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People intolerant of other religions are more likely to reject science, study asserts

People intolerant of other religions are more likely to reject science, study asserts
For as long as we can remember, science and religion have been at a clash on what constitutes the truth. While centuries of scientific pursuit have quelled the debate on some matters, many other unsolved topics — such as the creation of our universe — still remain a hotbed of conflict among the two groups.

Oftentimes, science is misrepresented or outright rejected in service of deeply ingrained convictions. It's a scene all too common: the outspoken aunt in family WhatsApp groups championing religious doctrine over scientific consensus, or the insidious infiltration of political propaganda casting doubt on established facts. But what factors truly drive this rejection?

A groundbreaking study has delved into this intricate web of religion, tolerance, and science denial with the following hypothesis: individuals who are intolerant of other religions are more inclined to reject scientific tenets. This is based on the idea that such groups may view science as a competing belief system rather than a complementary avenue of understanding.

In order to measure “religious tolerance”, the research settled on using local religious diversity as an indicator. The rationale being that tolerance thrives in areas with religious diversity, which fosters an environment where differing viewpoints are embraced rather than shunned. They then looked at how these variously religiously diverse groups engaged with science, as evidenced through the efforts of seven studies.

One such study surveyed Hindus in India, Muslims in Pakistan and Christians in the United States. It found that groups that espoused intolerance towards other religions often denied science as well. Not only did these intolerant participants disagree with science when it conflicted with their own religion, but they also expressed a general disapproval of scientific recommendations, such as in the administration of COVID vaccinations.

In fact, another compelling study found that during the tumultuous days of the early COVID-19 pandemic, religious intolerant counties in the United States socially distanced less, even after accounting for the percentage of religious adherents within each county. These groups were also less likely to get the COVID vaccine, highlighting the complicated relationship between religious tolerance and public health compliance.

On the contrary, the study found that countries boasting higher religious diversity often emerged as champions of scientific literacy. Scores on the Program for International Student Assessment — a test that measures science and math performance among 15-year-olds — soared in nations where religious plurality thrived. Furthermore, the World Values Survey showed that areas with less religious diversity were more likely to assert that religion is a better guide to uncovering the truth than science.

In a world divided by strong opinions and closed-off groups that reinforce their own beliefs, this study urges us to welcome diversity. By embracing different perspectives, we can appreciate faith and reason, moving beyond any potential limitations imposed by politics and religion.

The findings of this research have been published in PNAS Nexus and can be accessed here.