One in five Americans have a strong understanding and support for science and its practical uses, while also believing the Bible to be the literal word of God, a study has found.
Researchers from the University of Evansville in Indiana say their findings call into question the common assumption that people will either favour a scientific or religious approach to life.
Findings showed that 43% of participants held a traditional religious perspective, 36% favoured science, while 21% fit into the 'post secular' category – people who take a "cafeteria approach" to the opposing subjects.
Post seculars were found to be deeply religious – of all three groups they were most likely to take the Bible as the literal word of God – but they also had a strong understanding of science. They accept scientific findings on areas like geology, radioactivity and genetics, but reject ideas about evolution and the Big Bang.
This group were found to have relatively high levels of education and income and were generally conservative Christians. "Our findings indicate that post-seculars are the most religious," lead author Timothy L. O'Brien said.
Speaking to IBTimes UK, O'Brien said their findings were very surprising: "We kind of expected we would find these two groups of people – one orientated towards science and away from religion and one that was more towards religion and away from science.
"But we found – and we were really surprised – a pretty substantial third group of US adults that really don't necessarily see a conflict between science and religion in a broad sense. For these people, the conflict is really confined to a few areas."
Published in the February issue of the American Sociological Review, researchers say they have uncovered a previously unidentified group by looking at people's perspectives on science and religion in tandem, rather than separately.
They say this group shows "differences in people's views of science and religion do not necessarily reflect a lack of knowledge or understanding" – post seculars are "scientifically literate" but still reject explanations about the origins of life and the universe.
"These folks have a really good understanding of science for the most part, so it's not like they don't know what scientists think about evolution and the big bang, but they chose to disagree with mainstream science," O'Brien said.
"One of the things historians and sociologists have suggested is that certain conservative Christian traditions sort of see particular aspects of science, they interpret them as corruptions of science rather than science is wrong. For example, the Big Bang is 'illegitimate science' - they don't view themselves as conflicting with science, they just think it's outside the boundaries of science."
Concluding, O'Brien said: "It's not like post seculars can be taught their view point is wrong. It's not about a lack of understanding, it's more the disagreement.
"It's almost like a cafeteria approach to understanding the world - these people take a little bit of science, a little bit of religion when it suits them and these things form an amalgamation, which creates a personally compelling narrative that explains the world. It might be different from person to person but generally draws on both science and religion."