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With Religion and Science, Ignorance Is Not Mutual

Private religious schools often claim to be able to educate children more effectively than public, secular schools. A study just published in Social Science Quarterly, however, indicates that, at least in the area of science, non-religious Americans have a higher literacy rate than religious Americans do.

The study, entitled Religion and Scientific Literacy in the United States, was conducted by Darren E. Sherkat of Southern Illinois University. Sherkat conducted scientific literacy tests on a sample of people from different religious identities, categorized into the following groups: Non-religious Americans, Non-Christian religious Americans, Catholic Americans, Sectarian Protestants and other Protestants.

The scientific literacy tests did not include questions about evolution, the answers to which would have indicated religious belief as much as knowledge of scientific information. The questions were about things such as whether lasers consist of sound or light, and how long it takes the Earth to go around the Sun.

In his statistical analysis of the results, Sherkat controlled for the following variables: Amount of formal education, income, ethnicity, immigrant status, region, rural residence, and gender.

The results showed that religious identity is negatively correlated with scientific literacy. Non-religious Americans were the group with the highest scientific literacy. Non-Christian religious Americans scored higher than Christian Americans.

correlation chart

What couldn’t be determined was causation. It’s not known whether religious belief is causing Americans to become less scientifically literate, or whether religious belief is more attractive to the scientifically illiterate.

Some people may be tempted to look at this study and conclude that people may be predominantly interested in either science or religion, and just don’t have time to learn about both. That interpretation is contradicted by the results of an earlier study, however.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found in a study last year that non-religious Americans have greater religious literacy than religious Americans do. So, it appears that ignorance between religion and science is a one-way street.

4 thoughts on “With Religion and Science, Ignorance Is Not Mutual”

  1. Tom says:

    Bias and superstition at work in education to keep a hold on their dwindling flock is what this illustrates. There are scientists who are devout Christians, Jews etc. but they at least know the science (even if they believe in some divine being or whatever) and they have no problem with things like evolution or geology being true. The ignorant, uneducated and or lazy will staunchly believe in superstition or religious dogma and completely disavow science. These people are dangerous.

    1. Ian says:

      This isn’t news, the trend is simply begin to show the turn of the table. In 30-40 years, I have a feeling that religion will have a much more minimal impact on politics. DOMA will be appealed. Bigotry becomes a much more minor issue when the international credit-based economy starts driving us into the ground.

    2. Ian says:

      Although I’d also like to say that I don’t think “ignorance between religion and science is a one way street.” Just because atheists may be more literate scientifically and religiously doesn’t mean that their opinions aren’t clouded by arrogance, ignorance, etc. After all, not too many years ago religious institutions were home to the select few who had the privilege of being literate or educated at all, and they were considered to be the ones of intelligence and rationality. Often have I seen atheists just as ignorant and hateful as the Westboro Baptist Church.

  2. Betty Donnelly says:

    Your Religion should be between you and your God or not God only. No exceptions.

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