White Men Less Likely to Accept Link Between Science and Religion: Report

While research indicates opinions about whether science and religion can overlap are changing, white men are among those "most likely" to hold "a negative view" on the topic, according to a study released on Monday.

"'Science and Religion': Moving away from the shallow end" was developed over three years by researchers with the U.K.-based Christian think tank Theos and The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, a Cambridge-based research institute. It used information gleaned from interviews with more than 100 experts from fall 2019 to fall 2020, and from a YouGov survey of 5,153 U.K.-based adults conducted last year between early May and mid-June.

Researchers wrote that their study was based on the idea that the debate about science and religion is often viewed "out of proportion," with the "loudest voices" on either side often dominating discussions about popular topics like evolution and the creation of the universe. Exploring deeper parts of these debates—those researchers say can be glossed over when hot-button topics are discussed—reveals there is less disagreement about whether science and religion can coexist than is widely believed, the study's authors said.

"In short, much of the science and religion 'battle' has been smoke—and there has been a lot of smoke—but without much real fire," an overview for the study said.

Science and religion report Theos Faraday Institute
A new report by Theos and The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion suggests white men are most likely to reject a link between science and religion. Above, sun shines through St. John's Celtic Cross standing outside the main entrance of the Iona Abbey on the Isle of Iona in the Inner Hebrides off the western coast of Scotland on July 2, 2018. Yuriko Nakao/Getty Images

In the early 2000s, researchers wrote there existed an "angry hostility" aimed at religion in the wake of the New Atheist movement popularized by writers like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. But the study's findings suggested "that moment has passed," Theos senior fellow and study co-author Nick Spencer told Premier Christian Radio on Monday.

While one poll conducted in the time of the New Atheist movement found 42 percent of adults in the U.K. described faith as "one of the world's great evils," that number dropped to 20 percent in the Theos and Faraday Institute study, with 46 percent of respondents saying "all religions have some element of truth in them."

Researchers found that perspectives on whether science and religion are compatible in a general sense were more negative than questions about whether specific areas of science can be compatible with religion. They credited these differences to the "legacy of antagonism" created during the New Atheist period.

Adults polled for the YouGov survey were nearly twice as likely to identify science and religion as "incompatible," with 57 percent of respondents describing the two subjects as such and only 30 percent telling pollsters they were "compatible."

In wider conversations about science and religion, the study of evolution is a popular topic, one researchers say is among the few "narrow lenses" through which the science versus religion debate is often viewed. Another of the major "narrow lenses" is whether people believe the universe was created by a God or through the Big Bang. Focusing on these popular questions and the strong opinions present on each side of the debate leaves the wider science versus religion conversation "out of proportion," researchers wrote.

"'Science and Religion' is a lot like a swimming pool," a Monday press release issued by Theos said. "All the noise is up at the shallow end."

On evolution specifically, researchers wrote their findings "show that only a small minority of people (including religious people) reject evolution." Younger people tend to be less entrenched in the "shallow end" of the debate in regards to evolution and the general science and religion conversation, the study's findings suggested. While about 64 percent of respondents ages 16 to 24 told YouGov pollsters they believe it is possible to believe in both God and evolution, only about 45 percent of respondents 57 and older said they believed the same.

The survey also found a slightly smaller number of Gen Z respondents—about 53 percent—said they believe science and religion are incompatible, compared with 56 percent of respondents who are 57 or older.

"More generally, the religious are no more antagonistic towards science itself than are the non-religious," the study's executive summary said.

Survey participants' opinions about the compatibility between religion and science have "a noticeable gendered and ethnic dimension," researchers wrote in the study's executive summary.

According to the survey's results, 60 percent of all male respondents described science and religion as "incompatible," compared with 55 percent of all women respondents.

"Men are more likely to voice an opinion on this matter and to be hostile than are women," researchers wrote.

More white respondents—about 68 percent—than non-white survey participants—about 48 percent—told pollsters they thought science and religion were "incompatible," according to the survey's results. The study noted there were gendered differences in this data, as well.

"In effect, white men are the group most likely to have a negative view of science and religion," they wrote.

When reached Monday for further comment, Spencer told Newsweek that female survey participants "are often slightly more hesitant to offer their opinions in public opinion surveys, and they tend also to be more positive about religion."

"In addition," Spencer continued, "ethnic minority respondents in the UK are disproportionately more religious than white respondents. All those factors combine here to give a skew towards men, white men in particular, voicing the greatest hostility concerning science and religion today."