Study shows nonreligious individuals hold bias against Christians in science due to perceived incompatibility (2023)

A study published in Public Understanding of Science provides evidence that many nonreligious people stereotype Christians as incompetent in science because they believe that Christianity and science conflict with each other. The study also found that when Christianity and science are described as being compatible, nonreligious individuals tend to have more positive views of Christians.

“There’s a belief in many Western societies that science and religion are in conflict. For example, many prominent atheists such as Steven Pinker and Sam Harris opposed Francis Collins as the head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) because he was an Evangelical Christian,” said study author Cameron Mackey (@CameronDMackey1), a doctoral candidate at Ohio University.

“There have also been countless debates over the teaching of evolution in schools and whether Intelligent Design has a place in the classroom. We were interested in the consequences of this belief in religion-science conflict for nonreligious people’s attitudes toward religious people (in this case, Christians). That is, we wanted to know whether the belief that Christianity and science conflict with each other explains why nonreligious people stereotype Christians as incompetent in science.”

“Furthermore, we wanted to see if changing perceptions about Christianity and science being in conflict (to being more compatible) would lead nonreligious individuals to change their stereotypes of Christians in science to become more positive.”

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For their study, the researchers recruited a sample of 365 participants from Prolific. Out of these, 151 identified as Christians and 214 identified as nonreligious. The participants were directly asked: “How incompatible vs. compatible do you personally believe science and Christianity are?” They responded on a seven-point scale.

To assess implicit perceptions of intelligence, the participants then read a generic description of a person named “Kevin,” who was described as intelligent. Kevin attended a top university and used his skills “to help answer some of the world’s most complex problems.” Christians were then asked how likely it was that “Kevin had a PhD” and whether Kevin was a Christian or an atheist.

Finally, participants were asked to explicitly rate different groups (atheists, agnostics, “spiritual but not religious” individuals, Christians, Jews, and Muslims) on different attributes (intelligence, interest in science, competence, competence in science, and scientific ability) on a scale of 0 to 100.

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Mackey and his colleagues found that Christian participants were more likely to believe that science was compatible with Christianity than nonreligious participants.

Christian participants saw Kevin as more likely to have a PhD and be a Christian, while nonreligious participants saw Kevin as more likely to have a PhD and be an atheist. Similarly, Christian participants perceived Christians as more intelligent than nonreligious participants, while nonreligious participants perceived atheists as more intelligent than Christian participants.

In addition, Christian participants perceived Christians as more scientific than nonreligious participants, while nonreligious participants perceived atheists as more scientific than Christian participants.

The researchers also found evidence that compatibility beliefs mediated the relationship between religious affiliation and perceptions of Christians’ intelligence and scientific ability. In other words, nonreligious individuals were more likely to believe that Christianity and science incompatible, which in turn was associated with perceiving Christians as less intelligent and scientific.

“Our research demonstrates that perceiving conflict between religion and science can have detrimental effects not only on Christians’ performance and interest in science (as prior research has shown), but also on nonreligious people’s stereotypes about Christians,” Mackey told PsyPost. “That is, because nonreligious individuals are more likely to believe that Christianity and science can’t work together, they are more likely to stereotype Christians as uninterested in or incompetent at science.”

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To better understand the causal relationships involved, the researchers conducted an experiment with 799 participants who were recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Out of these, 520 identified as Christians and 279 as nonreligious. They were randomly assigned to read one of two articles. One article portrayed Christianity and science as being compatible, while the other described them as incompatible.

The participants then completed the same implicit and explicit measures as in the previous study. Mackey and his colleagues found that nonreligious participants perceived Christians as more intelligent and scientific when they were presented with information showing that Christianity and science are compatible, compared to nonreligious participants who read about them being incompatible.

The findings indicate that “if people are reminded of how Christianity and science can potentially coexist, people’s perceptions of Christians in science can become more positive,” Mackey said. “Making perceptions of Christians in science more positive is crucial for increasing Christian representation in science and increasing trust between religious and nonreligious individuals in scientific domains.”

“A short narrative about ways Christianity and science could coexist was enough to boost nonreligious individuals’ perceptions of Christians as scientific measured by a composite of interest in science, competence in science, and scientific ability (from a rating of 38.63 out of 100 among those who read about Christianity and science being in conflict, to a rating of 53.35 among those who read about Christianity and science coexisting),” he explained. “This surprised us, given the frequency with which negative stereotypes about Christians in science (and beliefs about the religion-science conflict more generally) are expressed in American society.”

But the study, like all research, includes some caveats.

“One caveat of our research was that it was conducted in the United States, where stereotypes about Christians being unscientific are common (Rios et al., 2015). In other countries, different religions may be perceived as incompatible with science (e.g., Islam in the UK; Ecklund et al., 2019). In the future, it would be interesting to test whether nonreligious individuals in the UK exhibit more positive stereotypes of Muslims in science after reading a passage about how science and Islam can coexist.”

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“Furthermore, our manipulation was rather direct; we told individuals that Christianity and science were either capable of coexisting or not. Testing these effects in a different way, such as presenting participants with an example of a Christian scientist (e.g., Francis Collins; Sharp et al., 2021), may be another method to change nonreligious individuals’ perceptions about the relationship between Christianity and science.”

“Our research suggests that nonreligious individuals may be less likely to see Christians as acceptable candidates in scientific positions. More research is needed to understand how scientists in America (where nonreligious people are overrepresented; Ecklund et al., 2019) perceive Christians applying for research assistants or graduate students in their labs, and whether influencing scientists’ perceptions of Christianity and science makes scientists evaluate Christian applicants more positively than they would otherwise.”

The findings also have some practical implications.

“Our findings suggest that reminding individuals that Christianity and science can coexist can help reduce nonreligious individuals’ reliance on negative stereotypes about Christians in science,” Mackey said. “These changing perceptions may help increase Christians’ representation in science. Because nonreligious individuals are overly represented in science (Ecklund et al., 2019), they may unwittingly ‘gatekeep’ science from Christians if they do not believe Christianity and science can coexist. Christians are a large part of the American population so it’s important to increase their representation in science lest we miss out on a lot of potential scientific talent.”

“Furthermore, by changing beliefs about whether Christianity and science can coexist, we can potentially reduce the polarization around attitudes toward science between religious and nonreligious groups,” Mackey continued. “These findings are especially important given how Evangelical Christians were skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccine and have some of the lowest levels of trust in science (Khullar, 2022).”

“Scientists often believe that religious people won’t be interested in listening to them (Scheitle et al., 2018), potentially because they think Christianity and science can’t work together. However, if they do believe Christianity and science can work together, scientists and Christians can engage in more dialogue with each other and potentially increase the trust between these groups.”

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The study, “Christianity-science compatibility beliefs increase nonreligious individuals’ perceptions of Christians’ intelligence and scientific ability“, was authored by Cameron D. Mackey, Kimberly Rios, and Zhen Hadassah Cheng.

FAQs

Is it OK to believe in science and religion? ›

Indeed, if science and religion are properly understood, they cannot be in contradiction because they concern different matters. Science and religion are like two different windows for looking at the world. The two windows look at the same world, but they show different aspects of that world.

How many scientists identify as Christians? ›

Although Christians make up approximately 75% of the American public, only about 30% of academic scientists identify as Christian [1,2], making Christians one of the most underrepresented groups in science [3] [academic scientists generally have graduate degrees, academic appointments, and conduct scientific research] ...

What percentage of biologist believe in God? ›

According to the poll, just over half of scientists (51%) believe in some form of deity or higher power; specifically, 33% of scientists say they believe in God, while 18% believe in a universal spirit or higher power.

What is the conflict between science and religion? ›

They disagree, however, on how to precisely (and across times and cultures) demarcate the two domains. One way to distinguish between science and religion is the claim that science concerns the natural world, whereas religion concerns the supernatural world and its relationship to the natural.

What is it called when you believe in science instead of God? ›

Scientism is the opinion that science and the scientific method are the best or only way to render truth about the world and reality.

Do scientists believe in the existence of God? ›

Science doesn't have the processes to prove or disprove the existence of God. Science studies and attempts to explain only the natural world while God, in most religions, is supernatural.

Which religion is closest to science? ›

A commonly held modern view is that Buddhism is exceptionally compatible with science and reason, or even that it is a kind of science (perhaps a "science of the mind" or a "scientific religion").

Who created the God? ›

No one created God. God got created as the universe grew and changes. God is the cumulative energy of the universe. So, infact universe created God.

Which scientist did not believe in God? ›

British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking schmoozed with popes during his lifetime, even though he was an avowed atheist. The famous scientist, who died Wednesday in England at 76, was often asked to explain his views on faith and God. During interviews, he explained his belief that there was no need for a creator.

Do medical doctors believe in God? ›

Education and physician faith

While the percentage of doctors who believe in God is about the same as the general population, it is particularly interesting that physicians are more likely to believe in God than are other individuals who are educated in science.

Why should we believe in God? ›

God knows everything we are going through at this very moment and everything we will go through in the future. He knows the best way to handle every situation so we get the best possible outcome and we need to trust him with that. We need to follow his path and trust that he knows best, because he does.

When did the conflict between religion and science start? ›

The idea that science and religion are at war with one another is actually fairly recent. It really only arose in the last third of the nineteenth century, after the publication of Darwin's book on evolution.

Why did the church oppose science? ›

An alternative criticism is that the Church opposed particular scientific discoveries that it felt challenged its authority and power – particularly through the Reformation and on through the Enlightenment.

Is there an inevitable conflict between science and religion? ›

Science and religion are diametrically opposed at their deepest philosophical levels. And, because the two worldviews make claims to the same intellectual territory — that of the origin of the universe and humankind's relationship to it — conflict is inevitable.

Can you believe in God and the universe at the same time? ›

Pantheism is the belief that reality, the universe and the cosmos are identical to divinity and a supreme supernatural being or entity, pointing to the universe as being an immanent creator deity who is still expanding and creating, which has existed since the beginning of time, or that all things compose an all- ...

What are the 2 main arguments against scientism? ›

Two central arguments against scientism, the (false) dilemma and self-referential incoherence, are analysed.

What is it called when you believe in spirituality but not God? ›

"Spiritual but not religious" (SBNR), also known as "spiritual but not affiliated" (SBNA), or less commonly "more spiritual than religious" is a popular phrase and initialism used to self-identify a life stance of spirituality that does not regard organized religion as the sole or most valuable means of furthering ...

What are the 3 main arguments for the existence of God? ›

Much of the discussion has focused on Kant's “big three” arguments: ontological arguments, cosmological arguments, and teleological arguments.

Do scientists have faith? ›

Some of the greatest minds in history have employed faith to advance the frontiers of science. Many of the greatest scientists in history are people with a deep faith, not just in their science, but also in God.

Which religion is most connected with science? ›

Buddhism and science have been regarded as compatible by numerous authors. Some philosophic and psychological teachings found in Buddhism share points in common with modern Western scientific and philosophic thought.

Did Adam and Eve go to heaven? ›

After all, they disobeyed God's command to not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. God is the One who decides who does or does not enter heaven. There's no place in the Bible that says they were saved. But there is no place in the Bible that indicates the couple was lost, either.

Who Named god? ›

In response, Hagar becomes the only character in the Bible to name God: El Roi, “the God who sees me” (Genesis 16:13). Fast forward to our story in Genesis 21, and Hagar is sent away a second time to die in the wilderness, this time with her young child, Ishmael.

Who Named god first? ›

We begin with Hagar.

Hagar was the very first person to dare to give God a name. She wasn't a person of any authority or particular merit, she wasn't a prophet or a priestess: she was an Egyptian slave girl owned by Abram's wife, Sarai.

Which religion is not based on God? ›

Nontheism has been applied and plays significant roles in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. While many approaches to religion exclude nontheism by definition, some inclusive definitions of religion show how religious practice and belief do not depend on the presence of a god or gods.

What religion Is not believe in God? ›

An atheist denies the existence of God. As it is frequently said, atheists believe that it is false that God exists, or that God's existence is a speculative hypothesis of an extremely low order of probability.

Who in the Bible did not believe? ›

A doubting Thomas is a skeptic who refuses to believe without direct personal experience — a reference to the Gospel of John's depiction of the Apostle Thomas, who, in John's account, refused to believe the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the ten other apostles until he could see and feel Jesus' crucifixion wounds.

What does Jesus say about doctors in the Bible? ›

He replied, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick' (Matthew 9:12). Jesus recognised that sick people need doctors. He did not condemn using doctors and 'earthly remedies'. Yes, Jesus performed many healing miracles while he was on Earth.

What does God say about using medicine? ›

There are several places in the Bible, where faith alone is accounted for the healing of the people. But there is no place in the Bible that forbids the use of drugs, especially for someone who is ill. Jesus said: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”—Matthew 9:12.

What did Jesus say about the doctor? ›

On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: `I desire mercy, not sacrifice. ' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

What does God want us to believe in? ›

So, what dose God expect of us? God expects us to accept His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, as our Savior. He expects us to give our lives to Him, and in so doing, develop the character of Christ. God wants us to become more like Christ.

When did humans start believing in God? ›

Prehistoric evidence of religion. The exact time when humans first became religious remains unknown, however research in evolutionary archaeology shows credible evidence of religious-cum-ritualistic behavior from around the Middle Paleolithic era (45–200 thousand years ago).

Why do we need to believe in Jesus? ›

Jesus is important to us because through His Atonement, teachings, hope, peace, and example, He helps us change our lives, face our trials, and move forward with faith as we journey back to Him and His Father.

Does Albert Einstein believe in God? ›

He clarified however that, "I am not an atheist", preferring to call himself an agnostic, or a "religious nonbeliever." Einstein also stated he did not believe in life after death, adding "one life is enough for me." He was closely involved in his lifetime with several humanist groups.

What percentage of mathematicians believe in God? ›

Only 14.6 percent of the mathematicians embraced the God hypothesis (versus 5.5 percent of the biologists). But here is something you probably didn't know. Most mathematicians believe in heaven.

Which famous scientist believed in God? ›

Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895)

He was a devout Christian, and made others know about his belief through his words and writings. “A bit of science distances one from God, but much science nears one to Him.” “The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator.”

Who put together the original Bible? ›

Since the 17th century, scholars have viewed the original sources as being the product of multiple anonymous authors while also allowing the possibility that Moses first assembled the separate sources.

What did Einstein call God? ›

Einstein says that he is happy being a Jew, but that he sees nothing special about Jewishness. The word God, he says, is “nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness,” and the Hebrew Bible is a collection of “honorable, but still purely primitive legends.”

What does God reveal to us in math? ›

The reason we can rely on math is because our faithful, all-powerful God is consistently holding our universe together (Colossians 1:17 ). He ensures that the principles of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division will always result in clear answers.

Can maths prove God? ›

There is, in fact, a classical proof of God's existence that uses universal concepts such as mathematics, proposed most prominently by St. Augustine (354–430 CE) of Hippo in the 4th century AD. It's sometime called the Augustinian Proof*.

Why do humans believe in God? ›

We all have the same basic brain. And our brains have evolved to work in a particular way." Through the lens of evolution, a belief in God serves a very important purpose: Religious belief set us on the path to modern life by stopping cheaters and promoting the social good.

Can you be smart and believe in God? ›

Clearly the answer is -- drum roll, please -- yes. Many smart, reflective scientifically literate people obviously still do believe in god.

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