Science vs. Religion:
The debate between science and religion goes on without resolve and without satisfaction for any involved. We might get somewhere if we narrowed the terms of debate a bit: on what grounds are we attempting to compare the two? There are many possible points of comparison; here I shall briefly summarize how science is superior to religion in terms of improving the lives, health, and welfare of humanity on a very basic level and all around the world.
Sanitation & Cleanliness:
What has religion done in the past millennia to improve sanitation and cleanliness? Little to nothing. Science, however, has informed us of the ways in which disease can be spread through improperly handled water and poor hygiene. Science has also provided the tools to make water safer to drink and to clean up both ourselves and our surroundings to greatly reduce the risk of disease. Countless people have been saved from sickness and death through this information.
Disease in general is not something which religion has helped fight; on the contrary, myths about the origins of disease have only made things worse. Science, however, has identified the bacteria and viruses which cause disease, how they work, how to fight them, and more. Through evolutionary theory we know that the fight against pathogens is endless because they will constantly evolve, but science gives us the tools to continue the fight with. Religion does not and often inhibits the effort.
Humans today live much longer on average than they used to, with the longest lives occurring in the industrialized West. This is not a coincidence: it is due to the use of science to fight disease, improve hygiene, and most importantly to improve the chances of survival in childhood. People are living longer because they use science to better understand and manipulate the world around them. Religion has not contributed to this.
Communication & Community:
People today can communicate with each other across vast distances in ways that would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago. This facilitates not only the transmission of useful information, but also the development of new and dynamic human communities. All of this is possible through the use of science to create new technology. Religion has made great use of these abilities, but has contributed nothing to their basic development.
Food Production & Distribution:
People need to eat to survive, and while religion might encourage giving food to those who need it most, it does nothing to help grow more of it and more efficiently. Humans have used basic scientific tools to improve food production for millennia, but in recent times that has increased geometrically through the use of chemical analysis, satellite records, and even genetic manipulation. Science makes it possible to feed more people more efficiently with less land.
Everything we make must be made from some raw material. In the past the options were limited; today, however, there is a wealth of materials that are lighter, stronger, and often better than what was available before. Religion did not create plastics, carbon fiber, or even steel. Science and the scientific method allow people to develop new materials for new tasks, making it possible to do so much that we take for granted today.
Understanding Sexuality & Reproduction:
Science has provided invaluable insights into how human sexuality and reproduction work. We understand not only how and why things function, but also how and why they fail to function. This makes it possible to correct for errors and for people who previously were unable to have children to now successfully do so. Religion not only has not contributed to this, but in the past it has inhibited our understanding through myths and fables.
Understanding Our Real Place in the Universe:
It should go without saying that we cannot improve our position if we don't know what that position really is. Science has provided tremendous information about our place in nature, about our planet's place in the solar system, and about our galaxy's place in the universe. There is much to learn, but what we know already has been put to great use. Religion has only ever offered myths, all of which have proven to be wrong and misleading.
Humanity Needs More Science, Not More Religion:
It can be argued that there is much more to life than improved sanitation, improved hygiene, fighting disease, increased food production, new materials for building things, improved communication, and so forth. On the other hand, there isn't nearly as much life without those things — and those who are alive will have to endure more hardship and suffering as well. The ability of science to improve the very basic necessities of life is without question. The fact that religion doesn't even come close is also without question.
Why does such an extreme difference exist? Science's success depends upon the scientific method and upon methodological naturalism. The scientific method ensures that new ideas are thoroughly tested and vetted before being accepted. Methodological naturalism ensures that science conforms to the boundaries of the natural world rather than the boundaries of wishful thinking.
Religions neither incorporate nor value either of these methods. The diversity of religion prevents us making many generalizations about all religions, but I am unaware of any that develop and test their claims on the scientific method or rely upon methodological naturalism when examining the world.
This doesn't require the conclusion that religion is valueless because not everything in life can, does, or needs to incorporate the principles of science to be worth anything. What we can conclude, however, is that in the past couple of centuries science has done far more to improve the basic living and survival standards of humanity than religion has in the past several millennia. Religious leaders like to claim that we need more religion in order to solve our problems, but with most problems we could probably benefit from more science instead.