Science on Religion

Exploring the nexus of culture, mind & religion

Interview: Michael Ruse on evolution, creationism, and religion

Creationism vs. EvolutionMichael Ruse is a professor of philosophy at Florida State University and a worldwide expert on the relationship between religion and science. His work has focused especially on the convoluted relationship between the American public and Darwinian evolution; he famously testified in McLean vs. Arkansas in 1981 that creation science – a form of Christian creationism that claims to be scientifically valid – should not be allowed in public science classes, because it features virtually none of the characteristics of true science. Contributor Daniel Ansted studied under Ruse during his time at FSU, and recently asked his former mentor for an interview. Here is their (slightly abridged, and still fascinating) conversation.

IN FOCUS: Few scientists see science in conflict with religion

Smug_scientistAll too often, religious believers and non-believers alike assume a conflict between religion and science. Popular writers and much of the media seem to enjoy pitting the two against each other, and they paint a picture of the faithful and scientists in a perennial war. The historical problems with this fabricated picture aside, it remains an empirical question whether scientists actually see science as inherently conflicting with religion. Sociologists Elaine Ecklund, Katherine Sorrell (both of Rice University), and Jerry Park (Baylor University) investigated this matter and found that only a minority of scientists see religion and science as inherently in conflict.

IN FOCUS: Religion, spirituality, and health – Part II

Physician_prayerIn December 2011, the Journal of Behavioral Medicine dedicated an entire issue to studies focusing on religion, spirituality, and health. Many of these papers attempt to correct shortcomings in the previous religion-health literature, including a lack of good theoretical grounding and lack of longitudinal, or long-duration, research methodologies. This is Part II of a two-part article summarizing and reviewing the studies from this issue.

IN FOCUS: Religion, spirituality, and health

Bible_RxOver recent years, researchers have gotten serious about studying the effects of religion on health. Before the turn of the millennium, there were abundant studies that seemed to link church attendance with better health and lower mortality, but investigators weren’t sure what those connections might mean. Was religious activity actually causing better health among adherents, or were there other factors in play? As part of current efforts to address questions like these, the Journal of Behavioral Medicine recently devoted an entire issue to exploring the concrete relationship between religion and measures of physical and mental well-being. Here, the editors of review these articles for you.

IN FOCUS: This is not a pipe

MagrittePipeAnyone who has had the pleasure to sit down to a satisfying pipe of flame-cured Virginian tobacco (along with a touch of perique in the mixture) will stand in eternal debt to the indigenous peoples of the North American continent. They developed not only the sacred weed but also the pipes best suited for production of the “good thoughts” that inevitably accompany the pleasure of smoking the sacred substance. This pipe is more much than a pipe: it is a connection to the divine.

IN FOCUS: Meditation research (Part Two)

meditation_rocksThere's been a boom in interest in meditation recently – among laypersons and the scientific community alike. Neuroscientists, in particular, have begun using their training and technology to learn more about what happens when people meditate, chant mantras, or take part in mindfulness training. This is part two of a two-part article examining a cross-section of recent scientific publications on meditation and its effects on people's brains, bodies, and lives.

IN FOCUS: Meditation research

Thai_BuddhaYou’ve probably noticed: research into meditation has been all over the news lately, from the New York Times to Scientific American. More and more serious researchers are using their brainpower – and their laboratories – to learn how meditation affects the brain, reshapes experience, and helps modulate emotions. The resulting flurry of scientific output can easily be overwhelming. To help cut through some of the chaos,’s editors, always ready to help, decided to summarize and present a representative sample of nine recent research articles on meditation and mindfulness.

IN FOCUS: Religion, gender, and age

pie chartRecent polls conducted by the Gallup Organization (2006) as well as the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey" (2008; hereafter “Pew Survey”) have shown that women and older Americans are more likely to self identify with, and belong to, an organized religious tradition. According to the Pew Survey, all Christian traditions have a higher percentage of female membership and all other traditions have a higher percentage of male members than the national survey total. A majority of Americans self report as belonging to a Christian tradition. Many religious groups are disproportionately older than the total sample. For example, according to the Pew Survey, approximately half of all mainline Protestants and Jews are over 50 years old.

IN FOCUS: The biology of religious experiences

One of the Institute's research concentrations is on the biology of religious and spiritual experiences. This topic was neglected until a couple of decades ago and is still relatively under-examined compared to other aspects of human biology and brain function. Yet it holds such fascination for people that almost every new study is widely publicized and greeted with enthusiasm or dismay or a strange combination of the two.

IN FOCUS: Reliability of religious experiences

William James wrote, “The overcoming of the barriers between the individual and the Absolute is the great mystical achievement."

Richard Dawkins said, "If you’ve had [a religious] experience, you may well find yourself believing firmly that it was real. But don’t expect the rest of us to take your word for it, especially if we have the slightest familiarity with the brain and its powerful workings.”

How can we adjudicate the conflict between affirmative and skeptical interpretations of religious experiences?

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