Mal Fletcher comments
In the age of secularism, does faith still matter to people? A new global study by Ipsos MORI has found that it does - and to a higher degree than some might have imagined.
A full 70 percent of 18,000 people surveyed in 24 nations say that they have a religion and that faith is important to them. This belies the claim made by many militant atheists that in the age of science faith has become redundant.
What's more, 73 percent of people aged below 35 said that their religion or faith was important in their life. Faith, it seems, is far from dying out.
Indeed, as the chief executive of Ipsos MORI, Ben Page pointed out: 'The survey is a good reminder to many in western Europe of how much religion matters - and is a force for good - in much of the world.'
For people of religious faith, these results will not necessarily come as a surprise - though there are lessons to be learned, as we shall see.
People of faith will argue that religion offers them things which science, for all its many benefits, cannot, the first being transcendent meaning.
The more science tells us about how things work the more we want to know why this is so. We want to find reasons for the apparent consistency in the natural order. C. S. Lewis reminded us that historically people began thinking in a scientific way because they expected to find order in the natural world. They expected to find order because they believed in an orderly creator, he said.
In the West, modern scientific method was born out of a Judaeo-Christian worldview, several centuries before Darwin. Many of Western science's most respected early figures were committed to a religious faith.
It is not only meaning in nature that we seek, but a sense of purpose for our human nature - and existential meaning for our individual lives. Science may be good at answering the 'how' questions relating to processes but it is not equipped to answer the deeper 'why' questions which have played on the minds of theologians, philosophers and, yes, everyday people since the dawn of time.
Faith also offers hope. Science too does this, but in quite a different way.
The hope science offers is necessarily based on two assumptions. One is that nature will remain largely benign toward us. If science is based on observing and manipulating the natural order, it requires that nature plays ball by remaining consistent over time; that nothing too cataclysmic happens to break expected patterns.
To offer us hope for the future, science must also assume that on the whole human beings can be relied upon to do the right thing. This, of course, runs counter to some of the most profound lessons of history.
Humanity is capable of tremendous nobility and selflessness, but it is also able to turn to extreme acts of selfishness and destruction, sometimes on the smallest of pretexts.
Religious faith offers hope that is based on something (or Someone) who controls nature - because He is outside of it - and who is higher in motive, stronger in resolve, more able and more dependable by nature than we are.