Relating Science and Religion: An Ontology of Taxonomies and Development of a Research Tool for Identifying Individual Views


Understanding how individuals view the relationship between science and religion shows promise for explaining a range of aspects of teaching and learning in science. Several taxonomies, consisting of different views by which people relate science and religion, can be found in the philosophical literature. However, most of the science education literature uses these taxonomies selectively and with limited justification, hindering comparison between existing and future studies. The first aim of this paper is therefore to provide a comprehensive review of the different taxonomies described in the literature and to organise the different views according to their similarities and differences. The second aim of the paper is to present a new research tool developed on the basis of the findings of the literature review. This tool consists of a short questionnaire allowing educational researchers to identify the different viewpoints held by pre-service teachers, undergraduates majoring in biology and school learners. We present the tool itself and demonstrate its usefulness and versatility for future science education research based on three empirical studies covering a range of geographical areas, religious backgrounds, educational levels, age groups and genders.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. 1.

    In order to distinguish clearly between view labels used by other authors and those used in our taxonomy, we Capitalise views in the existing literature; we use italics for the terms used in our synthesis, and both Capitalisation and Italics for views included in the research instrument described in this paper.

  2. 2.

    This view is similar to NOMA (Gould 2002).

  3. 3.

    Smith (2010a) explains that some authors distinguish between philosophical and methodological materialism, the former referring to a philosophical claim that the supernatural does not exist, whereas the latter does not necessarily deny the supernatural but only that this is outside the realm of science. In these statements, Nord is presumably referring to ontological materialism.

  4. 4.

    This school covers educational levels spanning the ages 6–18.

  5. 5.

    Although this may appear surprising, this number should be considered in the context of the number of possible response patterns, which is 57 × 7 = 546,875 for the levels of agreement with the seven views plus the preferred view.

  6. 6.

    From the perspective of response patterns, of the 21 repeated patterns of levels, 12 patterns also had repeated views; for 8 repeated levels patterns, the preferred view was the same for all respondents. These figures should be contextualised by considering that there are seven possible preferred views for each pattern of levels.

  7. 7.

    Given the level of agreement, although we have found this analysis helpful in verifying the validity of the tool, it may be more appropriate in future surveys to exclude any respondents who provide an alternative mode, unless it is obvious that additional modes have emerged.


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We wish to thank to the Royal Thai Government for the financial support provided to the first author throughout this study and the five anonymous referees for their comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript. We also wish to thank John McColl for helpful conversations about this work.

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Correspondence to Rebecca Mancy.


Appendix 1

See Table 6.

Table 6 Dichotomous key for identifying the relationship between science and religion

Appendix 2

Questionnaire items asking participants to rate their agreement with the positions of the relationship between science and religion and to choose their preferred view


Appendix 3

See Table 7.

Table 7 Distribution of responses to the levels of agreement items for each view for the Thai sample (N = 327)

Appendix 4

See Table 8.

Table 8 Most common response patterns (including preferred view in determining uniqueness of the response pattern) to the levels of agreement items for each view, for the Thai sample

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Yasri, P., Arthur, S., Smith, M.U. et al. Relating Science and Religion: An Ontology of Taxonomies and Development of a Research Tool for Identifying Individual Views. Sci & Educ 22, 2679–2707 (2013).

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  • Philosophical Literature
  • Natural Theology
  • Contrast View
  • Educational Literature
  • Religious Knowledge