We know some atheists participate in religious communities for a variety of reasons, but what about atheist scientists? How many of them participate in religious communities?
A new study by Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund and University at Buffalo SUNY sociologist Kristen Schultz Lee, published in the December 2011 Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, found that nearly 1 in 5 atheist scientists “attended a religious service more than once in the past year” — after they had children, of course.
17%… that’s about 16% higher than I initially predicted it would be…
But at least there are compelling reasons for doing so, and none of them are “We believe the bullshit they preach in church”:
The individuals surveyed cited personal and social reasons for integrating religion into their lives, including:
- Scientific identity – Study participants wish to expose their children to all sources of knowledge (including religion) and allow them to make their own choices about a religious identity.
- Spousal influence – Study participants are involved in a religious institution because of influence from their spouse or partner.
- Desire for community – Study participants want a sense of moral community and behavior, even if they don’t agree with the religious reasoning.
When you put it that way, it makes sense. We all know people who attend religious (or even non-religious) gatherings for the sake of community or keeping peace with the spouse. But that first bulletpoint is key. Atheist scientists don’t want to indoctrinate their own children into one belief system. They don’t want to force their kids to believe as they do. They want their children to figure these things out on their own and exposing them to a variety of myths is probably the best way to do that.
It’s kind of like the intellectual version of making your child smoke an entire pack of cigarettes until they get so sick of them that they’ll never smoke another one as long as they live.
On second thought, maybe you should take all this information with a grain of salt. The study was partially funded by the Templeton Foundation.
Side note: Rice University is promoting this study with the headline: “Some atheist scientists with children embrace religious traditions,” which is pretty far from the truth. There’s a difference between attending church because you “embrace” its teachings and traditions… and inoculating your children against superstitious dogma. The press release even explains the reasons atheist scientists gave for going to church — and “embracing religious traditions” wasn’t one of them.
It’s one thing to draw attention to a study with a catchy headline, but this one is misleading, suggesting a conclusion very different from the actual results.
(Thanks to Phil for the link)