It All Depends on What You Want to Believe: How Young Adults Navigate Religion and Science

Abstract

Background

Religion and science are typically portrayed as fundamentally at odds and in competition over truth claims. Yet recent studies have shown that many Americans, including scientists, do not necessarily hold such a straightforward perspective on this complicated relationship. The majority of current studies have been limited in fully capturing the way people construct and understand the relationship between these domains given their predominant use of close-ended survey methodologies.

Purpose

This study seeks to enhance our knowledge of how people navigate religion and science issues by allowing young adults to respond to open-ended questions from semi-structured, in-depth interviews about how they navigate the domains of religion and science.

Methods

We analyze 214 qualitative, in-depth interviews with young adults who participated in Wave 3 of the National Study of Youth and Religion.

Results

Results confirm that a warfare model is not the dominant perspective among young adults today. Rather, analyses revealed five predominant themes among young adults: (1) They commonly construe this relationship in purely individualistic terms, believing people do and should sort the truth out for themselves; (2) They see the two as mutually deficient and therefore both are needed to answer different questions; (3) Their understanding of this relationship reduces to how one views the origins of the world; (4) They believe the two can actually be mutually supportive; and (5) Any contention between the two stems from institutional conflicts, primarily in the realm of education, not competing claims about fundamental truths.

Conclusions and Implications

Beliefs about religion and science among young adults are complex and not captured fully by close-ended survey questions. This question is clearly one that most young adults have considered and can articulate. Future research should consider how these beliefs are formulated and what influence they have on life outcomes.

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Acknowldgements

The National Study of Youth and Religion, http://youthandreligion.nd.edu/, whose data were used by permission here, was generously funded by Lilly Endowment Inc., under the direction of Christian Smith of the Department of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame.

Funding

Funding was provided by The Issachar Fund (Grant No. 390).

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Correspondence to Kyle C. Longest.

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Longest, K.C., Uecker, J.E. It All Depends on What You Want to Believe: How Young Adults Navigate Religion and Science. Rev Relig Res (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13644-020-00436-9

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