I've always liked John Lennon's "Imagine," in fact would rank it somewhere in the top 10 pop/rock songs of all time. Imagine there are no religions, countries, possessions to divide us into opposing camps, that we had to deal with each other strictly human being to human being, with only the consequences of those dealings motivating us. That is the essence of idealism, which is the heart of so much good music.
But that's not the same as thinking the things Lennon imagines are possible, or even desirable. Idealism is necessary to hold on to the human promise, but a little realism is necessary to deal with the human condition. This side of great divide, we must deal with human weakness as well as human potential, which requires a little government, religion and a respect for private property.
So here come 150 "scientists and intellectuals," who seem to be channeling Lennon:
People's fascination for religion and superstition will disappear within a few decades as television and the internet make it easier to get information, and scientists get closer to discovering a final theory of everything, leading thinkers argue today.
The web magazine Edge (www.edge.org) asked more than 150 scientists and intellectuals: "What are you optimistic about?" Answers included hope for an extended human life span, a bright future for autistic children, and an end to violent conflicts around the world.
Philosopher Daniel Denett believes that within 25 years religion will command little of the awe it seems to instill today. The spread of information through the Internet and mobile phones will "gently, irresistibly, undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fanaticism and intolerance".
No need for religion? Violence and intolerance will disappear? These people aren't making rational judgments. They are predicting profound change based on what they hope will happen. We could have wished -- imagined? -- that scientists and intellectuals would infuse their speculation with a little more objective evaluation of observable reality.
A little more on Daniel Denett. Here he is, explaining how we might chase away religion the way smoking has been demonized:
Recall that only fifty years ago smoking was a high status activity and it was considered rude to ask somebody to stop smoking in one's presence. Today we've learned that we shouldn't make the mistake of trying to prohibit smoking altogether, and so we still have plenty of cigarettes and smokers, but we have certainly contained the noxious aspects within quite acceptable boundaries. Smoking is no longer cool, and the day will come when religion is, first, a take-it-or-leave-it choice, and later: no longer cool