Elaine Howard Ecklund – How Religious Are Scientists?

May 07, 2010

It’s hard to think of an issue more contentious these days than the relationship between faith and science. If you have any doubt, just flip over to the science blogosphere: You’ll see the argument everywhere.

In the scholarly arena, meanwhile, the topic has been approached from a number of angles: by historians of science, for example, and philosophers. However, relatively little data from the social sciences has been available concerning what today’s scientists actually think about faith.

Today’s Point of Inquiry guest, sociologist Dr. Elaine Ecklund of Rice University, is changing that. Over the past four years, she has undertaken a massive survey of the religious beliefs of elite American scientists at 21 top universities. It’s all reported in her new book Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think.

Ecklund’s findings are pretty surprising. The scientists in her survey are much less religious than the American public, of course—but they’re also much more religious, and more “spiritual,” than you might expect. For those interested in debating the relationship between science and religion, it seems safe to say that her new data will be hard to ignore.

Elaine Howard Ecklund is a member of the sociology faculty at Rice University, where she is also Director of the Program on Religion and Public Life at the Institute for Urban Research. Her research centrally focuses on the ways science and religion intersect with other life spheres, and it has been prominently covered in USA Today, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Newsweek, The Washington Post, and other prominent news media outlets. Ecklund is also the author of two books published by Oxford University Press: Korean American Evangelicals: New Models for Civic Life (2008), and more recently the new book Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think (2010).

This is point of inquiry for Friday, May 7th, 2010. 

Welcome the point of inquiry. I’m Chris Mooney point of inquiry is the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs and at the grassroots. In our first five shows together, we’ve covered some pretty controversial topics like climate change and vaccination. But there may be no issue in the science is more heated than the one to which we now turn the relationship between science and religion. At the outset. Full disclosure. Personally, I’m an atheist, but I’ve also argued that science and faith don’t absolutely have to be in conflict. This has led to some debates and you may have seen the wreckage lying around the blogosphere. As a host of Point of inquiry, though, my goal is to include a diversity of voices on this subject. Today’s guest, Dr. Elaine Ecklund of Rice University, is the first of those voices. There’ll be more. But I wanted to start with Ecklund because the research seems likely to spark a new phase in this debate. Eklund has a book out entitled Science versus Religion. What Scientists Really Think. And it reports the results of a four year survey of some seventeen hundred scientists at 21 top universities. As we’ll see, her findings about their religious views are pretty surprising. So let me introduce her. Elaine Howard Ecklund is a member of the sociology faculty at Rice University, where she’s also director of the Program on Religion and Public Life at the Institute for Urban Research. Her work essentially focuses on the way science and religion intersect with other spheres of life. And it has been covered in USA Today, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Newsweek, The Washington Post and other media outlets. Ecklund is also the author of two books published by Oxford University Press, Korean American Evangelicals, New Models for Civic Life and more recently, science versus religion. What scientists really think? The subject of our conversation now, Dr. Elaine Ecklund, welcomed the point of inquiry. 

Thanks for having me. It’s it’s good to be part of the show. 

Well, I’m very, very intrigued by your research, and that’s why I wanted you on. I feel like while the question of the relationship between science and religion gets approached from a lot of angles ranging from historical to philosophical, it’s rare that we get much real data on what scientists today actually think. And that’s what you’re providing in your book. 

So, Mike, first question is, can you just start out by telling us some of the basic parameters of the study you did, how you conducted it, and a few of the really big conclusions? 

Sure. So I started out in 2005 with a survey of two thousand two hundred scientists. Seventeen hundred responded. So I got a response rate of 75 percent, which is really good for social science research. And then I followed that up with 275 personal interviews. We actually flew out to people’s offices and labs and sat with them face to face and talked with them with what they thought about religion, spirituality, ethics. Some of these conversations lasted about fifteen minutes. So those people don’t think much about these things at all. And some of them lasted nearly three hours. So people that I literally had to get up and walk away from. And in terms of the finding, some of the biggest ones, I kind of put it to people like this that as scientists and were surprisingly more religious than I thought they would be, but in some different ways than I thought they would be. So I was pretty surprised, given the current public conception, that about 50 percent of scientists have some kind of religious identity. That’s a traditional Catholic, Protestant, Jewish kind of identity. About 50 percent don’t. And about 65 percent of this population see themselves as being spiritual or interested in spiritual things. And that perhaps was the most surprising to me, that people who do not consider themselves at all religious and our scientists see spirituality is very attractive. I did not think that that would be such a big finding in the research. 

How do we know how representative your data is of all U.S. scientists or all world scientists, as opposed to just the ones that I guess it was 20 universities? 

So I looked at the programs with a top graduate programs in the fields that I study, and I did that very deliberately. This is an area and you rightly said this, Chris, where they’re just not very much data. And so I wanted to start with doing a study of people who are thought leaders in their particular fields, places with the most highly ranked programs. And so I started there very deliberately. And I think this study is totally representative of the scientists at those places. I think my methodology is very tight. I don’t think it’s representative necessarily of all U.S. scientists. We have some evidence that those at, say, community colleges are much less elite institutions, maybe a little bit more like the general public and how they see religiosity. 

So this is just the beginning of the research. But already the findings are pretty provocative. I want to ask you another question for sort of Framingham in the context of other research on this topic that at least does exist, because you must know of this study, Larsen and with them in. They did it through the mail survey of members of the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S. and they reported nature in 1998. And they got a much higher percentage of atheists than you did, I think. And they got only seven percent of these elite scientists expressing personal belief. So I wonder, I mean, people’s who are, if anyone skeptical of your findings, they’ll contrast them with that study. So how do we reconcile or not reconcile these two? 

Sure. I’m very familiar with the Larsen Wittgenstein actually talked to the authors quite a bit about this study before I set up my design. They’re asking very different types of questions and it’s a different population. So the members of the National Academy, we have reason to believe, are probably pretty different than scientists in general. I’m not sure how they’re different, but it’s there’s good reason to believe that they’re probably pretty different. And secondly, the Larson and Witham study uses pretty narrow measures of religion. So I think they asked three kinds of questions like, do you believe in a God who intervenes in the world? You believe in that? We have to look in particular to see what those questions are, but they ask questions that are very Christian and orientation and also questions that are pretty narrow in terms of how sociologists of religion define religion now. And they wanted to replicate a study that was done 100 years earlier by the psychologist James Loomba. And so they wanted to replicate his questions. Exactly. And I’m not sure those are the best questions to, well, capture the broad range of religiosity among scientists or even of the general public, for that matter. 

Okay. And then here’s something on a bring up at the outset of this show as way of this closure, because in your book, you say that the data collection that you did was funded by the Templeton Foundation. And as you, I think know, some folks are very critical of the Templeton Foundation. And full disclosure, I myself have been criticized because I’m gonna be a Templeton Cambridge fellow in science and religion this summer that I wanted to ask what your response would be to those who would question this funding source. 

People have definitely questioned me. I received many e-mails from even the scientists I studied. I was very open about my funding source, which is part of my way of operating as a researcher. I’m always open about that kind of thing. And I actually found the Templeton Foundation to be very less a fair meaning that they did. They just gave me the money and trusted me as a researcher to carry things out as well as I could and didn’t exercise any kind of oversight, of course, in the findings or anything like that. I actually found them quite good to work with. I tried because I knew that the study would potentially be criticized because of its funding source. I tried extra hard to use very rigorous methodology. So I don’t know how much you know about social science methods, but 75 percent response rate is almost unheard of in modern survey research. That’s extremely high response rate. And I even did statistical analysis on nonresponse to make sure that they weren’t different than the respondents. And then I took another random sample of the survey respondents, a scientifically selected sample, and did in-depth interviews with them. And you should also know that it’s very uncommon in social science research when we do in-depth interviews to have them be scientifically selected by the population. Then I had the interviews coded by often as many as 12 different research assistants working with me to make sure that we were getting the same kinds of findings across interviews, that we were being consistent in the way were in analyzing the data. 

So I think in some ways, because I knew it might be criticized, it pushes us to be even better. So I’m pretty confident in my methodology. 

Well, that’s good to hear. And I don’t know enough social science to critique your methodology at the degree of detail that you’re talking about there. But, you know, it’s it’s important to get these points out. Let’s get into the details of the study a bit. I’ll ask you a question that’s come up already on our point of inquiry forums, but one that I would have asked anyway. What do you mean by religious when you say 50 percent of top scientists are that way? What definition are we using? 

I’m using a definition of adhering to one of the major world traditions, the ones that are most commonly practiced in the U.S. So Catholic, Protestant of a variety of sorts. Jew and then Muslim. Hindu, Buddhist. To a lesser extent. 

OK. But it’s not the case that all 50 percent believe in God. 

That’s exactly right. Which is so interesting. There’s about 60 percent of the sample who are atheist or agnostic. 

So most of the atheists are not part of religious communities and don’t see themselves as being religious. But there is a good proportion of the agnostics who do which. Those who are not sure whether or not they believe in God. And I think that’s so fascinating because it may be that agnosticism is viewed very differently by this population than by the general public. So, for example, as someone who’s studied, done studies of religion in the general public, I know that you won’t find very many people saying they don’t know whether or not they believe in God and still say, actively attending a church. I think that’s not true among scientists. It may be that they just are not sure because of the way that they view knowledge and a scientific method. They’re not sure whether or not they believe in anything. So, of course, they’re not sure whether or not they believe in God yet feel very comfortable being an active part of a worship community, which I just I think those kinds of intricacies are just fascinating about studying this population. 

Well, that’s what I learned from your book, is that science is whatever else they are, they’re unique. 

They are wonderful ways. Right. And surprising ways. 

And it’s but the number, if I remember correctly, for those in your sample who believe in God is 36 percent. 

And they sort of conception the straight. You know, I believe in God kind of way. 

And this you know, these kind of data automatically raise the question of, you know, our science and religion compatible. And we had another question from the forums that that I’ll post you now. Mike from Oz is his name. And he says, Given that the percentage of religious or spiritual scientists in this study might be higher than thought. Otherwise, do we see this as an example of even the smartest, most informed people being able to protect long held values via cognitive dissonance? And indeed, you know, that’s one possible response, your study. 

You know, even if one accepts the data as being fully accurate, a new atheist might argue it just shows that not even top scientists are very intellectually consistent. What do you say to that? 

I’m not a mind reader. 

So the kind of the kind of data that I collected can’t give us access to these sort of fundamental philosophic kinds of issues. But they can give us great access to a variety of the range of ways people talk about things and a variety of ways they practice things. And that’s what social scientists bested. That’s kind of knowledge. I would say that scientists I was there answer that question very simply. It depends on which religion, in which science. So some of the scientists that I studied had ways of thinking about religion that they saw as very compatible with what they do as scientists today. So, for example, thought of their science and going forward in a scientific discovery as being a formative spiritual insight from God, you know, is a pretty compatibles kind of view. Or they got the way that they practice ethics from their religious tradition. And some of some of the scientists saw these things in absolute conflict. So there are, at least among the scientists that I talk with and I’ve written some about this. There are a range of ways of seeing these things. 

Well, I want to spend most of our time just dealing with your first three chapters because there’s so data rich and you talk about these three camps in the world of science, which are basically the atheist camp, the science, religion, reconciler camp, and then the spiritual scientists who might well be atheists. And so let’s start with the atheists. You memorably introduce an atheist scientist who goes by the not real name of Eric, who thinks religion should not exist. He calls religion intellectual terrorism equals faith, the virus. He’s very, very anti religious. And the new atheists who appear in your survey, they all seem to believe in a conflict moral view between science and religion. And within that, they believe, it seems, that science will eventually eradicate religion. My question is, what percentage are they of the scientific world? Because, you know, there’s been a lot of attention to the new atheists, a lot of books sold. Do you think that their numbers are rising? How big are their numbers? 

I think the proportion of scientists who are atheist has risen legitimately over the past 20 or 30 years. And I’ve done some research comparing my data to a previous study, one that was done in 1969 and one in 1984, just asking these straight questions, our belief in God. So literally, I do think the proportion of atheist scientists has risen. The separate question. I think you’re asking, too, is how many scientists are like these kind of new atheists? Of course. You know, Richard Dawkins is the one that we think of the kind of leader of this camp. And I can honestly count on less than one hand the number of atheist scientists who are as against religion as my character arc in the book or Richard Dawkins. And I think those two would be very much in the same mindset. I think that’s an important point to make, because the new atheists are really leading this conversation because they’re active, wonderful writers and their artists, many atheists saying, gosh, we’d like to have better dialog with religious people. They’re artists, many atheist scientists who care passionately about that position as to the ones who care passionately about sort of denigrating religion. So that’s an important data point to make. 

So the new Athie ism is a movement that has actually been incredibly articulate. 

I think so, but but it’s small, right? So when people talk a lot, it makes their numbers seem larger than they actually are sometimes. 

Well, it’s no surprise that many scientists are atheists. But what is I found surprising your data is you find two types of atheists, first generation and second generation. And one of the second generation ones says in your book, quote, I never really had any exposure to religion. And that’s what it means to be second generation is to grow up with atheist parents. I found this interesting because I’m also second generation. So I never had the reject religion. I just never had it to begin with. Could you talk about how these groups differ? 

Well, the second generation atheists are not vehement in their negative attitudes towards religion. Sometimes they don’t even have negative attitudes towards religion. They just simply don’t believe. Which I think is very different than, you know, making it your life’s work to eradicate religion. That’s a very big difference. And second generation atheist could, I think, enter a very meaningful dialog with religious people and with religious groups. They could have a lot of overlap, in particular in the area of science education, contrary to sort of all of the press that religious fundamentalism has gotten there, certain religious groups out there. They’re very concerned about education in general as a matter of social justice and science education in particular, because we know when children have great science education, they just do better in life in general in terms. There says to an economic class and their job prospects, so there could be some really meaningful overlap in dialog between these second generation atheists and some members of some religious groups. 

Were we sure that this is a generalizable point about second generation versus first generation? I mean, for example, when I was young in college, I was actually very, you know, what would be a new atheist now in my mindset. And I just sort of changed as I grew older. But I’m still second generation. I’m sure there’s some that are first generation that are that very short could vary. 

And I didn’t I mean, legitimately, Chris, in full disclosure, I did not ask scientists how much they were interested in dialog with the general public. 

I did ask them the question, what do you think scientists are doing wrong in interactions with the general public and what do you think they could be doing? Right, as many scientists did bring up this idea that the comment quote was, we’re no friend of Richard Dawkins and people in the interviews. And by that, they didn’t mean necessarily they weren’t a friend of his atheist and they meant they weren’t a friend of what he’s done in terms of interacting with the general public at science. I mean, to pick on him in particular, he’s just the most vocal. I do think there could be a range of ways that first generation and second generation atheists respond. I do think it’s more likely that second generation atheists have more moderate views. Does that then translate into more dialog with the general public? I would have a hunch that it could, but don’t have a lot of data to support that because we haven’t tried this kind of dialog very much. 

Another finding here that is surprising is that you might think being a scientist and thinking critically about all aspects of existence would lead someone to atheist. But your data suggests that what actually seems to occur is the opposite, because you find that family background seems to be all important. In other words, not only do religious people adopt the faith of their fathers, but atheists adopt the atheist of their fathers. And so scientists are more likely to come from non-religious households. 

That’s right. And so people now, of course, I didn’t, you know, take a person from the woman, then follow them their whole life to figure out whether they became an atheist or not. Which is the best way that you would do this kind of study over time. But that aside, at least in a scientist’s own perceptions, they made these decisions much earlier than their scientific training, which is a little bit different than I think the general public thinks about these things. 

Well, that is striking because, I mean, the common conception certainly is that there’s something nasty about science because it’s so atheistic and it converts you and makes you give up God. And there’s probably fear in much of the Christian community that that’s the case. And that’s why there’s distrust of institutions of higher education. 

But if it’s happening earlier and it’s happening in the opposite direction, I think there’s very good evidence for that in a study like mine that people are making these decisions much earlier than their scientific training. 

But a devil’s advocate position would also be, you know, if more scientists are coming from non-religious or not very observant households, that itself might suggest on some level that there’s a significant dissonance between science and religion. 

It may. It may. So and these are the kinds of, you know, deeper philosophic issues that someone else might speak better to. He then collects the different kinds of data or thinks about these in different ways. But I can tell you accurately, you know, how scientists see things in their own words and they do see themselves as making these decisions much earlier, which I think has some public policy or at least public implications for how religious communities think about science. I’m not sure that their perception that it’s dangerous so that all scientists are out to turn kids against religion is really all that accurate. 

Mm hmm. Well, let’s move on to the scientists who are religious, who you also obviously provide a lot of data on. 

And you note that their figurehead is sort of Francis Collins, the current head of the NIH, but also that his story is not that typical of them because he started out, I believe, without much religion and he had a conversion and became strongly evangelical. So many of these religious scientists did something different, which is they started out religious. They had some kind of internal struggle while they were growing up. But then they eventually stayed religious in some sort of modified form and found a way of having both in their lives. That’s right. So in other words, both sides, the atheists, at least the first generation, and also the science, religion, reconciliation scientists are both having a struggle. 

I think that’s right. I think that’s right. So it’s just because scientists in the end decided to keep religions. Sometimes they didn’t keep the same religion as the religion of their youth. Sometimes, especially if they were raised in a tradition like American evangelicalism or even a more fundamentalist form of Christianity than evangelicalism, they often moderated their religious views pretty considerably as they became scientists. Some had a period in their lives when they were not religious and then returned to religion later on. So it’s not that the religious scientists sort of went on their happy way with seeking any sort of struggle ever. And I think that’s important to point out, especially for religious communities, again, who are scared of sending their kids into science or into higher education in general, that there are ways to struggle with. These things to have kids ask really difficult questions and still emerge with some form of faith in tact. 

Although I’ll be at maybe a different faith than you started out with another of the most striking findings in your book. And I really was was pleased to find this, is that overwhelmingly these scientists who are religious do not support intelligent design. You write that 94 percent of them are pro evolution. So there’s not really any threat to science from them, it sounds like. 

No, no. In fact, they often they’re religious scientists, at least in their own perception of things, are often doing more to uphold science. And again, this is their perception. I don’t know if this is necessarily the case, but they see themselves as caring more about weaker students because they’re motivated by their religious traditions. They see themselves as being more concerned to say about public outreach, science efforts, you know, going into underserved social groups of very poor communities and trying to do interventions for the sake of science. So they see themselves as doing a lot of public, but we would think of as traditionally public science kinds of efforts. 

But you also say that a lot of them are in the closet. There’s they’re afraid to talk about their beliefs. You mentioned a religious scientist who you called Jackass. I guess it’s not a real name again. And it’s really surprising because you report that although Jack thought there were no Christians in his department, I found out through my research that there were some help. 

Fascinating. Yeah. You’re going, you know, to at a university, you interview someone in an office course. 

These are all confidential interviews. And someone says, oh, my gosh, you know, no one in my department is at all interested in spirituality. I would love to talk about these things. I could never find a conversation partner here in physics Department X. Then you go to their colleague literally down the hall who’s like, oh, yes, I attend a physical church. But, you know, no one should ever know. And, you know, just there’s there’s this kind of almost what we would call a public secret. It’s very interesting to me. 

And I think there is some kind of culture that’s suppressing discussions about religion, at least in these kinds of academic departments that I studied. And that was it was a little bit peculiar to me because there could be some open discussion that would help scientists deal better with issues like intelligent design and other kinds of threats to teaching of evolution in public schools, for example. So if scientists felt comfortable bringing their ideas to the table to talk about public science efforts, then we might have better efforts in the end. 

They’re scared. They feel potentially persecuted. Interestingly, of course, atheists also feel persecuted in American society. Maybe not so much in academe, but just generally, I mean, you can only relate [Unrecognized]. Yes. Of both groups in a sense and have good reasons to feel that way. 

I found that I quote some of that research about atheists being persecuted in broader society, which I think is very accurate. There’s been some good social science research showing that that’s probably the case. So I do quote that research in my book and the irony that you just pointed out. 

So if we had more conversation in general that some of these myths might be dispelled. 

And again, it also appears with these religious scientists who are combining in some way. I just want to press this point again. You’re talking about something that I know some that called brute compatibility in the sense that people have two ideas together in their head. I’m a scientist, I’m religious, and they find a way to live with it. But it’s not necessarily the same as philosophical compatibility, i.e., I hold to ideas that are harmonious and reconcilable. 

I think it really depends on the side. I don’t agree with that. I think it really depends on the scientist you’re talking with. 

So there are I wrote an article for a journal called The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, where I discuss these different ways of viewing things. 

And I agree with you. 

Some scientists have this sort of brute compatibility kind of perspective, but some really do not. I mean, some have this idea that these things very much inform one another and kinds of interesting ways. 

Well, let’s move on to the spiritual sciences, because this is the really the most interesting and surprising. I mean, it’s in some ways, maybe it’s your most blockbuster finding is this 20 percent of scientists see themselves, to quote you spiritual but not religious in a traditional sense. And first, let’s just clarify, if you’re finding 50 percent of scientists are religious. Is this a completely non overlapping category with those? 

Yes. So that’s a completely. So I said 65 percent see themselves as spiritual to some extent. So there is some big overlap between scientists who are religious and of course, also would see themselves as spiritual. That’s not that surprising. But then there’s this group that’s 20 percent who see themselves as just totally not religious at all. And that’s very interesting to me. And particularly those who see themselves as atheists. There’s a small group of those who see themselves as atheist and spiritual. So I don’t know. I’d like to do all this and more research on that, because I could find that I could find that very interesting. And I unfortunately, because the limits of the time and the data collection didn’t get into that, I didn’t know it was going to be such intriguing finding. So, you know, hindsight is foresight. I would’ve asked Mark. Questions about it. If I’d known it was going to be such an interesting finding. But there in the interviews, this emerged very powerfully when we coded the interviews. 

You know, a scientist having a very cohesive idea about what it means to be spiritual, but not one which they wanted to attach it all to a religious community. 

And I want to tease that out the particular way in which scientists might be spiritual, not religious. But first, actually a question from the forums that I want to get in here from Jackson. He said, Does Dr. Ecklund think other surveys showing a decline in religiousness agree with hers? And I guess what he’s getting at is, you know, if scientists are becoming more spiritual, less religious. Is this part of a broader American trend where people are becoming more spiritual and thus religious? 

I think it is part of a broader American trend, but I think compared to other kinds of surveys on this topic, that scientists are exhibiting a different kind of spirituality. So more broadly, in the U.S. public, there are lots of social scientists in religion who have talked about this trend towards spirituality. But usually these spiritual people in the general public are mixing and matching different religious traditions. So I’m a little bit Buddhist in a little bit Catholic, for example, in ways that we haven’t seen in historical ideas about religion. But these scientists are not wanting any kind of religion. 

No, it’s not just that. You also say in the book, you know, these spiritualism today is those who in new ageism and all sorts of things like angels, demons, crystals, and the scientists think that’s quackery out. 

So they’re not social in that way either. 

And they want something that’s totally consistent with science and something which even gives them a kind of moral framework for the ways in which they apply their science, something which gives them a sense of meaning and purpose outside themselves, which is not science, but yet it’s completely compatible with science. And I want to study that more because it’s just so fascinating to me right in this. 

So in a sense, the scientific spiritualism or spirituality you’re talking about is sort of synonymous with the wonder about nature expressed by somebody like Carl Sagan. And you quote one of the spiritual scientists. That’s a great quote, talking about that feeling you get standing by the seashore, looking out over the endless expanse of water or standing in the rainforest, listening to the insects and the birds and their huge diversity in incomprehensibility. It also reminds me of the view that Darwin has at the end of the Origin of Species, where he describes the tangled bank and he says there’s grandeur in this view of life that he’s outlining. It’s that kind of spirituality. 

I think it is to some extent. I’m not sure that Carl Sagan would have called himself spiritual in that way or a it wanted to codify it in that way from least the writings of his that I’ve read. And I didn’t see scientists linking themselves to someone like Sagan. But, yes, I do think that there are elements of overlap there. 

Well, I wonder, do you feel or do you sense that there are atheist scientists who would be critical of spiritual atheist scientists or is it not so controversial? 

I do think so. I do think so. So there’s a group of atheists who are total modernists who that’s why I quoted this arc fellow. If you think that science really has all of the answers, even to things like love and beauty, they’ve soft things that we usually think of religion. Having more access to them in science than religion is just not necessary. Right. So it’s a very much a pervasive modernist mindset. But there are still these scientists who are spiritual, who see these things very differently, who see something that’s different than science, but complementary. That’s not religion. I think that’s a very different which is why I found it so surprising than being a totally pervasive modernist in the way that someone, you know, the sort of new atheist movement is or some of the atheists in my sample. 

Well, if I’m putting myself in a critical mindset towards the spiritual scientists, I would say, then why on earth are you using the word spiritual yet? Hopefully. Why don’t you use on wonder and things like that, which is are the words that Sagan used you could have. 

Right. So I tried very hard actually not to. The way that I set up my methodology for the interview. God actually tried hard not to introduce these kinds of things into their vocabulary and sort of let them talk about, you know, how they got a sense of meaning and purpose. And they could have just said on water, through science. But they used the label spirituality, which I found intriguing. 

Yeah, definitely. We’ll do we get the sense that this this unique form of scientific spirituality is growing and scientists are more willing to own up to having it. 

I would guess that they are. And I say that in particular because younger scientists were a little bit more likely to be spiritual and a little bit more likely to be religious, for that matter, than older scientists. So that would give me some, Nathan, evidence that there might be a growth in these kinds of trends. Previous studies have not even thought that this could be the case. So I’ll I’ll tell you why. So usually when you set up a survey, you know, if someone says they’re an atheist, you don’t ask them questions about whether or not they attend church and you don’t ask to questions about whether or not they’re spiritual. So there’s even the assumption in some previous survey research that these things would be incompatible. I knew that scientists might be different than everyone else that we’ve studied. Before and so I just, you know, asked everyone, all the scientists, all the questions and so allowed access to these kinds of categories. So it may be growing. It may have always been there. And I’m the only one who sort of asked openly enough to get access to it. I’m not sure. 

Well, I’d like to let our listeners know that Dr. Allen’s new book, Science versus Religion What Scientists Really Think, is available through our Web site, Planum Inquiry Skorgen. We’re going to wrap up with just some closing questions. In the end, it seems like what you really care about in writing this book is not just that beyond the data is how to communicate science to the public. And you argue pretty strongly that the scientists who are religious are best equipped to do this, which is a point that, again, some make in tests. So why don’t you explain why that’s your view? 

So I want to make it clear to you, and I say this in the book as well, that, you know, I am taking off my scholarly hat here. I agree. I’m making some sort of normative claims. And I think, you know, other scholars could have gotten the same data and make very different kinds of normative claims than I do. I’m in favor of dialog because I see from my other research that when children understand science better, as I said before, they do better in all aspects of their lives. And so there is some value just to seeings and apart from all the wonderful things that science does for us as a society. 

There’s other kinds of value in seeing science education get better and broader. That said, religious scientists are the people who are in the ground in religious communities. We know that the general public is largely religious. So who better to be ambassadors to the general public? The religious general public than those in their own communities. So if religious scientists could do a better job at talking about talking about science in their religious communities, then we might have some better traction. The scientific community might have some better traction in those places. To the extent that scientists who are not religious want to have dialog with religious people, then religious scientists could guide in that area to some extent as well. 

What would you say to, I guess, who would again be a new atheist position, as I understand it, that essentially a broad diversity of voices, not just religious folks, should be communicating about science in a cacophony of different ways and and more. And moreover, sometimes people need to be shocked. Sometimes people need to encounter strong criticism. 

Absolutely. And I actually I agree with that very much. I’m a big open dialog kind of person and those voices are important. But I would say they’re already overrepresented and already at the table. So that’s why I want to. And I think that they’re not really building bridges with religious people. But I’m not asking scientists to be duplicitous in any way. I’ve sometimes I’ve had that as a personal response. Are you asking me to lie and pretend I’m more religious than I am? Absolutely not. 

But yet my data show that there are some scientists who would like to speak more openly but don’t feel that they can. And I’m not sure the consequences they seem to perceive these religious scientists that there would be great consequences to them being more open in having dialog in their religious communities. I’m not sure that there would be. We just they’re not doing it enough for us to know. 

I gotcha. Well, this last question, you know, I think that your data. Let them be debated. Let them be discussed. But they seem to me to to go against a lot of assumptions and shatter a lot of myths, myths that scientists may hold about the public, about the religious public, and also myths that the religious public might hold about scientists. So let me just end by letting you, you know, say why why some of those are wrong and set the record straight. 

So there’s a lot more, I would say, to the new atheists in particular and atheists in general on American society who are, I think, discriminated against erroneously, that there’s a lot more diversity among atheist scientists than religious people think. Often, atheist scientists were very concerned about issues of social justice, about issues of science education, and even wanted to be in dialog and better dialog with religious people. So I think that’s just wrong from the data when those kind of stereotypes are perpetuated in religious communities. On the other side, there are and I know for my broader work there’s a lot more diversity in religious communities about science than some some atheist scientists might think. And there are certainly certain religious traditions which are very pro science. And unfortunately, the aspects of religion that are most against science have gotten also the most voice. And that’s unfortunate as well, I think, in this kind of broader dialog. If we see that as being important. 

Well, I tell you, I think your book is already created and is going to create quite a lot of discussion. So it’s been great to have you on point of inquiry, Dr. Eckel. 

It’s been wonderful to be here. Thank you again. 

I want to thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry for updates throughout the week on the subject of this show. Please check out my blog at blogs, Dot Discover magazine, dot com slash intersection. Also, make sure to visit our online discussion forum to continue the dialog by going to center for inquiry dot net slash forums and then clicking on point of inquiry. The views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor of its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry Torg. 

One of inquiry is produced by Atomizing in Amherst, New York. And our music is composed by Emmy Award winning Michael when they show also featured contributions from Debbie Goddard. I’m your host, Chris Mooney. 

Chris Mooney