Attitudes to Science and Religion
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Attitudes to Science and Religion

If you believe what you see and hear on the
news, you might think that religion and science are locked in eternal conflict, but the truth
is more complex and interesting than that. At the University of Birmingham we’ve been
researching people’s attitudes to science and religion to uncover what they really think. As part of that research, we’ve carried out
a mass survey asking over 4000 people about their views on science, religion and evolution. Here’s a snapshot of some of the kinds of
responses we got: I wouldn’t describe myself as a religious
person, but I would describe myself as a spiritual person in the sense that I have a relationship
with something which is greater than myself. I don’t believe that there is anything beyond
the kind of natural world that we live in. I don’t believe in any kind of god or gods. My family we’re all kind of Muslim, it’s kind
of a Muslim/Christian split. Religion is a personal relationship with the
living god. I used to describe myself as atheist, but
now I would say I’m more closely aligned to being agnostic. I’m from a Christian family and God has always
been a part of my life. I grew up in the Welsh Valleys and went to Welsh Baptist Church which
I still go to when I go home and I love dearly. When it comes to public attitudes to evolution,
our survey showed that people have a wide range of ideas. There are still some creationists who reject
core principles of the theory of evolution, especially when it comes to human beings. There are two main strands of evolution. One
is called macroevolution or the general theory of evolution, that human beings evolved through
virus, through amoebas or molecules or bacteria, all the way through until you reach human
being. That I believe is not science. It is a scientism, it is a faith statement. But creationist ideas of this kind which are
rejected by the wider scientific community are a small minority in the UK and our survey
showed that the rest of the population holds a wide spectrum of beliefs about the subject. I can’t see any major limitations in the evolutionary
theory, it’s kind of beautifully straight forward in a way. I think there are lots of
things that we are kind of yet to fully understand about how the brain works but I don’t think
that’s a limitation of evolution, I think that’s a limitation of where we might have
got to so far in scientific research. I always just believed that evolution happened
but then it was just a kind of tool used by God to make the world and that’s how I’ve
been able to accept it so easily because it would have caused real conflict with me. I think science is going to explain a lot
of things. I would hope that science is going to explain human consciousness. We have a
lot to still learn about evolution and how life arose on earth and that is very very
exciting as well. I hope that science can answer a lot of the
how questions. How does this happen? How does this work? But I don’t think science is ever
ever going to answer the why questions. Why are we here? Why do I have consciousness?
Even if I can explain my consciousness, why do I have it? So how does this reflect on the idea that
there’s a deep conflict between religion and science? Do people really believe that the
two are incompatible? I find science very valuable in our society
and it matches really well with spirituality because I sort of attach science really to
more of the physical dimension but also there is a spiritual dimension which can’t be measured,
it can only be experienced, so the two go together really well. For me the issue is with people who are very
absolute one way or the other. So from people with a very literal interpretation of the
Bible right through to people who don’t believe that there’s any place for religion anywhere
and that those who follow religion are somehow a bit foolish or you know there can be a bit
of a sneering element. Very staunchly atheist people – that I find very frustrating. Jesus and the way of the truth and the life,
we should always be open to question the validity of any claims. I stand to be corrected – if
my belief is wrong and I believe it’s not just about scientific facts but in all areas
of understanding, or justice and purpose of life, of free will, moral law, all this has
to come in as a free package. It’s not just about whether we come from monkeys or not,
you have to ask a question like what is the meaning of life? After death, is there life
beyond? Why do I have a moral law to know what is right and wrong? Even atheists have
a sense of what is right and wrong. I think humans need to feel a kind of sense
of purpose and meaning in their lives and I’m not any different – I think for me I feel
that I make my own meaning in my life by the things I do and the people i know. In terms
of a kind of wider purpose, personally I just don’t think there is one, I just think we’re
all here by chance and actually I love that. Our research into science and religion has
only just begun and we’re looking forward to digging even deeper over the coming years.
We’ll be going beyond the top level questions and gathering much more information using
detailed interviews and historic data. All of which will help us develop a more complete
picture of this fascinating subject.

2 thoughts on “Attitudes to Science and Religion

  1. If your goal is to chronicle how many people hold a diversity of beliefs, contradictory beliefs, even self-contradictory beliefs, then, like so many others who have looked at this topic, you will discover just how creative we humans are at coming up with ideas and sticking to them.

    However, that is quite different than understanding the essential nature of your proposed topic: the conflict between science and religion. Just because someone is labeled, or self-labeled, as a "scientist" does not mean that whatever their religious beliefs may be are not in conflict with their own discipline. And likewise for some labeled as "religious" in regards to whatever beliefs they have on science.

    Instead, if you're willing to start building robust definitions of "science" and "religion", I propose you will indeed find there are conflicts between these ways of human thinking.

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