Are science and religion really at odds with each other? According to a Pew Research Center 2014 telephone survey, a majority of the public says science and religion often conflict, with nearly six-in-ten adults (59%) expressing this view in newly released findings from a Pew Research Center survey. The share of the public saying science and religion are often in conflict is up modestly from 55% in 2009, when Pew Research conducted a similar survey on religion and science. In addition, some atheists, like Jerry Coyne, have been loudly and publicly insisting that a battle between religion and science exists. Coyne resists any accommodation between religious and non-religious scientists to defend Darwinism. He doesn’t want to see them joining forces against the creationist common enemy in case that legitimises religion. In order for his position to make sense, he needs to show that there is some sort of existential conflict between religion and science.
Nevertheless, the people’s sense that this conflict exists 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. Less than one third of Americans polled in the new survey (30%) say their personal religious beliefs conflict with science, while fully two-thirds (68%) say there is no conflict between their own beliefs and science.
Atheists seem to endlessly trot out the trope of the incompatible relationship between science and Christian religion. For example, public atheists like Jerry Coyne have been loudly and publicly insisting that a battle between religion and science exists. Coyne resists any accommodation between religious and non-religious scientists to defend Darwinism. He doesn’t want to see them joining forces against the creationist common enemy in case that legitimises religion. In order for his position to make sense, he needs to show that there is some sort of existential conflict between religion and science.
Let us repeat: Jerry Coyne doesn’t want Christians helping defend Evolution. He considers them an enemy even if they agree with him.
This is only possible through reinforcing a mistaken notions mutual antagonism, inherent conflict, and aggressive warfare created by John Wiliam Draper and Andrew Dickson White. Their books painted history as an endless conflict between the rationality of science (earnestly searching for truth) opposed by the ignorance of religion (stubbornly trying to block scientific progress), with science fighting valiantly and continually emerging victorious. It is by design that those two books; (‘A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom’, by Andrew White, and ‘History of the Conflict between Religion and Science’, by John Draper) are available for free downloading at Infidels.org and PositiveAtheism.org, respectively. It is undoubtedly also by design that those two sites do not provide links to any of the many scholarly sources offering devastating criticisms of the works of White and Draper.
The fictional portrayal of history by Draper and White is dramatic, with heroes and villains clearly defined, and therefore appealing for many people. Their colorful stories of “science vs. religion” mainly center on ‘flat earth’ and the Galileo controversy are useful for anti-Christian (and anti-religious via broad-brush tactics) rhetoric, and has exerted a powerful influence on popular views about the interactions between science and religion. However, the stories portrayed by Draper and White are rejected by modern historians as highly over-simplified and inaccurate in their description of what really happened.
For instance, people today accept the notion that, in the time of Columbus, educated Christians believed the earth was flat. However, the truth is the reverse. This wrong idea is due to a fascinating abuse of history that began around 1830 when two writers (a creative novelist inventing a colorful story about Columbus, and an atheist scholar trying to make Christians look foolish) collaborated to invent a false story about “belief in a flat earth”. The story was later popularized by Draper’s book. ‘The Myth of Flat-Earth Belief.’
The same fallacious misinformation portrays the Galileo affair consistently and simplistically as a battle between science and Christianity (all religion by extension); a notable episode in the long warfare of science and theology. The narrative ignores that the conflict was located as much within the church (between opposing theologies of biblical interpretation) and within science (between alternative cosmologies both inside and outside the Church) as between “science and the church.”
The fact of the matter is this popular historical canard has everything going for it except objectivity, rationality, and impartiality. For example, Galileo was never “imprisoned.” He was merely temporarily confined to a villa in Florence for violating an agreement he had made with the Pope. He was never asked to “recant his scientific assertions that the Earth revolves around the Sun.” The Church had already accepted the feasibility of Copernicus’ heliocentric cosmology. The pope who was sideways with Galileo was a Copernicus fan, as were the majority of the Catholic scientists at the time.
The issue between Galileo and the Pope was not whether it was acceptable to assert that the earth revolved around the sun. The issue was the assertion (which Copernicus never made but Galileo did) that there was sufficient scientific evidence to prove it, which, at the time, there wasn’t. Therefore, Galileo was not in trouble because of ‘his’ science, he was in trouble due to breach of trust (with someone who just so happened to be the Pope).
Atheist/Anti-theist activists seem to be fully invested in the belief that they (Atheist/Anti-Theist) are considerably smarter and more capable than religious people. It may have appeared that they had the proof they wanted in the study “Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds” by Kathleen H. Corriveaua, Eva E. Chenb and Paul L. Harris. The study was originally published in Cognitive Science (2014) 1–30; 1551-6709 online DOI: 10.1111/cogs.12138.
The abstract describes the research as two studies of 5- and 6-year-old children who were questioned about the status of the protagonist embedded in three different types of stories. In realistic stories that only included ordinary events, all children, irrespective of family background and schooling, claimed that the protagonist was a real person. In religious stories that included ordinarily impossible events brought about by divine intervention, claims about the status of the protagonist varied sharply with exposure to religion. Children who went to church or were enrolled in a parochial school, or both, judged the protagonist in religious stories to be a real person, whereas secular children with no such exposure to religion judged the protagonist in religious stories to be fictional. Children’s upbringing was also related to their judgment about the protagonist in fantastical stories that included ordinarily impossible events whether brought about by magic (Study 1) or without reference to magic (Study 2). Secular children were more likely than religious children to judge the protagonist in such fantastical stories to be fictional. The results suggest that exposure to religious ideas has a powerful impact on children’s differentiation.
Some articles published in the popular press in the wake of this study’s release seem almost jubilant. Huffington Post writer Shadee Ashtari states that, “In both studies, [children exposed to religion] were less likely to judge the characters in the fantastical stories as pretend, and in line with this equivocation, they made more appeals to reality and fewer appeals to impossibility than did secular children,” the study concluded.
While that paragraph is accurate, she carries it further than the study does by stating “Refuting previous hypotheses claiming that children are “born believers,” the authors suggest that “religious teaching, especially exposure to miracle stories, leads children to a more generic receptivity toward the impossible, that is, a more wide-ranging acceptance that the impossible can happen in defiance of ordinary causal relations.”
Examples of the stories were cited at http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs/echochambers:
Three Joseph stories
Religious: “This is Joseph. Joseph was sent to a mean king in a land far away. However, God sent Joseph many dreams warning about terrible storms, and Joseph used those dreams to tell the king how to protect his kingdom from the storms. The king was so amazed by Joseph and they became friends.”
Fantastical: “This is Joseph. Joseph was sent to a mean king in a land far away where there were terrible storms. Joseph used his magical powers to see into the future, and told the king how to protect his kingdom from the storms. The king was so amazed by Joseph and they became friends.”
Realistic: This is Joseph. Joseph was sent to a mean king in a land far away where there were terrible storms. The king realised that Joseph was very good at looking at clouds and predicting when there would be rain. The king was so amazed by Joseph and they became friends.”
Joseph Stern of Slate.com begins by telling the readers, “In the United States, conventional wisdom holds that you should raise your child to be religious. Taking the kids to church is the default; leaving them home requires justification. Push parents to explain why they should pass on their religion—apart from a principled urge to keep the faith—and they’re likely to tell you studies prove that kids do better with religion than without it.” This is followed by a paragraph informing us that several studies do seem to corroborate the assertion that kids raised with religious beliefs are psychologically healthier than kids raised without it. The gap is small but real. Some researchers link religious affiliation and regular church attendance with a mild boost in children’s mental health. There is also belief that those same children have better self-control and react better to discipline.
However, he later ties religion to damage caused by arguments over religion, while ignoring that the damage is caused by discord between their parents, just like arguments over money, mental health, etc., and attempts to question the causality of the difference. He cites John Bartkowksi, a professor of sociology at University of Texas at San Antonio, who wonders whether church attendance really leads to good behavior—or whether it might be the other way around. “It may be that kids who are already well-behaved are the only ones who can get into religious communities. It may be that kids who are already well-behaved are the only ones who can get into religious communities” These statements presumes that self-control leads to attendance at religious services, rather than the other way around.
Any regular attendant to church, temple or family mosque will readily attest that this presumption is patently false. Small children are sources of disruption and noise in virtually any worship service. Small children bore easily and quickly, their tolerance for religious ceremonies is low. They learn discipline/self-control from their parents modeling, teaching and enforcing discipline when and where it is appropriate.
To his credit, even after tying religion to ‘fantastical’ miracle stories and speculating that these stories confuse the minds of 3-6 year olds, Stern does cover the weaknesses of the researchers’ argument. Citing Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology at Yale. Bloom called the paper, “a cool study by a sharp research team,” but notes that most kids, religious or secular, are pretty good at distinguishing fantasy from reality.” Bloom told the writer that “…children only look incompetent when dealing with the stories of clever psychologists.”
Bloom states that all children are exposed to seemingly incredible things that also happen to be true on a daily basis. Though the Slate article lists only evolution and plate tectonics as items that can force them to re-evaluate their perceptions of reality, there are innumerable others. Even familiar things such as television, CD/DVDs, airplanes and so on cause dramatic shifts in, or expansion of perception of, reality. Though death is quite mundane and accepted in society; a child struggles with the fact that a familiar person or a pet is gone forever shakes their world profoundly.
In the end, though, Bloom states, “The problem with certain religious beliefs isn’t that they are incredible (science is also incredible) and isn’t that they ruin children’s ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. It’s that they are false.”
This writer questions Bloom’s declarative presumption that religious stories are false. He has made a global, sweeping statement with no basis in fact; no research or studies have been cited. He would not presume to make any such far-reaching statement about human psychological research with no research finding, what makes religion so different?
On the other side of the debate, EchoChambers cites individuals who see the findings from this study as positive. The following citations are either lifted directly or paraphrased from the article.
“This study proves a benefit of religion, not a detriment, because research shows how imaginative and fictional thinking, fantasy play aid in the cognitive development of children,” Eliyahu Federman said in USA Today. “Raising children with fantastical religious tales is not bad after all.” “Those claiming that belief in religious stories harms children should be interpreting research and science correctly,” he says, adding,”Not only is there benefit in allowing children to think imaginatively without forcing them into the mindset of perceived reality, but according to at least one study, raising children with religion also increases self-esteem, lowers anxiety, risk of suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, and dangerous sexual behavior.”
“Are we really going to say that kids who are taught to believe the Bible is true are somehow developmentally delayed because they’re more likely, at age 5 or 6, to believe fantastical things?” Jenny Erikson for the Stir asked. “Flip side to this equation could be that secular kids are taught to lose their sense of wonder and imagination at an earlier age than their Bible-believing friends.”
Prosblogion’s Helen De Cruz says that while there may be some truth to the results, what the study really shows is that the religious children know their Bible stories. “The Bible characters are presented to them as historical, so of course they would be more likely to judge them as historical than children who didn’t hear about these characters,” she writes.
She says the subject deserves further study before drawing conclusions. For instance, would children exposed to scientific study at a young age be more inclined to believe pseudoscientific claims? Would Christian children be more likely to believe miracle narratives from other religions?
A serious study of the global scientific community provides further evidence that the perceived conflict between science and religion is an illusion. Elaine Howard Ecklund founding director of Rice University’s Religion and Public Life Program and the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences and fellow Rice researchers Kirstin Matthews and Steven Lewis collected information from 9,422 respondents in eight regions around the world: France, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Taiwan, Turkey, the U.K. and the U.S. They also traveled to these regions to conduct in-depth interviews with 609 scientists, the largest worldwide survey and interview study ever conducted of the intersection between faith and science.
The study’s results challenge longstanding assumptions about the science-faith interface. While it is commonly assumed that most scientists are atheists, the global perspective resulting from the study shows that this is simply not the case.
“More than half of scientists in India, Italy, Taiwan and Turkey self-identify as religious,” Ecklund said. “And it’s striking that approximately twice as many ‘convinced atheists’ exist in the general population of Hong Kong, for example, (55 percent) compared with the scientific community in this region (26 percent).”
The researchers found that the scientists surveyed were generally less religious than a given general population. Two exceptions to this general trend were in Hong Kong and Taiwan where: 39% of scientists identified as religious versus 20% in the general population, and 54% of scientists identified as religious versus 44 percent of the general population, respectively.
Ecklund noted that only a minority of scientists in each regional context believe that science and religion are in conflict. In the U.K. only 32% of scientists characterized the science-faith interface as one of conflict. This number was only 29 percent in the US. In addition, 25 percent of Hong Kong scientists, 27 percent of Indian scientists and 23 percent of Taiwanese scientists believed science and religion can coexist and be used to help each other
“Science is a global endeavor,” Ecklund said. “And as long as science is global, then we need to recognize that the borders between science and religion are more permeable than most people think.”
Albert Einstein’s religious views were more akin to Thomas Jefferson’s deism than traditional Judaism. Nevertheless, he certainly saw no conflict between science and religion. In his essay, Religion and Science, he clearly states; “Yet it is equally clear that knowledge of what is does not open the door directly to what should be. One can have the clearest and most complete knowledge of what is, and yet not be able to deduct from that what should be the goal of our human aspirations. Objective knowledge provides us with powerful instruments for the achievements of certain ends, but the ultimate goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source.”
Later in the same essay, Einstein adds, “A person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings, and aspirations to which he clings because of their super-personal value.”…“Accordingly, a religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance and loftiness of those super-personal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation.”
The only conflict Einstein sees between science and religion is when a religious community insists on the absolute truthfulness of all statements recorded in the Bible. This means an intervention on the part of religion into the sphere of science; this is where the struggle of the Church against the doctrines of Galileo and Darwin belongs. On the other hand, representatives of science have often made an attempt to arrive at fundamental judgments with respect to values and ends on the basis of scientific method, and in this way have set themselves in opposition to religion.”
In summary, it appears that Einstein believed that science was the realm that provided the tools that enabled humanity to do things. (To many Christians, the main goal of science is to understand natural processes, thereby increasing our understanding what God has created and our understanding of God through His creation.)
To Einstein (and most theists) the realm of religion and sacred texts provided us with the wisdom to decide whether we should or should not do that thing. He understood that the Bible, Torah or most other sacred texts, for that matter, are not written to be interpreted as literal history. They were written as moral and theological lessons for people of that time and culture. Historic accuracy, as we interpret it (exact dates, times, events, etc.) is sacrificed in favor of bringing the reader closer to God and His will. No Orthodox Jew or Christian believes that Genesis, or any other book of the Bible for that matter, is a literal, accurate account of history. Even though some of the books are historic accounts (stories of Saul and David, the Babylonian captivity, etc.) the authors were more concerned with communicating God’s lessons than anything else.
• Relationships between Science and Religion:Conflict & Warfare, Craig Rusbult, Ph.D. http://www.asa3.org/ASA/
• When Science and Christianity Meet, Lindberg, David, 2003)
• No, The Catholic Church Didn’t Punish Galileo for Heliocentrism, Martin Cothran | April 26, 2017,
• Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds, Corriveaua, Chenb and Harris,
Cognitive Science (2014) 1–30. ISSN: 0364-0213 print / 1551-6709 online, DOI: 10.1111/cogs.12138.
• https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/21/children-religion-fact-fiction _n_5607009.html
• Science and Religion, Albert Einstein, 1939, 1942