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Religion and Scientific Literacy in the United States


  • All data files, coding, and programs are available on request to the author. Data from the NORC General Social Surveys were made available through the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research. Comments from anonymous reviewers, Derek Martin, and Mark Schneider were greatly appreciated. A version of this article was presented at the 2009 Annual Meetings of the Southern Sociological Society, New Orleans, LA.

Direct correspondence to Darren E. Sherkat, Department of Sociology, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL 62901 〈〉.



This study examines how commitment to sectarian Protestant religious groups and fundamentalist beliefs in the inerrancy of the Bible influence basic scientific literacy.


I analyze data from the 2006 General Social Survey (N = 1,780), which included a 13-point examination of scientific facts and reasoning. Ordinary least squares regression models are estimated to determine the impact of religious affiliations and beliefs net of other control variables such as race, gender, education, income, region, and rural residence.


Analyses show that sectarian Protestants, Catholics, and people with fundamentalist beliefs in the inerrancy of the Bible have significantly lower levels of scientific literacy when compared with secular Americans. Religious differences are identifiable in multivariate analyses controlling for other demographic factors.


Religion plays a sizeable role in the low levels of scientific literacy found in the United States, and the negative impact of religious factors is more substantial than gender, race, or income.