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23 October 2015

Science vs. Religion: Why the Stark Differences in the Gap between Opinions of General and Personal Conflict?

Pew has a new report out titled, "Religion and Science: Highly religious Americans are less likely than others to see conflict between faith and science." Here is the chart from the publication regarding opinions about general conflict between religion and science:

Most Unaffiliated Perceive Science and Religion as Often in Conflict

A few things surprise me. First, white Evangelicals are relatively unlikely to see conflict/more likely to see compatibility between science and religion compared to those of other religious traditions. Second, the unaffiliated are exceedingly likely to see conflict/unlikely to see compatibility between science and religion. Third, those who attend worship services weekly or more are less likely to see conflict/more likely to see compatibility than those who attend worship services less than weekly. All three of these relationships are the opposite of what I would had guessed.

Here is the chart from the publication regarding opinions about conflict between personal religion and science:

A Minority of Public Says Science and Personal Religious Beliefs Conflict

A similar pattern exists here for white Evangelicals, the unaffiliated, and regular attenders--except in the opposite direction! I created the following chart, which shows the percentage point difference between the opinions of conflict generally and conflict with one's personal religious beliefs:

White Evangelicals are surprisingly unlikely to see much difference between the religious/scientific conflict generally versus personally. Nearly as unlikely to see much difference are regular attenders. On the other extreme, the unaffiliated are likely to see stark differences.

What to make of all this? Here are my speculative explanations:

Since we know that they typically have conservative theo-political beliefs, it's likely that white Evangelicals and regular attenders hold a belief of "science" that is inconsistent with scientific consensus. Since this is the case, white Evangelicals and regular attenders simply don't observe any conflict socially or individually between "science" and religion.

The unaffiliated, on the other hand, are more likely to hold beliefs about science that are consistent with scientific consensus and to note that some large, vocal groups (e.g. Evangelicals) hold "scientific" views that are at odds with the consensus. Thus, the unaffiliated observe pointed conflict socially, but very little personally, between science and religion.

An alternative interpretation (though I find it highly unlikely) is that white Evangelicals simply find the societal claims of a science/religion divide overblown and that the unaffiliated exaggerate the conflict that others, like Evangelicals, actually experience and perpetuate.

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