In debates about the value of religion, I have heard this one put forth by highly educated people. It, more or less, boils down to this:
Many great feats of construction, architecture and art have been achieved by cultures attempting to honor their deity or deities. Without religion of one sort or another, not only would these structures never have been built (depriving us all of a kind of collective self-esteem boost) but the technology learned in the process of building them would have been lost or taken more time to discover and modern engineering and architecture would have been set back.
I have heard the rebuttals as well, which, in my mind, handily defeat it. Yet they seem to accept its premise a little too much, nevertheless.
So I want to completely quash this line of argument once and for all.
1. (Standard rebuttal) There is enough awe and wonder in the world around us to inspire us to these achievements without a need for a god.
2. (Standard rebuttal) The artists and architects worked for the patrons who could afford the projects.
3. I reject the premise outright. While the fear of retribution from an angry god was often a tool that helped manipulate the slaves at work on the projects, most monuments and great art was created to serve different ends than the praise and worship of a god:
a. Structures such as the pyramids, Greek temples, and cathedrals were marketing campaigns to raise the brand of a ruling class to the stature of gods in the eyes of the masses - deus ex machine - like the big green head in the Wizard of Oz
b. Structures such as the Great Wall of China, castles, Roman roads, aqueducts, etc. were built for military and logistical purposes in the maintenance of property, resource and trade route ownership rights
c. Stone circles and, possibly, some aspects of structures such as pyramids were astronomical observatories of sorts
d. Structures such as the Taj Mahal and yet another role of pyramids, etc. were to glorify the wealthy and powerful after death (see a)
Even today, the underlying role of large scale land development remains, in many cases, within the confines of a-d - even set within secular contexts such as government buildings, corporate headquarters, etc. They have morphed in many ways. And they have always mimiced natural formations and their effects on us.
Towering trees in an ancient forest morph into the high, peaked ceiling of the cathedral into the high, barrel dome of the train station into the high, glass atrium of the shopping mall.
Mountains morph into pyramids into skyscrapers.
Deer paths morph into trails into roads into superhighways.
Yes, the initial proposal is an incredibly spurious train of thought that shows, once again, that even if you don't pick a specific god to find value in and try to focus on some aspect of religion itself that has served humanity well and without a viable alternative, there remains no case for the value of religion.