I suspect that the origin of religion is deep in our evolution. Stories about spirits and totems of a landscape may well have their basis in the evolution of our linguistic ability. These "nature religions" are ways that information about an environment are communicated from generation to generation. This can be argued to have a survival benefit and something that is selected for. It has been with more recent development of complex social structures (towns, agriculture, empires etc) that these nature spirits became compressed into larger gods and eventually into God, or various notions of that concept.
If we are to use the meme idea of how such ideas persist, we need to not just consider the internal consistency of their logic (eg seen in mathematics, physics etc), or their empirical validation, but their psychological compulsive nature as well. Mathematics and science have elements of such compulsion, but at the end of the day reason triumphs over what might be called wishful thinking (compulsion). This compulsion may have its basis in our neocortical evolution. There just may be neural circuitry that needs to be fed mystical stimulus, and some people seem to need more of this stimulus than others.
Religion is purely psychological, and that people can continue to raise falsified notions of creationism illustrates their unwillingness to abandon something of a compulsive nature. The alcoholic in so called denial might come to mind. Creationism has become a political topic --- if they can't win in the science arena they will try in the halls of power.
I suspect that monotheistic religion will be around for a while. The vast and rapidly growing populations in the underdeveloped world are ample soil for the sewing of theological seeds, to invoke the parable in Matthew's Gospel. OTOH, such Protestant efforts to teach these people reading, of course to read the Bible, will mean that some will end up reading Darwin or Stephen Hawking.
Lawrence B. Crowell
This involves the issue of whether religion, or the claims of religion are an emperical matter. I would certainly say that the claims of religion are. The Tanach is full of references of how there are pillars upholding the Earth and a vault of heaven making the "firmament." Adonia opens portals in this vault to let the waters pour forth and Hoah flood take place. Of course we do understand things better. NASA has no problem of rockets running into some sort of dome.
Cosmology and quantum gravity are pointing to how the occurrence of the universe is a quantum tunnelling process (Heisenberg uncertainty etc) and if so the origin of the universe is random and spontaneous. In fact the totality of mass-energy in the universe may be zero. Thus nothing in total was created. What we call existence are local deviations away from the vacuum state. Is a God needed in this? I don't think so.
Of course there is biological evolution as well. Creationists might cite our ignorance on the origin of life, but that is simply an unanswered question. If Galileo and Kepler had shrugged their shoulders and said that God must organize the planets we'd still think angels push the planets around.
I think there is no God. I don't know that there is no God, nor do I believe there is no God. There simply are no credible reasons or empirical evidence that suggests even remotely that God exists.
The empirical impact on religion has been brutal since the time of Copernicus. Religion has consistently lost its intellectual authority over the last 400 years. The last major defeat it suffered came from Darwin, and quantum cosmology will doubtless deliver the next damaging blow.
It is hard to know how to comment about ethics. I tend to think that ethical systems die after they both lose their intellectual basis, and in the wake of many dead bodies having been stacked up because of that ethical principle. Margaret Atwood's "Handmaid's Tale" is a stark look at a future theocratic America. And some of these fundy types are pushing for things similar to this. If something of this nature takes place, religion will fade into the night once the regime has been swept away or imploded under its own weight.
Until such time the "essence" of religion, eg Jesus gift of salvation etc, will persist. Other people will do what I call shave the point to persist in creationist arguments. The claims of religion can be falsified, and in turn credible reason for the existence of a God removed. But believers always ressurect psuedo-empirical evidence for religion. It is like shooting ducks in a shooting gallery: You can shoot them down, but the damned things keep popping back up.
Lawrence B. Crowell
Nope, this is not my cup of tea! I find far greater intellectual insight in working with modular forms, Jacobi theta-functions and algebraic or projective varieties. Applying these to understanding quantum codes makes them even more interesting.
I find religious services maybe only a bit more interesting than scrubbing the water marks off the bathroom and kitchen sinks and fixtures.
Lawrence B. Crowell