Are Evangelicals Really That “Science-Friendly”?

“Evangelicals are more science-friendly than you think,” claims the headline of Cathy Lynn Grossman’s latest at RNS. The post examines a recent survey from sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund, who found that 70 percent of American evangelical Christians do not view religion and science as being in conflict, and that almost 50 percent view science and religion as complementary. Furthermore, 84 percent of evangelicals say that modern science is “doing good in the world.”

While “more than you think” is too subjective a claim to really take issue with, what these statistics obscure is that evangelicals are nonetheless three times more anti-science than mainline Protestants, and those who do see religion and science as “complementary” would have science become much more evangelical-friendly.

The RNS story was picked up by the Huffington Post and the Washington Post, while Scientific American featured a different write up. It has all the ingredients for a good lede, since the news comes as both surprising and, for most of the readers of these publications, encouraging. But just how much harmony actually exists between scientists and evangelicals?

Ecklund, the director of Rice University’s Religion and Public Life Program, and her team had surveyed 10,241 U.S. adults about, among other things, their perceptions of conflict between religion and science. Ecklund’s paper, available here, contains two important footnotes to the “Evangelicals are Science-Friendly” hypothesis.

1) Science-Friendliness is Relative

While only 29.4 percent of evangelicals reported that they considered science and religion to be in conflict, this is still almost twice the percentage of the runners-up, Mormons (15.8 percent). Here’s a comparison across all of the religious groups represented in Ecklund’s survey:

conflict

conflict

You’ll notice that pretty much no one is eager to tell the surveyors that science and religion can never get along. Even if only a minority of evangelicals assented to the “conflict thesis” about religion and science it’s important to note that this minority is relatively large compared to other mainline religious groups.

Evangelicals also reported being the least likely, of all groups, to take an interest in new scientific findings, and were the most likely to consult religious authorities if they had a question about science. Furthermore, Ecklund’s data reveals something about those evangelicals who chose the alternative positions of “independence” and “collaboration.”

2) Science-Friendliness for Evangelicals is Conditional

conflict2

 

48.4 percent of evangelicals surveyed agreed with the “collaboration” view of science and religion, which maintains that “each can be used to help support the other.” This corresponds to the popular Christian notion that natural science offers insight into God’s design.

Accordingly many evangelicals reported that collaboration should be a two-way street. 59.6 percent of evangelicals, for example, strongly agreed that “scientists should be open to considering miracles in their theories.” By comparison, only about 36 percent each of mainline Protestants and Catholics strongly agreed with this statement, in keeping with the general average of everyone surveyed.

43.4 percent of evangelicals (twice the average) are young earth creationists, agreeing that “God created the universe, the Earth, and all of life within the past 10,000 years,” and 42.3 percent strongly favored teaching creationism instead of evolution in public schools.

This raises an important question: for American evangelicals, what does “collaboration” between religion and science look like? If it involves teaching creationism and young earth theories in the classroom, or retooling science to leave room for miracles, evangelicals will have a difficult time finding secular scientific collaborators.

The story here, then, isn’t so much that evangelicals are more science-friendly than you think (unless of course you didn’t think they were science-friendly at all). The story is that: they want a more evangelical-friendly science to collaborate with. This should come as no surprise. It’s increasingly difficult to maintain an antagonistic position toward science, broadly conceived, so many evangelicals likely view the conflict thesis as a losing position.

Under the auspices of collaboration, evangelicals can claim to be science-friendly without losing any rhetorical ground. They can maintain that in order to “meet in the middle” science must make room for miracles and creationism (which contains echoes of the failed creationist strategy to “teach the controversy” in debates over the teaching of evolution in public schools).

So while Ecklund’s survey does seem to document a significant shift in the language that evangelicals are using to describe religion and science, that change might ultimately be strategic and rhetorical more than, well, an evolution in evangelical respect for established science.

*Read a response to this post (and Andrew’s reply) here

42 Comments

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    As it becomes less popular to be anti-science, evangelicals might become more pro-science, but still disbelieve science in certain things. Only the details are important. A good place to start has always been Darwin. He described life as a tree structure of common ancestry. That means pick any two species, and if you go back far enough they came from the same species. You have to ask them if they believe Darwin was right when he came up with this insight.

    One valuable aspect of this detail is it is probably the only question you need to ask. If the evangelical accepts Darwin was right about common ancestry, then that evangelical is not anti-science. If the evangelical thinks there is a problem with Darwin’s tree and you need to look at it differently, then that evangelical is anti-science. Period end of discussion.

  • repegs87924@mypacks.net' Anton says:

    Thank you. It was about time for a reality check. Ecklund is gauging “perceptions”, which is no doubt tricky business. But the conclusions she draws from the data are selectively trickled out and presented in isolation. If you actually look at the methods and data, there are many issues with the conclusions she draws, and the lack of qualification she provides. But the headlines morph across the media landscape until you see “2 Million U.S. Scientists Identify As Evangelical”, which is completely ridiculous.

    Unfortunately, by the time the work is scrutinized, it is already too late. In effect, it is not unlike the “vaccines cause autism” fiasco. Fortunately, Ecklund’s work is unlikely to lead to dead children. But it bolsters and perpetuates the misinformed perceptions that many religious people have about science. It does not educate anyone. There is nothing enlightening about the fact that 70% of evangelicals “do not view religion and science as being in conflict”, when Ecklund’s own data indicates that 92% of evangelicals do not understand what science is.

    This is based on the fact that 92% of evangelicals did not disagree with the statement, “Scientists should be open to considering miracles in their theories and explanations”, which amounts to a one question pass/fail test of science literacy. Evangelical’s failure rate is even worse than the 78% failure rate for all respondents. And we are supposed to find it surprising, or even interesting, that 70% of evangelicals “do not view religion and science as being in conflict” – seriously?

  • dkeane123@comcast.net' DKeane123 says:

    No surprise this article was by Cathy Lynn Grossman, when at USA today she had quite a few articles along a similar vein. Worse is Elaine Howard Ecklund, who has a long and storied history of distorting survey results to show there isn’t any conflict between science and religion. I wonder if it because she is funded by the Templeton foundation. Their website states:

    “Our vision is derived from the late Sir John Templeton’s optimism about the possibility of acquiring “new spiritual information” and from his commitment to rigorous scientific research and related scholarship.”

    “scientists should be open to considering miracles in their theories.” – SMH

    Oh, and excellent post.

  • bbailey1956@cableone.net' nmgirl says:

    Thanks for this. I had questions about her methodology when I read the first headline. I think Jim is right. If you want to know what Evangelicals REALLY think,ask them if they accept the paradigms that drive all major fields of science: atomic theory, germ theory, evolution etc. Hell, just ask them to define a scientific theory would probably be revealing enough.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    That is very true, but I still maintain only the Darwin question is necessary. That is the one thing more than all others that they have been taught to disrespect. If they don’t reject Darwin’s common ancestry, they probably won’t have reason to reject any science. If they are rejecting scientific principles for religious reasons, you can be about 100% certain they are also rejecting Darwin. Even if they don’t know what any of the other scientific principles are, they are probably rejecting Darwin because they are from a group that has been badmouthing Darwin from long before they were born.

  • repegs87924@mypacks.net' Anton says:

    I agree with you, Jim. There are multiple ways to get at what evangelicals believe. My point is that science does not care what anyone *believes*, and that “anyone” includes scientists. So what is the point of all of this?

    If people think they are going to convince practicing scientists to change the definition of evidence so that miracles become an acceptable part of scientific theories and explanations, they are wrong. If they think that pushing these kind of headlines out to the general public is somehow of service to their readers, they are wrong. So what is the purpose of
    this work, obfuscation?

    Are Ecklund and the purveyors of this information just trying to dupe religious folks into thinking that their *perceptions* of science are somehow valid, or even significant? How does this work benefit science, scientists or religious folks? Ecklund is supposedly doing it to promote dialogue between scientists and religious folks. Is *this* the kind of dialogue she wants to promote? If not, she needs to drop this hot mess and adopt a new strategy.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Science has to follow the evidence. For purposes of our discussion, we should just reject anyone who doesn’t believe in science. Darwin is the fastest and easiest way to sort out those people. If they don’t believe Darwin’s concept of a branching tree of common ancestry, then forget them. We don’t need to waste any time discussing anything they might say.

    I think my real question is are there any evangelicals who think Darwin was right about common ancestry? If there are, it might be worthwhile for us to consider what they have to say. So first eliminate all those who deny Darwin, then our discussion with the rest might be of value. I am just trying to help us avoid wasting a lot of time and energy on worthless crap.

  • baber@sandiego.edu' LogicGuru says:

    What’s the point of beating up on these guys (Evangelicals)? Even if they officially believe that Christ is coming back to usher in the end of the world within their lifetimes, they’re still saving money to send their kids to college. Even if they officially (and wrongly) reject evolution and other scientific results, they still support science teaching and want their kids to do STEM disciplines. Let it be. Who cares?

    Lots of people have kooky ideas. Linus Pauling advocated mega-doses of vitamin C. Newton himself had screwy ideas about alchemic transformations and Biblical criticism. Big deal.

  • gloryholecutter@hotmail.com' Barnaby Rockefeller says:

    The problem is that con artists who have criminal records exploit this belief to sell products. They pervert science to make money and it corrupts the rest of us in the process. There are large battles over what can and can’t be taught in schools because creationists muddy the waters of education. They trick people into believing that Christianity is THE alternative to evolution that must be taught.
    Look at how their beliefs have caused anti vaccination fear mongering. They halt the progress of civil rights; civil rights shouldn’t even be an issue, but they shoehorn their bigotry into other people’s lives in the name of their dogma. They blame the gays for a tsunami on the other side of the world while boldly denying humanity being the cause for a degrading environment.
    I could go on.

  • wesseldawn@gmail.com' Duck says:

    Firstly I have to wonder how the Bible-religious can ‘agree’ in any part with science because the two are directly opposed (Big Bang, Darwinism). Doesn’t that negate religion right there?
    However, I would like to make some important corrections because the religious are decidedly ignorant of their own Bible:
    – If they truly ‘knew’ it they would know it says that God did not create ‘this’ world because anything that he made would be ‘perfect’, static and eternal (as God is), free from all suffering. In a world that ‘God’ created, his son would not have to die, because again, it would already be perfect.
    – If they knew their Bible they would know it says that God initially created everything but then something happened and this ‘random’ reality was created (as an entity named Satan became the “god of this world” – 2 Cor. 4:4, Eph. 6:12); the characteristics of randomness being disease, wars, natural disasters, ‘death’. In a random environment, evolution (the strong rule) is the motivating factor. Further they would know the Bible agrees with evolution as it says that ‘man’ (soul/brute animal) came from the dust/ground (primordial soup).
    If they truly knew their Bible, would abandon religion altogether as they would see the flawed organization as it truly is, anti God.
    Yet as much as science has shown its correctness about ‘this’ world and as amazing as science is, I personally would choose the Bible paradigm of a perfect reality beyond this random existence.
    Be careful what you wish for. If Stephen Hawking is correct the earth can only sustain us for another 200 years and then you had better hope you’re among the very brilliant or wealthy or they are going to leave you behind to fend for yourself when they leave for Mars.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    It’s for their own good. We are trying to help them.

  • baber@sandiego.edu' LogicGuru says:

    How sweet of you.

  • baber@sandiego.edu' LogicGuru says:

    So attack the politics, not the metaphysics. As for the Anti-Vaxxers, they aren’t trailer trash Evangelicals primarily but upper middle class secularists. Throw them into jail for child abuse.

  • bbailey1956@cableone.net' nmgirl says:

    Oh, I know you’re right, Jim. I just wanted to show all the Theories they accept vs. the one they reject.

  • bbailey1956@cableone.net' nmgirl says:

    I’ve already used up most of my 3 score and 10 and don’t have kids, so I’m not too worried.

  • phatkhat@centurylink.net' phatkhat says:

    Evangelicals are good with TECHNOLOGY. The science behind their cars, TVs, etc., is good. Nothing in the Bible addresses that kind of science. And it can be said to be “a gift from God”. But any science, especially the biological ones that contradict Genesis… not okay.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Aren’t you worried that might not be possible to sort out? First of all, they will try to misdirect you at every turn. The more confused they can make it, the more it will be possible for everyone to just believe anything, and that is what they depend on. You will have to just give up, because if you don’t you risk going insane. The safest thing is keep it simple. If they reject Darwin, then they reject science.

  • bordercolliesrules@hotmail.com' BorderColliesRules says:

    Hey cat, are you on reddit?

  • wesseldawn@yahoo.ca' Duck says:

    It might be good for them Jim, but you’re talking about taking away certain freedoms to impose your own version of justice. Might as well just be rid of democracy now.

  • wesseldawn@gmail.com' Duck says:

    Lol…nieces, nephews…cousins?
    The ‘I, me’ is inherent in the very fabric of this place; of course it’s an evolutionary motivation (survival of the fittest). I suppose that’s why religion still remains (however badly); it gives hope where there might otherwise be none.
    I myself believe the answer may be in finding a balance somewhere.

  • wesseldawn@yahoo.ca' Duck says:

    All those things are true but you’re forgetting that science often comes with an Achilles heel too; big-pharma are laughing all the way to the bank: drugs often create side affects worse than the disease they’re supposed to cure; microwaves and computers are handy but the resultant radiation from them can cause cancer.
    There was a ‘spike’ in autism within a certain period of time. Vaccinations have been supposedly cleared but something caused it. And the anti-vaccination fear was not only from religious people. Any mother worth her salt would fear it even though the odds are miniscule, still it just may be ‘her’ child that would suffer as a result. I distinctly recall being very nervous about vaccinating my children but only because the law of chance said that one of them could be the one that might get sick. One doctor I read about has in my mind the right approach: he staggers the vaccinations so that ‘everything’ is not in one needle, and the mothers fears are greatly reduced.

  • wesseldawn@gmail.com' Duck says:

    I agree that skewing in any form is wrong. However, from what I have read the FDA is under fire for ‘skewing’ data of their own and of course there’s Big-Pharma and Monsanto – all supposedly backed by ‘scientific’ research. Science is simply people and for that reason should not be implicitly trusted just because it’s science.

  • phatkhat@centurylink.net' phatkhat says:

    Hey, Border, how ya doin?! :o)

    I’m not on reddit. I come here, Kos, and sometimes Raw, but that’s about it. I don’t hang out at Alternet anymore, either. They are getting so intolerant of diverse ideas. You either subscribe to Hazen’s culture or you get censored, as you well know. I hate going to read comments and half the thread is deleted. :op

    I dunno… I always thought reddit was kind of a young guy place that wasn’t too friendly to women? Or do they tolerate opinionated grammas, LOL?

  • gloryholecutter@hotmail.com' Barnaby Rockefeller says:

    Are you a fan of Alex Jones?

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    There isn’t any balance point in the science religion debate. Science is always zeroing in on deeper truth. Religion is always resisting any new truth that is trying to enter. If you want to learn anything about God, you have to go to science because religion doesn’t know. The one lasting link between the two will be science studying religion to gain a better understanding of why it acts the way it does.

  • nosacredcow@hotmail.com' NoSacredCow says:

    If they accept the “theory of gravity” yet don’t accept “the theory of evolution” they have to be called on it.

  • dkeane123@comcast.net' DKeane123 says:

    Science is a methodology, and some will attempt to distort it for their own gain. Could you do me a favor and shoot me a link to the FDA issue? Regardless, because some other organization is using science poorly, doesn’t give academics or anyone else to the right to do the same. Thanks.

  • repegs87924@mypacks.net' Anton says:

    There is *always* debate about the accuracy of scientific information. It is a critical part of what makes the process so powerful. It helps to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information over the long term. However, it is important to distinguish science form the individuals who practice it.

    You are correct to note that the inaccuracies uncovered are often due to a particular scientist or group of scientists not following the methods of science or, in the worst cases, acting unethically. You also importantly note that science is much bigger than a single scientist or a small group of scientists, which is why we know about any alleged ‘skewing’ of data at the FDA.

    I assert that science, writ large, can and should be trusted. We have no better way of understanding material reality. But it is not a perfect process, it sometimes progresses in fits and starts, and major adjustments are occasionally necessary. However, history confirms that science itself is a robust process that leads to increasingly accurate and reliable information.

  • whiskyjack1@gmail.com' Whiskyjack says:

    My understanding is that most of the apparent increase in autism was the result of diagnostic substitution. Children who were previously diagnosed with mental retardation are now being classified as autistic. Steve Novella at Science-Based Medicine has a good review of the issue:

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/social-factors-in-autism-diagnosis/

  • whiskyjack1@gmail.com' Whiskyjack says:

    I agree with your comments about Ecklund. She seems intent on extracting data that support the notion that atheists are *secretly* spiritual and/or religious. In 2011 she made a big deal of the fact that 17% of atheist scientists went to a church at least once in the past year. I’m an atheist, but will happily go to church for a wedding or a funeral. It doesn’t make me spiritual, just a member of a society where church services happen.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111201132524.htm

  • bordercolliesrules@hotmail.com' BorderColliesRules says:

    Alternet’s glory days are in the past.

    Reddit has 175 million users from across the globe. Think of a topic/subject/interest and you’ll find like minded folks who share your passion. Age doesn’t matter (well, depending on what interests you) only a desire to learn more on whatever subject you find facinating.

    I wouldn’t recommend it to you, if I didn’t believe you couldn’t handle it and wouldn’t enjoy the much broader based access to new people from around the world. Join with your user name and I’ll find you and help you out.

    Cheers Kitty!

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    It doesn’t take away any freedoms to believe what they want or worship what they want. It might take away some of their freedoms to discriminate against those they don’t like. It will be a long and difficult process to fix that, give all the populations they don’t like. I guess we will just have to keep at it.

  • wesseldawn@gmail.com' Duck says:

    I didn’t say religion is good but it is allowable in a democracy. I’m speaking of science becoming the new religion and science is after-all just people. The bigger they get the easier they become corrupted (it’s a human malady) and you know what they say about power?

  • wesseldawn@gmail.com' Duck says:

    I didn’t know about this; thanks for the link.

  • wesseldawn@gmail.com' Duck says:

    Alex Jones?? Have to look him up.

  • wesseldawn@gmail.com' Duck says:

    You’re still talking about legislating. Our best bet is still democracy (true democracy, not what passes for it today).

  • wesseldawn@gmail.com' Duck says:

    Sorry LogicGuru, I tried to reply to Jim but who knows how that went wrong.

  • wesseldawn@gmail.com' Duck says:

    There’s a balance to everything, Jim. It’s called democracy.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Actually the bigger science gets the harder it is to corrupt because it is composed of scientists checking up on each other, and looking for ways to knock the other guy down if any flaws can be found.

  • gloryholecutter@hotmail.com' Barnaby Rockefeller says:

    He’s my hero.

  • wesseldawn@gmail.com' Duck says:

    Anton, on the whole I am in agreement that present science can and should be trusted. My concern is my visits to evolution blogs where you have to go in wearing a bullet-poof vest and make sure your virus protection is up to date, otherwise you ‘will’ come away with a nasty bug. Many of these guys are scientists and I can tell you that I am not impressed with how they handle controversy. It’s not a good idea to put such blatant trust in anything or anyone for all too soon they become the ‘police’. Democracy is our insurance policy against radicalism and it’s that we should be protecting.

  • wesseldawn@gmail.com' Duck says:

    Sorry, I didn’t get notified of your comment. I mentioned this because in recent weeks there were two related stories of FDA cover-ups on MSN. If you do a google search you will find there seems to be a general concensus that the FDA is skewing facts:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2015/02/fda_inspections_fraud_fabrication_and_scientific_misconduct_are_hidden_from.html

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *