[FoRK] Religion responsible for TRILLIONS of deaths, film at 10

Jeff Bone < jbone at place.org > on > Mon Dec 4 18:40:05 PST 2006

BTW, just to stem off a whole chain of unreason:  I have not claimed  
that religion is *the only* source of evil, nor that all ideologies,  
in the absence of religion, are acceptable.  Just so we have that  
straight, okay?  So throwing up red herrings like Communism, like  
North Korea, or whatever else do nothing to advance the defense *of*  
religion that I *insist* religion mount on its own merits.


Let's try this argument on for size:  religion in general is  
responsible for trillions of deaths.

Yes, trillions.  Well, no, not really trillions:  far, far More than  

Why would I say that?  Yes, I'm well aware that the entire human ---  
even hominid --- population of the Earth to date likely doesn't even  
come close to that order of magnitude.  (Of course, far less than  
that if you're a ridiculous "Creationist" and you only believe the  
Earth is a few thousand years old.)  Ah, but see, I'm merely  
following the line of reasoning offered by Nick Bostrom in his  
"Astronomical Waste" paper:


"ABSTRACT. With very advanced technology, a very large population of  
people living happy lives could be sustained in the accessible region  
of the universe. For every year that development of such technologies  
and colonization of the universe is delayed, there is therefore an  
opportunity cost: a potential good, lives worth living, is not being  
realized. Given some plausible assumptions, this cost is extremely  
large. However, the lesson for utilitarians is not that we ought to  
maximize the pace of technological development, but rather that we  
ought to maximize its safety, i.e. the probability that colonization  
will eventually occur."

So what is the primary cause of delay in human technological  
progress?  Lack of progress in science.  And what, historically, is  
the single greatest hinderance to scientific progress in human  
history?  Interference by religious "authorities" who have felt that  
science threatened their monopoly on "the big questions" --- or  
undermined their authority in some other way.

"Advancing technology (or its enabling factors, such as economic  
productivity) even by such a tiny amount that it leads to  
colonization of the local supercluster just one second earlier than  
would otherwise have happened amounts to bringing about more than  
10^31 human lives (or 10^14 human lives if we use the most  
conservative lower bound) that would not otherwise have existed. Few  
other philanthropic causes could hope to mach that level of  
utilitarian payoff."

That's a lot of "human" (more likely, post-human) lives.  A LOT of  
unrealized happiness.  All the nastiness and pain and brutality  
heaped by this virulent memeplex of religion on humanity to date is  
the merest sketch relative to what it *stands* to cause.

"But," you say, "Bostrom points out in the abstract above that you've  
got to balance progress with safety in order to ensure realization of  
the possible payoff.  Surely the moderating effect of religion on  
technological progress aids, rather than hinders, that."

Bollocks.  Religion has absolutely no demonstrated positive ability  
to deal with sophisticated ethical questions involving technology,  
period.  End of story.  At best, ethics (such as in medicine)  
proceeding from religious dogma of late have proven to be nothing but  
some kind of laughably medieval circus act.  Maybe there's some  
second-order effect, a chilling effect that's second-order good in  
some cases, but religion's own clear, perennial attempt to monopolize  
ethical philosophy undoes that argument entirely.  We need to make  
sophisticated judgments about things.  Myself, I no more trust  
somebody that believes in some big bearded guy in the sky to make  
sophisticated ethical judgments than I would trust my lawn guy to  
perform brain surgery on me.

"For standard utilitarians, priority number one, two, three and four  
should consequently be to reduce existential risk."

And here's where the rubber meets the road:  as mentioned, the most  
obvious, glaring existential risk we have today comes from some kind  
of religiously-motivated, global "clash of civilizations" (which  
means, in short, Christians vs. Muslims, Part III -- In Three-D!   
With Nukes!)

Religion is dangerous:  it's always been dangerous, it's growing ever- 
more dangerous, and it threatens not only the present survival of the  
species but all those countless thousand lives that *might* be.

It's slightly amusing to think of such a thing as "war crimes of  


Just some thoughts...


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