Back in the 1890s one of the more popular entertainments was attending lectures, and one of the most popular lecturers was Robert Ingersoll, known as the Great Agnostic. He gave some brilliant and funny talks deriding belief in religion and calling upon a supernatural god for help. He was not cynical, however, as he promoted science and nature, especially Darwin’s natural selection and Lyell’s geology, and as he believed in the betterment of humanity. Thus he said,
“Ignorance, being darkness, what we need is intellectual light. The most important things to teach, as the basis of all progress, are that the universe is natural; that man must be the providence of man; that, by the development of the brain, we can avoid some of the dangers, some of the evils, overcome some of the obstructions, and take advantage of the some of the facts and forces of nature”.
He thought that all religions were the same and that they all were on their last legs, so to speak, leaving the way cleared for the triumph of science in reforming mankind. Oh my. He did support women’s right and suffrage and he was an abolitionist before the Civil War. Of course he was condemned from the pulpit many times over but still many citizens across the country paid $1 to hear him speak. This period of the 1880s to around 1910 has been labeled the golden age of American freethought. That seems to have passed. I suspect he would not be encouraged by today’s politics of extremity, the erosion of the boundary between church and state, and the level of religious fundamentalism and fanaticism around the world.
Then we have the report this past week of an archeological find of a prehistoric massacre from 10,000 years ago. Here is a link to one version in the NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/21/science/prehistoric-massacre-ancient-humans-lake-turkana-kenya.html?hpw&rref=science&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=well-region®ion=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well&_r=0. Essentially researchers found a large group of people clearly killed violently. This was before agriculture so it was not over land and crops but why is something we will never know. Could be religious?
I am also remembering 2 things Stephen Hawking said. More recently he expressed doubt that humans will survive much longer, especially if we do not move quickly together and colonize space, I guess thinking that we are making the earth uninhabitable. A while back he said that if space creatures did visit the earth, we might not come out so well, citing the European/American indigenous peoples contact as an example. Many (consider Pierre Teilhard de Chardin) have expressed the necessity of coming and working together as inhabitants of our Earth. Progress does not seem simple with us.
Anyway, Robert Ingersoll, I appreciate your hopeful outlook and your appreciation of education and brain betterment, but it seems humans are humans from beginning until the end(?). Travel on.