Science and religion can and do mix, mostly

Rice study shows only 15% of scientists at major US research universities see religion and science as always in conflict

An interesting study by Rice University recently found that in one of the one of the more voracious social (and increasingly political) battlegrounds,  science v. religion there is more common ground that most folks believe.  In fact, according to the study, only 15% of scientists at major US research universities see religion and science as always in conflict.

"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," But a majority of scientists interviewed viewed both religion and science as "valid avenues of knowledge" that can bring broader understanding to important questions, said study author Rice sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund in a statement.

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The Rice study interviewed what it said was 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 US research universities. Only 15% of those surveyed view religion and science as always in conflict. Another 15% say the two are never in conflict, and 70% 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, the university stated.

Some of the interesting finding from the study:

  • Scientists deliberately use the views of influential scientists who they believe have successfully integrated their religious and scientific beliefs.
  • Scientists actively engage in discussions about the boundaries between science and religion.
  • Scientists as a whole are substantially different from the American public in how they view teaching "intelligent design" in public schools. Nearly all of the scientists - religious and nonreligious alike - have a negative impression of the theory of intelligent design.
  • Sixty-eight percent of scientists surveyed consider themselves spiritual to some degree.
  • Scientists who view themselves as spiritual/religious are less likely to see religion and science in conflict.
  • Overall, under some circumstances even the most religious of scientists were described in very positive terms by their nonreligious peers; this suggests that the integration of religion and science is not so distasteful to all scientists.

"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. I think it would be helpful for the public to see what scientists are actually saying about these topics, rather than just believe stereotypes."

The study "Scientists Negotiate Boundaries Between Religion and Science," appears in the September issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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