Epistemological and Moral Conflict Between Religion and Science


  • Note: Thanks to Michael Evans, Amy Binder, Neil Gross, Bob Wuthnow, and Isaac Martin for comments on earlier drafts of this article, and to Ben Hurlbut, Akos Rona-Tas, Eric McDaniel, Chris Smith, and Mark Chaves for advice on particular components. Earlier versions presented at the 2009 American Sociological Association meetings, the 2009 Society for the Scientific Study of Religion meetings, and the Religion Working Group, Department of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles.

John H. Evans, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr., Dept. 0533, La Jolla, CA 92093. E-mail: jhevans@ucsd.edu


Debates about religion and educational attainment often assume that members of certain religious groups do not seek out knowledge of science because they are opposed to the use of the scientific method. Using the science module of the 2006 General Social Survey, the analysis indicates that no religious group differs from the nonreligious comparison group in its propensity to seek out scientific knowledge. A more subtle epistemological conflict may arise when scientists make claims that explicitly contradict theological accounts. Findings indicate that Protestants and Catholics differ from the comparison group only on the very few issues where religion and science make competing claims. A third possible source of conflict may not be epistemological, but rather derives from opposition to what is understood as the public moral agenda of scientists. Findings indicate that conservative Protestants are opposed to scientific influence in public affairs due to opposition to the scientists’ moral agenda.