I greatly enjoy and appreciate your site. I was reading through some of the published letters and responses and one caught my attention, as I have had this discussion before. The question was from an unidentified writer who asked "do you think that in enough time everyone will be atheist? I think in a couple for hundred years that might happen. What do you think?" Your response was good and not at all inaccurate, but I thought I might offer an expansion. With the latest research in cognitive science, there have been numerous leaps and bounds made in helping us to understand, from the evolutionary standpoint, why superstitious beliefs, uncritical thinking, and credibility toward the supernatural would arise.
A fascinating overview of the research being done can be found in Steven Pinker's How The Mind Works. It can be shown fairly readily that it is far easier to form incorrect beliefs in supernatural events, than it is to properly understand the true workings of the world. I watch magician David Blain perform his street magic, and find myself hard pressed not to believe in real magic. I'd almost swear he had a pact with the devil. In addition, our educational system has not performed an adequate job of instilling critical thinking skills, reasoning ability, and understanding of scientific method in the public. It almost seems to reward those who simply absorb information rather than those who think independently and critically. While schools have to battle against fools who insist on creationism rather than allowing a full presentation of the theory of evolution, we have little hope of atheism replacing superstition.
But it is more than that. Superstition is rooted deeply in our culture. It is almost impossible to discuss a positive occurrence without resorting to terms like good fortune, luck, divine intervention or some other superstitious belief. It is buried in our language. Synchronicity is a more acceptable term these days than coincidence. There is almost no understanding of statistics in daily life. There is an overabundance of reportage of studies about this, that and the other thing which are rarely significant in any way, but are broadcast as if highly relevent. And kids are encouraged from infancy to believe in magic, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, that a guy who was nailed to a tree 2000 years ago is going to make sure they go to heaven, the concept of heaven to begin with, and so on. Most people don't read much, and what they do read is worth little. They don't read the material that forms the foundation of their religious beliefs, and if they do, they don't filter it critically. They are taught not to question it.
It is more a wonder that any advances are made at all than that people believe in superstitions in this so-called scientific age. Education is the key, but it is an uphill battle. Little can be done in a society that predisposes people to be gullible. For those of us who've pulled aside the wool covering our eyes, talking about it openly in hopes of getting others to ask hard questions is the best thing we can do.
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