Elaine Howard Ecklund – How Religious Are Scientists?

May 7, 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).