon (developed the Scientific Method)
Thomas G. Barnes (physicist)
Robert Boyle (helped develop sciences of chemistry and gas dynamics)
Wernher von Braun (pioneer of rocketry and space exploration)
David Brewster (helped develop science of optical mineralogy)
Arthur V. Chadwick (geologist)
Melvin Alonzo Cook (physical chemist, Nobel Prize nominee)
Georges Cuvier (helped develop sciences of comparative anatomy and vertebrate paleontology)
Humphry Davy (helped develop science of thermokinetics)
Donald B. DeYoung (physicist, specializing in solid-state, nuclear science and astronomy)
Henri Fabre (helped develop science of insect entomology)
Michael Faraday (helped develop science of electromagnetics / developed the Field Theory / invented the electric generator)
Danny R. Faulkner (astronomer)
Ambrose Fleming (helped develop science of electronics / invented thermionic valve)
Robert V. Gentry (physicist and chemist)
Duane T. Gish (biochemist)
John Grebe (chemist)
Joseph Henry (invented the electric motor and the galvanometer / discovered self-induction)
William Herschel (helped develop science of galactic astronomy / discovered double stars / developed the Global Star Catalog)
George F. Howe (botanist)
D. Russell Humphreys (award-winning physicist)
James P. Joule (developed reversible thermodynamics)
Johann Kepler (helped develop science of physical astronomy / developed the Ephemeris Tables)
John W. Klotz (geneticist and biologist)
Leonid Korochkin (geneticist)
Lane P. Lester (geneticist and biologist)
Carolus Linnaeus (helped develop sciences of taxonomy and systematic biology / developed the Classification System)
Joseph Lister (helped develop science of antiseptic surgery)
Frank L. Marsh (biologist)
Matthew Maury (helped develop science of oceanography/hydrography)
James Clerk Maxwell (helped develop the science of electrodynamics)
Gregor Mendel (founded the modern science of genetics)
Samuel F. B. Morse (invented the telegraph)
Isaac Newton (helped develop science of dynamics and the discipline of calculus / father of the Law of Gravity / invented the reflecting telescope)
Gary E. Parker (biologist and paleontologist)
Blaise Pascal (helped develop science of hydrostatics / invented the barometer).
Louis Pasteur (helped develop science of bacteriology / discovered the Law of Biogenesis / invented fermentation control / developed vaccinations and immunizations)
William Ramsay (helped develop the science of isotopic chemistry / discovered inert gases)
John Ray (helped develop science of biology and natural science)
Lord Rayleigh (helped develop science of dimensional analysis)
Bernhard Riemann (helped develop non-Euclidean geometry)
James Simpson (helped develop the field of gynecology / developed the use of chloroform)
Nicholas Steno (helped develop the science of stratigraphy)
George Stokes (helped develop science of fluid mechanics)
Charles B. Thaxton (chemist)
William Thompson (Lord Kelvin) (helped develop sciences of thermodynamics and energetics / invented the Absolute Temperature Scale / developed the Trans-Atlantic Cable)
Larry Vardiman (astrophysicist and geophysicist)
Leonardo da Vinci (helped develop science of hydraulics)
Rudolf Virchow (helped develop science of pathology)
A.J. (Monty) White (chemist)
A.E. Wilder-Smith (chemist and pharmacology expert)
John Woodward (helped develop the science of paleontology)
More information on the quoted scientists may be found here.
But this is far too big a subject to tackle here. If
your mind is sufficiently open, probably the single best book to
get would be John Blanchard's Does God Believe in
Atheists? (ISBN 0 85234 460 0).
However, having read your comment and question I tend to doubt that you have an open and inquiring mind. My feeling is that you show a devotion to atheism which is frankly religious. If that is so, then you are defeated by your very own argument; moreover, should evolution actually be correct, then your arguments are immediately rendered no more meaningful than mine.
Robin A. Brace, 2006.