Monday, December 27, 2010

Will Religion Go Out of Business When Science Gives Us Eternal Life?

A couple decades ago when the first digital cameras hit the market, the head of the Eastman Kodak company declared that in a decade their film business would be closed. One of the most profitable products in history ("make it by the mile, sell it by the inch"), was going to be completely obsolete in a virtual eye blink. And he was right: by the end of 2009, Eastman Kodak made its last roll of film, and in 2010 the company was removed from the S&P 500 index.

What would happen if religion's best product, "eternal life," went the way of Kodachrome? If we can get eternal life from a scientist instead of from God, will religion shut its doors too?

Every marketing guru on Madison Avenue knows that sex, food, and fear are what sell. Find a product that fills one of these needs (or make it seem like it does), and you'll be rich. And in the end, religion is nothing more than a big business with a product – eternal life – to ease your fear of death. Death is at the very foundation of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Spiritualists and mediums make their living off the dead. Billions of humans pray to and for the dead daily. Books, TV series and movies about the afterlife abound.

Religion memes live and prosper in our brains because we want to believe them. The Heaven/Hell memes are among the strongest in religion's arsenal: if you're good and choose the right religion, you'll live forever and be really, really happy, but if you're bad or choose the wrong religion, you'll be tortured horribly by a sadistic God for millions and billions of years.

Today, for the first time in history, there is a real possibility that science will actually conquer death. Maybe not all at once; aging and death are complex phenomena. But there are competent scientists today who are predicting that we can and will overcome death completely. Just look at the incredible advances in science and medicine over the last century, and consider the fact that science is accelerating rather than slowing. It's almost hard to believe we won't overcome death. We'll be able to live forever if we want to.

Ray Kurtzweil's book title says it all: Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. Kurtzweil's science has been criticized for being way too optimistic, but his basic premise is not. We are now at the point where some people alive today will probably live long enough to live forever. We don't know how soon this will happen. Perhaps it will be my generation, or my kids' generation, or their kids' generation. Only time will tell. But it's likely that there are people alive today who will never have to contemplate the heaven/hell memes, because they'll have the choice of eternal life here on Earth.

What's religion going to do then? Judaism, Christianity and Islam really need death to stay healthy, and they're going to be in a world of hurt if scientists steal their main product.


  1. I have that thought a lot. God uses the biological trap to scare us into kissing his egoistic ass.

    Eternal life is possible. It will begin with life extension but the medical industry is of God. They exploit disease and suffering.

    I would like it if there was a bloody revolution where all the medical corporatists were killed. God is a capitalist pig.

  2. While I find the concept of actual eternal life (as opposed to the imagined eternal life of the religious) quite exhilarating, I doubt that such an advance will end religion. Here's how it will go:

    "No, Johnny, scientific life extension is an abomination. You see, all those scientists are really doing is trying to avoid their eternal judgement at the hands of God in heaven. Fear not though, someday Jesus will come back; and then they'll finally be smote in the fires of hell..."

    Religion can defend itself against literally any attack simply be rationalizing it away with the idea of an omniscient creator god. It may be lessened by such a major scientific advance, but there's no way it will ever go out of business.

    That said, where can I sign up for eternal life?

  3. I disagree, we're a lot further from overcoming death than you may think.

    But, to answer your theoretical question, even if the rich elite in the unforseeable future do find a way to cheat death, that does not mean the poor masses will as well.

    Besides, ppl are like sheep. Religion will ensure it keeps itself a relevant, profitable, meaningful-to-the-gullible business, for as long as humans can avoid extinction.

  4. Well Craig, I wonder, will religion twist to become a more "insurance policy" sort of institution?

    I mean, medical advance is all well and good, but if we can harden the species against biological decay and natural death, that doesn't necessarily also say that we'll all be able to survive nuclear bombs or plane crashes.

    I wonder if religion would change its tune to say "well, just in case your medical immortality doesn't work out and you die a sudden and violent death..."

    much like how people buy insurance and nothing happens to them...

  5. In my opinion, religion plays an important role in society. It gives average people meaning to their lives and motivation to keep going.

  6. DocWork – And ... ? Does the end justify the means no matter what? And even if you decide that perpetrating a myth is OK, you have take the good and the bad together and see if society as a whole benefits. The data aren't on the side of religion. All around the world, there's a strong correlation between secularism and prosperity. You can argue about cause versus correlation, but one thing that's clear is that religion doesn't bring either prosperity or peace.

  7. Religion is the biggest lie that has ever been perprtrated on humanity. It comes from superstitiion,ignorance, like of knowledge. Its an escape from the inevitable, death. Coley


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