The past year has been marked by numerous claims about science disproving God. The terms evidence and reason appear to have been comandeered by some scientists, falsely implying that Christianity has no place for clear thinking or for grappling with data. Studies have been published to show that eminent scientists tend to be atheists, and the conclusion is drawn that science leads people to abandon faith in God.
A new study by social scientists confirms that there is a secularising trend in the beliefs of the science community, but the authors question whether science has anything to do with it. "The first systematic analysis in decades to examine the religious beliefs and practices of elite academics in the sciences supports the notion that science professors at top universities are less religious than the general population, but attributes this to a number of variables that have little to do with their study of science."
The lead researcher is quoted as saying: "Our study data do not strongly support the idea that scientists simply drop their religious identities upon professional training, due to an inherent conflict between science and faith, or to institutional pressure to conform." Furthermore, the researchers found little to distinguish social scientists from scientists, which is another indication that the sciences are not exerting any distinctive influences above those of other academic disciplines.
The authors flag up childhood experience of religion as a major factor in their study. "Academic science has a disproportionately large number of people raised with no religion, potentially producing many more people who do not believe in God." The authors discuss this significant finding in their paper, offering tentative leads, and pointing to further research. I found this comment interesting: "Scientists lament a lack of scientific understanding among the U.S. population (Scientific American 2005; Lakoff 2005). While the general American public may indeed have a less than desirable understanding of science, our findings reveal that academic scientists may have much less experience with religion than many outside the academy." This is worth our attention, not only because there is an important debate here, but also because not a few have noted that the criticisms of Christianity emerging from some vocal scientists do not get beyond the teenager level of sophistication. These opinion-formers have only a rudimentary appreciation of the beliefs they are criticising! This new research could explain why.
For an ID exposition of why academics in general are affected by a cultural secularising tendency, see Phillip Johnson's Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law and Education (1998).
Religion among Academic Scientists: Distinctions, Disciplines, and Demographics
Elaine Howard Ecklund and Christopher P. Scheitle
Social Problems, May 2007, Vol. 54, No. 2: 289-307.
Abstract: The religiosity of scientists is a persistent topic of interest and debate among both popular and academic commentators. Researchers look to this population as a case study for understanding the intellectual tensions between religion and science and the possible secularizing effects of education. There is little systematic study, however, of religious belief and identity among academic scientists at elite institutions, leaving a lacuna of knowledge in this area. This absence of data exists at a time when the intersection between religion and science is reaching heightened public attention. Especially with increased tensions surrounding teaching evolution in the public schools, understanding what kind of resources scientists have (particularly in terms of their own religious beliefs and practices) to transmit science to a broader religiously-motivated public is crucial. Using data from a recent survey of academic scientists at twenty-one elite U.S. research universities, we compare the religious beliefs and practices of natural and social scientists within seven disciplines as well as academic scientists to the general population. We find that field-specific and interdisciplinary differences are not as significant in predicting religiosity as other research suggests. Instead, demographic factors such as age, marital status, and presence of children in the household are the strongest predictors of religious difference among scientists. In particular, religiosity in the home as a child is the most important predictor of present religiosity among this group of scientists. We discuss the relevance these findings have for understanding issues related to current theory and public debate about the intersection between religion and science.
Scientists May Not Be Very Religious, but Science May Not Be to Blame, University of Buffalo News, 23 July 2007.
Gene, M. Science Does Not Lead to Atheism (Telic Thoughts, 19 July 2007)
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