Dr. Elaine Howard Ecklund (Credit: RPLP at Rice U via Twitter)

A new Rice University survey says that evangelical and black Protestants and Mormons are more likely than others in the general population to turn to religion when seeking answers to questions about science.

“Our findings suggest that religion does not necessarily push individuals away from science sources, but religion might lead people to turn religious sources in addition to scientific sources,” Elaine Howard Ecklund, the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences at Rice University, said in a press release statement.

The results of the study are to appear in the journal Public Understanding of Science. It is thought to be the first study of its kind in that it measures whether individuals would actively consult a religious authority or source of information with a question about science. The study, “Scientists and Religious Leaders Compete for Cultural Authority of Science,” is based on a survey of 10,241 Americans who provided information about their confidence and interest in science, their religious characteristics and their political ideology. Researchers say the sample included a wide range of people, including all religious groups as well as the nonreligious.

Ecklund and her colleagues found that the general survey population was more likely to consult a scientific source than a religious source when seeking answers to scientific questions. This was also true when the researchers looked at mainline Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians. For evangelical Protestants, black Protestants and Mormons, however, the gap between the likelihood of consulting a scientific source or a religious source was narrower.

When asked about their views on consulting scientific sources, 37% of those surveyed said they would be somewhat or very likely to consult a book written by a Ph.D. scientist for answers to their questions, compared with 34% of evangelical Protestants, 39% of black Protestants and 46% of Mormons. And 53% of the general surveyed population said they would be somewhat or very likely to consult a scientific magazine, compared with 50% of evangelical Protestants, 52% of black Protestants and 66% of Mormons. Finally, 49% of all survey respondents said they would be somewhat or very likely to speak with a person working in a scientific occupation, compared with 46% of evangelical Protestants, 43% of black Protestants and 55% of Mormons.

Ecklund said the research provides helpful implications and insights for science communication.

This study was funded by the John Templeton Foundation and is available online.

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