Most Americans see a conflict between the findings of science and the teachings of religion, but “see” is the operative word in a Pew Research Center report issued in October. Examining perceptions leads to some unexpected findings.

While 59 percent of U.S. adults say they saw science and religion in conflict, that drops to 30 percent when people are asked about their religious beliefs. It turns out that the most highly religious were least likely to see conflict. And those who said they saw the most conflict between the two worldviews in society personally claimed no religious brand (the “nones”), according to the report.“

Our perceptions of others are often different from our perceptions of ourselves and this plays out here. It’s the most striking finding,” said Cary Funk, associate director of research and co-author of the report.

The report is an analysis of several surveys but chiefly relies on one from 2014 of 2,002 U.S. adults conducted in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In that survey:

  • 40 percent of evangelical Protestants said their personal religious beliefs conflicted with science.
  • 50 percent of highly religious adults (they attend religious services at least weekly) saw science and religion often in conflict.
  • 76 percent of religiously unaffiliated said they saw such conflict in society. But when asked about their personal beliefs, just 16 percent saw such conflict.

The analysis looked at 20 science issues and found that on most—including climate change, genetically modified foods and space exploration — religious differences were part of a matrix of influences that include age, gender, education, political affiliation and ideology.

Funk said the analysis found “only a handful of areas where people’s religious beliefs and practices have a strong connection to their views about science.”

The hot topics were views on the creation of the universe, on evolution and on whether religious congregations should take positions in debates over public policies on scientific issues. Overall, 50 percent said congregations should express their views on policy decisions about scientific issues and 46 percent said they should not.

Roman Catholics were the most divided, with 49 percent saying churches should not express their views and 45 percent calling for churches to speak up, but the survey depended on analysis prior to Pope Francis issuing his document on climate change. About 2 in 3 white evangelicals (69 percent) and black Protestants (66 percent) supported churches’ expressing views. But most of those with no religious affiliation (66 percent) were firmly against it. On evolution, 31 percent of U.S. adults said humans and other living things “have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.” Most (65 percent overall) said “humans and other living things have evolved over time.” This includes:

  • 86 percent of the religiously unaffiliated.
  • 73 percent of non-Hispanic white Roman Catholics and 59 percent of Hispanic Roman Catholics.
  • 71 percent of white mainline Protestants.
  • 49 percent of black Protestants.
  • 36 percent of white evangelicals.

Americans did come together on one issue — strong public support for government investment in science. Overall, 71 percent of adults said government investment in basic science research “pays off in the long run,” while 24 percent said it isn’t worth it.

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