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Evangelicals more likely than the general public to believe science and religion can work together

First of Journey series on science, scientists and religious congregations in New York City

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Are religious people more hostile to science than other people? It doesn’t seem to be so, according to a new study presented this morning in Chicago to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The first results of the study focused upon evangelical Christians and science.

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

Ecklund of Rice University says that the news media over-represent the conflict between religion and science by focusing on a few hot button issues like creationism and interviewing the most strident representatives in the debates. “It might not be as riveting for television, but consider how often you see a news story about these groups doing things for their common good,” the research says. By their proclivity toward “exposing” conflicts, news media draw false portraits about how evangelical Christians and other religious people are eager to use science to advance knowledge, strengthen their communities and solve practical problems.

The sociologist, who used to be at Cornell University which is opening a science center here in New York, conducted a large national survey of more than 10,000 respondents drawn from scientists and evangelical Protestants and other members of the general public. The study additionally conducted more than 300 in-depth interviews with Christians, Jews and Muslims, including more than 150 evangelicals.  The study was provided to the AAAS Dialogue on Science Ethics and Religion program to help foster dialogue between religious groups and scientists.

The fact that evangelicals and scientists can work together is not surprising in light of how similar are the religious practices of the average non-scientists and scientists. The findings indicate that one in six scientists are quite religious in their practices while about one in five members of the general public report a similar religiosity. 36% of scientists have no doubt about God’s existence.

Religious practices of scientists and general public (figures are rounded off)

                                                                                         Scientists                                   General public
Attend weekly religious services                           18%                                                             20%
Consider self as very religious                                15%                                                             19%
Read religious texts weekly                                     14%                                                             17%
Pray several times a day                                           19%                                                              26%

In 2010 Ecklund published a study of almost 1700 scientists at elite universities and found, contrary to stereotypes, that nearly 50 percent of them were religious, and more expressed interest in spirituality. Many of her interviewees were seeking ways to relate science to religious beliefs because of the increasing number of entering science students who were also religious.

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