Magazine article USA TODAY

The God of Science

Magazine article USA TODAY

The God of Science

Article excerpt

"While it commonly is assumed that most scientists are atheists, the global perspective resulting from [an international] study shows that this simply is not the case."

ARE ALL SCIENTISTS atheists? Do they believe religion and science can coexist? These questions and others were addressed in an international survey of how scientists view religion, released by researchers at Rice University.

"No one today can deny that there is a popular 'warfare' framing between science and religion," says the study's principal investigator, Elaine Ecklund, chair of Social Sciences and founding director of the Religion and Public Life Program. "This is a war of words fueled by scientists, religious people, and those in between."

The study's results challenge longstanding assumptions about the science-faith interface. While it commonly is assumed that most scientists are atheists, the global perspective resulting from the study shows that this simply is not the case. "More than half of scientists in India, Italy, Taiwan, and Turkey self-identify as religious, and it's striking that approximately twice as many 'convinced atheists' exist in the general population of Hong Kong, for example (55%), compared with the scientific community in this region (26%)."

The researchers did find that scientists generally are less religious than a given general population. However, there were exceptions to this: 39% of scientists in Hong Kong identify as religious, compared with 20% of the general population, while 54% of scientists in Taiwan identify as religious, compared with 44% of the general population.

When asked about terms of conflict between religion and science, Ecklund relates that only a minority of scientists in each regional context believe that science and religion are in conflict. In the United Kingdom, one of the most secular countries studied, 32% of scientists characterized the science-faith interface as one of conflict. In the U.S., this number was 29%. However, what percentage of scientists believe science and religion can coexist and be used to help each other? In India, it was 27%, in Hong Kong, 25%; and in Taiwan, 23%.

In addition to the survey's quantitative findings, the researchers found nuanced views in scientists' responses during interviews. For instance, what happens when a scientists runs into an ethically gray area? "Religion provides a check on those occasions where you might be tempted to shortcut because you want to get something published, and you think, 'Oh, that experiment wasn't really good enough, but if I portray it in this way, that will do,'" admits a biology professor from the UK. …

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