Critics of religion readily point to history to show the many examples of religion leading societies to extremism, persecution and war. The atheists among them pine longingly for a world free of religion in which they imagine human rationalism, perhaps guided by science, will bring about a utopian world free of the destructiveness they believe religion causes human civilization.
Countless fictional accounts exist of such utopias spinning quickly out of control to dystopias. Obviously it is not hard for people to imagine what could go wrong in such societies claiming to be based in scientific rationalism. Why? Because we do know people will be people. The committed atheist may imagine it is purely religion which causes the problem, but human nature is not going to change because people now follow scientific ideas instead of religious ones. A world guided purely by rationalism and reason would look a lot like the world today – because humans will be humans. We do not operate just on facts – emotions, assumptions, personal gain, and a number of other factors will and would continue toguide us. Long ago I read the aphorism:
“In capitalism, man oppresses man. In communism, it is just the reverse.”
It doesn’t matter which ideology governs people, they still will be people. Christians at least can imagine another factor at work in the world that will not change as a result of the disappearance of religion: sin. People are willing to lie, cheat, steal, and don’t need religion to cause that behavior.
The January/February magazine issue of DISCOVER focuses on the top 100 science stories of 2014. Story Number 8 is entitled, “The Year in Fraud.” It describes the growing number of fraudulent papers published in peer reviewed science journals each year. Men and women governed by the scientific principles, still are human, and still sin. Many are repeat offenders or serial liars – one doctor having had to retract 183 published articles. Even the world currently governed by science cannot escape the human temptation to sin. Sin does not disappear because we no longer believe in it or because we rename as a social problem or give it a scientific classification. Interestingly, the articles authors say science itself has to realize:
“The paper is not sacrosanct. It does not come into the world like flawless, shining deity immune to criticism or critique.”
Even scientists are prone to the same temptations and failures as the religious. Human pride and greed motivate people to manipulate scientific data. Relying more on data does not change the humans who use the data. Apparently the “retraction” is the scientific equivalent of repentance.
Today, on the news, is the release of the Senate’s report on the investigation into the CIA’s use of torture. Here again we see people relying on the best scientific beliefs about methods for interrogating terrorists. And what we find is people using science to commit torture because they believe the ends justify the means. Humans will be humans. Science cannot save us from this fact. Senator John McCain said after the report’s release:
“I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.”
“When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea…that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights.”
Government, even one uniquely based in liberty, as President Lincoln realized in his Gettysburg Address, will be put to the test. Can everything be allowed and tolerated, permitted and approved, and yet one nation exist? Or will a nation conceived in liberty realize that some forms of behavior cannot be acceptable or tolerated? And then how can liberty and government by and for all exist?
Lincoln’s answer was only when everyone is treated as a human being and when everyone behaves humanly towards others. He didn’t even think this meant equal citizenship for all only that we recognize that all are created equal.