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Is Science Going to End Religion?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

A common refrain among secularists is that as science advances, the need for religion continues to diminish, and eventually the need will disappear altogether. After all, the argument goes, the only reason religion exists is to answer questions for which science has yet to provide answers. Once all those questions are answered by science, religion serves no useful purpose.

The problem with this argument is that religion answers questions that science can not, in principle, ever answer. This point was brought home to me again as I was reading, of all things, a best-selling business management book called The Future of Management. The authors, Bill Breen and Gary Hamel, make this case persuasively. They begin their argument by noting that

for more than 300 years, commentators have been predicting the end of religious faith. From Auguste Comte to Richard Dawkins, they have argued that faith must inevitably crumble as scientific certitude grows. Yet faith in a divine presence continues to be one of humanity’s great common denominators. While some societies are more overtly religious than others, the majority of human beings share a belief in the transcendental.

There is no doubt about that last point. I would even say the vast majority of human beings that have ever lived shared a belief in the transcendental. So what is the mistake that Comte and Dawkins are making?

The belief that science will one day displace faith is based on a mistaken assumption that religious belief is principally a set of mystical and misguided conjectures about how the natural world works. As the sunlight of scientific discovery breaks through the black night of ignorance, so the thinking goes, these primitive superstitions will evaporate like the dew beneath the summer sun.

If religion is not primarily about explaining the laws of nature, what is it primarily about?

Religious faith is not chiefly concerned with the what, how, and when of natural phenomena. Rather, it is concerned with the why of existence. And while a few scientists may argue that the question of “why” is unanswerable and therefore not worth pursuing, they haven’t yet convinced the rest of humanity to suspend its search for significance.

Several atheists have made that point on the blog. They say that the “why” questions are uninteresting or are never going to be answered, so why worry about them? But as Breen and Hamel explain, the “rest of humanity” does care about these answers, and religion attempts to provide them. As Breen and Hamel explain, religion’s message is that

you are more than protoplasm, more than artfully yet unintentionally arranged stardust. There is a purpose to your existence. Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, two sociologists who’ve studied the human foundations of faith, put it simply: “… religious explanations specify the fundamental meaning of life: how we got here and where we are going (if anywhere).” In other words, they provide answers to the eternal question of “why?”

Has religion proved successful? Yes it has.

History provides countless examples of individuals whose quiet, life-affirming faith elicited virtue, spurred charity, and restored broken lives. Scholars have repeatedly found that religious faith enhances self-esteem, improves physical health, and enlarges the capacity of individuals to cope with the traumas of life. Faith has something to teach us about resilience—not because faith itself has survived, but because faith, to the extent it provides individuals with a sense of meaning, helps make people more resilient. . . . Without a narrative that creates drama and meaning, we are listless and rudderless.

I would go on to add that Christianity, specifically, has done more to give meaning to people’s lives than any other religion. It is a force for good unparalleled in the history of the world. As great as science is, it is not even worthy to hold Christianity’s sandals.


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Comments

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Ryan/511764596 Andrew Ryan

    “From Auguste Comte to Richard Dawkins, they have argued that faith must inevitably crumble as scientific certitude grows”

    Can you offer a quote from Dawkins saying anything like this? I’ve never heard him call it inevitable.

    “Several atheists have made that point on the blog. They say that the “why” questions are uninteresting or are never going to be answered, so why worry about them?”

    This doesn’t sound like any of the atheists I’ve seen post on this blog. Rather, atheists seem quite keen to engage on these questions – they just don’t think religion offers the best answers.

    “As great as science is, it is not even worthy to hold Christianity’s sandals.”

    I don’t really get the comparison – seems like comparing apples and oranges. Science is a useful method, a process, for interpreting empirical facts.

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    “After all, the argument goes, the only reason religion exists is to answer questions for which science has yet to provide answers.”

    Anyone who would make a statement like that definitely has on opinion about religion that does not relate to the facts of religion. It is an outsider view that has little understanding of what goes on. Mythology may have had that role of explaining, and some may lump relgion into mythology, but as far as the Christian faith is concerned, its only reason for existing is not to provide answers to questions that science has yet to provide answers for. Its reason for existing is to provide salvation for those disconnected from God who go about their own way trying to find ways to save themselves through their own abilities (and in that sense, science is a religion to some and to eliminate religion is to eliminate the role of science as they see it!).

    There is an epistemological element to the Christian faith, but that is not why it exists. The Christian faith exists to present the love and acceptance of God to the world. Science can never do that. The Christian faith, via the Bible, says that God created the world. But it does not say how He created. Thus, those kinds of questions are not answered in the Bible. Why does it matter that God created? To know that the God the Bible is talking about is the one who created the world, not some other god fabricated by men. The Bible doesn’t say anything about chemistry, physics, biology, of a scientific nature. There is some philosophy, but not science. That the Bible says God created is not an explanation that science can replace or that is needed to explain anything in a scientific sense.

    For some, the claim that science usurps religion seems to be more an attempt to get out of any moral responsibility. Since science can’t study morals other than in a cultural sense, it cannot remove responsiblity. It is scientism to think that science can answer all relevent questions. Unfortunately, materialistic thinking has the potential to lead more to a mechanistic humanity, destroying the essence of humanity, than it can to offer love and acceptance to a dying world detached from its spiritual roots.

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