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 very little.
In Jefferson’s time, life expectancy averaged in the 30s (mostly because of horrible child deaths). Today, life expectancy 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. Since then, American life quality has dramatically improved because of science.
Just before World War II, penicillin and antibiotics were developed — and they eventually cut world deaths enormously, saving countless lives (as Covid vaccines are currently doing).
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. Exploring the solar system has become so common that a private firm is doing it, and human stations on the moon and Mars seem likely.
Discovery of the double-helix DNA molecule in 1953 explained life, evolution, biology — and unleashed new fields of health.
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 positive to the world? It’s difficult to think of any benefit.
This piece originally appeared at Daylight Atheism on May 17, 2021.