Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think

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Overview


That the longstanding antagonism between science and religion is irreconcilable has been taken for granted. And in the wake of recent controversies over teaching intelligent design and the ethics of stem-cell research, the divide seems as unbridgeable as ever.

In Science vs. Religion, Elaine Howard Ecklund investigates this unexamined assumption in the first systematic study of what scientists actually think and feel about religion. In the course of her research, Ecklund surveyed nearly 1,700 scientists and interviewed 275 of them. She finds that most of what we believe about the faith lives of elite scientists is wrong. Nearly 50 percent of them are religious. Many others are what she calls "spiritual entrepreneurs," seeking creative ways to work with the tensions between science and faith outside the constraints of traditional religion. The book centers around vivid portraits of 10 representative men and women working in the natural and social sciences at top American research universities. Ecklund's respondents run the gamut from Margaret, a chemist who teaches a Sunday-school class, to Arik, a physicist who chose not to believe in God well before he decided to become a scientist. Only a small minority are actively hostile to religion. Ecklund reveals how scientists-believers and skeptics alike-are struggling to engage the increasing number of religious students in their classrooms and argues that many scientists are searching for "boundary pioneers" to cross the picket lines separating science and religion.

With broad implications for education, science funding, and the thorny ethical questions surrounding stem-cell research, cloning, and other cutting-edge scientific endeavors, Science vs. Religion brings a welcome dose of reality to the science and religion debates.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ecklund, a professor at Rice University, surveyed 1,700 scientists at 21 elite universities to ascertain how many of them were influenced by religion. She sent a 34- question survey and did 275 personal interviews. Her well-footnoted book profiles how natural and social scientists interact with each other in their own departments, the university at large, students they teach, and the general public. Within the survey, she discovered individuals who identified no religious tradition but considered themselves to be spiritual (“spiritual atheists”). Among those who were religious, she found varying beliefs about the ultimate nature of things, including intelligent design, evolution, and creationism. Professors presented their convictions or silenced them, either bringing religious thinking into classrooms or keeping it out. Many saw religion as useful in teaching ethical behavior in society. Ecklund concludes by dispelling myths about today’s science professors, offering an evidence-based peek behind the doors of academia. (May)
From the Publisher

"Since surveys of scientists' religious beliefs began nearly a century ago, no one has produced a study as deep and broad as Ecklund's. Perhaps its most surprising finding is that nearly a quarter of the atheists and agnostics describe themselves as 'spiritual.' Surely Science vs. Religion will be the gold standard of such surveys for decades to come." --Ronald L. Numbers, Hilldale Professor of the History of Science and Medicine, University of Wisconsin, Madison

"Drawing on extensive research and interviews, Elaine Howard Ecklund offers an informative, incisive, engaging, and fair-minded narrative of the deeply held-and deeply divergent-ideas about religion among scientists in the academy." --Francisco J. Ayala, author of Darwin's Gift to Science and Religion

"Science vs. Religion presents an important study on a timely subject. The book raises issues that merit serious consideration by anyone who cares about science or religion or the intersection of the two." --Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne, Fellow, Queens' College, Cambridge

"Fascinating." --The Chronicle of Higher Education

"Ecklund dispel[s] myths about today's science professors, offering an evidence-based peek behind the doors of academia." --Publishers Weekly

"[Science vs. Religion] is going to seriously undercut some widespread assumptions out there concerning the science religion relationship." --Discover Magazine

"Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think is a refreshing and hopeful book. Its findings deserve wide notice--and discussion. With this book, Prof. Ecklund has done a great service to science, to religion, and to the common good." --Rod Dreher, Beliefnet

"Instead of sweeping generalizations, [Ecklund] gives us individualized voices representing a broad spectrum of convictions. Her moderately optimistic findings suggest that 'boundary pioneers' ... will have an increasingly important role to play. In evangelical circles, we still have a long way to go, but there are hopeful signs--including the appearance of a book such as this." --Christianity Today

"To a large degree, Ecklund will satisfy the reader's curiosity concerning the discrepancy of religion between scientists and the U.S. population in general." --New York Journal of Books

"A fresh perspective. For Ecklund, the bottom line is recognizing and tolerating religious diversity, honestly discussing science's scope and limits, and openly exploring the disputed borders between scientific skepticism and religious faith." --The Washington Post

"Ecklund's outstanding research-consisting of surveys of nearly 1700 natural and social scientists at major U.S. universities-and judicious recommendations make this a valuable work for all who care about the subject of science and religion." --Library Journal, Starred Review

"We agree that dispelling myths is an important step towards a more productive relationship between religious and scientific communitites; Ecklund's pioneering work offers critically important information toward dispelling those myths." --Books & Culture

"...Ecklund's research affirms that no matter where a person or institution may land on a spectrum of beliefs about what constitutes true knowledge, everyone is overdue for a more mature and nuanced ability to communicate and relate." --Milton Frieser, Cardus

"...its engages the reader - well written, clear prose...."--Nancy Nason-Clark, Univeristy of New Brunswick

"Science vs. Religion explores important and interesting questions. It helps us to see how the voice of science and the voice of faith have been defined over time by many actors. And it invites us to shatter some myths along the way: engaging dialogue and strong data often have this result."--Sociology of Religion

"An ambitious overview of the boundaries between religion and science seen across time and space...Aided by having this collection in hand, I am excited at the prospect of comparing science-oriented language, magic practices, and fertility rites, for example, across religious cultures. But the point is that I have the invaluable advantage of acquaintance with this book. Its essays are thorough, balanced, and masterfully scholarly. Precisely because they provide a systematic global overview of religious encounters with science, they invite riskier research."--Journal of the American Academy of Religion

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195392982
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 5/6/2010
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,105,592
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Elaine Howard Ecklund is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Rice University, Director of the Program on Religion and Public Life for the Rice University Institute for Urban Research, and Rice Scholar of the James Baker III Institute on Public Policy. Ecklund has received awards and grants from the National Science Foundation, Russell Sage Foundation, and John Templeton Foundation and is the author of Korean American Evangelicals: New Models for Civic Life (Oxford 2008).

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 The real religious lives of scientists 3

Ch. 2 The voice of science 13

Ch. 3 The voice of faith 29

Ch. 4 Spiritual entrepreneurs 51

Ch. 5 Suppression or engagement : how scientists handle religion in the classroom 71

Ch. 6 No God on the quad : efforts toward a purely secular university 87

Ch. 7 God on the quad : making room for faith on campus 107

Ch. 8 What scientists are doing wrong that they could be doing right 127

Ch. 9 Shattering myths, toward dialogue 149

App. A The study 157

App. B Web and phone survey 167

App. C Long interview guide 181

Notes 185

Bibliography 211

Index 223

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 3, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Don't waste your money on this book!

    Unless you belong to a religious faith then this book is a waste of your time and money. To sum it up, Ms. Ecklund simply believes that if you start people in religion when they are young then you can instill faith in them that will remain in later life. Is that a new or relevant argument? I think not. Religion has long said "..give me the man when young and I'll give you a life-long believer..". This book is a rehash of said argument. Religion has been the enemy of science for centuries and will continue to be so until mankind reaches a level of general intelligence that will allow religion to become obsolete. Ms. Ecklund feels that scientists should work harder to "have a dialogue" with religion but when has the reverse ever been true? Religion has always taken the stand that their way is sacred and not open to doubt or interpretation. Why must science, according to the author, now make all of the effort to communicate with religion when the religious refuse to listen? If you are already a person predisposed to religion then you'll probably love this book. But if you are intelligent enough to realize that religion will never budge an inch in their arguments and will damn all who disagree, then I suggest you spend your hard earned money on the latest book on atheism

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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