Are all scientists sharks out to eat religious people for lunch? Do many religious people really believe this? Are religious Americans scientifically ignorant, uninterested or or hostile toward science?
Several years ago I read and posted on a fascinating book by Elaine Howard Ecklund, Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think. Elaine Ecklund is sociologist at Rice University. The work reported in this book drew on an extensive survey of nearly 1700 professors at twenty one “elite” universities, in seven core disciplines (chemistry, physics, biology, sociology, economics, political science, and psychology), augmented by detailed interviews with 275 of them. I have spent all but three of the last 36 years, as graduate student, postdoc, and professor, at Universities included in Ecklund’s study. This book hit the target. I found nothing surprising, but much that provoked thought. Now Elaine, with coauthor Christopher P. Scheitle (Sociology, West Virginia University) has a new book looking at the other side of the equation: Religion vs. Science: What Religious People Really Think. Like the first book, this one draws on extensive survey and interview data to analyze the range of views among Christians, Jews, and Muslims and fleshes out the dry data with personal stories and anecdotes. As in the first book, I find nothing especially surprising – but much that provokes thought, and should stimulate some good conversation.
From the introduction:
The way religious Americans approach science is shaped by two fundamental questions. First, what does science mean for the existence and activity of God? Second, what does science mean for the sacredness of humanity? How these questions – questions with profound moral implications – play out as individual believers think about science both challenge stereotypes and highlight the real tensions between religion and science. (p. 2, emphasis added)
Ecklund and Scheitle hit the nail on the head here. For some the issue is Biblical authority, or the impact on some favored theological construction but the most significant questions on this blog over the years, and I’ve been at this for ten years now, have dealt with human uniqueness – what does it mean to say humans are created in the image of God – and room for divine action (miracles anyone?). This means that evolution and common descent raise significant questions that must be addressed. It also means that moral questions surrounding life and death – abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research, genetic manipulation, cloning – are significant. A religious worldview does impact our views on some significant “scientific” questions.