Gallileo Pukes in his Grave

Religion and Science

By sherkat

I wanted to repost this given the impending (finally!) publication of my paper “Religion and Scientific Literacy in the United States” in Social Science Quarterly. What with an entire political party, save one brave Mormon, rejecting science, it is important to remember that the constituency on which they feed is gullible in large part because it is willfully ignorant. The depth of anti-intellectualism among sectarian and fundamentalist Christians prevents them from seeing the world as it is, and political entrepreneurs have been quick to make themselves seem just as ignorant  as any other rube.  As I mention in my conclusions. “”Given the low levels of scientific literacy among fundamentalist and sectarian Christians, they may have difficulty understanding public issues related to scientific inquiry or pedagogy, and they may have a limited capacity to understand technical information regarding their own health and safety.”

Table 1

Adjusted Mean Number of Correct Answers on the 2006 GSS Science Exam by Religious Affiliation and Religious Belief

Religious Belief


Std. Error

95% Confidence Interval


Lower Bound

Upper Bound

 % of Sample

Bible is literal Word of God






Bible is Inspired Word of God






Bible is a Book of Fables






Religious Affiliation
Sectarian Protestant












Other Protestant












 Religious activists, funded by religious foundations, have become fond of asking idiotic survey questions which appear to blur the lines between religion and science. I don’t know what ”Religion” or “Science” really mean at this level of abstraction (that’s for philosophy and theology), but I do know that particular variants of religious beliefs which are promoted in particular religious institutions generate considerable hostility towards scientific research and pedagogy. Still, many like to dress up their ignorance in a veil of pseudo science, hence we have “creation science,” and “theories”of intelligent design.

The 2006 General Social Surveys included a brief science examination. I shorten it to 13 items to exc lude a question on evolution, since fundamentalists may reflexively get that one wrong. Using data from 1780 respondents to the most recent General Social Surveys, I found that that Americans who believe that the Bible is the literal word of god (about 30% of respondents in the nationally representative sample of U.S. Adults) scored substantially lower the other respondents on a test of basic scientific literacy. Bible believers averaged 54% on the 13 question examination, which included questions about basic scientific understanding (like experimental design, and probability), earth science (such as whether the core of the earth is cold or hot, and whether continents have and continue to drift), and biology (such as whether antibiotics kill viruses). The test excluded controversial items such as evolution. In contrast, more skeptical believers averaged 68% on the exam, and non-believers answered 75% of the questions correctly.

Notably, my findings are not a function of race, social class, region, or gender. Even after statistical controls for these factors, religious conservatives scored significantly lower than non-Christians and non-believers. In fact, the effect of conservative religious identifications (affiliation with Baptists, Pentecostals, and other sectarian groups, or with Catholicism), and fundamentalist beliefs in the Bible have a stronger predictive effect on scores on the science examination than do income, race, or gender. While much has been made about racial and gender differences in scientific ability, my results suggest that cultural factors like religion are much more important impediments of scientific literacy.


One Response to “Gallileo Pukes in his Grave”

  1. James Sweet Says:

    Did you adjust for education too?

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