It is well-documented that religion is associated with decreased acceptance of evolution. When asked in a 2006 Time Magazine poll what they would do if scientists disproved a particular aspect of their religious belief, 64% of respondents indicated that they would continue to hold that belief despite absolute scientific evidence to the contrary. This is further supported by a 2007 Gallup poll surveying those who do not believe in evolution. Of those surveyed, only 14% cite lack of evidence for their disbelief, with most citing their faith as the reason.
But a new study indicates that this effect is not limited to views on evolution. The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago recently published “Religion and Scientific Literacy in the United States” in Social Science Quarterly. This study tested scientific literacy with a series of questions which do not conventionally conflict with any of the major world religions.
The GSS employed a 13-question science examination covering: (1) understanding experimental control groups; (2, 3) two questions about probability regarding disease in a brief vignette; (4) knowledge of the core temperature of Earth; (5) understanding that radioactivity is not simply manmade; (6) knowledge of male determination of sex in human reproduction; (7) understanding that lasers are light waves and not sound waves; (8) knowledge that electrons are smaller than atoms; (9) understanding that the Earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around; (10) that a revolution of the earth going around the sun takes a year; (11) that the universe began with a huge explosion; (12) that continents have drifted over time, and continue to move; and (13) understanding that antibiotics do not kill viruses.
Subject’s religions were also recorded, and multivariate analysis was conducted to determine which factors were important independent of others. The result? Scientific literacy was strongly (and statistically significantly) affected by religious beliefs, with fundamentalists scoring an average 54% and nonbelievers scoring an average 72%. Overall, religious classification explained 13% of the variation in scientific literacy, ranking as the second most influential factor after education (20%) and ahead of income (9%), race (9%), and gender(4%).
The study also found that (contrary to popular belief), living in the South has no statistically significant effect on scientific literacy when other factors are considered. To put it simply, geography alone doesn’t make you stupid.