What Do Scientists Believe? Religion Among Scientists and Implications for Public Perceptions

Dr. Elaine Howard Ecklund and Barbara Bradley Hagerty discuss the religious beliefs of scientists and the implications for dialogue between the scientific and religious communities at the 2010 AAAS DoSER and CPE Holiday Lecture.
  • Date Published

    December 10, 2015

< 1 minute read

On December 15, 2010, DoSER and the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology hosted a lively discussion about the religious beliefs of scientists and the implications for dialogue between the scientific and religious communities. Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund described her recent major study of scientists, and NPR religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty discussed the results in light of the media’s coverage of science and religion and her own experiences.

What Do Scientists Believe?

Religion Among Scientists and Implications for Public Perceptions

Video Transcript:

i’m alan leshner i’m the
ceo here at triple s and i have the
pleasure of
welcoming you to our house and
introducing the introducer
for what should be a fascinating

discussion and actually
a discussion that has great relevance
to at least what we at triple a s think
we’re all about
we’re one of those unusual organizations
who not only tries to do what it says in
our name
advanced science but we also
are particularly interested in the
intersection between science and the
rest of society
that is our tagline slogan is advancing
serving society and although there’s a
comment in it
we don’t mean that to be a pause we mean
that to be
a continuous kind of an event and
and for that reason we have been very
concerned over time
about a certain amount of tension
that is a bit cyclic but at least
in the last decade has been the highest
level of
tension in my scientific lifetime
and some of that is a a
supposed tension between science and
and so our dialogue on science ethics
and religion is meant to provide a forum
through which we can in fact do what it
have a dialogue that’s multi-directional
ongoing dialogue between science
and the religious communities about
where we can either find or try to find
areas of common ground and and so far i
believe the program has been
pretty successful at least in raising
and framing
some of the core issues
so another part of what we do for a
living has to do more
generally with what we call public
with science which is different from
public understanding of science the
notion of public understanding frankly
is a
slightly condescending um
position that says those poor uninformed
people what they need in life is me
to tell them the truth and
the real truth is we need to have a
in a more general way between science
and the rest of society
so we have these two programs one the
dialogue on science ethics and religion
the other
called the center for public engagement
with science and technology
both of which are sponsoring this event
and you don’t have to think long to
think about the fact
that the discussion we’re about to have
in fact
directly reflects that combined
kind of a mission so tonight’s
discussion has to do with the way in
uh scientists perceive and relate to
religion both
personally and sort of organizationally
and that should be interesting and we
have two superb
speakers uh who my colleague will
introduce in just a minute
i uh i am very happy you’re all here and
welcome and all that kind of stuff
i do want to say that that this is meant
to be not only a lecture but in fact
a dialogue a discussion i have the great
pleasure to introduce the director of
the dialogue on
science ethics and religion my colleague
jennifer weissman
who in addition to being the doctor
has been a long time scientist
at nasa she is what’s known as a hubble
scientist she can explain that to you
later if you would like
we’re very very pleased to have her with
us and with that
dr weissman
welcome i’ll say welcome and all that
and happy holidays we hope you enjoyed
the reception
downstairs this is a popular event so
if those of you who don’t have seats are
brave there are several seats down here
in front and you’re more than welcome to
to come on in and then if we have more
need we have an overflow room that we
can open up down down the hall here
where you can still
hear and see everything so i just wanted
to update some of you on our activities
with the dozer program before we
introduce our speakers you’ve heard a
lot already so i won’t
won’t go over that but as as dr leshner
said advancing science and serving
and advanced science that serves society
is an important
motto and and the dozer program is
trying to
support just that there are public
engagement activities that
go on at for example family science days
these are sponsored by
aaas public engagement program including
our dialogue on science ethics and
religion is one component of
aaas portfolio of public outreach
efforts including working with museums
science centers
um and and basically making scientists
available to the public
that’s been a very popular and important
part of our mission here at
aaa what do we do specifically well
we’re trying to foster constructive
dialogue between the scientific and
religious communities on issues of
public interest and concern
we do things such as talk about the
ethics of science and technology
we’re working with seminaries where
clergy are trained
to bring more science into seminary
education so that people’s
religious leaders and authority figures
are comfortable with science and talking
about these issues with their
congregants we’re working with religious
communities who ask us to come in
and work with them on on creating a
better sense of mutual understanding
we’re working with scientists many
scientists come to us and say you know
help us understand
how better to interact with the public
people in the public with religious
views how do we discuss science
more more adeptly with this group so we
have a broad range of
activities some news that i’d like you
to know about
is one is we have a new feature on the
dozer website it’s called the director’s
and this is a little uh attempt to bring
some dialogue between us
and the community that’s interested
specifically in our dozer program
and so every couple of months i will
write something about a specific topic
there and then invite that responses
let me see if i can actually show that
to you very quickly here
yeah here we go so if you look up our
dozer website
on the aaas web
pages you’ll see that the dozer program
will take you to the director’s corner
where in this case i’m talking about
tonight’s event
and then at the bottom there’s something
called share your thoughts so you can
then write back any any ideas that you
have in response to what we’ve discussed
here so that’s
a new feature that we have and we hope
to hear from you
we have some upcoming events at the aaas
annual meeting in february which this
year is right here in washington dc
february 17th to 21st
on two of the days of that meeting well
three of those days we have special
events sponsored by dozer one is our
to which you’re very welcome to attend
on friday evening the other two special
are entitled evangelicals science and
policy toward a constructive engagement
but we’ll talk about the the pros and
cons and lessons learned from past
a social uh policy issues that have come
up where evangelical christians have
been particularly interested or
concerned and how well
that has and hasn’t worked in dialogue
with science what we can do to build a
constructive engagement toward the
and then something very different that’s
near and dear to my heart a session on
what we call
astronomical pioneering which is
basically going to be first a scientific
discussion of our recent discoveries of
extrasolar planets we found
hundreds of them outside of our own
solar system
and what will that mean in different
religious and philosophical traditions
if we actually end up finding life um
we’re getting to the point where we can
actually answer that question
scientifically whether or not life is
off the earth we’ll have scientists from
different religious
traditions discussing their perspective
on what that tradition might
how that tradition might react if we do
or don’t find evidence of life elsewhere
including someone from the representing
the study institute in case that life is
actually communicating with us so
it should be a very interesting session
you’re welcome to come
and then we have public events like this
we’re going to try to have them on a
seasonal basis so
welcome again our first one this year
was this past
summer where we had an event called
re-envisioning the science and religion
you can watch it all on our website
there’s a video clip there
we had three scientists and one local
pastor discussing how to improve
dialogue between the scientific
and the religious community it was a
wonderful event so i
encourage you to watch it on the web if
you weren’t here one of their
was that our these communities don’t
often understand each other very well or
they have wrong stereotypes
you know some religious communities
don’t understand whether or not there
are any scientists with religious
beliefs or not
many scientists don’t understand whether
religious communities support science or
and there’s a lot of misunderstanding so
tonight’s event is attempt
is an attempt to address one of those
recommendations from this panel
to tell us you know well what exactly do
scientists believe i mean many of us
have our own beliefs or we have
anecdotal stories but has anyone
actually done an academic study of this
voila we have dr elaine howard eklund
who has
done an in-depth academic study of the
religious beliefs of scientists
and so we’re delighted you’re here
tonight elaine and again our
program tonight is sponsored not only by
the program that i direct the dozer
but also by the center for public
engagement with science and technology
before we get started i wanted to to
offer some thank yous
i’d like to thank the john templeton
foundation which is a supporter
grant supporter of dozer and we much
appreciate their support
i’d like to thank several people and
who’ve made this event happen tonight of
course dr alan leshner who you’ve
already heard
a great supporter of our program dr al
teich the director of science and public
policy programs here he
unfortunately is on conference travel
this week but could not be here
dr payton west here is our uh
director of programs at the dozer
project so we
a project director for dozer and she’s
done a wonderful amount of support for
this event
we have bethany spencer where’s bethany
probably out doing what she does best
that definitely set up this entire
reception and all the logistics for this
program we’re much appreciative
dexter cooper is handling our audio
visual needs the
uh many of the building services need as
well as robert zayas
and katrina haney and we’re very
grateful to all of you for this
and tiffany low water who manages the
center for public engagement with
science and technology
working with dr lesner there are many
others who supported this event
and we appreciate your support
all right again we do have an overflow
room if needed out here and it will open
up if we need it there are some open
seats you can be brave to come down if
you would like to use them
and now without further ado i would like
to introduce
our speaker so tonight we welcome
dr elaine howard eklund dr
eklund is an assistant professor of
at rice university where she is also a
rice scholar
at baker institute and director of the
on religion and public life at the
institute for urban research
her work focuses on the way science and
intersect with other life spheres such
as public life
immigration and gender she is the author
most recently of a book entitled science
versus religion
what scientists really think from oxford
university press
and so with that um elaine we welcome
later on of course i will be welcoming
our discussant
barbara bradley hagerty who’s here on
the front row i’ll tell you more about
her later
but we’re delighted that she’s here she
is the religion correspondent for
national public radio and is going to
share some of her reflections
after we hear from dr eklund so welcome
thank you it’s an honor to be here at
the aaas and it’s an honor to
speak with all of you and i look forward
to learning from you tonight as well as
well as sharing some of the research
i’ve done
um for the past five years i’ve been
studying and writing about what
scientists think about religion
and i’ve gotten into some sort of
interesting interactions
as you might imagine i want to tell you
about two of them as we start out
part of what i did involved a survey but
i also
actually traveled around the country
talking with scientists you know
carrying my little tape recorder in
typical sociological fashion around in
their labs and asking us what do you
think about these issues
um i was in uh in a hotel and
i think i was doing interviews at
university of minnesota or someplace i’m
sitting down if he was at a best western
you know eating one of those celestine
wraps blueberry muffins at the
continental breakfast table a woman um
from the midwest she’s there and she
sort of strikes up a conversation with
me and she says
so you know what are you doing why are
you staying here so well i’m traveling
around the country
asking scientists what they think about
religion and uh she says well
if you ask me of course i had not asked
her but she sort of
went on you know and i was probably like
you know trying to write a pure
scholarly article or something so she
she says well if you ask me they just
don’t have enough of it
scientists just don’t have enough
religion that is and she sort of went on
and sort of explained
why she thinks closet scientists were
woefully lacking you know in their
degree of faith
before i put that in my mind and fine is
that really true
another interaction actually with a
scientist um
i you know as a at an unnamed ivy league
school uh
you know i’m sharing with the scientists
that i’m so excited because i
you know just got funding to study this
um you know what scientists really think
about religion
um and and he says well don’t we already
why is that an interesting study they’re
just not religious
so sort of interesting juxtaposition
of those what may or may not be typical
of what the general public thinks about
and then the sort of idea that maybe
scientists themselves
don’t even know what their own community
thinks about these issues so i
i felt spurned on you know to continue
to collect
data on this topic i think good research
often dispel stereotypes and lead to
more informed and intelligent discussion
about issues that can have a big impact
on public policy and public society so
that’s that’s the kind of framework i
come to this this project with
americans have what i would call a sort
of love-hate relationship with science
right so everyone knows who that figure
um i had a big picture of him on my wall
uh when i was a undergraduate student at
cornell university to sort of motivate
me to think big thoughts
um so we love albert einstein we also
have this
image of this sort of um you know you
know uh
you know scientists that you see in the
movies right the sort of maniacal
scientists that’s going to you know put
the world under the scientists of
science fiction the sort of scary
kind of character and i could have come
up with tons more images like this
they’re certainly in the american public
is the sort of
good of science there’s uh americans
you know sort of huge belief in the
authority of science that
90 percent um express interest in new
scientific discoveries
we’re very concerned about issues like
immunization of course
cures for cancer and
sometimes just saying the phrase
studies show is enough to gain a public
right you know all you have to say is
what studies show before
and not to gain a public hearing
then there’s the sort of controversial
parts about science what we might call
the bad
fifty percent uh think we depend too
on science and not enough on faith
according to some national survey data
40 percent want creation taught in
public schools
and 25 percent of americans think that
scientists are potentially hostile to
and i think that uh they might
potentially have some reason for those
views uh sort of put up a uh you know a
recent quote
that richard dawkins said religious
beliefs are irrational
religious beliefs are dumb and dumber
they’re just a totally under forced
um religion drives otherwise sensible
people into celibate monasteries
or crashing into new york skyscrapers
and for their part scientists are very
and i’ve spoken about this work now in
several audiences of scientists very
concerned about the public’s low
knowledge of science
and potentially think that religion
be partly or even wholly to blame for
that so there’s big concerns on both
sides that
religious people have potentially about
scientists and them being against
that scientists have about the
potentially negative impact
of religious ideas certain belief
systems on science and science
scholars have looked into this topic and
previous scholarship a much
older body of literature has been very
concerned about the personal beliefs of
studies done in the in the early 20th
looked at that kind of issue found that
scientists much less religious by
traditional indicators
when compared to the general public
scholars have also been concerned in
older studies
about the differences among disciplines
some have argued that social scientists
tend to be much less religious
than natural scientists and have used
those that
those kinds of findings to argue that
there’s not a conflict between religion
and science because if natural
who know more about religion are
actually more religious
then there must be something else going
on here so that’s the kind of scholarly
perspective for those who care about
that kind of thing
i think that there are some limits to
this previous research which motivated
me into my study
some of that earlier work had very
narrow measures of religion
studies use things like belief in a
christian afterlife
you know do you attend church in a
conventional sense and we know
especially given recent immigration the
kind of new diversity and religious
thought in the general population that
those kinds of questions don’t even
accurately capture the general
let alone scientists the data is also
quite old
and i think in some ways it’s
potentially not very interesting or
complete that we need a broader range of
a broader range of understanding about
how even potentially irreligious
scientists confront
utilize religion what do they do in
their classrooms when
students raise religious concerns about
science sort of what are the variety of
they interface with religion even if
they personally are not religious i
think those kinds of things that kind of
depth is extremely
important such concerns
led me to study what scientists really
think about religion
i i conducted from 2005 to 2008 a big
data collection on this topic
my population was looking at leading u.s
university scientists
those at places like harvard university
of michigan
stanford the sort of top schools in
their fields
i had a very broad notion of science
studying disciplines from physics to
and interestingly found no real
interdisciplinary differences and feel
free to ask me questions about that
i used really diverse indicators of
religion so i wanted to know
if scientists were very similar to the
general public
uh in the ways that they understand
religion but i also wanted to ask
questions that might be unique to
scientists and so
i’ve created some of my own questions as
well and i wanted to look
at both religious and non-religious
scientists we have lots of books where
of important works where religious
scientists talk about how they hold
these things in tension or how they
reconcile them
or how scientists who are not religious
talk about how
religion is not a good force in society
but there just wasn’t any data
and so i think that that’s extremely
important to keep that in mind
i surveyed two thousand two hundred um
scientists these top research
universities and got a response
of 75 which is a very high response rate
for modern survey research
and then i wanted to know um sort of
very more in-depth narratives beyond
what survey questions can tell us and so
as i mentioned before i actually
traveled around the country talking to
and having in-depth conversations some
very interested in this topic sometimes
it’s less so my conversations ranged
from about 20 minutes
to i actually had one respondent that my
interview with him
lasted over three hours and i don’t know
if any of you do social science research
but we’re usually trying to probe the
respondent right we’re trying to get
them to open up
you know we have all these techniques
that we use i actually had to walk away
from him
so i i just had no more time and i had
to use an exit strategy i had to try to
figure out how to get away from this
conversation so
he’s literally following me out the door
offering to read drafts of my papers if
i should write on this topic we’re still
in touch
so um i think what i
found um really depends on
whether or not you want to view the cuff
as half empty or half full that’s why
i put up that a picture of a water glass
about 30 of scientists are
sort of i think what our stereotype
would be they are what i would call
total secularists
um they want nothing to do with the
religion they’re convinced atheists they
generally think religion is not a good
force in society and is
as negative towards science about 50
percent are religious
and i’ll i’ll talk to you a little bit
more in depth about what that means they
are those who have some identity in some
practice but boy that’s really diverse
and so a little cliff cliffhanger there
and 20
are spiritual they don’t consider
themselves religious
they have problems with organized
religion yet they still
see something as beyond themselves want
some sense of higher order meaning
um they are not a sort of classic
modernist to eschew
all forms of religions and i think
that’s perhaps the most interesting
now let’s talk about that first group uh
those who
are see themselves as complete
secularists i think perhaps
more surprising than that finding is the
reason that they give for their
relationship to or lack of relationship
to religion
some have a very uh conventional view
that science trumps religion it’s sort
of the classic narrative that you might
where you know i i learned more about
science and as i learned about science
necessarily i sort of cease the
religious beliefs of my childhood so
i’ll give you a narrative from a
i call arik in my book who says as a
child i was infected by religion i love
this virus metaphor i was a child i was
infected by religion but now i am immune
and he thinks this is very
characteristic of all scientists notice
this this view is shared by other
scientists who are all just
astonished at this sort of viral nature
of faith-based thinking
which only exists because parents infect
their children and then there’s a new
and they go on to infect more
but i think the two other narratives are
also interesting and these were about
equally common to this first one so
another very prominent narrative was
that religion
somewhere along the line had let
scientists down
um i’ll give a quote from a scientist um
evelyn who’s a biologist who said when i
asked hard questions
i was told just to make a decision to
my experiences with religion was that it
was a way that judgment was passed on
people who are different
and she went on to talk about how she
was always a very inquisitive child
and she really wasn’t encouraged to ask
hard questions of her faith and so she
decided that religion wasn’t really a
place where you could ask difficult
and so you know lost her faith at a very
or left her
her uh the religion of her youth at a
very young age
then there are those scientists who just
don’t know very much about religion
which i think is important to keep in
mind if we’re concerned about dialogue
and public policy kinds of issues
about 13 were raised without religion
which is about three times more than in
the general population
um and also even when they were raised
in religious
homes they were often raised in homes
where religion was practiced only weekly
by which i mean w-e-a-k-l-y
so so scientists were um three times
more likely to be
raised in homes where religion was not
important so i think that’s that’s
interesting to keep in mind
and these scientists we can talk about
this the question now these
scientifically hospital the religion
they just sort of don’t know some of
them actually wish they knew more about
it and wish
they had some sort of space where they
could talk about these issues
now we’ll move on to the 50 of
scientists that have
some kind of religious identity and sort
of talk about the ways in which they
compare to the kind of basic data we
have among the general public
they are pretty different in religious
than the general public so i just want
to put up a table there for those of you
who love numbers this is probably an
audience of partly scientists
um so huge difference in the proportion
who identify as evangelicals
interestingly when i ran those
statistics a little bit differently
sociologists of religion talk about
religious beliefs in terms of how you
identify you know what you call yourself
the kind of actual content of the
beliefs you have and you know what you
do what your practices are as you pray
you go to a religious organization these
kinds of things so when
i took out the label kind of indicator
and i just looked at evangelical
conceptualized as the kind of beliefs
you have the kind of a religious
you know do you attend a church that
would typically or denomination would
typically be called evangelical
the proportion went up about three times
so that’s still
for those who would like to see more
evangelicals in science that’s still not
a huge
magnitude right you know six percent is
nothing to write home about but very
statistically significant
and this sort of mirrors in my
interviews that there’s some reticence
at least the kinds of academic
institutions that i study to call
yourself an evangelical or some sort of
um to that label there’s huge overlap
among scientists and those who identify
as mainline protestants which is
so there’s potentially you know so
fruitful area of overlap there if you’re
concerned about dialogue
the percent who are catholic is very
about 10 is not a huge proportion either
but that has grown steadily over the
past 40 years i replicated some
questions from earlier surveys of this
um where you could actually match the
survey with exactly the same schools
and that’s consistently grown and sort
of continues to grow so that’s quite
um huge proportion of scientists who
were jewish
and these um and this survey actually
took out those who
did not see themselves as being at all
religiously jewish so it would go up
even more if you included all of those
identified as being culturally jewish
and not just religiously jewish
so interestingly um i i find it
fascinating for what they do with that
religion that’s the kind of thing that
gets me excited so i wanted to know
how do scientists act in religious
communities like are they just the same
as everyone else in their religious
community are they somehow different and
if so
how um i think that the dominant thing
that came out of these data is that
are more questioning than the
fellow parishioners or fellow people in
the pews and their religious
organizations i’ll give you a quote from
a scientist i call tobin who said that i
think some of my fellow roman catholics
might accept many things at face value
finding religious imagery
and natural phenomena being a scientist
makes me want to raise objections
like well does this grilled cheese
sandwich really look like jesus
and i of course googled to see now that
looks like mary to me but it’s amazing
what you can do if you have a lot of
time to spend on google
when you type in grilled cheese sandwich
and jesus
you get i think something like 3 000
hits so this is
obviously something that others are you
know want
um to see as well through google so i
don’t know where i’m going with that but
so what do they do in their religious
they tend to just not bring science up
i think the narrative goes something
like this they
maybe want to talk about something like
evolution or or something that has been
seen to be in conflict with some forms
of religion they have a difficult
um you know sort of makes them unpopular
in their religious community
and so within their religious community
they come to practice what i’ve called a
secret science where
certainly they might attend and be part
of a religious community but they just
they just don’t talk about it right
and so what is the impact of that on say
children who want to go into science or
others who want to know what scientists
think about certain things
there is this sort of implicit
perception that there aren’t religious
scientists there because even if you’re
sitting next to one
right in the fuse you wouldn’t really
know it or it wouldn’t be something you
sort of frankly talk about in your
religious organization
i also wanted to know what religious
scientists do within their scientific
communities what’s that what’s that like
for them
they really wanted me to know that they
practiced the same science so
94 of them see themselves as
evolutionists and the other six percent
see themselves as something else either
they didn’t answer the question or they
had some
problem with some sort of scientific
problem with evolution
um they it was i found it so fascinating
because i actually never
asked them if they practiced the same
science so my assumption
would be that they would practice the
same science not that they would be
religious and practice a different
but clearly they have been uh that’s
been brought into question in certain
corners because when people sort of
immediately as a social scientist when
people sort of immediately start talking
about something you didn’t even ask
you’re like oh you’re defensive aren’t
so you know that’s um that’s we thought
we think of that as particularly
finding right you it’s a kind of
conversation you want you need to bring
up even though no one asks so it’s
something that’s floating out there
so they they often wanted me to know
that um they’ve practiced what i have
come to call
a closeted face or secret spirituality
close to 50 do not think their
colleagues are positive about religion
and this was also the question on my
survey that had the highest percentage
of no answer
so uh and i followed that up a lot in
the interviews and they just did not
want to answer how their colleagues
think about religion they were sort of
very fearful of how that data might be
used which i thought was kind of
interesting i don’t know what to do with
it exactly
um i i want to give you a quote
from janice a physicist who’s in an
elite a research university who says i
universities are not always very
accepting environments it’s really hard
to be a religious academic
because the public opinion is such that
you’re either religious or you’re a
to say that you are religious might mean
other scientists would question your
this interview was particularly
interesting because then i
asked her so what happened okay so you
said you were religious so did they
question your work did you not get
published in journals
i wouldn’t really know i actually don’t
talk about it so no one actually knows
i’m religious
so well how do you know there’s
sanctions so i just i just think there
would be
so what’s happening here is what we call
in the social science news for a strong
that suppresses discussions about these
topics is arisen somehow
such that you know we don’t really know
if there would be sanctions but yet
there’s such a strong perception
there’s not really dialogue
so given that um i was particularly
intrigued to find that there is a
certain group of scientists
um religious scientists that their
colleagues see as what i call boundary
pioneers these are folks that tend to be
religious highly religious they’re often
those who are in very
prestigious positions and they’re very
open to discussions about these things
some of them
are writing very openly about how they
see the reconciliation of religion and
science and public science kinds of
issues as related to religion
the way that i got these findings is i
actually um
these these interviews resulted in 5 000
pages of transcribed materials i had
this team of about 12
research assistants transcribing and
coding these materials
and we looked at what kind the names of
people were mentioned most often
so francis collins was mentioned the
most often
in the entire data set as being a
prestigious scientist that both
religious and non-religious scientists
talked about richard dawkins was
mentioned in the
second of the second most often and
fascinating to me given what this
population sometimes said about
evangelicals and given that francis
um would see himself um as an
evangelical the other person that was
mentioned often um is kenneth miller
who’s a catholic at brown university
these scientists were mentioned very
positively so interestingly
you know don’t like evangel says in
certain circumstances but when you have
a very outspoken one who’s able to sort
reconcile these positions they’re
mentioned in a very positive light
uh gives you a sociologist quote there
are some very
there’s some people with very deep
religious beliefs who don’t let these
things conflict
one of the lovely examples is francine
collins he’s a very serious born again
christian obviously a firm believer
and manages to live very well with that
what about this other this last group
those who see themselves as spiritual
but not religious
they somehow want something that will
allow them to hold science and faith
in a way that’s consistent and coherent
and they see their quest for
spirituality as being somewhat different
than the kind of what they would see as
new age spirituality found in the
general population
they want something that actually
motivates them to live differently there
is a huge
um motivation in the science community
to have a nice
sort of a consistent kind of identity
where a way a narrative that holds these
things together
i found in this population a group of
what i call spiritual atheists actually
22 percent
of atheists consider themselves to be
very spiritual people
and they see that spirituality is
different than that found in the general
population atom a biologist who’s an
atheist said that
people by which he means people in the
general population who have spirituality
believe in god
and they think of it that way personally
i believe in nature i get my
spirituality from nature
but i don’t really believe there’s a god
i think we sort of need to interrogate
what that would mean for this community
and what kind of possibilities for
dialogue or
you know that there might exist there
from a scholarly perspective i think uh
that these
kind of findings sort of complicates
what we think about secularization
the idea that as our society learns more
about science it necessarily
um becomes more religious less religious
and you know people always ask me so
what did you find just you know science
really trump religion and i said well it
depends what you mean by science and it
depends what you mean by religion right
um so i think it’s very important to ask
you know what what kinds of areas is
science relevant what kinds of areas
is religion relevant and we kind of move
beyond sort of narrow conceptions of
and also to talk about you know what
kind of professional cultures exist
in the science community that
potentially suppress discussions about
religion where they could be relevant
we also need to ask as scholars in what
areas does science have cultural
and what areas does a religion have
cultural authority
i think that’s a very important question
to ask in scholarly
communities there are also some very
practical and relevant messages for both
scientists and for
religious leaders and religious people
more broadly
one of the questions i asked scientists
when i talked with them
was how they thought about interacting
with religion in the public sphere what
did they think religious people were
doing how do they feel about religious
people and their impact on science
the most predominant set of answers um
had to do with these following two
kinds of themes they thought that
scientists should just be doing science
religion was completely irrelevant there
was a small minority of scientists
however who i think his voices i think
are important to highlight
who thought that religion was having
such a huge impact on science and the
that the general public understands
science that it would be absolutely
stupid if you cared about public science
to continue to ignore religion and
religious concerns i want to give you a
quote from
a scientist i call frank he’s a
biologist who says that the strategy of
just ignoring the religious public is
not working
so i’m personally willing to devote some
energy to this
there’s also in the broader sort of
social science literature on religion
some other kinds of messages for
scientists that
you know not all religion is
conservative christianity and that’s
important for them to remember
so given for most recent data national
survey data about 70
of the us population do not identify as
and also that um conservative
christianity is potentially
diverse and that there are religious
scientists in their midst
right who could have a special role as
spokespersons who could provide
you know just as we ask other scientists
of other demographics to provide sort of
special insight
in relating to people of their
demographic could we do this with
religious scientists too
could they have a kind of special voice
in public science efforts towards
certain communities now that’s a
controversial statement so i’m sure
someone will take me to ask on that
um and then there is a message for
religious communities there’s a
prevalent perception the atheist
scientists are always hostile to
certainly there are you know there’s a
group of kind of new atheists who are
actively writing on these issues
some have said to me you know this is a
very powerful social movement and i
would say well
five people writing prolifically does
not a social movement make right so it’s
a very powerful collection a small group
of people right
and then they’re writing very
politically which makes their voice seem
incredibly large
i can count on one hand the number of
atheist scientists who
share richard dawkins’s beliefs about
the place of religion and
so i think it’s extremely important not
to have stereotypes about what atheist
scientists think and what they do
um if we’re to enter into a really
intelligent dialogue
also data like these can’t tell you
conclusively how people come to places
of unbelief
but from if you listen to scientists
voices themselves often they do not
blame science
for coming to a position of your
religiosity and i think there’s a
set of reasons for how both people’s
conversion and deconversion narratives
and also there’s a stereotype in
religious communities that it’s just
frankly impossible to be
a scientist at a top research university
and be religious and i think that that
research shows us that that is not the
case that there are certainly people
um sort in both of those with a foot in
each of those communities and managed to
do that
quite nicely i want to bring you back to
um a quote that i uh that i put up
uh which i think holds in it a message
for religious communities uh this quote
from evelyn he’s a biologist he said
when i asked hard questions i was told
just to make a decision to believe my
experiences with religion
was that it was a way that judgment was
passed on people who are different
so those who are here who are ministry
leaders i think can
take a lot of insight from that kind of
quote which i heard over and over that
was a very typical kind of thing
a narrative in this community that when
they were in religious communities as
there were no spaces for them to ask
difficult questions of their faith
traditions and
so what would that look like to create
religious communities
where there was the possibility of
asking difficult questions of wrestling
with science and i think that the dozer
program is
working on some initiatives where that
may actually become more of a
possibility where we may develop
workable models for that
is there a place within religious
communities to see science as a kind of
um or a certain even kind of calling and
what would that look like within
religious communities
and is there a place for religious
scientists to even
act as a kind of ambassador to religious
leaders to youth to
constituencies who have difficulty
figuring out certain parts of science
and how
to hold that intention or or with their
faith traditions i think those are very
important questions
that we need to be asking so i
thank you for your time um this has just
been a wonderful privilege to be with
you and
really looking forward to the kind of
dialogue we’re going to continue to have
thank you
how’s that for a fascinating study thank
you so much
i’m sure this will uh provoke lots of
interesting discussion and
and questions uh later on so we
appreciate what you’ve presented
um elaine so um before we
move to that discussion time we’d like
to now hear
from a very special person he’s agreed
to come and share some of her own
reflections from her own very different
kind of work
interacting with the public at large and
religious communities in the public
so we would like now to welcome barbara
bradley hagerty to the podium
she is the religion correspondent for
public radio and she’s been reporting on
the intersection of faith
and politics law science and culture
since 2003
her new york times bestselling book
the fingerprints of god the search for
for the science of spirituality
was published by riverhead penguin group
in may of 2009
she also has received the american women
association award for radio reporting
so i’m very interested to hear what what
barbara has to share with us today
her own experience and anecdotes so
i don’t know if we should is that going
to disturb your reflections
or it’s fine
i i’d love to sell more books this way
for you
that’s fine um
great speech elaine thank you so much um
so good in fact that
you covered a lot of the territory that
i was going to cover
um actually not not not exactly but um
it was a really comprehensive speech
one i hadn’t heard before we’ve met
before and uh
thanks for all the great data um when
when i was reading elaine’s book about
science and religion
and more specifically about scientists
and religious people
i saw a real parallel with journalists
um i just want to tell you open by
telling you a little story
in december of 1995 we aired a
commentary by andre
to could rescue do you remember him
right he’s still he’s still on
and in the commentary he talked about
the belief by some christians
that one day the faithful faithful would
be miraculously
you know they would miraculously ascend
to heaven
and avoid all the messiness of the
return of jesus right and it’s called
the rapture
essentially and so anyway in this in
this commentary what andre said
was he thought this was all a bit
annoying and
that he would hoped that quote
the evaporation of four million who
believed this crap would leave the world
an instantly better place
i’m sorry i should be talking here
well uh oh
right this is 1995 before the age of
email uh or widespread use
of email and over the next couple of
months npr got
something like 40 000 letters
of protest we’ve never received that
many letters
uh before or since to tell you the truth
now obviously
you know some of this was a um a
campaign by religious conservatives who
were just very very upset
about about this comment but npr
took a lesson they realized a couple of
things they realized that a lot of
our listeners are people of faith and
in fact a lot were evangelical
maybe not the types that would actually
hand out pamphlets about the rapture
which is what andre was complaining
but a large segment of our listeners
were conservative christians
as well as jewish and muslim and
buddhist and spiritual but not religious
now we didn’t really know that uh
because on the whole
polls show that like scientists
journalists tend not to be evangelicals
we’re not you know kind of big members
of the
southern baptist convention um we tend
not to be
conservative catholics journalists polls
show ten to subscribe to reform judaism
mainline christianity a more progressive
christianity in other words
religious progresses if journalists are
religious they are religious
and in fact polls show that um only two
percent of journalists consider
evangelical christians another parallel
there with the scientists
and so what that means is that
journalists didn’t necessarily
know conservative believers they didn’t
go to church with them they didn’t go to
dinner with them
the and the result was that we often
portrayed them
kind of in a one-dimensional way
uh npr realized that
in fact we were harming ourselves not
just because people were mad at us
because people are mad at us all the
you should see the emails we get but
in fact our coverage of a major segment
of society
was deficient npr did something really
really smart
a couple of months later after receiving
the slud of email of mail
a couple of months later in 1996 we
decided to create a religion beat
and so that someone at least would be
taking matters of faith very seriously
we put lynn neary into that position i i
suspect you all
recognize that name and she did a great
job and
what what happened is that this added a
to our coverage a religious religion
excuse me dimension to our coverage
overall coverage
that we had never had before we simply
missed it um
we realized that people’s beliefs their
religious beliefs
shape their world view and that
explained a lot about
law about politics about the rise of
george bush
about the culture wars about the view of
many people that courts are
that judges our judicial activists
it explained the constitutional
amendments uh to ban gay marriage it
a lot of things that we might have
missed have we not been talking to these
who are religious conservatives getting
out there and talking to them only when
interviewed them could these religious
conservatives could we
report in a really sophisticated way
now i think science scientists may be
in a little bit of the same position
that npr was 15 years ago
i mean obviously you’re not going to be
changing your research
outcomes you know based on religious
beliefs you can’t do that
but scientists might want to be
to religious police and religious
believers when they encounter them
and obviously let me just say
parenthetically that there’s a good case
to be made in one particular instance of
scientists understanding
religion and religious beliefs and
that’s the case of
of doctors i mean studies show that
patients are helped when their doctors
understand where they’re coming from
or at least they refrain from you know
puncturing their belief that their
prayers might work or that
um that there is a god who cares
um especially since it’s clear that a
own thought on um a patient’s thoughts
as opposed to prayers from others do
seem to affect the course of recovery
right it’s been shown that depression
and optimism
are critical factors in health having
networks such as a church group
support you know supporting you that
helps your health prayer and meditation
has terrific
uh health benefits so i think you know
and mind-body medicine is pretty much
well accepted
and it was after all believers like mary
baker eddie of christian um
who founded the christian science faith
which i was raised in
um before a wonderful encounter with
which then propelled me out of christian
science uh
and into the wonderful world of
pharmacology um
but you know it was you know folks like
uh like mary baker eddie who first came
up with this idea that you know your
thoughts have an impact on your body
so for people who deal with the public i
think some empathy
for religious beliefs might have a
tangible benefit now for um scientists
who aren’t doctors
it could be helpful to understand
religious believers
you know just from a public public
relations point of view
and guess what there’s good news here
religious believers are big fans
now of course i’ve interviewed people at
say the creation
museum in kentucky who believe that
and people coexisted happily together
the earth is 5 000 years old even though
i tried to explain that the fossils
underneath the museum were actually
older than five thousand years
but they didn’t want to hear it um
there’s a segment to be sure of
the population which is hostile to
because it shakes up their world view in
which the bible
is not only their kind of moral guidance
system but also their scientific
so you know they don’t like science um
except of course
when they are have get a tylenol or a
percocet or a life-saving
medical treatment but um it’s also
helpful for scientists to know that
and elaine mentioned this that there are
many many shades
of belief uh probably as many as there
are in
in science and shades of science um
christianity christians does not equate
evangelical not all christians are
evangelicals are not necessarily in fact
usually not
fundamentalists not all catholics are
most in fact aren’t most are
pro-choice orthodox jews probably have
more in common with evangelical
christians and they do with reform views
in other words it helps to make the
to understand that there are
distinctions and not all
and that most people um most of these
people who you consider to be religious
are not actually hostile to science in
fact the opposite is true
and elaine just alluded to this a little
um for the most part religious believers
love you they love scientists pew did a
poll last year
more than 80 percent of americans
believe that science has
a mostly positive impact on society and
that’s not
that’s true not just for secular folks
but for the most
faithful believers as well pugh found
that 80 percent of people who go to
church at least once a week that’s how
you gauge religiosity
and 83 of evangelicals have very
positive views of science
70 say that scientists contribute a lot
to society’s well-being and even people
who take
a literal view of genesis that god
created adam and eve out of
dust a scoop of dust and a rib even
those folks
love scientists 63 percent have a
very favorable view of scientists
i mean journalists would kill for this
kind of approval rating
you know i mean uh we clock in at 38
and that’s what secularists involved too
you know although we did do better than
uh lawyers at 23 percent
and business executives at 21
and i didn’t see anything about
politicians i’m not sure they scored at
um but you know but the point is that
religious people absolutely love
scientists so you’re doing something
now when you talk to people they do say
that there is a conflict between
religion and science mainly on issues
like the origin of life issues
um but interestingly people who go to
worship services
the most are the least likely to see a
conflict between
religion and science and i have no idea
why and i actually asked the pollster
who did conducted the study and he
didn’t know why either so that’s just
one of those big cosmic mysteries that
we’re gonna have to live with
um so what’s going on here
we hear an awful lot about this vicious
conflict between science and religion
and i have to say that i think that
journalists we journalists
are a little bit responsible for that
because frankly we like conflict
right we like stories about creationism
in the classroom
in dover denver pennsylvania or in
kansas um
not just we don’t like these stories
just because they’re interesting
uh which they are but actually they have
they serve a purpose
it’s through conflict that people best
the clash of ideas and worldviews and
that’s why we put kind of the extremes
up there they’re articulate
it’s better than the mushy middle well i
can see his point we don’t want to hear
we don’t want you know sympathy and
empathy and understanding we want like
conflict and
because it articulates points but um the
is that sometimes in the the public’s
left with the perception
that all evangelical christians for
example are biblical literalists
who want to offer creationism as a
science course
it’s just not true so we journalists
have some role in sharpening this debate
or exaggerating the debate between
science and religion
but as elaine alluded to i don’t think
reporters are completely responsible for
exaggerating this conflict some
scientists are too
i think a few scientists have decided
that they’re mad as hell and they’re not
going to take it anymore
and they’re fighting back in the public
square obviously you have the four
as they’re known richard dawkins sam
harris daniel dennett and christopher
hitchens who’s not
a scientist of course but they’ve taken
a a pretty aggressive approach to
religion in general
and religious people in particular i
remember talking to one scientist um a
man named p.z myers does anyone know
that name
right pc myers who teaches
biology at the university of minnesota
and on blasphemy day
there’s such a thing as blasphemy day on
blasphemy day
myers told me that he drove a rusty nail
through a consecrated
communion wafer and posted it on his
website and he got a lot of
a lot of angry email and he said to me
people got very angry i don’t know why i
it’s just a cracker right i put that on
there that was really
that holistic a lot of email um but in
fact i don’t think that a lot of
many scientists actually feel that way
i also think it’s um i also think
there’s a problem though it’s tricky for
scientists to openly reject
this kind of of kind of aggression
because of some of the things that
elaine talked about tonight
scientists who subscribe to a fake don’t
want to let out the fact
or else their colleagues may not think
that you know they think they’re stupid
or they’re not
they’re less scientifically minded so
they live as elaine’s had a closeted
and their colleagues are never exposed
to the fact that one of their very
intelligent colleagues
over in biology who does really really
good research is actually a believer
and they’re never exposed to that so
this whole stereotype that scientists
are too sophisticated to believe in god
that stereotype continues and i kind of
tell you
um i i i don’t blame religious
you know i wouldn’t want to out myself
if i were
worked at harvard or stanford or you
know cornell’s
biology department so i’m not sure
how this will play out i guess if you’re
francis collins
you can do this kind of thing for you
know for the rest
for most people whether you’re a
journalist or your
scientist you don’t really want to you
don’t want to out yourself like that so
i’m not exactly sure how it’s going to
play out but maybe
maybe in some way it’ll play out the way
it did at national public radio
which is the more we were exposed to
the more we saw that the caricatures of
you know simply didn’t hold that all
believers are you know fundamentalists
and and here’s here’s the good news um
despite the
crisis over juan williams um you’ll
never guess who likes to be on npr
basically more than anyone else i’ve
been told this
religious conservatives religious
love npr i never get turned down
with for an interview from a religious
conservative i’ve been told countless
that npr is their favorite venue and why
is that
well because they say npr understands
religion that we’re nuanced
or balanced or fair to all points of
and you know getting that getting that
image took a little bit of effort
but we did it and i think the same is
true of science
you can do it too thank you so much
that was outstanding very very
reflections uh barbara thank you so much
um we appreciate it
my mind is just exploding with
thoughts from this discussion already so
i think we’re going to have some very
good discussion now for about the next
20 minutes
i would invite those of you who have a
question for either one of our speakers
or you can throw it out to both of them
to feel free to step up to the
microphones here and we’ll just take
and offer our speakers a chance to
reflect on your question or
or to offer some thoughts related to
that please remember
uh dr leshner’s description of what a
is that we heard at the beginning of the
i’m sure many of you in this room have a
lot of experience a lot of good
thoughts related to the topics we’re
doing today in your own work your own
and we’d love to hear all about that in
some other venue but
but tonight we don’t have time for that
or we won’t get we won’t get enough
uh to be able to ask a question so if
you could limit your question to about
30 seconds
and then that will give time for our our
speakers to uh
to respond and discuss the issue all
right so um
let’s start over here and if you could
state your name and if you have an
affiliation you’d like to share you’re
welcome to do that
my name is beth goss i’m a pastor and
i’m a mom of a baker student
so yeah right i have a a
question for dr eckland who put the vs
in your title
was that you or your editor no it was
not me
so uh it’s very funny you’ll find when
you publish books you have very little
either of the cover or the title
so uh if you you read the book you’ll
that a bottom line is actually the areas
of overlap the ways that scientists use
and trying to dispel the idea that’s so
entrenched in such a big assumption that
there’s always a conflict
and so what did they call the book
science versus religion
so it was funny my editor who’s i just
love and it’s wonderful said you got to
just trust me on this like like
barbra so nicely said controversy spells
it doesn’t matter she says people will
look at that title it’s like you’ll get
a following you know science versus
religion but here we are
okay great how about over here uh yes
i’m richard harrell i’m an
um i was very struck by something you
said early on in your talk that you
didn’t find the difference between
across scientific disciplines um in the
theology reading group
um at the church i stand we’re reading
a book by a prominent anglican
theologian who’s also
a a theoretical physicist and it struck
me in our discussion
that gazing into theoretical physics
makes it easier perhaps
to see god than i mean i mean my
scientific bailiwick is pathophysiology
where by profession i’m what i look at
is things going wrong
and i find these very different these
two very different scientific
would lead to very different thinking
god and creation and i’m wondering if
you any thoughts about that and perhaps
why you didn’t find differences across
disciplines because we look at very
different things
in day-to-day science
so at the top research universities
where i
study natural and social scientists my
firm conviction is that the social
scientists are chasing
hard after non-natural scientists so you
know basically people in my discipline
of sociology want to be many physicists
right so
there’s and i think that it’s
potentially different at
less elite schools but i actually found
not only one person
in the entire study who was a social
scientist who took
issue with the conceptualization of them
as a scientist and that was an
um moonlighting in a sociology
department so a very um
very interesting kind of finding which
was totally
unexpected and i wonder if it does have
to do
with the kind of pressure to make the
research academy
sort of more embracing of science more
almost scientistic
as it were i think that i i suspect i
would find pretty big big differences
between humanists and national and
social scientists where
there are different kinds of uh debates
going on but that’s a that’s a great
question could i just ask you something
you guys wondered about this because
i’ve been told that
um within within scientists uh natural
people who study scientists who study
really small things or really large
um so quantum physics and astrophysics
are tend to be far more open to the
notion of
some kind of infinite intelligence or
something like that or the
the mystery than say biologists
or people who study that kind of thing
did you find anything like that i did
not find anything like that but i think
that’s a really interesting i hope
um someone does a gigantic study of
people who work in medicine so my
suspicion is that people who do more
applied work
um may potentially be more religious i
mean that i think there’s some potential
evidence for that
but that still studies to be done
okay i’m gonna i’m gonna take a turn
myself um
i was wondering i’ve noticed
that many of the most aggressive
that science is incompatible with
that science discounts religion um
and that religion is harmful based on
out in the blogosphere when i read blogs
and i read responses to news articles
online and so forth come from people who
are not themselves scientists and they
really really upset when when they are
confronted with
with the reality that scientists have a
diverse religious
uh diversity so i was wondering if you
had noticed that and if there if you
have any
reflections on this especially barbara
but either one of you i i
um well i can tell you that there
every time i do a story that involves
signs for religion there is a huge
amount of
um huge amount of mail
um the trouble is i don’t know how many
are scientists now it’s really hard i
mean they don’t say whether they’re
generally whether they’re whether
they’re a scientist or not
um it’s been my personal experience that
scientists are
because simply by the because they are
scientists are more open to
inquiry are more open to they’re less
willing to be dogmatic
that we have the answer you know one of
them said well you know we
94 percent of the universe is that is
dark matter we don’t have a clue so how
can we say that we know
you know everything about whether
there’s a god or not
um and so it’s been my experience
in personal interactions with scientists
that um
they’re they’re tolerant of
mystery and questions and to follow up
briefly on what i think you put that
very wisely barbara there
are so agnosticism in this population
means something very different which
sadly i can’t explain in a sound bite
but there are agnostics who are
scientists who are firm
churchgoers and agnostics who are very
close to being atheists
so and that’s just fascinating to me i
mean there are not enough
um committed agnostics in the general
to be comparable to find out their lots
of agnostics in the general population
who attend
um religious services i don’t know but i
think that’s just fascinating so
scientists have potentially a different
way of looking at the world where
if you pin them up against the law
they’re not really sure if they believe
you know believe 100
in everything anything so you know
saying i’m 100
sure there’s a god like you just never
say that about anything so i think
that’s an interesting kind of insight
interesting well it seems like there’s
some public perception that scientists
firmer views than in fact what you’re
saying so that that would be a
disconnect i think
okay question over here hi i’m tom
burnett i’m actually at rice university
all right um i was pretty surprised to
hear that you didn’t find much
in beliefs across academic disciplines
so i was curious the follow-up question
is if you found much different
across ages and just to give you an
anecdote when i was a grad student at
of their graduate student christian
fellowship zero were in the humanity i’m
a historian of science that’s the
anyone got the humanities and whether
you saw any age differentiation in terms
of those beliefs i did
they um i’ve written an article about
this in a journal called social forces
is less that when you’re younger the
younger cohort of scientists is actually
more religious than the older cohort of
scientists which i think is
very interesting um and there’s there’s
a pretty yeah the younger cohort of
scientists was
more religious i was deeply surprised by
this so
i mean so i followed that up quite
extensively uh
so i think you know for those of us who
care about having intelligent
conversation about these topics
uh there’s actually some kind of hope
there i mean that
i think that’s an interesting finding
and that’s a good question could could i
add to this just from the religion point
of view it’s the opposite
when it comes to young people young
people even young evangelicals for
are much less dogmatic on issues like
young evangelicals believe
that um non-christians go to heaven now
that’s like a
core tenet of evangelicalism that you
need you you have to
the only way you get to heaven is
through jesus christ right so
you know they’re much more open about
other religions they’re
um um much less likely to say be
um they don’t read the bible literally
they’re much
less likely to believe in the genesis
account of creationism
and so you see a lot on when you talk to
religious people
young people there’s a huge divide
where the you know they’re much more
dogmatic the older you get
and much more kind of tolerant um or you
older people might say you know fuzzy
minded um the
the younger you get so it’s the opposite
of what you’re finding well actually it
sounds to me
it’s kind of the same that the older
generation is more dogmatic on both
sides and the younger generation is more
open yeah i think that it might fit if
we you know unpack the content of what
those scientists think i think it might
fit with what you’re saying
so they’re just open to other kinds of
knowledge outside of science so yeah i
mean that’s a very interesting insight
okay over here hi my name is uh jonathan
drake i work for the science and human
rights program here at triple a s
um and my question was for dr eklund it
your study was very u.s centric in terms
of the beliefs of scientists
do you have any data on how that might
scale to a more global audience and if
could you share that with us if not
could you care to speculate perhaps
yes there’s i would really like to do a
follow-up study on that kind of topic
so i did present uh these results at a
conference in the uk
um and there’s there was speculation
that among some asian groups of
scientists in highly religious nations
like say korea
for example or india where there’s a
different there’s there’s a lot of
religious of a different character than
the us
that there is less conflict that sort of
these nations have been able to flourish
um and develop an intense science
infrastructure without experiencing
these kinds of conflicts
um there was also even in the uk which
is um
so thoughts that found is is much more
secular in some ways in the us
there was sort of a weird kind of
puzzlement that
the people in the audience be like why
wouldn’t you talk about these things
openly so oddly even though
there is not as much personal
religiosity there is
more open discussion about religion in
academic settings which i find just
amazing um so i learned a lot from that
audience and it made me want to continue
to do
research on these i think the best
resource is always cross-national so
it’s a great question
good question over here all right two
two questions first of all did you count
family doctors and clinical doctors as
scientists or did you exclude them from
your surveys
second of all second of all
first to say that i noticed when you
flashed the tables across
there was a big difference between
religious people who
who were black religious people who were
scientists versus black people who
weren’t scientists that was a big
disparity and do you have any
explanation for that
yes so um though so i did not include
medical doctors although there’s a
uh an md at university of chicago who i
just had in for a program at rice
university the other week and his name
is far curling and he’s done the
a big study on american physicians these
scientists are people who do research
that’s right for the sake of this study
but i agree with you that this could be
greatly expanded to different fields and
should be
secondly the um there are just
few african-americans in science at
top research universities and so i don’t
have to tell this to people
in the triple ais who are very concerned
about issues of diversity
and that led to a couple of spin-off
studies that i’ve done um
looking at just others
of religious people there are there are
no i mean you notice from that table
there were no black protestants i had
not one black protestant in the sample
so there were um i think less than two
african-americans at these top research
universities but not one
um right not statistically significant
but it’s because of the low proportion
in these at these top research
universities in general so
which i think is probably i mean this
developed just a little bit further to
that question
which i think is very problematic for
these kinds of dialogue
on lots of different levels because as
we know
black protestantism is just a huge share
of american religiosity so
that’s just very problematic on lots of
levels in terms of our science
infrastructure as well as on dialogue
between science and religion
hi my name is scott garber i’m a writer
and a former pastor here on capitol hill
first part of my question is directed to
barbara and then probably more generally
the second part of it i guess
back in november of last year
npr one of the science fridays had a
discussion on science and morality
that featured steven pinker among others
whose books are fantastic i just admire
enormously and sam harris as well and a
couple of others
and in the course of that discussion
stephen pinker suggested that the
relationship between
science and religion is a one-way street
and that religion has nothing to offer
to science whatsoever
and then that comment was followed up by
sam paris i think saying something to
the fact that um
that that faith is simply a
permission that people give each other
to believe bad things
and that um that that science would
actually supplant religion in terms of
moral basis for society as well
i just wondered if you got much feedback
on that particular program
and myself having come out of a very
fundamentalist tradition as
in my younger years and realizing in
order to have a dialogue
that those of us who are religious have
to kind of separate ourselves from that
what has to happen in the scientific
community to kind of
uh separate themselves from this sort of
reductionism in order to
have a kind of dialogue in the middle
ground somewhere
wow a lot of questions there um i
actually um
don’t know what the response was to that
we have a lot of shows you said it was
signed friday night’s friday
and um uh i have i don’t know
what the response was sorry sorry it
wasn’t overwhelming enough that
everybody was talking about it
no it wasn’t but um i’m sure but you
know you also have to think about who
listens to science friday and
you do tend to have more scientists like
then um then perhaps you know religious
people listening to science
i think i’m not sure but it might be a
self-selected group
um this notion that uh science will
supplant religion josh i mean there’s
such an interesting emerging signs of
morality right now
the evolution of morality and i think
we’re really really at the beginning
of this discussion i mean i i know that
there are a lot of scientists who
believe that
um we will find that there is um
no higher order that kind of implanted
morality that there is no
dictate from on high that gave us the
ten commandments or
you know the beatitudes or anything like
that and that um that will be known
no as we learn more about about
us and our brain um that there’ll be no
need for god
uh that’s fine for them to think that i
don’t think we’re anywhere close to that
um and and i think a lot of thoughtful
people don’t believe that
uh that either we’re having it as having
a discussion
today with someone about this nicholas
wade wrote a really interesting book
he’s a new york times science reporter
and it was about it was about morality
and how
the evolution of morality and how um
basically you probably don’t will
probably decide there was
there is no god and that morality is
evolved but he raised a really
interesting question
in the last chapter um he said uh for
thousands of years
how has morality been how a values been
transmitted to children
well it’s been through church or
synagogue or whatever
and um and family and if you take away
this kind of organized religion
and you have both parents who are either
divorced families you know split
families or both parents working or
whatever we have to figure out a way to
transmit these
these values and maybe it’ll happen
naturally but
uh at least one science reporter was
quite troubled by it even though he
didn’t believe in god
um which is uh so the this notion that
science will supplant religion
or science will you know may maybe
maybe it will some people uh lastly i’ll
say maybe it will um
some people look to europe and say look
how secular europe is and
and basically science and secularism has
it has supplanted religion then again
america continues to be incredibly
and successful and they said that people
say that we’re um
america is um and what is it a nation of
indians um controlled by swedes
uh meaning that you know we are maybe
taught at the top
the elite may be a little less religious
as a country we’re incredibly religious
and so
i think it’ll take a long time for at
least in this country for science to
supplant religion
because people derive too much good from
it like
a sense of value transmission of values
and that kind of thing
have i in any way answered your
i figured if i talked long enough i
might hit one of your points
okay i’m gonna try to let all four of
you who are standing
ask the question if you can can do it
30 seconds each so how about you
my name is alan weinstein i’m a retired
phd meteorologist
until i come from a field normally
thought it was applied research i’m
wondering if you stratified your data
among basic versus applied research
whether you’re stratified across
ethnicities and also whether you
stratified it again
across across males and females and
finally if you’re going to do a study
like this
in some of the more mundane research
organizations like
government laboratories private uh you
know private company laboratories and
yeah that was the six questions yeah
okay let’s see if i can get them all and
you’ll have to tell me if i missed one
so um i started stratifying it across
basic and applied research i did ask the
scientists questions about those topics
and did not find a difference
although i want to bring it back to the
fact that i just sampled scientists at
research universities so
i think there could be potentially
something there so and i didn’t include
engineers and so others who sort of
their whole discipline is more applied
so i think there’s something there
and this i think needs to be followed up
by having some work there are not
gender differences so if you’re a good
you know social scientist who studies
there are basically gender differences
in religiosity in every culture
every straight up women are more
religious than men
so a different kind of woman potentially
goes into science
than is in the general population and so
that’s a very interesting finding and uh
says a lot about a lot of things that go
on and on about
ethnicity did not find differences
except um it’s important to remember
that research universities that 20
are immigrants or the child or you know
or nationals um
you know those are for on visas in the
us who are not us citizens and so
and those folks tend to be less
religious and so that that was sort of
where that kind of
breakdown came out
okay over here i’m sally heath i’m an
uh i was wondering if you’d considered
the possibility
that this discontinuity between
religion and science is really part of a
more general case
which is the question what is important
versus what you believe intellectually
and for evangelical christians or
it’s what is important how you live your
life that is the most important thing
uh who feeds the hungry who
who comforts the sick
who visits people in jail what does it
if you’ve got the wrong intellectual
framework uh
so correct me if i’m i’m wrong so
questions of practice
versus questions of kind of you know
knowledge structures and
and things like that that they’re sort
of different ways of viewing the world
if that is it do i understand you
correctly um
for some people the question is what is
and what is important is how you live
your life
um for what you would call the
scientific community is
what is the truth
it’s now i have i think still more
research needs to be done of what the
general population of religious people
thinks about science i think that’s a
fruitful area of research we don’t know
in really fine-tuned ways what they
but my suspicion would be from what i
know research-wise
that among scientists this sort of
knowledge structures and consistency of
knowledge structures
are the kinds of topics that are much
more important to them and converse more
about in their community
than in the general public and that
practices the kinds of
you know authenticity of practice i
think that you’re getting at is perhaps
more important
i will draw your attention to this 20 of
spiritual scientists
who wanted to create some kind of
alternative system to organize religion
that was somehow coherent with science i
think and that part of that was being
engaged with the world
in a way that made sense based on their
spirituality i found that really
fascinating and kind of unexpected so
okay i i think another distinction might
be kind of science and religion seem to
different questions one you know
religion seems to
ask a kind of why question and meaning
question and science is often a how
and so i think they one of the conflicts
we have is is
uh well in fact we are comparing apples
and oranges are there different
questions they’re asking
and uh to try to conflate them is
problematic so i think you’re really on
to something
there as we i’m going to bring up a
little bit of conflict here
but as you go deeper into science and as
you go deeper into religion
those boundaries get more blurry so it
was it was interesting that
you know scientists then do start asking
the question
so i was i was always surprised by that
because i thought i would
you know i sort of bought into this big
non-overlapping magisterium kind of idea
that’s of course
the gold idea is very popular but in the
practice of what they talked about i
found those distinctions then to get
quite blurry
and and one of the other phenomena
that’s happening right now is
india is that you see actually
evangelicals for example who used to be
of a lower education
that you typically have really really
risen in education levels so i think
what you’re also seeing is with you know
serious believers
the white house under george w bush has
some of the smartest
people had some of the smartest people
you’ll ever want to meet
they’re evangelicals and so what’s
happened is evangelical
income um education level has increased
and i think they want to understand the
and you know actually andy and then
and so i think they’re asking more
penetrating questions about
you know about the how they want to get
this and i think this is in part to
explain the rising catholics that i saw
yeah so um and i wonder if the same
thing or if there’s or if that won’t
so yeah that’s still to be seen
okay two more let’s go over here i’m
soggett also science and human rights at
triple a is here
um one thing was you were when you
mentioned about the people being
the volunteering that they do want to be
seen as doing different science
did people with that related to like the
whole after the supreme court case the
creationism renamed itself creation
science and how much is that
a reaction to what’s happening outside
of science in terms of
the the invention of the pseudoscience
that is in this or how much is that
coming deeper or related and then i
guess i have a second
question just um when you talk about
versus atheism
i mean there are people i would say like
carl sagan who wrote these books they
would be very atheist or agnostic
who wrote very almost spiritual way
about all the universe and
do you see that i mean how do you just
measure spirituality and these are
some you’re sort of spiritual but not
identifying as spiritual
in the atheist cohort yeah no great two
great questions so
an answer to the first one that’s the
darndest thing about social science
research is we’re actually working with
real people
you know we’re you know in the system
that we’re studying and so
i couldn’t control that you know when i
first started doing this research that
oh lo and behold
you know these big court cases are
taking you know are happening about
evolution so i do think in part
that there’s a huge reaction to not
wanting to be identified as something
that’s perceived by the scientific
community illegitimate so i do think
that’s true
um secondly spirituality very
interesting in this population i think
i’ve argued
um to scholars that it’s different in
and the kind of spirituality that we see
in the general public um so i took out
of the stand by this one scientist who
said to me
well if you really press me against the
wall i guess well at baseball games
that’s where i feel spiritual
so you know just sort of like something
just sort of like off the
ball so um i counted them only as
you know if they could have if they had
a belief system that they could explain
clearly if they have practices connected
to it so this
is sort of a coherent kind of
spirituality um that they were able to
you know describe not that spirituality
came into their mind you know
only after i mentioned it kind of thing
so um
i think that’s that hopefully explains
your questions i think that’s a very
interesting insight that you have for
how do we define these things
thank you okay actually i lied we have
two more questions because i want to ask
the last one so
how about hello thank you both i’m
kathryn kahl i’m a biologist
and i’m wondering what role vocabulary
in the debate we’ve talked about verses
already science versus religion but um
it seems to me that where scientists
refer to
or where religious people refer to
doctrines and dogmas
scientists refer to theories and
paradigms and we have just as much
breaking paradigms sometimes i think as
you know
um maybe religious people do in
you know breaking dogmas and stuff
we need our history of science friend
back up here wasn’t there wasn’t me here
um yeah there’s this is a gigantic
debate um
within science as well so you know what
are the sort of paradigms and dogmas
that are just unchallengeable and is
that true to what the essence of science
is so i think you
bring up and it’s and is religion
changeable right our religious people
even and that’s that’s the kind of
pushback i get from scientists when i
get this material that
you know why have dialogue with
religious people they just will never
change their minds they’ll never listen
it’s a waste of our time
so is that really true of religious
or are they open and maybe different
kinds are more open than others we just
don’t i think that’s the kind of thing
that we can’t just stereotype that we
really need to get out there do research
try to develop intentional kinds of
dialogue and see what happens rather
than you know going forward with these
operatory stereotypes but
those are those that’s really you’re
getting some fundamental stuff there
and i mean this no this word theory
uh it’s hugely problematic
you know because because you know what
what do folks who are fundamentalists
you know creationists say well evolution
is just
a theory and i mean and it’s actually a
problem is that the verbiage is a big
in this debate because you you know they
don’t realize that
theory we don’t we’re not talking about
the general meaning of theory
we’re talking about it’s very specific
you know definition of
things that have that have been proven
um or the
you know this is the best explanation
for the development of life and yet you
people who don’t want to accept it will
just look look at the word theory and go
ah see it’s either or
so it’s words are a big problem
language is a big deal
good questions i have to congratulate
every single person for asking
excellent questions and for your
responses they’re very helpful and
interesting and thought-provoking so i’d
like to close with a question
that’s basically relevant to our our
title which is is
is public perception and your your
research results show this diversity
this interesting kind of spread of
beliefs among scientists
and yet you also mentioned that many
people in the public
don’t really know that about scientists
and other scientists
don’t know that about scientists so
could learning about this you know kind
of diversity of beliefs among scientists
be of any significant impact or even
in in in the dialogue between scientific
communities in the public and religious
or does it matter what do you think both
of you i’d like to continue reflections
does this information
that we heard tonight make make any
difference if if more people
were less cognizant i mean i think it
does i think um
i think the very recent history is one
it’s only in the very recent history
that we’ve had you know the four
horsemen and we’ve had this kind of
heightened antagonism this perception of
heightened antagonism
i mean the numbers seem to suggest that
the population
really really likes scientists um
and i think if if everyone would go out
and you know maybe they should assign
your book to
college campuses across the country that
would be a nice thing i’ll block your
heart yeah
i think political taxes happen
but i mean maybe if more people
understood that scientists aren’t
a monolith on this that they’re very
nuanced in their beliefs and their views
of religious and religion and religious
believers maybe if
if more people knew that than the
stereotypes it is pretty prevalent
kind of right now um because of all of
vitriol frankly um that that
that would help a lot um i don’t know
how you get that out
um i mean that’s always the problem
conflict cells
and so how do you get that message out
um i don’t know okay
well i just i i’ve noticed i know some
of my science
sciences who are themselves not
but they often have when they talk to
their classrooms or they get questions
from the public they make a special
point to to talk about you know they
they work with 10 colleagues and
some of them are devout religious
believers and some are not and some are
this or some of that and we all work
together on our science and
and that’s a way that they provide a
more accurate and positive reflection of
to their audience but i don’t know how
widespread that is so um
anyway any final comments from either of
you on anything tonight
i think that one sort of in response to
your last question i think
one intentional scientist makes an
incredible difference
so i and i can say that for my research
findings so
i would go often to universities to
interview scientists
i had this one conversation at a
midwestern elite school
you know this woman she’s been pissed
appealing i literally walked into her
office to interview her and she’s
preparing her remarks for her sunday
school class i’m like that’s an
interesting thing to be doing in your
science office
and she says you know if i could she
wants to she’s uber sensitive to whether
or not this material is confidential so
want we go over in our in you know human
subjects and agreement i’m like i
promise never release her identity
whatever so
i mean i’m very serious about that kind
of thing but she said she’s so concerned
because she thinks no one else
in her department is a religious person
thinks about religious ideas
i literally and you see where the story
is going i literally go next door
to her colleague and you know start
doing this interview i i mean i sort of
did this creative thing because i didn’t
want you know them to know they were
being areas like go you know escape go
to the bathroom come back in through
through another door you know and slip
into his office and he says well
you know i have a lot of existential
questions i’ve um recently had cancer
you know and i wish there were some
among my colleagues that i could just
talk about these sort of larger
questions with
you know of course i didn’t say you got
to get together with the woman next door
have a little study where you do some
religious reading i mean i didn’t say
that of course that’s not my role as a
researcher but that was very interesting
to me and
and insightful the second kind of story
i have
is that actually a scientist i know well
and i cannot mention
his name because of the confidentiality
of the study at a university
and every single person i interviewed
there mentioned him
which is just fascinating to me he’s an
openly religious person
he you know it’s not sort of went over
the head with this but
he just you know if you want to talk
about these issues he’s sort of open
about what he does
um he’s of a christian tradition what he
does on sunday morning if he doesn’t try
to hide it
and everyone there had been somehow
impacted by him now i’m not trying to
communicate that religious people always
do good things i definitely don’t think
but in this particular case it helped
a lot of stereotypes i think in the same
way that barbara has wisely stated with
journalists actually knowing some
religious people has
you know been very helpful and your
first story reminds me of um
you know i kind of outed myself in my
book um
as being someone who’s a who’s a
christian and a protestant
and i remember the day
after my book came out i had several
people who
came up to me they can look over their
shoulder to make sure no one’s watching
and then they come up and they say can
we can we talk about this like
you know i’ve been kind of exploring i
left the church but i’m thinking about
coming back
and so you know it kind of takes it
takes one person
um to be out there for other people to
realize that maybe it’s okay you know
maybe maybe it’s all right so that was
that was my
experience uh and it was actually pretty
to find that all right well i think we
just had a fascinating discussion
tonight so let’s thank our
i’ve already thanked many people here at
the aaas who supported tonight’s program
but the one person i think who didn’t
hear it was bethany spencer back here
and she’s basically
responsible for the delicious food and
everything else that you’ve enjoyed this
evening thank you
we thank you for coming tonight i hope
you stay warm and safe on your return
and join us in in february for our dozer
events at the
aaas annual meeting and we thank you
very much for coming tonight

Alan Leshner (Welcome)00:01-4:08
Jennifer Wiseman (Introduction)4:17-13:17
Elaine Howard Ecklund13:27-43:19
Barbara Bradley Hagerty45:10-1:00:44
What Do Scientists Believe? Religion Among Scientists and Implications for Public Perceptions 1

Elaine Howard Ecklund

Assistant Professor of Sociology, Director, Religion and Public Life Program, Rice University and Author, Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think, Oxford University Press, 2010.

What Do Scientists Believe? Religion Among Scientists and Implications for Public Perceptions

Barbara Bradley Hagerty

NPR Religion Correspondent, and Author, Fingerprints of God: In Search of the Science of Spirituality, Riverhead Hardcover, 2009.

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