An exploratory survey - now in publication

posted Jul 3, 2011, 6:59 AM by Berry Billingsley

We are pleased to say that a paper submitted to the Journal, Science Education International, drawing on an exploratory survey of pupils' thinking about science and religion, has now been published. The details are below and a copy of the paper can be downloaded from this site.

Taber, K. S., Billingsley, B., Riga, F., & Newdick, H. (2011). To what extent do pupils perceive science to be inconsistent with religious faith? An exploratory survey of 13-14 year-old English pupils. Science Education International, 22(2), 99-118.

Education in a Post Secular Society

posted Apr 28, 2011, 4:35 AM by Helen Newdick   [ updated Apr 28, 2011, 4:37 AM ]

In January 2011, we presented a paper at the Education in a Post Secular Society Conference, hosted by The British Education Research Association and the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain. The paper is called, “One day, we may be able to explain the whole universe using science alone”: A study to explore pupils’ ideas about the limitations of science.

'Science Education'

posted Apr 28, 2011, 4:22 AM by Helen Newdick   [ updated Jul 6, 2011, 3:39 PM by Berry Billingsley ]

Secondary students' responses to perceptions of the relationship between
science and religion: stances identified from an interview study

Keith S Taber, Berry Billingsley, Fran Riga & Helen Newdick


It has been argued that learning science may be complicated, and even
compromised, when students hold worldviews that may seem at odds with
what is presented in science lessons. In particular, in some parts of the
world, there has been considerable concern that students from particular
religious backgrounds may reject some science teaching if perceived
as inconsistent with their faith commitments. In this paper we report the
findings from an interview study that investigated how twelve 13-14 year
olds from four diverse English schools perceived the relationship between
science and religion. In particular, we consider how these students
responded to any perceived contradiction and conflict between science
and religion. We found a spectrum of stances among this small sample
of secondary students. The more extreme positions represented a choice
for either science or religion when conflict was perceived. However, other
stances were found that sought a synthesis, accommodated inconsistent
frameworks or considered science and religion as non-interacting domains.
These alternative stances present a similar range of possibilities to the
possible outcomes that have been discussed when students' informal ideas
in science are inconsistent with formal science teaching. The implications
for further research and for curriculum development and teaching are
A version of the paper is available via the link at the bottom of this page. This is the pre-peer reviewed version of the article,

Taber, K. S., Billingsley, B., Riga, F. and Newdick, H. (2011), Secondary students' responses to perceptions of the relationship between science and religion: Stances identified from an interview study. Science Education, 95: n/a. doi: 10.1002/sce.20459

 which has been published in final form at

ASE Conference, 2011

posted Jan 26, 2011, 9:40 AM by Helen Newdick   [ updated Jan 26, 2011, 9:52 AM ]

In early January 2011, Fran and Helen ran a workshop session at the Association for Science Education annual conference held in Reading.  Download or view the PowerPoint presentation from the session.

BERA 2010

posted Sep 5, 2010, 7:55 AM by Berry Billingsley

At the recent BERA (British Educational Research Association) Conference which ran from 1st - 4th September 2010, at the University of Warwick, we presented a paper called:

Teachers' perspectives on collaborative teaching about the ‘Big Questions' in secondary schools: The silent treatment.

Abstract: There is much talk about how science teachers should conduct lessons on how the universe began and how life began, given that a proportion of pupils will have religious beliefs relating to these topics. In this debate, it is often said that ideally, discussions about the relationships between science and religion should take place in religious education and not science education classes. In this paper, we draw on interviews with eight teachers from four secondary schools in England to explore the issue of whether ideas and questions raised by science teaching are taken into religious education classes for further enquiry. Our findings in this small study seem to show a lack of communication between the departments and a lack of familiarity by science teachers and RE teachers about what is taught in the other classroom. We then identify some of the reasons why teaching on the ‘Big Questions,’ as currently delivered by science and RE teachers appears to be disjointed.

Case Study: Anita

posted Apr 24, 2010, 11:17 AM by Berry Billingsley

“Scientists believe in evolution, and the Bible says that all things were created as they are”: Anita's perceptions of the relationship between science and religion

Anita’s perception of the nature of scientific knowledge

‘Anita’ was a Y9 student at ‘Abbey School’ (a faith school). Anita could only suggest one law of nature that she was aware of, that ‘animals eat other animals’, but she thought that such laws offered definitive knowledge, being “what happens like, it’s just a regulation, and is definitely what happens”. She thought that such laws derived from direct observation of nature, “from people observing them and like comparing them to like what other things do within nature, and then – yeah – write down a list of laws of what happens”. She seemed to feel this was an unproblematic process “because you can like watch the laws of nature and you can like hopefully trust your eyes”.

By contrast, Anita’s notion of scientific theories was more ambiguous. She suggested that a theory was “like someone’s opinion that’s got like a string of almost like rules, it’s like a hypothesis or something”. Anita was aware of “some theories say that we could just be dreaming and we wake up and it’s completely different, so it’s kind of weird”. She thought that “some are true, …cos some are just completely ridiculous, and others do actually have evidence supporting it and it’s helpful”. An example of a theory which was not true was “the flat Earth, that is completely ridiculous, because we already know that it’s round”. In a similar way currently accepted theories could become discredited,

“I think they could if we turned out to be wrong like the phlogiston theory, because as soon as Lavoisier like proved it wrong, it was obvious that it was (pause) so yeah, once we make a mistake I’m sure we can like change our theory”

For Anita, considering a theory true seemed to be a matter of it having successfully replace a discredited theory: “I really do think it’s about like the countering evidence for other theories”.


Anita’s perception of the nature of religious knowledge


Anita referred to the Bible as the source of religious beliefs, so for example “the Bible says that all things were created as they are”. Anita was aware that different people would believe different things, and recounted an origin myth she had heard from a different culture,

“there’s a story about how there was a woman that peeled shadows off the wall, and it talks about the mosquito and how it can’t use his poison, and – yeah, and she peels off the animals off the wall of the – she sees shadows on the wall from her fire and she’s in a cave – she peels the animals off the wall, and they come to life and then she sets them out into the world”

Anita suggested that different people thought different things because people construct different ways of making sense of the world,

“I think it’s because people’s minds trying to explain it and everyone, and you could have a really-really good imagination, or really a logical mind, and then you piece it all together and then you get something completely different”

Despite this, Anita thought that the Bible - which was the source of her religious beliefs (about the origin of the universe and living things, for example) - “is sacred”,

“the Bible is not just a whole load of random stories, it’s a proper holy book and it’s like true stories that people must’ve been inspired to put them down, so it’s like God is talking to you through the Bible”


Anita’s perception of the relationship between scientific knowledge and religious knowledge

Anita was aware of a number of areas where she considered science and religion to contradict. So for Anita scientific and religious views on the creation of the World were at odds as

“some people believe in the 7 days, and how He, God, created the world, and I think others believe in the big bang very strongly and they don’t think that like God can exist because of that evidence”.

Similarly “the scientists’ belief in evolution” of different species of living things was contrary to religious belief as

“because in the Bible it says God created them as they are … [whereas] science doesn’t believe that”. She explained that, “scientists believe in evolution, and the Bible says that all things were created as they are, and … God could have created animals as … like cells, and then they could’ve evolved – the Bible doesn’t say that”

Anita thought that the term ‘miracle’ “means like something all miraculous happens, like science cannot explain, and they’ll try but it won’t fit and it won’t feel right”. Anita included in her notion of miracles personal experiences such as “sometimes when my homework’s late, the teacher is ill… that’s kind of a miracle” (as she avoided getting told off for not having done the work on time), but recognised that such experiences could be explained by science:

“I think science kind of limits miracles to like minor things, such as, the homework thing – it’s not really a miracle, but to me it feels like a miracle because then I don’t get detention”.

However, Anita thought there were other types of miracles that science really could not explain, but which really happened. She referred to examples of miracles performed by Christ, and to his resurrection:

“Jesus turned the water into wine, and the people drank the wine and they knew that it was wine, so yeah, I don’t think – unless he was some kind of really weird magician that had wine up his sleeves…when Jesus raised the girl from the dead, science says that well once we have like died, we can’t come back, but like that girl was fully there, but whether as in the story when Jesus came back, he was just like – he wasn’t [just] a spirit, they could touch him but he had spiritual properties, which I don’t think science can explain”

Anita reported that she “read about miracles quite a lot”, and gave an example of a more contemporaneous episode that she considered miraculous where “there was a young child who had cancer, and she played Pac-Man inside her body, and she ate all the cancer cells – she imagined that was happening and then the next day after she’s finished that game of Pac-Man, she no longer had cancer”.


Anita’s personal response to her perception of the relationship between scientific knowledge and religious knowledge


Although Anita appeared to feel that scripture should be taken literally, and was contrary to science, she was open to finding a way of ‘fitting’ religious and scientific ideas together, and considered that “it’s fun to compare them”. She saw diverse ideas and disagreements as a positive spur to thinking ideas through,

“I think it’s good that we all have good imaginations and logical minds, and it’s good to challenge people’s theories, and like challenge your own theory, so you can be open to other people’s theories”

Anita thought that it was sometimes possible to develop a synthesis as “I think you can like link some of the things together, and then you can get something else and then it would be interesting to challenge it to other people’s theories”. When this brought new insights (“ that could happen!”) it made her feel “accomplished”.

Anita acknowledge that for “some people” there remained contradictions between the Bible and science as “some people just can’t fit it together, and yeah – they just can’t decide what to believe”. She herself was in that position with regard to “the evolution one, because of like they do clash and it’s like which one can I believe, or can I put them both together”. However, with regard to the creation of the Universe itself, Anita could find an accommodation between the two sources of ideas,

“it’s really interesting because like all the different theories, they clash, but like when you think about it deeper like with the big bang, we don’t know why it happened, it could’ve been God creating the universe with the big bang…we can’t deny that the big bang probably did happen, but we still don’t know what like made it happen” For Anita such issues did not undermine her religious beliefs, as “I like to challenge my faith, and it’s like get closer to God by challenging it”.

This account is based on an interview given by Anita (an assumed name) as part of the LASAR project.

(Note on editing: quotations have been slighty tidied to aid readability, and resequenced to give a coherent narrative account, whilst taking care not to change meanings or misrepresent Anita's ideas.)

Case Study: Andrea

posted Apr 24, 2010, 11:14 AM by Berry Billingsley

“A lot of scientists write religion off, and most of them are atheists”: Andrea's perceptions of the relationship between science and religion

Andrea was a Y9 student at Abbey School (a faith school). She told us that “I find science really interesting and I’m quite good at science, but I’m also quite interested in religion”. Andrea considered that there were contradictions between her Christian beliefs and what she took to be scientific knowledge, giving the examples of “the creation story and miracles”. So she thought that some people “believe in the big bang and evolution” whereas “the Pope would believe in the story of creation, and Adam and Eve, and other Christians would believe that as well”.

Andrea defined a miracle as “something that doesn’t normally happen, something that’s out of the ordinary, and that no human can really do”. Andrea thought that people would sometimes “find a miracle” which might appear as a “kind of … last option really, so you’ve lost everything and then … humans can find miracles”. Although Andrea thought that “they can happen” she also thought that that science “contradicts my view about miracles”.

Andrea thought that “quite a lot of scientists write religion off” suggesting this was because “they see it as a complication”. She explained that “they’ll be working with a theory and then they’ll suddenly have the complication of religion, so I think they just write it off, and most of them are atheists”. In part this view seemed to derive from Andrea’s experience of a family member,

“my aunt is a scientist and she’s an atheist, and I think she just thinks it’s words and thoughts and … she knows that nothing in the Bible can be true from a science background, so she finds it very hard to believe in the Bible, and I think she just thinks that as a – just a complication, really”

Andrea considered that scientists and religious people have a different perspective on the world, “because everyone sees life in a different way - scientists see it as something that you can plan out and map, and Christians see it as something like fate and, if you pray then it will help you through”.

Andrea’s response to the relationship between science and religion

Andrea’s response to the perceived contradictions between science and religion appeared to be to compartmentalise her knowledge. So, she explained that despite her faith, when we asked her own views on issues (in our survey) where she perceived a contradiction, she was unsure what answer to give:

“it was hard to say because some of the questions – ‘do you think that God created the universe’ – most of them I put ‘not sure’, because there’s the science part of me that says no it’s the big bang, and then there’s the religious part of me that said it was God”

“I’m not really sure about the big bang – it seems the most logical one to believe but, then there is, um there is God and there is Jesus and, everything, and just, yeah – erm – I don’t [voice fades to a whisper] really know.”

When asked if these ‘parts’ of her came together, Andrea responded “not really”. She acknowledged that “sometimes it does cross my mind – how can there be the big bang and then, how could there be Adam and Eve and the seven [days of creation] – the story of the creation, but most of the time, it’s just easier not to think about it cos it’s just too confusing”. This reflected the approach she felt was taken in her school where “they’re very careful in this school cos it’s a Christian based school, and I think mainly, we keep, to non-kind of theological things in RE and science – just to keep it – otherwise we’ll have – we’ll end up with, people becoming incredibly confused”.

Andrea’s perception of scientific knowledge

Andrea seemed aware that theories were not just random ideas, but should neither be taken as completely proven accounts of the world; yet she seemed to hold on to a naive realist view of the possibility of acquiring true knowledge,

"a theory is something that has been proved by – no – it’s, it’s a guess, but it’s a very scientific guess, and once you’ve got a theory, you have to work on it until it can be proved, so there’ll be people working on the big bang, and it can’t just be a random guess, there has to be some traces of fact –reality - in it. You just need to find all of the reality, and kind of make sure that you’ve got a good percentage of truth in the theory, instead of just it all being completely made up"

She suggested that in the case of the ‘big bang’ theory, “they did a number of experiments and it was proved that it was the only way the universe could’ve started”.

Andrea’s perception of religious knowledge

Andrea considered that “religion is really different for everyone…I think it’s very different for everyone, and different religions are very different”. So in “some religions … take things from the Bible and take them literally” whereas Andrea considered that although the Bible was the word of God, it contained internal contradictions,

“I believe in the Bible but some of the things in the Bible if you take them literally contradict each other, and you couldn’t really live normally and obey every law in the Bible, …but it’s the word of God so it is sacred.”

For Andrea, the way Biblical accounts appeared to contradict scientific knowledge actually provided grounds for her faith,

“I know from a scientific background that you can never really bring someone back from the dead, but Jesus performed a miracle that brought someone back from the dead, so therefore he must be, to me that proves slightly that he’s not just an average person, and that he is the son of God, because you can’t raise someone from the dead unless you’re the son of God or you’re God”

This account is based on an interview given by Andrea (an assumed name) as part of the LASAR project.

(Note on editing: quotations have been slighty tidied to aid readability, and resequenced to give a coherent narrative account, whilst taking care not to change meanings or misrepresent Andrea's ideas.)

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