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What Scientists Really Think About Religion 1123

Hugh Pickens writes "The Washington Post has a book review of Science and Religion: What Scientists Really Think by Rice University sociologist Elaine Ecklund, who spent four years doing a detailed survey of 1,646 scientists at elite American research universities. The study reveals that scientists often practice a closeted faith, worrying about how their peers would react to learning about their religious views. 'After four years of research, at least one thing became clear: Much of what we believe about the faith lives of elite scientists is wrong. The '"insurmountable hostility" between science and religion is a caricature, a thought-cliche, perhaps useful as a satire on groupthink, but hardly representative of reality,' writes Ecklund. Unsurprisingly, Ecklund found that 64% of scientists are either atheists (34%) or agnostic (30%). But only five of the 275 in-depth interviewees actively oppose religion; and even among the third who are atheists, many consider themselves 'spiritual.' 'According to the scientists I interviewed, the academy seems to have a "strong culture" that suppresses discussion about religion in many areas,' says Ecklund. 'To remove the perceived stigma, we would need to have more scientists talking openly about issues of religion, where such issues are particularly relevant to their discipline.'"
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What Scientists Really Think About Religion

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  • by pagaboy ( 1029878 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @04:16PM (#32391274)
    If you've got a full meal ahead of you, have a read of The Mind of God by Paul Davies [] or Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship by John Polkinghorne [] (Physics).

    With a bit less time, for a snack, nibble on the short article Creation and Evolution not Creation or Evolution [] by R J Berry (Geneticist) and you should start to have a few ideas for conversation with biscuits.
  • Re:Makes sense (Score:2, Informative)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @04:24PM (#32391360)

    The only reason to do that would be when religion starts to meddle into affairs that they don't belong in. Like, say, science.

    Science and religion are, by definition of either, mutually exclusive. Religion is about faith and believing. Science is about questioning and doubting. How should you combine them? When one meddles in the affairs of the other, the result can only be dissatisfactory.

  • by Zordak ( 123132 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @04:43PM (#32391576) Homepage Journal
    Interesting quote. The reference to a "Starship" makes it sound like it might be from Star Trek, but the Star Trek universe is demonstrably free of any movie with that line.
  • by TeXMaster ( 593524 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @05:04PM (#32391782)

    "Very few Christians believe much of the Old Testament."

    Huh? The OT is part of the bible and is part of the basis of Christianity. Being a Christian REQUIRES one to believe the OT.

    It doesn't require you to believe the literal text of any part of the Bible. The only requirement for being a Christian is following (the example set by) Christ. (Which, by the way, not many self-proclaimed Christians try to do at the best of their possibilities, and obviously even less manage to pull off).

  • Re:Makes sense (Score:3, Informative)

    by Mr. Freeman ( 933986 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @05:05PM (#32391786)
    "Well, in case you are not aware scientific method is not about proving things wrong, is about proving things right in the first place."

    You have that completely backwards. I'm not going to bother explaining it because you're a dipshit. Go look up the "scientific method".
  • That makes no sense (Score:3, Informative)

    by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @05:07PM (#32391804)

    That's not true. You can't disprove the existence of God, but there's a lot of religious beliefs that you can prove wrong. You can prove astrology and fortune-telling wrong

    What does one have to do with the other?

    Astrology and fortune-telling are not religions.

    Furthermore, you CANNOT prove them wrong. You can point out historically they have not worked, but by the very nature of how they are supposed to work you cannot prove FUTURE results are incorrect. You are foolishly attempting to apply some kind of statistical fitting to inherently random data.

    In other words, trying to disprove religion or any belief system wrong is in fact a waste of time, though it can make for interesting debate. But we should not be confused that the practice is productive.

  • Re:Makes sense (Score:1, Informative)

    by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @05:18PM (#32391896) Journal

    I agree with you almost entirely. It's not that I disagree at all with what you said, it's just that I wanted to point out or remind you that none of the religious books actually say the earth is a certain age (coming to 6000 years). That's little more then man's interpretations and attempts to understand it. They attempted to add up all the years of the characters in the bible to reach that age of the earth outside of it. This is true for Jews and Christians. I think the Muslim bible says a certain age at a certain time but that too could just be someone's reconciliation with what they were presented.

    Not that it makes any difference with what you said.

  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @05:23PM (#32391956) Homepage
    This is a sample of scientists in the US. Moreover, the claim that evangelicals are small fraction of the Christian population is simply not the case either in the US or globally. About a quarter of the US self-identify as evangelical and about a 1 our of 15 people worldwide is evangelical. []. And again, the striking aspect about the evangelicals is that the proportion is lower than what one would expect. By her survey, 28% of US scientists believe in God. But only 2% are evangelical. That means that fraction expected by a rough proportion of US theists is about about 3 times less common than one would expect. In contrast, the proportion closely resembles that in the global population. Based on this data and other related data and patterns, I'd expect that if you performed the same studies on a global sample you'd find that that the fraction of scientists which are evangelical would be much lower than 1 in 15.
  • Re:Makes sense (Score:3, Informative)

    by jbssm ( 961115 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @05:35PM (#32392042)
    Actually I did look it up: "A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.[3]"
  • Einstein on Religion (Score:5, Informative)

    by bezenek ( 958723 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @06:02PM (#32392236) Journal

    Some past scientists were in a position where they could speak about religion without fear. Unfortunately, I am not certain that is the case today. Examples from Einstein:

    I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it. (Albert Einstein, 1954)

    I think this one is of interest given our religious-values/anti-socialist Republican party:

    One strength of the Communist system ... is that it has some of the characteristics of a religion and inspires the emotions of a religion.
    (Albert Einstein, Out Of My Later Years, 1950)


  • Re:Makes sense (Score:4, Informative)

    by IICV ( 652597 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @06:07PM (#32392270)

    Uhm. Have you read Genesis recently? Here's [] an online copy; let's go through it line by line.

    • Gen 1: God creates the heavens and Earth. Before there is light. Meaning that the Earth was created before the Sun, or in fact before there was such a thing as electromagnetic radiation (depending on how you want to interpret it). This is objectively wrong either way.
    • Gen 3: God creates light. Before the Sun. This means that there's light on Earth, without the Sun. This is objectively wrong.
    • Gen 7: Apparently, the sky is made out of water? Must be why all our spaceships are built like submarines and have propellers. Except they aren't, because this is objectively wrong.
    • Gen 11: Seed-bearing, land based plants and trees were the first kind of life on Earth? That's objectively wrong. Keep in mind that we still don't have a sun yet, either - plants and trees were created before the Sun, though oddly enough after there was light on Earth, which is simply ridiculous (and objectively wrong).
    • Gen 14-18: We finally get the Sun! Man, now those plants have something to eat, besides this weird light that comes from nowhere. Note, however, that the moon was created after the first plant life, which is objectively wrong. Also, the Sun was created before the rest of the stars, which is objectively wrong. (oh yeah and the Earth was created before the rest of the stars as well, which is objectively wrong)
    • Gen 20: Living creatures in the water? Cool, that's right (finally). But immediately from there we get birds? Not okay.
    • Gen 24: Livestock were created before wild animals? Livestock existed before there were people to domesticate them? How is that even supposed to make sense? Also, this is the Garden of Eden, which in some interpretations means that there was no such thing as death and Adam and Eve wandered around naked. What would they do with livestock, unless God was already planning the Fall?

    The rest of it is stuff about people which you've asked me not to mention; however, I'm sure you get the picture. There's plenty of stuff in in Genesis that's absolutely 100% wrong regardless of your interpretation.

  • Re:Makes sense (Score:3, Informative)

    by Citizen of Earth ( 569446 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @06:08PM (#32392290)
    You can also examine various faiths' origin and evolution and conclude that it's all trumped-up horseshit that exploits man's psychological weaknesses.
  • by Garwulf ( 708651 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @07:10PM (#32392834) Homepage

    "Sure, but regardless of how contradicting they are, religions are still the source of most wars in the world."

    Um, excuse me? Since when?

    I'm working on a graduate degree in military history, and while religious wars do exist, religion tends to be the minority cause. Most wars don't start because of religion at all.

    That said, religious wars are among the more brutal ones, right up there along with civil wars. But even when it comes to ethnic cleansing, ethnicity will frequently trump religion as an excuse for the atrocity.

    If you want a single thing to blame warmongering on, then blame human ambition - that's about as close as you'll ever get to an explanation.

  • 1700? wtf? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Weezul ( 52464 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @07:29PM (#32392966)

    Yeah, she's also designed her sample size so as to mirror the wider populations as closely as possible. You'll see far less belief if you restrict to professors at top tier institutions. NAS surveys set the gold standard since NAS members are the best of the best.

    You'll conversely find many religious people if you count lab techs. I'd expect the level has more impact than hard vs. soft, but who know. Btw, you'll find more atheists in Ivy league theology departments than across all theology departments.

  • Re:Makes sense (Score:3, Informative)

    by 16384 ( 21672 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @07:39PM (#32393032)

    The Bible: Those who believe shall be able to do miracles, such as drink poison and not get hurt, or heal the sick (Mark 15:17). So if you follow Christ and you can't do those things, then......yeah, you've just falsified it.

    The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20. (

    Why not:

    John 13:35 (New International Version)

    By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

  • Re:Makes sense (Score:3, Informative)

    by WalksOnDirt ( 704461 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @07:47PM (#32393086)

    Carbon dating works only for certain organic matter and is useful only with samples upto 14,000 years old.

    Three half lives sounded too small to me, so I checked Wikipedia where it is claimed that a one mg sample can be dated back to about 60,000 years.

  • Re:Makes sense (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 29, 2010 @07:56PM (#32393152)

    The Bible: Those who believe shall be able to do miracles, such as drink poison and not get hurt, or heal the sick (Mark 15:17). So if you follow Christ and you can't do those things, then......yeah, you've just falsified it.

    Mark 15:17 - "They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him."

  • Re:Makes sense (Score:2, Informative)

    by canadian_right ( 410687 ) <> on Saturday May 29, 2010 @08:29PM (#32393390) Homepage

    That is known as "Pascal's Wager".

  • Re:Makes sense (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 29, 2010 @08:33PM (#32393420)

    The science types think of themselves as being more rational. If they truly are, then they should be above being "anti religion" and avoid conforming to such a dichotomy. The other side being a bunch of ignorant punks is no excuse to be an ignorant punk.

  • by bertok ( 226922 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @08:35PM (#32393440)

    To remove the perceived stigma, we would need to have more scientists talking openly about issues of religion, where such issues are particularly relevant to their discipline.

    The surest path to atheism is open discussion of religion.

    That's a cute platitude, but since you're apparently a rational, scientific-minded person, I'd like to see your evidence of this. It doesn't comport with my personal experience.

    The method used by the Communists to reduce the power and influence of religions was to change the school curriculum to teach all religions equally, side-by-side, instead of just Christianity.

    It's brutally effective.

    Once the students can't tell the difference between one creation myth and another, and everything starts to blend into an ever more ridiculous set of children's stories, very few are left that can still take their "own" religion seriously any more.

  • by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @08:55PM (#32393548) Homepage

    Like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which stipulates the use of Windows computers in all the efforts to which it contributes?

    I looked it up [], and actually they allow Mac OS X, too. But I found it interesting that such a stipulation exists at all. (Note, however, they do not specify Windows 7, so something tells me this is more of a guideline than a hard-and-fast rule.)

  • Re:Makes sense (Score:3, Informative)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:02PM (#32393888) Journal
    Oh, that is true, but it really doesn't matter to the main point, for example:

    Matthew 7:7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you
    Matthew 17:20 If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
    Matthew 21:22 And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
    Mark 11:24Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
    Luke 17:6 If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.
    James 5:15 the prayer of faith shall save the sick
    1 John 3:22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive [from God], because we keep his commandments

    So as you can see, there is plenty of justification for the principle, spread over many books. There is even practical advice for how to adjust things if they don't work:
    James 4:3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
  • Re:Makes sense (Score:3, Informative)

    by LordVader717 ( 888547 ) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @04:50AM (#32395364)

    Although you can show quite simply how much of the factoids contained in their sacred books are inconsistent with what science shows us, this does neither prove the religion wrong

    Um, what? Of course it does, you just said it.
    Inconsistent with science == wrong
    Your weird-ass choice of vocabulary like "factoids" or "what science shows us" doesn't weaken this relation.

    By the way, except for the literal creationists, creationism by itself is not incompatible with what science tells us about the universe.

    Yes it is. In it's true and original meaning. You can create a compatible version by saying God lit a firecracker and created the Big Bang or whatever, but that really isn't what the word "creationism" means.

    when you go look at the substance of the religions, these are not inherently wrong, nor self-contradicting.

    The "substance" is merely your selective interpretation which has specifically weeded out contradictions and dissonance.
    But when you look at the canonical texts, they contradict themselves. Even if you only compare the moral teachings, the canon is full of contradictions. And even the oldest traditions themselves have contradicting views.

    What is contradicting (or more specifically substantially hypocrite) is most of the time the behavior of many believers.

    Absolutely. But you assume that religion by itself is actually distinct from it's believers, whereas in reality it is actually the behavior of the believers which creates and defines religion.
    As such all of this inconsistency is utterly unsurprising when you consider that the sacred texts weren't written by divine inspiration but are actually fantasy novels written by people with different political and ethical agendas to push and originated from many very different cultures.

  • Re:Makes sense (Score:3, Informative)

    by LordLucless ( 582312 ) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @07:46AM (#32395972)

    No, it's not. Pascal's Wager essentially says you should be a Christian, because if Christianity turns out to be right, you're safe, and if it's wrong, you're safe. It's bunk for a large number of reasons.

    That verse is saying that if there is no life after death, then Christianity is a waste of time. It's sort of the reverse of Pascal's Wager.

  • Re:Makes sense (Score:3, Informative)

    by bruce_the_loon ( 856617 ) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @08:11AM (#32396074) Homepage

    1. Bible said earth is flat

    Nope, religious individuals claimed this. Not explicitly stated in the Bible.

    2. Bible said earth is center of the universe (Copernicus)

    Also not explicitly claimed in the text. Another claim by individuals.

    3. Bible said god created all living beings (Darwin)

    This is in the bible. The literalists insist it is direct creation, the remainder take the story as metaphor.

    4. Bible said sun is center of the universe

    Also not explicitly claimed in the text. Another claim by individuals once the earth bit was disproved.

    5. Bible said earth is only 5000-10000 years old

    The bible doesn't claim this. It does not put a date on Genesis and Bishop Usher added ages of people together to get to his answer.

    If you're going to tackle this issue, please get the differences between what the book says and what individual religious people claim right.

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it is too dark to read.