What do Americans say when they are asked about their views on medical innovation? More importantly, does religion color their opinions?

Americans are closely divided on the issue of changing a baby's genetics to reduce the risk of serious disease, yet most agree that modifying DNA to make a baby smarter is inappropriate, a new Pew Research Center survey discovered.

While half of those surveyed believe genetic modification to avoid disease is not an appropriate use of medical innovation (and 46 percent say it is appropriate), the overwhelming majority of Americans (83 percent) say changing a baby’s DNA to improve intelligence is taking scientific advancement too far. The Pew survey polled a representative sample of more than 2,000 U.S. adults.

Breaking the numbers down, the survey found differences on the issue of genetic alteration to avoid disease linked to the frequency of religious observation. Specifically, 61 percent of adults who attend worship services at least weekly say genetic modification to reduce disease risk would be taking advances too far, while only 45 percent of those who worship less than weekly would agree with that position.

Meanwhile, majorities of all major religious groups say eugenics for the purpose of intelligence is taking medical advances too far with the religiously unaffiliated only slightly more likely to say this is appropriate. The proportions looked like this: 88 percent of adults who regularly attend services, 80 percent of adults who attend services less than weekly, and 75 percent of unaffiliated Americans all say modifying a baby’s DNA to improve intelligence would be taking medical advances too far.

Eugenics Paul Inkles, CC by 2.0

Food, Bioengineering, Vaccines

With regard to food, more people are skeptical of genetically modified crops than not. A majority of Americans say GM foods are generally unsafe to eat (57 percent), whereas 37 percent say these foods are safe. These breakdowns persist across religious groups, though black Protestants are more likely than others to say eating GM foods is not safe (66 percent).

However, even more adults dislike foods grown with pesticides, with 69 percent believing such foods are unsafe to eat. Frequency of church attendance did not influence opinions on this issue.

Meanwhile, most Americans accept bioengineering to create artificial organs, such as hearts or kidneys, for humans needing a transplant. Nearly three quarters of adults say bioengineering of artificial organs is making appropriate use of medical advances, while 23 percent disagree. The majority of religiously unaffiliated (84 percent) agree with this use of bioengineering as do 76 percent of white mainline Protestants and white Catholics. Slightly more than two-thirds of those who attend services at least weekly also find bioengineering artificial organs acceptable.

Ideas about vaccinations, surprisingly, do not divide along religious lines. According to results from the Pew survey, 68 percent of all American adults say childhood vaccinations for measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and polio should be required, not optional, with opinions roughly the same among those who attend worship services frequently and those who do not.

Overall, a majority of Americans (59 percent) say science and religion often conflict, while 38 percent believe science and religion to be mostly compatible. However, 68 percent of Americans told Pew researchers their personal religious beliefs do not conflict with science, while 30 percent believe the opposite is true.

In other words, most Americans find no conflict for themselves yet doubt their neighbor feels the same. To look at this issue more closely, read more here.