It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.
~ Albert Einstein
History is littered with dead gods, yet a few religions have proven resilient. Long after Greek and Romans gods died, long after a thousand others met similar fates, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and a few others survive as today’s mega-cults. And new religions—like new varieties of breakfast cereals—are constantly invented to fill gaps in the religious market. Religions are so patently absurd, that you feel sorry for people so desirous of meaning, a social life, and a reprieve from everlasting torment that they are willing to pay in money or blood to belong to their clubs. Yet, their survival is hardly surprising, given the deep biological and cultural roots of religious belief. Even the compelling evolutionary explanation of ethical behaviors has failed to put a dent in religious fervor. Could it thus be that humankind’s contemporary religions really are impervious to future threats? Will these same beliefs be held eons from now? I think not.
I predict that by the end of the 21st century virtually no educated person will be able to believe in supernatural gods in the same way as no educated person can nowadays doubt the heliocentric nature of our expanding solar system or the biological evolution of our species. Even now, when people still pray to the gods; they likely consult the doctor too. They may petition the gods to kill the infidels, but building weapons is also advised. Science has already produced the miracles of healing and power that the preachers promised but could not deliver. The faith in science has infiltrated the modern mind despite its nostalgic longings. Though religion has survived the onslaught of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, and though it has weathered the storms created by Darwin, Freud, Hubble, and Einstein—greater revolutions are coming. And so I ask again. When death and pain have been defeated, who will die hoping for the god’s reprieve?
New technologies on the horizon—artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, and genetic engineering—will continue to probe and reveal the mysteries of matter, life, and mind. We will increasingly unravel the secrets of the brain, reverse engineer it, as well as augment and enhance its functioning. We will master the intricacies of matter at the atomic level, building whatever we want in quantity and quality heretofore unimaginable. We will decipher the mysteries of the human genome, giving us the ability to modify that blueprint in whatever manner we desire. What then will be the place for gods that fashion minds when we can build them better? What then will be the need to believe in the legends of miracles past, when we achieve the miraculous daily? Why worship the gods for building our bodies when we can do the same thing much better? Why would our descendents petition invisible gods when they possess greater power and knowledge than that supposedly displayed by the Gods? When science finally conquers death—which it surely will if neo-Luddites or religious fanatics don’t get in the way—the end of religion as we know it will be near. For who will die, hoping for a reprieve from the gods, when science offers the real thing? Without pain, suffering and death, which together form the foundation upon which religion is built, religion will die. Conquering death will be science’s ultimate coup d’etat over religion.
Surprisingly it is hard to contest these claims. There is the science will never be able to do that defense, but it is risky for the religious to rest their hopes on what science cannot do. We may unlock the key to aging, stopping or reversing it in our lifetimes. We may even learn to transfer our consciousness into other substrates to achieve immortality. The religious ought to be careful of positing a “god of the gaps,” as those gaps are continually filled. Then there is the religion will survive the onslaught of science as it has done before defense, but this is untenable. In the first place, religion has not really survived that well. The decline of the influence of religion in the Western world since the 17th century is surely one of the most fundamental changes of its civilization. Already religion is much less attractive to the intelligentsia than to the masses in America, and in Europe and much of the Far East supernaturalism is all but dead. Religion thrives best where there is ignorance and poverty and a weak social safety net, as in the third world, or where there is cultural jealousy of the West, as in the Middle East; but as the causes of belief are uncovered, our longing for the gods will wither.
Religion provided the traditional answers to the problems of life—and they may have been necessary at one time—but today religious superstition impedes progress. And the end of religion, at least as traditionally conceived, is fast approaching. Religion as we know it will end when death is conquered, since religion is primarily based on fear of death. Religious philosophies will then be replaced by a philosophy that was always buried within religion, a philosophy compatible with future technologies, the philosophy of transhumanism.