Where does the divide between science and religion come from?


AT A RECENT morning run, I saw a sign that began with “We Believe” and included a list of creed-type commitments. One of them stood out: “Science is real.

Science? I thought. Does belief in science really need a forecourt creed affirmation?

One of the recent divisive trends in our country is an increased distrust of science among evangelicals and the religious right. This pattern has been acute during the COVID-19 pandemic, when research by epidemiologists and other members of the scientific community has been increasingly questioned by conservative pundits, politicians and religious leaders. . The costs of this rhetoric and its effects have become more than alarming.

Where does this science-religion divide come from? And how can we talk about the fear and distrust of scientific work that has taken root in recent years in a way that cultivates trust and encourages mutual interest?

The origins of this fault are not easy to trace, fueled as they are by various sources. Thomas Dixon, in the book Science and religion: a very short introduction, attributes the account of the science-religion conflict to three sources: Enlightenment rationalists in the late 1700s, Victorian “freethinkers” in the mid-1800s, and modern scientific atheists from the late 1900s to the present day. . “Few things make scientific thought more difficult than religion,” wrote Sam Harris, a prominent atheist, in The New York Times in 2009.

Many contemporary Christians have come to the view that their tenets of faith and the work of science are in conflict, although this is far from a homogeneous view. According to analysis of Wellcome Global Monitor data by the Pew Research Center, there is a great diversity of opinion among Christians around the world on the relationship between science and religion. Christians in the United States, for example, far outnumber Christians in other parts of the world in reporting that science conflicts with the teachings of their religion: 61% of American Christians reported such a conflict, compared to 22% in Singapore, 18% in Sweden and 12% in the Czech Republic. According to the National Association of Evangelicals, evangelicals in the United States are more than twice as likely as the general public (29% versus 14%) to believe that science and religion are in conflict.

At the same time, for many other Christians, science represents a path towards God, not far. “For me, doing science is looking for God,” said George Coyne, a Jesuit priest, astronomer and former director of the Vatican Observatory. to be podcast host Krista Tippett. “And I will never have the definitive answers, because the universe participates in the mystery of God.”

Growing distrust of science among some people of faith has become a matter of life and death during the COVID-19 pandemic. White evangelical Christians represent the highest rates of vaccine hesitancy among religious groups in the United States. How, then, should we engage our neighbours, aunts, brothers, or relatives in a way that counters misinformation and rebuilds trust?

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