As our intelligence develops, so formal religion recedes

An article in The Wall Street Journal last weekend gave organised religion a rather gentle ride, suggesting that while it is declining it could make a comeback if times get tough again. Philosopher Daniel Dennett, a long-time critic of religion but here in his Sunday best, suggested that huge increases in self-described “Unaffiliateds” could be ascribed to greater prosperity and comparative security for the majority of the global population. He speculated that the trend might in the same vein be reversed if mankind were beset with a rash of natural calamities, or war.

It must be true that religion is a natural refuge in the face of adversity, and that good times will make people feel more secure, if not complacent. We certainly will be hearing all about it if the day comes when people are being mass-murdered by their iPhones, and God’s variously chosen peoples are reminding us of the wages of tinkering with His Will.

Yet for all that we can agree with Dennett, what is becoming a more powerful motivator than fear in the retreat from formal religion are higher standards of education around the world. Not only do we know more, but we are wiser in how we use this learning. It is remarkable that where one type of explanation is superseded by another, it is always the theistic that gives way to the scientific – not the other way around. In our understandings of history, anthropology and neurology, we are coming to grips with how our thoughts and emotions would collide in humankind’s early and comparatively ignorant collisions with nature.

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