Wednesday, April 29, 2009

 

Counting Religiously


Here are some interesting numbers from Dr. Elaine Howard Ecklund, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Associate Director for the Center on Race, Religion and Urban Life at Rice University. Professor Ecklund previously conducted the "Religion Among Academic Scientists" (RAAS) study in 2005-2007 that found that it wasn't true that scientists lose their religion upon professional training, due either to an inherent conflict between science and faith or to institutional pressure to conform. Professor Ecklund has now surveyed 300 scientists over a three-year period from 2005-2008 and found:

Less than 5% of scientists have no faith at all. 35% claim to be "spiritual atheists" which they define as having a belief in something larger than themselves. This group has rather eclectic views, using a bit of Eastern religious thought integrated with scientific thought as foundation for that belief. 68% of scientists on the whole have some sort of compatibility in their beliefs with science and religion. 50% of them are committed to their religious faith.

For the most part Dr. Ecklund did not find incompatibility between science and religion among academic scientists. 96% believe, however, in evolution and only a miniscule number in Intelligent Design. 5% may believe in evolution but have some problems with the theory.

During the research Dr. Ecklund also found a number of scientists had some sort of evangelical belief but wouldn't be identified as such because they believe that doing so might get them categorized in some way as anti-science. Only 1% of the scientists actually state they are evangelicals while 8 to 10% practice it.

Besides not finding much support among scientists for the "incompatiblist" position in her survey, her conclusions are also pertinent to the "accommodationism" debate:

"The discussion of science and religion has [not?] been undertaken well. For the most part there has been silence, and this is sad for the community and for American democracy. The public thinks scientists are against religion, and they are not. Furthermore young people believe they might be discriminated against if they enter the field of science. This is dangerous for the future."

Science needs to be translated to the religious community, Ecklund declares. The compatibility scientists have with religion needs to be known. Without it, folks will be less trustworthy of science, considering it to be anti-faith.

Another important fact Ecklund the public needs to know is that for the most part declared atheists in the population of scientists are not opposed to religion. They do have a sense of something in the universe that is bigger than themselves. Knowing this might make a big difference in how people of faith regard science and the scientific community. Not to regard science and science as valuable and having compatibility in the arena with religion, Ecklund declares is a very serious matter.

Evangelical theists and Richard Dawkins-style atheists may make up about the same percentage of the scientific community? If true, that is a fascinating correlation.
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Comments:
See if you can get hold of the actual study, because I'd be very curious to see what sorts of "scientists" she studied.

Gunshy after all of the "scientists" who have signed lists....
 
I agree but she is a serious academic. The article says she is publishing a book based on the study, so I suspect nothing will be available until then. My cursory search didn't find anything any way.
 
I'm going to wait until I see the peer-reviewed paper and the list of scientists.

Her two published papers deal with American pediatricians (December 2008) and American pediatric oncologists (November 2007).

John, are you aware of the fact that "serious academics" can still do pretty bad science?
 
Of course. But it lowers the odds.

Incidently, why doesn't her Religion among Academic Scientists count?
 
Interesting. I'd like to know the definitions of certain words used in her study, like scientist, faith, and evangelical. If 35% say they are atheists ("spiritual atheists") but she doesn't include them among the 5% who have "no faith at all" then what does faith mean? A sense of "something larger than themselves" I guess, but not necessarily religious at all, and probably not supernatural.

"During the research Dr. Ecklund also found a number of scientists had some sort of evangelical belief but wouldn't be identified as such because they believe that doing so might get them categorized in some way as anti-science."

I wonder if she investigated the corollary, did a number avoid identifying themselves as atheists, or "no faith" for fear of getting categorized as anti-religion?

"68% of scientists on the whole have some sort of compatibility in their beliefs with science and religion."

The generous way that is worded, with scientists finding "some sort of compatibility" with science and religion, that means the other ~ 32% of scientists find science and religion to be completely incompatible, more than I would have suspected among a wide range of scientific specialties.
 
John asks,

Incidently, why doesn't her Religion among Academic Scientists count?

Oh, that definitely counts. I just didn't find it in my search.

According to that study 38% of scientists do not believe in God and an additional 29% say, "I do not know if there is a God and there is no way to find out."

I count that as 67% non-believers, which to the best of my recollection is somewhat higher than the percentage in the general public.

Furthermore, only 8% of scientists said, "I have no doubts about God's existence." To me, this supports the claim that scientists are are far more likely to be non-believers.

The press release is based on a much smaller sample. It claims that many scientists have some religious beliefsā€”a correct but misleading statement. The press release says that less than 5% of scientists have no faith at all but this directly contradicts the result in the published paper.

I find that strange, don't you?
 
There is a big difference between "300 scientists that I know that I chatted to" and "a carefully balanced and representative set of scientists from all disciplines, asked a carefully designed set of questions".

The results may or may not be close to reality (i.e. repeatable by other researchers) but at the moment it sounds like 300 anecdotes.
 
According to that study 38% of scientists do not believe in God and an additional 29% say, "I do not know if there is a God and there is no way to find out."

I count that as 67% non-believers ..
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Are Bhuddists believers? Are Gaeia adherents believers? New Agers? It may not be as simple as that. I foresee many arguments over what counts a "religious beliefs."

There's no doubt that scientists are much less likely to be religious believers than the general public but there is still the question of which is cause and which is effect. Does studying science kill faith or is there something about not being disposed to have faith that makes one more likely to become a professional scientist ... including social pressures on both sides. That was a focus of Ecklund's RAAS study, I believe.
 
"35% claim to be "spiritual atheists" which they define as having a belief in something larger than themselves."

So am I spiritual atheist because I believe in elephants?
 
I also find it problematic that "spiritual atheists" isn't counted differently.

Chris Harrison: I love the elephant comment, by the way. XD

It really, really doesn't abide very well with me to hear the "atheists don't believe in anything larger than themselves" trope implied once again. You're not mindlessly repeating this, are you? I know you're a thoughtful and intelligent person, so hopefully this isn't what you had in mind.
 
No, that never even occurred to me (given I'm in the same boat as far as that goes). Nor is a blurb of a few hundred words is anything to base any conclusions on (I did note "If true ...").

It is just something that popped up, at a time when the whole "accommodationist" flap was in full swing, that bears on the complexity of the human psyche and the difficulty of laying down the "bright lines" some people would like to draw between "right" and "wrong" thinking.

P.S. You and Chris are obviously idolaters, since everyone should believe in blue whales.
 
I have a friend who is scared of whales. Even Nemo.

Personally, I find elephants more fearsome, since I usually do not interact in the domain of whales.

NOMA? That should mainly apply to me, and elephants.
 
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