Changes in modern societies take place in such a pace that the traditional religious communities have had immense trouble in adjusting to them. For example, in western societies at least, certain religious communities are among the few remaining places where women or gay people do not have the same rights as other people.
If this is the case, is there anything that could take the role of current old-fashioned religions in giving a feeling of community and support to the members of a society? The scientific method and science could offer an alternative base for building new kinds of secular and rational communities. I even dream of a day when they could compete and even gradually (in part at least) start to replace the existing religious ones.
One should bear in mind that if one does trust in the scientific method, one does in reality put trust in the the accumulated wealth of knowledge that the mankind has collected during its existence. The biggest thing is that one’s view of the world around us is automatically updated if one puts his or her trust in science, when science does make new progress. There is a stark contrast to the religious communities where people commonly do cling desperately on the age-old ideas of their founders.
However, there has been and is to be seen no willingness to build any kind of communities that would be based on science. I fear that a idea like this will always be a definite no-no for the scientific community itself. This is true even if this new 'faith' could be, in fact, only about trust in the scientific method. It needs not be any kind of blind 'faith' that would be invested in any single scientific fact or theory.
In all true science facts and theories do change constantly. Only the basic principles of searching for the best possible answer do remain quite stable.
How can it be that in a society that is quite totally based on science and its findings, there is no science-based faith or religion? Faith is generally understood as a commitment not to change your views even if the facts do change. It is quite understandable that the scientific community can and will never have anything whatsoever to do with any such thing as faith. However, a community that would be based on trust in the scientific method could also find a new and more modern way for having a 'faith'.
Living without a ready-made and easy-to-learn belief-system requires much from an individual. I am afraid that all people will never have what it takes to do it and. there should also be a science-based alternative on offer. There are many people who belong to various religious communities just for the comforting presence of other people, friendship and spiritual experiences they would at the moment get from nowhere else. The very thought of an all-knowing and vengeful Biblical God is, in fact, often alien even for many members of modern religious communities.
There could well exist alternative communities that would be called, for example, 'Friends of Science', who could gather regularly. These meetings would satisfy a very basic human need for companionship and presence of other people. Mystical experiences are often a strong reason for membership in different faiths. Countering this would be of course a challenge for the 'Friends of Science'. However, especially Sam Harris has shown that also a scientifically oriented person can also be involved in finding the spiritual frontiers of one’s mind.
Even extremely intensive moments can be reached with the aid of, for example, meditation, incense, dim lights and intensive common experience. This could happen also when one would retain a scientific frame of mind and a realistic view of society and the universe.
One of the biggest tasks for modern religions is arranging the various rites of passage that mark the big changes in human life. Religious ceremonies are now used to announce a new baby to the world, to tell that a boy has become a man, or a man and a woman have become one or finally when death has taken its toll.
'The Friends of Science' could well create an organization where its more experienced and wise members could act as masters of ceremonies in various rites of passage. They could also give advice to other members of the secular community.
They could talk wisely about life and its wonders while drinking coffee with the elders of the family. They could also give comfort for those who are in need of comforting. Maybe there would eventually be a need for permanent locations to hold these rites of passage.
The communities of 'Friends of Science' could also offer a service where mothers of small children could load off their offspring for a moment, No this happens in various religious Sunday schools. I am sure that many others have already dwelled in this thought-game before. It covers all the major roles the religious communities fill in the modern societies.
An unpleasant fact for religions is that not a single individual practical task that the religious communities take care of does, in fact, require any kind of belief in any kind of supreme being. These tasks can well be taken care of by secular organizations also.
All these are regular tasks that need to be taken care of in any society. Religions just are taking care these rites of passage at the moment. They ca do it with impunity. There often just are no real alternatives on offer.
One big question remains. Would atheists or free-thinkers really join this kind of organization that I have called the 'Friends of Science'? An honest answer would quite probably be a 'No'. Free-thinkers and atheist are generally extremely nervous about all things that even have a faintest smell of a religion.
This is one of the main reasons why there are no real science-based social groups or other formations at the moment. A religion-like formation just would require laying an even rudimentary groundwork of rules, which is anathema for most of the atheists and free-thinkers.
The atheist community is often compared to herd of cats; there are no common goals or even common rules of anything. However, it is a shame also. A lot of hatred, prejudice, and oppression would disappear from the world if people would be cherishing real knowledge in their communities.
However, I fear that as long as no real secular communal alternatives are on offer people will continue to flock into the existing religious communities.
(This piece was refurbished on 23th of April, 2013)