Identity in a Secular Age: Science, Religion, and Public Perception 0822946289, 9780822946281

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Table of contents :
Introduction | Fern Elsdon-Baker and Bernard Lightman
Part I. The Public Sphere
1. From Conflict to Complexity: Historians and Nineteenth-Century Public Perceptions of Science and Religion | Bernard Lightman, Sylvia Nickerson, and Parandis Tajbakhsh
2. Creating Hard-Line “Secular” Evolutionists: The Influence of Question Design on Our Understanding of Public Perceptions of Clash Narratives | Fern Elsdon-Baker
3. Science and Religion Conflict in the United States: A Closer Look at the Polls | Jonathan P. Hill
4. Evolution on the Small Screen: Reflections on Media, Science, and Religion in Twentieth-Century Britain | Alexander Hall
Part II. Conflict and Identity
5. Life Story: Oral Histories in the Field of Science and Religion | Paul Merchant
6. Science and Religion as Lived Experience: Narratives of Evolution among British and Canadian Publics and Life Scientists | Stephen H. Jones and Tom Kaden
7. Beyond Belief Systems: Promoting a Social Identity Approach to the Study of Science and Religion | Carissa A. Sharp and Carola Leicht
Part III. Secularization
8. The Conflict Narrative, Group Identity, and the Uses of History | Peter Harrison
9. Secularization: What Has Science Got to Do with It? | Amy Unsworth
10. Science as Secular: Dynamics of Reflection, Tolerance, and Contestation in British and Canadian Scientific Workplaces | Rebecca Catto
Part IV. Future Directions: Methodological and Theoretical
11. The Methodological Challenges and Possibilities of Social Scientific Study of Religion and Science across National Contexts | Elaine Howard Ecklund, David R. Johnson, and Robert A. Thomson Jr.
12. Possibilities for Future Elite Conflict between Science and Religion | John H. Evans
Coda | Fern Elsdon-Baker and Bernard Lightman
Selected Bibliography
List of Contributors
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University of Pittsburgh Press

Published by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15260 Copyright © 2020, University of Pittsburgh Press All rights reserved Manufactured in the United States of America Printed on acid-­free paper 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Cataloging-in-Publication data is available from the Library of Congress ISBN 13: 978-0-8229-4628-1 ISBN 10: 0-8229-4628-9 Cover art: Charles Darwin by John Collier, 1883, based on a work of 1881. Oil on canvas, 49 1/2 in. x 38 in. National Portrait Gallery, London. Cover design: Joel W. Coggins


Preface ix Acknowledgments xv Introduction Fern Elsdon-­Baker and Bernard Lightman 3

PART I. THE PUBLIC SPHERE 1. From Conflict to Complexity Historians and Nineteenth-­Century Public Perceptions of Science and Religion Bernard Lightman, Sylvia Nickerson, and Parandis Tajbakhsh 13 2. Creating Hard-­Line “Secular” Evolutionists The Influence of Question Design on Our Understanding of Public Perceptions of Clash Narratives Fern Elsdon-­Baker 30 3. Science and Religion Conflict in the United States A Closer Look at the Polls Jonathan P. Hill 50

4. Evolution on the Small Screen Reflections on Media, Science, and Religion in Twentieth-­Century Britain Alexander Hall 67

PART II. CONFLICT AND IDENTITY 5. Life Story Oral Histories in the Field of Science and Religion Paul Merchant 87 6. Science and Religion as Lived Experience Narratives of Evolution among British and Canadian Publics and Life Scientists Stephen H. Jones and Tom Kaden 99 7. Beyond Belief Systems Promoting a Social Identity Approach to the Study of Science and Religion Carissa A. Sharp and Carola Leicht 111

PART III. SECULARIZATION 8. The Conflict Narrative, Group Identity, and the Uses of History Peter Harrison 129 9. Secularization What Has Science Got to Do with It? Amy Unsworth 141 10. Science as Secular Dynamics of Reflection, Tolerance, and Contestation in British and Canadian Scientific Workplaces Rebecca Catto 159

PART IV. FUTURE DIRECTIONS METHODOLOGICAL AND THEORETICAL 11. The Methodological Challenges and Possibilities of Social Scientific Study of Religion and Science across National Contexts Elaine Howard Ecklund, David R. Johnson, and Robert A. Thomson Jr. 175 12. Possibilities for Future Elite Conflict between Science and Religion John H. Evans 189 Coda Fern Elsdon-­Baker and Bernard Lightman 202 Notes 209 Selected Bibliography 245 List of Contributors 253 Index 257


This edited volume was developed as a result of the Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum (SRES) project. The SRES project had its origins in the work Fern Elsdon-­Baker undertook as part of the joint Darwin Anniversaries in 2009, 150 years since the publication of On the Origin of Species and 200 years since Charles Darwin’s birth. During that period, she worked on academic, educational, and public engagement activities for the British Council in a project that was eventually run in fifty countries worldwide. Having studied history of science, she was well aware of the work of John Hedley Brooke and others who argued for the complexity thesis in terms of the relationship between science and religion.1 However, when operating in a nonacademic setting, where the focus was science communication, it fast became clear that those engaged in this work were most likely to uncritically accept the idea there was a necessary and intrinsic conflict between being religious and accepting scientific explanations for the origin of species. It was also at this point that it became abundantly clear that outside of the United States there was very little in-­depth international data on public perceptions of evolution, let alone religious or spiritual public perceptions of evolution and religion. What little there was had at its core an assumption of a necessary clash between religious belief and accepting evolution. It was for this reason that, as part of the Darwin Now project, Elsdon-­Baker commissioned an Ipsos Mori survey in ten countries on public views of evolutionary science and Darwinism. In 2008, when setting up the Darwin Now project, it became clear that there was a distinct danger of importing a conflict narrative from the US and UK contexts into cultural contexts where we did not know what publics currently thought. A primary concern at this stage was that suggesting that an individual could not be religious and accept evolutionary science was far more likely to foster a distrust in science than an increased interest, which is obviously a counterproductive exercise when trying to engage diverse publics with


evolutionary science. This led to a more considered approach to designing and delivering project activities in such a way that the framing of these debates was not in terms of a necessary conflict but rather reflected the nuances therein. At this point Elaine Ecklund and John H. Evans, both contributors to our volume, were laying down the foundations for a new social scientific approach to studying the relationship between science and religion.2 Evans argued that we needed to move away from a purely epistemic account of the relationship between science and religion, and, as he suggests in this volume, that the real terrain for the conflict in the United States is cultural authority in relation to morality. At the same time, Elaine Ecklund was undertaking the first phase of her ground-­breaking work on what scientists’ religious beliefs actually are, which ultimately led to the international research she reflects upon in this volume. Together they laid the foundations for much of the work that has been undertaken to date in this field of study, and unexplored pathways were beginning to open up for a new sociology of science and religion. Other sociological research was also beginning to challenge some of the conventions in thought surrounding science and religion in the public sphere. For example, among others, Joseph O. Baker’s work highlighted how only a minority of US populations agreed that science and religion were incompatible;3 Peter Hildering’s research showed how rejection of evolution among Dutch protestants does not translate directly into a blanket rejection of science, but more a perception of evolution as not being good science;4 and David Long’s ethnographic work examining US educational settings began to build on the work of earlier scholars, such as Chris Toumey, who suggested that rejection of evolutionary science may have more to do with cultural or personal identity issues rather than epistemic positions.5 Social science research was beginning to strongly suggest that the nature of an individual’s perspective on a point of conflict (e.g., acceptance of evolution in relation to personal faith) was not necessarily due to epistemological concerns, but was being driven by social or cultural factors and the relationship between public domain discussion of “secularist” attitudes and group identity and belonging. Challenging the conflict thesis and embracing complexity were no longer concerns just of historians. They became concerns of contemporary social scientists. Thus, a number of researchers who have contributed to this volume, including the two editors, were beginning to converge on some similar themes and concerns from different disciplinary perspectives. For example, while Elsdon-­Baker had been working on the Darwin Now project, leading her to notice a need for a sea change in the way researchers and science communicators alike were treating the topic of science and religion, Bernard Lightman had begun to realize how the changing landscape of historical research had transformed how historians pictured the relationship between Victorian science and religion. Lightman had just completed a Preface

study of the popularization of science in the Victorian period that had revealed, much to his surprise, that a significant number of previously neglected scientific authors writing for the British reading audience saw nature as full of meaning and charged with religious significance. Attempting to update the natural theology tradition, they produced some of the best-­selling science books of the second half of the nineteenth century, surpassing even Darwin and other elite scientists in some cases.6 Working on the popularizers confirmed that the Victorian reading audience was still interested, even after the publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859, in worldviews in which science and religion were harmonized. According to previous historical work, it was this same period when the “conflict thesis” was supposed to have emerged in the writings of Draper and White and was supposed to have dominated the Victorian mind. But—­and this confirmed the suggestion of historians John Brooke and Ronald Numbers that we move away from an emphasis on conflict—­ the existence of these popularizers showed that natural theology remained a powerful force in Victorian culture, at least until the end of the nineteenth century. Moreover, switching the focus to the public, rather than restricting it to members of the intellectual elite, brought home the idea that consumers of popular science actively engage with knowledge, transforming it or rejecting elements with which they disagree.7 Even if elite Victorian scientists bought into the conflict thesis (and this is up for debate), members of the public did not necessarily accept this conception of the relationship between science and religion. We must ascribe agency to members of the public, both in the past and in the present. Meanwhile, back at the public engagement coal face at the heart of the Darwin Industry, two things became evident. First, the data that was collected in 2009 as part of the ten-­country Darwin Now survey was suggesting that the conflict thesis was not the majority position endorsed by these publics. Second, it became evident that the conflict thesis had become so woven into the narrative surrounding Darwinian evolution that it was in effect being projected onto the public regardless of what they actually thought. Academics, media, and science communication professionals alike were all too ready to assume that religious people would either not accept evolutionary science or at best suffer from some form of cognitive dissonance if they were to do so. This mismatch between public perceptions of evolutionary science and religion and the perceptions of the public perception of evolutionary science and religion was even more pronounced when it came to the work being undertaken in Muslim majority contexts. Here, it was even harder to ignore the front-­and-­center (geo)political contexts, legacies, or—­ in some cases—­prejudices within these debates.8 The SRES project, from which our volume originated, sought to build a better understanding of these apparently anomalous findings and observations. In order Preface



to do this, we needed to better answer two core questions. First, what do or did publics, both past and present, really think about the relationship between science and religious belief? And second, if, as the Darwin Now data was indicating, the conflict model was not a majority position in regard to evolutionary science, what was driving the public space narrative that there was a necessary clash or conflict between accepting evolutionary science and holding religious or spiritual beliefs? Much of the available data on public discussions of the relationship between evolutionary science and faith, especially outside of the study of US publics, was based on survey measures of levels of acceptance or nonacceptance of evolution and on categorizing varying forms of anti-­evolutionary stances. While this kind of research is valuable in serving to highlight the complexity of public attitudes, it does not shine a light on the processes by which these attitudes are formed or reaffirmed. Nor does it allow us to reflect on the role that public space discussion of a necessary clash or conflict between acceptance of evolution and personal faith might have in rejection of evolution. This isn’t a factor just in narratives promoted by those we might think of as holding traditional anti-­evolutionary science positions, such as American Protestant creationist groups. For example, evolutionary theory was at this point increasingly being discussed as synonymous with atheism in the public domain, due in part to New Atheist–style rhetoric alongside anti-­ evolutionary science rhetoric. Was it then more likely that members of the public self-­identify as “creationist” if they believe in any form of creator—­even if they actually adopt what we might think of as a position that accommodates evolutionary science, such as a theistic evolutionist approach?9 The labels we ascribe to people when framing data collection or analysis don’t often make sense in terms of lived experience. Building on the sociological research of co-­investigator Rebecca Catto, whose work with young atheists in the UK had begun to provide insight into how endorsement of science might act as a kind of social identity marker,10 the SRES project sought to unravel what role this kind of secular science narrative might play in the public’s lived experience of these debates, and how “science” and “religion” might act as a facet of social or cultural identity. It also sought to critically engage with the framing of previous social science research in this field to take into account what we hypothesized as a form of “projected cognitive dissonance” observed in the scholarly literature as well as in science communication practice. One facet of this was to build on the psychological research of co-­investigator Carola Leicht in terms of thinking about how this kind of projected dissonance might relate not only to social identity theory but also to the perpetuation of stereotypes. When designing the project, we were particularly interested in not only how individuals’ religious positions can act as a social identity but also how an individual’s position on evolutionary science might act as social identity. A primary aim of the Preface

project, then, was to help build a more comprehensive picture of how differing groups along a spectrum of worldviews, including atheistic, agnostic, and faith groups, relate to, and form, the public domain narrative that there is a necessary clash between evolution and faith. The core research question of the SRES project was to determine what social and cultural factors have driven, and are currently driving, the narrative in the public domain that there is a necessary clash between religious belief and acceptance of evolutionary science. This is not something that can be undertaken through one disciplinary approach or lens. So, we designed a multidisciplinary approach that brought together a team of specialist researchers who would take on single disciplinary strands of research to tackle aspects of these overarching research questions within a larger project structure. Bringing together this expertise in history and philosophy of science, oral history, sociology of religion, social psychology, and science communication and public engagement gave us a more complete picture of what was going on in terms of public positions or perceptions and their formation. It has allowed not only triangulation of findings across different methods but also more comprehensive multilayered analysis. It has in itself been a fantastic learning journey for all of us as a team, and it is a journey we are still very much on, as we are about to take on wider international research in another six countries that further builds on our initial work in the United Kingdom and Canada. This multidisciplinary approach is reflected in the subsequent chapters.




The editors would like to thank Abby Collier and her team at the University of Pittsburgh Press for their help in bringing this volume to publication. We are also grateful to the gifted researchers in history, sociology, and social psychology who contributed their stimulating chapters and who were such a joy to work with. Finally, we give thanks to the Templeton Religion Trust for funding the Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum project, which provided the core ideas for this volume. We are especially indebted to Chris Stewart of the Templeton Religion Trust for his steadfast support and encouragement from the very start.



Fern Elsdon-­Baker and Bernard Lightman

Surprisingly, relatively little social science or humanities research has been undertaken that explores the relationship between science and religion in society, or as part of popular cultures past and present—­especially in a global context. Remarkably, we have barely even begun to scratch the surface in this field of study. And yet the public’s views on and relationship to “science” and “religion” in society drive at the very heart of debates that relate to what it means to be human; how we should live our lives or structure our societies; the nature of morality and political decision making; women’s, LGBTQ, or transgender rights; current or future medical practice; how publics engage with science in pluralistic societies; how we relate to or impact on the natural world or climate change; and the role or impact of technological developments in society and what the future might ultimately hold for humanity. The topic of science and religion is never far from the public consciousness, fraught as it is with the potential for controversy. In our experience, it doesn’t take much prompting for people to come up with examples of controversy. The idea of a ceaseless conflict between these abstract entities, science on the one hand and religion on other, seems to be an integral part of the public consciousness. The clas-


sic examples of Darwin, Galileo, Scopes, and more recent controversies over creationism are nearly always readily dropped into conversation. As this is an area that the two editors of this collection have both been working in for at least the past decade, we have had the opportunity to speak about evolution and religion in several countries worldwide. The genuine interest that people have in these debates never ceases to amaze, from taxi drivers in far-­flung places to audiences at public events to people seated next to us or our research colleagues on planes and trains. Science and religion are topics of conversation that rarely fails to elicit some kind of response, be it a well-­considered personal position or a tentative exploration of a position. After all, science and religion arguably shape many of the ways in which we interact with the world, think about ourselves or society, and wrestle with the kinds of existential questions that trouble most of us at some point in our lives. And herein lies the current issue with research in this field: this vast wealth of differing publics’ perceptions of science and religion and all the ensuing debates, issues, concerns, and questions relating to the interaction between these two ways of encountering the world have been, for the most part, ignored. This in part is due to one of the key underpinning assumptions about the relationship between science and religion to date: namely, that it is a relationship that is principally epistemic in nature. In other words, there is a strong assumption that it is a relationship that can be boiled down mostly to two different systems of knowledge with competing claims or concerns about the world, society, and the nature of the universe.1 There is significant potential for controversy when these two knowledge systems contradict each other, as John H. Evans argues in chapter 12. An explicit or implicit epistemological approach has led scholars to concentrate their research on the intersection between theological positions and contemporary scientific positions. This is an area that has been studied in great depth and has in some instances proved to be a fruitful endeavor. After all, science and religion do act as systems of knowledge in different ways for different actors, and it is philosophically and theologically interesting to map these out.2 It is also understandable that this narrower epistemic framing of the interaction between the two leads to the tendency to presuppose the relationship between them as defined and exemplified by conflict. For any notion of compatibility between two systems of knowledge is necessarily framed as counteroppositional to conflict, or indeed counterintuitive to a conflictual norm, given that they are binary opposites. Thus, even when seeking to challenge the idea of an inherent conflict between the two, the adoption of a principally epistemic position in effect begins from a position that inadvertently endorses, or even perpetuates, the very conflict model to be unpicked. This volume seeks to move away from the underpinning assumption of a necessary conflict between two warring epistemic systems of thought. While we are not seeking to deny all Fern Elsdon-­Baker and Bernard Lightman

notions of a potential for clashes between epistemic positions relating to science and religion, we are arguing that this is only one aspect of what is a far more complex, multifaceted, and distinctly more interesting picture. It is vital to acknowledge that both science and religion, separately and together, serve as far more than abstract knowledge systems that are distinct from the societal contexts in which their claims to knowledge about the nature of being and the universe are elucidated. It is also important to note that the terms “science” and “religion” are themselves contested. Historically, the boundaries between the two have been less clear than we might perhaps consider them to be today, as Peter Harrison argues (see chapter 8). Historians of science have challenged what is often referred to as the conflict thesis for some time, instead arguing for an understanding of the relationship between science and religion that better represents the historical complexity (see chapter 1). We have to concede that the epistemic conflict model has a limitation; it assumes there has always been a clear demarcation between the aims and endeavors of both science and religion. This notion is very much a construct of the more recent ascent from the late nineteenth century to the present of science as a core foundation of modern society. And this gives us our first clue as to why we should not view science and religion principally through an epistemic lens. First, historically, their relationship has been much more nuanced and indeed more complex than it is often presented today. The boundaries between the two authorities are far less clear over the longue durée, epistemically or institutionally. Second, this blurring of boundaries arises in part because neither can be removed from its social, cultural, or indeed political context where a clear division between scientific systems of knowledge and religious ways of thinking cannot always be neatly drawn at an individual level or at a societal level. Furthermore, the recognition of the fallibility of humans’ ability to interpret the world around us in an absolutely objective manner is now a guiding maxim in many fields of research, and the indisputable word of human beings from a scientific, or religious, perspective is increasingly seen as a problematic concept. Today, we are far more used to challenging or critiquing the notion of either objective scientific or religious knowledge and their related hegemonic structures. Recognizing this does not need to take us down a precariously postmodern relativistic path in an era currently tagged as post-­truth. From Descartes onward, we have become relatively comfortable with accepting the idea that we do not need our knowledge about the universe to be certain; we do, however, need it to be reliable. There is, therefore, an element of trust, or faith, inherent in accepting any kind of knowledge about the universe and our place in it. In this regard, then, science and religion are not so distinct, and neither is as dogmatic as the other sometimes perceives it to be. If we accept that both science and religion Introduction



are part of the fabric of our society from which any claim to knowledge cannot be separated, we also need to recognize that they carry with them cultural, social, and political cache or consequences. Furthermore, as Western Europe and North America are increasingly becoming more “secular,” we need to understand these debates against the backdrop of public perceptions of a secularizing society and shifting demographics in terms of religious, spiritual, or indeed non-­religious identities. As explained in our preface to the book, it was from this foundation that the Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum (SRES) project team started designing our research in 2013. Even in the past few years, there has been a welcome upsurge in interest in this field of research. The increasing fascination with this field of study is perhaps unsurprising, given that over the past decade discussions in the public domain concerning the relationship between science, rationality, reason, and faith have become increasingly polemic and polarized—­perhaps most well documented in Anglophone contexts, for example in the case of the debates involving the New Atheists. At the same time, the authority, levels of trust, and traditional structures of authority for both “science” and “religion” are being challenged or questioned in public and (geo)political domains. Alongside public debates and questions about the role of “truth” in society, we are also witnessing increasingly polarized debates about related issues, such as the perception of a threat to modernity from changing faith demographics due to migration. These interrelated sociopolitical drivers will potentially contribute to further intensification of public domain discussion of conflict narratives, not only surrounding science and religion but also related to assertions of a conflict between rational thought and religiosity. Conversely, we are increasingly witnessing appropriation of “religious values” for populist rhetoric globally, which may ultimately lead to further polarization and distrust between what are perceived to be secular and religious positions, especially in relation to social values. None of these broader societal or political trends can be ignored when it comes to researching scientific and religious worldviews and their role in society. There is, then, an ever-­growing need to build a better understanding of the intersections between science and religion, and by extension rationalism, modernity, and belief in society. Thus, this volume is timely in seeking to broaden the scope of research beyond an epistemic framing, and by doing so it highlights some of the opportunities for more socially orientated research into the relationship between science and religion. When we use the term “religion” we are not referring solely to Christianity. Though the focus of this volume is not a comparative religion frame, we are seeking to examine these issues from across a spectrum of religious, spiritual, and non-­ religious groups, individuals, or identities. A number of the chapters actually focus Fern Elsdon-­Baker and Bernard Lightman

on more humanist or non-­religious perspectives alongside spiritual and religious perspectives. Moreover, we are not looking only at Christian populations as in these chapters we are not specifying groups by religious tradition. This approach draws on the growing trend of research in unbelief or non-­religion and also reflects that the countries we have predominantly been working on to date are not majority Christian contexts when compared to the growing non-­religious populations in both countries. The majority position in the United Kingdom, for example, is now arguably non-­religion. One of the broader implications of the social turn that is currently taking place in the study of science and religion is that the foregrounding of epistemic issues relating to specific religious tradition or doctrinal stances is lessening to allow for other social and cultural factors to be analyzed. Although Christianity is an important topic in the volume, our research includes all forms of religion, spirituality, and non-­religion. The sociological and social psychological studies included non-­Christians as well as those who would classify themselves as non-­religious. The conclusions arising out of this research thus have consequences and implications for the future study of all forms of religion, spirituality, or non-­religion. While we seek to understand religion in all of its diversity, the chapters in this volume mainly deal with Canada, United States, and Britain (with two notable exceptions in the work of Unsworth and Ecklund, et al.). This in part reflects the primary locus of research to date (United States) and also the goals of the SRES project laid out in the preface, which forms the backbone of this collection of studies and was undertaken in the United Kingdom and Canada. This volume is critical and theoretical in its focus—­it is not meant as a case study approach to comparative contexts or religious stances. Rather, it is a needed contribution to outlining the possibilities, theoretical context, and methodological implications and limitations in the development of an entire field of research. The chapters are divided into four parts. Part 1 examines public perceptions of evolutionary science and religion in the past as well as the present. In the first chapter, Lightman, Nickerson, and Tajbakhsh suggest how historians can provide new insights into the study of science and religion by examining the role of those who were instrumental in shaping the public discussion of their relationship. This chapter focuses on British publishers such as John Murray and Alexander Macmillan, the reception of Draper’s History of the Conflict between Science and Religion (1874) in British journals, and the periodical reviews of Darwin’s evolutionary tracts in Canadian periodicals. Turning from the nineteenth century to current public perceptions, in chapter 2 Fern Elsdon-­Baker explores the role that evolutionary science might play in both religious and non-­religious publics’ social identity and how this relates to the broader perception that religious individuals or publics will expeIntroduction



rience a form of conflict between science and religion. This chapter highlights how the public’s perception of an intrinsic conflict between religious identity and accepting evolutionary science could play an important role in the way members of the public, across both religious and non-­religious publics, approach this subject. Focusing specifically on the public in the United States, Jonathan Hill reviews various attempts to measure American belief in science and religion conflict. He concludes that responses to conflict survey questions are sensitive to wording decisions and available response categories.  Hill calls for future research to further investigate how science functions as a social identity for some members of the public and the role this might play in reinforcing the conflict narrative between science and religion. Rounding out part 1, Alex Hall draws our attention from the United States to the twentieth-­century British public. He discusses the influential role of the media in the dissemination and popularization of ideas, facts, and worldviews across British society. Focusing on the medium of television, this chapter explores how programs as diverse as blockbuster documentaries, educational broadcasts, and science fiction dramas have presented content about evolution in postwar Britain. Part 2 tackles the issue of how public discourse about science and religion relates and contributes to the formation of cultural identities for individuals or groups. Paul Merchant’s chapter opens this section with detailed life story interviews with individuals who made significant contributions to public discourse on science and religion in the last three decades of the twentieth century: science journalist Bernard Dixon, BBC World Service program maker Martin Redfern, and moral philosopher Mary Midgley. The oral histories reveal ways in which all three, in their writing and broadcasting on science and religion, were driven by strong personal rejection of what they saw as prevalent scientific, reductionist accounts of the world. While Merchant draws life story oral histories of prominent intellectuals to understand how individuals deal with conflict and identity issues, Tom Kaden and Stephen Jones use public interviews and focus groups to examine the views of scientists and members of the public. Kaden and Jones are interested in the ways in which qualitative research can shift the focus in debates about how people view science and religion, and they argue for a subtler understanding of the subject that gives recognition to individuals’ lived experiences. In the final chapter of part 2, social psychologists Carissa Sharp and Carola Leicht argue that religion and science both function as belief systems, providing people with explanations about the world around them and with a social identity. Sharp and Leicht attempt to refine our understanding of people’s perceptions of the relationship between science and religion, focusing on how individuals perceive that relationship from a social psychological perspective. They use social identity theory as a theoretical framework, Fern Elsdon-­Baker and Bernard Lightman

which enables them to shed light onto the science-­religion debate from a unique angle, thereby going beyond a “belief systems” approach. Part 3 investigates the relationship between science, secularization, and religion. The chapters within this section raise questions about the validity of the secularization thesis and its theoretical sibling the conflict thesis, and they explain why these theses continue to exert so much influence. Peter Harrison observes that over the past three decades, scholars studying the historical relations between science and religion have directed much of their energy toward dispelling the conflict narrative—­the idea that science and religion are inherently opposed to each other and that this opposition has repeatedly played itself out in history. Despite their efforts, the conflict motif remains as powerful as ever, and Harrison seeks to offer an account of its origins and persistence, examining the emergence of three related versions of the conflict narrative and showing how, in various ways, the narrative functioned to shape and maintain particular self-­understandings or group identities. Amy Unsworth reflects on the view that science is the prime driver behind secularization and the associated notion of an inevitable conflict between science and religion. In her chapter, Unsworth first draws on examples from modern history in the USSR, eastern Germany, and Turkey to examine the ways in which various actors have been inspired by a narrative of scientific progress and have promoted science in various ways to try to bring about secularization at the level of individual belief and practice. In the next chapter, Rebecca Catto draws our attention from the diverse trajectories of religious decline in the twentieth century toward one specific public space, the modern scientific workplace. Religious life scientists whose daily work involves evolutionary science do not necessarily encounter direct discrimination, but they are obliged to reflect upon their existential culture in relation to their work, variously by colleagues, students, and the media, and to engage in impression management in a way that their non-­religious colleagues are not. Catto contends that an implicit, and sometimes explicit, secular hegemony is in operation in the scientific workplace. Both of the chapters in part 4 deal with future directions for research on science and religion. Elaine Howard Ecklund, David R. Johnson, and Robert A. Thomson Jr. examine the methodological challenges and possibilities for studying religion and science in different global contexts. How do scholars get people on the ground to participate in survey research and do in-­depth interviews about religion and science topics, some of the most controversial topics to study? They specifically discuss the intricacies of survey research on debated topics in different national contexts. Whereas Ecklund, Johnson, and Thomson deal with the global context, in the final chapter of our volume John H. Evans focuses on the challenges of studying the American context. He argues that recent research has suggested that, at least in the Introduction



American context, any relationship involving knowledge is quite minor compared to an often conflictual relationship involving values or morality. He describes a research agenda that will focus upon deep and deeply consequential value conflicts between religion and science over issues such as consequentialist versus deontological morality, the normative grounding of ethics, the possibility of normative teleologies, and whether there are truths or facts that are not about the natural world. As a whole, this volume calls for a rather ambitious reconceptualization of the study of science and religion. The authors are not just recommending that the conflict thesis be abandoned. That recommendation has been heard frequently in recent decades. They are also suggesting that the conflict thesis is more ingrained in the scholarship than previously imagined, and that the only way to root it out is to pursue a multidisciplinary reenvisioning of our work where possible. As this volume serves to highlight, using the tools of the historian, the social psychologist, and the sociologist as well as working in multidisciplinary teams make it possible for us to uncover new ways of understanding the complicated relationship between science and religion.

Fern Elsdon-­Baker and Bernard Lightman


The Public Sphere

C ha p t e r 1     


  Historians and Nineteenth-­C entury Public Perceptions of Science and Religion       

Bernard Lightman, Sylvia Nickerson, and Parandis Tajbakhsh 

           The publication in 1874 of John William Draper’s History of the Conflict between Religion and Science has been seen by historians of Western thought as a turning point in how the relationship between science and religion should be understood. Draper was a chemist who rewrote history to argue in systematic fashion that the historical relationship was best described using terms such as “antagonistic” or “conflictual.” In the preface to his book, he declared, “The antagonism we thus witness between Religion and Science is the continuation of a struggle that commenced when Christianity began to attain political power.” In what followed, Draper traced the conflict all the way back to the very origins of Christianity and then showed how it structured the relationship between “two contending powers” right up to the present, when modern civilization had “come to the brink of a great intellectual change”: science, he believed, had begun to win the war.1 Published as part of the International Scientific Series (ISS), History of the Conflict between Religion and Science was an international bestseller. No other title in the hundred-­odd volume ISS sold as well. In the United States alone, it passed through fifty printings over about fifty years. In the United Kingdom, there were twenty-­one editions in fifteen years, and there were numerous translations worldwide.2    


In his Post-­Darwinian Controversies, published in 1979, the historian James R. Moore argued that Draper’s book, reinforced by Andrew Dickson White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896), captured the imaginations of its author’s contemporaries and “captivated writers on the subject . . . for one hundred years.”3 The pervasive use of the military metaphor to describe the forces of religion and science reveals the influence of these two books within twentieth century thought. Moore discusses how the military metaphor was welcomed by those on both the scientific and religious sides of the argument, including rationalists, religious historians, lay theologians, and historians of science, right up to the 1970s.4 Draper and White’s seductive military metaphor, Moore believed, had made historians prisoners of war. “One looks almost in vain for some new interpretation,” Moore declared, “some better understanding, amid the tedious terminology of battles, truces, surrenders, combatants, and armaments which is supposed to describe Christian responses to Darwin.”5  Moore was among the first to raise questions about what has come to be known as the conflict thesis. What Moore did in his Post-­Darwinian Controversies, and what other scholars did in their contributions to the construction of a new historiographical model, was to historicize the conflict thesis. Instead of uncritically accepting it as an accurate description of what had occurred in the past, scholars began to treat the conflict thesis itself as a product of history, constructed by historical actors and therefore requiring analysis. Historians, of course, relied on the oldest of historical tricks: they went back to the times when the conflict thesis was being built, before it was taken to be a given. By asking when, how, and why the conflict thesis became established as a fact, they questioned its value as a historiographical model. As a result, historians have come up with a variety of strategies for undermining the conflict thesis that have led to the construction of a new historiographical model.  These strategies fall under two categories. First are those that examine a major episode, or development, in the history of science and religion in order to show that the conflict thesis does not capture the historical reality. Second are those that offer a totally new historiographical model as an alternative to the conflict thesis. One of the best instances of the first strategy can be found in the series of influential volumes edited and coedited by Ronald Numbers starting in 1986.6 These edited collections contain chapters on Copernicus and Galileo, Protestant attitudes toward science, how Newtonians reconciled mechanism to Christianity, Darwin and evolution, the implications of modern physics for religion, and the Scopes trial and creationism. In each case the authors find that a nuanced, fuller analysis of these topics demonstrates that conflict was not the driving factor. In Galileo Goes to Jail, Numbers makes it clear that this scholarship is all about myth busting. “The greatest myth in the history of science and religion,” he asserts, “holds that they have Bernard Lightman, Sylvia Nickerson, and Parandis Tajbakhsh

been in a state of constant conflict.”7 The greatest myth is supported by twenty-­five lesser myths, all of which are demolished by the authors. Catholicism was not uniformly hostile toward modern science; by placing the sun at the center of the universe, Copernicus promoted the earth’s status rather than demoting it; Galileo was not imprisoned and tortured for advocating Copernicanism; Newton’s mechanistic cosmology did not eliminate the need for God; Darwin did not destroy natural theology; and modern science has not secularized western culture. One of the great virtues of myth busting is that it clears the ground for new, and more complex, interpretive approaches.  The second strategy, less often pursued, is to provide an entirely new historiographical model for studying the history of science and religion. It incorporates the results of myth-­busting studies but uses them to present a big picture. The best examples of sophisticated attempts are those by the historians John Brooke and Peter Harrison. Brooke’s Science and Religion, first published in 1991, showed that it was possible to present a historical overview of the relationship between science and religion without relying on the conflict thesis. Instead, Brooke structured his account on what Numbers later dubbed the complexity thesis.8 For Brooke, there was no single thesis—­whether it be one of conflict, harmony, integration, or separation—­that explained the historical relationship over the centuries. Historians could not anticipate what they would find before embarking upon an empirical investigation of a particular period or episode. In The Territories of Science and Religion, published in 2015, almost twenty-­five years after Brooke’s groundbreaking work, Peter Harrison offers a more coherent narrative that resists conflict or any other simplistic thesis.9 Harrison’s big picture is grounded on the principle that science and religion, which began as interior virtues, were increasingly exteriorized after the Protestant Reformation. The rise of experimental natural history made possible the opposition between two bodies of knowledge. Thanks to scholars like Moore, Numbers, Brooke, and Harrison, historians have embraced complexity.  Harrison’s excellent book has the potential to push scholars toward the construction of a much richer historiographical model, but it only goes so far. The integration of recently developed fields of scholarship into our picture of the historical relationship between science and religion will help us to advance the field even further. The recent scholarship on science and print culture is but one example. Looking at publishers, journal editors, and journalists brings to light the role of those who were instrumental in shaping the public perception of the relation between science and religion. The growth of “popular science” in Britain in the second half of the nineteenth century was a part of a larger development, what James Secord has referred to as the communications revolution, the outcome of new printing technologies, higher literacy rates, better systems of transportation, and a reduction From Conflict to Complexity



in the cost of paper as well as the lifting of the taxes on knowledge.10 Secord asserts that this revolution represented the “greatest transformation in human communication since the Renaissance,” which led to “opening the floodgates to a vastly increased reading public.”11 The transformation of nineteenth-­century publishing opened up opportunities for making science more accessible to a new polity of middle-­and working-­class readers. The communications revolution not only expanded the audience for books and periodicals but also changed the dynamics of public discussion about science and religion. A truly “public sphere” slowly came into existence in the first half of the century, and the public became increasingly more important in the second half of the century. The history of print culture during this period, its development and circulation, may explain how new media facilitated intellectual elites’ and readers’ creation of new interpretations of the science and religion relationship. The new scholarship on science and print culture has led historians to take into account the views of both intellectuals and members of the public, as well as those of the mediators between the two groups—­the publishers, editors, and authors. Adding these new layers of historical actors complicates the complexity thesis even more. Here, we will explore what the study of print culture can contribute to a development of the complexity thesis. We will discuss three aspects of the print culture of the second half of the century: the role of British publishers, the reception of Darwin’s theory of evolution in Canadian periodicals, and the hostile reviews of Draper’s History of the Conflict between Religion and Science in British periodicals. These three case studies illustrate how the field of print culture can complement our understanding of the complex historical interrelationship of science and religion.  BRITISH PUBLISHERS 

A study of British publishing houses promises to expand our knowledge of the science and religion relationship in several ways. Historical study frequently relies on published sources. While historians often assume these sources provide an authoritative and reliable record of opinion, the impact of publishers’ mediation of these documents is explored much less frequently.12 While not hidden per se, publishers played the important role of stage managing public debate from behind the scenes. As the creators of platforms within which particular opinions were either brought forward to be discussed or censored and rejected, publishers are themselves important historical actors worthy of study for the ways in which their work opened up or closed down space for discussion.  The influential role of publishers is clearly visible when examining the case of John Murray. The Murray firm published several liberal thinkers whose books challenged prevailing explanations about the origins of the earth, animal and plant life, Bernard Lightman, Sylvia Nickerson, and Parandis Tajbakhsh

and human beings. Murray published Charles Darwin’s work on evolution, including On the Origin of Species (1859) and the Descent of Man (1871). Edward Burnett Tylor also published several books with the firm, including his theory about the historical origins of human races, Early History of Mankind (1865), and his theory about the origin of religion, Primitive Culture (1871).  One might assume the Murray family were enthusiastic champions of the secular worldview that ran counter to natural theology. But in fact, the Murrays held conservative, traditionalist views. They supported Tory Anglicanism, and the Murray firm generally catered to audiences who shared the same religious and political values. For instance, the company’s principal periodical, the Quarterly Review, was a reliable champion of established church and state.13  Murray recruited Darwin and Tylor because of his interest in travel literature, both authors having written accounts of foreign cultures and geographies.14 Murray’s audience was interested in expanding British economic and political influence around the world, and the emerging genre of travel literature illuminated this particular interest. Both Darwin’s and Tylor’s first encounters with Murray were a result of travel accounts they had written. Murray published the second edition of Darwin’s Journal of Researches in 1845, his account of natural history and geology observed on the Beagle voyage. Tylor came to Murray’s attention through his book Anahuac; or, Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern (published by Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts in 1861) when the Quarterly profiled the region prior to expansion of British economic activity into that territory.  Murray’s interest in travel literature served British elites whose cultural tastes reflected the political enterprise of imperialism. While author-­travelers like Darwin and Tylor may have used Murray to theorize about how world geology, natural history, and culture informed notions of natural history and anthropology, Murray was invested in literature that satisfied his readers’ interest in useful knowledge about places of empire, their geological, natural, and human resources. But Murray’s religious views led to discord with Darwin and Tylor when their embrace of an evolutionary worldview contradicted his religious views of nature and human history.  In Tylor’s case, Murray published Primitive Culture in 1871 with reluctance. He took issue with Tylor’s claim that religions such as Christianity had progressively developed—­evolved—­out of “primitive” spiritual beliefs or animism. Murray told Tylor he should arm himself for hostile criticism of his opinions, afterward trying to redirect Tylor’s scholarship into areas he felt more appropriate, such as writing a dictionary.15 After the publication of Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Language, Art and Custom, Tylor offered Murray a textbook on anthropology he had written that updated and modernized From Conflict to Complexity



the discipline.16 After Murray declined to publish it, the more liberal-­minded Alexander Macmillan released Tylor’s textbook in 1881.17 As in the cases of other authors whom Murray had censored for irreligion or profanity, Murray disapproved of Tylor’s theories.18 Murray voiced his displeasure by allowing the Catholic biologist St. George Jackson Mivart to eviscerate Tylor in an anonymous 1874 review article in the Quarterly, as well as by effectively ending his relationship with Tylor as an author.19 Murray did not publish any of Tylor’s future work.  Unlike Tylor, Darwin was a man of high social standing. As his celebrity grew through his publications, Murray veiled his disapproval of Darwin’s evolutionary views through anonymity and pseudonym. Murray could not contradict Darwin openly and still remain his publisher. Against the judgment of Whitwell Elwin, then editor of the Quarterly Review, but with the recommendation of Charles Lyell, another of his authors, Murray published Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859. After the book’s success, Murray continued as Darwin’s publisher despite the discomfort he felt about evolution, a discomfort that peaked after his publication of Descent of Man in 1871.  Murray tried to limit the public platform he had given Darwin by publishing excoriating reviews of Darwin’s books in his periodical the Quarterly Review.20 In addition, Murray himself wrote and self-­published a pseudonymous book in 1877 that rejected the ground presumed by Darwin and Tylor’s natural science. Murray denied the ancient age of the earth, a feature intrinsic to the evolutionary theory of Darwin, and to the geological theory of Lyell.21 Murray’s book laid out his “long brooded over” objections to the hubris of modern science, arguing against the adoption of “Modern Causes”: the suggestion that the accumulation of small observable changes over a vast period of time could explain massive unobserved change. Murray felt it was simply hubris to say that the causal links drawn by the uniformitarian view of geology (and by extension, the evolutionary school in natural history) had been proved beyond doubt by facts observed in nature. Furthermore, he hated the logical consequence of “Modern Causes” on his Christian belief. Modern Causes implied that the world had been “turned out by its Maker unfinished and imperfect, that it is capable of improvement, at least of development.”22 Ultimately, he felt the uniformitarian and evolutionary worldview had removed the Creator from nature. Murray felt this aspect of modern science to be gravely unjust, yet his publishing activities had helped bring about this very philosophical shift.  By contrast, the publisher Alexander Macmillan embraced the challenge modern science posed to the established Anglican doctrines of natural theology. In his publications, he facilitated debate between a range of perspectives, some of which contradicted his own view, enacting John Stuart Mill’s philosophy that truth emerges through debate between differing outlooks. Macmillan was an adherent of the Bernard Lightman, Sylvia Nickerson, and Parandis Tajbakhsh

Christian Socialist and Broad Church movements, publishing books by some of its most prominent representatives, such as Charles Kingsley and Julius Charles Hare.23 Between 1857 and the mid-­1860s, the Macmillans established themselves as up-­and-­coming publishers by extending invitations to their publishers’ salon, where guests would assemble in their London office to exchange views on religion, science, culture, and politics. Macmillan’s Magazine, launched in 1859, was a printed reflection of these gatherings, its content based upon debates that happened each week around the publisher’s table.  Macmillan’s Magazine was a brand new invention within the print genre. It appeared monthly (rather than quarterly, like the established review journals), it was cheaper in price at just one shilling per issue, and authors signed their articles (as opposed to having them published anonymously). Conflicts and intellectual sparring were aired openly between contributors. The physiologist T. H. Huxley and the philosopher Herbert Spencer—­both early evolutionists—­were influential at Macmillan. Alexander Macmillan was a fervent Christian believer, had grown up Presbyterian, but felt that in the spirit of open dialogue “scientific men ought on no account to be hindered from saying what they find in facts” even if it challenged certain established religious doctrine.24 Huxley and Spencer were regular attendees at Macmillan social gatherings, contributed signed articles to the pages of Macmillan’s Magazine, and helped shape the scientific book publications released in the 1860s. Their influence led the publishing house toward promoting the evolutionary worldview in its publications. Having increasingly seen their investment in scientific publishing become successful, they launched the journal Nature in 1869. This weekly magazine, initially conceived as a vehicle for scientists to popularize their discipline to an educated public, developed into a periodical written by scientists for scientists. The emerging discipline of modern science and its practitioners became defined within its pages, achieving recognition as a community and establishing normative values, standards, and boundaries.25  Macmillan allowed evolutionists to normalize the presumption of Modern Causes. While natural theology was often presented as the normative view within older journals, Macmillan’s newer journals revised this central component of Anglicanism. Their embrace of Modern Causes in science launched a broader exploration of religious and philosophical reinterpretations on nature ranging from pantheism to materialism to Social Darwinism. On this point, Macmillan’s Broad Church mission aligned with the agendas of modern science’s most passionate advocates, the scientific naturalists. Both groups wanted to challenge established Anglicanism as the ultimate arbiter of cultural authority. However, countering established conventions was a delicate matter, and even Macmillan turned to anonymity and pseudonyms when content verged into the controversial. Ecce Homo, From Conflict to Complexity



written anonymously by J. R. Seeley and published by Macmillan in 1865, was one such work.26 Through its interpretation of the life of Christ, Ecce Homo argued for a new political science in which the British state was governed by Christian morality guided and enlightened by science. Its argument to amend religious tradition in light of scientific advance was divisive and controversial. The book provoked strong responses, both positive and negative. Lord Shaftesbury called it “the most pestilential book ever vomited from the jaws of hell.”27  The Unseen Universe: or Physical Speculations on a Future State (1875) was another pivotal book Macmillan released during Britain’s science and religion debates of the 1860s and 1870s. In it, Balfour Stewart and P. J. Tait—­two of Macmillan’s most favored science writers—­were given a platform to anonymously criticize the secularizing interpretation of science put forward by the London-­based scientific naturalists. While Stewart and Tait embraced modern physics, including the ether theory, law of conservation of energy, and second law of thermodynamics, they claimed that instead of undermining religion these natural laws proved Christian theology, including the reality of miracles, the resurrection, and the immortality of the human soul.28 The book was a reaction to John Tyndall’s 1874 “Belfast Address,” in which a naturalistic worldview presented science as the study of material causes, excluding, perhaps even disproving, supernatural causes. In 1865 it had been controversial for J. R. Seeley to suggest in Ecce Homo that the traditions of Christian belief and morality could be adapted in light of science. By 1875, however, it was the suggestion that modern science proved Christian faith that was worthy of the veil of anonymity. Although certainly not what the authors intended, some readers of The Unseen Universe felt it deflated their religious faith even further, that more than ever science trumped religion. “Our pulpit polemics must hereafter start from the laboratory and the observatory,” noted one review.29  At both the Murray and Macmillan publishing houses, novel perspectives on science and religion captivated the interest of readers while generating book sales.30 The sensitivity of the topic could sell newspapers, books, and magazines if the writing provoked without appalling the public. The job of managing controversy was often up to the judgment of the publisher. Missteps could result in public humiliation, disrespect, and ill repute. Darwin spent nearly a year debating an article in the Quarterly Review that leveled accusations at his son George that Darwin felt had damaged the family’s public image. He wondered “whether [he] must not cut Murray” as his publisher because of it.31 Gentlemanly debate had, in this case, descended into “malice & utter disregard of truth,” in his opinion.32 Beyond the offense of personal feeling, printed opinion risked breaching the law. If a book was deemed offensive, it could bring legal consequences upon its publisher, as British law prohibited obscenity, libel, and blasphemy.  Bernard Lightman, Sylvia Nickerson, and Parandis Tajbakhsh

A closer look at publishers strengthens the complexity thesis by showing how the parameters of debate were negotiated before opinion ever appeared in print. Volleys in nineteenth-­century British opinion on science and religion—­as defined by articles that appeared in journals and magazines or printed in books and pamphlets—­were prejudged worthy or unworthy of the public record by the publisher, a publisher’s reader, or an editor prior to their appearance. A study of that publication history has the potential to expose how levers of control over those publications, and the boundaries of law, custom, and economics intrinsic to the production of media, enacted public debate by shaping what got said, who was allowed to say it, and to what audience it would be addressed.  Moreover, the print culture approach destabilizes the conflict thesis further by historicizing how that thesis rose to prominence through the media. The unvarnished opinions of persons staging the debate around science and religion show plenty of discord, accord, diversity, dissent, and conflict as well as congruence. Not everyone was given a platform to push the envelope, as it were. You had to have achieved position and standing, a level of trust, with a publisher before acquiring a platform in which to challenge its norms. Frequently, publishers’ experiments in new print formats launched lesser-­known authors into the mainstream. In the first issues of new journals like Macmillan’s Magazine or Nature, there were fewer expectations and more room to define identities and values around which readers and contributors assembled. In older journals like the Quarterly Review, values and expectations were set. As print formats became normalized and routine, publishers served readers’ expectations by constraining content to within defined limits, especially if the formula had proved successful. A new periodical, magazine, or book series could literally open up a new public space if its periodicity, price, physical appearance, or content assembled a new audience not served by existing formats. Space in the public sphere was inseparable from the mediating effect of publishers, whose job it was to connect opinions to the audiences who digested them.  PUBLIC DISCOURSE SURROUNDING DARWINIAN EVOLUTION IN VICTORIAN CANADA 

A study of science and print culture in nineteenth-­century Canada also enriches our understanding of the complexity thesis. Take, for example, the role of periodicals in the debate over evolution in the latter part of the century. An examination of Canadian periodicals during this period reveals that focusing solely on the opinions of intellectuals obscures what can be learned from looking at public attitudes. The views of the most eminent Canadian naturalists, John William Dawson, Daniel Wilson, and William Edmond Logan, have long been held to represent the reception of Darwinian evolution in Victorian Canada. Educated in geology, these members of From Conflict to Complexity



the Protestant intelligentsia attacked Darwin’s theory not only on the basis of lack of convincing fossil evidence but also on the grounds that it had breached the tenets of Baconian inductive method.33 The contention that the reception of the theory of evolution in Canada is largely reflected in the views of these intellectuals has led many scholars to make this trio of natural historians the focus of their research,34 leaving the Canadian public discourse surrounding evolution quite unexplored.35 Examining the periodicals published between the years 1859 and 1900 allows for a glimpse into this uncharted territory and reveals public responses that are much more diverse in nature than generally acknowledged.36 The responses of Victorian Canadians emerge as a spectrum that changes over time due to a number of key events, including publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859 and the Descent of Man in 1871, the delivery of Tyndall’s Belfast Address in 1874, and Darwin’s death in 1882.  That the reception and gradual acceptance of Darwinian evolution by the Canadian public did not follow a parallel course with that by intellectuals can partially be attributed to the absence of a powerful established church. Other factors influencing the Canadian public discourse were the negative portrait of this theory as depicted by the uninformed clergy and the attempts of those who tried to accommodate the demands of the new science by redefining the territories of science and religion.  The Canadian public discourse surrounding Darwinian evolution in the years between the publication of On the Origin of Species (1859) and Descent of Man (1871) is quite diverse and can best be portrayed as a spectrum of reactions at one end of which lies cautious or partial acceptance of Darwin’s ideas and at the other end utter rejection. Presbyterians and Methodists occupy the negative end with their absolute rejection of evolution. In the middle are those rejecting evolution on the basis that it violated the tenets of Baconian induction but advocating a need for keeping up with the latest developments in science. In the middle ground are the publications of The Globe, which upon reviewing On the Origin of Species, while not condemning the theory, concluded that Darwin had “made a mistake in the publication of this work at this time.”37 Still more positive were those willing to follow Darwin to a certain point, but their steps were, as the Canadian Journal of Industry, Science, and Art put it, “arrested by obstacles that [they were] altogether unable to surmount.”38  The fact that Darwin’s theory had apparently disturbed the harmony between God’s work and word demanded a reconsideration of the territories of science and religion.39 The work of those who, according to the Canadian Independent, “conceded that. . . . injustice has been done to Religion as well as to Science, by the failure [to] properly define the limits of what is strictly Revelation, and by making claims Bernard Lightman, Sylvia Nickerson, and Parandis Tajbakhsh

for it which it no where makes for itself ” falls on the positive end of the spectrum.40 The publication of Descent of Man only made such efforts more valuable, as science was seen by many to have transgressed its boundaries.  With the arrival of Descent of Man, the response spectrum turned into a monochromatic band of negativity in the period from 1871 to 1873. The primary focus of Darwin’s work in On the Origin of Species was plants and animals, with no direct indication as to whether or not evolution applied to humankind. In his Descent of Man, however, Darwin had claimed that “there is no mental difference, other than that of degree, between man and the lowest of the Vertebrate sub-­kingdom”;41 by doing so, as the Canadian Illustrated News declared, Darwin gave “his fellow creatures a pedigree of prodigious length, but not of noble quality.”42 The Canadian Independent put the thoughts of many Canadians into words, asserting that they were witnessing “the most violent assaults on Christianity.”43  Some did not consider evolution true science since “sciences when true, never contradict one another.”44 Others believed this inconsistency between the book of nature and that of scripture had been brought forth by “an error in reasoning or in observation of facts.”45 To those who saw Darwinian evolution as a scientific theory, however, rejection was no longer a viable solution: “his theory presses upon us,” wrote a Mr. Macklecan of Darwinian evolution in the June edition of the New Dominion Monthly in 1872. He continued, “To combat it because we dislike it, is of little avail. . . . It is a scientific theory and if we would defeat it or try to do so, we must take a similar basis.”46 Many felt an urgent need to reinterpret the Scripture in the light of the new science.  While the informed were seeking resolution to the conflict in revisiting the boundaries of science and religion, some clergy, whose understanding of evolution did not go beyond having heard about it in passing, preached for abolition of Darwin’s theory, leading many to believe that evolution was inherently hostile to religion. Occasionally, one comes across a minister who reviews evolution and “dispose[s] of it very successfully”!47 With the debate intensifying, the fact that some clerics were exacerbating the conflict did not escape the notice of those theologians who, with a sense of apprehension, emphasized the importance of educating the clergy. The storm that Tyndall’s Belfast Address brought about would require the clergy to fight a dogmatic creed of science, a battle for which many of them were ill equipped. The Canadian public response to evolution in the years from 1874 to 1882 was primarily shaped by a sense of dread that traditional religion was being forced out by the scientific creed, a dogmatic system based on a materialistic system of evolution.48 Tyndall’s Belfast Address, delivered in 1874 in his role as the president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, was in direct opposition to the revered beliefs of Canadians. By claiming that scientists “shall wrest from From Conflict to Complexity



theology, the entire domain of cosmological theory,” Tyndall had left Canadians with the impression that science and religion were contradictory.49 The Belfast Address seemed to be the ultimate confession of the materialistic contentions of Darwinists who believed that “the principle of every change resides in matter.”50  However, Canadian journalists did not hold Darwin himself responsible for the attacks on religion. Periodicals carefully distinguished between Darwin the naturalist and Darwinism as a school of thought primarily associated with atheism and materialism. Following the publication of On the Origin of Species, Darwin succeeded in earning the respect of the majority of Canadians as an “eminent” naturalist and continued to be seen in this light even after the Belfast Address so long as one “can sift his [Darwin’s] own great work, modestly and reverently advanced,” as the Canada Educational Monthly put it, “from that which his followers have unwisely based upon it.”51 Similarly, when cited along with Huxley and Tyndall, Darwin emerges as a man who had inadvertently opened a door to atheistic materialism but, as the British American Presbyterian put it, “refuse[d] to go the length and breadth of Tyndall.”52 Canadians were being told that it was Darwinism, “which deal[t] chiefly with evolution in the biological sphere,” not Darwin, that threatened their traditional faith. The sudden increase in the number of articles emphasizing the harmony between science and religion following the Belfast Address testify to the fact that Canadians were hostile to the scientific creed of Darwinists but not to Darwin the naturalist.  Many Canadians feared that the followers of scientific creed would convince their audience that religion had to concede that science ruled a much more extensive kingdom. Not only had the efforts of scientific naturalists led people to question their faiths, but “such noted men as Darwin, Huxley, Tyndall, and Hackel, have so brought their vast scientific researches to bear upon their theories of ‘evolution,’ as to compel the world of theological thought to cease attempts at refutation, and endeavour rather to bend Revelation into accordance with alleged scientific laws.”53 It is hardly expected that such a hostile attitude might ever be replaced by a favorable one, but apparently all it took was Darwin’s death and a new generation of scientists putting their faith not in Darwinism but in Darwinian evolution by natural selection as expounded by Darwin.  Following Darwin’s death in 1882 and up until about 1900, the response of Canadian periodicals was characterized by a colorful, positive spectrum primarily occupied by those favoring a theistic variant of evolution, with supporters of the creed of science at one extreme and those emphasizing a literal reading of the Bible at the other. The homage paid to Darwin upon his death left a positive impression on Canadians, conspicuous in obituaries. According to the Canada Medical and Surgical Journal, being buried in a cathedral that once was exclusively the final resting Bernard Lightman, Sylvia Nickerson, and Parandis Tajbakhsh

place of the saints was a loud testimony that “the storm of opposition has now virtually spent itself, and even the ‘Queen of Sciences’ has in many quarters adapted itself to the new conditions, and the very pulpits which were loudest in denunciation of the iniquity of the theory and its inconsistency with religion, have recently acknowledged the possibility of its truth.”54  Furthermore, the new generation of Canadian academics, educated by the principles of modern biology, played a critical role in transforming the attitude of the public. Alfred Russel Wallace’s lecture in March 1887 at University College in Toronto only facilitated the way to acquire a better understanding of evolution and thus motivated efforts to reconcile evolution and religion in the public sphere. To this end, there were many attempts to exonerate Darwin from the charges of atheism and materialism. His theory, then, was seen as God’s way of creating new species. The genesis of a theistic evolutionary theory required an “evolution in religion”; a transmutation that many Protestants experienced. Such a move is a prime example of the complex relationship between science and religion in the public sphere. Science inspires a new interpretation of religion while it gets infused by religious themes. The study of Canadian periodicals illustrates how the relationship between science and religion only appears hostile when either of these is used as a weapon to attack the other. While this might give the impression that science and religion are inherently in conflict, in the long run the interaction between these two bodies of knowledge is more complicated. In the case of the Canadian public sphere, the influence of science and religion on each other was mutual and complementary. Before the turn of the century, for the majority of Canadians, a theistic evolution had once again brought God’s word and work into marvelous harmony.  BRITISH PERIODICALS AND DRAPER’S CONFLICT THESIS 

Just as responses to evolution in Canadian periodicals reveal new dimensions of complexity, so does an analysis of the reviews of Draper’s History of Conflict between Science and Religion. In 1879 the American periodical the Christian Advocate considered “What Englishmen Think of Dr. J. W. Draper.” The anonymous author of the Christian Advocate article believed that the English viewed Draper as an able scientist but an incompetent historian.55 The American journalist agreed with that assessment. Whenever Draper wrote on areas outside science, the journalist posited, he “play[ed] before the public the role of a charlatan.”56 Draper’s main error was to apply the simplistic methods of natural philosophy, based on the concept of “mechanical necessity,” to the study of human history. He had therefore “misconceived the conditions of his problem, writing of men and nations as if they were forces and molecules, and as if the drift of mechanical forces were adequate to explain the progress of events in history.”57 By adopting a reductionist approach, From Conflict to Complexity



Draper had forfeited any claim to expertise as a historian, and he had undermined the validity of his conflict thesis.  The Christian Advocate journalist perceptively delineated the dynamic at the heart of the British periodical reviews of Draper’s History of the Conflict between Science and Religion from the time of its publication in 1874 up until 1880. The majority of the reviews were resoundingly critical. Only two, those that appeared in the Calcutta Review and the ultra-­liberal Westminster Review, offered positive assessments of Draper’s book.58 But five other reviewers raised questions about Draper’s expertise as a historian and his authority to speak on topics outside science. As a result, periodical reviewers often rejected the conflict thesis. The negative reaction to Draper’s now iconic work sheds new light on the public debate in the 1870s about the relationship between science and religion, and it raises questions about how widely the conflict thesis was accepted in this period.59  The book may have sold well in Britain, but it certainly was not due to the reviews, which focused their criticism on Draper’s claims to historical expertise. In the conservative Methodist periodical the London Quarterly Review, the reviewer found fault with nearly every aspect of the book. “The style of the book,” the journalist complained, “is almost as bad as the matter.” The book was “almost void of references.” There were also “blunders and absurdities” throughout the book. “We have covered a foolscap sheet with jotting down, as we read, instances of error, misrepresentation, bad logic, bad style, bombast and downright ignorance,” the reviewer reported. The numerous historical inaccuracies “proved that he has no qualification to be the historian of anything connected with religion.” But the same could be said about his abilities as a historian of science. “Even on the side of Science,” the reviewer declared, “where one would be willing to let the Professor speak with authority, one cannot help wondering if observation and experiment support the hypothesis of ‘countless myriads of stars, each a sun, surrounded by revolving globes, peopled with responsible beings like ourselves.’”60  Perhaps more damning was the London Quarterly Review’s estimation of Draper’s historical knowledge. The reviewer asserted, “To be historian of the conflict requires immense erudition, full acquaintance with subjects rarely studied by the same man, judicial and philosophical ability of the highest order, in short, such a diversity of talent as we almost despair of finding.” Measured against this standard, Draper fell well short. “Mr. Draper disappoints our faintest hopes,” the reviewer insisted, “and exceeds our worst misgivings. It would be hard to find any writer on either side of the controversy who makes so ludicrous a betrayal of incompetence and conceit.” The reviewer feared that the “average excellence” of the entire International Scientific Series would be “lowered by the admission of such a volume.”61 The reviewer in the Examiner, a politically and religiously neutral journal, presented a Bernard Lightman, Sylvia Nickerson, and Parandis Tajbakhsh

similar criticism, though more gently: “It is no disparagement to the author to be found deficient in the universal knowledge required by no less a theme than the intellectual history of mankind.” But it was pointed out that Draper’s “historical manual” was “in some degree unsatisfactory” because the subject was “treated at second-­hand.”62  As a result of Draper’s inadequacies as a historian, several journals concluded that he had dealt with the history of science and religion in a superficial fashion. In the politically and religiously neutral journal the Athenaeum, the reviewer accused Draper of producing a “hasty and fragmentary review of the conflict between all science and all religion crowded into a volume that can be read through in three or four hours.” The book was far too ambitious. “The 367 pages of the book scamper over ground even more extensive than the title suggests,” the reviewer complained.63 To the author of the review in the British and Foreign Evangelical Review, the superficiality of Draper’s book indicated that he did not understand the real meaning of the conflict he had found throughout history. “That there has been an oft-­renewed collision between theologic and scientific thought,” the reviewer affirmed, “is obvious enough to anyone familiar with the rudiments of the world’s history; but it is not at all obvious that Dr. Draper has described this contest correctly, or has even adequately understood its nature and significance.”64  Draper had not only written a superficial history of science and religion but also produced a severely biased one. Draper’s inability to be impartial was another indication of his shortcomings as a historian. The reviewer in the Examiner applauded his “sympathy for the martyrs of science.” However, despite Draper’s praise for the contribution of “Moslem civilisation” to the eventual “rehabilitation of science” after the Reformation, and his sometimes “sympathetic treatment of Protestantism,” the reviewer protested against his largely negative depiction of religion. Draper should have told his readers that the “theological spirit” is “nothing exceptionally monstrous, but simply the ordinary propensity to acquiesce in whatsoever has managed to get itself established.” The book would have been far better if it “had less decidedly borne the impress of a manifesto from the scientific side of the question.”65  The reviewer in the British and Foreign Evangelical Review took this point one step further: he argued that Draper’s prejudice in favor of science had blinded him to the fact that Christianity had contributed to the development of science. One of the few signed articles, the author was John Robinson Leebody (1840–1927), professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at the Presbyterian Magee College in Londonderry.66 To Leebody, Draper’s lack of historical objectivity had led him to dismiss the fact that “religion and science have been mutually helpful to one another even in their antagonism.” No doubt, Leebody acknowledged, theologians From Conflict to Complexity



had sometimes attacked new scientific theories with unnecessary hostility, “but he is a careless student of the history of human progress who does not see that this has been rather helpful than hurtful to the advance of scientific truth.” Since past science had been “laden with a burden of crude speculation and baseless theory,” by ensuring that new theories were not accepted without question, theologians had played a positive role in the progress of science. Leebody brought up a recent example to drive the point home: “When some new and striking theory, such, say, as Darwinism, is propounded, the scientific world is so dazzled by its pretensions and plausibility, that due examination of its assertions might be wanting, were it not that by its collision with current theologic beliefs it brings an amount of educated criticism to bear upon it, for which science will ultimately have deep cause to be thankful.”67  In 1879 the occasion of the publication of Draper’s Scientific Memoirs, Being Experimental Contributions to a Knowledge of Radiant Energy led the Spectator to publish a review of the book. A liberal journal representative of Unitarian opinion, the Spectator used the opportunity to evaluate Draper’s status as a scientist and as a historian. “His fame as a man of science is secure,” the reviewer declared, “but his place as a philosopher and as a historian rests on a very precarious foundation.” Echoing the criticisms of those who had reviewed History of the Conflict between Religion and Science over the previous five years, the journalist charged that in that book Draper had made the mistake of relying on a simplistic notion of mechanical law to explain complex historical matters. The Spectator reflected the opinions of the majority of contemporary periodical reviewers in Britain. They were deeply critical of the book as a valuable historical study, and they unanimously rejected the conflict model. There seems, then, to be a disparity between the periodical literature that immediately followed the publication of Draper’s book and the notion that the conflict thesis began to dominate the hearts and minds of the British immediately after 1874. During the ’70s , at least, the conflict thesis, as articulated by Draper, gained little public traction in Victorian Britain.  An analysis of the reviews of Draper’s book illuminates the role of the periodical in the creation of a space for public discussion of science and religion. Reviewers often placed Draper’s book into the specific context of the 1870s. The London Quarterly Review referred to the preface of Draper’s book, in which he said that a few years before it was politic to abstain from all allusion to the controversy surrounding the relationship between science and religion. The LQR was agreeing with Draper that the public space in which such issues were discussed was in the midst of significant change. The Calcutta Review also noted the profound transformation of the public sphere, noting that there were signs of “important changes in religious thought” on the horizon, including a “modification” or even abandonment “of hithBernard Lightman, Sylvia Nickerson, and Parandis Tajbakhsh

erto accepted dogmas.” These changes were due to the “exceptional facilities afforded indeed in the present age, for the rapid diffusion of thought” as well as the advance of education, which now made available to all “the far-­reaching conceptions of advanced scientific intellects.”68 Periodical reviews significantly shaped the pubic space within which the relationship between science and religion could be explored. We need to pay more attention to the role of those who were instrumental in shaping the public discussion about science and religion if we want to understand how Victorian readers understood their complicated relationship.  THE IMPORTANT ROLE OF PUBLISHERS AND PERIODICALS 

In the new space created after the communications revolution in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, the relationship between science and religion became even more complicated. Publishing houses shaped the public discussion in Canada and Britain about science and religion in the second half of the nineteenth century through the books and periodicals they produced. Publishers, editors, and authors, not to mention readers, took on key roles in the debates about the significance of modern science for religion. Publishers like Murray and Macmillan worked behind the scenes to stage manage debates about the newest scientific discoveries. But their impact is anything but straightforward, as Murray, for example, undermined the scientific credibility of one of his most important scientific authors, Charles Darwin. A study of Canadian periodicals shows how public attitudes toward Darwinism changed over time, as visions of conflict faded in favor of a form of theistic evolution. The negative treatment in the periodical press of Draper’s now canonical book on science and religion raises questions about the reading public’s acceptance of the conflict thesis in the 1870s. In each case we see how the space for public discussion was in the midst of significant change that cannot be captured by adopting the simplistic approach of the conflict thesis.  If we wish, then, to build a new big picture of the historical relationship between science and religion, we need to avoid relying solely on the partisan statements of members of the intellectual elite. We need to look seriously at publishers and periodicals, and any other sources that provide a window onto what the public was thinking, what shaped public opinion, and what transformed the very nature of communication. That includes examining works by popularizers of science and religion, newspaper accounts of scientific and religious lectures, letters to the editor, personal diaries, and letters of the everyday person. It also includes looking at publishers’ archives, where records of opinion exist by authors whose works never made it into the historical record of published sources. There is far more for scholars to discover through an examination of the role of print culture in the history of religion and science. From Conflict to Complexity


C ha p t e r 2    


  The Influence of Question Design on Our Understanding of Public Perceptions of Clash Narratives       

Fern Elsdon-­Baker

         In a country where Charles Darwin was proudly displayed on the £10 bank note from 2000 to 2018, it might seem odd to raise concerns about the threat of the rise of creationism. After all, the primary public intellectual criticism of the images appearing on this British tenner seems to be the lamenting of genetics professor Steve Jones that they display the wrong kind of bird (hummingbirds rather that the more iconic Darwinian finches): “‘Hummingbirds are not even mentioned in On the Origin of Species,’ said Jones. ‘So why depict them? This is not a trivial issue. We are surprised by the numbers of people who believe in creationism and rubbish like that only to find the currency in which we place our trust is telling us lies about evolution.’”1 Jones seemingly forgets that hummingbird species are after all also the result of evolution and that this a matter of historical accuracy, not scientific accuracy. But even in what might seem to some like a frivolous concern about depictions of bird species, we see a recourse to a narrative about the concerns over levels of creationists in the United Kingdom. The problem here is that this narrative, while seemingly prevalent, is not based on evidence of a rise of creationism (especially in 2008 when the Jones interview was given); it is more of a normative pro-­ evolutionary rhetorical device. There is clearly an enduring focus in public debates concerning evolutionary science on levels of endorsement of creationist positions,

both in media and public discourse. However, there has up until recently been very little in-­depth quantitative or qualitative research undertaken to ascertain what members of the public actually think about evolutionary science, let alone the many and varied ways in which it might relate to individual personal belief.2 In the past few years, this lack of empirical data has begun to be addressed with studies being undertaken by a number of colleagues in the United Kingdom and United States, and increasingly internationally. This kind work has provided a valuable shift away from more simplistic or binary measurement of public perceptions of the relationship between evolutionary science, religion, and personal belief toward a more nuanced picture that better elucidates people’s lived experience of the relationship. It also, in part, marks the recognition of a wider trend to start to better distinguish or move the focus of this research away from the idiosyncratic and culturally distinct US public sphere context.3 Quantitative data that has been collected up to this point tends to focus on a single measure or a few conceptually based questions that assume a necessary epistemic clash between personal belief and acceptance of evolutionary science. The classic example here is the question that has been employed by Gallup since 1982. Q. Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings: • Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process. • Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process. • God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.4 As discussed in more detail below, this question seeks to measure the frequency of creationists, theistic evolutionists, or those who support a more “secular” evolutionary position in the United States. Similar versions or adaptations of this question have occasionally been used outside of the United States; two examples of these were undertaken in 2009 and 2014 in surveys conducted by Ipsos Mori, one of which—­the international Darwin Now Survey in 2009—­I commissioned in a previous role.5 It was the inconsistencies in this survey and others that led me to examine in more detail the problematic framing of survey questions and how they might lead us to both figuratively and literally create creationists.6 Here, however, what I want to focus on is how more detailed questions can not only provide insights into religious public views on evolutionary science but also allow us to start to examine the other end of the spectrum—­the idea of a strongly endorsed secular Creating Hard-­Line “Secular” Evolutionists



evolutionary model. In short, I will argue that with this kind of data collection we are in danger not only of creating creationists but also of assuming that those who endorse other positions in these kinds of surveys also neatly fit into little boxes. So, conversely, might we also be creating hardline secular evolutionists? My primary, if slightly provocative, concern here is that there is a problematic assumption at the core of measuring public perceptions of evolutionary science: that there can only fundamentally be one reason for rejecting it, or for that matter, raising questions about current evolutionary science’s explanatory power—­namely, personal belief or adherence to theological positions. Conversely, it is implied in some survey research that the primary and potentially only reason for a conflict between personal belief and “science” is the adoption of a rigid or dogmatic creationist position. When measuring public trust or perceptions of other areas of STEMM, we don’t ordinarily ask questions about whether or not publics think a deity may, or may not, have been involved. Yet there is often a conflation between belief in a deity and scientific understanding in measures relating to origins of humans, origins of species, or origins of the universe.7 Indeed, in large-­scale surveys such as the UK Public Attitudes towards Science (PAS) survey undertaken by Ipsos Mori in 2014, the only questions that mention the role of God or a deity relate directly to the origin of life on Earth including human life. This might seem fair enough given that creationism versus evolution is seen to be one of the primary areas of conflict between scientific worldviews and religious identity. However, another related problematic assumption that is made by this style of survey research is that rejection of evolution can actually act as a proxy measure for religiosity. For example, in the 2014 PAS survey there are demographic questions asking for participants’ religious identity and one that relates to practices: “Apart from such special occasions as weddings, funerals and baptisms, how often nowadays do you attend services or meetings connected with your religion?” However, when correlating a measure of “religiosity,” the report authors adopt the measures that attempt to gauge levels of endorsement for creationist positions.8 There are some initial indications that strong religious beliefs are associated with less supportive attitudes towards science, but these findings are not clear-­cut. The fifth of the UK public who have a more creationist viewpoint are less likely to think that science will make people’s lives easier (72%, compared with 81% overall). They are more likely than average to say that people should not tamper with nature (68% versus 55%) and that science makes our lives change too fast (48% versus 34%). Nevertheless, they are just as likely as average to say that the benefits of science are greater than any harmful effects.9

Fern Elsdon-­Baker

As is evidenced here, there is an implicit assumption that strong religious beliefs equal creationism and vice versa. This is clearly nonsense, as any sociologist of religion will tell you, not least because creationism both historically and contemporarily is more strongly associated with certain more evangelical denominations within Protestant Christianity and not with others. For other religious or spiritual positions, we have too little information to say. Unless of course the authors of the PAS survey were actually seeking to impose a hierarchy of religiosity onto all religions based on adherence to a US-­style fundamentalist position—­which I seriously doubt, but it is an unwitting consequence of the statement above. Without wishing to unfairly single out one survey for undue criticism or philosophical analysis, this kind of approach is indicative of the wider field of survey-­based research into public perceptions of science. It is in part, I would speculate, a product of those involved in the design of this type of survey coming from a certain set of science-­focused disciplinary traditions, with all their attendant tropes, allegiances, or epistemological commitments. There are, then, a whole jumble of problematic or uncritical assumptions and biases evident at the core of this kind of research, including that evolutionary science is the primary reason for conflict between science and religion, that rejection of evolution is always and only due to religious worldviews, that increased religiosity leads to increased rejection of evolutionary science, and that creationism is always a rejection of all facets of research undertaken within evolutionary science and by extension science as whole. All of these assumptions merit further critical engagement and analysis in light of new or emerging social scientific data. This list goes on, and clearly there are far too many issues for me to address in one short chapter. So here I would like to focus on three interwoven key questions: 1. How might raising questions about evolutionary science relate to religious or non-­religious identity? 2. How salient or strongly held might these views be? 3. How consistent are people in these views when thinking about themselves or others? It was concerns about these kinds of implicit assumptions in research data collection and survey design that led my colleagues and me to develop and design the project Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum (SRES) in the first instance. And, of course, that is the project from which this volume itself arises. To unpick these questions a little, I will be using data we have collected as part of the quantitative strand of research with YouGov in both the United Kingdom and Canada

Creating Hard-­Line “Secular” Evolutionists



during 2017 as part the SRES project.10 Led by myself and my colleague Dr. Carola Leicht, the survey went through number of iterations and pilots, and included more than forty-­eight separate questions or batteries of questions that incorporated both quantitative items and more qualitative, open-­ended questions. Here I am most concerned with the broader trends our data imply for future research in this field, as well as some of the more philosophical concerns about the context and construction of such research. HOW DOES RAISING QUESTIONS ABOUT EVOLUTIONARY SCIENCE RELATE TO RELIGIOUS OR NON-­R ELIGIOUS IDENTITY?

Respondents to the SRES survey were asked to select “yes” or “no” to the question “Do you identify as religious or spiritual?” Based on their responses to this question, respondents were then asked, if they had answered yes, what their religious or spiritual tradition was, or, conversely if they had selected no, what their non-­ religious or non-­spiritual tradition was. In the UK, 1,047 (49.2%) of the participants identified as religious or spiritual and 1,082 (50.8%) indicated that they did not. In Canada, 995 (49.5%) of the respondents identified as religious or spiritual and 1,014 (50.5%) indicated that they did not. Unlike other surveys in this field, alongside an exhaustive list of religious identities, and pagan or spiritual but not religious options, we also provided options that allowed participants to identify themselves in various ways when selecting the non-­religious option. These were agnostic, atheist, freethinker, humanist, non-­religious, rationalist, sceptic, secularist, and other. It is important to not mistakenly assume that “non-­religious” can be used as interchangeable with “atheist” without realizing that there is potential for as much variation in worldviews or systemic beliefs in non-­religious groups as there is within religious groups. Neither is a monolithic group. Given the unsurprisingly commonplace perception of a link between atheism and evolution, we therefore felt it was vital to be able to identify those of the non-­religious respondents who would actually see themselves as atheists. Among a variety of measures designed to gauge public views on evolutionary science, we repeated a measure similar to that undertaken in the US-­based Gallup surveys and in previous UK-­based surveys including the Darwin Now 2009 survey and the PAS 2014 survey.11 We refer to this as the “blunt measure,” as it adheres to a binary, either/or approach to categorizing creationists.12 Q: People have different views about the origin of species and development of life on Earth. Which of the following statements comes closest to your view about the origin and development of life on Earth?

Fern Elsdon-­Baker

1. Humans and other living things were created by God and have always existed in their current form. 2. Humans and other living things evolved over time, in a process guided by God. 3. Humans and other living things evolved over time, as a result of natural selection, in which god played no part. 4. I have another view of the origin of species and development of life on Earth, which is not included in the list. 5. I don’t know/I do not have view on the origin of species and development of life on Earth. Option 1 is what tends to be portrayed as a creationist position. Overall, the number of respondents endorsing this creationist option in our survey data is relatively low when compared to similar survey questions in the United States, or indeed previous versions undertaken in the UK.13 Only 9% of UK respondents and 15.4% of Canadian respondents selected this option. As figure 2.1 shows, the majority of religious or spiritual respondents across the UK and Canada actually endorsed options 2 and 3. These responses can be loosely equated respectively with a theistic evolutionary or non-­theistic evolutionary account of the origin of species including humans. Of those respondents who identified as religious or spiritual, 55% of UK and 61% of Canadian respondents selected these two options. It is important to note that across the samples in both countries, it was only a minority of religious or spiritual respondents that endorsed the creationist option, with only one in six religious or spiritual respondents in the UK and only one in four religious or spiritual respondents in Canada subscribing to the view that “Humans and other living things were created by God and have always existed in their current form.” We might expect some kind of homogeneity across these groups, and it is perhaps unsurprising that within the non-­religious respondents we see the highest level of endorsement for the non-­theistic option (3). However, surprisingly, we also found that some of the non-­religious/non-­spiritual respondents also endorsed the creationist option (1) or the theistic evolution option (2). It should be noted, though, that when we separated out only those who self-­identified as atheist, those selecting this option all but disappear. This further emphasizes why measures of this kind should never be used to act as a proxy measure of religiosity or indeed atheism. Not only do 18% in the UK and 24% in Canada of the religious/spiritual sample endorse what might be seen as a non-­religious or secular view of evolution but also conversely between 10% in the UK and 17% in Canada of the non-­religious Creating Hard-­Line “Secular” Evolutionists



respondents indicate that evolution is a process guided by God or that God created all living things including humans. It is clear, then, that there is no fully consistent religious or non-­religious view on evolution and that neither group should be treated as homogenous. Just as to be religious is not to be a creationist, to be non-­ religious is not necessarily to be an atheistic or secular evolutionist, as is commonly assumed. It is also important to note that across the whole sample, 10% in the UK and 11% in Canada said they held another view on the origin of species and development of life on Earth. We had the luxury in our survey of asking people to tell us what these positions were. This wasn’t made up just of people who held different or varying creationist accounts, but of those who held a whole mishmash of other positions ranging from spiritual or quasi-­spiritual “guided” evolution positions to more specific “scientific” evolutionary accounts, and of those who were agnostic about both religious or scientific explanations, right through to a surprising variety and number of suggestions of extraterrestrial alien involvement in the origin of species. Furthermore, 10% in the UK and 14% in Canada stated either that they didn’t know or that they had no view.14 This is relatively evenly split across religious/spiritual respondents (9% in the UK and 10% in Canada) and non-­religious respondents (10% in the UK and 17% in Canada). If we remember that 9% in the UK and 15.4% in Canada of our sample endorsed a creationist position, we can see that a similar number either don’t know or don’t care about these kinds of issues relating to evolutionary science and human origins. This really does put the levels of creationist endorsement in perspective. While it might be easy to create a kind of moral panic about religious opposition to evolution or “creationists,” it should not go without comment that those who are keen to pursue a public understanding of evolutionary science position seem very willing to ignore the similarly sized populations who neither know nor care about the origins of species or indeed life. I grant that small, yet in places vocal, facets of this group are not actively opposing evolutionary science, but if our primary aim is to better communicate evolutionary science, should we not also be conducting research with this disengaged section of the population? Interestingly, when we look at the number of self-­identifying atheists who said they didn’t know or had no view on the origin of species in both countries, the figures are noticeably lower than those in the non-­religious group of which they are a subset. In Canada this drops from 17% for the overall non-­religious group to 11% of the atheist subset, and in the UK it drops from 10% to only 1%. Similarly, in the atheist group we find a higher endorsement of the non-­theistic evolution option (3) (92% in the UK; 69% in Canada) in comparison with the overall non-­religious sample (72% in the UK; 54% in Canada). This suggests that endorsement of evoluFern Elsdon-­Baker

80 72% 70




50 39%

40 30 20 10 0

36% 25%

24% 16%

18% 14% 9%

17% 11% 10% 3%

UK Religious/Spiritual

Canada Religious/Spiritual





UK Non-Religious/NonSpiritual


5% Canada Non-Religious/NonSpiritual

Humans and other living things were created by God and have always existed in their current form Humans and other living things evolved over time, in a process guided by God Humans and other living things evolved over time as a result of natural selection, in which God played no part I have another view of the origin of species and development of life on Earth which isn’t included in this list I don’t know / I do not have a view on the origin of species and the development of life on Earth

Figure 2.1. Attitudes toward Evolutionary Science across Religious/Spiritual and Nonreligious/Non-spiritual Groups. It is important to note that only a minority of religious/ spiritual respondents endorse a “creationist” position.

tion might play an important role in the expression of atheistic identities, which links up with our findings elsewhere across our research that suggest that acceptance of evolutionary science can play an important role in social identity (see chapters 6 and 7). Let’s return to our first question, How does raising questions about evolutionary science relate to religious or non-religious identity? While clearly there is a stronger endorsement of creationist options in surveys among religious/spiritual respondents, this is not the majority position by any stretch of the imagination. Across British and Canadian populations, we see that theistic or non-theistic evolutionary accounts are more likely to be endorsed by religious/spiritual respondents than the creationist options. Moreover, a small group of our non-religious respondents in both countries also endorse these creationist and theistic evolution options. Conversely, the one group where it appears positions on evolutionary science may play a strong part in their religious identity is with atheist respondents. While we might find it easy to assume that broader social narratives about reliCreating Hard-Line “Secular” Evolutionists


gion versus evolution will hold true in terms of public perceptions, this clearly isn’t the whole picture, as even a cursory glance at the data shows us. Here, we have only looked at the frequencies of publics who are endorsing options in the blunt measure. When we start to look at these publics’ views on evolution and science more generally, this picture becomes even more fuzzy. HOW SALIENT OR STRONGLY HELD ARE THESE VIEWS?

One thing we acknowledged early on in our research design was that the way the question is asked matters just as much as the response. For example, if the reference to a god or deity is removed from the question with regard to individuals’ perceptions of evolution in relation to their belief systems, the question will yield slightly different answers. The introduction of religious or theistic language into the questions could potentially act as a trigger to participants for certain aspects of their identity, be that religious, spiritual, non-­religious, or atheist, as others have found.15 Therefore, in order to gauge levels of concern about evolutionary science in relation to individuals’ personal belief, we asked, “In your daily life, how difficult or easy do you find it to accept evolutionary science in reference to your own personal beliefs?” In line with the responses to the question outlined above we found that the majority of respondents reportedly found it very easy, easy, or somewhat easy to accept evolutionary science in reference to their personal beliefs. As table 1 shows, only one in five UK respondents (19%) and fewer than one in three (29%) Canadian respondents who identified as religious or spiritual found it somewhat difficult, difficult, or very difficult to accept evolutionary science in reference to their personal beliefs. Interestingly, these figures are slightly higher than those who endorsed a creationist position within the religious/spiritual groups (16% UK; 25% Canada). However, it is also notable that of the non-­religious/non-­spiritual respondents, one in ten Canadian (10%) and one in twenty UK (5%) respondents also found it to some degree difficult to accept evolutionary science in reference to their personal beliefs. So, we see a slight increase in those expressing concerns across all groups when not using the blunt measure. However, again, this is with the noticeable exception of atheists in the United Kingdom. It is important, then, not to see those expressing difficulty as simply those who are endorsing a creationist position. Only 56.7% in the UK and 53.7% in Canada of those who selected the creationist option in the blunt measure reported that they found it difficult in any way to accept evolutionary science in reference to their own personal beliefs. Creationists make up only 44% in the UK and 41.6% in Canada of respondents who said they found it difficult to accept evolution. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, 11% of those who selected the creationist option in the UK and 19.7% Fern Elsdon-­Baker

Table 2.1. Q. In your daily life, how difficult or easy do you find it to accept evolutionary science in reference to your own personal beliefs? Difficulty Accepting Evolutionary Science Religious or Spiritual Respondents Very difficult Difficult Somewhat difficult

Total Population

UK Religious or Spiritual Respondents

Total Population

Canada Religious or Spiritual Respondents

3.45% 2.56%

6.6% 3.83%

6.85% 4.17%

11.07% 5.66%







Neither difficult nor easy





Somewhat easy










Very easy





Net: Difficult





Net: Easy





in Canada said they found it at some level easy to accept evolutionary science in reference to their own personal beliefs (though this is only actually only eighty-­two people overall, so this is interesting from a survey question design perspective even though it may not be statistically significant). Of those who reported that they found it difficult to accept evolutionary science in reference to their personal beliefs, the primary concerns cited related to aspects of human evolution. This was consistent across all groups (religious/spiritual and non-­religious/non-­spiritual). The most commonly selected reasons for expressing difficulty were: • That humans and apes share a common ancestor • That humans have evolved • The common origin of all life, including humans, from single cells One of the advantages of asking a question that removes a god or deity or asks for endorsement of specific, predefined positions on evolution (e.g., creationism, theistic evolution, etc.) is that we can more easily use a Likert-­type scale. When designing stand-­alone single measures to gauge perceptions of evolution, it is all too easy to presuppose that the views being endorsed are strongly felt by the respondents. As we can see in table 2.1, within the groups that found it difficult to accept evolution, it is only a minority across all groups who found it very difficult, with a larger group in all cases who said they found it somewhat difficult. While we should not discount those who said they found it somewhat difficult, it is important to note that this is not in all cases a very strongly held position or indeed even one that Creating Hard-­Line “Secular” Evolutionists



has necessarily been thought through in any great detail prior to completing the survey. There are clearly some more fine-­grain levels of uncertainty across those who find it difficult to accept evolution, which is quite far from the hard-­line fundamentalist position of evolution rejection that some might fear and that is a common trope in media and scholarly analysis of public perceptions of evolution. Additionally, it is important not to simply ignore those who said they didn’t find it difficult or easy—­these “null” groups can sometimes be left out of narratives around survey data, as it’s easy to focus on binary or oppositional groups. However, interestingly, between a quarter to a third of the sample across both countries potentially see this issue as a nonissue—­which is in and of itself is not insignificant. It would be very easy to assume that members of this group have no strong views on evolution or are mapped fairly neatly onto the group who said it had no view in other measures. However, this is not necessarily the case. Actually, only 22.8% of British and 26.3% of Canadian respondents who selected this null option ticked “don’t know” or said they had no view on evolution in the blunt measure. Furthermore, as discussed, the groups of respondents who find it difficult to accept evolution and the groups of respondents who endorse a creationist model of evolution do not neatly overlap. This is further highlighted by the fact that 32.5% of creationists in the UK and 26.5% in Canada selected this null option, though overall they make up only 12% and 13% of this null group, respectively. They perhaps most likely selected this option because they don’t find it difficult or easy to accept evolution, simply because they don’t accept evolution. It is therefore in effect a nonissue. Most of this null group is actually made up of those who would be seen to support evolutionary thinking—­with 54% in the UK and 48.5% in Canada fairly evenly split between those who endorse theistic or non-­religious accounts of evolutionary processes. Even within this null group, there is the potential for considerable diversity in the reasons why people might select this option. There could be a variety of reasons why people might say they find no difficulty—­some of which could be to do with lack of knowledge or interest, and some perhaps because they support evolution but have no strong views either way in terms of a perceived conflict. But there is also a group here that may have selected this option because they just outright reject evolution. While this Likert-­style measure is useful in terms of breaking down how strongly individuals might feel about their positions, we should not assume that these positions are something participants had actually considered in great detail prior to responding to our questions. One of the primary aims of our multidisciplinary research project was to ascertain how strongly people’s day-­to-­day social identities relate to their views of evolutionary science. Therefore, one of the first questions in our survey asked, “In your daily life, how important or unimportant is evolutionary Fern Elsdon-­Baker




CanadaCanada 9.5%

9.1% 6.5%

6.0% 9.5%

10.8% 9.1%

8.3% 6.0%

Very unimportant Very unimportant Neither unimportant or important Neither unimportant or important Very important Very important







Unimportant Unimportant Somewhat important Somewhat important







6.4% 12.4%

8.2% 15.6%

Somewhat unimportant Somewhat unimportant Important Important

Figure 2.2. Q3. In your daily life, how important or unimportant is evolutionary science to your sense of who you are and how you view the world? (Please select one option) Base: All UK adults (n=2,129); All Canadian adults (n=2,009); UK Net Unimportant: 26% Net Important: 44%; Canada Net Unimportant: 24% Net Important: 48%

science to your sense of who you are and how you view the world?” We didn’t really know what to expect in terms of this question. What we were trying to ascertain was how salient individuals’ positions on evolution were in terms of how they viewed themselves or wished to represent themselves to others. We did expect this to play out in different ways across groups that either rejected evolutionary science on religious grounds or conversely potentially strongly endorsed it as part of an atheist identity. What we didn’t expect when we piloted this question was to get the results we did. As figure 2.2 shows, a surprising 44% in the UK and 48% in Canada said they felt that evolutionary science was important to their sense of self or how they viewed the world. To put this result in a wider context, this was on par with the importance of people’s religious or non-­religious stance to their identity in both countries.16 One might expect that evolutionary science was seen to be important to the sense of identity of those who have a significant stake in debates surround evolutionary science—­so, for example, those who endorse a creationist position or find it difficult to accept evolutionary science in light of their own beliefs. However, we found that it was respondents who found it easy to accept evolution who were more likely to say it was important to their identity. Of those who found it easy to accept evolutionary science in light of their own beliefs, 52% in the UK and 63% in Canada also said it was important to their sense of identity. Indeed, as we had previously hypothesized, this figure is actually higher in the atheist respondents than in any other group, as table 2.2 shows. Creating Hard-­Line “Secular” Evolutionists




Table 2.2. In your daily life, how important or unimportant is evolutionary science to your sense of who you are and how you view the world? 42

Net: Unimportant

Net: Important

UK: Religious or Spiritual Respondents



UK: Non-religious/Non-spiritual Respondents



UK: Subset Atheist Respondents



Canada: Religious or Spiritual Respondents



Canada: Non-religious/Non-spiritual Respondents



Canada: Subset Atheist Respondents



UK: Net Easy to Accept Evolutionary Science



UK: Net Difficult to Accept Evolutionary Science



Canada:: Net Easy to Accept Evolutionary Science



Canada: Net Difficult to Accept Evolutionary Science



This might in part be related to levels of science education or a significant number of our sample working in science-­related areas. However, only 26% of UK and 33% of Canadian respondents sampled had studied science to A level/grade 12 or above, and only 6% of UK and 3% of Canadian respondents sampled stated that they were themselves scientists. And, of course, not all of those who said they were scientists are non-­religious. In our sample, roughly two in five of those who said they were scientists also self-­identified as religious or spiritual across both the UK and Canada.17 Clearly seeing evolutionary science as part of one’s day-­to-­day identity is not always a facet of an individual’s identity construction around either rejection of evolution or an atheistic worldview. Nor is it limited to those who work directly as scientists. Our results suggest that people’s views on evolutionary science carry with them cultural or social meaning that goes beyond what we may have previously expected and beyond the most obvious groups. So back to our second question: How salient or strongly held are these views held? While we have much more analysis to do, and we are currently collecting more data here, it is clear from an initial examination of the datasets that for those who find it difficult to accept evolution in light of their own beliefs, it is not always a strongly held position. Furthermore, only around one-­third of those who said they found it in some way difficult to accept evolutionary science see it as important to their day-­to-­day identity. In addition, it is evident that this group don’t always necessarily reject evolutionary explanations of the origin of species or endorse a Fern Elsdon-­Baker

creationist position, even in light of their reported personal levels of difficulty in reconciling the two views. H OW CONSISTENT ARE THEY WHEN THINKING ABOUT SELF AND OTHERS?

As I have previously noted elsewhere, those selecting the creationist option in the UK results for the Darwin Now survey were not the principal group who said that they felt it is not possible to believe in a god and still hold the view that life on earth, including human life, evolved over time as a result of natural selection. Actually, it was those endorsing the non-­theistic option (3) who were more likely to express this view.18 There was, then, apparently a mismatch between experience of conflict and perception of conflict between evolutionary science and religion. So, given there was a possible mismatch in people’s personal positions on evolutionary science and the abstract notion of a conflict in science and religion in others, we wanted to explore a little further how this related to specific groups. Could it be that the much-­vaunted conflict between evolutionary science and religion is in part a product of a form of socially projected conflict? Is it a conflict that may not exist to a great degree in the reality of lived experience but something that was presupposed by us all as existing in others? Indeed, could it be that this form of projection is one of the primary drivers both historically and contemporarily for the recurring narrative of conflict between the two worldviews? We can see that levels of rejection or difficulty in accepting evolutionary science are moderately low in both the UK and Canada. In summary, only one in five UK respondents (19%) and fewer than one in three of Canadian respondents (29%) who identified as religious or spiritual found it to some degree difficult to accept evolutionary science in reference to their personal beliefs. This compares to 53% in the UK and 41% in Canada of this group who found it to some degree easy to accept evolutionary science. However, as figures 2.3 and 2.4 show, when we asked respondents about their perceptions of other people’s ease or difficulty in accepting evolutionary science, we found that the levels to which publics think others will struggle is far higher than the actual number of people who report experiencing difficulty. This effect was most evident when we asked about religious or spiritual members of the public—­with nearly two in three UK respondents (60%) and just over one in two Canadian respondents (55%) saying that they thought religious members of the public would find it very difficult, difficult, or somewhat difficult to “accept information about evolutionary science, in reference to their own personal beliefs or way of seeing the world.” Similarly, two-­fifths of respondents in both countries thought a spiritual member of the public would have difficulties.19 Overall, both religious and spiritual members of the public were not necessarily Creating Hard-­Line “Secular” Evolutionists


80% 72%






50% 43%



38% 32%

34% 35%



23% 23%

20% 12% 12%



9% 9%





5% 4%





ist at he





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is an ho w


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at he

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ho w

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ge ne ra l

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UK Religious/Spiritual Respondents Net: Diffi cult UK Non-Religious respondents Net : Di fficult UK Atheists (Non-Religious sub-group) respondents Net: Diffi cult

Figure 2.3. UK: How difficult or easy do you think the following people would find it to accept information about evolutionary science, in reference to THEIR own personal beliefs or way of seeing the world? NET responses for those who perceive others to find it very difficult, difficult, or somewhat difficult.

seen as representing the broader general public in regard to reconciling their beliefs with evolutionary science (see chapter 6). The figures for the general public were substantially lower, with only 12% of UK and 15% of Canadian respondents feeling that the general member of the public would have some level of difficulty. Given the demographics of each country, this is not necessarily entirely surprising, but it is interesting nonetheless. Both of our samples across the UK and Canada were roughly split 50/50 and were just tipping the balance toward more non-­religious respondents than religious ones. In the UK this chimes with data collected by the National Centre for Social Research in September 2017 that suggests that 53% of the British population is now non-­religious.20 While ours is an indirect measure, it is fascinating that our research appears to suggest that a “religious” position is not necessarily seen as representative or typical of the wider populace in either country by a majority of the public. We see similar levels of this kind of projection of rejection of evolutionary science onto religious and spiritual members of the publics across all groups, as figures 2.3 and 2.4 show, so people tend to think that others will Fern Elsdon-­Baker




58% 58% 52%

50% 39%




39% 39% 36%














11% 8%


7% 4%


6% 6%

ist at he





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re lig io u is


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m em be m ro em ft be he ro ge ft ne he A ra m p lp ub em ub l ic be lic w ro h oi ft A sr he m em el pu igi be bl ou ic ro s w ft ho he i s pu sp bl iri ic tu w al ho is an at he ist


Canada Religious/Spiritual Respondents Net: Difficult Canada Non-Religious respondents Net: Difficult Canada Atheists (Non-Religious sub-group) respondents Net: Difficult

Figure 2.4. Canada: How difficult or easy do you think the following people would find it to accept information about evolutionary science, in reference to THEIR own personal beliefs or way of seeing the world? NET responses for those who perceive others to find it very difficult, difficult, or somewhat difficult.

struggle regardless of whether they themselves are religious, spiritual, or non-­ religious themselves; however, the effect is perhaps unsurprisingly more pronounced for non-­religious respondents, especially within the Atheist subset. We saw a similar effect—­though to a lesser degree—­when we asked about religious or spiritual scientists. Around one in three of all respondents in both countries also thought that a scientist who is religious would be much more likely than an atheist scientist to find it very difficult, difficult, or somewhat difficult to “accept information about evolutionary science, in reference to their own personal beliefs or way of seeing the world.” Again, these results indirectly suggest that publics in both countries see an atheist scientist as more the norm than a religious or spiritual scientist. And this finding is reflected in the findings from our social psychological Creating Hard-­Line “Secular” Evolutionists


research undertaken within the SRES project. Again, however, even based on our limited sample of scientists, this does not reflect the true picture. This highlights how publics may see certain aspects of the sciences as supporting atheism or as being a secular position. In summary, then, it appears that the idea that it is likely or indeed necessary that people will reject evolutionary science if they are religious is commonplace across religious and non-­religious publics. However, this is clearly not representative of how people engage with this issue in their day-­to-­day lives. We found that more religious and spiritual people find it easy than difficult to accept evolutionary science in relation to their own beliefs in both the UK and Canada. There is clearly, then, a significant divergence between the actual levels of rejection or difficulty in accepting evolutionary science and the public perception or narrative surrounding a clash between evolutionary science and religious or spiritual beliefs. There is a mismatch between how we think religious people think about evolutionary science and what they actually think about evolutionary science. And we are all influenced by this social narrative, whether we are members of the public, media professionals, science communication specialists, or research scholars. The latter group is perhaps most significant, as I have suggested elsewhere. The way the data in this field of study is collected can at points be based on a core assumption that religious or spiritual individuals will necessarily see conflict between their beliefs and evolutionary science.21 This, however, is clearly not the case. In two countries that are increasingly non-­religious, this mismatch in perception could be seen as a form of prejudice toward religious or spiritual groups. It could be argued that this kind of assumption is present in both contemporary social science research and in some accounts of historical conflict, with a necessary clash between evolutionary science and personal religious belief being projected onto the now silent and inaccessible publics of the past. Surprisingly, this form of projected prejudice or implicit bias is present in both non-­religious and religious groups and goes some way toward explaining why the idea of a necessary conflict between evolutionary science and religion is such a prevalent narrative across society. As we found in the qualitative research undertaken as part of the SRES project, for religious people, the more difficult process may not necessarily be reconciling evolutionary science with one’s personal beliefs per se, but aligning one’s religious or spiritual identity with public discourse about “science and religion.” Individuals’ choices to reject evolution may not depend upon an understanding or acceptance of the science but rather depend upon the broader social expectation that their faith identity requires them to reject evolution. Therefore, this mismatch in the way people think about evolution, and the way social narratives or commonplace thinking tell them they should think about evolution, Fern Elsdon-­Baker

may serve as one of the key contributing factors in religious groups or individuals saying they see a conflict between science and religion. IMPLICATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH

It would be all too easy for a philosopher writing about quantitative survey data collection to conclude that all we can say with any degree of certainty is that people are a lot more complicated, nuanced, and flexible in their thought than we often give them credit for or than the subsequent boxes we design for them to fit into. And while this chapter is more theoretical in nature, simply outlining complexity is not always the most helpful strategy when thinking about future research directions. It is, however, clear from the cursory trawl through the intersecting questions outlined above that we can say with certainty that there are some important ways in which we need to think about or adapt both quantitative and qualitative data collection in this field of study. It is evident that projection of conflict onto certain groups (rather than people’s lived experience of such conflict) might go further toward explaining why the religion versus evolution or, conversely, evolution versus religion narratives are so persistent in our wider culture. It is, therefore, key in any future research in this field to consider the role that the projection of conflict (or compatibility) might play in research design, data collection, and analysis. Traditional survey measures of evolution acceptance or denial give a rather simplistic account of what is in reality a complex mesh of intersecting religious and non-­religious social identity issues. This is perhaps not unsurprising, given that a substantial majority of the work to date in the field (aside from that undertaken by Ecklund et al.) has been undertaken in the United States, where non-­religion and atheism as a social identity is perhaps less pronounced in the public sphere. Indeed, by focusing on religiously motivated rejection of evolution (which in our non-­US samples is after all a minority position), the more traditional measures miss one of the more interesting ways in which evolutionary science can play a part in social identity construction. In particular, they miss the role that endorsement of evolutionary science can play in the social identity of publics, in particular atheists. Though it is also important to remember that this also plays a role in religious, spiritual, and broader non-­religious respondents’ social identity, and across both groups that find it difficult or easy to accept evolution. Much more work needs to be done to ascertain how and why this is the case across differing groups of individuals and also how this might play out across differing cultural, social, and geopolitical contexts. It is also clear from our data that public perception of an intrinsic link between religious identity and experiencing difficulty accepting evolutionary science could play an important role in the way that people approach this subject across both Creating Hard-­Line “Secular” Evolutionists



religious and non-­religious publics—­even though, importantly, this projected dissonance between being religious and accepting evolution is not reflected to any great degree in the real lived experience of our respondents. Only a small minority of religious or spiritual respondents endorse a creationist position or find it difficult to accept evolutionary science. Conversely, we also find that an, albeit smaller, minority of non-­religious respondents also express difficulty in accepting evolutionary science in relation to their own beliefs. As we have found elsewhere in our research, this non-­religious uncertainty over evolutionary explanations is even more pronounced when it comes to questions of human origins or consciousness, and to a significant degree. Rejection of evolutionary science clearly does not act as a proxy measure for religious identity—­so why is this such a pervasive myth in public discourse? In part, it may be because research in this field has tended to focus on what might actually be a minority position, such as hard-­line creationism, and in turn has tended to inflate the salience of these positions to all who might endorse them in surveys. Furthermore, the danger for future research in this field is that by not critically engaging with the public narrative that evolution is necessarily atheistic, or vice versa, in the way we design and conduct research, we are not only creating creationists but in effect creating and inflating a counteroppositional group—­those who take the hard-­line non-­religious or atheistic pro-­evolution position. We should not assume that to be religious is to reject evolution, and conversely, we should not assume that to be non-­religious is to always happily or unthinkingly endorse it. This kind of binary data collection may inadvertently serve to further perpetuate public narratives that religious members of the public and, to a lesser degree, religious scientists will struggle to accept evolution, even though this is not a majority position in either of the contexts in which we undertook our research. Far from implying that quantitative survey research is fundamentally problematic, we need to remember that it is at best an indicative snapshot of wider trends in public perceptions. There is a natural inclination to look to this kind of data for predicative models of factors that relate specifically to the people that appear to reject evolution—­for example, factors such as levels of education or genetic/scientific literacy. While that in itself is to a degree a worthwhile pursuit, it can only take us so far and it runs the risk of being tautological in nature. Furthermore, it does not necessarily enable us to build a good account of the factors that might lead people to have concerns or questions about evolutionary science and its explanatory reach. By ignoring the social identities and narratives at play, we simply fall prey to a deficit model approach to communicating science—­for example, people reject evolutionary science because they haven’t learned enough about it; therefore, if we educate

Fern Elsdon-­Baker

them more, they will accept it. This model entirely ignores the fact that both religious and non-­religious publics appear to assume that religious people will struggle to accept evolution, even if they are practicing scientists. It is important to look at the groups that tend to be ignored in the rush to play “hunt the creationists,” in the case of this chapter, the null responses and the non-­ religious respondents. When critically utilized in this way, this kind of survey research can provide not only avenues for a richer use of the quantitative data we collect but also an important light to guide our way down otherwise unexplored new pathways in our qualitative research that will ultimately better illuminate the tangled and thorny nuances of people’s lived experience of the relationship between science and religion more broadly.

Creating Hard-­Line “Secular” Evolutionists


C ha p t e r 3    


  A Closer Look at the Polls       

Jonathan P. Hill

Only 27 percent of Americans feel religion and science are in conflict. David Freeman, Huffington Post, March 17, 2014 A majority of the public says science and religion often conflict, with nearly six-­in-­ten adults (59 percent) expressing this view.

Cary Funk and Becky Alper, Pew Research, October 22, 2015

  Do most Americans believe that science and religion conflict with one another, or do most reject this view? If you have been following public polls and surveys in recent years, you may be confused. The results do not seem to make sense. One headline tells us that most Americans see religion and science as at odds, while another informs us that this view is relatively uncommon. Which is right? In this chapter I argue that respondents to surveys and polls are relying on differing cognitive frameworks to answer these items. Moreover, frameworks make more or less sense depending on the context, wording, and response set of the survey items. To investigate how this makes sense of the divergent survey findings, I conduct two analyses. First, I analyze the existing items in national surveys and polls in the United States to see how variations in wording and response set influence the findings. Second, I use data from the 2015 National Study of Religion and Human Origins (NSRHO) to analyze how specific beliefs about science and religion correlate with belief in conflict between the two. Both analyses provide evidence that there are almost certainly numerous meanings people impute to survey

questions about science and religion conflict, and that responses to these items will continue to be sensitive to the way the questions are presented. The chapter concludes with some general recommendations for exploring the public’s beliefs about science and religion going forward. SCIENCE AND RELIGION IN PUBLIC POLLS IN THE UNITED STATES

The way most people learn about the mind of the public is through information gathered in polls and surveys. Indeed, the very idea that there is a singular, amorphous entity we call the “public,” that thinks and acts in certain ways, corresponds with the rise of modern polling techniques and scientific surveys.1 In many ways, the public “mind” and public “opinion” is something we have constructed. The way we learn about this public is primarily through statistical nuggets of information that we hear or read about in newspaper articles, books, online blogs, and late-­night TV. And most of the time we take this information as self-­evidently true; these are simple, basic, unmediated facts about the world. Behind the scenes, though, surveying the public can be a tricky business. Social scientists and pollsters argue about the importance of such things as sampling techniques, the effects of nonresponse bias, question and response ordering effects, and social desirability bias.2 Moreover, survey experiments show us how responses to individual survey questions can be swayed by how prompts “anchor” certain responses as normative3 or how lists of possible responses are often biased toward items that appear first (“primacy”) or items that appear last (“recency”).4 One response to these challenges is the belief that the whole business of surveying the public is hopelessly flawed from the beginning. It is too easily manipulated, and there is little hope of getting to the truth of the matter. If the uncritical consumption of surveys and polls is one end of the spectrum, discounting the enterprise entirely is the other end. But neither of these are helpful responses if we genuinely care about accurately documenting public beliefs and behaviors. Before we try to make sense of public beliefs about religion and science, it is useful to equip ourselves with some basic insights from the psychology of survey-­ taking. First, and perhaps most important, surveys are cognitively light tasks. By that I simply mean that most people come to a survey with the expectation that it can be completed with relatively low levels of mental effort. That also means that most people are “satisficers” as opposed to “optimizers”5 when it comes to answering individual survey items. We shouldn’t expect them to bring to bear their full range of experiences, knowledge, and reasoning skills for each and every item. Rather, they will look for something that is relatively easy to “retrieve,” cognitively speaking. Researchers tell us that the degree of satisficing on surveys is related to three Science and Religion Conflict in the United States



factors: (1) respondent ability, (2) respondent motivation, and (3) task difficulty.6 For representative surveys of the general public, the first two items are almost entirely out of the control of the researcher. The third item, however, is not. Some survey questions will be relatively straightforward. Asking whether or not someone has engaged in a certain type of behavior or experienced a certain type of event—­ getting married, voting, using drugs recreationally—­will be relatively straightforward and should be expected to be recalled with high levels of accuracy (although social desirability may still be a problem7). Beliefs, though, are a bit trickier. Some people may have well-­formed, articulate sets of beliefs about public issues. They may be able to tell you why they believe climate change is a threat to the planet and justify their belief with certain evidences they have accumulated. On the other end of the spectrum, someone may simply have no ready-­made opinion of any sort on the topic. Most probably fall somewhere between these two. This presents us with two problems when trying to interpret survey findings. First, there will be survey questions that do not provide a vehicle to capture someone’s opinion accurately. Perhaps the way the question is framed or the response options provided simply do not correspond to a prior-­held propositional belief about the topic. Many of us have experienced this when filling out surveys. We want to add in another response category, or we object to the way the question is worded because it doesn’t match the way we think about the issue. We can’t make our beliefs, and the justification we have for these beliefs, fit the way someone wants to measure it. If someone is presented with a question about the relationship between science and religion that asks her to choose whether they are “in conflict” or “compatible,” this person may have trouble doing this if she believes the two are essentially independent and don’t relate to each other in any meaningful way. We will revisit this specific example shortly. The other problem occurs when someone comes to a question without a well-­ formed belief about the topic. This automatically presents a cognitively challenging task. Again, we shouldn’t expect most people to put down their pencil (or close their browser window), research the topic, weigh the various evidences, and form a belief. Most people will engage in satisficing to one degree or another in this situation. They will scan the question for cues that correspond to something that is easily retrievable for them. Perhaps they have never heard of stem cells and have no real knowledge of the scientific or ethical debates surrounding their use, but they recognize the word “embryo” in the question. This may recall political or religious frameworks that they are familiar with that then guide how they respond to the question. With all of this is mind, let us visit some of the most common questions asked in general public surveys about the relationship between science and religion. Jonathan P. Hill



Pew 2009



Don't know








Figure 3.1. In your opinion, generally do you think science and religion are often in conflict or science and religion are mostly compatible? Sources: Pew Research Center for the People and the Press / The American Association for the Advancement of Science Survey, 2009; PPRI/AAR Religion, Values and Climate Change Survey, September 2014.

Probably the most frequently used is a simple dichotomous measure that asks respondents which position comes closest to their own views: religion and science are “often in conflict” or are “mostly compatible.” Figure 3.1 shows the results of this item in two recent national surveys. According to this question, a slight majority of the American adult population believes religion and science are “often in conflict.” But what do they mean when they express this view on a survey? It is important to remember that people may very well be retrieving different conceptual frameworks to answer this question. Some people may have well-­formed prior beliefs about religion and science, and perhaps these answer options summarize these beliefs well. But we can also be pretty certain this is not the case for others. Some may have well-­formed prior beliefs but have to settle for a position that does not summarize this belief well. Others, still, have probably never seriously reflected on the relationship between science and religion. One way to get an initial handle on what people might mean when they select “conflict” is to compare the results from figure 3.1 to other measurements. The question asked in figure 3.2 is somewhat similar to the conflict or compatible question, except that a third option now is also available: “They are not related to each other in any meaningful way.” This third option is actually the most popular response, with more than one-­third (36–37 percent) affirming that they believe they are indeScience and Religion Conflict in the United States



Gallup/CNN 2005


CBS News 2006 Not related

Don't know






Figure 3.2. Which comes closer to your view about the relationship between science and religion? They generally agree with each other, they generally conflict with each other, or they are not related to each other in any meaningful way? Sources: CNN, conducted by Gallup, 2005; CBS News, 2006.

pendent. The conflict position is selected by only about one-­third of the population when this new option is offered. Yet another survey has four options (figure 3.3). This survey includes two conflict choices: one where the respondent can select that they are “on the side of religion” and another where they can select they are “on the side of science.” The independence option is also available. The “agreement” or “compatibility” option is slightly different, however. This survey provides the option that the relationship should be thought of as “collaboration . . . each can be used to support the other.” The result is that the independence position is chosen by a similar proportion of the population (35 percent), but the collaboration is actually the most popular option, with around 38 percent of people choosing this. The conflict position is now only affirmed by 27 percent of the population (with about half choosing religion and half choosing science). If we take stock of these variations, it becomes clear that this question is very sensitive to the response set provided. At the very least, we can conclude that among the 59 percent who say religion and science are “often in conflict,” many would choose a different option if more response options were available. The simple response set of “conflict” or “compatibility” probably does not correspond well to underlying beliefs. Jonathan P. Hill

Conflict: I'm on side of religion


Conflict: I'm on side of science

Independence: different aspects of reality

Collaboration: can be used to support each other






Figure 3.3. Which of the following BEST represents your view, “For me, personally, my understanding of religion and science can be described as a relationship of . . .” Source: Religious Understandings of Science, 2014.

These survey questions also raise another issue. If we look at the two-category Pew question, we do not know whether respondents who select “often in conflict” are stating a belief about their own experience of religion and science, or whether they are referencing what they see as conflict between religion and science “out there” in society. A Pew survey from 2015 helps to make this distinction by also including a question asking respondents whether or not science sometimes conflicts with their “own religious beliefs.”8 This produces quite different results. While 59 percent agree that science and religion are “often in conflict,” only 30 percent agree that science sometimes conflicts with their own religious beliefs. There is one additional question that is raised by these survey items. What “type” of conflict do we suppose members of the public are referencing when they mark “often in conflict”? Many commentators have assumed this is some sort of underlying epistemological conflict.9 Science has one way of making truth claims about the world and religion has another. The two compete with one another. They are fundamentally incompatible methods for understanding the world. This is probably closest to how most people think about the conflict narrative that historians associate with Draper and White.10 Is this what most people mean? Probably not. Figure 3.4 reveals how the public respond to the statement “Religion and science are incompatible.” Only 17 percent of the American public agree or strongly agree with that statement. Science and Religion Conflict in the United States














Figure 3.4. Figure 3.4. Please indicate your level of agreement. Science and religion are incompatible. Source: Baylor Religion Survey, 2007.

As the sociologist John Evans has argued, epistemological conflict is less common than many suppose. Rather, most conflict between science and religion is moral in nature.11 The arguments are not merely about the “facts,” so to speak, but about who has authority to speak in the public sphere and what sorts of claims they are allowed to make. In sum, survey questions about the American public’s beliefs about science and religion are very sensitive to phrasing and response categories. Given that we see consistency between surveys when the question is asked identically, it is unlikely that these differences are related to problems of sampling or researcher biases (as some have suggested12). Rather, this is most likely due to a diverse set of cognitive frameworks being relied upon by different members of the public. Moreover, an abstract question about science and religion is a potentially difficult cognitive task for much of the public. Changes in wording and responses tend to make some frameworks more easily retrievable than others. Some members of the public are probably operating from a total epistemological conflict framework, but many who say that religion and science are “often in conflict” are not. Others who mark “often in conflict” are probably relying on an image of science and religion that view them not necessarily at loggerheads but as completely different genera that have little to do with each other. Still others are probably retrieving their own struggles or doubts in some specific area where science and their religion seem to make competing claims. Yet others are probably thinking about power struggles over cultural authorJonathan P. Hill

ity in statements made by certain religious leaders and certain scientific leaders. And, the truth is, several of these frameworks may be operating simultaneously and with varying degrees of conscious representation. REANALYZING PUBLIC OPINION USING THE NATIONAL STUDY OF RELIGION AND HUMAN ORIGINS

While constructing a fully definitive account of the various meanings imputed to the conflict question may be impossible, there are ways we might better capture differences using additional survey items. The second-­wave survey of the NSRHO, conducted in 2015, replicates the two-­category “often in conflict” or “mostly compatible” religion and science question in a nationally representative sample of the US adult population. The standard conflict question is then immediately followed by a set of fifteen items that ask respondents to agree or disagree with certain statements about religion, science, or the relationship between the two. Parsing the various responses to these additional items should help make sense of the various meanings the public ascribes to the conflict question. To begin, each of the fifteen items was analyzed to see how it was related to the conflict question (table 3.1). Overall, when asked whether they believed science and religion were “often in conflict” or “mostly compatible,” 45 percent chose “often in conflict.” This is actually somewhat lower than other national estimates; however, this can be accounted for given the “not at all sure” option that was not offered to respondents in other surveys (and which 20 percent chose in the NSRHO). The second column in the table indicates the correlation coefficient between agreement with the statement (column 1) and belief that religion and science are “often in conflict.” Standard interpretation of effect size indicates that seven items have a small-­ to-­moderate correlation,13 while an additional seven have small-­to-­zero correlations.14 Only one item, number 3 (“Science and religion rely on inherently opposing methods . . .”), could be said to have a moderate-­to-­large relationship.15 This means that none of these items acts as a single “key” to unlocking what people mean when they say they believe science and religion are in conflict. The third and fourth columns of table 3.1 help us interpret some of these relationships. The top numbers in each column represent the percentage who agree/ strongly agree (column 3) or disagree/strongly disagree (column 4) with each statement.16 The parenthetical numbers below show the percentage of that group who select the “often in conflict” option for the question about the relationship between religion and science. The extent to which these parenthetical numbers deviate from the overall average of 45 percent provides a clue to which of these fifteen items are most closely related to the conflict position. While agreement or disagreement with these items is frequently associated with a change in the percent Science and Religion Conflict in the United States


Table 3.1. Belief in conflict between science and religion by agreement with statements about science and religion, weighted. For each of the following statements, please indicate your level of agreement

Polychoric % Agree % Disagree Correlation (% conflict) (% conflict) Coefficient

1. Ideally, no religious teachings should make claims about the way the natural world works; this is the proper domain of science.


27 (55)

35 (42)

2. Ideally, no scientific findings should be used to make claims about what is right or wrong; this is the proper domain of religion or philosophy.


29 (44)

29 (55)

3. Science and religion rely on inherently opposing methods of making claims about the world. Science relies on observation and logic while religion relies on faith and tradition.


54 (59)

15 (23)

4. Conflicts between science and religion arise because scientists often rely on a worldview that excludes God.


47 (51)

16 (45)

5. Conflicts between science and religion arise because religious leaders often are looking to sacred texts for facts about the natural world.


46 (55)

12 (37)

6. Scientific findings should be weighed against religious teachings to determine if they should be accepted.


16 (50)

44 (48)

7. When religious beliefs are in conflict with the findings of science, they should be adjusted so they conform to the science.


14 (55)

45 (45)

8. Given enough time, science will be able to provide an explanation for everything.


25 (55)

44 (44)

9. To find the meaning of life, we should look to science and not philosophy or literature.


12 (59)

54 (43)

10. Science has shown that there is probably no God.


12 (72)

56 (41)

11. Scientists should be open to considering miracles in their theories and explanations.


49 (47)

19 (58)

12. Our society should look to science to determine what goals to pursue.


24 (54)

31 (45)

40 (42)

26 (61)


26 (48)

33 (49)


8 (54)

54 (45)

13. For society to progress, people must follow the will of God.


14. Scientists should decide what is right and wrong on their own, without interference from the public. 15. The most important questions are those asked by scientists, and the least important are those asked by philosophers or novelists. 


Note: * p < .05; ** p