(Photo by Flickr user Richard Howes via Creative Commons license)

(Photo by Flickr user Richard Howes via Creative Commons license)

A majority of Americans, 59 percent, believe science often conflicts with religion, while 38 percent say the two areas are mostly compatible

The most religious Americans are less likely to believe that religion and science conflict with each other, a new Pew Research poll finds.

People with no particular religious affiliation, or who are not religiously observant, are most inclined to think religion and science generally clash.

One of the biggest areas of contention involves how humans came to be. Two-thirds of Americans — 65 percent — say humans evolved over time.

Some see a contradiction between the Theory of Evolution — which holds that humans evolved from other animals over time — and core tenets of the Christian faith, particularly the belief that a supreme being created life and the Universe.

The debate over evolution and whether it should be taught to American schoolchildren was so heated that it eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court — the highest court in the United States.

In 1925, the southern state of Tennessee passed a bill banning the teaching of evolution at all of the state’s educational institutions. John Scopes, a high school science teacher in the state, challenged the law by teaching evolution to his students. He was arrested and convicted, only to have his conviction overturned by the state supreme court. The law was never enforced in Tennessee again.

PI_2015-10-22_religion-and-science_2-01The issue finally reached the U.S. Supreme Court 40 years later, after Susan Epperson, a Zoology teacher in Arkansas, challenged a state law that banned teaching students that “mankind ascended or descended from a lower order of animals.” In 1968, the Supreme Court, unanimously declared the Arkansas law unconstitutional.

Today, according to the Pew poll, about 1 in 3 Americans — 31 percent — think humans did not evolve and have always existed in their present form. White evangelical Protestants — 60 percent of them — are more likely than people in other major religious groups to believe this view.

However, 1 in 4 Americans — 24 percent — seems to believe in something of a gray area between evolution and creationism, saying human evolution occurred with the guidance of “a supreme being.”

That’s in keeping with a 2014 survey that studied the public’s beliefs about human origins in depth and found there were people who ascribed to a sort of  theistic evolutionism — the belief that God or a divine intelligence was somehow behind evolution.

“I was surprised at the level of sort of disarray over these beliefs,” said Jonathan Hill, assistant professor of Sociology at Calvin College, who conducted the study. “Their views are rather fragmented, so yes, they could affirm an Adam and Eve and at the same time affirm evolution…the real world and beliefs that people hold on this are very messy.”

Hill found that the more he drilled down and asked people about their views on creationism in greater detail, the less certain people were about historical claims in the bible.

“It tells me there are elites in society who are invested in one narrative or another,” Hill said. “They’re very articulate and they have a lot to gain, one way or another, about a particular narrative about human origins, but it does say that a large swathe of the public isn’t on board with either of those programs.”