Evangelicals and scientists are closer than many realize

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Sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund’s research finds myth-busting levels of accord between scientists and evangelicals. Photo by Jeff Fitlow courtesy of Rice University.

Sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund’s research finds myth-busting levels of accord between scientists and evangelicals. Photo by Jeff Fitlow courtesy of Rice University.

WASHINGTON (RNS) The sociologist who busted myths last year with her study finding that the majority of scientists are religious, not God-denying atheists, is at it again.

Elaine Howard Ecklund, director of Rice University’s Religion and Public Life Program, said 70 percent of self-identified evangelicals “do not view religion and science as being in conflict.”

Now, the myth that bites the data dust, may be the one that proclaims evangelicals are a monolithic group opposed to the scientific view of human evolution.

Ecklund addressed 200 scientists, pastors and others at an American Association for the Advancement of Science’s event Friday (March 13).

Last year, at an  AAAS’s Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion, Ecklund presented the first wave of data that examined the beliefs of self-identified scientists. It was drawn from a survey of 10,000 U.S. adults that claims to be the largest study of American views on these issues.

The headline then was that 76 percent of scientists in the general population identify with a religious tradition.

This year, the news from the second wave of data in the study was the high degree of science acceptance among evangelicals. The study found:

  • 48 percent view science and religion as complementary. Astrophysicist and evangelical Christian Deborah Haarsma, president of BioLogos, which recognizes “God as Creator of all life over billions of years,” said what she sees in the cosmos is “a scientific description of the universe God created.”
  • 21 percent view the two worldviews as entirely independent of one another.
  • About 30 percent see these worldviews in opposition.

Overall, 85 percent of Americans and 84 percent of evangelicals say modern science is doing good in the world. The greatest areas of accord were on the pragmatic side of science such as technology and medical discoveries that can alleviate suffering. Here, said Ecklund, most Americans see science and faith collaborating for the common good.

However, Ecklund also noted a finding that may make the evidence-based science world uneasy: 60 percent of evangelicals said scientists “should be open to considering miracles in their theories.”

The Perceptions Project had held workshops with Catholics, mainline Protestants, and with other religious communities but the focus has been on evangelical churches and seminaries. Galen Carey, vice president for government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals, is advising AAAS on the Perceptions Project. 

Rather than drawing hard lines between spiritual and scientific understandings of reality, more than one speaker at the event repeated Augustine’s view that, “All truth is God’s truth.”

Dorothy Chapell, dean of natural and social sciences and professor of biology at Wheaton College in Illinois, said this means all can “confidently study both the truths of faith and the truths of science.”

Former U.S. Rep. Rush Holt Jr., the recently named CEO of AAAS, added that all who profess to have open minds to truth have “an obligation to listen to each other.”


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  • Indeed all truth is God’s truth. God is Truth. So who do we trust God or man? God has revealed to us how He created the universe. He couldn’t be clearer, everything that was made was made in 6 days! Many choose to try to insert millions or billions of years as periods of time rather than 6 days, but that doesn’t work. That is merely an attempt to compromise God’s word to try to please men. I trust God and His Word. Science indeed has done much good in many ways, but as when it comes to mens take on how the universe came to be and where we came from they are clueless. Having rejected God and His clear revelation they stumble in the dark and speculate on things that they know nothing about. We need to be enlightened by God. He sent His Son to die for our sins so that we could be forgiven of our sins and have a relationship with Him. If we seek the truth we find it in God and His Word (Jesus) and His blessed Holy Spirit. All 3 are mentioned in the first 3 verses of Genesis. God Bless

  • Anton

    There are confounding factors at work here. One is the fact that, based on Ecklund’s own data, 60% of self-identified Evangelicals have a misinformed perception of what science is. Since this is a study about Evangelical’s perceptions of science, why isn’t that the headline?

    A better study would address the relationship between those Evangelicals who do not have an informed perception of science and the 48%, 21% and 30% who, respectively, “view science and religion as complementary”, “view the two worldviews as entirely independent” or “see these worldviews in opposition”.

    Ecklund seems to have the data necessary to address this question. However, it would be difficult for her to argue that the 60% of Evangelicals in question *do* have a correct perception of what science is, and that would highlight the dubious nature of the conclusions presented here.

    This is only one of the reasons to be skeptical of her conclusions.

  • Anton

    “. . . 76 percent of scientists in the general population identify with a religious tradition.”

    Ecklund’s definition of “scientist” is very broad. She could have required her subjects to meet all of her criteria *and* to self-identify as scientists – I assume she did not. If evangelicals can self-identify, why not scientists? Would you presume that the person who cleans your teeth is a scientist? I doubt that most dental hygienists would identify themselves as such. By including in her definition of scientist, many people in science-related professions who would likely not self-identify as scientists, Ecklund increased the size of her “scientist” group considerably. It is reasonable to think that this might skew the data and it begs many questions. For instance, how many among the 60% of evangelicals who think that scientists “should be open to considering miracles in their theories” are counted as “scientists”.

    One more reason to be skeptical about the validity of…

  • Anton

    A quick clarification regarding self-identification as a scientist: what I assume, is that she did not ask the question.

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