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As the twig is bent

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ABC News: God vs. Science: Most Scientists Are Nonbelievers

An interesting story at ABC on a study about scientists and religiosity.

The question Elaine Howard Ecklund most wanted to answer was pretty basic: Does the study of science drive a person away from religion? It does not, she said in an interview.

Nearly all the scientists who said they believe in God, and have a current affiliation with a church, were raised in a home where religion was considered very important, she said. Thus, they conform to the same pattern seen in the population at large. As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.

Most of the scientists who believe in God have children, she said. And the 3,000 pages of transcribed interviews tell her something else.

“In my interviews, some scientists reclaimed the religion of their youth when they had children, and people in the general public do that as well,” she said

I’d wager that a lot of the ones who were ambivalent about religion were raised that way too.

Ecklund is convinced that her research shows that whether a scientist believes in God is determined primarily during childhood, and most of the scientists she studied came from homes where religion was not considered important. Her study, published in the current issue of the journal Social Problems, puts it this way:

“These data reveal that at least some part of the difference in religiosity between scientists and the general population is likely due simply to religious upbringing rather than scientific training or institutional pressure to be irreligious.”


That is likely to be hotly debated in the years ahead, and there is a hint in her own research that suggests otherwise. The disciplines she studied include physics, chemistry, biology, sociology, economics, political science and psychology. Physicists did not lead the list of nonbelievers, which may be a bit surprising given the historic battles between the church and Galileo and Copernicus. Of all those surveyed, biologists were least likely to be religious, the study shows.

The antagonism of biologists to religion is true to my experience – in reading popular scientific works as well as debating on the web. The question is why? I think the popular view of Darwinism as the ultimate stick with which to bash religion makes it attractive to people who are curious about the world and detached from religion. Then there is the “problem of pain”, which is considered to be among the most serious problems anyone with a benevolent view of God is said to face. I don’t personally find it to be the toughest nut to crack; you either grasp suffering as being potentially redemptive or you don’t. For good or ill, my problem has always been divine hiddenness.

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Written by Curt

July 3, 2007 at 8:36 pm

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