In the span of less than a decade, social scientist Elaine Howard Ecklund’s research has ostensibly supported complete opposite observations in the ongoing “wars” (real or imagined) between science and religion.
A 2007 ABC News story, leaning heavily on an Ecklund study, was titled “The Clash Between Religion and Science.” The article essentially declared the battle a stalemate, beginning with this paragraph:
“Here’s one reason why the war between science and religion cannot be resolved. Most scientists do not believe in God.”
What a difference a decade makes. A new story titled “There’s Proof that Scientists Don’t Hate Christians” begins with a paragraph quite unlike the one from ABC in 2007:
“If you assume America’s laboratories and research facilities are filled with people who believe in the laws of science but not in God, you’re not alone. You’re also not correct.”
The story cites a new book by Ecklund and co-author Christopher P. Scheitle, Religion vs. Science: What Religious People Really Think (Oxford University Press). The new release is a natural follow-up to Ecklund’s 2012 tome, Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think (Oxford University Press).
In this recent interview with Think (from KERA radio in Dallas), Ecklund discusses some of her findings. She’s convinced the warfare thesis is not only wrong historically, but also does not reflect the attitudes of the thousands of Americans she has surveyed and the hundreds she has interviewed. She says Americans generally think science is good, but religious persons, especially evangelicals, tend to mistrust scientists, assuming scientists are atheists with an “agenda” or bias in their work.
Ecklund also wrote about what she’s been learning in recent years here.
Ten years ago, Ecklund’s work—which led to that ABC News story lead and to her 2012 book—had found that there were many more religious “nones” in science departments of top universities (52% of scientists surveyed had no current religious affiliation) than in the general public (14%). But among all these atheists and “nones,” many were respectfully skeptical of religion, while some even considered themselves “spiritual.” Only five of the 275 scientists she interviewed were hostile to religion.
Despite the denial of climate change science by many evangelicals, Ecklund has found that evangelicals are more science friendly than you think. At the same time, Ecklund’s research shows that scientists are more religious than you think (and less hostile towards religion).
Check out the Thinkpodcast for a wide-ranging discussion that touches on New Atheists, evolution, and miracles as well as some interesting questions from listeners.
In the end, Ecklund addresses the common assumptions about the alleged “war” by saying, “We need to be careful when we let the loudest voices seem the most numerous.
Here’s an overview of Ecklund’s new book, and you can learn more about Ecklund in this interview from The Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota: