Religion And Science Can Coexist: Some Scientists Practice More Than The General Public

By Shweta Iyer on February 16, 2014 3:22 PM EST

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Although many people will argue that science and religion can't coexist, a new study finds that they definitely can, and that many scientists may even practice more than the general public. (Photo: wagdi.co.uk, CC BY 2.0)

Many of us have grown up thinking that we can either be religious or scientific and that one cannot coexist with the other. But a new survey, by Rice University, of American citizens, scientists and, evangelical Protestants shows that this is a misconception. The study also found that scientists and the general public are surprisingly similar in their religious practices.

The study, "Religious Understandings of Science," was conducted by sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund and presented in Chicago during the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference. It is the largest study of American views on religion and science to be conducted, according to the authors. It involved a nationally representative sample of more than 10,000 Americans, with 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.

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"We found that nearly 50 percent of evangelicals believe that science and religion can work together and support one another," said Ecklund, the Autrey Professor of Sociology and Director of Rice's Religion and Public Life Program, in a statement. "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 U.S. population. Of them, 15 percent consider themselves very religious, compared to 19 percent of the general U.S. population. Meanwhile, 13.5 percent of them read religious texts weekly, compared to 17 percent of the U.S. population. Finally, 19 percent pray several times a day, compared to 26 percent of the U.S. population.

"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. Rather, they should approach it with collaboration in mind," Ecklund in the release.

Ecklund also blames the media for fueling a misperception in the way the science-religion relationship is perceived. "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 said. "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 also noted that the two groups were unlikely to consult the other on topics related to science and religion. 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.

The other key findings of the study included:

- 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, 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 36 percent of scientists have no doubt about God's existence.

Ecklund found another counterintuitive result in the survey. Contrary to conventional wisdom that religious people who work in science will have more doubts about their faith, the survey revealed that 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 said. "Evangelical scientists feel that they've been put under pressure or they find themselves in what they view to be more hostile environments. They potentially see themselves as more religious, because they're seeing the contrast between the two groups all the time."

 

 

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