Network for the Social Scientific Study of Science and Religion

Ryan Cragun

Nuanced Understandings of Science Among Mormons

Prior research suggests that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are mixed in their acceptance of a variety of scientific findings. Some of this variability is likely due to the positions taken by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) on these issues. The LDS Church appears to generally encourage modern medical practices. However, it has put forth no formal statements on a variety of pseudoscientific practices, from essential oil being used for healing to the anti-vaccination movement. The religion has made its position clear that minority sexual and gender identities are not natural. Yet, on some long-standing scientific questions, the LDS Church continues to demur, refusing to take a take a formal position on evolution. The primary goal of this project is to answer the question: How do Mormon views of science vary based on specific scientific questions? Related to this is a secondary question: What are the underlying factors that contribute to the variability in Mormons’ attitudes toward and acceptance of different scientific findings?

To answer these research questions, I will proceed in two phases. For phase one, I will conduct 20 interviews with members of the LDS Church, exploring their views toward science and how those views are related to their religious beliefs and values. These interviews will help inform the construction of a survey, which is phase two. Using student workers from my university, I will conduct a door-to-door survey in Utah using a probability based sampling approach to gather a representative of sample in both English and Spanish. The survey will include questions on a variety of scientific topics, from alternative medicine to climate change to acceptance of transhumanist ideas.

Drawing on both the interviews and the survey data, I will examine how Mormons’ views towards specific scientific questions vary. The survey data will provide particularly useful data to allow for modeling of the relationships between religious and scientific views. The hope is that these data will help explain why Mormons embrace some scientific claims, are split on others, and reject specific aspects of modern science.