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People need an ultimate reason for their existence. Some religions satisfy this need by inventing an afterlife of contentment which humans can attain by living a virtuous life in the present, as defined by the specific teachings of that religion. Some religions demand that one please their revered ancestors, who are watching from the spirit world; these religions maintain their power by requiring acceptance of some spirit entity unseen and unseeable to normal people. These religions require a special person with special powers. The prophets claim they acquired their special knowledge of how people should behave by a personal revelation to them by the unseen entities.

Modern science puts natural processes in place of the gods and abandons the old unseen, untestable and therefore unknowable spirits with verifiable reality, even when that reality seems pallid or dangerous in comparison to the wisdom of a person claiming absolute powers. However, reality is infinitely complex and therefore can never be known scientifically in any absolute sense, because the description of reality would have to be bigger and more complex than reality itself. What instead we have is comprehensible models of reality that work on similar principles and therefore usually give similar results. But because of the acknowledged realization of this approximation of reality, the scientist should be quick to admit he doesn’t know for an absolute certainty that his prognostications about how some specific thing will work, is in fact how it will work. Science is a long list of approximations and thus it is an attempt to be less wrong or at least place limits on how wrong it is. For example, an old mechanical alarm clock is accurate to one minute per day, a good quality quartz wrist watch is good to better than a minute per month and the latest scientific clocks are good to one second in a billion years. But even these clocks don’t claim to be absolutely perfect; whereas a spirit driven seer will sometimes claim absolute certainty about something which is the purest of speculation about a hope-filled fantasy.

Modern science is a self-limited religion which bases its ultimate source of power in the natural forces of physical reality. Scientists attempt to find, understand and promulgate their understanding of these natural powers so science’s adherents, in fact the whole of humanity, may live in closer compliance with Nature’s laws. Nature in this view is the source of everything, and therefore fulfills the role that the gods fill in some other religions. This scientific view doesn’t require a supernatural being to make it function, and therefore there is no need for anthropomorphic abstractions about this deity’s character and motivations; and because there isn’t anyone there to be interested in human welfare there isn’t any use in praying for an intervention for some personal favor. There is no conscious being who will intercede.

From this scientific perspective everyone is responsible for their own well being and must admit to themselves that they are living at the whim of natural forces and to some extent chance interactions. Fortunately for us those forces are predictable to a high degree if we understand the probable relationships between the multitude of factors. Most of the time these are easily understood and it is easy to avoid the worst of the ravages of nature, but there are always complications and unknowns even in the best of times. Science acknowledges this randomness but traditional religions refuse to do so and continue to seek and proclaim cause and effect relationships, known to the gods, and claimed to be known by some individuals. However, their claims don’t stand up well to clear objective tests of their reality. The hope that these fantastic gods do exist, and that they can be appealed to for special personal favors is the power and the bane of traditional religions. That hope is the fatal flaw in the human psyche that has been exploited for millennia by religions. That human weakness was perfectly illustrated in the ancient Greek myth about Pandora opening the forbidden box.

Pandoras_Box

Pandora's Box. It is such a pretty box, but everything is lost to humanity except Hope.

Most natural catastrophes have clear precursors, and if people are willing to see and act upon what can be known from testable science they can avoid most sudden tragedies based on hope-filled speculations. Some things are unavoidable, like old age and death, but most so-called accidents, especially in youth, are easy to avoid.

The opportunity for contentment is maximized by living within nature’s laws.

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