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More men than women say science and religion are in conflict

27 December 2022

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MORE men than women believe that science and religion are not compatible, a new survey of public attitudes suggests.

More than one quarter (26 per cent) of men, compared with less than one fifth (19 per cent) of women, viewed science and religion as highly incompatible, according to research for the Faraday Institute, which seeks to improve public understanding of religious beliefs in relation to the sciences, and the Christian think tank Theos. Almost one third of men (31 per cent) believed that science had disproved religion, compared with less than a quarter (23 per cent) of women.

The gender difference remained even after accounting for the fact that men are consistently more likely to voice an opinion, and women are consistently more likely to describe themselves as religious.

The report Science and religion: Does gender matter? was based on a YouGov survey of 5153 UK adults, and more than 100 in-depth interviews with experts. The data also showed that men have a more “scientistic” outlook than women, with 61 per cent of men agreeing that science is the only reliable way to get knowledge about the world, as opposed to 50 per cent of women. Men (39 per cent), however, are more likely to view religion as a set of beliefs about the physical world than women (33 per cent).

The report’s co-author, Dr Hannah Waite, a researcher at Theos, said: “The accusations of gender bias with the rhetoric of the New Atheist Movement were, it seems, warranted. There are many possible reasons for this, but the two we explored were, that men are simply more antagonistic to religion, and that men are more likely to have the potential for conflict baked into their very definitions of the terms they use — both of which are borne out by the data.”

The survey’s findings are analysed in detail in a Theos report, Science and Religion: Moving away from the shallow end. In it, Dr Waite says: “We have got the science and religion debate all wrong, or at least out of proportion. We have focused heavily (sometimes exclusively) on a limited number of (scientific) topics — in particular evolution and the Big Bang — and often on the loudest voices in those debates.

“However, research shows that none of these topics is, in fact, a big issue for the (religious) public. In reality, both science and religion are highly complex, contestable, ‘polyvalent’ terms, which means the science and religion debate is similarly complex.

“This report draws out six different ‘dimensions’ within the science and religion debate, and argues that for each we should abandon the shallow end and go deeper. Specifically, we need to go beyond:

  • Faith vs fact, when it comes to what we know;
  • Natural vs supernatural, when it comes to what we think about reality;
  • Literal vs metaphorical, when it comes to how we read holy books;
  • Material vs spiritual, when it comes to how we understand what it means to be human;
  • Moral polarisation, when it comes to how we think about our ideas and practices;
  • And ‘Playing God’, when it comes to who decides about the progress of science and technology.”

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