The rise of science and material wealth is making the faith of the world ever more independent from a divine plan. Millions of people worldwide are convinced that there is no afterlife, and that religion is nothing more than folklore, a legacy of our ancestors that is holding us down on the way to achieve a true humanistic model of life. How long will formal religion endure in such a world?
This question has a million dollar answer. Some say that since religious people tend to reproduce more, there will be no significant decline in their numbers in the future, even if some statistics are showing that on a global level number of irreligious people is on the rise, especially in developed countries.
Some studies, like the one conducted by Gallup International in 2012, show that the number of religious people fell from 77% to 68% between 2005 and 2007. Another survey, which forms a basis for Dr Nigel Barber’s book Why atheism will replace religion, found that atheism is particularly increasing in developed countries. If these studies prove to be correct, will the breakup with religion become a global trend, and what would be the driving force behind that phenomenon?
Dr Barber thinks that by 2041 religious people will become a minority, as a result of the globalization, increased quality of life and better education. Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College, California, in an interview with the BBC said, „ Security in society seems to diminish religious belief. “ Throughout the history, religion has been an anchorage providing comfort and security in times of hardship and suffering (which has been most of our history), and helping us cope with our own mortality. As the demand for such existential external support in life, that provides us with a higher purpose in otherwise futile existence, diminishes, with stable life conditions and greater options for self-realization during our lifetime, the world outlook that doesn’t necessarily involve God will be gaining the momentum.
On the other hand, it seems that we are hardwired to believe in the omnipresence of a sentient agent, a phenomenon called Hypersensitive Agent Detection Device (HADD), as we have evolved this survival mechanism through millennia. It helped our ancestors avoid potentially dangerous situations. HADD hypothesis offers an explanation for our innate belief in the supernatural. There should always be an explicable agent behind everything happening in the world around us, even if we cannot directly vouch for its presence. That’s is why religious explanations always come more naturally to us than the scientific ones, or as put by Robert N. McCauley, author of the book Why Religion Is Natural and Science Is Not, “ Science is cognitively unnatural… Religion, on the other hand, is mostly something we don’t even have to learn because we already know it.” Additionally, religion offers a comfort of identification with a group and a conformist lifestyle in general that a majority of the people prefer.
For all these reasons, even people who explicitly claim not to be religious, harbor some sort of spirituality. Michael LaTorra, Assistant Professor of English at the New Mexico State University and Zen priest, believes that the future will work against religions that preach exclusiveness and hateful doctrines, and that many people will turn to some sort of esoteric spirituality for a comfort.
Contrary to that, John G. Messerly, an affiliate scholar of the Institute or Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), believes that once science defeats death, the religion and all sorts of superstition will cease to exist, since humans will hold all the keys to their destiny. In a remote, post-human, future our descendants will transcend all our physical and psychological limitations, and will have no innate traits of today’s humans. They will be more godlike. Their powerful intelligence will no longer find any sense in ancient scriptures.
It is hard to disagree with the idea that in a distant future an immortal, super-intelligent creature, able to manipulate natural world on atomic level, will have anything in common with today’s humans, including religion. But, does that creature still qualify as human? In order to become immortal, its genome will most definitely need to be changed radically. Such changes in the long run will result in the evolution of a new spices. The better one, we hope. But, that’s all rather speculative at this instance.
No doubt, many times in our history, religion was an enemy of a progress, and science needs to hold its ground for the sake of better human future. But, it is probably safe to say that, at least in the near future, as long as we are humans in today’s terms, some sort of spirituality and the belief in supernatural will be a part of what we are. In secular countries, where religion had lost its stronghold, there is a conspicuous tendency towards paranormal and superstitious beliefs. Even if suppressed by rational thinking, religion is always one disaster or a human hardship away.
Even if religion disappears, there will, most certainly, always be a sweet spot in our hearts where we will nurture spirituality. Need to believe in something (it might be a humanity itself)- to find meaning in our live, to be part of a cohesive group, or simply to fight that innate fear of death, will bring many of us back to faith.