Writers & Journalists Got It Wrong: Evangelicals Do Not See Conflict Between Religion & Science

The commonly held perception expounded by so many writers, authors and journalists is that evangelicals hold "science" as the enemy is wrong.  According to new research  presented by Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund at the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference, the majority, nearly seventy percent, see no conflict between science and their religious beliefs.

Just as some scientists hold strongly held religious beliefs, most evangelicals across a range of religions see science as another way of explaining how things work.  As some say, "science is about how, religion is about why - and perhaps who." 

So the truth is, the majority of population see no conflict, and as in politics, it's the noisy, extreme few who make the most furor about the supposed conflict.

Unfortunately, this simple truth doesn't sell newspapers, so it's unlikely this result will change how writers present their stories, whether fiction or nonfiction.  After all, as yellow-journalism creator József Pulitzer, publisher of the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the New York World knew, conflict and sensationalism sells.

Here's the story:
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Nearly 70 percent of evangelical Christians do not view the two as being in conflict with each other.
Findings from the recently completed study "Religious Understandings of Science (RUS)" reveal that despite many misconceptions regarding the intersection of science and religion, nearly 70 percent of evangelical Christians do not view the two as being in conflict with each other.

Elaine Howard Ecklund, the principal investigator and researcher for the RUS project, is the Autrey Professor of Sociology and director of Rice's Religion and Public Life Program.

Ecklund noted that evangelicals are of interest in this study because they constitute approximately 26 percent of the population in the U.S. and are often considered the most hostile toward science.

"We really wanted to determine if this claim was based in any truth," Ecklund said. "Although many politicians and the media at large portray evangelicals as distrustful of science, we found that this is more myth than reality."

Other key findings:
  • Nearly half of evangelicals (48 percent) view science and religion as complementary to one another; 21 percent view them as entirely independent of one another.
  • Overall, 38 percent of Americans view religion and science as complementary, and 35 percent of Americans view science and religion as entirely independent.
  • In the U.S., 76 percent of scientists in the general population identify with a religious tradition.
  • Only 15 percent of Americans and 14 percent of evangelicals agree that modern science does more harm than good.
  • Jews (42 percent), Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus (52 percent as a group) and the nonreligious (47 percent) are more interested in new scientific discoveries than evangelicals (22 percent) are.
Science, Religion,
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Ecklund plans to write a book about the survey findings with Chris Scheitle, a sociology professor at the West Virginia University. She hopes the research will shed light on how religious groups understand science and vice versa, in addition to providing outreach and translation to individuals who might have difficulties with some aspects of science.
RUS is the largest study of American views on religion and science. It includes a nationally representative survey of more than 10,000 Americans and more than 300 in-depth interviews with Christians, Jews and Muslims; more than 140 of the latter three groups are evangelical Christians. The study also included extensive observations of 23 religious centers in Houston and Chicago. The research is being provided to the AAAS Dialogue on Science Ethics and Religion program to help foster communication between religious groups and scientists.


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    Story Source:  Materials provided by Rice University. "Nearly 70 percent of evangelicals do not view religion, science as being in conflict." ScienceDaily, 13 March 2015

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