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The current largest study of American views on religion and science

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Religious and scientific communities may be less combative than commonly portrayed, say researchers, according to the February 17, 2014 news release, "Religious and scientific communities may be less combative than commonly portrayed." One of the largest surveys of American views on religion and science suggests that the religious and scientific communities may be less combative than is commonly portrayed in the media and in politics.

When you want answers, to whom do you turn first: Religious leaders, scriptures, secular books, or science? Do you think science and religion are in communion, share new knowledge, or are in conflict? In the latest study researchers found misconceptions about what many people think regarding science and religion.

Only a minority of the study's participants surveyed said they think science is in conflict with religion

Only 27 percent of those surveyed said that they viewed science and religion as being in conflict with each other, with about equal percentages of those people "siding with either religion or science," says Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund at the 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting last week. The survey was commissioned by the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion (DoSER) project and presented at the meeting on February 16, 2014.

The point is that scientists found more of a collaboration between science and religion. But there are still lots of differences among the participants surveyed in this new study.

Perhaps more importantly, given the large population of evangelical Christians in the United States (up to 30 percent by some estimates), nearly half of the evangelicals surveyed said they felt that science and religion were in a collaborative relationship.

There are still some significant differences among those surveyed, explains Ecklund in the news release. Ecklund also serves as director of Rice's Religion and Public Life Program. For instance, she noted, evangelicals "were more than twice as likely as the rest of the sample to say that they would turn to a religious leader or text if they have a question about science." The survey also found that 43 percent of evangelicals supported a strong creationist view in which "God created the Earth, the universe and all life within the past 10,000 years."

More than a third of all respondents in the survey agreed that "scientists should be open to considering miracles in their theories or explanations." The study included more than 10,000 people who took a 25-minute survey online, along with 300 personal interviews with Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Only about five percent of those surveyed identified themselves as scientists

DoSER commissioned the survey as the start of a far-ranging project to bring together scientific and religious communities into a more fruitful partnership, less burdened by misconceptions of each other's views, says DoSER Director Jennifer Wiseman, according to the news release.

"Previously, studies have focused on what various groups think about a particular issue involving science, such as evolution or climate change...but this survey is different because it's asking where people look to for authoritative information on science, who do they trust as their authority figures, and how important do they think scientific issues are in their daily life," Wiseman says in the news release.

DoSER's advisory committee requested that the project contain a particular focus on evangelicals, "who are typically very interested in national policy and in science and technology, but are significantly underrepresented in the sciences themselves," Wiseman notes. Galen Carey, vice president for government relations at the National Association of Evangelicals in Washington, D.C., says that he was pleased with the survey's findings, according to the news release. "There is quite a bit of scope for both of our communities to learn more about the other, to combat some of the ignorance which we see, which sometimes gets in the way of collaboration."

After the survey results have been thoroughly analyzed, DoSER will hold a series of regional workshops with leaders from local science communities and evangelical leaders to discuss improving communication between the two groups

They also plan a national conference in 2015 that builds off the issues discussed in the regional workshops. Another session at the AAAS Annual Meeting discussed public opinions on science and technology as gauged through surveys by the US National Science Board, the Pew Research Center, and the polling company Gallup.

The NSB 2014 Science Indicators study, released earlier this month, found that roughly seven in 10 Americans believe that the effects of scientific research are more positive than negative for society -- a number that has remained roughly the same since 1979.

Other recent surveys show a partisan political gap, however, in views on scientific topics such as evolution and climate change

Between 2009 and 2013, the gap between Republicans and Democrats on the question of evolution grew by 11 percentage points, says Cary Funk of the Pew Research Center, according to the news release. "There had been a partisan gap before, but the size of the gap is now bigger. And what happened is that fewer Republicans said humans and other living things evolved over time."

Recent polling on climate change science reveals a similar kind of gap, says Gallup researcher Lydia Saad, according to the news release. "What we've seen in the last ten years is a polarization of views, with Democrats clearly becoming more supportive of climate science and Republicans less supportive."

"With the politicalization and debate about this in Washington, we have a situation where some Americans are skeptical of scientists and believe that scientists are now partisan or the science is affected by the politics," Saad adds.

Misconceptions of science and religion found in new study

The public's view that science and religion can't work in collaboration is a misconception that stunts progress, according to a new survey of more than 10,000 Americans, scientists and evangelical Protestants. The study by Rice University also found that scientists and the general public are surprisingly similar in their religious practices.

The study, "Religious Understandings of Science (RUS)," was conducted by sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund and presented February 16, 2014 in Chicago during the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference. Ecklund is the Autrey Professor of Sociology and director of Rice's Religion and Public Life Program. Also, you may wish to see the abstract, "When Science And Religion Collide, It's Not Always A Bad Thing. Or check out, "Initial Findings From the RUS Study at AAAS."

"We found that nearly 50 percent of evangelicals believe that science and religion can work together and support one another," Ecklund says, according to the February 16, 2014 news release, Misconceptions of science and religion found in new study. "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; 15 percent consider themselves very religious (versus 19 percent of the general U.S. population); 13.5 percent read religious texts weekly (compared with 17 percent of the U.S. population); and 19 percent pray several times a day (versus 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," Ecklund says in the news release. "Rather, they should approach it with collaboration in mind."

Ecklund explains 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, according to the news release.

"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 noted 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.

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, according to the news release. "Evangelical scientists feel that they've been put under pressure or they find themselves in what they view to be more hostile environments," she explains. "They potentially see themselves as more religious, because they're seeing the contrast between the two groups all the time."

RUS 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.

The study is being provided to the AAAS Dialogue on Science Ethics and Religion program to help foster dialogue between religious groups and scientists. You also may wish to check out the site, "Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project."

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