“This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” These words were from Sir Isac Newton, one of the most influential scientists of all time who was a key figure in the scientific revolution. He established the Three Laws of Motion, law of universal gravitation, study of optics and many other discoveries that advanced science to where it is today. His view on religion, however, may be seen by some as less relevant today. Religion appears to be on the decline as scientific facts uncover more truths of our world. However, scientific faith can never fully replace religious faith due to the differing function each one serves, the increased need for religion as a moral compass and the relevance of religion in uniting communities.
Detractors may argue that there is a trend of religion being on the decline with dwindling attendance in places of worship and an ever growing population of atheists. This could be attributed to the fact that science makes use of empirical observation to explain many natural phenomena. Religion is therefore no longer required to explain occurences such as the rising of the sun, the planets and natural disasters. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis were once believed to be manifestations of God’s wrath but scientific research has proven that they are in fact naturally-occuring. This reduced the legitimacy of religion. With increased expousre to such Western modes of education and philosophical inquiry, people are beginning to question their faiths. Many religious beliefs are at odds with the presence and progress in the scientific field. For example the Genesis account of creation conflicts with Darwin’s Theory of evolution. Advancements of science has also led to benefits for mankind, elevating science to a grander status. On the otherhand, religion has impeded scientific progress with one example being the banning of stem cell research in US and EU due to objections by the Catholic Church. However, science continues to advance and modern medicine has replaced traditional religious methods. The value of religion may be undermined as it is viewed to be irrelevant and groudless.
However, it can be seen that religion continues to prevail despite these scientific facts and evidence. Religion flourishes in many parts of the world and are still sought out by people. 24% of the world population still identify with a religious group and of the people without religious affiliation, most still have a strong sense of spirituality or belief in God. In Scandinavia, most people say they do not believe in God but paranormal and superstition beliefs tend to be higher than expected. Witchcraft is gaining popularity in US while paganism is the fastest growing religions in UK. In many communities, religion acts a uniting force for communities and allow people from different social classes to come together. Religious sites and historical places of worship are well conserved under UNESCO, showing the unwavering relevance of religion. Even with the advancement of science, religious beliefs in the supernatural are not yet obsolete. In Indonesia, volcanoes have a spiritual significance, each with a myth associated with it. Volcanoes are honoured with festivals and offerings by the local people. Sultans in Yogyakarta also play a special role to ensure the sacred alignment between the volcano, the palace in the middle and the Indian Ocean, thus ensuring the safety of the people. Similarly, other communities also continue to have faith in religion and conduct traditional rituals for prosperity and peace.
It can be seen that the advancement of science will not lead to religion’s decline because they are not mutually exclusive, neither do they serve the same function. William H Bragg once said, “From religion comes a man’s purpose; from science, his power to achieve it.” Science is concerned with the processes that account for the natural world but religion has nothing definitive to say about them. It is concerned with the meaning and purpose of the world and human life, contemplating moral and ethical values. Genesis is a book of religious revelations and teachings, not a treatise on astronomy and biology. Hence, it is not contrary to scientific cosmology and evolution. Unlike science that provides cold hard truth, religion is a source of comfort for people as it relies on faith and hope. During the financial crisis of 2008, more people turned to religion to seek help and get through the tough times. By appealing to the emotions, religion has also been employed by political groups to gain supporters and fulfill their political agenda. For instance, Donald Trump portrayed himself as a defender of faith for Evangelicals and tried to paint his democratic rivals as threats to religious liberty to gain support ahead of the 2020 elections. Hence, science and religion serve different functions and a recent study of 100000 religious individuals found that only 27% felt that both were at odds with each other. People of faith can stand in awe of wondrous achievements of science and many scientists are also actively pursuing and uncovering the truth of our natural world using religion as their motivating factor.
With increase exploitation of technology derived from scientific advancement, religion is also needed more than ever to act as a moral compass to prevent corruption of humanity. This makes it more relevant and prevents its decline. With consumerism rising, there is an ever increasing emphasis on material aspects of life. Greedy corporations exploit consumers with high prices of drugs meant to save lives. Scientific research is invested in development of weapon technology to kill. There are fraud scientists such as Huang Woo Suk who fabricate results and spread lies for personal fame and glory. Religion is needed to serve as a guide to human behaviour and instill values in people to do he right thing. The Ten Commandments from Christianity and Judaism teach their folllowers how to live their life and prohibit acts of murder, theft and adultery. In Buddhism, virtuous behaviour is needed for moral purity and rebirth. Its believers are motivated to do good in the world. Religion thus plays a part in influencing people’s moral code. With increasing power to alter nature through means such as genetic engineering, ethical boundaries are pushed. Such research threatens to make a huge impact on society’s way of life and threaten the harmony in society. Religion is needed to prevent the unfettered development of science so that it is used to improve society instead of causing new problems.
In conclusion, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes”. This quote by Pope John Paul II highlights how science and religion work together and are not at odds with each other. Religion has been with humanity since the very beginning with the important functions it plays in society of setting moral guidelines and giving a sense of comfort. It thus shall retain its relevance and not decline.