Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Religions are dying


Good news. Religions of all faiths are dying. Being killed, says Tufts philosopher of science Daniel Dennett, by the increasing openness of the internet:

In the March issue of Scientific American, Deb Roy and I compare this to the Cambrian Explosion. The Cambrian Explosion happened 540 million years ago, when there was a sudden, very dramatic explosion of different life forms in response to some new change in the world. Oxford zoologist Andrew Parker argues that the increased transparency of the ocean made eyesight possible, and this changed everything: now predators could see prey, and prey could see predators, and this set off an arms race of interactions. Well, we think something similar is happening in human culture. Institutions — not just religions but also universities, armies, corporations — are now faced with how to change their fundamental structure and methods to deal with the fact that everybody’s living in a glass house now.
    Protecting your inner workings is becoming very difficult; it’s very hard to keep secrets. Religions have thrived in part because they were able to keep secrets. They were able to keep secrets about other religions from their parishioners, who were largely ignorant of what other people in the world believed, and also keep secrets about their own inner workings and their own histories, so that it was easy to have a sort of controlled message that went out to people. Those days are over. You can go on the Internet and access to all kinds of information. This is going to change everything.

I’ve been saying this in my public speeches for a while now, but it’s possible to fact-check your pastor with your smartphone while he’s giving a sermon. It’s possible to know when you’re being lied to because your church is no longer the ultimate source of information. And while church leaders might tell you to “just have faith” when you ask tough questions, Google won’t run away from your line of inquiry.

So many lines of argument about the death or growth of religions is based solely on demographics, that x number of religion y have a birthrate of z, therefore “horror.”

I don’t buy that. I don’t buy that at all, because you have to make a choice to go religious – and as knowledge becomes easier to find and to check, the ignorance of faith becomes harder to justify.

Check out the whole interview.


[Hat tip Richard Dawkins]


  • “Religious institutions have survived by controlling what their adherents know, argues Tufts Prof. Daniel C. Dennett, but today that is next to impossible.”
    Why the Future of Religion Is Bleak – Daniel Dennett, WALL STREET JOURNAL
  • “Dennett spoke recently with The Cubit about institutional transparency, the parallels between religious and atheistic fundamentalism, and the future of religion.
    ”Q: You describe non-believing clergy as “canaries in a coal mine.” Why does this group hold such significance for understanding the future of religion?”
    Churches Can No Longer Hide the Truth: Daniel Dennett on the New Transparency – interview with Andrew Aghapour, RELIGION DISPATCHES


  1. I'd like to suggest another way the internet is killing religion, which is that religion now has to compete for its audience with the many, many woo merchants peddling feel-good pseudo-philosophies online.

    The religious people I've come across over the course of my life have mostly been the kind of people who don’t think too deeply about things (plus the odd impractical intellectual type). This is because today’s deep thinker quickly discovers the problems with religion, as Dennett has discussed.

    As a result, religion is now largely restricted to people who go with the flow and attach themselves to belief systems without really analysing what they believe or why. Because they don’t analyse, they can attach themselves to any belief system that makes them feel good. They can attach themselves to macrobiotic meditation just as readily as they can to Christianity. Add to that the fact that religion usually makes people feel guilty and tells them they are sinful, and you have another factor in the decline of religion.

  2. It is sad that this is happening with religion and personal liberty but it doesn't seem like the same is happening with economics freedom. Why are so many atheists still lovers of the state? Why can't people make the connection from reason in one sphere to the other?

  3. Maybe people are guilty and sinful but confronting that and dealing with it is more uncomfortable than becoming convinced anything is OK because there's no right and wrong. We used to leave our houses and cars unlocked but has progress and the enlightenment of atheism changed things for the better?

    Christian theology is that it picks you, not the other way around and while it may be in decline in the west its always growing somewhere. It will grow here again when freedom professing progressives ban it.


  4. @3:16: Okay, I'll bite: Who says there's no right and wrong?

  5. The comment was initially a response to Anderson saying religion makes people feel guilty and tells them they are sinful. Without the concept of accountability to someone or something outside our own belief system and moral compass there is no right or wrong. I didn't claim that there is right and wrong but we routinely and often sub consciously weigh up what we will do in response to temptation. I was taught to hand in money I "found" and did so even though it was 5 quid I'd pinched from my sister and "found" on the way home from Sunday school. Dots were soon connected of course. Most people stop well short of behaving really badly but will usually take advantage of ignorance when they can profit.

    Right and wrong are always relative according to values but some, like Tammy Bruce, would claim that we have crossed a line and are expected to endorse things that are wrong. I cannot imagine my father's generation accepting there could be debate about paedophilia, it would be seen as wrong, yet today there is a movement to normalise this. Even the RC's hid their temptation for this supposed perversion and we rightly hold them to account for the consequences of indulging in it and covering it up.

    Large numbers of Germans were quite happy to butcher a fair wack of Europe twice in the 20th century yet supposed "normal" people would be horrified at what was done and claim it was wrong despite it being legal and encouraged. Likewise the Japanese across the Pacific and China in the 1930's and 40's.

    A feature of Christian revivals has always been the awareness of sin and what to do about it. You would call it mass hysteria but I'm not so sure so many would be sucked in. I confess to no interest in or knowledge of other religions apart from Islam because its topical, beyond basic curiosity.

    You may have an advantage of intellect that allows everything to be worked through sensibly but it seems that people will easily sucuumbe to temptation to behave really badly if allowed to. Where the lines are drawn are variable but that there must be some things that there will be consensus on would seem to be up for grabs.


  6. Having the ability to look something up in an instant is no guarantee that people will. People who seek religion are not seeking knowledge, they're seeking guidance.

  7. The internet has been a large contributing factor in the rise of global jihad, so it has helped spread religion.


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