I passed by a church on the way to work today, and read the following:
Unanswered questions are far less dangerous than unquestioned answers.
This may just be the most succinct quote I’ve seen that summarizes my view on the distinction between honest religious beliefs and religious fanaticism.
If one uses religion as a way to cope with unanswered questions, that is fine. However, the moment you say this is true because my scripture says so — in other words, the second you stop questioning an answer which lacks evidence — you become a fanatic, and lose all credibility in my book.
Religion gives you an answer, not the answer. For certain questions (for example, “How did the universe begin?”), religion may give you just as good an answer as modern science.
This may be due to a current lack of convincing evidence that could provide answers to this question, as is true with many of the larger questions about existence and our “place” in the universe. Looking back in history, science failed to provide answers to questions like, “Why do diseases randomly afflict human beings?”, and religion was looked to for an answer, as when many believed that the Black Death was an earthly manifestation of divine justice from God, or the beginning of Armageddon.
It may also be due to epistemological constraints — in other words, it may be something that may never be known through empirical methods. An example of the unknowable would be the answer to “Is there an afterlife?”, since supposedly, there would be no way for those of the afterlife to communicate its existence to the presently living.
But for other questions (for example, “How did humans develop on Earth?”), science can provide evidence, and answers. These answers have been questioned, have been tested empirically, have been peer-reviewed. Accepting the religious argument in this case — saying, “science is just wrong because my scripture says so” — is fanaticism. And it should not be tolerated by intelligent people.