By James Haught
In an 1820 letter to Portuguese scholar Correa de Serra, Thomas Jefferson wrote:
“Priests of the different religious sects… dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight.”
Jefferson saw the clash between religion and science clearly. Ever since his day, science has achieved astounding benefits for humanity, while supernatural faith has provided little.
In Jefferson’s time, human life expectancy averaged in the 30s (mostly because of horrible child deaths). Today, life is near 80, thanks chiefly to medical science.
I was born in 1932 in a little Appalachian farm town with no electricity or paved streets. Horse wagons were common. My privileged parents had gaslights and running water — but most farm families had kerosene lamps and outdoor privies. Conditions were little improved from medieval times. Since then, science has sent American life skyrocketing.
Just before World War II, penicillin and antibiotics were developed — and they eventually cut world deaths enormously, saving millions of lives.
In the 1940s, Arthur C. Clarke and a few other science writers saw that, if an object was rocketed into space at just the right speed, 22,000 miles above Earth’s equator, it would fall into an orbit exactly matching the planet’s rotation, so it would remain “fixed” in the sky, usable to bounce communication waves. Now more than 1,000 such satellites fill the sky.
Discovery of the double-helix DNA molecule in 1953 explained life, evolution, biology, and unleashed new fields of health.
Exploring the solar system has become so common that a private firm does it, and human stations on the moon and Mars seem likely.
I spent almost seven decades in newspaper, starting in the era of hot-lead printing. Time after time, I heard predictions that electronic delivery systems would put papers into homes, eliminating the cost of presses and truck fleets. But it never happened — until the Computer Age and Internet put the whole universe into homes free, wiping out the financial basis of newspapers.
Growth of nuclear power has been limited, but I still hope that either fission or fusion eventually can join solar, wind, tidal and others to provide all the energy humans need.
What’s next for science? — Floating offshore farms to boost the food supply was a proposal I saw recently.
Presumably, science will continue transforming civilization in decades ahead, as it has in the past. In contrast, does magical religion give anything to the world, with its invisible gods and devils, heavens and hells? It provides hundreds of suicide massacres (like 9/11) and an ugly wing of the Republican Party. But it’s difficult to think of any benefit.
Compared to science, it’s insignificant.
*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*
Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
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Image Credit: James Haught.