Though activists on the poles of science and religion see science and religion as being in conflict, most in science and most of the public do not. Instead, most recognize 'non-overlapping magisteria' and leave the philosophical subjects aside to theologians and explaining the universe according to natural laws to scientists.

A worldwide survey of scientists finds it's even more nuanced than believed. Hong Kong, for example, has 55 percent atheists in the general population but among the scientific community atheists are only 26 percent. 54 percent of scientists in Taiwan identify as religious compared with 44 percent of the general population, though in general science will contain more atheists. But the belief that science means atheism is framing promoted by anti-religious groups who claim to speak for science.

In the U.K. – one of the most secular countries studied – only 32 percent of scientists characterized the science-faith interface as one of conflict. In the U.S., this number was only 29 percent. Instead of being in conflict, many scientists instead believe the ethics entailed in religion can provide a "check" in ethically gray areas.

Rice University Kirstin Matthews and Steven Lewis collected information from 9,422 respondents in eight regions around the world: France, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Taiwan, Turkey, the U.K. and the U.S. They also traveled to those regions to conduct in-depth interviews with 609 scientists and believe that by surveying and interviewing scientists at various career stages, in elite and non-elite institutions and in biology and physics, they gained a representative look at scientists’ views on religion, ethics and how both intersect with their scientific work.

"Science is a global endeavor," said the study’s principal investigator, Elaine Ecklund, founding director of Rice University’s Religion and Public Life Program. "And as long as science is global, then we need to recognize that the borders between science and religion are more permeable than most people think."

Top image credit: James Ph. Kotsybar