Monday, November 09, 2015

Sensing Conflict, Seeking Collaboration: Emerging Adults' Attitudes on Science and Religion

As I've mentioned several times on this blog, I’ve been directing a grant project that investigates emerging adults’ attitudes on science and religion (SEYA, Science for Students and Emerging Adults). As a part of that work, I’ve studied national surveys and conducted two dozen qualitative interviews. Many of the latter are with Chico State students, often from my Science and Religion class. Sometimes the findings of researchers appear to head in opposite directions.
Consider two national surveys. In one, conducted by Kyle Longest and Christian Smith (link behind paywall), with almost 2,400 18-23 year olds, 70% stated that they “agree” or “strongly agree” that religion and science conflict. Similarly one my students, Ericka, commented, 
I think that science and religion will always be in conflict because science and religion will never be able to agree, and there are such contradicting views.”
There is, however, competing data. Another survey from Christopher Scheitle (link also behind paywall--sorry!) of over 11,000 undergraduates came to an opposite conclusion:
“despite the seeming predominance of a conflict-oriented narrative, the majority of undergraduates do not view the relationship between these two institutions [religion and science] as one of conflict.” 
That majority was 69% of those surveyed and reminded me of Daniel, who had this advice for people discussing science and religion, 
“Be more friendly and open. Less conflict and more dialogue.”
How do we make sense of these competing claims? 

It’s a function of the question. The first survey asked about the culture at large: “The teachings of science and religion often ultimately conflict with each other. (Do you strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree)?” The second about views personally held: “For me, the relationship of science and religion is one of…”
Simply put, the majority of emerging adults (in this case, 18-23 years old) sense that there is conflict out there, but they personally seek another way. They sense conflict, but seek collaboration or independence.
And that’s just one reason it's energizing to find out what emerging adults think and, in the process, begin to discern the the contours of future discussions of science and religion. 

I'd also be interested to hear what you think.