Science “causing” resurgence in religious beliefs?

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Discussion by: PlasticTitan
I recently attended a training seminar about leadership, and the subject of changing technology and how it changes people’s work ethics came up…the old adage of future science and magic being indistinguishable kept popping in my mind…and a few days before that I was listening to Mr Dawkins on YouTube, saying (not a direct quote) that Science got really popular in the mid-century but started to die down again as time progressed, resulting in today’s over abundance of religious believers. It occurred to me that maybe the reason for this was that… people like stuff, During the last few decades, we got a lot of stuff due to Scientific research, getting stuff is easy! but as Science went on to bigger things with no real new, revolutionary (and marketable) products coming out…people are reverting back to the easy answer…because understanding science can be difficult and time-consuming. Could be one many variables anyway.

21 COMMENTS

  1. I think this is why science education is a moral imperative for out time. That is how people come to distinguish science from magic, which is critical for making the decisions that will shape our future.

  2. When I started computing, I wore a white lab coat, and programmed by plugging gold tipped wires into a board. Later I soldered circuit boards. Think of how much easier it is today to hook up a LAN and attach it to an external network. Today anybody can use a computer, even if all they do with it is play solitaire.

    Computers are much more complicated than they used to be, but that is hidden from the end user far better than ever before. People don’t realise how much science is in there. It seems as simple as a water tap.

    You can drive a car without the first clue of how internal combustion engines work. That was not true is my Dad’s day.

    Science and engineering has allowed people to be more and more ignorant and still survive. Corporations and churches are in essence con men. They want stupid, gullible, pliable clients.

    • In reply to #2 by Roedy:

      Corporations and churches are in essence con men. They want stupid, gullible, pliable clients.

      It’s not so simple. I knew a catholic priest who could explain relativity and evolution much better than I as a science teacher. Nevertheless he believed strongly.

  3. Education is key, no one would argue this. But school programs have to be reformed toward epistemology as the curriculum backbone. Introduce concepts, empiricism and how to distinguish opinion from fact has to begin in kindergarten. The current situation is embarrassing. I can make a logic board but I don’t expect everyone to do so. Naming what field of science made the digital computer possible is another matter.

  4. Einstein, Quantum mechanics, moon landings, nuclear power, telecommunication boom, cheap air travel, cheap gas, cars cars cars, the threat of total nuclear annihilation…

    Ah… Those were the days.

  5. It’s an interesting idea that because science seems to be hidden behind great designs where one is unaware of the nuts, bolts, cogs, etc. and as a result, unaware of the science that goes into making our gadgets word, is resulting in greater religiosity. I haven’t thought about it in that way, so you may indeed be right. However, could I point out some other reasons there may be an increase in religiosity:

    1) religious people have become extremely well adept at using scientific achievements to spread their own ideas, but mostly media. Anyone who has attended a mega-church has witnessed the extreme effectiveness with which media is used to manipulate people. The Gutenberg press lead to the reformation, modern science has lead to perhaps another reformation in beliefs.

    2) religious people are really great at “educating” (used in the loosest sense of the word) their young, and trying to “educate” other’s young. Again, their ability to use media is proving far more effective than the average science teacher (apparently).

    3) religious people and organisations perform a lot of good, feeding, clothing, sheltering and nursing people. Over the last century that role has increasingly been taken by government, making religious organisations less necessary. However, recently, it seems that governments (especially in the US) are pulling back from providing services, leading people to rely more on religious organisations.

    4) perhaps this should have been the first point because it makes all the others moot. Perhaps, there isn’t an increase in religiosity or faith. Maybe we’re just more aware of it. In fact, most of the data seems to indicate people are becoming less religious.

    • In reply to #5 by Bobwundaye:

      It’s an interesting idea that because science seems to be hidden behind great designs where one is unaware of the nuts, bolts, cogs, etc. and as a result, unaware of the science that goes into making our gadgets word, is resulting in greater religiosity. I haven’t thought about it in that way, so yo…

      I don’t think science causes a “resurgence” in superstition in general. At most, I would think it crystallizes pre-existing but contrary positions, due to the psychological backfire effect of making people more certain in their prior beliefs in the face of contradictory evidence. I think it mostly comes down to how much interest people have, or think they have, in keeping up those prior beliefs even in the face of disillusionment. Changing their minds is likely to backfire, but I don’t think it could cause a large-scale backlash.

      For instance, I think religion is, in part at least, a false claim to expertise in ethical dilemmas. Those superstitious beliefs grant them the prestige of expertise that makes them valuable in a social system based on division of labour. Such expertise is hard to get (or to fake) but brings considerable reward and status to those who obtain it and let others know, and having it undermined would be costly to a group member who would otherwise be a liability to others.

      It sure helps that ethics, theoretical or applied, is not always an easy subject – I do suspect it is an extremely underdeveloped science sometimes, and social sciences tend to be the muddier and the best hiding places for frauds – so it would pay to have a “wiseman” of the group. Someone with fake expertise has a lot more to lose, but so long as their colleagues worry over the risk of losing that person’s expertise “just in case”, both have an incentive to defend that person when their expertise is called into question. If anything, I would expect an increasing recognition of religions’ irrelevance and falseness to have reduced its incidence or how seriously it’s taken across the world, (hence you get nominal or moderate religious people), as it has done in most of Europe, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

      Also, I imagine most of the advantages religions have today are holdovers from history, from a time when religion was a choice you couldn’t back down from, and when secularism was not even a viable political system. For instance, the reason religious people might be better at handling the media could be due to the fact that religious people used to have a monopoly – or at least strong influence – over publications and communications in the past. That, and religion has had such a long claim to ethics in human history that it becomes culturally automatic to assume religion is a good thing, even in the absence of a sound justification for that assumption beyond an appeal to tradition.

      Long story short, I could imagine a countercultural backlash from pre-existing believers, but I don’t think actual increases in conversions would occur.

      • In reply to #6 by Zeuglodon:

        In reply to #5 by Bobwundaye:

        It’s an interesting idea that because science seems to be hidden behind great designs where one is unaware of the nuts, bolts, cogs, etc. and as a result, unaware of the science that goes into making our gadgets word, is resulting in greater religiosity. I haven’t thou…

        When we look upon religions as operating systems in a context of information theory, we can recognize their social functions and efficiency 5000 years ago. There were integrated knowledge paradigms. Taking up these obsoletes OS on face value today is like taking Mickey Mouse for real or like trying to use DOS 1.0 on a IPad.

  6. I think the extreme specialization in Science is why we have a surge in hacker groups now. Most people would like to learn about science without devoting their career to looking at the last four molecules on a fly’s antenna.

  7. If science is the culprit because it’s difficult and time-consuming, then maybe a better approach in educating the public is needed. If not, then maybe people are just downright stupid and would gravitate to superstition no matter what.

    • In reply to #10 by Detective Lazy:

      If science is the culprit because it’s difficult and time-consuming, then maybe a better approach in educating the public is needed. If not, then maybe people are just downright stupid and would gravitate to superstition no matter what.

      Education has to begin when the first question comes out of a child’s mouth. We carry quite a load, we may as well begin early. It comes down to social choices. Once the masses are enlightened can they still be called masses and will people live according to predictive models and formatted social niches like obedient serfs? Knowledge is power and it is deliberately denied to the people.

  8. technology is to blame not science. technology creates slaves who take away the need to think for ones self and the leisure to waste a brain on fanciful things without evolution stepping in to select out the mistakes.

    take farming, it created surplus, meant more food for everyone, less time learning the skills needed to remain truly self-sufficient and little danger of dying while musing on the strange voices in ones head and hey presto farming communities invent magic invisible people.

    40 years ago if you wanted to use a computer, you needed to understand logic, now the computer operates itself and users can just hit the buttons the provide the instant reward. if you’d told me in the 80s that millions of computer users in the 2010s would be mostly trading in pretty pictures with prayers on them i’d have suggested you didn’t know what a computer is. how wrong i would have been

    • I agree, and I admit, I used the word “science” to invoke poetic irony in the title but technology is a benefit from science…so it’s not totally false.
      In reply to #12 by SaganTheCat:

      technology is to blame not science. technology creates slaves who take away the need to think for ones self and the leisure to waste a brain on fanciful things without evolution stepping in to select out the mistakes.

      take farming, it created surplus, meant more food for everyone, less time learnin…

  9. I think the reason science may be having little impact on the number of religious people in the world is because we don’t have enough scientist who can put their findings in understandable language. I was a pastor for several years, and recently began searching and investigating what I THOUGHT I believed. And when I turned to science to help me better understand the world…I found scientific language and deep conversations that I can’t follow. I realize this may be because I’m a moron, but I’m guessing I have a lot of moronic brothers and sisters who would love someone to put it all on the “bottom shelf.”

  10. “Many people still invoke faith as a way of knowing, despite it being highly unlikely to help one arrive at the truth.”
    Another name for that ‘way of knowing’ is ‘acquiring wisdom from experiences of one’s own’…

    It may seem unlikely but not highly unlikely, the changes in a person’s life as it progresses have been mirrored in the ‘false life’ of corporations during the past 30 years.Corporations are a ‘person’ under the law,
    Any real person that worked for one of them, when outsourcing began was a witness to how this ‘false person’ has no human value system until ‘it’ gets some kind of feedback. Remember when a bank paid interest on your savings?

    The person that really believes in a higher intelligence than his/her own, has had or is having experiences that science regards as irrational. I’ve been there myself, and in my opinion that kind experience is a way of getting information, knowledge about one’s particular life, but its nothing new, its just beyond the realm of science as it is today. There are reasons to believe in that kind of ‘wisdom’ when it parallels actual real world events, imo.

  11. Maybe because new developments in science are simply too difficult to understand for ordinary men. I taught science and I’m flabbergasted about almost everything I read here from quantum computing to dark matter and beyond. Guess what effect this has on the man in the street.

  12. I’m going to have to disagree with the OP on two points.

    First, we’re still getting plenty of “stuff”. If anything we’re more of a consumer society than ever before. We have phones in our pockets run by computers that dwarf those used to run the space program connected wirelessly to a near infinite amount of content. We have fast food, faster cars and pills to do everything except enlarge your penis. Technological advance is providing us with more “Stuff” than ever before.

    Second, I’m not seeing a resurgence in religion. Quite the opposite. I’m seeing churches sold and demolished or converted into condos. Church attendance and the number of believers is down pretty much across the board with some of the most telling statistics coming from religious strongholds like South America. With one notable exception, the leaders of most first-world nations keep their religious convictions on the back burner and voters get skittish about any politicians who start expounding on religion.

    I think what we are seeing is an increase in vocal and extreme religions. This can be attributed to a decline in religious moderates leaving the extremes with more to fear and a louder voice to shriek about it with.

    • We do have advances in technology, but mostly on things we are already aware of…from the very first telephone by Mr. Bell, to my Galaxy S4…the basic idea is somewhat similar, and the new smartphones are a combination of older technologies being shrunken to handheld proportions. But when it comes to new ideas, that’s when people have a hard time understanding and say in their minds “it’s very mysterious” and that severs the tie to logic…of course I’m not saying that this is factual, just my guess. Plus I grew up around the bible belt…so I could be biased.

      In reply to #18 by Paleophyte:

      I’m going to have to disagree with the OP on two points.

      First, we’re still getting plenty of “stuff”. If anything we’re more of a consumer society than ever before. We have phones in our pockets run by computers that dwarf those used to run the space program connected wirelessly to a near infinite…

  13. G’day PlasticTitan
    Have you noticed how people in western countries will come over all generous when a weather event demolishes a community in their country; or of their genotype; and even sometimes when just plain any-old-humans are involved?
    I’ve noticed that even the felons in low security prisons will put up their hands to help in the clean-up and reconstruction of an area effected by a natural disaster. People here in Australia who live by the coast will make superhuman efforts to nurture and try to save a pod of whales that beach themselves.
    As an atheist I always felt that this was humans expressing a spirituality – there are big forces out there, but together we living things can overcome them.
    My point? People identify with people (and living things), and come together, in adversity. But when the trying times have past, people start to turn inward, and they begin to see other people as prey – you know: let’s get back to Adam Smith and the Wealth of Nations now.- let’s make money!!
    1989 saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of the Cold War. The entire Western consciousness relaxed and was no longer interested in funding the science that kept “us” a step in front of ”them”. Consumerism was the new “-ism” uppermost in the Western mind. Science was now concerned with making your sound system better, smaller and cheaper; your car better, smaller and cheaper; your house (actually can’t see this as better or smaller or…).
    But then came the rise of the religious – the battle for your soul!
    The battle for truth! The claim to own the vision ..nay, the reality of the way things truly are!!!!

    So- the fact is: the real people (rationalists and skeptics and atheists and humanists) thought “now this ridiculous paradigm of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD those my age will remember this) has collapsed, let’s get on with life!” Only to discover the rabidity of religious dogma has come to replace the previous MADness.

    And science – the loyal sidekick to the previous MAD paradigm has become (stage centre) the target of the new paradigm!

    Which brings me to my conclusion, PlasticTitan – science dropped its guard, and found religion had stepped into the ring for the next round of –isms. And religion is going after science in a big way.

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