Explaining the World...
Homo sapiens is about 160,000 years old. That's not very much, compared to many other species on earth, and above all compared to the age of life generally or even the age of the earth, the solar system or the universe as we see it now.
One of the peculiarities of homo sapiens is that he became able to reflect himself and his place in nature. Where are we coming from? Where are we going to? There is still no answer to these basic questions of our existence. Where are we coming from at the point of procreation, and what will be with us after our death? We just know that we are and can predict that we, by absolute certainty, will die sooner or later. Potentially, death is possible at any moment.
That's not the only puzzling questions. Where is all the nature coming from - all the life, the animals, the plants, and the non-organic environment?
So, early humans began to wonder about all these questions, in clear difference to all other species. And they tried to make sense of their existence.
Some people were more interested in these matters than others, and a group of specialists on these topics emerged. The first shamans, spiritual people. They formulated the first answers in human history on existential questions.
They explained the world with the existence and forces of spirits and supernatural powers. Invisible, but strong beings are acting behind the scene. They have power over the people and the nature and can change things to either the better or the worse.
From this point on it's important to create a good relationship to these powers, spirits, gods, for the sake of the individual as well as for the tribe. The first shamans or clergymen were the ones who were in the priviliged position to establish a kind of contact to alleged supernatural powers and beings.
Being in a position of knowing more than others made them becoming advisers for all-day decisions as well as for tribal matters. Where has the nomadic group to go to find food? Where to stay to come over winter time? That's existential questions for early people, and now becoming also kind of a political matter. It's about making concrete decisions.
In the early civilizations then, who arose about 6,000 years ago, the people organized communities in which the people werent' as equal anymore as they were before. They settled down and specialized in different kinds of work. Most of the people became step by step peasants, many remained hunters or were both. Some became specialized in construction work.
From time to time rivals from outside appeared, trying to take things over. Then the group had to defend itself. Some (mostly men) became specialized in martial arts. They formed out a cast of warriors, which lead to knighthood. They became very powerful in the group, because, unfortunately, violence is a very decisively mean in relationships. They formed out a nobility and claimed the privilege to appoint a ruler. In many of the first civilizations, the social structure became highly stratified. The rulers were all too often despots.
Since rulers, rules and authorities are always questionable, rule needs legitimation. The shamans and clergymen were the proper group to provide that. From the beginning of organized religion on it was mostly allied with those in power and supporting their interests. That became from an early stage on their most important task - for their own sake, because themselves without military power, they maintained so a privileged status in society.
This principle didn't change until today. Divine right was a legitimizing principle all over the middle-ages until the 20th century. 'In God we Trust' or 'God with Us' are still slogans of the modern empires of our times. 'God bless America!', not the others. Why only America? The slogan reveals it to be merely a tribal religion. The examples are manifold and often congruent around the world.
In fact all the funny stories, and there is an inexhaustible mass of them around since the beginning of religion until today, are contradicting each other, are merely fairy-tales or particular tribal stories of the past. The Old Testament is a collection of many stories over a timespan of roughly a thousand years describing the relationship of the Israelites and their tribal god. They all don't explain the world realistically.
Philosophie and Religion
Every religion starts as philosophy. Things are so and so because... Often sophisticated explanations of the world are developed here; natural and social appearances are put into a more or less consistent system. So long all the explanations are still based on natural assumptions, it's all still philosophy. Every religion has a philosophical core, and a good part of it makes sense and can have a positive influence on people and societies. Most of the ten commitments of Christianity are agreeable and desirable for a society. However, any philosophy, without exception, is arguable and contains contradictions.
Religion starts at the certain point when explanations are justified by the influence of supernatural powers - gods, spirits, daemons, devils... This includes usually also the threat of punishment - bad deeds are punished, having negative consequences in the afterlife, in bad cases make one ending up in hell. Bad deeds are betrayal of the religion itself, all too often also disobedience against spiritual and secularian rulers. We find, in verymost cases, organized religion side by side with the ruling classes, the rich, the state and those in power. Accordingly authoritarian are religions usually. It's not allowed to criticize them. Questioning Islam in public can make one's live expectancy shrinking considerably, and it was similarly restrictive in Christianity over many centuries.
Religion gives people in reverse comfort in explaining sufferings and, above all, promising a spiritual afterlife (or reincarnation).
Having a sober look on the religious part of these doctrins, there is absolutely no proof for anything. There is no compelling proof for the existence of a god. There is no hint that there will be an afterlife or a reincarnation. In fact, there is not the slightest hint for that. Religious leaders demand believe. Blind, childish believe is set over rationality and critical thinking. One must believe - if not, one's soul is lost for eternity. It's still forbidden to eat from the tree of cognition, as described in the bible. Not very convincing, doesn't matter how eloquent.
Dubious is also the existence of all the tenthousands of different religions in present and past. Christianity alone is split into roughly 2,000 different sects. Usually any religious doctrince claims it were the only 'real' one - all the others are wrong and a sinful error. How to find out now which is the 'really' real one? Particularly when it is based merely on belief instead of hard facts. And, moreover, one has never learned of the existence of most of them...
So, after all, to belief means not to know. In my personal case, being aware of the fact to know actually very, very little, does not make me believing completely unproved claims who sound like fairy-tales - doesn't matter how many people support it. As the philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote, we humans are unable to make any claim about the metaphysical, because we lack any sense for it. That includes also all our scientific methods and instruments. Any claim about metaphysics is mere speculation. That is still so, more than 200 years after Kant.
Since the emerge of astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology and the social sciences as psychology and sociology, we have a much better mean of explanation of the world. It's scientific method. Scientific method is the strongest tool we as mankind have to not only explain the world but also to create technologies which promise us a much better life than it was possible ever before.
Scientific method does not mean uttering any ideas and claiming then, sometimes under the threat or use of violence, that this is the only valid, absolute truth, but proving an idea right or wrong.
That the advanced technologies we use nowadays in all-day-life do work is not the result of religious ideas or conjuration of supernatural powers. It's the result of scientific ideas, together with hard work to proof them right and make them work.
Even when inventing thinking fails (what's not so seldom the case) it doesn't mean the ideas behind are basically wrong. Good ideas or technologies are the result of a long chain of workings and solutions. The question is often, which link of the chain has to be improved to make the idea working out?
A vivid example is the flying machine (a glider actually) of the taylor of Ulm (Albrecht Ludwig Berbinger, *1770 - 1829), who had a lot of brilliant ideas. Many of them worked out fine, like the first leg-prothesis with an artificial limb which he built in his workshop. His flying-machine could work out fine as well, but he was set under pressure and restrictions when proving it and failed due to bad circumstances who made a flight impossible. In fact he was forced to fly in a situation he himself knew it couldn't work.
For most of the people of his time Ludwig Berbinger was a spinner, if not a heretic, following weired, crazy ideas. The old dream of mankind, flying, seemed completely unrealistic to them. They followed religious ideas and pretended to be pious people (piousness is usually accompanied by hypocricy. Besides, 'If god would like us to fly, he would have made us wings', many people said). Berbinger suffered a lot of trouble, pressure and discrimination from his social environment.
Nowadays it's no big deal to jet from London or Los Angeles to Bangkok, without thinking it couldn't work. People went repeatedly to the moon and back. Doctors can diagnose and heal difficult diseases. We can produce food in abundance and much, much more. That's the result of the application of scientific method, of trial and error and permanent improvement. One has to add here that, doubtlessly, there is a lot of bad science applied, particularly for military purposes, also technology to surveille and oppress people, or to promote destructive consumerism.
Religious systems therefore didn't develop anything remarkable new or useful within thousands of years. It's still the same thing: religious leaders claim certain truths and never prove anything. But they and their followers can be very troublesome to people who don't accept it.
The well-known and brilliant American scientist Carl Sagan wrote a chapter called 'The Dragon in my Garage' in his book 'The Demon haunted World'. It's about the difficulties one has to cope with the religious mind and fixed believes.
Another highly recommendable article was published in October 2012 in the 'Jakarta Post' and is about the trial to ban scientific education in Indonesian primary schools for the sake of religious teachings: On Religion and Science in Indonesia.
However, there is a central error inflicted. Our world, dominated by science, produces a great deal of 'bad' science. The global socioeconomic system does not allow a reasonable application of science and the resulting technology. Production in capitalism is exclusively for profit. The inherent drive to make two dollars out of one is the central incentive of all production. And the whole system is based on the competition of institutions (and individuals) on the free market. That stands in stark contrast to any responsible, desirable development of technology. Science, technology and production are not serving usability. Science and technology are not free of value judgements; they are an expression of the predominant ideology of a society.
The world's overproduction of food is not distributed to the people who need it. While 50% of the world's food are wasted, billions hunger, and statistics say that are roughly 40,000 children every day starve to death. Few of the overfed part of humanity seem to care. It's not profitable to feed the poor, on the contrary, it harms the profit-generating system. Who can not pay is not part of the inhuman system we are living in. Overproduction (the European Union gives here a poor example since decades) is rather destroyed instead of used to satisfy urgent needs.
Every day are approximately one million mobile phones sold. Computers and internet, twenty years ago accessible only for a small minority of the world's population, is now open for even the poorest drover in the remotest parts of Cambodia. As we know for sure at least since the revelations of Edward Snowden, the whole internet is penetrated by surveillance. Surveillance is not only committed by the American secret services but by many more intelligence agencies worldwide, additionally by other institutions, among them large companies like Google and Facebook and many others.
Besides the surveillance, there is a huge manipulation going on in the web. All our devices are manipulated by software companies and their products for the sake of snooping out data and taking influence on the users, for the target of marketing and sales. Our world is flooded by misleading, bad information, means advertisements and commercials, together with tons of noisy entertainment. What we lack is reliable information and education. That's an extra market and open only for an ambitious minority. It's also highly targeting the mere purpose of business-making with the learned knowledge.
Besides, the products of our degenerated system are highly fetishized. Let's take just one example: smartphones are clearly a fetish. They are taken by most users as the false promise 'to be never alone' anymore. The smartphone becomes the 'best friend' of many, and one can observe a lot of people turning autistic by the distorted use of the new technologies. Attention deficits and hyperactivity phenomenons are, among other degenerations, quickly on the rise.
A large proportion of global scientists are working for the military-industrial complex. They develop sophisticated technologies who are designed to harm in the most different ways, up to create the nuclear overkill. Many of the most intelligent young people are enlisted from universities by 'headhunters' from the secret services, getting offered lucrative jobs in the surveilling industries. Army representatives visit schools to attract young people. In a world of rapidly growing unemployment. Technology turns destructive, turns evil. Science is used to militarize the globe. It's paving the way for totalitarian police and military states also in the west.
The system's irrationality is also expressed in the quality of the industrial products. Quality and longevity are the enemy of the system. The markets are flooded with short-living, often malfunctioning products. Cheap rubbish, failure by design, planned obsolescence. I get nowadays barely something into my hands what works properly. Many tools fail quickly by normal use. As just one of the results, the nature became a grand waste-disposal site.
The destruction of the nature, globally, has never been worse than now and it's going on in an increasing speed. In times of global economic crisis any profit-generation is justified. The last remaining rainforests of the earth fall for the sake of palmoil plantations and rubber; in the last 40 years, 50% of all species worldwide has been extinct. The rate is double as high in Southeast Asia - it's the price for the dirty growth here. Technology turns agains humanity and nature.