Reducing the influence of religion in the world

Victor Stenger’s talk on the panel at Moving Secularism Forward is at the Huffington Post, and I think it’s clear that he doesn’t think religious belief should be “eradicated” by sword and fire, but rather that it should be undermined and diminished over time by better ways of getting at the truth.

Scientists have to help the rest of the secular community to work toward reducing the influence of religion to the point where it has negligible effect on society. I don’t believe this is impossible. Astrology and the reading of sheep entrails are no longer used to decide on courses of events, such as going to war. Why can’t we expect the same for the imagined dialogues with an ancient tribal sky god that at least one recent president has used to justify his actions?

See? That’s not about force, or literal eradication. Divination and astrology haven’t dwindled to minority pastimes through coercion, they’ve been displaced by better methods and (up to a point, alas) by education.

Most scientists do not realize that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible. This is not because they have thought about it. It is because they prefer not to think about it.

Fundamentalists know science and religion are incompatible, since science disputes so much of what is in the Bible, which they take as the literal word of God. To them, science is simply wrong and must be Christianized. A well-funded effort exists to do just that, while most scientists sit on the sidelines because they prefer not to get involved.

But science and religion have always been at war, and always will be. One of yesterday’s speakers said that he did not like to use the word “religion” but rather called it a “belief system.” Well, there are different kinds of belief systems. Science is a belief system based on reason and evidence. Religion is a belief system based on bullshit.

And one way for religion as a belief system to loosen its grip is for more people to point out that it’s based on bullshit.

Religion would not be such a negative force in society if it were just about going to church socials and celebrating rites of passage. However, the magical thinking that becomes deeply ingrained whenever faith rules over facts warps all areas of life. It instills superficial beliefs which, having been adopted without reason, cannot be displaced by reason. Magical thinking ignores evidence and favors whatever opinion is the most convenient or socially acceptable.

And by doing that, it gets things wrong. There really is a downside to getting things wrong. I can’t stress this enough.

Science is not going to change its commitment to the truth. And religion is not going to change its commitment to nonsense. And that is why I call upon scientists and all thinking people to focus their attention on reducing the influence of religion in the world, with the goal of the eventual fall of foolish faith. The future depends on it.

See? Reducing the influence, not eradication.

It seems like a good goal to me.


  1. Bill Yeager says

    In finding myself being confronted by theist apologists asking why ‘We’ are so determined to ‘convert’ people away from their ‘belief systems’, I simply point out that the goal of the atheist community is not to convert anyone, but, rather, to encourage them to be a bit smarter than they currently are.

  2. dirigible says

    “I say: “Taqiyya””

    I don’t remember the story where Bertie Wooster joins the EDL.

  3. says

    Magical thinking ignores evidence and favors whatever opinion is the most convenient or socially acceptable.

    I don’t quite see how this follows, although I agree with Stenger’s overall argument. Dissing evidence for belief without evidence doesn’t necessarily mean that people turn to what’s the most convenient. Ask the Coptic CHristians in Egypt or any Christians in Nigeria or Muslims in the US, or any other religious group that finds itself clinging to its brand of woo in the face of opposition or oppression, they sure are ignoring evidence (or the lack thereof), but thats not to say that they would give up their attachment to their delusions just because it would be more convenient to do so.

  4. baal says


    Oh come on “Required name” @#1 (if that’s your real name). Would it have been too much to type out a few more words for clarity? If you think Ophelia is intentionally hiding her true belief in order to fake you and your ilk out just like those scary scary Muslims, say so.

    I’d also point out that the drop off in religious attendance in the UK and US is a trend that pre-dates the rise of the internet.

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