Is there a conflict between science and religion?
Well, yes and no. First, I’d like to say that there’s no question a person can be both scientifically literate and religious at the same time. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be tensions occasionally. Primarily, tension will occur when religion attempts to make factual statements about the world in which we live, and when science reaches a point that it can provide adequate corrections to these statements.
If it comes down to a disagreement between science and theology, theology will always back down. If it doesn’t, people will move on to the next religion that proved itself to be more adaptive – or they'll leave religion altogether.
This process will not be without its casualties. The war raging in American classrooms (and classrooms across the globe) over Evolution vs. Creationism is a very good example of this. Here we have a situation where, at one time, theology taught humans were the apex of creation. But when the theory of evolution entered the ring and informed us that, actually, we’re really not as special as we thought, theology had to concede the ground.
Creationism was a bit of a sore loser in this regard and responded with a powerful reactionary response. However, it’s also doomed to failure. As Neil deGrasse Tyson once quipped, “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” Creationists may not be happy with science, but they can’t change reality.
As science continues to gain ground in nearly all areas of human knowledge, virtually unimpeded by religious protestations against its advance, theology loses ground in areas of knowledge it once held a monopoly.
This does not mean that science will necessarily ever dispense with religion outright – it almost certainly will not. But it does mean that scientific discoveries dictate what kinds of theology will be allowed to thrive. It’s not that science is itself concerned with theology, it’s just that if theology makes the unfortunate decision to pick a fight with science, theology will lose.
The only way religion will survive is if it allows science relative dominion over knowledge – at least in areas where science can reasonably present legitimate theories, which is a territory that is rapidly growing – and hope that its own rendition of knowledge can keep pace.
The sad truth about this state of affair, however, is that religion will find itself in a state of constant retreat. While humans will almost always have more questions to ask, the answers are coming far less frequently from priests.
The inevitable result appears to suggest that the end-state for religion is something similar to deism, where God is incited purely as a first-cause, but has no further involvement in its creation. It’s perfectly fair to understand why some religious individuals might be threatened by this thought.
But like the Honeybadger, science simply doesn’t care. As Lawrence Krauss argues in the video above,
If you want to have a sensible theology, it has to be consistent with what we know to be true about the Universe. But what we learn about the Universe is independent of our theology.… What’s really important about science is that it works, and that’s really all that’s important about it.So what I will conclude with is this: science can coexist with religion. But religion must make concessions to science, and not the other way around. This means the future of religious thought is not an optimistic one, at least insofar as it presumes itself to be a source of knowledge.