I came across this comment on a fundamentalist religious apologist's site. It's quite succinct and to the point so I thought I'd quote it for future reference
"For milennia, religion provided many of the answers to life's mysteries, like what caused disease, why there were disasters, why there is suffering, and even the age of the planet. It was accepted that suffering meant punishment by the gods, natural disasters were the products of their anger, and within the Judeo-christian domain, the planet was less than 10,000 years old. Before writing was developed, legends were recounted by word-of-mouth down the ages in every civilization, providing dramatic explanations for the many mysteries of life, and also solace in the face of the most worrisome mystery of all: death.
Throughout his development, man has feared nature, because he had no control over it. Storms came and took lives. Earthquakes came, mountain peaks blew their top and vomited liquid fire down its sides and belched ash several hundred feet in the sky. It seemed like somebody was angry, because people kept dying in these disasters, so much blood was shed. Man noticed that the invisible powers, or whoever it was that caused the earth to open. the winds to throw giant trees to the ground and the sea to become a wall of water that took wives, husbands, children, mothers and fathers away, those invisible powers had to be respected, or else you could die in the next disaster. "Look how much blood it took, look how many dead were buried after that last volcano." "Perhaps the invisible powers need blood every now and then", thought man, so in order to avert another disaster, man took the initiative of shedding the blood himself and delivering it to the powers.
Thus the notion of blood sacrifice was born:
"Invisible powers, if we bring you blood, will you spare us another disaster?"
Of course because some volcanoes erupted only once in a lifetime, some communities may have believed the blood sacrifices were effective when they saw no recurrence of the eruption or the trembling of the ground. Superstition then gave way to orgaized religions in communities everywhere, hence the plurality of faiths.
Primitive man did not know about microbes and what caused disease. It was a mystery when one of his clan vomited and died, or just didn't wake up from sleep. When a woman died in childbirth or gave birth to a stillborn. He didn't know that his teeth were so close to his brain that the bacteria from their decay could quickly travel to his bloodstream into his brain and his heart. Medical science has now linked dental caries to heart disease.
Man was baffled about death for it was the common fate shared by all, and when we have no facts or suitable explanations, you know what we do: we develop a conspiracy theory.
Legends were handed down in many civilizations, that fires raged beneath the earth that would sometimes open and swallow many, so the legend of hell began, for man had to link that to his notion of appeasing the powers, hence a system of punishment and reward...and if everything evil was beneath the earth, to find a place from whence blessings came was easy. The sky. From the sky came the sun which provided warmth and light. From the sky came the rain that brought precious water, which man found he could not live without. So man looked to the sky or the benevolence of the invisible powers and to the earth beneath for their fury. The powers could also light up the skies at midnight, when it seemed they were angry, because the rumbling sounded like the roars of a thousand lions. Man thought he could hear the voice of the gods in the thunder. Soon he began to think he could interpret the voices
So guess what? Man named a god for each aspect or item of nature, just so he wouldn't have to offend any o the powers. And he worked out a system to appease those gods, bow to them, pray to them, bring flowers, the best animals, virgins, babies -- the gods could have anything they wanted. Just spare us the horrific disaster. Just spare us the final death.
But after so many years of giving the gods blood, people still died, and man could not accept a reality of not seeing his loved ones again, so ideas of the afterlife came to the fore. What happens after we die, he thought.
Science now provides many answers for microbes and disease; we now understand about bacteria, viruses and the mutation of singular-celled organisms; we know exactly what causes thunder and lightning, and we know that we live on a planet that is constantly trying to cool itself, shifting its outer crust to relieve built-up pressure in the core. We know that the closer you get to the center of the earth the hotter the furnace burns, and we know why a mountain ejects ash into the air and liquid rock chases people and animals down the mountainsides and swallows up whole villages below.
We know now that the natural disasters are not the result of some angry god; we know that a female's monthly emissions are not the result of a curse, and that there was no reason for her to bring sacrifices to any priest as was necessary under Mosaic law. We know virgins do not all respond the same at their first sexual experience, so stoning a young bride to death if there was no evidence she was a virgin on her wedding night, was sheer ignorance.
Science now knows about continental drift, the continents moving apart over the ages, even more so with the many tectonic shifts occuring every hour. Science has also worked out the passage of time by studying geological deposits, layers of rock of varying types, and by carbon dating.
We know the world is not 6,000 years old and woman was not made from a man's rib. Few of us now read the creation story and take it literally as mankind drifts into the Age of Skepticism. In 2025 the US military, it is said, will control the weather, and we expect breakthroughs in science regarding the human genome and our DNA -- controlling what is passed down in our genes from our forebears, thus genetically engineering the species. Whether you wish to believe it or not, these are the current trends. Science has demystified nature.
The only mystery that science has no answers for is "what happens when we die?" -- a mystery that religion claims to answer, based on faith, of course. But what is faith based on?