Science, or more accurately the scientific method, will continue to be vital to the progress of society for the simple reason that it works.
The scientific method is not simply the search for proof of theories, it is also the search for disproof of theories. This is what makes the scientific method so reliable. If you only relied on proof it would be relatively easy to validate theories by selectively using that which supports your arguments and ignoring that which contradicts it. This is the single biggest cause of bad thinking in the world of religion and politics.
The scientific method is not the discovery of absolute truth, it is a means for comparing beliefs. In a world without absolute truth, not all beliefs are equal. Beliefs should be compared and weighed against each other. For this reason, religion is just as valid an area for scientific study as chemistry or physics, and should be studied scientifically to the extent that it can be. If some religious beliefs are true, the religious have no reason to fear scientific study of their beliefs.
Whilst much of what is believed in religion is hard to disprove and therefore not open to the scientific method, the mechanisms of religious belief can be studied at various levels including sociological, psychological and neurological. Studies into the neurological processes behind religious experience have begun but could go much further. It is likely that different types of religious experience can be distinguished through this study, separating out revelation and trance experiences from mystical, meditative and prayer experiences. This could prove to be very useful in the ongoing development of religion and spirituality, as trance experiences tend to be very culture specific and it is from these religious experiences that the creeds of intolerance usually emerge.
The specific claims about the physical world such as creation myths can also be studied and robust scientific models of creation and evolution already exist for anyone with an open mind.
Some of the most basic beliefs that exist in most religions can also be studied, although there is a reluctance to do so because of a cultural acceptance that religion and science occupy two realms which do not overlap.
Most religions believe in a spirit world and the existence of non-physical consciousness. This is not as hard to study as might at first be imagined. The scientific method is about looking for disproof as well as proof. There are many claims of paranormal activity. These can be studied and disproved if false.
For scientists who do not believe in paranormal activity it may seem a rather depressing activity to spend your life proving things to be false, but it is science. Many people would rather try and prove something exists than continually disproving false theories. It is for this reason that medical science usually requires ‘double blind’ experiments in drug testing. In double blind experiments the scientist conducting the research does not know who has the real drug under test, and who has been given a harmless placebo. No matter how much a scientist knows he must try and disprove something in order to be rigorous, he will want the thing under test to be proved.
Some of the best debunkers of paranormal activity in the past have been magicians, genuine fakes, whose work consists of tricking people’s senses and who therefore have a good understanding of man’s willingness to believe. Magicians can help in the design of clean experimental conditions for paranormal activity. Why bother? Because many people are exploited and abused by those who claim paranormal and spiritual ability.
Some universities do now have departments which study paranormal activity. If in the process of debunking most paranormal activity, they come across paranormal activity that is real, then so be it.
The study of consciousness is another area that can throw light on religious concepts by showing how the human mind develops. The study of Artificial Intelligence is also an area that may illuminate much about human as well as machine intelligence and consciousness.
The study of the laws of nature and the fundamental nature of matter and energy may very well radically alter our view of reality as it develops. Perhaps consciousness can exist outside of matter. Perhaps consciousness exists in all matter. The fact is that if either of these things are true, it is likely that the scientific method will discover them to be so in time. If God does exist within the universe, science would be likely at some point to discover evidence for this too.
If religion does contain truth, science which is willing to study it should not be feared by the religious. The other side of this is that science will prove much within religion to be false including the literal truth of revelation.
What man does not know, he tends to make up. It is the way our minds work. We look for patterns and reason in everything. That ability helps us survive and thrive. Beyond that which we know, we will always speculate. The important thing is to be open enough to allow changes in belief when knowledge allows it.
A spirituality that acknowledges that which we do not know as well as that which we do, allows for tolerance and continual development. It allows for a belief in God, Pantheism or Atheism. Once we have stepped beyond that which is known, tolerance is the most important thing to achieve. Tolerance is not religious or Atheist, tolerance is tolerance.