You may well answer that it depends on which Americans and you would be correct. The Pew Research Center for Religion and Public Life has just published results of a survey on just which of us see religion and science as being in conflict and the results, while not that surprising, are intriguing. In short, here is how Pew summarizes the survey:
A majority of the public says science and religion often conflict, with nearly six-in-ten adults (59%) expressing this view in newly released findings from a Pew Research Center survey. The share of the public saying science and religion are often in conflict is up modestly from 55% in 2009, when Pew Research conducted a similar survey on religion and science.
From the perspective of those who watch changing American opinions closely (that would be us), there are a number of intriguing findings that echo what we see and hear in pretrial mock jury research.
Finding 1: People’s belief that there is conflict between religion and science seems to have less to do with their own religious beliefs than it does with their perceptions of what others believe.
We see this a lot in our pretrial research. When we’re doing research on cases involving hot-button themes (i.e., illegal immigration, abortion, illegal use of drugs, extramarital affairs) we always ask a variation on this question at the end, “I realize most of you are not biased against [undocumented workers] injured while on the job but when you think about your neighbors who might be assigned to this jury—do you think that would influence their opinions of the case?” We almost always see a burst of pride over their own open-mindedness, and then excited statements about how biased their neighbors would be—while of course they, themselves, are able to hear the facts clearly.
Finding 2: The level of religious commitment is related to a perception that religion and science are often in conflict. Americans who attend religious services “seldom or never” are the most likely to see religion and science as in conflict and those who attend religiously services on a weekly basis are the least likely (although still at 50% as illustrated in the graphic on this post) to see religion and science as in conflict.
There are deep divisions in the country and one of the deepest seems to be divisions on religiosity. Those that seldom go to religious services are most likely to see conflicts between religion and science. It is as though they are most likely to see themselves as very different from regular religious services attendees and so they see religious attendees as likely in conflict with science. It is not unusual to have jurors divide parties in lawsuits into those who are “like me” and those who are “not like me”. (One recommendation you hear from us a lot is the importance of using universal values to help the jurors see your client as more “like them”. We tend to treat those like us more leniently than we treat those who are not like us.
Finding 3: The only area where religious service attendance has a strong connection to attitudes toward the biomedical issues is in the area of whether it is appropriate to modify a baby’s genes: “Those who attend religious services regularly are more likely than others to say gene modification ‘takes scientific advances too far’.”
We always like to find questions that differentiate on hot-button issues (and we like Pew’s data to check whether questions have even asked in large-scale surveys. This one, while very interesting, is unlikely to come up often as a hot-button issue in litigation.
There are multiple other findings in this study that are intriguing to consider as we ponder how religious commitment as well as a multitude of other attitudes, values and beliefs (like political orientation, age, gender, and even differences between evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, and Catholics). Visit the Pew Research Center for more information. It’s always an interesting experience.
At least those are the findings of the Religious Understandings of Science (RUS) study which is based on a “nationally representative survey of more than 10,000 Americans”. Sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), this study (completed in early 2014) hit the media about a year later. Sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund conducted the study and says evangelicals are actually less conflicted about the relationship between religion and science than are many (non-evangelical) Americans.
Here are some of her findings:
60% of evangelical Protestants (and 38% of all surveyed) believe “scientists should be open to considering miracles in their theories or explanations”
50% of evangelicals believe that science and religion can work together and support one another—as compared to only 38% of Americans
18% of scientists attend weekly religious services—as compared to 20% of the general US population
15% of scientists consider themselves “very religious” while 19% of the general population would describe themselves this way
13.5% of scientists read religious texts weekly as compared with 17% of the US population
19% of scientists pray several times a day as compared with 26% of the US population
11% of evangelical Protestants consult a religious text or religious leader for questions about science while less than half that number in the US population would do the same
We are offering this information to our readers to familiarize you with the study, in anticipation that you may encounter other references to it. It has what appear to us to be some serious flaws. To say the least, some of the findings are curious. The proportion of people believing scientists should incorporate miracles into their theories or explanations is particularly odd, and raises significant questions about the research sample and methodology. Our pretrial research is conducted without regard to religious orientation, but we pay attention to it since it might be a variable of which our clients need to be aware. And over the past twenty years, we’ve watched the number of mock jurors who attend religious services regularly dwindle. Our experience of observing these shifts in our randomly selected mock jurors deviates dramatically from Ecklund’s sample.
So what do these survey results mean? It’s complicated. Some point to the Ham-on-Nye debate as highlighting the conflicts between science and religion—even though some say Nye won the debate handily. A recent post on ScienceDaily’s website tells us that scientists have impact on the public’s perceptions of the relationship between religion and science—and scientists who are not atheists will win more people over to their way of seeing things—at least, according to Ecklund who was quoted in the story.
Given that there are more people in the U.S. population (and hence in our data) who would identify as a Christian than atheist, Collins is likely to have more impact with that audience,” Ecklund said. Ecklund said that the experiment’s findings have important implications for how institutions and their representatives shape public opinion.
A few points to consider are that this study evidently had a disproportionately high representation of evangelical Christians for it to reflect American society as a whole. When miracles are considered part of the science debate (setting aside the question of what is meant by “miracle”) many would consider the problems to be large. If by “miracle”, this is limited to a divine role in the creation of the universe, or even as the nexus of the “big bang”, it probably gets higher acceptance. But if this is taken to apply to the evolution/creationism debate, acceptance of biblical literalism, and divine intervention in daily lives, the conflicts between science and evangelical religion get more shrill. Before we can accept these findings, it is important to understand what is meant by “religious” in the findings shared above, what beliefs are elements of an “evangelical” and what is meant by “scientist”. It is not clear from reading the study summary how Evangelicals see science and religion working together. Does that mean the power of prayer is real, or does it mean that they consider creationism a scientific explanation?
From a litigation advocacy perspective, we think it’s important to know about this study but we are not sure it matters as you go to the courtroom. To the extent that her survey data is valid, it describes beliefs and attitudes that you should understand as you approach trials. Some courts are shy about allowing questions regarding religious beliefs, and if so, the questions during voir dire need to be couched in terms of strongly held beliefs or devotion or faith (trigger words for many) to a code of beliefs relevant to the issues at trial. This study focuses on evangelical beliefs, not merely religious people. But a lot of devoutly religious people are somewhat fatalistic (“it is God’s will”) or highly moralistic in ways that either reject passing judgment on others (such as Jehovah’s Witnesses) or affirm passing judgment on others as their role in doing God’s will by representing God’s moral code as they believe it.
In any of these circumstances, it is crucial that a trial attorney understands the extent to which religious beliefs will color a person’s view of the facts, or indeed, whether those beliefs will trump the instructions of the court. Instead of focusing on religious involvement or lack thereof, we tend to look at conservative affiliations to help us consider how the world is framed for any individual potential juror. The simple way of thinking of this is that everyone tends to hang around with others who are of similar beliefs. So if someone is a devout Unitarian, they are likely to see the world differently than someone who is devoutly evangelical. We like this article written by Gayle Herde for The Jury Expert in early 2014. Rather than focusing on whether someone is an evangelical, Herde encourages us to listen differently during voir dire in order to “hear” religiosity in an indirect way. It’s good advice.
Ecklund, EH, & Scheitle, C (2014). Religious Communities, Science, Scientists, and Perceptions:A Comprehensive Survey. Annual Meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
We’ve written a few times about new research on Asian-Americans and so were eager to see a new chapter in a book on ethnic pluralism and its role in the 2008 election. It’s an intriguing treatise on the amazing diversity in the Asian-American community (composed of at least nine ethnic groups and 11 different religious affiliations).
“Asian-American” doesn’t mean one thing. It means many things. According to the chapter authors (So Young Kim and Russell Jeung), Asian-Americans are unique among American ethnic groups in that they do not predictably act as either a racial bloc or a religious bloc. Asian-Americans do not share a religious faith and 27% do not follow any religion per se. And despite their high levels of education and income–they are not particularly politically involved. In fact, Asian-Americans may have lower levels of voting than other ethnic groups (although it is hypothesized this could shift as the various Asian-American groups log in more time in the US and begin establishing a stronger pan-ethnic identity).
What is especially interesting to us is that the authors found patterns in voting among Asian-Americans during the 2008 Presidential elections. Overall, Asian-Americans were more likely to support Barack Obama during the 2008 elections than Caucasian voters with similar incomes and religious affiliations. However, within the Asian-American group, there were subgroup patterns that call out for recognition:
Asian-Americans who were agnostic, atheist, Hindu or Muslim were more likely to vote for Barack Obama (and were also reportedly more liberal).
Asian-Americans who were Protestant and Catholic and more conservative also supported Obama. (You weren’t expecting that were you?)
Finally, Vietnamese-Americans (many of whom are Catholic) were more likely to vote for John McCain.
Another important descriptor the authors use is disenfranchised. Many Asian-Americans feel they are not valued (and truly, they have not been studied to the extent of other ethnic groups in this country) and this is likely an important variable to consider in terms of identification with your case.
Religion, Race, and Barack Obama’s New Democratic Pluralism is a data-dense book with an emphasis on political shifts and ideology based on ethnicity (featuring chapters on mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Seculars, Women, African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans). What is most interesting from a litigation advocacy perspective is that this chapter shows us that we know a lot less than most of us think we know about Asian-Americans. There is not a blanket description of the Asian-American just as there is not a blanket description of American women, African-Americans, American Muslims or Jews, disabled people or other identifiable groups.
It’s a terrific reminder to not assume and to maintain curiosity about those different than us. They can often surprise you.
So Young Kim, Russell Jeung. 2012. Asian Americans, Religion and the 2008 Elections (Chapter 11). In Religion, Race, and Barack Obama’s New Democratic Pluralism, Gastón Espinosa, Ed. Publisher: Routledge.
We’ve talked before about mock jurors believing they can ‘see’ who is lying, using drugs, or other negative behaviors litigants (or anyone else!) would want to keep private. Now we have new evidence that some of those jurors may have good radar—at least when it comes to being able to identify certain religious group members!
It’s easy to ‘see’ some religious affiliations, especially those whose faith involves a high degree of integration of religious obedience and daily life. Think of the Amish and other religious groups who are identifiable by attire or facial hair or turbans or robes, or the attire of some Orthodox Jews, Sufis, or Muslims. But most of us are not wearing particular clothing or neat labels identifying religious affiliation. In fact, when asked, many of us even lie about just how often we attend religious services!
Consider, for example, the religious group of Mormons. Think you could pick them out of a crowd? Maybe you think you couldn’t. But the subjects in a recent study could! Even when their hair was removed, eyes and mouth covered, and images were turned upside down. That’s pretty strange. Here’s how it worked.
Researchers examined the folklore around intuition and found strong perceptions that we can ‘know things’ about people just from their faces. We think, for example, we can identify sexual orientation, age, gender—and we are so frustrated when we cannot, or race. They cite research finding that people (both Mormon and non-Mormon) were able to identify un-labeled Mormon faces at a better than chance rate. This held true both in areas with large Mormon populations and in areas with few Mormons—although Mormons were better at identifying fellow Mormons than were non-Mormons.
Ultimately, the researchers decided to explore what it was about Mormon faces that facilitated identification to the observer. They went to fairly extensive lengths to include plain faces without piercings, extra earrings, or extreme haircuts and kept all photos within a younger age range, so as to make discrimination of Mormons/non-Mormons tough. They also had people simply observe parts of the faces (like the eyebrows) and attempt to identify the person as Mormon or not. (As you might imagine, eyebrows don’t tell you much.)
The researchers concluded that while participants were indeed able to categorize Mormons and non-Mormons more accurately than chance—they were seemingly unaware of their ability to do so. The categorization of Mormons appeared to be drawn largely from the quality of facial skin—since Mormons do not drink alcohol, smoke or drink caffeine. Participants apparently infer overall good health from what they observe of the skin and identify (accurately) the participant as Mormon. So it wasn’t so much “Mormon” they were identifying, it was the attribution of what they thought of as a Mormon trait—“healthy”.
So what does this mean for litigation advocacy? The point of this post is that we all look at very subtle cues and inform ourselves about people. We make assumptions. We doubt there will be times when you are asking a jury to identify ‘who’s the Mormon’. But you will be challenged to deal with perceptions that someone has led a healthy or unhealthy life, that they seem virtuous or dissipated.
Many of us have read the research that says we can perceive basic things about people in split seconds. Jurors do that too. They look at you. They look at your witnesses. They look at the parties. And, in the absence of other data, they form conclusions about gender, sexual orientation, good/bad habits, character, and whether you dye your own hair or have it done professionally. You need to control this interpretation by giving jurors understanding for what they see. If you do not, they will make up their own interpretations—and you have no way of knowing what they’ll ‘intuit’.
Rule NO, Garrett JV, & Ambady N (2010). On the perception of religious group membership from faces. PloS one, 5 (12) PMID: 21151864
Back in 2010, we published an article on atheists and how they are distrusted in the United States. The level of vitriol we saw in the research at that time surprised us. But the number of atheists in this country continues to increase. Pew Research has just offered a 2016 update on atheists in the United States that shows us the number of those identifying as atheists in the US has “roughly doubled” since 2007. The numbers are still small (currently 3.1% according to Pew) with an additional 4% currently identifying as agnostic (that is up also from 2.4% in 2007). Here are a few of the multiple tidbits Pew offers on atheists in the US as of 2016.
Atheists in the US are more likely to be male (68%) and younger than the overall population (34 compared to 46 for all US adults).
Atheists are also more likely to be white (78% compared to 66% for the general public) and have a college degree (43% compared to 27% of the general public).
About 2/3 of atheists in the US identify as Democrats (69%) and a majority (56%) call themselves political liberals.
While virtually no atheists (1%) say they turn to religion for guidance on questions of right and wrong—roughly a third (32%) look to science for guidance on questions of right and wrong. As a comparison, 44% of US atheists still cite “practical experience and common sense” as their primary guide on questions of right and wrong.
As you might imagine, this article from Pew has more comments than we’ve ever seen on a Pew report (968 at this writing) so it is obviously a topic of extreme interest to readers.
From a litigation advocacy perspective, it is well worth your time to update your awareness of atheists in this country (and on your jury panel). We regularly work on cases where the litigant or the trial team (or both) are deeply religious. For many, there is an immediate sense of disconnect with atheists. They are as misunderstood and mistrusted in much the same way that other socio-cultural minorities (such as gays and lesbians) have been. In contrast, research needs to be conducted on what biases this subgroup might bring into the jury room with them—are they as wary of those who profess their faith as the believers are of them? What do each think of the other? What is the common ground?
The comments section of the Pew report is like a very disturbing focus group with a few rational and erudite comments thrown in! Reading the first 100 or so comments will show you just how strong and knee-jerk the bias against atheists is in the US. If it is not salient to your case, it is certainly a good topic for a motion in limine. And as we have discussed before, if it is salient, it has to be discussed, both for the purposes of inoculation of irrelevant toxic attitudes and for strikes for cause.
Pew Research Center 2016. Ten facts about atheists. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/06/01/10-facts-about-atheists/