Rebecca Catto: Using Science to Study Religion

  • Article
  • 2000 words
  • Level: university

A discussion by a sociologist of how people view science, and how they tend to accept it regardless of their religious outlook.  This article by sociologist Rebecca Catto was published in Cosmologics magazine, which is a project of the Science, Religion, and Culture program at Harvard Divinity School.  Catto writes:

People may be entitled to believe what they wish and science unable to adjudicate upon the veracity of all religious beliefs, but it nonetheless ultimately triumphs:

“I think inherently there seems to be sort of a wide recognition that people come from different cultural backgrounds and different beliefs, different religions, and if people choose to ignore the scientific facts there’s a long history of that and people are free to believe whatever they want to believe and sort of put their blinders on. I mean that’s a personal choice but when it comes to developing sound governmental policy and scientific policy you’re even building airplanes… well you don’t want to build an airplane based on beliefs, you want to build an airplane based on [the] fact of aerodynamics. And so I think society in many cases understands when you need to stick to the science, like as a society, and when people should have freedom of religion. [female scientist, Canada]”

For some non-religious respondents, being religious was incompatible with doing good science. The association between science and non-religion again emerged, as it had when Janet and I interviewed young atheists and it has in others’ research with non-religious populations…. Indeed, Jeff Guhin found people in the Evangelical schools in the US he conducted ethnographic research with affirming science as good, yet “To say scientist nearly always meant to say atheist.” Similarly, preliminary findings from the nationally representative poll conducted in Canada and the UK for the SRES project indicate a tendency not only to embrace scientific findings, but also to see atheism and science as aligned. In North America and the UK, science has cultural authority and it is strongly associated with non-religion.

Click here to access this article from Cosmologics.