Are you religious? If you are, a huge part of your life is probably shaped by your beliefs and religious community.
If you’re not, you might stare with bewilderment at religious practices and displays of faith.
Either way, religion is intertwined with human history. Violent crusades, generous charity, progression and regression, religion has been a part of it all. But what if it just never, ever, existed?
Would there be no war? How would your morals change? Would we be more scientifically advanced?
Let’s get one thing straight before we explore this alternate reality. When we talk about religion, we’re talking about it as the organizational tool which enables faith in a higher power.
There would still be faith and spirituality in general, just not the external institutions we’ve created around this. Okay, now that we’ve defined “religion,” let’s talk about a world without it.
Religion has been around as long as the human race has. There are 4,300 different religions in the world. That’s a lot of different beliefs, and they don’t always live side by side peacefully.
Religious differences have been used as fuel for hatred and conflict throughout history. Horrible acts have been committed under various religious banners, from the crusades to the Salem, Massachusetts witch trials. And according to the “Encyclopedia of Wars,” our world has seen 123 actual wars waged over religious causes.
So without religion, there’d be no war, right? Well, not exactly.
There are 1,763 wars listed in the “Encyclopedia of Wars,” which means that religiously-motivated wars are less than 7% of all recorded conflict. Unfortunately, with or without religion, we’d still have a lot of bloodshed.
What about our morals and ethics? Would those be any different? Some might argue yes. Religion is a huge organizational and educational tool. It creates stories and rules that shape judgments and standards.
But that doesn’t mean that we would lack morals without religion. Humans evolved moral behavior as a way to survive as a species.
Most people don’t need a religious teaching to practice things like kindness and honesty. We generally find these qualities within ourselves as we interact with situations in life.
Alright, so far this alternative reality doesn’t look too different than our world today. Perhaps there would be a little less war and our morals would still arise from a need to work together to survive. But what about scientific progress?
It’s easy to pit science and religion against each other. But historically, they were often hand in hand. During the 12th Century, medieval scholars were actually thinkers within a church, mosque, or synagogue.
Many scientific pioneers, like Francis Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton, and Robert Boyle, were motivated by theology and religious beliefs. From their perspective, science brought them closer to understanding a world they believed was shaped by a higher power.
Even today, scientists don’t always see religion and science as conflicting. In a survey of scientists at major research universities, only 15% view religion and science as always being in opposition.
An overwhelming 70% thought the two are only sometimes contradictory, with the remaining 15% seeing the two as never having any conflict. And 50% of these scientists expressed some form of personal religious identity.
But if religion never existed, then some newly discovered principles might have been accepted earlier. Galileo was accused of heresy when he pursued the theory that the Earth revolved around the Sun, otherwise known as Copernicus’s Theory.
During this time, the Catholic Church believed it was an indisputable fact of scripture that the Sun moved around the Earth. Galileo was punished by the Church for his conviction to scientific thought.
If religion never existed, then Copernicus’s Theory might have been widely accepted faster. Our understanding of the scientific universe could have progressed quicker, and maybe we’d already be living on the Moon.
Or maybe not, because in the early days of science, experiments and discovery were often inspired by religion. Would we have been as eager to understand the cosmos without religious motivation?
Most likely, we’d be more advanced in some fields of science, and less advanced in others. It could be time to stop believing that religion and science always have to be at odds. Both can lead to new ways of thinking and greater understanding. Abandoning the pursuit of either of these at this point would grind our world to a halt.
- “The Biggest Difference Between Faith And Religion, According To This Religious Scholar”. 2020. huffpost.com.
- “Richard Dawkins: Can We Live In A World Without Religion?”. Barrett, Amy. 2019 BBC Science Focus Magazine.
- “A Reason To Believe“. 2020.
- “Religion Isn’t the Enemy Of Science: It’s Been Inspiring Scientists For Centuries”. 2018. The Conversation.
- “Science And Religion Do Mix”. 2020. phys.org.
- “What Are The Most Widely Practiced Religions Of The World?”. 2020. theregister.com.
- “World’s Largest Religion By Population Is Still Christianity”. 2017. Pew Research Center.