Deeply Troubling

From the American Sociological Association:

WASHINGTON, DC, March 29, 2012 — While trust in science remained stable among people who self-identified as moderates and liberals in the United States between 1974 and 2010, trust in science fell among self-identified conservatives by more than 25 percent during the same period, according to new research from Gordon Gauchat, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research.

“You can see this distrust in science among conservatives reflected in the current Republican primary campaign,” said Gauchat, whose study appears in the April issue of the American Sociological Review. “When people want to define themselves as conservatives relative to moderates and liberals, you often hear them raising questions about the validity of global warming and evolution and talking about how ‘intellectual elites’ and scientists don’t necessarily have the whole truth.”

Relying on data from the 1974-2010 waves of the nationally representative General Social Survey, the study found that people who self-identified as conservatives began the period with the highest trust in science, relative to self-identified moderates and liberals, and ended the period with the lowest.

In addition to examining how the relationship between political ideology and trust in science changed over almost 40 years, Gauchat also explored how other social and demographic characteristics—including frequency of church attendance—related to trust in science over that same period. Gauchat found that, while trust in science declined between 1974 and 2010 among those who frequently attended church, there was no statistically significant group-specific change in trust in science over that period among any of the other social or demographic factors he examined, including gender, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

“This study shows that the public trust in science has not declined since the mid-1970s except among self-identified conservatives and among those who frequently attend church,” Gauchat said. “It also provides evidence that, in the United States, there is a tension between religion and science in some contexts. This tension is evident in public controversies such as that over the teaching of evolution.”

As for why self-identified conservatives were much less likely to trust science in 2010 than they were in the mid-1970s, Gauchat offered several possibilities. One is the conservative movement itself.

“Over the last several decades, there’s been an effort among those who define themselves as conservatives to clearly identify what it means to be a conservative,” Gauchat said. “For whatever reason, this appears to involve opposing science and universities and what is perceived as the ‘liberal culture.’ So, self-identified conservatives seem to lump these groups together and rally around the notion that what makes ‘us’ conservatives is that we don’t agree with ‘them.’”

Another possibility, according to Gauchat, is the changing role of science in the United States. “In the past, the scientific community was viewed as concerned primarily with macro structural matters such as winning the space race,” Gauchat said. “Today, conservatives perceive the scientific community as more focused on regulatory matters such as stopping industry from producing too much carbon dioxide. Conservatives often oppose government regulation, and they increasingly perceive science as on the side of regulation, especially as scientific evidence is used more frequently in the work of government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and in public debates over issues such as climate change.”

The study also found that the declining trust in science among conservatives was not attributable to changes among less educated conservatives, but rather to rising distrust among better educated conservatives. “It is a significant finding and the opposite of what many might expect,” Gauchat said.

As for the study’s implications, Gauchat said it raises important questions about the future role of science in public policy. “In a political climate in which all sides do not share a basic trust in science, scientific evidence no longer is viewed as a politically neutral factor in judging whether a public policy is good or bad,” said Gauchat, who is also concerned that the increasingly politicized view of science could turn people away from careers in the field. “I think this would be very detrimental to an advanced economy where you need people with science and engineering backgrounds.”


About the American Sociological Association and the American Sociological Review
The American Sociological Association (, founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society. The American Sociological Review is the ASA’s flagship journal.

The research article described above is available by request for members of the media. For a copy of the full study, contact Daniel Fowler, ASA’s Media Relations and Public Affairs Officer, at (202) 527-7885 or


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  • DRT

    It’s like mass hysteria.

  • “The study also found that the declining trust in science among conservatives was not attributable to changes among less educated conservatives, but rather to rising distrust among better educated conservatives.”

    This is the most depressing thing in the science/religion field I’ve read in a long time. I’d really like some more information about that statement.

  • TBW

    I don’t see any reference to what the base level of ‘trust’ in ‘science’ was before the 1970s. That is, were the moderates, liberals, and conservatives all equally trusting of science, or were the conservatives more trusting of science than the rest then, and are now back on par? I ask because it seems that the conservatives of the 50s-70s were quite enamored with science and logic of their day—since it melded well with the Common Sense Realism which undergirded the conservative approach to biblical interpretation. The simple rules of Newtonian science (which still primarily beset the public imagination) and the world of analytic logic cropped up quite a bit in conservative articles and books. I think, though, that both science and logic have become stranger since those days. So I wonder not so much if trust in science has dwindled among conservatives, but what kind of science do they distrust?

    As for politicizing, if we continually sketch out a world cast between liberals and conservative—no matter how much we think we’re being descriptive and neutral—we will simply end up reinforcing the same tensions we decry.

  • Ancius

    Is anyone surprised by these findings?

    (These days, the “better educated conservative” is often the tea party conservatives.)

  • By way of contrast, for evangelicals/pentecostals in Latin America (demographically larger than in the USA) global warming is not an issue to be debated. It is largely assumed that as common sense science. In terms of the evolutionary origins of humanity, the are more reservations and the main concern is how to maintain the historical biblical couple as two distinct human beings. But neither of these issues are politically charged, nor representative in political discourse.

  • Mike P.

    As a fairly liberal believer, I think all of the talk about conservatives being ignorant and rallying together for the sake of being conservative is doing nothing beneficial for our brothers and sisters in Christ and more importantly, the Kingdom. I think we all have areas that need evaluation and improvement so let’s stop pointing fun at conservatives and work together for the sake of Christ.

  • Scot, I think there’s a rising sense that science and universities are becoming increasingly less objective and more politicized. Thus, it isn’t the field of science per say, but science as it exists today –for instance in the global warming debate. It’s akin to, say, if the Supreme Court strikes down “Obamacare” asking liberals about their faith in courts.

  • Robin


    Here is a graphical representation of the findings. Long story short, libs and cons both trusted science to the same degree in 1974, moderates trailed both groups.

    Trust in science by all groups appear to drop from 1974 to mid-nineties. Trust by moderates and liberals rebounded, trust continued to drop among conservatives.

    Current trust by group: Liberal (~50%) Moderate (~40%) Conservative (~38%)

    The shocker to me is that liberals appear to be the outlier for their trusting natures, that and the consistent skepticism of moderates.

  • DRT

    TBW, the article says:

    the study found that people who self-identified as conservatives began the period with the highest trust in science, relative to self-identified moderates and liberals, and ended the period with the lowest

  • Fish

    There’s no debate over global warming; the “debate” that exists is akin to the debate over whether nicotine is addictive or smoking causes cancer.

    The debate is whether to believe science or not, and this is where politics cannot help but come into play. Addressing global warming means cutting into corporate profit, and corporate profit fuels politics.

  • I get what Tim #7 is saying. It is unfortunate that Christians are closing themselves off to science. At the same time, some vocal scientists have turned away from faith to some form of scientism that is just as religious in its cult and with which they treat ‘the religious’ fairly crassly.

    The reaction may not wholly be against science per se; rather I don’t doubt the it is tied to the degree with which scientists make their work hostile to any and all religious conviction.

    I am not even that conservative yet I find the unwillingness of parts of the scientific community to admit their personal bias, and its effect on how they hold truth, unfortunate.

  • Rick

    When we were discussing this study last week in regards to one of RJS’s posts, someone made the wise observation that there is a difference hinted at in the report between trusting “science”, as opposed to trusting the “scientific community”.

    Educated conservatives appear to see too much bias in that community, so the science becomes suspect. It is a trust issue.

  • klem

    The average conservative today is older than they were in the 1970’s Duh! As you get older you also become more educated, either formally by achieving Masters and PhD level education, or by simply living and learning. And you see things change as the years go by, but the more things change the more they stay the same. There has been a noticeable change in the way science is done today relative to the 1970’s. When doing my science degree, if I had submitted work as speculative as most climate science does today, they would have tossed me out on my ear. But today it actually passes peer review. This is part of why conservatives distrust science more today. They are older and wiser.

    When you hear suggestions like the best way to save the world from ourselves is to create a transnational environmental enforcemnent agency, which will create the promised ‘green jobs revolution’ and call them ‘green shirts’. Those of us who lived through the 1970’s have already seen this before.

    The more things change the more they stay the same.

  • AHH

    Part of this is probably related to whether science is perceived as helping or hurting one’s “team”.

    For economic/political conservatives, in the past the image of science was helping the US win the space race and the arms race and was developing new products that would produce profit and curing diseases. Today, increasingly science is showing us limits and negative side effects of our technology, such as global warming and environmental damage and bad health consequences for some of our pleasures. Which is seen (in some cases accurately) as a threat to the corporate profits and economic growth that are sacrosanct to these conservatives.

    For theological conservatives, there has been difficulty in the relationship with science for over 100 years. But it has worsened in the past 50 years as young-earth creationism became dominant in the mainstream of Evangelicalism (previously it was mostly confined to SDA and fundamentalist backwaters), and as genetics has shown that denial of evolution is no longer viable (if it ever was).

  • janie

    I agree it doesn’t seem to be science but the scientific establishment that is mistrusted.

    Also, on global warming, many conservatives believe it exists but that it is mostly or all due natural cycles, not human influence.

    Finally, I wonder if there isn’t one area, at least, where liberals are as distrusting as conservatives? Here follows an anecdotal observation, not a scientific one : I seem to see an equal (and depressingly large) number of both who have no trust or even understanding of the ways in which medicines/treatments are researched and tested. They don’t seem to understand what critical thought, the scientific method or double blind studies. Just like conservatives in the areas of evolution and global warming, who believe the scientific or ecology or international communities have an interest in not being completely honest, many liberals (and conservatives) believe the FDA isn’t honest because the pharmaceutical companies are interested in making more money.

    It seems to be one part of tribal ideology that both sides seem to be falling for.

  • CGC

    Yeah, it’s what AHH said (#14).

  • Joe Canner

    janie #15: Good point about medical research. I think something similar could be said for vaccine denial (which you may have had in mind as well). Although it’s probably more prevalent among conservatives, it seems to be common throughout society. I think the issue in these cases is that people think they know better than the experts, perhaps because they are more convinced by anecdotal evidence, especially from someone they trust.

    As has been said before, both here and in previous posts, the issue in general seems to be one of trust. Many Christians believe they cannot trust the motives of liberals on global warming or of atheists on evolution. The fact that there are conservatives and/or Christians who hold to these ideas seems not to register or to matter.

  • Cam R

    What about postmodern worldview?

    Maybe people who identify as conservative are more postmodern in there worldview than others?

    Isn’t a distrust for science part of deconstructing the hope of progress through science and technology.

  • Mark E. Smith

    As a “self-identified conservative,” I don’t distrust science, but scientist.

  • JohnM

    Once again someone (Rick #12)already said it 🙂
    I don’t see unquestioning faith in all that is claimed in the name of science to be particularly rational.

  • D. Foster

    I second Mark (#19). I’m not conservative, but I find it difficult to trust what scientists say when all I really have access to, as a layperson without a Ph.D, are summaries of scientists thoughts. You can’t adequately analyze scientific evidence without a Ph.D. I’m never going to get a Ph.D. So I’m in a quandary here.


  • D. Foster

    One more thing. I have an impression (rightly or wrongly) that scientists are unaware of, or unable to see the philosophical assumptions inherent in their methodology. Richard Dawkins, for example, is a brilliant scientist, but a terrible philosopher. He seems honestly and truly ignorant of how preumptuous his extrapolations from science really are. Being able to manipulate and control the Universe does not necessarily equate to understanding what it is.

    Those are the thoughts that come to me when I think *scientist*.


  • AHH

    Derek, why do you view Richard Dawkins as representative of “scientists”? As opposed to, say, Francis Collins or RJS? Or the vast majority of scientists, Christian and non, who are just figuring out things in nature/creation without extrapolating into philosophy?

    I’d submit that for Christians to think badly of scientists based on Richard Dawkins is as unjustified as for scientists to think badly of Christians based on Ken Ham or Ray Comfort. Both extremes seem to promote the “warfare” narrative, but the rest of us need to debunk and resist it.

    On your comment #21, is it more difficult to trust what scientists say about science than it is to trust what doctors say about your health, or what your mechanic says about your car, or how a Hebrew scholar translates an OT passage? If so, why is trusting experts harder in one case than in the others?

  • Comments are beginning to get to the core issues, which seem to have been presented in a misleading way in the ASA article — suggesting that conservatives distrust “science.” Now I may have to distrust this journal. Bias represented as truth does not generate trust.

    [Issue 1] Over the last 40 years, scientists have increasingly operated from an agenda, which is not finding truth, but finding funding. There is an ulterior motive which has been fostered by funding agencies who have narrow interest ranges because they, themselves, have been given mandates for addressing certain objectives which fit into a political promise or useful as a political feather. The agenda of science has become like a sales pitch, in which the person presenting is obviously biased and motivated for survival. This society has done it to itself. I have been both a conservative and a publishing and funded scientist since before 1974, and I have experienced these changes, which are short-sighted and gimme-now.

    [Issue 2] As technology has increased so has the ability to do things faster and communicate more rapidly. This rate of knowledge increase has allowed some scientists to abandoned an old sense of humility before the vast unknown in their field and assume more of a sense of confidence that humankind will one day (soon) know everything there is to know. I recently saw a book on Amazon with a title close to that. With that kind of arrogance, who needs God? That attitude creates a mistrust that the researcher is probably biased by the wonderfulness of their very own selves.

    [Issue 3] People are tending to overrate the application of their findings, and they appear as big experts in areas in which they are rather uninformed and ignorant. As Derek said, it is hard to know the difference just by reading because they say everything with the same confidence level. (This hurts me to say this, because I can tend to do it, too.)

    Derek, having a Ph.D. can help in analyzing evidence, but sometimes it just provides more smoke to look past. It is the Holy Spirit that guides into all truth.

    I distrust both scientists as well as theologians who think they have the answers before addressing the questions. “Just show me the data. I’ll evaluate with the leading of the Holy Spirit into all truth and make up my own mind, considering your conclusions to be a possible recommendation.” And that also applies to other people’s interpretations of scripture, including the Genesis creation and Garden account.

    People distrust the results of those whom they do not perceive as being honest truth-seekers, who are biased, or who have a presupposed agenda — in either science or theology. Some of the statements in this ASA article qualify, at least for me.

  • DRT

    Derek, I agree, to simply accept what any scientist says is a nod to authority and single persons are not authoritative, generally speaking.

    That is the beauty in science. It has a process for attempting to eliminate the bias and prejudice of individual scientists. The whole idea of science is to eliminate the prejudice that comes from individuals. If you are to have faith in science and not scientists, then join the club! It is set up so you don’t have to do that.

    I think that is the problem with the conservatives. They value authority and consider it a moral principle to stand behind. So they look at science and ask why this scientist should have authority. But they are not looking at it in the right light since the science is there to eliminate the authority of the scientist, not reinforce it.

    Derek, and other conservatives, does that make sense to you? [aside, when I ask that question I am sincerely asking for feedback on my argument, not asking if you are smart enough to understand my argument. for years my wife thought I was talking down to her when I said that… 🙁 ]

  • DRT


    All of your assertions are true insofar as they happen, but I challenge your allegation that the scientists are somehow becoming more corrupt over time. That simply is not true as far as I can see.

    There has always been plenty of scientists who feel they have the answer to everything, and feel that their research is the best, and are so blinded by the next big possibility that they get tunnel vision. I have worked with many scientists who are like that.

    But you don’t need to buy into what any scientist says. The scientific process of forming consensus and peer review takes that into account.

    Additionally, science is much like the discipline of financial accounting. In any given quarter companies can cook their books plenty. But the accounting rules and process are set up to make sure that the truth gets found out eventually.

    So with science. Old ideas are much supported.

    Another dynamic that many don’t see in the scientific community is the reverse of the same egotism. If there is an established idea out there, like evolution, old earth, climate change, any old and widely accepted idea, there are bags full of scientists ( 🙂 ) trying to disprove that idea because it would make them famous and, likely, rich (I think famous is more important to most scientists).

    Scientists want to be the first, the best, just like everyone else. They would love to disprove the consensus view.

  • [This fixes the format error.]

    Robin’s link to the chart in #8 is really revealing. While technically correct that conservatives went from the highest to the lowest confidence in science on the chart, it doesn’t really tell the truth. At the beginning of the period, partisans held science in high esteem while moderates held it in lower esteem. At the end of the period only liberals held science in high esteem while conservatives joined moderates in holding science in similar low esteem. The framing that conservatives are unique is misleading. Several people have pointed to distrusting scientists versus trusting science. I agree. The conservatives I see attacking scientific reports and scientists usually do so from a standpoint of science. They try to explain why they disagree using logic and science. They presume science is valid but that scientists aren’t being entirely scientific. I’m not arguing for the veracity of their protests but that there is an embrace of science as valid.

    I’ll add this piece from Michael Hulme in “Why We Disagree About Climate Change.” He is describing his own journey in researching and teaching about climate change. He describes his mindset as he moved through various parts of his career. He writes:

    “Embedded within this analytical period [1981-1998] was another important stage in my journey, in which I came to see climate change in terms of ‘Political Ideology,‘ (c. 1984-90). I came to view global climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions as a manifestation of a free-market, consumption-driven, capitalist economy – and ideology to which I was opposed. I recollect now that this opposition was and explicit ideological frame I used when teaching my course on contemporary climate change to final-year undergraduate geography students at the University of Salford between 1985a and 1988. This way of relating climate change was a formative influence on (or reflection of) my political thinking during the decade of Thatcherite conservatism in the UK. I subsequently joined the British Labour Party in 1990.” (Preface xxx-xxxi)

    Hulme goes on to show how his views morphed over time. But here he explicitly identifies how his politics and ideology were deeply entwined with his science and teaching. My dad was a research chemist specializing in energy related issues. I grew up around scientists all my life. Hulme is not an aberration.

    I grew with a deep respect for science but I’ve also grown up with a postmodern skepticism of human institutions. We constantly wrestle with the tendency to create narratives and plausibility structures that reinforce our biases. (Throw in funding dynamics and it intensifies.) We have the scientific method but “science” is still a human enterprise subject to sociological influences. Maybe the reason so many educated conservatives are going sour on science is because of the transparent (yet stringently denied) political ideology of many climate scientists exhibited in the public square. Conservatives and moderates see this but liberals, for whom the science is a conformation of ideology, don’t perceive it. (But as someone noted above. There are other issues where conservatives cling to science while liberals cry foul.)

  • D. Foster

    (Responding to several comments above)

    AHH (#23),

    I don’t know why this is what comes to my mind, and I agree with you that it isn’t fair—just as it isn’t fair that Pat Robertson and James Dobson are what comes to mind for many people who hear “Christian.” I’m not defending the merits of my impression: they’re probably wrong. But the fact of mine and others’ similar impressions, as pieces of datum representing this cultural phenomenon, is worth exploration.

    As for doctors vs. scientists. The disparity in trust comes from the scope of the interpretive grids both subjects are offering. It’s easy to trust a doctor who gives immediately apparent, quantifiable results for my health. It’s more difficult to trust a scientist presenting an overarching explanation for the progression of all life in the entire world from inferential reconstructions of the past several billion years. Aside from biblical theology, I have reservations jumping on board with a discipline that is so young.

    Dr. Theophilus (#24),

    I found what you wrote extremely interesting. I’d like to hear you elaborate on those changes over the past several decades. Are you working in a non-religious university?

    DRT (#25),

    I understand the frustration you would have with people like me (though I’m really not Conservative). And yes, science is trying to eliminate bias. But the scientific models offered are always limited by the current data available.

    I mentioned this in another recent post by RJS, but think of the Copernican model of the Heliocentrism, where he still believed in celestial spheres—as did everyone. The model was better, but still tremendously flawed.

    Then there’s the Big Bang. Imagine a theologian in the 1940s allowing the majority consensus of scientists—who at the time believed matter to be eternal—limiting his theology of creation of the world EX NIHILO because good science at the time said that the Universe had existed eternally. This man would have found himself suddenly thrown for a loop when less than two decades later the scientific consensus was that the Universe had a beginning.

    How do we know that what we consider accurate scientific knowledge of the Universe will not evolve into something totally different?


  • Thomas

    I don’t think conservatives distrust science but the arrogance of some scientists and those who leverage science to further a political and ideological agenda.

    Science has been used as the club against conservatives at times (evolution and global warming) so it leaves you skeptical of those wielding it.

    When believing in science demands that you see evolution no longer as a theory but a scientific law, it becomes quite obligatory to mistrust the group-think of scientism.

  • I can speak for myself. As a kid I viewed “science” as iron clad and the ideal of 100% objective. I love Star Trek. But as I’ve become more educated, I’ve learned that much more of “science” within academia (I.e. real science) than I would have thought is posturing and “flubbing” to get the grant money. Things like the emails that were revealed about “climate gate” only serve to reinforce people’s suspicions. But it depends what you mean by “science.” I believe real science, given enough time, can show/prove remarkable things… but the more education I get, the more I realize that “science” is not as objective as I once believed it was.

  • Norman

    40 years ago a book by Henry Morris (The Genesis Flood) came out that changed the face of the American Evangelical movement. Morris and his ilk such as Ken Ham developed the pseudo Christian Science concepts centered on an exploitation of people’s biblical and scientific ignorance, and we are still striving to rid ourselves of its tangled mess around our cultures throat. Morris, Ham, Hal Lindsey, and the Left Behind crowd have filled a void and given a false respectability to the conservatives that gained impetus during the Reagan years with Jerry Falwell and the 700 club birthing the religious right. There simply was no such movement before except maybe the John Birch society and the Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare movement of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s that would be somewhat of a similar cultural outcropping. People of the 50’s and 60’s would not generally have taken to Ellen Whites Seventh Day Adventist and Pentecostal approaches but Morris and those coming later found these religious concepts useful and worked them in, and now they surreptitiously are part and parcel of Americana Religiosity whether we like it or not.

    That is the dynamics that changed the American religious conservative movement. Read Mark Knoll’s book “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” in which he documents 15 years ago this issue. It will take us 20 to 40 years to work these issues out of our culture but unfortunately in an information age it’s not always the best information that gets heard. Yes that is a statement upon the basic nature of our humanity. It is what it is.

  • Norman

    Science is not regressing toward what a medieval conservative mindset has in mind. Scientific change of theories is bound to continue happening. Exploration of multiverse ideas and black holes and such may lead to drastically different ways of interpreting the issues before us. However they certainly aren’t leading us back to a 6000 year old earth and global flood which is foundational to conservative Christian science. Nor are they leading us to a God of the gaps in which to foster the ID movement. Your inferences have limited practicality when taken to a logical application by those we have under discussion.

  • DRT said (#26): “All of your assertions are true insofar as they happen, but I challenge your allegation that the scientists are somehow becoming more corrupt over time. That simply is not true as far as I can see.”

    “Scientists becoming corrupt” is not a defensible assertion, and I would certainly not lay claim to those words. “That simply is not true …” is a statement with which I would agree. The reality of “you work on what you can get funded” is understood better by those trying to survive in competitive academic and funding situations. One might argue that the entire society system has some corruption, but not scientists.

    Derek: I have been on the faculty of one pharmacy and three medical schools — one religious private university, one private university no longer religious, and two state universities. I have had federal funding from three different institutes of the NIH. The success of funding trumps creative freedom. That doesn’t mean the people are corrupt or the results are wrong, but this pressure does exert control on the direction of the search for truth.

    In either science or theology, or anything else for that matter, the problems come when people’s projections and conclusions overextend their data. The scientific method and the publishing protocol have rigorous means of “peer review” to correct most of that. If you write a paper and make conclusions that are not demonstrated statistically with the experimental results, your paper will not get published until that is corrected. (Although some publication avenues are more rigorous than others). However, with the Internet and “publish your own digital book” and books on Amazon, the situation is changing. More rhetoric is published that does not go through rigorous peer review. And someone who has a few books published can make a public statement full of “authoritative” claims, which the media pick up and spread it everywhere with virtually no peer review at all. So, how is someone not in that field supposed to know the difference between justified and overextended conclusions? The fall-back is to just be suspicious until proven otherwise, and that is where many people are.

    The problem is that people in the church can use the very same approaches to promoting their conclusions as do people who are unbelievers — it is all out of the human nature. That is what Galatians calls the sinful nature. Humanism is in the church, and it so intertwined within people’s thinking that it is accepted as the standard.

    I am in the process of writing on that now, but I am spending way too much time pontificating on other blogs instead.

  • There seems to be little distinction made between Scientism (science alone can render truth about the world and reality) and Scientific method (gathering empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning). There has been – in my opinion- much appeal to Scientism in the popular atheism and evolution debates which has been confused with scientific method. These debates I feel have fed an “us” and “them” mentality, which hasn’t properly understood or considered how scientific method (in that I include biblical reserch ) continues to shift and evolve as our methods, reserch and discussions reveal deeper understandings and knowledge in all fields of investigation. Scientific and investigative method allows for disagreement debate and quest for deeper understanding. Scientism and Conservatism alike tend to allow no such ecumenical conversation.

    If conservatives and liberals were able to acknowledge and understand these distinctions i suspect there would be far less distrust of either party. Utopian perhaps but that’s my 2cents worth…

  • DRT #25 makes an excellent point. Individual scientists are only human, and all have their biases. The great thing about science is that eventually it is self-correcting. An appealing idea may hold sway in the scientific community for a while but eventually will stand or fall based on the empirical data (that is, observations). Those theories/hypotheses/ideas that pass the test of explaining the observations with the least amount of assumptions will eventually rule the day, despite individual scientists egos, ideologies, or political motivations.

    As a practicing scientist myself, I freely admit that I have my own biases. I’m a research meteorologist, and I have some ideas that I hope to test soon regarding the behavior of strong and long-lived tornadoes. I like to think that my ideas have some merit, but I simply won’t know until I test my ideas with some experiments (numerical simulations). If I’m wrong, I hope that I have the grace to accept it and move on. Such is the nature of science, and there is no shame in it.

    But, regarding the article’s original point, I too, along with Scot, find the fact that conservatives are becoming increasingly suspicious of science very disturbing. The way I look at it, as a Christian scientist, is that all truth is God’s truth, and science is our best way of learning about the natural Creation of God, and as such we should rejoice in what we learn through it, and count it as a form of worship to God. It floors me that so many conservative Christians these days want to circle the wagons and otherwise plug their ears and close their eyes to the beauty of nature as revealed through modern science.

    I truly think that some of this comes from the inability of some conservatives to separate political motivations from scientific findings. Nowhere is this more true than in the global warming “debate”. It has become clear to me as I have examined the evidence that the current episode of global warming is not only real, but that we humans are largely responsible for it through our burning of fossil fuels. I came to this conclusion through the weight of the scientific evidence, and not through any political motivation (indeed, my political leanings worked strongly against this conclusion). Many of my more conservative friends, however, are convinced that it’s all baloney, because they are convinced that the *people* behind the science of global warming are hopelessly politically biased, when in fact most of them (and I count many of them among my personal friends or acquaintances) are simply doing their sincere best to follow the science. I wish I knew a way out of this cultural quandary, but I don’t. I just pray that level heads prevail, and the Spirit brings us through.

  • phil_style

    I expect (without any evidence to back this up) that science begins to be mis-trusted only when it starts to have policy implications.

    In the 1940’s-1950’s, science was neutral endeavor that all sides of the political spectrum could employ to their advantage. Both the USSR and the USA all played to the same rules of using science for “technology” development. Everyone, left or right, could trust and use science as a tool to further their political agendas.

    Fast forward 20 years, and now “science” seems to have been politicised. Certain findings, be they relating to climate, medicine or sociology appear, on the face of it to be suggesting that the science can me more easily brought to bear in support of one side of the political debate.

    This, I think, is where the mistrust has emerged from. Over time, some sciences have become not neutral political tools, but partisan. As soon as this happens, people lump the werkzeug in with the politik.

  • D. Foster

    Norman (#32),

    I’m not a YEC, just to clarify. I don’t believe the Bible says a word about science anywhere.


  • Derek (#37), I assume you mean there is nothing in the Bible that should be pulled out its context and made to “prove” scientific detail by eisegesis. The Bible is full of scientific principles; in fact, understanding the depth of meaning of many passages can be increased an order of magnitude if one recognizes that the same physical principle is in the creation. The Bible has incredible parallels involving chemistry, biology, genetics, physics, thermodynamics that explain a lot of things that happen on the physical side of the spiritual battle between the Spirit vs the flesh. I have a couple of modified pictures I show in classes – one, of Albert Einstein in front of a chalkboard of formulas with the caption, “Bible’s Got Physics!” Another is a modification of the “B.C.” cartoon years back when “Thor(?)” sees a clam running and yells out “Clams got legs!” The clam says, “Now I’ve got to kill him.” In the modification, Thor yells, “Bible’s got genetics” and the clam says, “Now I’ve got to save him.”

  • Matt Edwards

    I think it’s interesting that when studies show people’s distrust of the church, the church responds by asking, “What can we do differently?” When studies show people’s distrust of the scientific community, the discussion is “What is wrong with people?”

    I’ve said it many times on this blog, but the scientific community’s problem is poor leadership and poor communciation of their values. You can’t challenge people’s longstanding beliefs and values without expecting some push back. You have to earn the right to speak truth.

    The scientist preaching that the world is going to end with a cataclismic flood and calling people to repent of their use of fossil fuels is going to get the same reaction as the street preacher telling people they are going to hell if they don’t get right with God.

    If the sceintific community wants more credibility they need to focus more on projects that align with the values of our society and less on those that challenge them. It’s only by enriching people’s lives that you earn the right to push them a little bit.

  • norman

    Derek #37

    I know you are not a YEC but the direction of the implications you are raising lend itself to the idea that perhaps some form of creationism will be uncovered eventually through science. I’m a theistic evolutionist but yet I’m a also a creationist ultimately. However I’m not holding out hope that missing links and physics will reveal an overt act of God somewhere somehow in the scientific future that fills in as a God of the gaps idea. The science that nature reveals is sufficient in my mind to demonstrate a Creative God albeit not one who brought humankind into being by anything but what can be observed and tested empirically. No homo sapiens just appeared out of nowhere but was brought along through evolutionary transitions that would be marvelous to behold if we could have witnessed it. The millions of years of mammal evolutionary adaptations is a grand story of God’s to be examined.

  • AHH

    Matt @39 perceptively compares trust (or lack thereof) of the church to trust of the scientific community, but then says:
    If the sceintific community wants more credibility they need to focus more on projects that align with the values of our society and less on those that challenge them.

    Substitute “the church” for “the scientific community”, and that becomes an awful statement of unfaithfulness. The church should tell and show society what is important and true, not necessarily what the society wants to hear. Why would we ask scientists to do the opposite?

    Of course to the extent scientists do tell society things it does not want to hear (like things that conflict with fundamentalist dogma, or about bad effects of our consumer lifestyles), it is not surprising that much of society does not want to listen. The same would apply to the church to the extent it is authentically prophetic.

    I agree with Matt’s comments that part of the problem lies in poor communication to the public by the scientific community. But I don’t think telling the public what it wants to hear is a solution.

  • Matt Edwards

    Hey AHH@41,

    Thanks for the constructive feedback.

    I wasn’t suggesting that the church abandon faithfulness to the Gospel to appease society, but rather join with secular society in things we both value. Working with the poor gives us more credibility than speaking against gay marriage. That’s not to say that we can’t confront culture (we can and should), but that by working with society in the things that society already values, we gain credibility to confront society with truth.

    The scientific community can and should challenge beliefs and values. But they gain credibility to do so by working with people in the things they already value.

  • Good points, Matt (#39,42), Norman #40), and AHH (#41).

    If the church would only be the model of life enrichment that God intends it to be, evangelism would consist of teaching people about Christ when they come asking what we do, and who we are, based on what they see in the church community. Anti-God people would overextend their data to an empty auditorium, because the audience would be gone standing in line to find out why the church was so successful and blessed. Why aren’t we to that point?

    Norman, yours and my understanding of science/theology/evolution/creation is very similar. I hope to eventually wax verbose on that topic, if I could only write faster and stop looking at other blogs.

    A major problem between the literal creationists and the developmental evolutionists is the idea of “random occurrence.” “Intelligent Design” and “random chance” don’t go together in our human thinking. And that’s the key — humans can’t go beyond their own thinking. Both “ID” and “random chance” are terms which are used according to our definitions based on what we can comprehend. “Intelligent” with respect to what? “Random” according to what natural law? Both literal creationists and random chance evolutionists defend a model based on something they can understand and then say that it had to be done their way. What kind of human arrogance would insist that God had to create the world using some methodology that I can comprehend? Since I can comprehend 24 hour days, that has to be the interpretation??

    “Intelligent Design” and “random” are not exclusionary terms like 2-dimenstional thinking make them out to be. How about this idea? From our limited human perspective, the scientific record would appear to have occurred by random chance, but from God’s perspective, it is Intelligent Design. He knew before the foundation of the world what natural laws would be created and placed in motion so that certain evens would occur like programming. That creativity is so far beyond our comprehension that, from our perspective, it appears random. But, to God, it’s planned. To me, that is even a more fantastic, incredible creator God than the image of blasting things into existence in 24 hour periods (which is a humanly created image). I believe the universe operates on cycles, and that is how God set it up and that is how the past >13 billion years have played out. And cycles still control the physical realm today – from celestial mechanics to string theory. Quantum mechanics is based on probability of a system that is otherwise unpredictable. Again,that is from our perspective. Sure, that’s all we have is our perspective, but let’s not assume that God’s perspective is limited to ours. Unbelievers may think that there is nothing beyond themselves, but Christians with the Spirit should know better. That doesn’t mean that present scientific information is wrong, but it does mean we need to keep searching and don’t assume we have all the answers. And the exact same principle applies to the interpretation of the scripture. “God doesn’t work that way anymore” is just another way of saying, “My brain’s quit working.”

    So there is a continuum between the spiritual and natural realms. We can reach for the power of God or we can deny the faith that it even exists. What’s left but the natural, the fleshly nature? When we choose to operate out of the flesh, we are choosing to submit to the laws of the natural, the laws of thermodynamics. What is that? Entropy. Equivalent to what Paul refers to in Galatians as leading to death and destruction. The church as a body does the same thing. If the church chooses to operate out of humanistic thinking that has infiltrated inside, the church submits itself to the second law of thermodynamics of the physical realm and to a natural cycle that leads to destruction. God designed it that way. That choice started in the Garden.

    Christians argue with one another over which of their little finite ideas are correct, when all of their models and theories don’t even come close to understanding God and how He did (does) things. Do we forget that He “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine …? Eph 3:20.

    This is fun, but I’ve got to get back to writing elsewhere and stop cluttering up someone else’s blog.

  • Robert A

    Sad that I missed this post yesterday. Oh well…good comments overall, though I find the ones mocking conservatives to be unhelpful.

    I’ve got a PhD (admittedly in theology) and two masters degrees from well credentialed schools that aren’t anti-intellectual and are rather good ones. I’m a theological conservative (mostly) and don’t have trouble trusting the rhetoric put out by some in the scientific community though I love and appreciate science.

    This response, as mentioned in the OP, mostly comes from the over-amped scientific statements that claim a level of certitude and knowledge simply not available to them. For instance, this NASA claim that there are (potentially) “billions” if planets that could support life. Well that’s a foolish claim because we likely will never know this as a fact nor are we able to reasonably test it. Yet we are commanded by our scientific leaders to accepted it as such.

    Many of my friends who sympathize with my views (yes, we all hang out at Starbucks and wear ties) complain of the overwraught arrogance of many in the community who make claims and then treat us as idiots or neanderthals (pun intended) if we don’t accept their wild speculations as absolute statements. We just don’t it.

    I love conversation with scientists and have many as peers and friends. However I completely understand the point being made in the post. We aren’t idiots, many of us are rather well educated…why is it we must simply capitulate intellectually to claims that simply aren’t as truthful or empirical as suggested? That is what leads to distrust.

  • Robert A

    I’m a theological conservative (mostly) and don’t have trouble trusting the rhetoric put out by some in the scientific community…

    Should be “and don’t have trouble questioning the rhetoric”…autocorrect problem…Cheerio!

  • D. Foster

    Norman (#40),

    “I know you are not a YEC but the direction of the implications you are raising lend itself to the idea that perhaps some form of creationism will be uncovered eventually through science.”

    Not at all. I’m thinking in terms of an unforeseen scientific revolution in the way humans conceive of the Universe, with models of cosmology as different from our ours as our models are different from the Medieval. I don’t have any reason to think this science will be any more theistic; and future Christians will likely assimilate it into their theology just like we do today. They’ll be looking back on our time, with our limited scope of knowledge, like we look at the ancients: united in common erroneous assumptions that separate us from future generations in ways we don’t even think possible.


  • Fish

    The church is far more organized than any “scientific community.” The scientists I know would reject any idea that they are somehow organized into a community that acts in unison. To the contrary, they are fiercely independent and dream about finding a way to tear apart their colleague’s new hypothesis. They cannot write a paper without including how everyone else, by name, got it wrong.

    So, when I look at global warming, I don’t see a scientific community that, working together, decided it was a fact. I see a scientific community that worked hard to destroy each other’s findings and overturn each other’s calculations, but despite that arrived at a place where 99% agree.

  • norman


    Thanks for the clarification, I can agree