Throughout history, science and religion have appeared as being in perpetual conflict, but a study by Rice University, Houston, Texas, suggests that only a minority of scientists at major research universities see religion and science as requiring distinct boundaries.
"When it comes to questions about the meaning of life, ways of understanding reality, origins of Earth and how life developed on it, many have seen religion and science as being at odds and even in irreconcilable conflict," indicates sociologist Elaine Ecklund. However, a majority of scientists interviewed by Ecklund and her colleagues viewed religion and science as "valid avenues of knowledge" that can bring broader understanding to important questions.
Some 15% of those surveyed view religion and science as always in conflict. Another 15% say the two never are in conflict, and 70% believe religion and science only sometimes are in conflict. Approximately half of the original survey population expressed some form of religious identity.
"Much of the public believes that, as science becomes more prominent, secularization increases and religion decreases," Ecklund points out. "Findings like these among elite scientists, who many individuals believe are most likely to be secular in their beliefs, definitely call into question ideas about the relationship between secularization and science."
Many of those surveyed cite issues in the public realm (teaching of creationism versus evolution, stem cell research) as reasons for believing there is conflict between the two. The study shows that these individuals generally have a particular kind of religion in mind (and religious people and institutions) when they say that religion and science are in conflict.
The study identified three strategies of action by these scientists to manage the religion-science boundaries and the circumstances that the two could overlap:
Redefining categories. Scientists manage the science-religion relationship by changing the definition of religion, broadening it to …