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"Most of what you see in the news are stories about these two groups at odds over the controversial issues, like teaching creationism in the schools. And the pundits and news panelists are likely the most strident representatives for each group," says Elaine Howard Ecklund. (Credit: Kristine/Flickr)

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Survey: Religion and science aren’t always at odds

The common view that science and religion can’t work in collaboration is a misconception that stunts progress, according to a new survey.

The study also finds that scientists and the general public are surprisingly similar in their religious practices.

Elaine Howard Ecklund, professor sociology at Rice University, conducted the study and presented the results in Chicago during the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science conference.

“We found that nearly 50 percent of evangelicals believe that science and religion can work together and support one another,” says Ecklund, director of Rice’s Religion and Public Life Program. “That’s in contrast to the fact that only 38 percent of Americans feel that science and religion can work in collaboration.”

The study also found that 18 percent of scientists attended weekly religious services, compared with 20 percent of the general US population; 15 percent consider themselves very religious (versus 19 percent of the general US population); 13.5 percent read religious texts weekly (compared with 17 percent of the US population); and 19 percent pray several times a day (versus 26 percent of the US population).

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“This is a hopeful message for science policymakers and educators, because the two groups don’t have to approach religion with an attitude of combat,” Ecklund says. “Rather, they should approach it with collaboration in mind.”

In the news

Ecklund says that the way the science-religion relationship is portrayed in the news media influences the misperception.

“Most of what you see in the news are stories about these two groups at odds over the controversial issues, like teaching creationism in the schools. And the pundits and news panelists are likely the most strident representatives for each group,” she says.

“It might not be as riveting for television, but consider how often you see a news story about these groups doing things for their common good. There is enormous stereotyping about this issue and not very good information.”

Ecklund notes that portions of the two groups are likely to stay put in their oppositional camps. As an example, she found that evangelical Protestants are twice as likely as the general population (11 percent) to consult a religious text or religious leader for questions about science.

Other key findings:

  • Nearly 60 percent of evangelical Protestants and 38 percent of all surveyed believe “scientists should be open to considering miracles in their theories or explanations.”
  • 27 percent of Americans feel that science and religion are in conflict.
  • Of those who feel science and religion are in conflict, 52 percent sided with religion.
  • 48 percent of evangelicals believe that science and religion can work in collaboration.
  • 22 percent of scientists think most religious people are hostile to science.
  • Nearly 20 percent of the general population think religious people are hostile to science.
  • Nearly 22 percent of the general population think scientists are hostile to religion.
  • Nearly 36 percent of scientists have no doubt about God’s existence.

Religion in the lab

Ecklund found another counterintuitive result in the survey. The conventional wisdom is that religious people who work in science will have more doubts about their faith, but the survey revealed the opposite: Evangelical scientists practice religion more than evangelical Protestants in the general population.

“Those scientists who identify as evangelical are more religious than regular American evangelicals who are not in science,” Ecklund says.

“Evangelical scientists feel that they’ve been put under pressure or they find themselves in what they view to be more hostile environments,” she says. “They potentially see themselves as more religious, because they’re seeing the contrast between the two groups all the time.”

“Religious Understandings of Science” is the largest study of American views on religion and science. It includes the nationally representative survey of more than 10,000 Americans, more than 300 in-depth interviews with Christians, Jews, and Muslims—more than 140 of whom are evangelicals—and extensive observations of religious centers in Houston and Chicago.

Source: Rice University

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