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Rice hosts conference on science/religion dialogue

By Sarah Frazier     10/28/14 4:39pm

Elaine Howard Ecklund, director of the Religion and Public Life Program at Rice University, presented the results from a survey on the relationship between science and religion. The conference, titled “Matter and Meaning: Exploring the Religion and Science Dialogue,” was held at various locations across campus on Oct. 24.

“[I studied] how religious people across different traditions perceive and interface with the scientific world around them,” Ecklund, the Herbert S. Autrey Chair professor of sociology at Rice, said.

Ecklund said her study, titled “Religious Understandings of Science,” found a large number of religious people believe religion and science can work together.

“Forty-eight percent of Evangelical Protestants think that there is some collaborative capacity between science and religion,” Ecklund said. “That’s … not exactly what we would expect.”

A significant portion of the same group reported one of their primary sources of scientific information is religious leaders, according to Ecklund.

“Thirty-five percent of Evangelicals would consult a religious leader with scientific questions,” Ecklund said.

Ecklund said she thinks scientists who are religious can make progress in the religion/science dialogue.

“Religious scientists … can be a valuable resource,” Ecklund said. “If there are scientists in those pews, it seems like religious leaders want to draw on their insights to help others.”

Ecklund said people are most interested in discoveries with real-world applications, such as medical discoveries, and overall interest in science is not very high.

“The public’s interest in science in general, regardless of whether or not people are religious, could be greater,” Ecklund said.

According to Ecklund, the perception of science can be significantly different from the perception of scientists.

“There is some kind of sentiment out there that scientists themselves are actually hostile to religious people,” Ecklund said.

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