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Science and religion 'aren't as opposed as you'd think', expert claims

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Science and religion 'aren't as opposed as you'd think': Beliefs have a similar basis regardless of which side you're on, experts claim

  • Researchers believes the conflict has as much to do with culture, family, moral positions and political loyalties as it has to do with the truth
  • They use the theory of evolution, and creationism, to explain their views
  • Improving understanding of science means engaging with all backgrounds
  • The researchers said that this should stop people stereotyping others

Mail Online
By Steven Jones
and Carola Newman
25 March 2016

The debate about science and religion is usually viewed as a competition between worldviews.

Research earlier this week found people suppress areas of the brain used for analytical thinking and engage the parts responsible for empathy in order to believe in god.

But regardless of what side of the argument you're on, fundamentally the reasons why you believe what you do have a similar grounding.

In fact, the conflict has as much to do with culture, family, moral positions and political loyalties as it has to do with the truth according to Stephen Jones, research fellow from Newman University and Carola Leicht, a research associate, at the University of Kent.The pair has explained the differences, and similarities, about belief in an article for The Conversation.

Differing opinions on whether the two subjects can comfortably co-exist - even among scientists - are pitted against each other in a battle for supremacy.

For some, like the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, science and religion represent two separate areas of enquiry, asking and answering different questions without overlap.

Others, such as the biologist Richard Dawkins - and perhaps the majority of the public - see the two as fundamentally opposed belief systems.

But another way to look at the subject is to consider why people believe what they do.

When we do this, we discover that the supposed conflict between science and religion is nowhere near as clear cut as some might assume.

Our beliefs are subject to a range of often hidden influences.

Take the belief that science and religion have been in fundamental conflict since humans developed the capacity to think scientifically.

This position only became well-known in the late 19th century, when science was characterised by amateurism, aristocratic patronage, minuscule government support and limited employment opportunities.

The 'conflict thesis' arose in part from the desire to create a separate professional sphere of science, independent of the clerical elites who controlled universities and schools.

At the same time, factors that we might assume influence our beliefs may not really be as important.

There's a tendency to believe that people's religious belief decreases as they are exposed to more scientific knowledge.

In 1913, the psychologist James Leuba concluded that the relatively low levels of belief among professional scientists was because scientific awareness made religious faith harder to maintain. But the relationship between scientific knowledge and belief is far from clear.

A broad range of psychological and social research has shown that students who reject evolution for religious reasons do not necessarily know less about it.

And, where conflict does exist today, survey evidence shows that it is highly selective.

In the US, opposition to scientific claims usually emerges over issues where religious groups have been active in moral debate, such as stem cell research.

It may be that conflict between religion and science has as much to do with culture, family ties, moral positions and political loyalties as it has to do with claims about truth.

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