Developing A Universal Religion/Introduction to Part Three
What is religion? A religion is a set of beliefs that has proved useful for the very survival of primitive societies, and enforced practices relating to the way an individual relates to society. Law is a codification of these practices which occurred soon after the advent of writing. One of the survival aids that religion brings is a belief that there is something or someone 'out there' monitoring our deeds and misdeeds, and at some point we will be rewarded in some future life. This gives reassurance both to bereaved families and to the brave young men needed to fight wars and die for their cause. It also excuses the excesses of leaders and justifies manifestly unfair use of force, including warmongering, the use of repression, torture and selective killing.
On 12th December 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations. This secular, perhaps humanist document synthesises the best principles of many religions and cultures, and provides a sort 'religious doctrine' of equality,liberty and freedom of expression to which most people might aspire.
Generally religious establishments consider that they have divine and absolute revelation about everything, and are therefore very conservative. Somewhere between these two extreme views, there may be a better religion, that preserves the rich traditions and joyous ceremonies of antiquity - but which also places on everyone those modern rights and responsibilities which are essential for a just, peaceful and exciting future, free of war, famine, disease and injustice. Impossible? Perhaps, but a noble and worthwhile quest that Wikibookians might usefully share anyway.
What better way to commence our search for a universal religion than to examine what is currently known about the universe and its living contents? Using knowledge carefully compiled over many centuries and replacing assumptions with facts—this is, after all, why the majority of us no longer live in caves.
Communal decision-making (moral or practical) is facilitated by valuing the attainment of a communally valued purpose, one which is readily recognized as applicable to all—a universal purpose. Unfortunately, as the next two chapters relate, to the best of our current understanding nothing about either the universe or life necessitates that they be purpose-driven.
Scientists can’t prove that a purpose was necessary for the universe or life to form; neither can they prove that a purpose was not necessary. All they can state is that both the universe and life are present, both change over time, and nothing more than that described by a few laws, principles and theories of physics is needed to explain their existence and ensure their evolution. As Can We Adopt The Universe's Purpose? notes, our current physics is not powerful enough to determine whether or not a purpose existed before our universe began—the only place a predetermining purpose might be found.
However, there is a possible way around the dilemma created by our failure to find a universe-governing purpose. This is discussed in Complexity, Intelligence And Evolution which suggests that a possible consequence of life’s behaviour could be used as a “surrogate” purpose. It turns out that this “consequence” has a number of valuable contributions to offer (it can readily be used to guide moral decision making, for instance—an exercise explored in Determining Moral Behaviour). Purpose concludes by constructing a reason to think that the “possible consequence” might even be a “probable consequence” (which would greatly increase its value, should it be adopted to be the “purpose” that heads a universal religion).