On the acceptance of evolution:
Indeed, according to a 2006 survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 42% of Americans reject the notion that life on earth evolved and believe instead that humans and other living things have always existed in their present form. Among white evangelical Protestants – many of whom regard the Bible as the inerrant word of God – 65% hold this view. Moreover, in the same poll, 21% of those surveyed say that although life has evolved, these changes were guided by a supreme being. Only a minority, about a quarter (26%) of respondents, say that they accept evolution through natural processes or natural selection alone.But most people are pro-science and understand that there is scientific consensus on evolution:
Interestingly, many of those who reject natural selection recognize that scientists themselves fully accept Darwin's theory. In the same 2006 Pew poll, nearly two-thirds of adults (62%) say that they believe that scientists agree on the validity of evolution. Moreover, Americans, including religious Americans, hold science and scientists in very high regard. A 2006 survey conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University found that most people (87%) think that scientific developments make society better. Among those who describe themselves as being very religious, the same number – 87% – share that opinion.Thus, the public simply ignore the scientists when scientific ideas come in conflict with religion - and evidence doesn't feature much in the debate:
When asked what they would do if scientists were to disprove a particular religious belief, nearly two-thirds (64%) of people say they would continue to hold to what their religion teaches rather than accept the contrary scientific finding, according to the results of an October 2006 Time magazine poll. Indeed, in a May 2007 Gallup poll, only 14% of those who say they do not believe in evolution cite lack of evidence as the main reason underpinning their views; more people cite their belief in Jesus (19%), God (16%) or religion generally (16%) as their reason for rejecting Darwin's theory.But here is a surprising result from the survey:
This reliance on religious faith may help explain why so many people do not see science as a direct threat to religion. Only 28% of respondents in the same Time poll say that scientific advancements threaten their religious beliefs. These poll results also show that more than four-fifths of respondents (81%) say that "recent discoveries and advances" in science have not significantly impacted their religious views. In fact, 14% say that these discoveries have actually made them more religious. Only 4% say that science has made them less religious.So the question is, how to best approach scientific ideas that clash with religion. Richard Dawkins' thinks that if you show evidence, all smart people will immediately side with it. This may still work, except he puts science and religion in opposition and makes one choose between them. The Pew survey shows that under these circumstances, most of the public will choose religion over science.
I think the starting point regarding that should be an emphasis on the use of evidence for physical phenomenon irrespective of ones' faith. Is it even possible? Hmm...well...you can use God for "meaning" - to answer the "why" questions and leave "how" questions to science and scientific evidence (in the same spirit of Gould's non-overlapping Magistaria and Galileo's two books: book of scripture and book of nature). Second, take advantage of the existing positive attitude towards science, and show how ideas like evolution has shaped modern medicine and is saving lives every day (Is it possible to show that a rejection of evolutionary theory in the modern world would almost be an immoral position from this perspective?). If this makes someone more religious...that is fine...as long as they accept that events in the physical world can be explained only by natural causes. Check out this article on Framing Science, published in Science, in the context of global warming debate, evolution, and the stem cells controversy. Also check out Krauss & Dawkins on this issue and also Michael Shermer.