Take the Faraday Institute’s Science vs. Religion quiz!

December 29, 2022 • 9:15 am

Over at the Faraday Institute and the Theos think tank, there’s a 40-question quiz that I recommend readers take. It’s FUN and will provide data for their project, which apparently is to show that science and religion are compatible (notice the two names in the first sentence below, both of whom tout compatibility for a living).

While the survey is supposed to determine people’s attitudes rather than push forward a compatibilist view, given that the Faraday Institute was established by a grant from the Templeton Foundation, and that the Theos think tank was, according to Wikipedia, “launched in November 2006 with the support of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the then Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, and maintains an ecumenical position,” I don’t expect them to be totally objective about this.

Think of it as if Elaine Ecklund were giving a quiz and already knew how she was going to spin the data. Thus it becomes important for everybody to weigh in, especially because Theos announced it on Twitter (it’s interesting to read the followup comments to the tweet below):

Here’s the explanation of this three-year project:

. . . .Researchers in the UK (such as Fern Elsdon–Baker) and in the US (such as Elaine Howard Ecklund and John Evans) are bringing more nuance to a picture that has, heretofore, all too often been first simplified, then exaggerated, and finally militarised.

In particular, they have noticed how actual real, living human beings – in all their composite, complex, confused messiness – have been largely absent from the debate, a debate that has had much to say about evolution and cosmology and biblical literalism, but rather less about the wider personal, social, ethical, metaphysical, epistemological, and political concerns in which all such important debates take place. After all, if most of the news stories about science are not about evolution or the Big Bang, and most of the news stories about religion are not about fundamentalism or Genesis chapter 1, it seems strange that so many science and religion stories have been about evolution and Genesis.

Our project, ‘Science and religion: reframing the conversation’ takes up this challenge, building on existing work to offer a rich, new perspective on the whole science and religion issue.

Over the last three years, Theos has been working with The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, and YouGov, on an unprecedently large research project exploring science and religion in the UK. We wanted to look at science and religion afresh, and in particular as if real human beings actually existed. We wanted to explore what exactly people were disagreeing about (when they were disagreeing).

We interviewed over a hundred leading experts – scientists, philosophers, theologians, communicators, from Susan Greenfield, Sue Blackmore and Angela Saini to Brian Cox, A.C. Grayling and Adam Rutherford – and generated nearly a million words’ worth of interview transcript. We also commissioned YouGov to conduct a massive questionnaire (over 200 questions/ statements) among over 5,000 UK adult respondents, which has generated data tables that could cover a football field. The results are fascinating and rewarding.

Over the coming months we will be releasing the data. There will be blogs, reviews, podcasts, reports, on–line seminars, research papers, and (eventually) books. There will be an on–line Science and Religion Compass (a bit like the political compass), that will allow people to measure their own ‘temperature’ in this debate, as well as another brilliant animation from Theos’ Emily Downe, drawing out the key issues that underlie these

Actually, after reading that I am not sure our data will actually be used. But there’s a 40-question quiz on the relationship between science and religion that you can take in about five minutes. Click below to go to the quiz:

For each of the 40 questions (actually, statements), you have to say how strongly you agree or disagree. Here is the scale and the first five questions:

And here is where I fit on the survey results. First, the thermometer:

The science and religion ‘thermometer’ registers your temperature, i.e., how warm or how cold you think the relationship between science and religion is.

The warmer you are the more compatible you view science and religion. If you’re right at the very top – in the red zone – you see no incompatibility at all between them.

Conversely, if you’re right at the bottom – in the blue zone – you see science and religion as at war.

My temperature. No surprise here:

And where I fit in on the two-dimensional plot:

The x-axis (left to right) is about science. At the left hand extreme, lies the view that however important science is, it is certainly not sufficient. If you land at this end, you may not be a science-sceptic (indeed, you’re probably not a science sceptic) but you will be sceptical about science’s ability to explain everything. You believe the world is a complex place, and the tools of science – hypothesis, experimentation, measurement, falsification, etc. – are just one set among others – such as experience, intuition, pure reason, imagination, authority, revelation, etc. – that enable us to understand and navigate the world. In the jargon, this is sometimes known as pluralism.

. . .The y-axis (top to bottom) is about religion. At the top end lies the view that religion is, at heart, about beliefs: it’s about God, or revelation, or the supernatural, or miracles, or life after death, or doctrine, etc. It’s more about what you think than what you do. This, to use the jargon, is the substantive definition of religion, meaning that religion isn’t just a social or cultural phenomenon but has some content or substance to it.

At the bottom end lies the view that religion is, at heart, about its role in society; it is, to use the jargon, the functional definition of religion.

My position on the plot, an advocate of “scientism” (of course a pejorative term), and largely (but not entirely) of the view that religious views are founded on beliefs about the Universe, but also has sociocultural elements on top of this foundation:

I fit in with Neils Bohr; i.e. I’m a science/ religion incompatibilist (yes, you can be a religious scientist, but you’re then espousing two “ways of knowing” at the same time). I would take issue with some of the placements. For example, they’re seeing Gould as a compatibilist who thought religion was not really about beliefs—the position he espoused in Rocks of Ages—but that was his attempt to make people like him and not what he really believed (or so I think).  And why are “new atheists” given their own dot while “Evangelical Christians” are not?  Well, I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.

And here’s my personality characterization from the quiz.

 Faith is a virus, science is the cure 

You think religion claims truth but you believe it is wrong, perhaps even dangerous. For you, the most authoritative voice and road to truth is through science. The further you are to right of the quadrant the more likely you are to believe that science is the only way to truth. And while you think that it’s possible for science and religion to live and let live, deep down you think there is an irreconcilable tension there. Ultimately, and especially if you’re at the extreme, “faith” is a virus and science is the cure. People who are in this area are likely to have a ‘cold’ temperature score.

That pretty much sums it up! Notice that I’m characterized as “cold”, another slam on incompatibilists.

Your turn: take the quiz and see how you do!

79 thoughts on “Take the Faraday Institute’s Science vs. Religion quiz!

  1. I ended up in “scientism” (whatever that means) as well – close to Huxley and Darwin, so in good company!

  2. 0 on the Y axis and +2 units on the X ! Just north of Darwin!

    As for “temperature” – the same place as PCC!

    1. I have to say, though, that some of the questions were a bit, to be kind, iffy. Q16 in particular which is very difficult to answer clearly. “Science can answer big questions about life and meaning”. Does it mean “Life, the Universe and Everything?” – ie “why” or the “how”?

      I also wonder about Q34? In one of the greatest pieces of television ever, Jacob Bronowski described that science is knowledge but never certainty. However, I suspect that most non-scientists, wouldn’t get that even if they believe in science over religion.

      By the way: if you haven’t seen “Ascent of Man” do so. If you don’t have the time to watch it all, at least watch the episode “Knowledge or Certainty.” The ending of that episode is extraordinary.

  3. The Y-axis mystifies me. The “substantive” top of that axis seems to be that religion is a
    set of truth claims (made up out of whole cloth). The “functional” bottom ought to be that religion is an employment program, that arose millenia ago, for individuals who weren’t much good at either hunting or gathering (the function nowadays filled by the Office of the Vice President for D, E, and I). Since both top and bottom apply perfectly, what can position on the Y-axis possibly mean?

    1. I agree. The explanation of the Y-axis seems completely contradictory to me. The explanation for the Substantive end of the axis starts out with . . .

      “At the top end lies the view that religion is, at heart, about beliefs: it’s about God, or revelation, or the supernatural, or miracles, or life after death, or doctrine, etc.”

      So far so good, but then the very next sentence is, “It’s more about what you think than what you do.”

      ? This, to me, gives the game away. It’s the religious that argue, and assume as in this case, that beliefs don’t inform behavior. This, to my mind delusional, belief is not nearly as common among science minded people. To me it was contradictory enough that I had to stop and go back to the top and carefully reread word by word to be sure.

    2. I don’t see why you have a problem with the Y-axis. For analogy, consider friendship. You probably (A) believe that your friends are some combination of cool, funny, smart, etc. And you probably (B) take time out of your day to hang out with friends or to help them when they are in need. Now, which of these tendencies, your belief or your action, is more definitive of friendship? I’d say B, by a mile. That makes me a “functionalist” about friendship.

      You are of course free to have the opinion that both are exactly equally definitive of friendship. You would then be in the middle of the Y-axis of “friendship” concepts.

  4. I’m deep in the blue on temperature and I’m in the middle of the upper right quadrant, just to the left of Dirac.

    I’m not so sure about Steve Gould. His “Magisteria” book is terrible, but I think he was being sincere. He often mentioned in lectures and elsewhere that the mainstream religions had abandoned their empirical claims and so no longer were in conflict with science (though they surely were in the past). Consequently, he came to believe that science and religion occupied different “magisteria.” I think he was very wrong about this. He had the narrow view that religions are what administrators—say, of the Catholic Church—claim and not what the masses actually believe. The masses still do believe the empirical claims.

  5. I’m in the square just below and to the right of Bohr (i.e. slightly more “functional” and “scientistic”). My “temperature” is cyan.

    Some of the questions (like 3 above) are badly worded. If we agree with 3, are we saying that we think the holy books should not be taken literally, or are we saying that believers think the holy books should not be taken literally, or are we saying that the authors of the holy books think they should not be taken literally.


      1. I agree that some of the questions are ambiguous. The few that are may cancel out if the number of respondents is large enough.

      2. I hit ‘Totally Disagree’ for

        3. The stories in holy books, like the Bible or the Qur’an, are not supposed to be taken literally

        and ‘Neither Agree Nor Disagree’ for all else. The result was x=0 and 0<y<0.5, with the position ‘Faith is a virus, science is the cure’. That is, the shift was towards ‘Substantive’. Clicking ‘Totally Agree’ shifted it down to x=0 and -0.5<y<0. That is, a shift towards 'Functional'.

        The same for

        28. The Bible is beautiful literature but otherwise irrelevant for us today


        20. Science has nothing to say about religious beliefs such as reincarnation or resurrection

        no matter what you pick, the dot stays at the origin.

        If you hit ‘Neither Agree Nor Disagree’ for all, the dot falls at the origin 🙂

        1. I mangled the last part of my comment. I meant to say


          20. Science has nothing to say about religious beliefs such as reincarnation or resurrection

          no matter what you pick, the dot stays at the origin.’

          Of course, the shift might have been too slight for me to have noticed. I did wonder if the contribution of #20 might depend on other answers. But I couldn’t think why it would.

  6. A very frustrating experience. I could have written a long paragraph on each question and tried to get the questioner to explain what they meant by their terms. My answers would have been a discussion of various ways the question could be interpreted depending on one’s worldview. Being forced to click a bubble on a scale is just impossible. Anyway, I came out where I thought I would – close to Jerry’s result.

  7. I’m just about exactly where Dirac is shown on the graph.

    This is not a well crafted survey. That’s probably to be expected from a bunch of religious folk. How are you supposed to respond when they put something in the form of a question?

  8. I came out solidly in Scientism, which was not a surprise as I approach life fact-based. Some of the questions were interesting. For example, one asking if there’s a role for philosophy. I chose to interpret that as asking if there’s a role for thinking about the significance/role of scientific discoveries, but I’ll bet they’re conflate “philosophy” with “religion.” It’s always troubling to answer trick questions that you know will be interpreted differently than you mean them.

  9. Looks like I’m roughly the same temperature as PCC(E), but was closer to Dirac on the X,Y plot, though I’m to the right of him.
    An interesting little quiz, but feels like it was really designed to support religious science. You can have your communion wafer and eat it, too. At least that was my feeling.

  10. I took the quiz twice—first from the assumption that “religion” meant Western Christianity, then from an Eastern Mystic frame. Different results, quelle suprise.

    Many of the questions contained multiple propositions, making them hard to answer, e.g. “The Bible, while containing beautiful prose (mostly false), is otherwise useless as a guide to life (mostly true).

  11. I ended up almost precisely where Jerry did on both the thermometer and the graph.

    It was entertaining, but holy cow. So many of the questions are so ambiguous it seems useless. Most of the questions, or statements, are standard talking points and as such are often straw-figures of the view they supposedly describe. And many hinge completely on just what is meant by a single word. It’s as if nuance (I really hate that word, but it does apply) does not exist.

    “Science can now explain Art . . . “ Really? I suppose being able to choose various degrees of Agree and Disagree are the best that can be done on tests like these, but I could have formulated this question (and many others) much better with just the addition of a word or two.

    To me there did seem to be a bias in favor of religious views and against science views. Religious viewpoint statements were conciliatory while many of the science viewpoint statements were extreme, like the above example.

  12. I wound up near Einstein, but I don’t think they scored Einstein right. When he went on about god, he really meant laws of nature.
    There were lots of questions where you were going to be tricked into scoring toward pluralism. “Science is not affected by bias” — well a pluralist who distrusts science and thinks there are other ways of knowing would say so. But so would a hard scientist-type (me) who knows damn well that science is (and definitely has been) affected by bias. What do they mean by bias?? I am very biased toward naturalism.
    “Science needs faith to work”. Does faith mean a “belief in things not seen”, or does faith mean “I believe that when I run a current thru this gel that the charged DNA will run towards the red electrode”.
    So in my Festivus celebration continues, bc I have a lot of problems with the survey.

  13. What a stupid quiz! But, not unexpected given the source. I rated 100% pure USDA Grade A “scientism,” whatever that is.

    “The Bible is beautiful literature …” B.S. no, it isn’t. It’s boring and stilted. Harry Potter is beautiful literature, at least a good read.

    Typical Bible thumpers can’t resist claiming that one has to “believe” in science. That overcooks my grits, I can tell you!

    Gotta run, some clouds need shouting at.

    1. Agreed. I’ve always taken Dawkins’s claim that the Bible is great literature with a huge salt lick. Bits of it are okay, but, as I always say, if somebody found one copy of the Bible in a used bookstore, and it was the only Bible in existence, it would be denigrated as boring and fanciful.

      1. I think it depends on the translation.

        But there’s also the point that the Bible is not just one book. Some of it is well written and some isn’t. Some of it is meant to be history, some fiction, and some theological essays.

      2. The bible is riddled with longueurs, no question about it. But it has its high spots, too. It’s nothing if not a rich source of idiom and allusion.

        This Hitch covered this as well as anyone in his Vanity Fair essay about the KJV translation, “When the King Saved God.”

  14. I think this survey was designed to show that religion is what happens when you can’t think clearly enough to frame coherent questions.

    1. Well, they DID write “Science & Religion: reframing the conversation”

      Soooo – yeah, I suppose that’d be part of it. The way to blend science and religion. Or have “interfaith dialogues”.

    1. I suspect that the questions have already been tweaked a lot, specifically to obscure the author’s meaning. Otherwise, how could they get the results they want?
      I’ll grant that it is possible that this is an unconscious bias on the question-setters behalf. But I’m putting them in contact with a bridge-salesman I know.

  15. My dot overlaps Jerry’s. (Guess that’s why I like this website.)

    I object to question 28, “The Bible is beautiful literature but otherwise irrelevant for us today,” because I mostly disagree with the first part but mostly agree with the second.

    1. I believe I put agreement with that because, as Dawkins always says, the King James version gave us so many expressions. But it’s also an ambiguous question because there are so many Bible versions with different language. So are we judging the wording used in some average of them or judging them as stories? The stories in the Bible itself are really compressed but they have been fleshed out into amazing works by others.

  16. Strongly on the scientism end but a bit functional. I was firmly in the green part of the spectrum.

    I felt that many of the questions were poorly thought out and could be interpreted in many ways. Take question 2 as an example. I don’t think belief in God has ever been needed and the Theory of Evolution just makes it easier to not believe in God. Technically I should be on the disagree end of the spectrum for that question, but so would somebody who believes that God is still needed.

  17. I came pretty close to Heisenberg! Also I think the questions were narrowly based and therefore simply did not encompass some of my views/ understandings – so responses not satisfactory.

  18. I’m in the yellow and in the same square as Galileo but lower and to the left. Have no idea what this means, but I’d be surprised if I’m not an outlier on this site.

      1. A proud Cyan as well but nearer to Huxley and Freud. Agree with the discussion about the misleading “content” of the question.

    1. It’s there. I found it, quite be accident, I can’t explain how I found it, I’m 78 and my memory is hit and mostly miss these days. Sorry I can’t help, good luck.

    2. Same here. It was in the tweet. Thanks to Jerry I got to peruse their home page and now I need to bleach my brain.

  19. I’m in the middle of a line connecting Bohr and Dirac, and cyan. And I agree that the ‘great literature’ claim is very odd.

  20. I suppose they can put words together to form sentences. Good for them. Their website says

    Science and Religion is a lot like a swimming pool. All the noise is up at the shallow end.

    They put a summary of their profound conclusions here.

    An expert interviewee said

    I want it on record, don’t just list me as an atheist in the Richard
    Dawkins type. Because I am not an atheist like him at all.

    Aiyo! Getting a bit personal, what?

    And the BBC is selling a miracle. The Vatican is saying that the ex papa is ‘lucid and alert’. For a pope, that’s got to be miraculous.

  21. On the Literature of Babble, a west Texas school district was bound and determined, by hecky, to drag religion into high school, so they created this hokey elective, “The Bible as Literature.” The resolution passed, the non-credit elective was added to the high school curricula but never saw the light of day: no students signed up, couldn’t find someone to teach the course, couldn’t find a reference book nor a syllabus.

    Of course, the entire purpose of the elective was to preach to kids without running afoul of the Constitution. Failed, failed, failed. Great outcome if you ask me.

    1. I understand that religion as dogma cannot be taught in US public schools. But can religious thinking be criticized in, for example, philosophy class? After all, the rejection of religious ‘explanations’ played a part in the development of science. What would happen if a history teacher explicitly treats the resurrection story on the same level as other ancient tales that are not to be taken literally?

      1. Sure thing. Mostly in college, rarely in high school or below. Colleges have all sorts of Philosophy of This and Philosophy of That, History of This and History of That. Taught objectively is where you can have honest discussions, comparison and contrast of traditions and all that jazz. (Undoubtedly, a History of Jazz course, too.)

        In public schools, however, the buckle-hatted Calvinist zealots want forced prayer. They have no interest in philosophy nor history.

  22. I suppose they can put words together to form sentences. Good for them. Their website says

    Science and Religion is a lot like a swimming pool. All the noise is up at the shallow end.

    They put a summary of their profound conclusions here.

    An expert interviewee said

    I want it on record, don’t just list me as an atheist in the Richard
    Dawkins type. Because I am not an atheist like him at all.

    Aiyo! Getting a bit personal, what?

    The BBC is selling a miracle. The Vatican is saying that the ex papa is ‘lucid and alert’. For a pope, that’s got to be miraculous.

  23. This poll is goofy.
    I scored (1,-1). No way since I’m far more atheistic than Darwin. Questions are goofy too like science “proving” things like no afterlife which is impossible. Whoever formulated this quiz needs help.

  24. In addition to items 2 and 28, which other have remarked on, I also object to item 24: “Science is the only thing needed to solve climate change”. If I disagree with this, are they going to jump to the conclusion that I think that religion would help, as opposed to, say, political activism? And there’s 26: “Modern science has disproved the existence of the afterlife”. Science may never be able to disprove the existence of an afterlife, but if religion can’t prove it, where does that leave us?

  25. I tried the quiz. But I got stuck on the first question,
    “Religion is first and foremost a set of beliefs about morality.”
    Did this mean what I think about religion, or is it, because I have none, what I think religion means to people who have it? Damfino. How can I, as a non-believer, have a relevant opinion about what a belief means to believers? All I have to go on is what some believers state publicly is the source of their personal morality.

    No better with the third, Are holy books to be taken literally or as stories? Well, to me, they’re not even stories. But again, do I think religious people see them literally or as stories, allegories, Aesop’s fables, what have you? Some see them some ways, some in other ways.

    With two unanswered questions out of three, I got a bad feeling and skipped ahead and found that I really couldn’t answer them. I can see how I could attribute all kinds of uncharitable motives to believers and answer the questions that way. I’ve certainly encountered lots of non-believers who would relish doing exactly that, but that says more about what those atheists think of certain people than what those people think about religion.

    The feeling I got was that I was being led.

  26. Based on recent replies I’ll go over and give “not even wrong” answers to be contrarian for a laugh – in honor of Hitch.

  27. Cold, and a bit to the right of Darwin.

    16. Science can answer big questions about life and meaning
    Not sure, but I’m quite positive that religion can not. But they ‘forgot’ to ask that question. How convenient.

    1. The whole thing seems designed to highlight the inadequacy of science. But science’s shortcomings are not an argument for religion.

  28. Just North of Freud but many of the questions were bizarre
    17:- Prayer is a form of therapy or meditation but doesn’t make a difference to the situation. Therapy & Meditation both have a substantive body of research supporting effectiveness. The only study on prayer suggested its impact was negative.
    22:- Scientists disagree with one another, so why should we believe them is a question demanding a narrative, not agreeing or disagreeing. In any case, that is how science evolves with new ideas and hypotheses, testing previous theories and refining or overturning them to become more accurate.
    28:- The Bible is beautiful literature but otherwise irrelevant. Assumes the first part, and aside from a few quotes from the King James Bible, it isn’t, from my perspective, beautiful literature. E.g. describing two bears killing 42 children because they called Elijah a “Slap Head” is hardly beautiful.

  29. My place on the color chart and the graph is pretty much exactly where Jerry is. A few minor quibbles with the questions aside, I enjoyed it.

  30. Lots of disputes with the framing of the questions – obviously designed by someone who understands that by asking the right questions, you can get the right answers, and by asking the wrong questions, you can get the wrong answers.
    Some examples that rubbed me badly enough to make notes of (this “making notes” would probably already mark me as an undesirable in a public presentation of this work) :

    Q11. “Religion without belief in God is meaningless.” Well, religion is meaningless whether or not you believe in a god.
    Q16. “Science can answer big questions about life and meaning” Yeah, just what are these big questions? I never got a straight answer from a religionist about that. They always ask questions that they think are “big”, like “what is the meaning of life”, when I ask myself “Why do you think there should be a meaning for life?” Which has approximately 8 billion different answers, excluding those for cats.
    “Q28. The Bible is beautiful literature but otherwise irrelevant for us today.” Not at all sure about the “beautiful literature”, but am sure about the irrelevance.
    “Q35. Science cannot tell you how to live your life.” Why should it? Or even, “Why? Should it?” Seeking an answer from someone else says more about you than the answer you come up with (or the person’s answer which you choose to accept).
    “Q36. Modern science has disproved the existence of the afterlife.” Disagree with the premise that has ever been some evidence there to be disproved. TTBOMK, there never has been anything other than unsupported assertion and fraud.

    My results were +3.3x, +1.1y ; down-right of Dirac. Pretty much where I’d expected.

    The Political Compass (Jerry already linked to it) is much more useful.

  31. I did the quiz but my results were unexciting as I was very close to the origin, in the lower-left quadrant. I’m a 100% atheist, lifelong, and quite conversant on AFTEOGs (arguments for the existence of god(s)) and their respective refutations, but I also believe that religion MIGHT be something to keep around. I’m quite undecided and happy to not pin myself down, partly because I think it might provide a kind of herd immunity based on G.K. Chesterton’s idea that “the problem is not that atheists believe nothing, it’s that they’ll believe anything” (paraphrased). I think it might be the case that religion’s retreat from public conversation (esp. on Sundays) is one of several important things that paved the way for Wokism etc. I kept these thoughts in mind as I went through the quiz.

    FYI I visited Reddit’s r/atheism subreddit almost every day for about 5 years, and helped moderate it for 4 years, ending about a year ago. It’s probably the world’s most populous forum for atheists. I learned a lot about religion’s place in the modern world, and ‘discovered’ the activist side of Jerry Coyne.

    1. Chesterton’s suggestion, that not believing in deities means you will believe anything, is perfect nonsense. And a bit of an insult, to boot. My bet is that he was trying to score points by flipping Voltaire’s observation around to support theism. (That “Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices.”)

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