Are science and religion incompatible? That seems like a rational conclusion, especially in the wake of last month's combative evolution-vs.-creationism debate, which pitted "Science Guy" Bill Nye against evangelist Ken Ham.
But a new survey of more than 10,000 Americans (including scientists and evangelical Protestants) suggests that there may be more common ground between science and religion than is commonly believed.
The "Religious Understandings Of Science" survey showed that only 27 percent of Americans feel that science and religion are in conflict. In addition, it showed that nearly half of scientists and evangelicals believe that "science and religion can work together and support one another," Dr. Elaine Howard Ecklund, the Rice University sociologist who conducted the survey, said in a written statement.
"This is a hopeful message for science policymakers and educators, because the two groups don't have to approach religion with an attitude of combat," Ecklund said in the statement.
Dr. Max Tegmark, an MIT physicist who has written about the relationship between science and religion, seems to agree.
"People bent on science-religion conflict are picking the wrong battle," Tegmark told The Huffington Post in an email. "The real battle is against the daunting challenges facing the future of humanity, and regardless of our religious views, we’re all better off fighting this battle united."
But other scientists contacted by HuffPost Science sounded skeptical.
"Whether or not science and religion are in conflict depends on what you consider essential to religious faith," Dr. Jason Rosenhouse, a mathematician at James Madison University and the author of "Among the Creationists: Dispatches From the Anti-Evolutionist Front Line," told The Huffington Post in an email. "Science challenges religion both by refuting cherished dogmas, and by dismissing revelation and religious experience as legitimate sources of knowledge."
Dr. Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University, was even more dismissive. In an email to The Huffington Post, he called the survey's findings "irrelevant," adding that "science itself is incompatible with the scriptures and doctrines of all the world's religions... It is all well and good to say that scientists and evangelicals can work together toward common goals, like preserving the planet etc., but ultimately those goals will in the end illuminate a universe that has nothing to do with the revelations of the Bible, and should rationally lead to a world where religious myths disappear."
If Krauss seems eager for less religion, the survey respondents seem to be looking for more. In fact, 60 percent of the Protestants surveyed--and 38 percent of all people surveyed--indicated a belief that scientists "should be open to considering miracles in their theories or explanations."
Rosenhouse was having none of that. He told HuffPost Science that the idea that evangelical ideas should be incorporated into scientific enquiry was "absurd," adding that "religious beliefs ought to play no role at all in scientific practice."
The survey received financial support from the John Templeton Foundation and was presented in Chicago last month at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
What do you think? Please let us know in the comments.