Conflict or Not?

Matt J. Rossano posted a column recently at the Huffington Post: The (Lack Of) Conflict Between Science and Religion in College Students. This was later reposted at BioLogos. Dr. Rossano is a professor of psychology at Southeastern Louisiana University specializing in evolutionary psychology, especially religion and science and the evolution of religion. He has published both a general textbook on Evolutionary Psychology and a monograph on the evolution of religion (link here).

Dr. Rossano points to a study by Christopher Scheitle from Penn State reported in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 50, p. 175 (2011) U.S. College Students’ Perception of Religion and Science: Conflict, Collaboration, or Independence? A Research Note. From Dr. Rossano’s summary:

Results showed that nearly 70 percent of college freshman saw the science/religion relationship as one of either independence or collaboration. The minority who saw science and religion in conflict were roughly evenly split between those who sided with religion (17 percent) and those who sided with science (14 percent). Even more interesting was the fact that when students changed their opinion over time, the most likely change was moving from a conflict position to one of non-conflict (either independence or collaboration).

Nearly 70% of college freshman saw no conflict, by the junior year 80% saw no conflict. Dr. Rossano cites this as evidence that the science and religion conflict is a relatively minor issue for the younger generations. “For the vast majority of American university students, there simply is no conflict between science and religion.”

What do you think? Does this match your experience?

There are two other interesting points that come out of Dr.  Scheitle’s analysis.

First – there are significant differences across majors – as freshman only 58.5% of education majors and 61.1% of business majors saw no conflict; that is 41.5% of education majors and 38.9% of business majors saw science and religion in conflict with the majority of them siding with religion against science. In all other majors the majority of those seeing a conflict sided with science against religion.

By the junior year education majors had moved to an average position in line with most other majors – 82.2% saw no conflict. Science and religion were viewed as independent of each other or in collaboration with each other. Of those seeing conflict, the majority still sided with religion.

The change is much smaller among business majors. By the junior year the number seeing no conflict had only risen to 68.3%.

Second – religious institutions appear to do a better job of educating students on the nature of the interaction of science and religion than secular institutions. From Dr. Scheitle’s article (emphasis added):

Interestingly, students at a religiously affiliated institution are less likely to hold a pro-religion conflict perspective. This is after controlling for religious commitment and religious conservatism, both of which are positively associated with attending a religious institution. This means that students at religious institutions are less likely to hold a pro-religion conflict perspective than students with similar levels of religious commitment and conservatism at a secular school. It is possible that religious students at a secular school may feel more threatened or under attack by science and therefore are more likely to take on a defensive, pro-religion conflict perspective. Alternatively, it is possible that students at religious institutions are exposed more to the independence or collaboration perspective, while those at secular schools may be more exposed to the conflict perspective, which then becomes reflected in their views.

This, I think, may have important implications for campus ministries at secular institutions. The impression of being under attack can heighten the sense of conflict. This doesn’t allow students to develop a healthy way of dealing with the issues of science and religion. Campus ministries, both churches and parachurch ministries, could help to reduce the conflict, but it has to be intentional. I expect that it also has to enlist the participation of Christians in the sciences. Christian students are exposed to Christians who are professional scientists when at religious institutions, but generally are not exposed to professional Christian scientists when at secular institutions.

Is there a conflict between science and religion?

Do you think this study is accurate? If not, why not?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

If you have comments please visit Conflict or Not? at Jesus Creed.

The full survey information and the instruments can be found here: Methodology – Spirituality in Higher Education.

The specific question, copied from the freshman survey, is shown to the right.

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