Is Religion vs. Science a Real Divide among Americans? Not So Much, Says Poll

By Jackson, Molly | The Christian Science Monitor, October 22, 2015 | Go to article overview

Is Religion vs. Science a Real Divide among Americans? Not So Much, Says Poll


Jackson, Molly, The Christian Science Monitor


If you believe that science and religion just don't get along, chances are you haven't been in a church recently.

That's just one finding from the Pew Research Center's just released survey of religion and science, which suggests that the idea of a faith-based culture war is more overhyped media creation than a daily dilemma real people face.

Yes, 59 percent of respondents think science and religion are "often in conflict," while 38 percent find them "mostly compatible."

But scratch the surface, and that conflict dissolves. When asked how science clashes with their own beliefs, most Americans say it's not a problem: just 30 percent say their personal faith conflicts with science.

"People's sense that there generally is a conflict between religion and science seems to have less to do with their own religious beliefs than it does with their perceptions of other people's beliefs," Pew summarized.

In fact, those who attend religious services on a weekly basis were far less likely to be troubled by the "science vs. religion" narrative than those who stay away. Nearly three quarters of those without a strong religious affiliation reported a conflict between the two, versus half of regular church-, mosque- or temple-goers. (Of those who do not often attend services, only one third called themselves atheist or agnostic; most described themselves as "nothing in particular.")

The findings show just a small shift since 2009, when 55 percent said there was a general conflict between the two, and 36 percent reported a clash between their personal beliefs and science.

Pew's results may come as a surprise to a nation that thinks it's mired in a decades-old "culture war," where faith is assumed to dictate Americans' positions on a number of polarizing topics: gay marriage, abortion, and climate change, to name just a few -- many of which are influenced by science.

One year ago, Emory University professor Alan Abramowitz spoke with the Public Religion Research Institute about Americans' increasing polarization into "ideologically uniform 'silos,'" as the Pew Center called them.

Given how many cultural issues have crept into the political sphere, Dr. Abramowitz said, Democrats and Republicans have "an increasing tendency to see the other party not just as wrong, but also as immoral."

While one's religious denomination used to be a good predictor of political affiliation, such as evangelicals leaning Republican while Catholics stuck by the Democratic party, Abramowitz argued that the sectarian divide is "no longer very salient" compared to pure religiosity: how religiously observant you are, no matter what faith. …

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