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Are there irreconcilable differences between faith and science?

Not in the opinion of prominent scientists who participated in a five-year study by Rice University.

It suggests that only a minority of scientists at major research universities see religion and science as requiring distinct boundaries.

“When it comes to questions about the meaning of life, ways of understanding reality, origins of Earth and how life developed on it, many have seen religion and science as being at odds and even in irreconcilable conflict,” said Rice sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund. But a majority of scientists interviewed by Ecklund and colleagues viewed both religion and science as “valid avenues of knowledge” that can bring broader understanding to important questions, she said.

Ecklund summarizes her findings in “Scientists Negotiate Boundaries Between Religion and Science,” which appears in the September issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Her co-authors are sociologists Jerry Park of Baylor University and Katherine Sorrell, a former postbaccalaureate fellow at Rice and current Ph.D. student at the University of Notre Dame.

They interviewed a scientifically selected sample of 275 participants, pulled from a survey of 2,198 tenured and tenure-track faculty in the natural and social sciences at 21 elite U.S. research universities. Only 15 percent of those surveyed said they view religion and science as always in conflict. Another 15 percent said the two are never in conflict, while 70 percent said they believe religion and science are only sometimes in conflict.

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