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Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think

You hear a lot these days about science and religion. Most anti-religious folk claim that science undermines or even contradicts religious faith. As evidence for this claim (which, by the way, is not scientific, but philosophical), they point to the “fact” that very few scientists are religious.

Now we can get the facts about science and religion, at least the facts about what scientists actually believe. Elaine Howard Ecklund, a sociologist at Rice University, has recently published a book with the intriguing title: Science Vs. Religion What Scientists Really Think. It was published last year by Oxford University Press. Science vs. Religion is the result of extensive research conducted by Ecklund over many years. I read this book, finding it full of information and insights, as well as delightfully readable. I learned a lot from this book, mostly, that the whole issue of “Science vs. Religion” is much more nuanced than many assume. Scientists are much more open to religion that we might expect. Moreover, those scientists who reject religion rarely do so as a direct result of their scientific studies. (Photo: Ecklund and Michael Cromartie, host of the Faith Angle Forum.)

I highly recommend Ecklund’s book. But if you don’t have time for a two-hundred plus page book, there is another option for you. Ecklund delivered a lecture in November, in which she summarized her major findings and answered questions as well. This happened in the context of the Faith Angle Forum, a semi-annual event sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center. This gathering brings together some of the top religion journalists from the country, including most major news sources (NY Times, CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox News, NPR, etc.). They hear presentations from leading thinkers whose work bears upon religious issues. 

I was pleased to be present for this event as an observer. I heard Ecklund’s lecture after having read her book. Not surprisingly, she provides an excellent summary of her material. (Ecklund, an outstanding academic scholar, also has the ability to community with ordinary folk.) Now a transcript of this lecture is available online at the Ethics and Public Policy Center website.  You may also want to read the response to this lecture by Barbara Bradley Haggerty of NPR. It’s included after Ecklund’s lecture.

I am encouraged by the Faith Angle Forum and by the work of Ecklund. The FAF offers a place for influential journalists to consider religious issues openly and seriously. It helps to raised the quality of religion reporting in major media outlets. Ecklund’s work is bringing clarity to a cloudy issue. She is able to deal with the science vs. religion debate in a calm, irenic, and knowledgeable way. Kudos to Michael Cromartie and Elaine Howard Ecklund for this excellent contribution to civil discourse and a respectful search for truth.

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The Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a pastor, author, retreat leader, speaker, and blogger. Since October 2007 he has been the Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence for Laity Lodge, a multifacted ministry in the Hill Country of Texas. Before then, he was for sixteen years the Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in Irvine, California (a city in Orange County about forty miles south of Los Angeles). Prior to coming to Irvine, Mark served on the staff of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood as Associate Pastor of Education. Mark studied at Harvard University, receiving a B.A. in Philosophy, an M.A. in the Study of Religion, and a Ph.D. in New Testament and Christian Origins. He has taught classes in New Testament for Fuller Theological Seminary and San Francisco Theological Seminary. Used by permission from markdroberts.com.