Science group, evangelicals push new collaboration

Many Americans, particularly evangelicals, dispute science on the origin of the universe, the age of Earth and evolution.

(RNS) Scientists and Christian evangelicals can collaborate for the good of society but it will take some serious effort, experts said as they launched a new campaign to change perceptions between the two groups.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science and its Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion program released a major research project on Sunday (Feb. 16), at the AAAS annual meeting in Chicago,  and announced an upcoming series of conferences mixing believers, scientists and many who are both.

More scientists are religious than the general public realizes, a new study finds.

Photo Courtesy of NASA via Shutterstock

More scientists are religious than the general public realizes, a new study finds.

The massive survey of views on God, religion, science included 10,241 respondents and took a particularly close look at the views of evangelicals and people in science-related occupations.

The concern is not whether “science and religion can co-exist. They already do,” said lead researcher Elaine Howard Ecklund, a sociologist and director of Rice University’s Religion and Public Life Program. “The question is how to do it well.”

“The stakes are very high,” said Galen Carey, vice president for government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals, which is an advisor on the project.

Carey shared the stage with Ecklund in panels, press conferences and a live chat on the research and dialogue plans.

“We face so many issues as a nation and a world community where the contributions of both are needed to bring a better world,” he said.

Among the findings of the study, “Religious Understandings of Science”:

  •  Nearly 36 percent of scientists have no doubt about God’s existence.
  • 18 percent of scientists attended weekly religious services (compared with 20 percent of the overall U.S. population).
  • 17 percent of scientists consider themselves evangelical.
  • 15 percent of scientists consider themselves “very religious” (19 percent of the overall population).
  • 13.5 percent of scientists read religious texts weekly (17 percent overall).

Ecklund said 72 percent of evangelical scientists, and 48 percent of all evangelicals, see opportunities for collaboration across the two worldviews. Carey said there are more than 2 million evangelical scientists committed to both faith and science and able to serve as a bridge.

But not everyone is singing “Kumbayah” around the campfire.

“If you are looking for conflict, there’s a place to find it in the data,” Ecklund pointed out in a live online chat for AAAS’ “Science” magazine. The study reports:

  • 22 percent of scientists and 20 percent of the general population think most religious people are hostile to science.
  • 22 percent of the general population thinks scientists are hostile to religion.
  • 27 percent of Americans feel that science and religion are in conflict.
  • Of those who feel science and religion are in conflict, 52 percent sided with religion.

The groups are not synonymous. The study found:

  • Evangelical Protestants are 23 percent of the general population but 17 percent of scientists.
  • Catholics have a similar gap — 24 percent of the population but only 19 percent of scientists.
  • For mainline Protestants, the gap is smaller — 27 percent overall and 25 percent of scientists.
  • Atheists, agnostics and people with no religious identity are 22 percent of scientists but, according to this study, just 15.5 percent of the general population.

By almost every measure of religiosity — attending worship, reading sacred texts and prayer — evangelical scientists claim higher levels of observance than evangelicals in general.

About 19 percent of the general population and 16 percent of all scientists say they consider themselves to be “very religious.” However, among evangelicals, the rate rises to 44 percent and for evangelical scientists, it’s 51 percent.

On whether they have “no doubt” that “God really exists,” evangelical scientists (85 percent) and evangelicals in general (87percent) are statistically tied. Both share higher rates of conviction than the general population (55 percent) and scientists in general (35.9 percent).

Ecklund, Carey and Jennifer Wiseman, director of DoSER, said the survey data would serve as a basis for a series of regional conferences in 2014 leading to a national conference next year. While the hot-button issues such as evolution may remain points of tension, both groups must persevere to build connections, they said.

Ecklund cited shared concerns such as bringing diversity to the science professions, a focus on social justice and solving issues such as food insecurity or care for the environment. “I don’t want to sound Pollyanna-ish but we can start with areas of commonality,” she said.

Carey said the NAE is preparing a resource booklet for pastors and Sunday school classes to foster thoughtful discussion between science and religion.

“We respect the fact that science has a role to play,” Carey said. “It doesn’t have a way to study spiritual reality. It doesn’t mean spiritual reality isn’t there. We believe it is. But it has to be approached by using different methods and tools.”

But Carey also reiterated that “science needs the understanding, support and funding of society. … We share a common vocation in the search for truth. ‘All truth is God’s truth,’ as Augustine said. “We have the same calling to serve society.”


About the author

Cathy Lynn Grossman

Cathy Lynn Grossman specializes in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics. She also writes frequently on biomedical ethics and end-of-life-issues


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  • Cathy, Thank you for keeping us informed on this project. I am curious when these conference will be and who will be able to attend? We have a wonderful science and faith group at our church that is working for better understanding and dialogue.

  • I see no reason for religion and science to seek a common ground.

    To claim in one tone of voice that Science proves God (as many religious do)
    but to utterly refute that claim with respect to miracles, etc. in another tone of voice…
    is just incoherent.

    Science is the process of measuring that which can be measured based on evidence which can be quantified.
    Religion is based on absolutist claims, ‘revealed truth’, superstitious practices such as incantations and propitiations to invisible, unaccountable deities and asserted forces and doctrines.

    There was a time when Science and Religion were in agreement.
    We called it “The Dark Ages.”

  • “Science has proof without any certainty. Creationists have certainty without any proof.”
    ~Ashley Montagu

  • Cathy, thank you for the informative article. Indeed, there are many credentialed scientists who are also committed Evangelical Christians. The Bible is set and framed as an accurate historical document. That the Bible and science are compatible should be obvious since YHWH-God-Jesus created the laws of science and the patterns of nature. The ultimate message of the Bible is that each person is saved from his/her sins by submission to Jesus Christ.

  • Expect major resistance to the third sentence of your paragraph if evolutionists (either Christian or non-Christian) are part of your discussion/dialogue group.

    There will be no “new collaboration” on THAT one.

  • The resistance coming largely due to the fact that the statement was untrue. The Bible is hardly an accurate historical document and was never meant to be. It also is not a cookbook, a primer on politics in antiquity nor a science text.

    Of course any scientists willing to accept that their work has to abide by the laws of nature, aka scientific methods gets no argument from me. It doesn’t make a difference what religious belief they have. Its an irrelevancy to scientific research and knowledge.

  • This is the purest piece of bunk that I have read in a long time. I left religion to get away from this type of thinking and reading this brings up feelings I would rather not have to delve into again.

    Science and evangelicals have NOTHING in common and there is NO common ground. There can be NO collaboration between these two groups – not with any REAL scientific FACT – and not the bullcrap that the evangelical community puts out.

    What a waste of time and funding – which, by the way, I would like to know who paid for this little piece of fluff.

  • Wayne, The bible is NOT an accurate historical document. At best it is hearsay, visions, hallucinations and at worst a collection of totally unverifiable stories from unknown authors who never lived during the time the bible allegedly took place. Try getting these fables into a court of law as evidence and you would be laughed out of the courtroom.
    I DO NOT, WILL NOT and reject TOTALLY the notion that any god created the law of science and your message of submission to any deity. As an Atheist I reject all deities to begin with and your message is just once piece of evidence why this whole idea put forth is total BS!!!

  • The Bible is a historical document; this is indisputable. To a historian, a document could be fiction and it’s still a historical document, because even if the stories are fantasy it will still shine a spotlight on the culture that recorded and read it. As far as it being inaccurate, you should probably include some evidence to back that up. (As a side note, debating the creation account is useless because a creationist can always spit back the idea that things were created new with the appearance of age. This is not at all scientific reasoning and therefore cannot be refuted with scientific evidence, but it is a belief that has internally consistent logic. Instead try some event in the Bible. If you can’t provide evidence that things went down differently than recorded, you should probably retract your statement until you do have evidence to support it. That’s how a scientist is supposed to think, right?)

  • If a scientist happens to be an evangelical, which the surveys show happens with some regularity, then they themselves are the common ground.

  • Jean, the Masoretic Text is a collection of historical Hebrew manuscripts from which the Old Testament is translated. The NA 27 & the UBS-GNT is a collection of historical Koine Greek manuscripts from which the New Testament is translated. This is accurate history. The genealogies, kings, and geography throughout the Bible frame it as an historical document (Genesis 5, 11, 25, 46; 1 Chronicles chaps 1-9). Exodus 24:4, Joshua 8:32, Ezra 4:6-9, and Luke 1:1-4, are a few statements of the accurate historical documentations that make the Bible accurate history. Concerning the historical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from death, numerous eyewitnesses gave specific testimony in court, and the verdict was ruled in their favor. I challenge you to repent of your sins, receive Jesus Christ into your life, and commit your life to Jesus Christ.
    David, your statements are insightful, fascinating, and even-tempered.

  • There is a serious separation between Science and Religion which will be prohibitive namely: science is based on facts derived from testable, repeatable, credible evidence framing the “natural” solution to all tangible problems. Religion is based on beliefs derived from supernatural solutions usually without the requirement of evidence. Religion, which is man made, has the latitude to change; Science does not and will not because the loss of fact discovery and utilization would be devastating to all of society. The many versions of the bible and its interrpretation is at the center of the Judeo-Christian religions and form the basis for the over 1500 variations of so called Christianity in North america alone. Yet as bible historian Bart Ehraman says that the bible was written by believers for believers to be used to make other believers and we know that believers are willing to accept supernatural answers, where is authenticity? Even when facts are in evidence (Evolution vs creationism) there is little effort at agreement. So where is the projected hope for harmony.

  • The next step would be to engage the subject of modern Bible exegesis. The whole paradigm of training your “guns” on an already disavowed passage in Genesis gets a big yawn from committed Christians who have the Scofield (or Darby or any of a dozen other) interpretive systems of reading the Bible. It’s old news to read the ancient texts as a commandment to modern Christians to do those ugly things and then discredit Christianity based on that ugliness. (BTW: The reference to Scofield and Darby above was not to “push” a product – they’re dead, anyway – but to give you 2 references into the literature.)

  • Jean,
    I wish more people would question motivations like you.

    This “study” was paid for ($2 Million) by the Templeton World Charity Foundation.

    There agenda – “The Foundation supports projects that apply the tools of anthropology, sociology, political science, and psychology to the various moral and spiritual concepts identified by Sir John Templeton. These include altruism, creativity, free will, generosity, gratitude, intellect, love, prayer, and purpose” –

    Here is an article by an author who does not list in her bio, any affiliation with them in any way. –

    Religion is poison!!

  • I would invite you to look at the bigger picture. I acknowledge some religious folks I know believe something does not exist ( a scientific fact) by choosing not to look for the evidence of it’s existence. This of course does not change that a fact “is”. We also have to consider the fact that there are people of faith in ages past and in our present time. This does not appear to change fundamentally over time indicates and indicates something about the nature of humanity. To simply think we cannot have dialogue is also ignoring the the reality of was “is”, people of faith. I can see how you would want science not muddied by faith issues, but I can also see some faith folks do not want their faith to be muddied with science. To say no to discussion, is to deny the basic reality of the situation.

  • I understand. There is nothing wrong with talking.
    But the quality of the conversation must be evidence-based.

    Some sort of ‘GOD’ may exist. It IS possible, of course. I don’t rule it out.
    I don’t believe in it. But I don’t rule it out.

    There are fascinating phenomena such as the fact that we are made of elements created by dead stars – such as stardust. The universe has, in effect created a creature (us) to look back at itself. This is so mind-blowing that one wonders if there is a grand plan.

    But the ridiculous error is to connect the next dot to A GOD without reason….

    to claim CERTAINTY that a God exists and to claim that this god KNOWS things, can affect things, can choose sides on wars and so on. This is where science could help explore the question of God.

    But if religious people insist on using revelation, superstition, incantations and sacrifices as relevant to that pursuit they should be laughed out of the science class.

    The search for God must be a search for EVIDENCE of God. And that is fine with me. One cannot claim to KNOW that which one does not know. If evidence is absent then the GOD question continues as UNKNOWN.

  • Believers and Scientists, as well as those who are both Scientist/Believers would be informed by Dr. Francis S. Collins book: THE LANGUAGE OF GOD

    Dr. Collins explains his own journey from atheism to faith, and then takes readers for an educational tour of modern science to show that physics, chemistry, and biology and all fit together with belief in God.

    Dr. Collins was the leader of the international Human Genome Project which
    labored more than a decade to reveal DNA sequence.

  • I have seen the published source material ( In my assessment, the authors biased this study beyond credibility. As such, the results have little scientific merit.

    The authors claim to access the religious feelings of scientists et al. But their working definition of a “scientist” is anyone who answers “yes” to the question, “Would you say that your current occupation is science-related?”, has a bachelor’s degree, and works in an author-selected group of occupational fields, which includes architects, engineers, physicians, dentists, dental hygienists, nurses and other health care practitioners, x-ray technicians, etc. These folks may have significant skills and serve valuable functions but would you consider them scientists?

    I propose the results would have been very different had they selected respondents based on a question like, “Would you say that you practice science in your current occupation?”. It seems disingenuous of them to imply that their “scientist” group is actually composed of scientists. I doubt many of them would self-identify as such.

    Nonetheless, the popular press gets the results before the methods, analysis and conclusions have been peer reviewed. This quickly leads to headlines like, “Study: 2 Million U.S. Scientists Identify As Evangelical” (

    Thousands of people will pick up and obsess on these headlines as they did Wakefield’s discredited study proposing a link between vaccination and autism. I know many scientists find this upsetting – I certainly do.

  • In fact, I posted some mean-spirited and inappropriate comments here the other day. My apologies to anyone who saw them and was offended. I am happy Cathy removed them. I wished I could have, only moments after posting them.

    I missed this in my earlier cut-and-paste. I sure wish I could edit!

  • Well, isn’t that sweet. Gramscian/Gaian radicals who fraudulently call themselves “scientists” working together with Gramscian/Gaian radicals who fraudulently call themselves “Christians”.

    When Satan and Satan work together, the result will be evil multiplied by evil.

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