Stephen Hawking in 2010 said about science and religion “There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works”
Personally, I don’t quite fully agree with his statement as I think it is too general and simplistic. I think science is also authoritative and not entirely based on observation and reason. For example, in schools especially, one does not have much freedom to question based on observation & reason and take a position against the curriculum books unless you want to fail in class. Knowledge albeit “scientific” is thrust upon children with fertile brains. So by the time, they reach college, they take sides supporting or rejecting scientific theories but all within the umbrella of “science”. I don’t think there is an alternate school of thought encouraged or developed if a young child chooses. So in that sense, I think modern science is as authoritative if not more as religion. In fact, out of pressure to maintain one’s social and economic identity, one is forced to choose one way or the other…again within the umbrella of science. Every sphere of life, today, from politics to sports to entertainment is based on the principles of modern science which functions based on authority.
I do agree, however, that modern religion due to unscrupulous leaders has become an appendage with no practical value or reason. Because religious leaders could not bridge the gap between real world life and religious principles, the aspect of authority was stressed and highlighted as the end all. While there is authority in all spheres of life including science and I think authority is necessary for proper order in society, unfortunately, religion simply orders people to do things in the name of higher authority which otherwise puts the followers in face with “eternal damnation”. Therefore out of fear to such authority, by and large people approach religion. When we remove practical reason out of religion, it simply becomes a symbolic value and nothing more. This, in my opinion, is not because “religion” as a concept is false but because the so called torch bearers of religion failed to maintain purity of heart and appeal to the practical matters of the general public.
You see modern science and philosophy is a rebellious offshoot to religion. But this religion is based on a Judeo-Christian tradition. Historically, the forefathers of science moved away from dogmatic religion to empirical science simply to disprove the Judeo-Christian version of reality. The church during the middle ages mishandled their authority and thus gave birth to science. On the other hand, Vedic science is modeled around dialogue. All the great knowledge of Vedic science such as the Bhagavad Gita, Bhagavata Purana etc is based on a dialogue of question and answer between the speaker and questioner. The dialogues originate based on observation and reason and culminates in surrender to a sublime authority (not mundane). In the same breadth, random unreasonable questioning is also discouraged.
Therefore, going back to the original statement by Hawking, true religion which is based on non-sectarian values and beyond external rituals and form actually starts with reason and not authority. But for one to go beyond the external form requires intentional effort from the seeker – that which is founded upon open, humble and introspective inquiry.
Anybody who keeps aside (at least temporarily) his or her preconceived ideas about this world and God, and have faith in a higher power, approaches it with an unmotivated, sincere and humble heart, and in that mood observe and ask questions not to criticize but to learn, to such a heart, true religion will be automatically revealed.
True religion culminates in surrender to a pure authority but is founded on objective inquiry and sustained through sincere and determined practice. True religion will also win as it works!