Religion, it must be grudgingly admitted, was the inspiration for some great works of art, music, and architecture. Other forms of inspiration, however, guided human endeavor in the development of music, art, and invention as well. Sometimes a moment of clarity in thought, an epiphany, can give birth to new ideas, innovations.
It must be recognized that where music is concerned human procreation urges provided the platform for many compositions. Religion excites many of the same areas of the brain excited by these primitive urges and so perhaps many if not all of the great accomplishments for which religion is accredited might have transpired without the baggage religion inevitably brings.
Scientists, inventors, and other great human entrepreneurs have developed numerous incredible advances while being said to be possessed. Upon realizing the possibility of the fruition of an idea or epiphany these individuals will work, sometimes to exhaustion, finding the means by which to make the idea or epiphany a reality. This relentless pursuit of a goal was sparked not by religion but by that moment of clarity wherein an individual could see a possibility, perhaps an answer to a problem, or a new way of doing something.
The Dark Ages, undeniably precipitated by religion, was a blight upon humanity’s past. There is a gap within which technological development was nearly at a standstill. During this time most answers were not sought through scientific means but by looking to religion. There may have been a period of at least six hundred years during which humanity stagnated. This is not to say that there were not any bright spots within this period. Numerous bright individuals, having gained literacy through whatever means (the church was in charge of literacy in those times, almost exclusively), made many scientific discoveries. However, the church leaders were wary of these people and if these bright innovators crossed certain forbidden lines they were persecuted by the church, sometimes severely. What if the church were not there to stymie these advancements? What if religion were not in the way blocking thought that contradicted scripture? Would we have had 600 extra years of advancement instead of stagnation?
Certainly there would have still been many testosterone prompted conflicts, wars, which would have stymied progress. In many cases these testosterone prompted conflicts utilized religion as a means to gather and control contestants in these battles. What if religion were not there as a means of control? The absence of this means of organizing armies would make conflict more difficult, control more difficult. Still, there would be the treasures obtained by warfare available to prompt the greedy. The promise of riches, however, is not motivating to all. Many care more about making a living and supporting their families than conquest and acquisition of access wealth. There is much to risk in conquest, like life and health.
I think it can safely be said that though there would still be many wars, conflicts, they might have been fewer with the absence of religion. So then, perhaps there might have been less than six hundred years of additional progress but there could have been perhaps two hundred more.
Two hundred years, perhaps, at least, might have brought us to a level where the moon bases envisioned by many science fiction writers could have been realized. A base on Mars might even be within the realm of possibility. Other advancements in science and medicine might have eliminated disease, prolonged life to an average of 150 to 200 years by now. One hundred and fifty years might be the new fifty. Even with two hundred years I could not imagine humanity making a discovery that would make interstellar flight commonplace. That pesky light speed barrier may never be broken.
If religion were non-existent there would not be the baggage of bigotry, misogyny, and that dangerous concept of life after death. The concept that there is a better life after the one we are living lessens the value of this life and paralyzes the desire to improve it. It allows the subjugation of individuals, makes them blithely accept servitude, in hopes of an afterlife of euphoric nature. It was not Christianity that freed the slaves, indeed, it was Christianity that promoted it. By promising a rosy afterlife it allowed the masters to rule by making the population quiescently accept their lot in life. It, religion, even promised that the greater would be lesser, and the lesser greater. The lowest and most humble were promised the greatest reward.
Religion has been like a ball-and-chain. It has slowed humanity and kept it from making achievements and advancements at the rate it might have attained without it. Even today religion threatens to strengthen these chains and freeze humanity in place. Unless religion can be removed from its perch of authority humanity will never realize its potential.