In due course this blog will return to simple, innocent speculation about zapping or otherwise blowing up spaceships. But for now, I can't resist following through on my recent promise (well down the comment thread) to play with fire.
Religion is a very widespread, even pervasive characteristic of human societies, and pretty damn widespread among individual humans. Having said that, what exactly do I mean by religion? What we now call simply 'the West' was, for about a thousand years until rather recently, called Western Christendom. Whatever our personal beliefs, most of us grew up in that cultural milieu, and it shapes our concepts of 'religion.'
As a minor example, in the linked thread I made a reference to faith. Yet my impression is that classical paganism cared not at all about faith - it insisted on ritual, carried out as prescribed, without caring whether you 'believed in' it or not. I gather that there is also a bit of a standing joke in archeology that if you find an artifact, especially a carefully made one, with no obvious purpose, you put it down as a 'cult object.' And what will future archeologists make of that big statue of Athena Polias in New York harbor?
For purposes of this discussion I won't even try to define religion - anyone who thinks they can, click the comments button and give it a shot.
But as a matter of fairness I'll show my cards. I was raised in the Episcopal Church, the 'Murrican member of the Anglican Communion. This fact has currently produced a dispute that gives a whole new (old?) meaning to 'primate house behavior,' which I won't belabor here. I had no beef with it, but in college I was converted to agnosticism by a fundamentalist friend, who probably remains mercifully ignorant of how his evangelizing misfired.
Rigorist atheists would probably describe agnosticism as 'squish' atheism, and this was mostly true of mine, though I have subsequently shifted to a purer agnosticism - from There is no God! (But I hesitate to assert it dogmatically.) to Is there a God? God only knows!
From a somewhat different perspective, though, I would be tempted to argue that most self proclaimed atheists (and mere agnostics) are actually followers of a religion I shall call Puritanical Pantheism.
Conventional pantheism is the belief that divinity, 'numinosity,' God-ness infuses the physical universe, AKA Nature. Pantheism of the ordinary sort is associated with the environmental movement, especially its more spiritual-minded wing, as well as with Westerners who are attracted to Eastern mysticisms. Stereotypically it connotes hippie dippie types who wear sandals in places where hiking shoes would be more convenient.
It is a rather 'Catholic' sort of pantheism, not (obviously!) in any doctrinal sense, but in its baroque richness of imagery and vast calendar of saints. Its present day believers are (again, stereotypically) not terribly fond of industrial civilization or, of most interest here, space travel, even though environmentalism as we now know it is very much a product of the space age.
Distaste goes both ways, unsurprisingly, since heretics are always worse than mere infidels.
Puritanical Pantheism is an altogether starker faith than the garden variety sort. It offers no solace that our souls will somehow be joined with the butterflies, and no sacred groves where we might contemplate such things. It offers nothing at all to its believers save sheer awe. Sinners in the hands of an angry God? Try sinners and non-sinners alike in the hands of an utterly indifferent Universe.
For just that reason, puritanical pantheism will probably not sweep all other faiths before it into the dustbin of history. If I were to guess, and I will, both the death and the revival of more traditional forms of religion is probably overstated. The world's major religions have not gotten that way without offering powerful world views to their believers - or even their not-quite-believers. My own world view remains shaped in important ways by the Book of Common Prayer.
That said, I would not be surprised if a syncretic muddle is common in the midfuture, because we are far more aware of the range of possible religion than people in the agrarian age generally were. Short of a catastrophic collapse this is unlikely to change. This by no means implies that everyone will believe in a syncretic muddle; major faiths will likely retain their full vitality among many millions of believers.
Fundamentalism? It is, I suspect, a characteristically transitional phenomenon. Traditional believers of an earlier era were not 'fundamentalist;' traditional teachings were simply taken for granted for lack of alternatives. God (or Thatever) may have created the universe ten minutes ago, complete with fossil record, etc., just as we write stories with a backstory extending back beyond Page 1. In my personal opinion - worth what you paid - accepting this is a far more robust position than trying to take pliers to the material evidence to bend it to fit doctrinal positions. That is to say, 'creation science' is neither scientific nor very creative.
(If you wish to argue otherwise, bear in mind that this is a seriously geeky crowd who will cut you
little no slack if you slip up on technical points.)
But religion is not limited by fundamentalism, and the methods of science have their own constraints. Broadly speaking, science deals with the orderliness of nature. What is not orderly - human history comes to mind, not to mention the human experience as recorded in literature - requires different methods of study to produce useful results. And if the universe were created, like a sim except for real, it is questionable whether any purely internal analysis could ever show this, or refute it if not so.
The image is of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.
A reminder to commenters and prospective commenters from Captain Obvious: This is, shall we say, a potentially contentious subject for a blog post. Rocketpunk Manifesto has, so far, been amazingly devoid of flame wars, and I ask all who enter the comment thread to help keep it that way.