- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 22, 2015

Two-thirds of American adults have no problem reconciling their religious faith with the facts of science, but 59 percent think “other people” have a problem, according to a new Pew Research Center study.

“People’s sense that there generally is a conflict between religion and science seems to have less to do with their own religious beliefs than it does with their perceptions of other people’s beliefs,” said the report by Cary Funk and Becka A. Alper.

Released Thursday, the study is based on interviews with some 2,000 adults in August. It found that 68 percent of people said science doesn’t conflict with their own religious beliefs, while 30 percent said that it does.

Moreover, non-churchgoers were far more likely to agree that “science and religion are often in conflict.”

Of people who “seldom or never” went to a religious service, 73 percent thought religion and science clash. But of half of those who went to service “at least weekly” thought there is great discord.

The study looked at a range of subjects, including evolution, experimental drug treatments, vaccines, genetically modified foods, climate change, space exploration, population growth and bioengineered organs for human transplant.

It found that “sometimes religion is front and center — as with beliefs about evolution,” said Mr. Funk. But people’s age, gender, education and scientific knowledge also played roles in what people believed about the world they live in.

Political views were influential on some — but not all — “hot-button” scientific issues, Mr. Funk and Lee Rainie, director of Internet, science and technology research at Pew, said in a July report.

“Overall, Democrats and liberals are more likely than Republicans and conservatives to say the Earth is warming, human activity is the cause of the change, the problem is serious, and there is scientific consensus about the climate changes underway and the threat it poses to the planet,” they wrote.
However, political leanings are “much less of a factor” when it comes to issues such as food safety, space travel, and biomedical issues like gene therapy and vaccines, they said.

“I think the disparity in people’s perceptions about science and religion make sense because ‘conflict’ stories are far more popular than conciliatory stories,” said Jay W. Richards, assistant research professor at the School of Business and Economics at the Catholic University of America (CUA).

“Most religious people have a realistic understanding of science, and believe it has competence when it’s modest and focused on explaining the way things generally work in the natural world,” Mr. Richards said. “That’s perfectly consistent with the basic beliefs of, say, Christianity.”

On Monday, Mr. Richards and other scholars will discuss faith, science and social issues related to Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si,” at an all-day conference at CUA.

The encyclical — which calls for changes like an end to a “throwaway culture,” replacement of “highly polluting fossil fuels,” and economic accountability for using “shared” environmental resources — got mixed reviews: Some embraced Francis’ call to change human behaviors to save the Earth from climate change. Others said political, not religious, leadership is needed to craft wise, rational care of the environment.

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