Earlier this year, in honor of Charles Darwin’s 204th birthday, Eugena Lee and Max Tegmark of the M.I.T. Department of Physics did a survey on how different religious beliefs viewed science, specifically, Big Bang cosmology and biological evolution. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of mainstream religions do not see any conflict. According to the MIT survey, only 11% of the U.S. population belong to religions openly rejecting evolution. Here is a summary of their findings as stated by Professor Tegmark in the Huffington Post:
“is there a conflict between science and religion? The religious organizations representing most Americans clearly don’t think so. Interestingly, the science organizations representing most American scientists don’t think so either: For example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science states that science and religion “live together quite comfortably, including in the minds of many scientists.” This shows that the main divide in the U.S. origins debate isn’t between science and religion, but between a small fundamentalist minority and mainstream religious communities who embrace science.“ (emphasis added)
In my opinion, there are two very interesting things in the survey, and neither of them are the harmony between faith and science.
First, the two largest groups in the survey, Catholics and No Religious Affiliation which collectively are over 40% of the U.S. population, both have strongest support for science in that they are rated a “5″ in the survey, which means they “Enthusiastically embracing origins science” (as opposed to less supportive “Compatible with origins science”). Further, if you add in mainstream Protestants, and non-Christians such as Jews, Buddhists and Hindus, there is an overwhelming majority of institutional religions in the U.S. that support science.
The second, and somewhat discouraging aspect of the survey, is that despite the overwhelming support by organized religion for science, the actual members of these religions are somewhat less enthusiastic. According to Gallup surveys, 46% of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago! Setting aside problems with the survey, this is a mind-boggling disconnect between official religious positions and members of these religions. This indicates three things: (i) religions are doing a terrible job of education their members on faith and science; (ii) science and theology knowledge in the U.S. is abysmal; and (iii) the media does a great job of perpetuating perceived conflict when there is none. (As an aside, I am shocked at these numbers; I am a cradle Catholic born in the 1960s and I never knew anyone, but less was taught by anyone, who was a Young Earth Creationist).
In summary, the survey is fascinating in that it highlights that there is no intellectual conflict between science faith, but there is a serious education deficiency of both science and theology in the United States. I believe that Professor Tegmark sums the real battle up best with his conclusion:
“I feel that people bent on science-religion conflict are picking the wrong battle. 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.”