What Do Scientists Really Think? 1 (RJS)

Today I am a lab rat – the little white kind, running through a maze, dissected for examination…

Elaine Howard Ecklund a sociologist at Rice University, with a husband on the faculty in Physics, has published a book Science vs Religion: What Scientists Really Think. The work reported in this book draws on an extensive survey of nearly 1700 professors at twenty one “elite” universities, in seven core disciplines (chemistry, physics, biology,  sociology, economics, political science, and psychology), augmented by detailed interviews with 275 of them. The book uses 10 representative anecdotal stories to flesh out and personalize the findings. I have spent all but three of the last 29 years, as graduate student, postdoc, and professor, at Universities included in Ecklund’s study. This book is well written, easy to read, and (speaking as a lab rat) she hits the target. I find nothing surprising, but much that provokes thought.

Strictly by the numbers:

But there is more to it than the numbers alone reflect. In Part I of the book Ecklund describes her findings on the personal faith of scientists – looking at three angles: the voice of science, the voice of faith, and spiritual entrepreneurs. While there is a reputation for secular atheism, “scientism,” and that view is represented, the reality is far more complex. As with any group there is a range of opinion and persuasion.

Do these numbers surprise you?

Do you think these numbers foreshadow changes for the general population in the future?

Taking a brief look at the three categories:

Voice of Science: The chapter on voice of science provides insight into those who dismiss faith. Ecklund identifies three sets of reasons –

Science trumps religion – science deals with facts, religion with ______ (fill in the blank).

Religion has let them down – either through personal experience,  inability to handle the big questions (the problem of pain is a serious one), or the history of “bad” religion in society.

No real background and no sense that religion is either real or important.

A small proportion see religion as a threat rather than simply a waste of time and energy:

Scientists across all disciplines have adopted a “conflict paradigm,” although this group makes up only a small percentage (15 percent) of the 275 scientists I interviewed. A few scientists … flatly declared that there is no hope for achieving a common ground of dialogue between scientists and religious believers. (p. 19)

Voice of Faith: The chapter on voice of faith discusses a number of stories. Some 30% of scientists in elite institutions are active at some level in a faith tradition – mainline protestant, catholic, Jewish, evangelical, other…; about 36% have some form of belief in God or other higher power; about 18% attend religious services once a month or more.

Very few identify as evangelical (2%) – although a somewhat larger percentage practice what we would consider an evangelical faith. The label “evangelical” carries baggage that many are unwilling to embrace. On the conflict issues … “None of the religious scientists I talked with supported the theory of intelligent design. (94% of religious scientists think that evolution is the best explanation for the development of life on earth).” (pp. 29-30). (By my estimate Ecklund found 5 scientists who did not think evolution was the best explanation … I would like to know the fields represented by these five and the reasons given.)

Many of these scientists keep a low profile on all fronts.

The scientists with a faith tradition whom I interviewed often displayed … an identity that is many-sided and fluid. … Religious scientists often feel embattled, both in their scientific and religious communities. At work, they might experience subtle discrimination. At church, if they were to express all facets of their identities as scientists, they might face misunderstanding and rejection, especially within religious communities that sometimes question (or outright reject) the theory of evolution. (p. 47)

Spiritual entrepreneurs: Over 20% of those interviewed see themselves as spiritual, but not religious. Within this group many are atheist. Spirituality does not require belief in the supernatural. This is not the kind of individualistic spirituality that is assembled as though from a religious/spiritual salad bar, pick and choose according to individual taste. Rather it is a coherent and meaningful whole.

The effort of the spiritual scientist is more about pursuing reality and discovering the truthful aspects of spirituality that will be most in line with science. Most often scientists see this individual pursuit of truth, which allows science to stand in the face of criticism, as completely incongruent with religion. For Evelyn, religion connotes a sort of “groupthink.” Spiritual entrepreneurs, on the other hand, conform to nothing but their discovered truth, or search for meaning. And these individual pursuits of truth can often lead to an outward focus rather than shallow preoccupation with oneself.

Scientists who are spiritual entrepreneurs do not consider religious communities likely sources of truth. (pp. 55)

This is an interesting overview of the diversity of views. I know individuals who fit in all of the categories described in this section. This provides an excellent overview of the thinking within the University. Although the numbers change a bit in other disciplines – and substantially in some of the professional schools, these positions are generally represented. I recommend that everyone involved in campus ministry, especially graduate student ministry, read this book – especially Ch. 1-4. All of those active or leading churches in University communities, should read this book – carefully and for insight. There is no way to have a serious impact without knowing something of where others are coming from.

What do you think? Any surprises here?

How should evangelical pastors and leaders and authors talk about “university scientists” after you see these numbers?

What can we do in churches to make scientists feel safe?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

Added: From an article by Gross and Simmons who looked at all College and University professors – not just “elite” institutions. The data from Gross and Simmons most comparable to Ecklund is divided between social scientists (SS) and physical and biological scientists (P/B).

Ecklund     –  28% believers,  8% higher power, not God, 64% atheist or agnostic

GS – SS    –  43% believers, 18% higher power, not God, 39% atheist or agnostic

GS – P/B   –  44% believers,   4% higher power, not God, 52% atheist or agnostic

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  • Rick

    Some initial questions come to mind:
    Is this inherent in the atmosphere of these “elite” institutions? Does this reflect the type of candidates they hire, the field of study, or the mindset of the school?
    Don’t some fields of science vary in responses (I thought I had seen a study years ago that indicated some science fields are more open to religion)? What makes the difference?
    What can be done to help and answer questions for these people BEFORE they get to these schools?
    What can be done for these people WHILE at these schools?

  • Danny

    I agree, this is an interesting study but not too surprising.
    A question I have is this: Since we all worship someone or something, what or who is the god of the scientists?
    And a second, how do you share the truth of the gospel with those who believe they know more than you?

  • RJS

    I can’t speak to the social sciences – but in the sciences I don’t think that the hiring process preselects candidates on this basis at all. It simply never comes up.
    On the other hand, I have spoken with a number of graduate students at church who say that they had once thought of an academic career – but it simply isn’t worth the effort to fight all of the battles. It is a competitive environment, and one never really belongs anywhere. Community is hard to find. I really can’t fault these decisions as I would say that isolation is the single hardest part of the situation.

  • Duder

    Actually Danny, we don’t “all worship someone or something”; some of us have begun thinking for ourselves and dispensed with worshiping imaginary higher powers. To share the ‘truth’ of the gospel with someone you would actually have to show that it is true, which you can’t. You have your beliefs and I have my reality, stop trying to make everyone think the way you think, it’s an immature mindset.

  • DRT

    I am not surprised by the results since I myself have probably been in each of the categories at different times in my life.
    To me, it comes down to the definition of god. Just as it is nearly impossible to communicate the nuances of 11 dimensional string theory to the public, it is probably also impossible to communicate what “god” really is. As a scientifically minded person, the god I believe in seems to be different than the god that is discussed in most religions at one level, and the same at another.
    My atheistic son who is definitely a scientific type of thinker certainly believes in a cohesive element to the cosmos that is seen manifest in many ways in the world and in people’s interconnectedness in general. But he would not believe in the anthropomorphic god of many religions nor would he advocate a religious worldview because of the obvious damage that religion has done to the world.
    Me, on the other hand, I have come full circle now and actually believe that there may be a way to express religion in the world that is not harmful to the world and have dedicated a large part of my mission to try and enact a view of god and religion that can help humanity, not divide it. I am definitely a scientist at heart and have been since a small child. When I got my first job as a paper boy in 6th grade I took my first paycheck and bought a chemistry set. The next two went towards a microscope.
    People (pastors and evangelists) need to understand this way of thinking……we, I , want the church to be a safe place for scientifically minded people too.

  • For some folk who are trying to address these kind of questions, see InterVarsity’s Grad and Faculty ministry.

  • RJS

    IVCF GFM is doing great things at a number of places. But I would suggest that every staff member should read this book – and be prepared to think through the issues. My experience is that many simply don’t understand the University environment or the mind set, and that causes problems.

  • AHH

    I’m thinking about that first graph, the two theistic categories on the right, “some doubts but believe” and “no doubts” — the latter of which has very few scientists. And I’m thinking that with this wording, I would also have said “some doubts but believe”. For the scientifically trained mind, “no doubt” is a place we can’t generally get to if we are honest with ourselves, especially on matters with a large degree of subjectivity like this.
    RJS, I think you said you were one of those interviewed — which of those 2 did you choose?
    As for the relative lack of believers in “elite” science positions, I think there are at least 2 major factors:
    1) Attitudes in the Evangelical church (including but not limited to various forms of creationism, and the general attitude of “warfare” between science and faith as promoted for example in Expelled) which both drive young Christians away from careers in science and drive scientists away from the church.
    2) Reaching “elite” levels in science is more likely to happen for those scientists who are good at self-promotion and have single-minded devotion to their work, and Christians tend (I hope) to have different priorities. Not that Christians can’t get to elite positions without compromising their priorities (RJS has managed), but as in many areas the aggressive self-promoters tend to get ahead.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    The question that has always interested me is causation. Does the content of science produce more atheists and agnostics, or does science attract more atheists and agnostics? I am sure it is a bit of both- but how much or each?
    My pet theory? Since passionate atheists have no seminary to help them prepare for the priesthood, many choose to get PhD’s in biology instead. They form a different kind of priesthood.

  • pds

    AHH #8,
    Funny you don’t mention how many scientists push “the attitude of ‘warfare’ between science and faith.” Expelled did not create PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins et al. Expelled actually shows two kinds of scientists. The ID folks are not waging war on science. They are asking original and interesting questions.

  • RJS

    I am not one of the 275 she interviewed in depth. But I think I am one of the 1646 who responded to the broader survey. I know I did at least one survey like this around that time and the questions look familiar – especially the one about types of Baptists, which doesn’t include my denomination. (The survey is included in an appendix in the book.)
    I probably count as evangelical – and I am probably in the “I have some doubts but believe in God” category. To say “no doubts” – that is something of a stretch, too absolutely definite.

  • Randy

    Responses to several comments here:
    1. I find the categories of sciences (and probably the definition of “elite universities” problematic. Having led a ministry at Iowa State University, I don’t see any Engineering, Agricultural or even remotely applied disciplines represented. This is quite rightly a study of scientists, so I understand not including Historians and humanities, but to not include applied sciences seems deeply problematic in today’s world of technology.
    2. The comment (I believe by RJS) about the difficulty of community is absolutely an issue. AT ISU I knew faculty who worked harder than they should have to find Christian community that understood them. This also relates to the church-university crush. I recently met an old friend from grad school whom I hadn’t seen in 10 years. The lack of Christian community that could deal with her doubts, questions and vision was top of her list.
    3. IV Grad/Faculty Ministry is doing great things, particularly at getting staff who do understand the university setting. They need more to get the job done though.
    4. Churches: One thing our churches can do is invite Christian scientsts to tell their stories and engage them in serious conversation. One aspect of the ministry I led was that we were charged both to bring the gospel to the university AND to bring the learning of the university to the church.
    Churches in university towns/cities can also select pastors who have some experience with and understanding of the university environment.
    Randy G.

  • AHH

    pds #10
    I agree with you that some from the side of science (such as Dawkins and PZ Myers) also promote the harmful “warfare” model that discourages Christians from going into science and discourages scientists from faith. Hard to know which “side” of the warfare to assign more blame to (might be 50-50 as a first approximation) — but I tend to focus here on the “warfare” from the Christian side since that is what we are in a better position to help heal on this blog.
    But if you can’t see how Expelled, the Discovery Institute, the Truth Project, etc. also contribute to this harmful “warfare”, you have a big blind spot. Even anti-evolutionist Hugh Ross criticized Expelled for its promotion of the warfare model.

  • Unapologetic Catholic

    “Do you think these numbers foreshadow changes for the general population in the future?”
    Very Much so.
    CAPTCHA even agres with me: “PARTISAN MESSIAHS”

  • Scott

    I would lay all of the fault at the feet of Christians (what else would we do as followers of Christ?). It only makes sense that science takes a “warfare” or dualistic, zero-sum approach. Science has been about black and whites for a long time (at least in the midst of the scientific process). You claim a hypothesis and then prove or disprove it… then move forward with the new questions that are raised. The problem occurs when followers of Christ (better defined as disciples to a way of living than proponents of a system of belief) enter into that arena of argument. Jesus followers ought to be practicing love, not arguing science. Are they compelled by scientific questions? Of course! And they should pursue them with the fervor and honesty of any scientist. But Faith compels me to believe that science will ultimately reveal my incomplete understanding of God, myself and the universe just as scripture, prayer or any spiritual discipline does. It seems atheistic to me to draw a line in the sand and say, “I must believe blindly or disbelieve with my eyes wide open.” Both sides seem to be saying that at some level. I blame Christians (I’m blaming myself in that statement as well) for placing themselves and scripture on that playing field. God doesn’t care about our dichotomies… he cares about us, believers, agnostics, atheists, pagans. That should be the Christian message—a message less argued than lived.

  • RJS

    Randy (#12),
    I added a figure using data from an article by Gross and Simmons who looked at all professors, and not just elite institutions.
    Averaged over all fields 23% are atheist or agnostic and 56% believers. In the social sciences 39% are atheist or agnostic and 43% believers; in the physical and biological sciences 52% are atheist or agnostic and 44% believers.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    AHH #13,
    I agree that Expelled promoted a kind of “warfare” model, but it was not between faith and science, it was between atheist-driven science and design-friendly science. That’s a big difference. Can you admit that much of the film was very pro-science?
    What bugs me is how Biologos et al constantly paint ID folks as anti-science. In reality, the ID folks have just as strong a desire to reconcile faith and science. They just do it a different way.
    Recent example from Francisco Ayala:

    Q: You have received many awards and recognitions in the United States for your relentless fight against the so-called creationism. Where does this movement draw its strength from?
    A: In reality, from very few people. From the five or seven scientists in the Discovery Institute’s salary, only one is a professional biochemist, the rest are from the social sciences. It is not even a matter of conviction. I am certain that they do not believe what they say.

    This kind of stuff has to stop. This is disgraceful. RJS and Biologos should be denouncing this kind of ad hominem.

  • MatthewS

    My only surprise is that the number of believers is as high as it is. I had an impression that it was more like 2% rather than 28% who would identify some kind of belief in God.
    I wonder how much overlap exists between the 28% of believers in God and the over-20% who are “spiritual, but not religious”?
    I also wondered how those who follow Eastern religions would fit into all this – I suppose polytheists might place themselves in the spiritual but not religious category.

  • RJS

    Matthew S,
    There is very little overlap between “spiritual but not religious” and believers. The 8% who “believe in a higher power but it is not God” are “spiritual but not religious”, but most of the rest are atheist or agnostic. Ecklund has a fairly long discussion of this group because the idea of spirituality without any belief in the supernatural seems to be a category in scientists not seen in the general population.

  • Nathan C

    I’m less surprised now that you’ve added the numbers from Gross and Simmons. The combined picture – scientists are slightly less religious than everyone else, until you hit the elite, which is a lot less – more or less accords with my experience. It would be interesting to see how the results change if the pool is broadened further to include scientists in private research laboratories and industry. Is the list of Ecklund’s twenty-one universities available online?
    I’d also be very curious to see how Ecklund’s results break down by field. In my experience, religious physicists are not particularly uncommon, and physicists in general aren’t too bothered by “God talk.” By contrast, biologists often seem to face hostility to religion in their formative education. (I’m speaking broadly, of course, and there are exceptions.)
    As to whether these numbers foreshadow changes for the general population… I doubt it. It’s not just religion in which there’s a gap between the attitudes of scientific and technical practitioners and the general population, and for good or ill, I don’t see that gap closing in the foreseeable future.

  • Mr_skeptic_44

    TO: AHH (# 13) and PDS (# 17):
    Has it occurred to anyone that the folks at the Discovery “Institute” have some agenda *other than*, or perhaps *in addition to*, the actual content of this Creationist nonsense?
    For example, isn’t it possible that the agenda is to raise money for DI, by getting well-heeled believers angry enough to give money with the attitude “I’ll show those atheists!” Or maybe to give the DI folks “a seat at the table”, that is, some power to influence the debate?
    It’s simply indisputable that (a) creationism is nonsense, (b) no serious creationist research has ever been published in any serious journal, (c) there are scientists who are believers–e.g. Francis Collins of NIH, Ken Miller of Brown Univ. And I’ve read of others at “christian” (i.e. fundy or evangelical) colleges.
    Nor is it an accident that there are almost no actual *scientists* who do not support evolution.

  • RJS

    I think this is her list – I will check it when I get home and have the book.
    Columbia University
    Cornell University
    Duke University
    Harvard University
    Johns Hopkins University
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Princeton University
    Stanford University
    University of Pennsylvania
    University of California at Berkeley
    University of California, Los Angeles
    University of Chicago
    University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign
    University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
    University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
    University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
    University of Washington, Seattle
    University of Wisconsin, Madison
    University of Southern California
    Washington University
    Yale University

  • DRT

    In my life I have seen a lot of Christians who have deep, abiding, blind faith. I assess that the badge of merit of their faith is often seen as the blind part, not the deep and abiding part. Most science minded persons I know are equally capable of deep and abiding faith though they generally are not into the blind part. If a scientific minded person comes into a faith community and they she makes deep and abiding statements while not being blind then it is probably a non-starter for many Christians (Christians would identify this as an unbeliever or someone who does not have deep faith). Likewise, if a blind faither goes into the scientific community and makes scientific statements without a scientific basis then that is a non-starter (scientists will call the perspective groundless).
    The key is that being a christian is not about having deep, abiding blind faith. It is, as Scot said, more about what you do (deep and abiding love) and not about being blind.
    If I am misrepresenting you Scot then please correct me.

  • Scott

    Yes, Dave, I think you nailed my point very well. Thanks!
    BTW this reminds me of Anne LaMott’s statement, “The opposite of Faith is not Doubt, it’s Certainty.”
    I’m almost certain that most Christians fear doubt enough that staying blind is their only option. If only we could give up on “Certainty” enough to allow faith to be dynamic… then faith and science would have so much more in common. Perhaps both could be fully honest about their epistemological shortcomings… both could be honest about their respective “faith” elements.

  • Unapologetic Catholic

    “This kind of stuff has to stop. This is disgraceful. RJS and Biologos should be denouncing this kind of ad hominem.”
    You first: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/05/at_biologos_a_shameful_disrega.html
    The Discovery isntitute calm rational and policte “discourse:
    1. When it comes to factual matters, we’ve come to expect a certain pious slovenliness from the folks at the BioLogos Foundation.
    2. “darwinsit lobby group”
    3. Newton’s reporting is none too accurate itself, but BioLogos improved on Newton by introducing falsehoods not even found in the original.
    4. BioLogos is supposed to be an outfit devoted to apologetics, reconciling science and faith — an unobjectionable mission as far as it goes. What we get from these guys tends, instead, to be little more than propaganda.
    5. Contributing misinformation of their own isn’t just a shame — it is positively shameful.
    That’s just in one Discovery Instiute post: “Disagree with us and you’re liars.”
    If that’s polite discourse, I’d hate to see ugly.
    Captcha says it too: “extra naughty”

  • R Hampton

    “This kind of stuff has to stop. This is disgraceful. RJS and Biologos should be denouncing this kind of ad hominem.”
    (December 9, 2009) Insofar as Darwinism has swallowed up all of evolution into itself, the evolutionary theory partakes of the deep anti-theistic bias that Darwin built into it. It in fact does lead to atheism because it was designed to do so. The enormous push that secularization received from Darwinism should be proof enough that the theory of evolution so understood destroys belief in God.
    – Ben Wiker, Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute
    (May 19, 2009) From the perspective of theistic evolution, or BioLogos, I don’t see how they can be avoided except by wishful thinking. This is the road down which the surrender to naturalism eventually leads. It is the road to relativism.
    – David Klinghoffer, Senior Fellow, Discovery Institute
    (March 26, 2010) Dr. Francisco Ayala, accepting the Templeton prize, has a way of explaining the odd situation: “If they (science and religion) are properly understood, they cannot be in contradiction because science and religion concern different matters.” That is, believe what you want about religion, so long as it does not intrude on reality, for reality is established by (Darwinian) science and that explains it all. You see, it’s the old fact/value split. We’ll take the facts, you can have the values.
    – Bruce Chapman, President, Discovery Institute

  • DRT

    Arghh. Darwinianism is not correct. No science is correct. It is only the best explanation that we have at the time for what we actually see in the cosmos.
    One of the “things” I do in my professional life is that I manage large complex projects. That is defined as that I am trying to coordinate a large dissimilar group toward a specific endpoint. One of the tools we use is a top down schedule and a bottom up schedule.
    The top down approach looks at the truths that we know without detailed support and tries to come up with something that makes sense.
    The bottoms up approach comes up with the truths that we know with detailed support and tries to come up with something that makes sense.
    The only difference between the two is whether you are using detailed support to come up with the approach.
    Somewhere in the middle of the project, as you refine the top down and bottoms up approaches simultaneously you come up with something that seems to represent reality then you go with that, modifying it as you go along to take advantage of top down and bottoms up perspectives.
    Largely speaking, science is bottoms up. Religion is top down. The two are reaching the point where there are blatantly obvious difference in the painting of the big picture and there is difference in how the parties should reconcile the difference. Each perspective believes their view because it is their view. It is difficult to find people who view both as true.
    I believe the science and religion views are true. Period. As we learn from each, and further examine the efforts of each we will some day reach the point where the two will converge. At this point I can not imagine that happening in the next few thousand years.
    Recent history arguably points to the trend that the two perspectives will continue to get further unaligned before they get more aligned. That is a shame.
    Folks who are certain of the perspective will be disappointed in the end. The end state is expressed in terms of love of each other, not division.
    Darwin is wrong. Einstein is wrong. Newton is wrong. Hawking is wrong. But each was more right than their predecessor in the day.
    Paul is wrong. Augustine is wrong. Luther is wrong. Dawkins is wrong. Each could be more or less right than their predecessor.
    We won’t know the truth until we reach a level of emotional maturity only accomplished by one person that we know of until this date (the scientist in my refuses to believe Jesus has to be the only time that will or has ever happen).
    What is so wrong in admitting we don’t know?

  • kerry

    I don’t think this is unique to scientists, but accentuated in their case; churches need to be interested in the work that people do for 60 hours a week, and to entertain the thought that it may well be a vocation!! When I worked for a church I tried to visit people at work, asking them to describe the joys and the hardships inherent in their profession, and praying for them. Tragically, for too many people that was the only time anyone had EVER prayed for their work, which still bothers me. Do we think that God absents some places?
    One of our sons is a barrister and has become so frustrated with the ragging that he regularly receives from Christians about how he can work, “in such an evil system”, that he now asks if they would prefer that there were no Christians working in it at all.

  • RJS

    Nathan C (#20),
    The breakdown by discipline is not in Ecklund’s book, but it is in this article: Ecklund, Elaine Howard, Scheitle, Christopher P. “Religion among academic scientists: Distinctions, disciplines, and demographics” SOCIAL PROBLEMS, 54 (2) 289-307 MAY 2007.
    The breakdown (rounded off):
    Physics – 22% believers, 8% higher power, 70% atheist or agnostic
    Chemistry – 35% believers, 9% higher power, 55% atheist or agnostic
    Biology – 22% believers, 8% higher power, 71% atheist or agnostic
    Sociology – 24% believers, 12% higher power, 65% atheist or agnostic
    Economics – 30% believers, 5% higher power, 65% atheist or agnostic
    Poly Sci – 35% believers, 5.5% higher power, 59.5% atheist or agnostic
    Psych – 31% believers, 8% higher power, 61% atheist or agnostic
    I was surprised to see chemists with the most believers, I wouldn’t have guessed that. But physics is at the bottom (this I would have guessed).

  • Mike M

    Aside from the irrationality of some of the comments, my concern is since when did “economics” and “sociology” become science? One can use math to describe human behavior but that doesn’t mean it’s neither right nor accurate. Eliminating the pretend sciences, do the bar graphs change any?

  • Justin Topp

    Why did you think physicists would be on the bottom? I thought that they and the chemists would be the “highest” and biologists would be the “lowest”. Not too long ago, I spoke with John Polkinghorne about how biologists were “too full” of themselves and their methodology. He was basically saying biologists (of which I’m one) hadn’t come to the realization or accepted that there were irreducible problems of any nature. And, of course, biology is the more “recent” of these scientific disciplines… seems like biologists aren’t thinking as much about integrating their discipline with others. But I think that this is changing. Of course if you look at those scientists that are anti-theology/religion they’re usually… biologists.
    Glad you’re reviewing the book on the blog and am very happy that it came out. I remember talking with Stephen Meyer about how the Discovery Institute’s data on “percentage of believing scientists” was way off and that there was much more to it than he was saying. Hopefully (although I’m not all that optimistic) this book will facilitate discussion within labs and hallways and not just pews…
    Twitter: JustinTopp

  • bob johnson

    Seeing the break down in post #29 makes me wonder if the numbers listed for the percent of Christians you see in the general population is correct. Nearly all the students I associated with when I was a college student were fairly open about their religious beliefs and the number saying they were atheist or agnostic could easily hit 50% with very few being in one of the listed scientific fields of studying the survey. At the time I felt free to discuss such things with out being judged unfit for society and did not worry about the repercussions. Today as a person in the business field and must worry what people think of me I would not admit to being an atheist or agnostic and would answer surveys accordingly. This makes me wonder if people in academics feel more secure in stating their views on religion and thus more truthful then people in the general population with their answers.

  • Kyle

    A lot of stuff here. I hope RJS gets to the discussion about why scientists are more atheistic, if Ecklund shows anything clearly, it’s that it’s rarely due to their research…but usually instead their agnostic/atheistic upbringing.
    I don’t think so, because general surveys are usually very private and whereas there are surely people who overstate their views, its the exception.
    When Ecklund’s research first got published a couple of years back, there was talk among scientists. Her research was not viewed favorably by atheists who thought their percentages would have been higher, and also because it showed that younger scientists tend to be more religious and theistic. I expect this trend to continue as Biologos/Templeton, etc. make it more and more acceptable to be honestly religious and a reputable scientist.
    Unapologetic Catholic,
    I disagree. I think more and more people are starting to see that you can have a robust Christian faith and be scientific. Few people when confronted with science leave their faith. Already (and consistently since 1982), around 40% of Americans believe God directed evolution. You can assume that this crowd is happy with both God and science. Another 40% disagree, but it’s unrealistic to think that they will all become atheists/agnostics if/when they are honest with the science…they will more likely morph into the faith of the other 40%.

  • RJS

    Justin (#31),
    About physicists? – strictly anecdotal and based on a general attitude. I think the outspoken anti-religion crowd concentrates in biology because the conflict is here – between evolution and many Christians. The physicists who are “anti” are dismissive, not combative.
    I am on the boundary between chemistry and physics – so these are the crowds I know the best, only a relatively small intersection with biology.

  • Tim

    I was a biology major college graduate many moons ago. Then I went to seminary. I’ve been a pastor almost 23 years.
    I have experienced both the truth of biology and the Person of God in Christ as an event in my life.
    My life is spent among people who have not experienced the truth of biology, unable to wrap their minds around evolution and science in general. Meanwhile, I have in my own family those who have not experienced the event of God. [they would check the atheist label] It seems the survey under discussion is all about the head- without the events/Event.
    What I see is that I’ve had to do my own integration of faith and science, not to mention faith and doubt. There is also the question of what can be known about God. I struggle with the fact that most of my God thinking is idolatry/ideology. While I believe, the Person of God in Christ remains elusive, largely a mystery. There are many things I “believe”. I am embrace the mystery of the Trinity and am particularly allergic to Pelagianism. Yet the older I get, the more I have tried to be content with being known rather than knowing God. Because the more I know God, the more I realize I don’t know much.
    Sorry for rambling. Hope a little bit makes some sense. The bottom line is that I appreciate this survey, yet the subjects being questioned and the One being believed/or not is largely mystery.

  • pds

    UC #25 and R Hampton #26,
    Show me the factual errors in what you cite. Ayala’s statement contained gross errors of FACT. If you show me factual errors, I will denounce them.
    I don’t mind lively statement of opinion by either side. That is what your citations show.
    UC, ironically, Biologos admitted the factual error Klinghoffer referred to. Biologos took a Huffington Post article, did not check the facts, and added more error. Klinghoffer called them on it. They corrected it. And now you are attacking Klinghoffer?
    I pointed out a grossly misleading quotation from the same Biologos post here:
    Again, they failed to check the source.

  • RJS

    I will get to the discussion of why the percentages are so different – I think there are a variety of reasons. Ecklund’s research gives insight into some, but perhaps not all, of the reasons. Younger scientists do tend to be more religious and more theistic – but not more “evangelical.”
    Ecklund notes that “about 50 percent of those from a Protestant tradition retained religious beliefs and practices of some type.” The majority of those who retained a faith went through a sincere and personal struggle – to a deeper understanding. I would say that one of our challenges as a church is how to help students and scholars deal with this struggle. The deeper understanding is powerful, but not really in line with the common perspective from the pew.
    One of the things we need to develop within leaders and pastors is an attitude of “fellow traveler” rather than “authority.”
    (Captcha: apostle standing …)

  • Nathan C

    RJS (#29),
    Thank you for your time in putting all that information in the comments.
    Like Justin, I am slightly surprised by the departmental results, but my perceptions were, as you say, largely based on personal anecdotes and social experiences which it seems are not representative. (I am an older graduate student – in engineering, not science – in one of the universities on Ecklund’s list. Can’t say I’ve ever discussed these things with John Polkinghorne, though.)
    It seems there are really two conversations happening in the comments here.

  • Unapologetic catholic

    “Show me the factual errors in what you cite. Ayala’s statement contained gross errors of FACT. If you show me factual errors, I will denounce them.”
    Interesting PDS…You don’t complain about the factaal errors of those who object to the propganda of the Discovery institute, you are “sad” about the “tone” used to describe the intellectually dishonest Discovery Isntitute and the general disrepute that it has earned.
    Now that the shoe is on the other foot, you retreat to “factual errors” and suddenly have no problem with the Discovery Institute’s own “tone.”
    Your whole point is that the Discovery Insitute is “persecuted.”
    My repsonse and R. Hampton’s repsonse only serve to demonstrate that they are big kids as capable of capable of dishing it out as anybody else. They have their own website noticably absent of comments. Their only appearances under oath have been wretchedly bad. They don’t generally have the guts to surface in the internet outside of a few websites deemed “friendly” such as First Things and Touchstone. Even at those sites they get shredded. In fact, the DI is pretty much ridiculed across the political spectrum, the religious spectrum and by all of science as well.
    But nobody stops them from running their own website, publishing the results of their non-research and publicly pondering what their research would look like if they ever got around to doing some. Its a free country, the DI is fre to write and publsih on the internet if nowhere else. Meanwhile, the rest of us are just as free free to criticise and ridicule their pseudoscience.
    Your point about “tone” is an repeated attempt to deflect the conversation away from the merits of the valid criticisms of ID.

  • Unapologetic catholic

    Now back to the regularly scheduled programming:
    “What can we do in churches to make scientists feel safe?”
    “Fellow traveler” is an excellenet way to start. Gould’s NOMA is not perfect but is a good model for initital discussion. In my experience, however, the Church’s idea of where its magisteria ends and science’s begins is woefully overstated. Churches often don’t realize the extent of scientific accomplishments.
    In a “Fellow Traveler” mode both pastors and members of the flock who are scientists could respect the expertise of the other. As someone else observed above, we are all called to our own vocation. For some of us that vocation is science and our talents should be recognized for what they are–gifts from God. There’s a parable about servants who fail to use their talents, if I recall.
    Captcha: “Twos on”

  • RJS

    Unapologetic Catholic,
    I’ve been thinking about this a great deal – and Ecklund’s book triggered some new perspectives. More than anything else, Ph. D. programs in general, and especially in the sciences, teach one how to think; how to be critical, probing ideas from many different directions, testing them for coherence, reasonableness. Yes there is a body of knowledge and expertise, but this is secondary to the development of skills in critical thinking and creative problem solving.
    Several of the scientists interviewed for Ecklund’s book commented on the role that critical thinking plays in the ability to sit in the pew and take what the pastor puts forth at face value – it simply doesn’t work this way. One does not go from critical thinker 110 waking hours a week to passive recipient for the 2 hours of the Sunday services.
    Because most pastors are not highly educated renaissance scholars expert in everything – the only way to have an effective ministry in the University environment beyond the undergraduate level is through the attitude of “fellow traveler.”

  • pds

    UC #39,
    I have consistently said that both sides could do better in the “tone” area. Myself included at times, especially when I get frustrated.
    Ayala showed he doesn’t really care about getting basic facts straight.

  • Justin Topp

    RJS hits the nail on the head in post 41. IF churches want to be “safe” places, they’re going to have to allow scientists freedom to question and roam without making us out to be, well, “unchristian”. Many of us try out ideas before we come to a conclusion. This often leads to judgement by our pew-mates. The fellow-traveler model is essential.
    On the other side, though, what can we do to make scientists feel “safer” in the labs? I really hope that this book will have that effect. Perhaps by encouraging fellow-travelers in that arena to stand up and make themselves known?

  • Kyle

    Did you get that stat from the back of this latest book? I’ve only looked at the previous articles released in 2007 and 2008. For instance, she says that someone raised in a Protestant home where religion was “very important” has a 14% probability according to her research of now saying, “I do not believe in God.” That’s obviously higher than the general public, but not for the reasons that most people outside of these discussions assume.
    Whereas there are difficulties in being both a scientist and a Christian, the old canard that “becoming a scientist necessarily leads to loss of religion is untenable.” She says the actual reasons may be “due more to religious upbringing, rather than scientific training or university pressure to be irreligious.” She also mentions a portion of religious illiteracy among those who are non-religious and anti-religious.
    University programs need to be their to journey alongside those in the academy…but they have to connect to the church. Pastors need to know how to better relate to their parishoners on these topics, and resources like those from Biologos and the Faraday institute need to be freely distributed to the masses. Honestly, pastors need to understand evolution…but its getting to the point that they need to understand brain science as well…or at least know how to point people to guys like Malcolm Jeeves, Bill Newsome, Justin Barrett and Bill Hurlbut. They need to be reading Nicholas Gibson, Alan Torrance and others who are wading through these fields as theologians. Such studies are necessary for the spiritual health of their flocks.

  • RJS

    The stat I quoted in #37 is from p. 30 of the book, the endnote references the article I mentioned in #29. I didn’t look into it in any greater detail.
    I agree with everything in your last comment.
    (For Boston fans – captcha “Fenway stand”)