Since the last installment of this semi-regular feature, a number of interesting articles have popped up across the internet about the perceived conflict between science and religion. Some of these entries throw light on why the conflict is perceived in the first place, and others try to dispel the perception altogether.
Quite a few people pointed us to this NPR story about stereotypes that featured perceptions of Christians and science. The general principle that has been confirmed again and again is: if you’re reminded of a stereotype, you’re more likely to conform to it. The interesting thing for our work was that they tested it with regard to the stereotype that Christians and science just don’t get along. When Christians were told this right before they did a test with some logic problems, they did worse on the test than did Christians who were not told the stereotype. Moral to this story: don’t listen to the folks who say you can’t be a Christian and accept science right before your next logic test.
Another radio program, this one from the Sunday Sequence on the BBC, interviews two of our friends, Denis Alexander and Tom McLeish. They discuss whether there is conflict between science and faith, the nature of faith, and stem cell research. The interview starts at 12:05 in the program and finishes about 21:45.
Tom McLeish was also included in an article on BuzzFeed in which they asked 12 Scientists How Their Faith Affects Their Work, all from the UK. This response from Gavin Merrifield, a research assistant at the University of Glasgow, points the opposite direction from conflict:
“Does my particular understanding of Christian belief make me a better or worse scientist? Probably not either way. Do my personal beliefs interfere with my research? I should hope not! But for me as an individual, as a human being, both contribute to how I understand the universe I exist in and the people around me. My worldview does bring me extra satisfaction with my research, strong motivation, and opportunities for deeper reflection.”
Finally, a poll and then a caution about polls. The poll in question was reported on in the Washington Post with the headline, “In this country, literally no young Christians believe that God created the earth”. The country in question is Iceland, and it is no secret that it has seen a dramatic decline in religion among its citizens. But it might confuse you to learn that the story also says that 40% of the younger generation in Iceland identify as Christians. So evidently the Christians don’t think God created the earth?? Chalk this one up to very poor reporting. Nowhere does it actually quote these young Icelandic Christians as not believing in God as Creator. Rather, these Christians merely reported that they accepted the scientific explanations for the origins of the earth. On an island where volcanoes are actively adding to the land mass, it’s not too difficult to see why they might be inclined to accept that there are plausible natural explanations for that sort of thing. But to conclude from their acceptance of science that they think God had nothing to do with creating the earth is like concluding that I’m not really typing these words because the “words” are really just the illumination of certain pixels on the screen.
And now to the caution about polls: Andrew Aghapour and Michael Schulson of On Being write, “Beware the Polls You Read: Breaking Down the Problem with Pew’s Science & Religion Poll”. We too have reported on the Pew poll (here) with some concerns about the interpretation of statistics on how many Americans (both religious and nonreligious) think science and religion conflict. These guys do a nice job of deconstructing the questions. For example, religious beliefs can be “fuzzy” and don’t lend themselves to yes or no questions, and the pollsters have to get through a lot of questions in a certain amount of time. So, they conclude, “Pew has given us a narrow, skewed insight into how a select subset of Americans respond to leading questions, posed by strangers, over the phone.” And then when the press reports on such data (as we saw in the Iceland story above), it introduces another layer of confusion.
As these articles show, there is some conflict between people with a preconceived notion of how science and religion are related. But we’re persuaded the conflict only exists at the level of public rhetoric, and does not penetrate to the core issues of science and religion themselves. As BioLogos aims to show, this conflict narrative is unhelpful and unnecessary.