Are science and religion at war? No, but people think they are

There is a wide divergence between what Christians believe about science and what the wider public thinks they believe, new research has shown.

This is most stark in the area of 'creationism' and Darwin's theory of evolution. Whereas many non-Christians imagine Christians believe the world was created in six days in line with the account in Genesis, relatively few actually do.

More than seven in 10 people believe a person with religious beliefs is someone who does not accept evolution and takes literally the biblical account of creation, according to a poll.

In the same poll, commissioned by Newman University in Birmingham, just one in five religious people actually does take the Bible literally.

Fewer than one in 10 of all Britons reject Darwin's theory of evolution, the poll found.

One in three also said they thought a scientist with a religious belief would find it 'very difficult, difficult or somewhat difficult to accept information about  evolutionary science'.

Prof Fern Elsdon-Baker, who led the research, said there was a need to challenge stereotypes of religious believers.

She told Catherine Pepinster, writing for The Guardian: 'In a society that is increasingly non-religious, this mismatch in perception could be seen as a form of prejudice towards religious or spiritual groups. It may be one of the contributing factors in religious groups or individuals saying they see a conflict between science and religion.'

The poll came after the British Social Attitudes Survey found declining religious belief in Britain and a fall in the number of people describing themselves as Anglican from 30 per cent of the population in 2000 to just 15 per cent last year.

It also came after a survey by the Scientific and Medical Network found 45 per cent of professionals working in science, medicine and engineering describe themselves as religious or spiritual.

 Lord Williams of Oystermouth, former Archbishop of Canterbury, told Pepinster: 'Christians need to be clearer about what the doctrine of creation does and doesn't mean. To say that all things depend unilaterally on the eternal action of God is not the same as saying that specific steps in the universe's history must be the direct result of divine intervention.

'Christians and scientists need to be more ready to discuss the history of scientific discovery, they need to recognise that their supposed "war" is just fiction.'