Other data points to science's problems with "post-secularists."
Engaging article from Ars Technica that sheds some light on the way that the public views science and on how scientists view science...
In conjunction with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Pew Research Center has conducted a large poll that measures both public attitudes toward science and the attitudes of scientists themselves. Although there are some substantial areas of agreement—the public values science almost as much as scientists themselves—the data also highlights many areas where there are huge gaps between the two.
Good and bad news
The good news first. Almost 80 percent of US citizens feel that science has made life easier, and substantial majorities feel that it has improved food, health, and the environment. Roughly 70 percent of the public feel that research pays off in the long run, with support similar for both fundamental research and applied research. Over 60 percent see an essential role for federal funding in scientific progress.
Things get pretty grim from there. One bit of bad news comes from a comparison of these numbers to results obtained by Pew in 2009. Back then, 83 percent of the public felt that science had a positive impact on people's lives. All the numbers on the specific areas—food, health, and the environment—were down slightly as well. The number of people who are enthused about the US' scientific achievements, however, saw a more substantial drop, with an 11 point plunge in those thinking we're doing above average or better compared to other nations.
Scientists don't feel much more optimistic. Only 52 percent of the AAAS members polled say this is generally a good time for science, down from 76 percent in 2009. Part of this is a response to the flat or declining federal funding that many scientific agencies have faced. But many also felt that the best science is not being used in governmental policy decisions, with a low of 15 percent thinking that quality science is being used for land use decisions, with the high of only 58 percent thinking it's used in drug approvals.
Part of the problem from the researchers' perspective is that the public doesn't know much about science, with 84 percent of them rating it as a major problem. Scientists in part seem to blame the problem on science education in the public schools. Only 16 percent thought US schools were above average compared to the rest of the world. Here, the public agrees, with only 29 percent assigning schools a high rating.
Mind the gaps
That, however, is one of the few areas of substantial agreement. Pew measured the gap between the public and scientists on several contentious issues, finding an enormous 51 point difference on the safety of genetically modified foods (88 percent of scientists think they're fine, only 37 percent of the public does). There was a 42 point gap when it comes to animal research (89 percent of scientists favor it) and a 40 point gap on foods grown with pesticides (68 percent of scientists think they're safe).
The gaps gradually narrowed on things like climate change being human-caused, with 87 percent of AAAS members thinking it is and half of the public agreeing. The consensus on humans having evolved was even stronger, reaching 98 percent of the scientific community, and a full 65 percent of the public. Scientists were also more in favor than the public of making vaccines mandatory and building out our nuclear power capacity, but less enthused about greater fossil fuel extraction.
There's also a clear misunderstanding of how strong scientists back some findings. Half of the public thinks scientists are divided about the Big Bang, another 37 percent think they're not confident about human-driven climate change. Despite the 98 percent consensus on evolution, nearly 30 percent of the public thinks that the scientific community is divided. That number is worse than it sounds: about half of those who think humans didn't evolve actually think that a majority of scientists agree with them.
Not post-modern, but post-secular
Perhaps timed for the release of the polling data, a new study gets into why there might be a gap between scientists and the public. Two researchers (Timothy O’Brien and Shiri Noy) look at the General Social Survey, which is done every two years within the US. They examined a series of questions of general scientific literacy (things like radioactivity and experimental design). These were mixed in with questions about topics that can be controversial among some religious groups (the Big Bang and evolution) and questions about whether those surveyed believe the Bible is the literal word of God.
Their analysis found two groups, one of which they describe as traditionalists. These individuals take a literal view of the Bible, don't accept evolution or the Big Bang, and tend to score low on science literacy. A second group, termed secularists, were much more scientifically literate and either viewed the Bible as inspired by God or simply a collection of myths. These accounted for 36 percent of the US population, compared to 43 percent for the traditionalists.
That leaves 20 percent of the population, whom the authors indicate fall into what the authors term post-secularists. These people are just as knowledgeable about science as the secularists, but only if the questions about evolution and the Big Bang are left out. Nearly half of the post-secularists view the Bible as literal; only six percent accept the Big Bang, and a tiny three percent are ok with the idea of human evolution. They're also relatively uncertain about plate tectonics.
The authors suspect that these people are enthusiastic about science, but feel they can pick and choose areas where science doesn't apply. "In this account," O'Brien and Noy write, "individuals purposefully construct worldviews by combining elements of scientific, religious, and other ways of knowing." You might expect that this sort of "build your own worldview" approach would suit the young, but the post-seculars tend to be older Southern conservatives.
So, while the study does suggest that some of the US public's issues with scientific information comes from religious traditionalists who don't value scientific knowledge, it's clearly more complicated than that. At 20 percent of the US population, a substantial group has decided that they can assign scientific findings a value based on other aspects of their belief system.