The Strengths of Religion;
The Strengths of Science

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright July 2013


This essay has been inspired by watching Larry Charles' Religulous (2008) starring Bill Maher. This is a documentary about religion from the atheist viewpoint.

The topic of this essay is which is better? Science or religion? I find the question silly because each has their place. So this will mostly be about what are their places in the human experience? What is each good at?

Note that what does make this topic more interesting and not so silly is that what the proper places are for science and religion are different for each person, and the choice is an emotional one. (as in, controlled by instinctive thinking)


One goal of both science and religion is identifying patterns that can guide and predict human behavior and the behavior of the world around us. Religion and science are both modern tools. The first predicting tools humans developed were superstition and fortune telling. These tools are still used today. Religion is a child of the Agricultural Age. It was created to do a better job of predicting and guiding than superstition and fortune telling. It did so by being better organized. In the Agricultural Age science and religion were the same. Science and religion started becoming different animals during the Renaissance, and the difference became more dramatic as the Industrial Age developed. As with fortune telling and superstition, they are both still active today, but they fill different roles for people and their communities.

Let's talk about those differences.

What Science is good at

Science is good at predicting what happens in the physical world around us. It's good, and it keeps getting better and better at that because it has developed good techniques for building upon itself. I cover this at length in my essay Science versus Holy Texts. An example of building on itself:

o Galileo was working on a better calendar for his friend Pope Gregory. He measured the motions of the planets and concluded that a sun-centric model of planet motion worked better than an earth-centric one did.

o Newton, using better observing tools, noted that an even better model postulated that the planets were subjected to a force that was proportional to their mass and inversely proportional to the square of their distance from the sun. This force he called gravity.

o Einstein, using even better tools than Newton's, observed that Mercury was not quite acting "Newtonian". He created the theory of Special Relativity to explain the discrepancy.

This is the kind of arena science works well in. It explains the patterns of the material things around us better and better with each passing year because it takes advantage of the better tools we build now and builds on previous ideas of how the world works.

What Religion is good at

Science serves mankind's analytic side. Religion serves mankind's instinctive side. Religion services the need for warm, fuzzy, feel-good answers to explain what's going on around us. In our civilized environment religious-style answers serve well in explaining our relations with other people, and ourselves. They provide comfortable answers about our person-to-person and community relations.

Religion does not build on previous works. Instead it adapts to current conditions. What religion "is" is defined by contemporary opinion makers consulting the ancient texts to make decisions about contemporary issues. Those choices are made by listening to the heart, as in, by making emotional choices.

Religion helps define good and evil. And it can give meaning to life, literally. (Another essay of mine Thoughts on Religion and Self-awareness.) A dark side mankind's wonderful gift of self-aware thinking is that it can lead to deeply Nihilistic thinking. Religion is a counter that. There are many examples of people who have found God in one fashion or another and had their lives turn for the better when it happened.

Religion helps people get organized. Religious backing can bring lots of support to causes that will help the community.

So, both religion and science can do good. Both can also do bad. Next are a couple of examples of that.

Places where each haven't worked

Religion and science can be used where they are inappropriate. Deciding where is appropriate is an on-going and lively issue. Here are some off-beat historical examples of bad choices in this regard.

A ship design can be effective or defective. It really can't be good or evil. But the ship built from it can be used for good or evil. Good and evil are emotional feelings, and religion can help us decide which to tag a person, place, object or action with. What the good or evil tag can't do well is predict the outcome of using a tool such as a ship design. Here is an example of the poor predictability of good and evil with regard to ship design: In 1628 the Swedish ship Vasa was launched. The launching was done on the orders of the king. He was, in effect, using his divine right to say "this launching is good". Sadly, the physical world did not agree with his divine choice and the ship capsized about a mile from where it was launched.

Conversely, enthusiasts of the Eugenics movement of the 1920's wanted to use science to make choices about who should have children. The American community thought this was an emotional (moral) choice and the Eugenics movement gained a seriously spooky reputation when it tried to put money where mouth was.


Both science and religion have a place in the civilized lifestyle. Science handles predicting the physical world much better than religion does. Religion gives people warm and comforting feeling and guidance that science doesn't.

Both have their place, but there is constantly lively discussion going on about where to draw the line between the two.


--The End--