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Elaine Ecklund's Survey of Scientists

on July 24, 2010
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USA Today: “Myths Widen the Science-Religion DivideIn June we discussed the work of Rice University sociologist Elaine Ecklund, whose survey of scientists revealed that, among other things, “the academy seems to have a ‘strong culture’ that suppresses discussion about religion in many areas.” Ecklund now weighs in on the topic in a USA Today opinion piece.

Although half of scientists surveyed consider themselves religious, only a fifth are involved in a house of worship.

“Is a dialogue between science and religion possible—or even necessary?” she asks, adding, “If you are concerned about the advancement of science, you must ask yourself whether a dialogue between science and religion is worthy of promotion and engagement or staunch opposition.”

According to Ecklund, “the conversation between science and religion is besieged by misunderstanding and myths on both sides.” For example, she claims the religious falsely believe that all scientists are “atheists who are interested in attacking religion and the religious community.” Nevertheless, although half of scientists surveyed consider themselves religious, only a fifth are involved in a house of worship (including a church, temple, or a mosque).

She also reports that “evangelical Christians are quickly catching up and surpassing other religious groups in terms of education levels.” However, she cites no hard facts in her claim that “many young Americans may not be learning what they should about science because their religious upbringing poses a barrier.”

Ecklund’s findings do help shed light on misunderstandings concerning the social conflict between atheists, theologically liberal Christians, and others versus conservative Christians—commonly portrayed as “science versus religion.” But her caricature, as with so many others, incorrectly portrays science and religion as epistemologically “horizontal”: two ways of knowing that may be substituted, in whole or in part, for the other. Rather, a proper understanding of science and religion juxtaposes them vertically: one’s religious foundation (worldview) forms the logical basis for one’s perspective on science. Based on that, biblical Christianity provides a logical justification for science, while atheism fails to explain why we should trust scientific knowledge.


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