In a recent Diane Sawyer interview, Stephen Hawking looks at the state of play between religion and science and sees checkmate in religion’s future:
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.
Hawking has honed in on something very important: religion is really not based on faith; it’s based on authority. In other words, faith has an object, and that object is an authority. But because religious authority is not expertise, and not based on expertise, it is not really a form of knowledge. Scientific claims, by contrast, tend to be made by scientific experts, and they base their claims on reason and evidence. Thus religion and science are not compatible, and science, based in expertise and evidence (as opposed to authority and faith) will, in the competition of good ideas, ultimately win.
I think that Hawking is right. In the 19th century, a lot of atheists called the death of religion in the 20th century, and they were obviously wrong. But I think that it is just a matter of time before religion—at least religion based on faith in authority—will be discredited in the minds of most human beings. The 19th century atheists just called it early. Hawking is calling the game, but not specifying when. My guess is sometime in the 22nd century.