[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
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!
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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