It never used to be like this. Sir Isaac Newton, one of the influential scientists to grace the Earth would be horrified. An outspoken Bible-believer, Newton believed that his observations of the Universe made the existence of God irrefutable.
How times change.
‘New Atheism’ is the increasingly popular movement within top science thinkers. Its advocates say that religion should not be tolerated and ought be actively criticised. There is many a scientist who would argue an atheistic world view with all the fervour of Newton: Biologist Richard Dawkins likens a religious education to child abuse; Chemist Peter Atkins forcefully argues that religion is for those of ‘adipose’ minds (i.e. brains containing only fat).
But how much truth is there in idea that religion results in ignorance of science and logic? New research would suggest not very much…
Our Survey Says: Christians don’t understand science
Better educated folk are less likely to believe in God – a long established fact.
A 2008 knowledge and belief survey of 1,727 US residents sought to find out more. Testing respondents’ scientific knowledge whilst quizzing their theology, the survey conclusively showed that fundamental Christians had a lesser understanding of basic science and logic.
So case closed: Religion = Scientific Stupidity?
A recently published analysis of the data (reference below) takes a closer look and reveals that religious teaching probably isn’t the main cause for these differences. Political scientist Zigerell discovered that most of the differences are explained by socio-economic reasons: Those from poorer backgrounds are more likely to be Christian. And those from disadvantaged backgrounds invariably know less about science because of fewer educational opportunities.
Biblical teaching undermines exam performance
But it doesn’t stop there. Zigerell went on to make one more fascinating finding:
Teasing apart the data further – even after social factors were compensated for – fundamental Bible-believers still scored slightly less well on the science knowledge test.
And Zigerell’s proposed reason is compelling: Christians did considerably less guessing. When literal Bible believers came across a question they didn’t know the answer to, rather than having a guess (and possibly getting it right) they were more likely just to leave it blank.
Well, the Bible does teach honesty after all…
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Zigerell, L. (2010). Science knowledge and biblical literalism Public Understanding of Science DOI: 10.1177/0963662510391723