Recent sociological findings: many evangelicals think science and religion can work together, few highly invested in evolution/creation debate

Two recent studies suggest there may be less conflict between religious Americans and science than is typically portrayed.

1. Sociologist Elaine Ecklund on how religion and science interact:

“We found that nearly 50 percent of evangelicals believe that science and religion can work together and support one another,” Ecklund said. “That’s in contrast to the fact that only 38 percent of Americans feel that science and religion can work in collaboration.”…

  • Nearly 60 percent of evangelical Protestants and 38 percent of all surveyed believe “scientists should be open to considering miracles in their theories or explanations.”
  • 27 percent of Americans feel that science and religion are in conflict.
  • Of those who feel science and religion are in conflict, 52 percent sided with religion.
  • 48 percent of evangelicals believe that science and religion can work in collaboration.
  • 22 percent of scientists think most religious people are hostile to science.
  • Nearly 20 percent of the general population think religious people are hostile to science.
  • Nearly 22 percent of the general population think scientists are hostile to religion.
  • Nearly 36 percent of scientists have no doubt about God’s existence.

RUS is the largest study of American views on religion and science. It includes the nationally representative survey of more than 10,000 Americans, more than 300 in-depth interviews with Christians, Jews and Muslims — more than 140 of whom are evangelicals — and extensive observations of religious centers in Houston and Chicago.

Ecklund comes to similar conclusions in her 2010 book about scientists and religious faith Science vs. Religion.

2. Sociologist Jon Hill on how Americans view the evolution debate:

As part of a recent project funded by the BioLogos Foundation, I have fielded a new, nationally representative survey of the American public: The National Study of Religion and Human Origins (NSRHO).

Unlike existing surveys, this one includes extensive questions about human origins that allow us to develop a more accurate portrait of what the general public—and, in particular, Christians—actually believe. The survey includes questions on belief in human evolution, divine involvement, the existence of Adam and Eve, historical timeframe, original sin, and more. For each of these questions, participants are allowed to respond with “not at all sure” about what they believe. If they claim a position, they are also asked to rate how confident they are that their belief is correct. Lastly, they are asked to report how important having the right beliefs about human origins is to them personally…

If only eight percent of respondents are classified as convinced creationists whose beliefs are dear to them, and if only four percent are classified as atheistic evolutionists whose beliefs are dear to them, then perhaps Americans are not as deeply divided over human origins as polls have indicated. In fact, most Americans fall somewhere in the middle, holding their beliefs with varying levels of certainty. Most Americans do not fall neatly into any of the existing camps, and only a quarter claimed their beliefs were important to them personally.

So what does this mean for the church? I think it shows that most people, even regular church-going evangelicals, are not deeply entrenched on one side of a supposed two-sided battle. Certainly, the issue divides Christians. But Christian beliefs about human origins are complex. There’s no major single chasm after all.

In other words, the average religious American doesn’t have think this issue is a matter of life and death, even if the rhetoric from both sides is that the other is a clear enemy.

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