There are few things in this world stupider than a single ant. They are incredibly simplistic machines. For example, a leaf-cutter ant will cut leaves and bring them back to the colony. That’s about it. If a forest fire happens to break out while the ant is cutting leaves, the ant will burn to death cutting leaves. It won’t stop cutting leaves, because that’s basically all its genetic coding has programmed it to do. It doesn’t have a program for dealing with a forest fire, so it continues cutting leaves until it is incinerated. You wouldn’t expect much from a species like this, and yet an entire colony of ants is capable of producing heating and cooling systems, agriculture, raising livestock, producing medication (antibiotics) and even owning slaves. Despite only having a couple hundred-thousand neurons apiece (we have about 85 billion), get enough of these guys together and they can accomplish things even a single human cannot. How much more then could humans accomplish in great enough numbers? Reach the moon? Create the internet? Design shoes that light up when you walk? Trivial. The truly miraculous thing man has done is alter his own nature.
The bulk of humanity, be it Europeans, Asians or even Northern Africans, haven’t lived in a state of nature for roughly 10,000 years (give or take depending on which race you want to talk about). We went from a nomadic lifestyle, to an agrarian one during a transition we’ve come to call the Neolithic Revolution. At this point we were able to cultivate a surplus of food large enough to support a mass expansion of our population and begin construction of civilization itself. But there was a problem. We still had a savage nature. Sure, we could now get all the food we needed from crops and livestock, but we still had the genetic drive to crack open our tribal rivals’ heads and fuck their women. Wat do?
We had no real concept of genetics, nor a sense of direction on how to mold humanity even if we did. It seemed like our nature was simply incompatible with agrarianism. How do you force a population of violent degenerates to adopt a peaceful co-existence that requires cooperation on a scale unimaginably larger than what said population was designed to be comfortable with? Despite agrarianism’s utility, we just couldn’t take full advantage of it. It looked like we were about to burn to death cutting leaves. Then, something miraculous happened.
Religion, specifically organized religion, is mankind’s first and longest running experiment in eugenics. It was a means by which mankind could harness its brutal nature as a force to coerce mankind into being more civil, and it worked. The mechanism is simple; Obey God’s (or the Gods’) laws, or we murder the fuck out of you (and probably your family, too). Strangely enough, God’s laws just so happened to line up with what was needed to mold mankind into a functioning society. Whether this is because God is real and personally crafted his morality to accomplish this, or whether this is another case of a group of largely incompetent creatures coming together and achieving something seemingly infinitely beyond their capacities (a la, the ant), is for you to decide. All I’m arguing here is that it worked, and we know it worked, because religions became progressively less brutal throughout the ages. They became progressively less brutal because, generation by generation, people became more civil. Granted, it’s readily apparent that mankind is still cruel and brutish, but keep in mind that this experiment in eugenics, while ten-thousand years running, still only accounts for 5% of our (Homo-Sapiens) existence.
The really interesting part about this experiment though, is that we weren’t aware we were doing it. Just as ants don’t realize they’re building a ventilation system, so too did our ancestors not realize that clubbing a thief to death not only solved the immediate problem of having a thief in the community, but also permanently eliminated his shitty, klepto genes from the gene-pool. Sure, competing religions spawned massive wars, the scale of which had never before been possible, but I’ll take Holy wars and the runaway progression of civilization over a 25-year lifespan of lobbing rocks at each other any day. Frankly, even the holy wars served a eugenic utility. On average shitty religions that failed to adequately crush degenerate behaviors created shitty people incapable of advancing their civilization to competitive levels, and were therefore easily obliterated at the hands of their superiors.
Much like evolution, the system isn’t perfect. Organically emergent things rarely are. Sometimes the weaker race won, sometimes less brutal methods were needed, sometimes more brutal methods were needed. But ultimately religion has succeeded in its purpose of getting us to transition from our violent, brutish and archaic nature, to one more compatible with agrarianism and large-scale civilization. As such, whether you’re an atheist or a theist, whether you believe that religion is obsolete or more vital now than ever, the institution of organized religion deserves reverence and respect, for its efficacy if for nothing else.