Secularism in science: The role of religious affiliation in assessments of scientists’ trustworthiness

Alexandra L. Beauchamp, Kimberly Rios

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

With controversies surrounding numerous science topics, including vaccinations and climate change, science skepticism in the United States is of growing concern. Some skepticism of science may stem from the perceived association between science and atheism, as well as stereotypes of religious individuals as prosocial. Three studies examine how scientists’ religious affiliation (or lack thereof) influences perceptions of their warmth and trustworthiness among Christian participants. (Study 1 also includes atheist participants for comparison purposes.) Whereas atheist participants evaluate atheist scientists as more trustworthy than scientists from various religious groups (e.g. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim), Christian participants consistently evaluate atheist scientists as less trustworthy and less warm than religious scientists, and not exclusively Christian scientists. These effects are explained, in part, by Christian participants’ perceptions that atheist scientists are less motivated by prosociality compared to religiously affiliated scientists and, as Study 3 demonstrates, have a negative association with trust in scientists in general.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)194-210
Number of pages17
JournalPublic Understanding of Science
Volume29
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • public understanding of science
  • representations of science
  • science and religion
  • science attitudes and perceptions
  • science communication
  • scientists-attitudes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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