Addressing Evangelical Perceptions of Science

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Neuroscience lecture at the recent Perceptions Project workshop. Photo credit: AAAS/DAVID BULLER
Neuroscience lecture at the recent Perceptions Project workshop. Photo credit: AAAS/DAVID BULLER

The perceptions that religious leaders have of science often determine how they respond to debates about science and religion. If science is presumed to be a threat to belief, defensive stances may be adopted; if the topic is felt to speak of the wonder of nature, it is likely to be approached with a more open spirit.

The Perceptions Project from the Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER), supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, recently hosted the first of three regional workshops aimed at addressing this discourse, especially with evangelical Christians. Preparatory work included focus groups and a nationwide survey of nearly 10,000 individuals. Now, DoSER is facilitating conversations about the science and religion interface using discussion guides tested in collaboration with the National Association of Evangelicals and Public Agenda.

“Evangelicals value scientific writing and draw upon scientific sources for knowledge even if they are suspicious of some forms of science,” principal investigator Elaine Howard Ecklund writes in her preliminary findings summary. “Evangelical Protestants, however, are more than twice as likely to say they would turn to a religious text, a religious leader, or people at their congregation if they had a question about science,” she continues. This is an insight that underlines the value of engaging religious leaders when building bridges between the evangelical and scientific communities.

Results from the survey and from DoSER’s work with evangelicals will expand into three additional workshops this year that will enable dialogue between scientists and leaders from Catholic, Mainline Protestant, and Jewish communities.