“The people who are farther away from religion themselves tend to see stronger conflict, because they’re not as close to actual religious people,” says Jones. “They aren’t seeing all those people who don’t have a conflict.” Instead, what they see of the religious community is generally what’s depicted in the media: all-out warfare. The media tends to focus on those rare flashpoints of controversy, such as fights over evolution and the content of science textbooks, and to highlight the most outspoken conservative fundamentalists. For the nonreligious, these strong voices become the faces of religion, and these flashpoints become evidence that religion and science are in conflict.
In fact, religious Americans by and large support science, says Jonathan Hill, a sociologist at Calvin College. As the new Pew survey shows, they want to see more government investment in science, and their religious views hold little bearing on their opinions on the vast majority of scientific issues—including experimental medical treatments, bioengineered organs, genetically modified foods, climate change, and space exploration. That’s not to say conflict doesn’t exist; it does. But most religious people don’t view science in general as the enemy. Instead, they bristle at a few specific issues: Of those who said science conflicted with their own personal beliefs, most cited the specific example of Darwinian evolution, followed by abortion and the Big Bang.