Hundreds of thousands of researchers, educators, and doctors will take to the streets tomorrow, holding nerdy signs and sporting pins with slogans like “I Believe in Science.”
For many of them, that’s not all they believe in. Evangelicals’ involvement in the upcoming March for Science reflects their unique place in the sector. Despite all the motivations and concerns they share with their secular counterparts, there’s still some tension over how their faith fits in a field built on empirical facts—especially as the movement employs those facts toward political ends.
The event was initially inspired by fear over anticipated “gag orders” on government scientists following President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The march ballooned from Washington, DC, to more than 500 locations worldwide. Over the past three months, organizers pushed for the scientific community to find common ground to celebrate the role of scientific discovery in society and policy.
“I would hope that the presence of Christians in the march can show that theists and non-theists can look through the microscope together and come to the exact same conclusions,” said Mike Beidler, the president of the Washington, DC, chapter of the American Scientific Affiliation, a network for Christians in science. “The only difference is that the theist then moves beyond the awe of discovery to an attitude of worship of the Creator.”
More than 2 million of the 12 million scientists in the United States identify as evangelical, according to research by Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund. March organizers nodded to faith’s place at the march when their diversity committee stated a desire to include a range of people from different religions as well as races, sexual orientations, gender identities, ages, and socioeconomic and immigration statuses. It also made clear that it would not condone harassment including “intolerance regarding religious, agnostic, and atheistic beliefs.”
This picture of inclusiveness complements Ecklund’s newest research, which found that the global scientific community—as people might assume—is more agnostic (and sometimes atheist) than the general population, but not usually hostile to religion overall.
“There’s a perception from a lot of Christians that scientists are all atheists,” said Seth Axen, a PhD candidate in biostatistics, who numbers among an often-overlooked crowd of pro-science Christians. He plans to march in San Francisco.
Where the Science March Draws the Line
Evangelical Christians support the overall message and vision of the march: to champion publicly funded and communicated science in the public good.
But much like the Women’s March in January, when organizers drew the boundaries around its principles, they left some Christians outside the circle.
“I thought based on the way that they publicly described the mission that there was a way to be a partner group,” said John West, vice president of the Discovery Institute, which represents scientists who believe in intelligent design.
According to West, march organizers said they declined to include the Discovery Institute because the event does not align with groups that hold a viewpoint outside of the current scientific consensus. In the case of origins of life, 98 percent of scientists surveyed by Pew Research Center agree that humans have evolved over time.