Study: For Science questions, some religions turn to faith for answers

HOUSTON — Some faiths are more likely than others to turn to religion when it comes to questions of science, a new study finds.

Researchers at a trio of U.S.-based universities examined a survey of more than 10,000 Americans, which provided perspective on a variety of attitudes, including one’s level of trust and interest in science; political ideology; and religious beliefs, if any at all.

Jesus Statue in front of Earth
When it comes to questions about science, some religions believe only clergy have the answers, a new study finds.

“People have many places to look for scientific news and information: the internet, books or documentaries by science popularizers, museums or social media,” says Elaine Howard Ecklund, a sociology professor at Rice University and lead researcher of the study, one of the first inquiries of its kind.

“But there is good reason to believe some look beyond scientific sources of information when questions arise about science. Some segments of the public, for example, are skeptical of the scientific community when it comes to topics like climate change, evolution or vaccines,” she adds, according to a press release.

Across the general population, most Americans sought an empirical source of information as opposed to a faith-based one when it came to scientific inquiries, the researchers found.

This was also true, on an individual basis, for members of many religions and denominations, including Catholics, Jews, Muslims, mainline Protestants, and other Christians.

However, three demographics — evangelical Protestants, black Protestants, and Mormons — were more likely than others to select a religious authority for reference, even if a majority would decline to do so.

One example of the disparity can be found in how only 16 percent of all respondents indicated a preference for asking a religious leader the answer to a scientific question, compared to 29 percent of black and evangelical Protestants.

A similar divide was found among Mormons juxtaposed against the general population as it pertained to the belief that religious texts could provide scientific answers.

In other measures polled, such as one’s likelihood to consult a book written by someone with a Ph.D., a scientific magazine, or with someone working in a scientific occupation, confidence levels were fairly consistent across the board, regardless of faith.

Since little research has focused on how faith affects how one seeks out scientific answers, the researchers believe their study provides new insights for experts in the field.

“In order to reach the large swath of the U.S. population who are religious, scientists and science communicators should be targeting religious leaders and communities,” Ecklund explains. “If religious leaders are indeed already being approached with questions about science, it’s possible they simply need the information in hand in order to translate accurate scientific information to the public or to connect religious people with scientists themselves.”

Ecklund et al. published their findings in the journal Public Understanding of Science.