I've recently been reading a lot about human innovation and optimistic plans for the future (Elon Musk's work in specific). I have tried to speak with many of my colleagues in trying to get their opinion on these ideas which I find incredibly fascinating.

One of the most interesting points I have heard so far is that with religion, innovation itself becomes less vital, almost to the point of being futile. I know this may be a bold idea but just to pose some bullet points I thought as important before I hear some more opinions...

  • Innovation in its purest form is essentially human progress driven by a primal goal of survival(especially at least in this context of making humans an interplanetary species in the event of Earth dying out or some chatostrophic apocalyptic event). Humans create better weapons to hunt or protect themselves from physical threats. Humans began to farm to generate a stable source of food so they were not dependent on extraneous sources of nutrition. The examples are endless but its the broad idea I want to suggest that humans innovate so that they can survive.

  • Religion in ONE of its forms is arguably "the end" or a point in time where human innovation will be made irrelevant. This may be in the sense that when someone dies and going to Heaven, thus leaving everything behind. Or a "second coming" where humans will have no need to innovate.

To me these both seem to contradict each other, maybe I'm not seeing something but I can't help but wonder why do humans strive for innovation if they believe in religion? What's the point of working so hard only to have the fruit of your labor ultimately worthless in the end? This sounds morbid I know, but it's troubling me.

Again this is meant to be just a thought provoking question I'd like to learn some more about.

  • I don't see the contradiction precisely because of the qualifier ONE of its forms and I'm not super clear on the question that can be answered in an SE-format.
    – virmaior
    Jul 28, 2017 at 14:51

2 Answers 2


If you wish to claim that, historically in the West and near East, the imposition of the will of a religious body against other actors within society has delayed 'inevitable' advancements in the technological, social, scientific, and philosophical realms, then you are essentially correct and do not need to look far for instances of historical evidence. Mind you, this is a phenomenon that is not unique to religion. Now whether or not 'religions' necessarily preclude or at least discourage secular 'innovation' is much less clear, and difficult to prove. Attempting to do so would require a massive surveying of history since early Christianity, and perhaps even before, and would become an interdisciplinary approach. Attempting to isolate the effects of religious forces on society would prove even more difficult a task, so instead I shall attempt to opine on your thoughts.

Essentially, it can of course be argued from an evolutionary perspective that predominately those organisms (in this case, humans) that can change and adapt positively to the flux of the environment are better suited to survive and perpetuate their genealogy. "Innovation" is a just sophisticated term to describe the human version of this effect, that is, the engaging of the mental, physical, and sometimes social faculties in order to improve the standard of living, and therefore the likelihood of survival, and ultimately, procreation, to continue the evolutionary argument. Adopting this view is consistent with your proposal of how innovation manifests and what it entails. The difficult question I think you are implicitly posing is whether or not the ideas and attitudes that accompany (theistic) religious piety has an evolutionary advantage, or disadvantage. E.g.,

  1. "Of what benefit could Christian altruism possibly be to me?" (when it could disadvantage you?)
  2. "Why should I obey the teachings of Christ and 'love my neighbor' when he has clearly wronged me?" (when you could be physically harmed?)
  3. "What need is there for secular morality when I have the teachings of the Bible and the canons of the Church?"

Of course, these three questions are just microscopic inquiries when approaching and evaluating religious thought and its titanic impact on society throughout the ages and different parts of the world. Furthermore it is important to distinguish between the individual actions and beliefs of religious folk in sometimes contradistinction to the official teachings and promulgations of the central religious body. Furthermore, are you referring to the Abrahamic religions? The Hindu religion? Those of the Far East? These are certainly big questions, but perhaps you could refine the approach and adjust the focus through one of many scientific lenses. This already sounds like a topic that would suggest familiarizing yourself with the English biologist Richard Dawkins, who has written a number of books on the matter. Best of luck.

Edit: I figured I better append my response with the clarification that the vast majority of human beings are not subject to the same evolutionary forces and principles that act upon populations in the wild. But it is still worthwhile to consider how religiosity might affect the favorability of traits and behaviors.

  • Great answer. I think it's also important to separate minor doctrine from central imperatives. (In one well-regarded conception, Compassion/Altruism is the only essential imperative, with the rest as merely "footnotes".) Thank god "turn the other cheek" can now be shown to have a mathematical basis, per Game Theory, Nash and the superrational strategy. From this perspective one, might say it took science nearly 2000 years to catch up to "religious" truth!
    – DukeZhou
    Jul 28, 2017 at 18:30

Yes, for a long time in European history the Roman Catholic Church was the only institution that had the money and power to build cathedrals and so on and a lot of teachnology was developed out of this. Of course the Church began to become a little nervous later on when this secular knowledge began to produce the likes of Galileo!

On the other hand, how religion tends to fix the world in place is illustrated well by Mircea Eliade in his book "The Sacred and the Profane". The repetition of religious holidays and events year after year within the religion, results in a kind of eternal return within whatever faith it is. The same things happen over and over again which provides stability, but at the same time could stifle innovation. This book is available PDF for free, but some copies are better than others.

Don't forget, many great artists and scientists of the past did their great works to show the glory of their God on earth. So their work was part of their faith, all for the glory of God.

I could add we humans seem to have an innate need to create and innovate even if things may seem futile in the end. In some ways we just can't let things be, we are "bothered" by the object, we may feel alienated from it, and we can't resist the urge to make it our own, and we make it our own by putting ourselves into it somehow. There is a great interest in this problem in German 19th century philosophy. Also Philosophical Anthropology deals with this area: just what is this Man philosophy proposes to deal with?

Another oddity of humans is that in an odd way we don't care if it's all torn down. Freud had the idea of the death instinct, Thanatos. This is like kids building a sand castle on the beach and expressing glee in the fact it is washed away, only to begin building it again! Gambling is a little like this: work hard for money, and strangely revel in losing it (because most gamblers know they'll never beat the odds over time). Freud is always interesting, if nothing else and he had a philosophical side. Sorry some some of the sexist language"Man" etc it's not always easy to find a better word that doesn't sound odd.

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