>>People don't cling to religion because it's some evil virus that has invaded their minds...they cling to it because they are "keen to accept" it, and they are keen to accept it because they've been conditioned by evolution to do so,Religions arise naturally from our own humanness. If we put humans without any culture whatsoever somewhere they would very likely end up with religion and language, culture and the golden rule. They could well end up with a number of these things. The reasons for this are deeply deeply human and the result of human attempts to understand the world and understand each other. And while the language and religion developed may end up being as strange and bizarre as some possess the imaginations to suppose of alien lifeforms this isn't because religions are good. Just that religion is deeply human. We're apt to assume things are caused by things. We're apt to think of our thoughts as not being a part of our brain, but something outside of our brains.
The question here is whether religions are net positive or not, we must ask in a sense what shall we replace religion with. While this question is largely derided in modernity to asking what we would replace a heroin addiction with, it is largely important. For much of our history, there was nothing to replace religion with at all. There was no science, no understanding, no way to understand the world. There were guesses, and claims, and superstition and these generally are what religion is at it's core. Religion is the vacuum. The choice typically has not been between religion and nothing, because religion is the nothing choice. It's the easy choice. Science, rationalism, reasonable debate, functional epistemology, skepticism, these things take work. These take society and effort to maintain.
The question is not if religions arise naturally, but whether they are good for us. Would we be better without religion. And today, the answer to that is yes. Not because religions were ever good for us, but because we previously didn't have a better alternative. We tend to think of rationalism as the alternative to religion, that if we didn't have religion we would have rationalism. And today that's the case, but throughout much of human history the idea of getting rid of religion was anathema because there really isn't something it could be replaced with. The options were only religion. Because religion is the default state. However, now we have a proper alternative which has proven itself the only thing actually able to make progress, make understanding possible, and making reality understandable. Rather than the doldrums of religion, we can have real understanding. We can have science.
But, during the time when religion was the only option, religions fought each other each other and evolved and become more adapted to propagating themselves. Propagating themselves on children, winning converts through war, and insuring beliefs of those adhering to them. These guesses, superstitions, and intuitions weaponized themselves. They rose and fell, survived and thrived, on their ability to command adherence, to persist against any threats and to expand. We now have something to replace religion with, that provides real answers, real morality, better societies, dependable knowledge, and understanding of ourselves and the universe that so often gave rise to religions in the first place. And now, we are made to fight tooth and nail to make progress against comfortable ideas of the iron and bronze age. We have to fight for gay rights, for science, for abolitionism, for women's rights, for history, for humanism, and for peace against highly evolved hogwash well attuned to pressing our buttons and claiming we can have what we want so long as we turn over our minds to such hogwash and tell it to our children.
We have an alternative now, which is not only better but can show that it's better, not just is providing us profound understandings of the universe but by making us healthy, happy, and right. Previously, the question of would we be better without religion, would be rather absurd. What would you replace it with? Now the answer is, yes, yes we would.
>>When confronted by contradictory evidence, you disregard it as irrelevant....claiming that people act altruistically without religion, while failing to mention the complementary argument...that people act badly without religion also.
No. The way to see whether the net effect matters is by trying something with and without that variable. The question isn't religion and bad things and good things. But rather if there were no religion, would such and such happen?
Good things happen.
Bad things happen.
Good things happen.
Significantly fewer bad things happen.
If there were no religion, would 9/11 have happened? No.
If there were no religion, would people help fight poverty? Yes.
If there were no religion, would racism happen? Yes.
If there were no religion, would crusades happen? No.
The question isn't look at good things that happen with religion. What happens with religion is a moot point. And the question isn't what bad things would still happen without religion, that's also a moot point. The question we need to address is what would change? What would the world look like without religion? And would it, as a whole, be better off. We don't have to concern ourselves with the "Yes" answers. We don't have to care about good things that would happen with or without religion, we only need to concern ourselves with those things that happen only because of religion. That there's no secular reason for doing such thing. Like flying a plane into a building. It isn't that bad things would still happen without religion, or that good things happen with religion, but those things which happen now that wouldn't happen in a world without religion. And of those, I can find few examples that do not repulse me.
After all, religion has gotten significantly better over the years since proper secular science and understanding came around. Most of the stuff they would like to do is pocket vetoed by the laugh test. They would be laughed out of the room for making such claims or doing such actions. But this isn't because religions are right, but because they stop being wrong about such things. They aren't good and getting better, but rather they are adapting to try and not seem absurd. People are trying to bend over backwards to make their religious beliefs something that wouldn't be ashamed to show their neighbors. Religion is like a plane that is going to crash, and religionists are tossing everything overboard in an attempt to save weight. Out with the luggage, out with the baggage, get rid of the chairs, empty the cargo hold, drain off some of the fuel, but at a certain point, there's nothing left. While you can say, look how much lighter they've become, they are improving all the time, it has little to do with them and how good they are, but rather what they need to do to compete with reality in a world that has an actual method of determining reality.
What would the world be like without religion is the question to ask, not look at this good thing that would happen anyway, or what about this bad thing that would happen anyway. We need to look at those things that wouldn't happen with or without religion.