Humans (and transhumans) are marked by a persistent desire to understand and control their environment and experience. Before the development of the scientific method, deductive and inductive logic, game theory, sophisticated epistemic principles and so on, humans resorted to superficial causal explanations based on observation for common phenomena, and theistic explanation for unusual events. Deities were invoked to explain unusual or destructive phenomena, and to try to provide a comforting model of the uncertainties and uncontrollable events in life. Storms, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, epidemics and madness could not be tolerated without some belief about their cause. In the absence of scientific explanation a religious or theistic explanation was almost inevitable. Along with pre-scientific attempts at understanding came a crude attempt at a technology. A tension is evident here: On the one hand religions have frequently declared events to be determined by a divine plan and so have held attempts at changing things to be futile (this is common in Eastern religions, as well as other religions involving predestination).
On the other hand, religions have offered certain limited and carefully circumscribed means of changing and controlling events, such as through prayer, ritual, and magic. The overall result has been entropic and anti-progressive since religious technology is ineffective (with the occasional exception of psychosomatic effects). The role of religion in providing explanations, however poor, of human life and its environment has given way over time to the superior resources of empirical science. Science has been able to explain an enormous variety of phenomena, both commonplace and unusual. Protestations by theists that science has not and cannot explain the origin of life, the origin of the universe, or the nature of consciousness are increasingly ridiculous as we continue to learn and discover. An objection to this view of the origin and strength of religion is that it is unclear why religion is persisting and even growing as scientific triumphs abound.
This objection makes two mistakes however. First, as I am showing, there are other sustaining causes of religion that do not entirely or closely depend on the development of science. Second, the apparent strength and resurgence of religion is, I believe, an illusion generated from a limited perspective. Certainly religion is not declining rapidly, and is continually taking new forms (such as New Age mysticism), but seen over a span of decades and centuries the trend is clear enough. Late twentieth century religion is very much less powerful than religion in the Middle Ages. In the past religion dominated all aspects of life and the idea of a separation of Church and state would have been considered incomprehensible and wicked.
DEALING WITH DEATH AND UNCERTAINTY: One of the great tasks before us, as transhumanists, is the reengineering of our consciousness to do away with the powerful desire for certainty of a dogmatic kind. Most humans feel that they cannot bear to be wrong. They fear an unknown future. They readily give up intellectual and emotion independence in favor of faith in another person, whether human or supernatural myth. Humans are also driven to the comforts of religious dogma by the terrible fact of death.
Some transhumanists expect religion to automatically decline as technological progress accelerates. Unfortunately, the faster technology and society changes, the greater the uncertainty in people’s lives, so the greater the appeal of religion in all its forms. (Hence the takeover by National Socialism and communism at times of great upheaval.) Scientific and technological progress alone will not abolish religious thinking. Transhumanist philosophies, especially immortalist philosophies such as Extropianism, will be vital to intellectual and emotional progress.