NPR article on 2017 study: Collins is a persuasive "celebrity scientist"

(Christy Hemphill) #1

My husband just showed me this interesting article on public perceptions of the conflict of science and faith and the influence of “celebrity scientists.” Elaine Ecklund (one of the authors of the cited study) spoke at the BioLogos conference earlier this year. This is good news. An excerpt:

[quote]In a 2017 paper published in the journal Public Understanding of Science, sociologists Christopher Scheitle and Elaine Ecklund decided to find out. They conducted a nationally representative survey of 10,241 adults living within the United States, where respondents were asked to indicate which narrative about the relationship between science and religion best described their view: one of independence, collaboration, or conflict. Those who chose conflict additionally specified whether they were on the side of science or religion.

The critical experimental manipulation embedded within the survey was a summary of Collins’s perspective or a summary of Dawkins’s perspective. Specifically, some participants received one of the following two brief descriptions before they reported their own beliefs about the relationship between science and religion:

“Dr. Francis Collins is a geneticist who has directed the Human Genome Project and the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Collins is also an outspoken Christian who has said that God is capable of performing miracles and that religion and science are ‘entirely compatible.’”

“Dr. Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and emeritus fellow at Oxford University. Dr. Dawkins is also an outspoken atheist who has said that the existence of God and miracles is ‘very improbable’ and that religion and science are in conflict with each other.”

Other participants didn’t receive either description, but still indicated which of the four views about science and religion came closest to their own, providing a basis for comparison. The researchers could thereby evaluate whether exposure to the perspectives of Collins or Dawkins had any impact on respondents’ own views.

Regardless of which description respondents were given, the most popular position was that science and religion can co-exist in some form of collaboration. Almost as popular was the view that science and religion are independent. Conflict came in third, with religion favored slightly more often than science. So overall, Collins’s perspective was the favorite, Gould’s was a close second, and Dawkins’s was a fairly distant fourth.

But for many people, these perspectives weren’t deeply entrenched. We know this because learning about Collins’s perspective was enough to change some people’s minds.

For those participants who were not already familiar with Collins, learning about him for the first time had a significant effect, leading more of them to endorse a collaborative view. Those who did not receive the description about him endorsed a collaborative perspective 35.3 percent of the time, whereas those who did receive the description endorsed collaboration 49.8 percent of the time. Correspondingly, fewer participants who learned about Collins endorsed independence or the view that there’s a conflict that should be resolved in favor of religion.

For those participants who were not already familiar with Dawkins, by contrast, learning about him for the first time had no reliable effect. Of those from this sample who didn’t learn about Dawkins, 10.7 percent endorsed his conflict view in favor of science; among those who did learn about Dawkins, 12.4 percent endorsed this view. This difference was not statistically significant, nor were there significant differences in the endorsement of any other view.[/quote]

(Christy Hemphill) #2

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