“Science and Religion Do Mix”

From Rice University: A study finds that only 15% of scientists at major research universities say that science and religion are always in conflict. Does this counter the popular view of academic scientists as non- or even anti-religious? I don’t think so, but I’ll explain why below.

Throughout history, science and religion have appeared as being in perpetual conflict, but a new study by Rice University suggests that only a minority of scientists at major research universities see religion and science as requiring distinct boundaries.

“When it comes to questions about the meaning of life, ways of understanding reality, origins of Earth and how life developed on it, many have seen religion and science as being at odds and even in irreconcilable conflict,” said Rice sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund. But a majority of scientists interviewed by Ecklund and colleagues viewed both religion and science as “valid avenues of knowledge” that can bring broader understanding to important questions, she said.

They interviewed a scientifically selected sample of 275 participants, pulled from a survey of 2,198 tenured and tenure-track faculty in the natural and social sciences at 21 elite U.S. research universities. Only 15 percent of those surveyed view religion and science as always in conflict. Another 15 percent say the two are never in conflict, and 70 percent believe religion and science are only sometimes in conflict. Approximately half of the original survey population expressed some form of religious identity, whereas the other half did not.

“Much of the public believes that as science becomes more prominent, secularization increases and religion decreases,” Ecklund said. “Findings like these among elite scientists, who many individuals believe are most likely to be secular in their beliefs, definitely call into question ideas about the relationship between secularization and science.”

The reason I wanted to post this article is because I thought it would be a surprising find, and would conflict with my assumptions, but unfortunately I don’t think it does that. The headline proclaims “Only 15% of scientists… see religion and science always in conflict.” Considering another 70% saw them as “sometimes” in conflict, why not “Only 15% of scientists don’t see religion and science in conflict”?

Also, the fact that they didn’t separate out the natural scientists from the social scientists is telling. I don’t know much about social sciences, but I can’t think of why studying politics or economics would come into direct conflict with religion. My guess is that the percentage of natural scientists who thought that religion and science weren’t in conflict was probably much lower than 15% – confirming the stereotype that the author claims to be refuting. 

I found this article via Science Daily, who probably put it best: they modified the title from “Science and religion do mix” to “Science and religion do mix?” Very sneaky, SD. 


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