For centuries, it appears that science and religion have always been at loggerheads with one another, with many believing that it is impossible to believe wholeheartedly in both simultaneously due to their inherent differences. Whenever these two are discussed together, the question of importance is always brought up as scientists and theologians constantly argue over whether science or religion is more important to the world. While many claim that it is clear that science has the edge in this debate due to the sheer amount of evidence that proves that the sciences have a tangible impact on the planet and humankind at large, the influence of religion on the world cannot be understated as it is undeniable that it holds significant power and purpose in people’s lives.
Science is seen to be more important than religion in terms of its contributions to the overall health of society. Advancements in biomedical sciences and technology have dramatically increased the lifespans of the human race by almost double of our ancestors, with cures and treatments for illnesses long thought to be deadly being available in local drug stores all across the world. For example, the discovery of penicillin in 1928 allowed doctors to finally be able to treat illnesses and infections that for centuries had been taking the lives of many. Globally, the advent of science and modern healthcare has caused a 90% decline in the infant mortality rate from 1915 to 1997, and a 99% decline in the maternal mortality rate in the same period. Scientific research and discoveries have changed the way healthcare and health in general is perceived, completely revolutionising the way we live our lives and what we believe the be possible. In contrast, it seems that religion has merely given people a way of dealing with the emotional toll that chronic illnesses can have on them, rather than providing any definitive treatment that could help to actually solve or cure illnesses. Despite its important role in allowing individuals to better deal with their experiences when it comes to illnesses and infections, these benefits are merely emotional as opposed to the definitive, tangible benefits that scientific progress has had in terms of the development of drugs and treatments to directly tackle these illnesses and ultimately cure individuals. Further, religious views may directly undermine the health and wellbeing of individuals where Jehovah Witnesses for instance reject blood transfusions ‘not only in obedience of God but also out of respect to him as the Giver of life’. Those who do not adhere to this doctrine risk excommunication from the community, and often have to choose between their physical wellbeing and their social interests. As such, this demonstrates the elevated importance that science has as opposed to religion in terms of promoting and maintaining physical health.
It can be argued that science is also more important than religion in terms of its prominence in the modern world. Technology in particular has become one of the mainstays in modern living with many extensively relying on devices in order to manage every aspect of their lives. Science and technology have transfigured and revolutionized the way we commute, the way we interact with one another, the way we do business and even the things we consume, with plant-based alternatives and lab developed meats being introduced in order to deal with the rising levels of meat consumption. Technologies ranging from cell phones to laser medicine are ubiquitous; the presence of scientific developments at every corner illustrates the prominence and even the dependence that the modern world has on science. In contrast, despite its long history and the influence it has had on society, even at times influencing the ideas and decisions of the people, religion and religious activities have largely taken a backseat to science in this day and age. Across the world, young people are growing less religious – a study conducted by the Pew Research Centre indicates that in 41 out of 106 countries surveyed, young adults are increasingly less likely to be affiliated to religious groups. Religions across the world have largely been relegated to performing ceremonial roles on special occasions, as opposed to how science and technology have basically been able to capture global focus and attention. Although many people draw meaning and inspiration from religion in order to make decisions or take specific actions, science gives them the means to actually carry out their objectives and achieve their goals, demonstrating the dependence that even religion itself has developed for science. Thus, the inescapable nature of the influence of science on modern life demonstrates how religion has taken a backseat in terms of importance as compared to science. Unlike religion, science and scientific innovations permeate every aspect of our lives as the world is dependent on scientific exploits to a scarily suffocating degree.
Additionally, science holds greater importance as compared to religion in terms of how it shapes our perception and understanding of the physical world around us and the way forward. Countries across the world have agreed that an understanding of science is necessary in order to understand how things in the world work and the overall nature of the physical world itself. This can be seen through the prominence of science in education systems around the world, instilling in the society the reasons behind many of the phenomenon that we witness during our lives. Former US President Barack Obama notably pledged more than $240 million in schemes to promote the role of scientific study in an average American student’s education. Science has allowed society to fully grasp the natural world and understand things such as the water cycle, vegetation, gravity often to the detriment of religion as religious beliefs become undermined by scientific understanding. This greater grasp of the world around us has allowed us to innovate and improve, no longer fearing natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis as the wrath of god and instead understanding why these events happen and developing ways to predict them and protect ourselves from them. That said, religion can at times reinforce and even lay the basis for us to better understand the natural world. Religious texts and their description of events are of great help to scientists hypothesising and corroborating theories about the world, such as how the theory about the Big Bang, a theory about how the universe came into existence, existed in some form within Christian religious texts for centuries. Nonetheless, the importance of the sciences to the progress of the human race is unquestionable: an understanding of the world through science is essential in allowing us to continue to grow and innovate for the future and not get held back by the artificial limitations imposed by religion.
However, when we examine this debate from a different angle, it cannot be denied that religion is more important than science from a moral perspective as religion lays many of the moral foundations which govern the way human beings act. Much of what people understand as right and wrong has developed over the years due to religious influences, with many societies directly classifying actions as good or bad due to how their gods or their sacred scriptures would view these acts. For example, it is widely known that in many religions that act of murder is a sin and the Christian Bible even goes so far as to tell its followers to “love thy neighbour as thyself”, demonstrating how religion often holds people to a higher moral code and reinforcing that notions of right and wrong come naturally to most. Legal traditions, which often draw inspiration from conventional moral standards, have been influenced by religion at some point or the other. In Thailand, Buddhist concepts of cosmic law and religion have been flawlessly integrated with modern concepts of public administration and legal process, introducing a framework for both religious discourse and legal authority. That said, it should be noted that religion may not be perfect in this aspect – religion is often used to justify acts of bigotry such as homophobia, as the Westboro Baptist Church suggests. Despite its flaws, religion does serve as a guide in many ways to how people should act, as all religions do tend to promote good behaviour and practises and reinforce strong moral character. Science on the other hand intrinsically lacks emotion and any moral compass as science is in essence entirely based on facts and outcomes. While religion alone does not make up the moral code of all humans, it does however form the moral foundations that many in the world choose to adhere to, demonstrating its important place in maintaining the moral compass of many across the world, and indeed even for those who have dedicated their lives to science.
Religion is also more important and effective than science when it comes to bringing people together and forming bonds within the community. Religion gives people a common belief system that unites people, allowing people to come together to share their struggles and beliefs within their common faiths. Religion often forms the basis of many communities being one of the only things that can bring together people from different walks of life and even different parts of the world together, uniting people in a way that not much else can. The Hajj in the Islamic faith for example is an annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the holiest site in the world for Muslims and a mandatory religious duty that gathers Muslims from around the world to worship and practise their religion. On a smaller scale, communities anchored by churches tend to rally when one of their own is in need of aid, and this is evidenced by church-run programmes like soup kitchens or donation drives. Research conducted by the Religion News Service suggests that religious people are three to four times more likely than non-religious people to engage in civic activism, be it volunteering their time with grassroot organisations, donating to social causes or engaging with their community. This uniting of people from a vast array of different countries and backgrounds based on their common beliefs and faith, demonstrates the unifying ability that religion can have on individuals as it allows them to bond and see pass their differences because of their common faith. Despite science being something that is used by all humans, the scientific method emphasises the use of logic and objectivity, and therefore its proponents may lack any spiritual connection due to its cold and clinical nature. It can be summarised as a discipline that is used by all but only understood by an advanced few due to the complex nature of science. Furthermore, although science has allowed people across the globe to interact more and understand each other’s cultures through technology, much of these interactions and understandings happen at face value and do not evoke the same strength of community which is achieved through the spiritual connections that religion creates. Moreover, technology provides a means of increasing social isolation instead. The Stanford University for the Quantitative Study of Society noted a correlation between spending a significant amount of time on the Internet and people spending less time interacting with their families. Thus, the importance of religion in uniting people is unrivalled, with the efforts of science and scientific advancements paling in comparison to those of religion due to the emotional and spiritual nature of religion, allowing it to bring people together for a higher power and something greater than themselves.
Overall, science holds a predominant role in underpinning our understanding of the physical world, with the majority of the tools we use to work, commute, and survive being a direct result of scientific innovations. However, religion is unique and unrivalled in its contribution to society’s moral, emotional and spiritual development through its ability to hold individuals to a higher moral standing and bind them through their religious beliefs in a way that nothing else can. Thus, while science is more important in terms of directly leading to the scientifically and technologically efficient world we have today, without religion, the world would lack unity and meaning, creating a society that is unable to tell from right and wrong and unable to create and innovate for the good and progress of humanity.