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Religion and science partnership possible

By Sarah Frazier     2/19/14 6:10am

Preliminary results of a survey of over 10,000 Americans presented at an American Association for the Advancement of Science symposium on Feb. 16 indicate that Americans have mixed perceptions of the relationship between religion and science, according to study conductor Elaine Howard Ecklund.

Preliminary results of a survey of over 10,000 Americans presented at an American Association for the Advancement of Science symposium on Feb. 16 indicate that Americans have mixed perceptions of the relationship between religion and science, according to study conductor Elaine Howard Ecklund.

“About one-fifth of the general population perceives that religion and science are in conflict,”



Ecklund, the Herbert S. Autrey Chair Professor of Sociology at Rice University, said. “[However,] many Americans, evangelicals and scientists themselves believe that religion and science can collaborate.”

Ecklund said her work, a joint project with the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion, fills in demographic gaps that other science and religion surveys have left out. She said these gaps may have been skewing the results of previous surveys, which have focused on perceptions of specific issues like evolution or perspectives of elite, research-oriented scientists, rather than “rank-and-file” scientists like laboratory technicians. 

Jennifer Wiseman, program director of DoSER, said the intention of the project is to improve dialogue between scientists and religious communities, particularly evangelical communities.

“We will be building on this [work] later this year to have regional workshops and even a national conference next year,” Wiseman said.

Ecklund said she first recognized the need for such a project while working on another research project in evangelical communities, when a woman in a Bible study group expressed fear that her daughter would decide to attend Cornell University and turn away from her faith after taking science classes.

Ecklund said the survey, which asked about perceived hostilities between science and religion and focused on evangelical Christian communities, revealed differences in how evangelical Christians and the general population tend to approach questions of science.

Ecklund said 10% of evangelical Christians surveyed said they would approach a religious leader with a question about science, compared to less than 2% of the general population.

“That’s a statistic I think we need to pay attention to,” Ecklund said. “We need to consider the powerful role of religious leaders in the lives of evangelicals.”

Despite different approaches to scientific questions, interest in science is consistent across the population, according to Ecklund.

“Evangelicals are generally as interested in science as the broader public,” Ecklund said.

Vice President of the National Association of Evangelicals Galen Carey said his group is supportive of Dr. Ecklund’s research.

“We welcome the publication of this survey,” Carey said. “There is quite a bit of scope for both of our communities to learn about the other.”

Brown College sophomore Kathryn Kubena said she supports increased dialogue between scientists and religious communities.

“I think that having an open dialogue between different groups is usually a positive idea,” Kubena said. “The more dialogue groups have, the more understanding and respectful people are able to be.”

Based on preliminary survey analysis provided by Elaine Howard Ecklund to media.

 



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