Ecklund is framing again

June 28, 2010 • 2:07 pm

I’m getting weary of Elaine Ecklund’s frenetic framing.  As you may remember, Ecklund did a study on the religious views of American scientists, a study that showed, by and large, that those scientists are far more atheistic than is the American public at large. Her research, which of course was funded by the Templeton Foundation, was published as a book, Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think.

At EvolutionBlog, Jason Rosenhouse has summarized Ecklund’s results, which include these statistics:

  • 34% of scientists say that they have no belief in God, while another 30% agree with this statement: “I do not know if there is a God, and there is no way to find out.”  That makes 64% of them who are in the atheist camp (or atheist/agnostic camp, depending how you define “agnostic”). Only 6% of the American public falls into these two groups.
  • An additional 8% of scientists agree with the statement, “I believe in a higher power, but it is not God.”  Total: 72% of scientists are non-theists.  The figure for Americans as a whole: 16%.
  • Only 9% of scientists say this: “I have no doubts about God’s existence”. Compare this to the 63% of Americans who are dead certain.
  • 54% of scientists claim no religious affiliation, compared with only 16% of the general public.
  • Only 2% of scientists say they are evangelical Protestants, while 28% of all Americans claim this label.

Ecklund did her study at “elite” universities, but if you look at “elite scientists,” i.e., those who have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the degree of disbelief is even higher: 72% are flat-out atheists and another 21% are doubters or agnostics, with only 7% accepting a personal god. (The NAS data are from an independent study.)

What else can one conclude but that American scientists are far more atheistic and agnostic than the American public, and that the more elite the scientist, the weaker the belief in God?

Well, Ecklund doesn’t conclude that, or, if she does, she buries it under her grand conclusion: scientists are far more religious (she also uses the weasel-word “spiritual”) than we previously thought! As she says,

Given the presence of religion in the scientific community, why do Americans still think scientists are hostile to religion?

The presence of religion? Is that all it takes to dispel that pernicious myth of atheistic scientists?  A presence? How much less presence can there be in such a religious society? Would there still be a “presence” if only 1% instead of 9% of scientists had no doubts about God’s existence?

Ecklund’s posts, interviews, and opinion pieces touting this conclusion are all over the interwebz; the latest, “What scientists think about religion,” is at HuffPo. (It’s part of a new HuffPo series on Science and Religion, all dedicated to showing how compatible they are.)

If you want to see framing at its nauseating best, or worst, observe how Ecklund downplays the irreligiosity of scientists in favor of showing how “spiritual” they are, how few of them actually spend their time trying to destroy religion, and how “nearly one in five is actively involved in a house of worship, attending services more than once a month.”

Well, the facts will out, despite the best efforts of Eckund and her minions and acolytes to hide that huge gap in faith between scientists and the American public.

What’s almost worse than this selective amnesia about the facts is what inference Ecklund and others draw from them.  It is this: we need more dialogue—and more respectful dialogue—between scientists and the faithful to help bridge this gap.  This conclusion will surely please the folks at Templeton who funded Ecklund’s study.  As she says at HuffPo:

So if religious folks want their children to succeed (as a scholar of American religion, I have every reason to believe they do) and if scientists want more children to consider a career in the field (as a scholar of the American scientific community, I know they do), there needs to be a better dialogue between people of faith and the scientists among them.

We need real, radical dialogue — not just friendly co-existence between religion and science, but the kind of discussion where each side genuinely tries to understand why the other thinks the way it does and where common ground is sought. This dialogue should reach the rank-and-file in religious communities with the message of how to maintain faith while fully pursuing science. And it needs to reach the rank-and-file in the scientific community as well, providing them with better ways to connect with religious people.

How to begin? Maybe I won’t, because I’ve plowed this ground before. (I can’t help, however, being highly amused by Ecklund’s dictum that part of our job as scientists is to help religious people “maintain their faith while fully pursuing science.”)

Let me just say what comment I would put on Ecklund’s piece if it were submitted to me as a student essay:

I am sorry, but I don’t see how these conclusions follow from your data.

Or is it possible that this isn’t a conclusion at all, but a message that is completely independent of the data, and perhaps confected before the study was done?

51 thoughts on “Ecklund is framing again

  1. I went to the Barnes and Noble bookstore this morning. One display table was devoted to, its sign said, “Christian Fiction.” Just one category of religious fiction I guess.

    1. I second that the question: “I have no doubts about God’s existence” is ambiguous.

      I have no doubts about God’s existence.
      I have no doubts about Cthulu’s existence.
      I am an atheist on both counts.

  2. Let’s not forget that the title of her book is misleading. The title should be Science vs. Religion: What American Scientists Really Think

    She doesn’t seem to realize that there are scientists in other countries who laugh at her suggestions. Imagine what “real, radical, dialogue” looks like in Sweden where half the population is atheist!

  3. This desire for dialogue between “people of faith” and scientists seems to be very one-sided. The objective is always to get scientists to take religion seriously rather than the other way round.

    And what Jack said – the question is very ambiguously phrased.

  4. Sniff, sniff, is that Ecklund cooking data into bogus opinions again? I guess being exposed as ignoring her own data to produce bogus conclusions does not embarrass her.

    1. How could it? She is compulsively accommodationist. She literally can’t help herself. All she wants is to pretend that her silly fantasy of serious dialogue happening between two incompatible mindsets are possible. Why? Because it would be so nice! Not because it will happen even if Templeton pours money into this brain-dead wish. Not because if it could even happen, that it would have any positive effect in terms of educating the public regarding science.

      Having have lived in France for over an decade, I have no patience for this blathering about compatibility. Religious believers have the right to free speech and that’s it. No special privilege.

      As it is often said, science works, bitches! If a religious believer has a problem with that, then it is their problem, not the scientist (who needs only to focus on presenting her ideas and findings clearly, and some are more talented in this regard)

      Religious believers would cave over and die without science. Atheists will not cave over and die without religion. If religious believers try to block scientific progress they will be fought at every turn. And they and their pathetically indoctrinated offspring will be left out of the picture.

      Scientists are already doing valuable and hard work–they do not owe any special privileges to be bestowed on these sloppy thinkers and supporters of ancient superstitions.

      1. Having lived in Sweden for decades, I sympathize with having no patience. Apparently organized religion got its comeuppance after WWII, when philosopher Ingemar Hedenius bitch-slapped it to hell in media debates.

        “Hedenius became known for his “Belief and knowledge” (1949). The book resulted in one of Sweden’s largest culture debates. It treated christianity’s claim on truth but also the church societal position. He rejected organized christianity, at least in the form of the Swedish Church (“Department of Religion”). In his book he described three postulates that theology doesn’t fulfill and therefore render impossible a rational discussion on religion. According to Hedenius this makes that theology can’t be classified as science, but rather is a member of the quasi-sciences [pseudosciences. TL]:

        * The postulate of psychology of religion: A religious belief contains truth claims on assumptions of metaphysics that science and empiricism neither can verify or falsify, for example claims on God’s existence or the immortality of the soul.

        * The postulate of language theory: It must be possible to inform also non-believers on the meaning of religious views and experiences.

        * The postulate of logic: Two truths can’t oppose each other. Of two opposed declarations only one can be true. Theology contains truth claims not only on hypotheses that contradicts what we know of reality (first postulate) but also accept inconsistencies, for example the unsolved and according to Hedenius unsolvable problem of theodicy (God as all powerful and loving vs the independent existence of evil).

        Hedenius argued that christianity violates all this, and that christianity thus is senseless. The critique contributed among other things that science of religion (the study of religions and their development) was separated from theology and became an “a-religious” [non-religious. TL] academic discipline.” [Rough translation from sw Wikipedia. TL]

        I gather from that article that Hedenius was “course in mouth and pen against enemies and opposition, weak and sensitive among friends”. A cross between Hitchens and Dennett?

        Note that Hedenius _on NOMA grounds still reject theism_ as theistic claims goes against or beyond what is known and thus contradicts logic!

        Hedenius solved the meaning of NOMA 60 years ago – why can’t US accommodationists do this even today?

        It is my understanding that the priesthood was so ridiculed during the debate (by being unable to answer Hedenius claims, or more generally showing themselves as incompetent regarding making claims and serious debate) that there has never been a serious religious debate in Sweden afterwards.

        1. More pointedly, it is theistic truth claims that contradicts logic.

          Another note: “New Atheism” is really, really old…

  5. I’m not exactly sure what these people calling for a “dialog” really mean, and whether that isn’t already happening.

    From time to time, I have rather lengthy dialogs with theistic friends or relatives — at least with those who would be open to such a dialog; I will not be discussing the epistemological problems of personal revelation with my Mormon parents! These dialogs are respectful and I find them very interesting, though of course I’m not going to shy away from my central point. And indeed, we are often looking for common ground (the conversation often reaches a point where I ask, “So how is your viewpoint functionally different from atheism?”)

    I imagine that this is true of many of the “militant atheists” whom the accomodationists are always exhorting to seek dialog. Aren’t we already?

    Maybe I am just an unusual exception amongst the “strident” crowd, but somehow I doubt it.

  6. How can you find common ground if they’re mutually disjoint magisteria? We’re constantly told science can’t weigh in on religious claims because they’re entirely different kinds of things, then told we need to seek their common ground. Or is it that they’re different magisteria only when science criticizes religion?

  7. Well, I agree we need “real, radical” dialogue.

    As in me telling you, “you’re wrong, dangerously deluded, self-congratulating, and engaging in the worst sort of cognitive disconnect contra to your own evidence I’ve ever seen.” Dialogue THAT.

    True story: I attended an international osteoporosis scientific meeting some years back. The featured presentation was the first unveiling of an enormous clinical trial on the use of fluoride supplements in osteoporosis. Sadly, the data were negative. No benefits.

    Of course, the “true believers” FLEW out of their seats during comments to try to justify continued research down this path, proposing one objection or another to the study design, demographics, engaging in special pleading, and on and on. Until the eminence gris who conducted the study stopped them short with the observation, “this is why we conduct double-blind, placebo-controlled studies. It doesn’t work. We need to move on.” End of discussion.

    Your OWN DATA show the vast majority of scientists are not religious. WHY then, do we need to accommodate those who are? To what benefit to either science or religion? You’ve done the study; the fact that you don’t like the results is evident.

    Time to move on.

    (Of course, let me also add that at one point 100% of scientists believed in aether; 100% of scientists believed in the geocentric model of the universe; and on and on. Argumentum ab populum is a persistently BAD argument for accommodating a lie.)

  8. And it needs to reach the rank-and-file in the scientific community as well, providing them with better ways to connect with religious people.

    Wait a minute. Isn’t this a tacit admission that the rank-and-file scientists do indeed need to be convinced of being more positive towards religion?

  9. “How to maintain faith while fully pursuing science” ~ A course in sustaining cognizant dissonance

  10. The ‘dialogue’ needs to be why religion and science are incompatible methods of inquiry. By comparison, I think most scientists are quite aware that religious inquiries stimulate no new knowledge or reveal new avenues of inquiry. That fact alone is highly indicative that any compatibility issues rests fully with religion first finding and then revealing why its method of inquiry (goddidit) has any merit worth considering.

    1. The ‘dialogue’ needs to be why religion and science are incompatible methods of inquiry.

      I thought it was because, after hundreds of years of investigation in various fields of study (with religious scientists being certain evidence for god would eventually appear), absolutely zero evidence to support religious claims has been uncovered. The religious needed to find a way to explain that while still being able to justify clinging to their delusion and realised the only option was to declare, apropros of nothing, their god was ‘outside of science’.

      Sadly, there seems to be a segment of the scienfitic commnunity that’s happy to let them get away with a dodge so transparent it should appear in the dictionary as the first example under the definition of ‘goalpost shifting’.

  11. I spoke with one physicist who said that he thinks universities are not always very accepting environments for scientists of faith. He believes that if he openly said he is religious, others would question the validity of his scientific work; it is his sense of things that at his elite school, he can be a scientist or be religious, but not both.

    He thinks. He believes. It is his sense of things. I’m assuming that we can conclude thereby that the scientific community is openly hostile to religious scientists.

    1. Yes, we’ve been down THAT road as well.

      People bifurcate. It’s easy.

      In science, you are judged by your WORK, not by your BELIEFS. Do good work and your science will be judged accordingly. Allow your religious beliefs to propose bad science, and your science will ALSO be judged accordingly.

      There is, of course, a continuum. On the far end of the curve are the true anti-scientists like Wells, Dumbski, Axe, et al (who should by virtue of their training know better, but who positively reject that training). These folks don’t bifurcate at all – their motives are to advance religion at the expense of science.

      Further along the curve are the Collins-Miller folks, who believe in ALMOST ALL of it but with that one little bit of special pleading. These are the folks for whom bifurcation is a way of life (and a way to sell books). They KNOW they’re deluding themselves and they congratulate themselves on their ability to do so; all the while insisting that it’s OK for the rest of us to engage in the same level of fuzzy thinking.

      And then there is the Coyne-Myers axis, which is having none of it. Accommodate bad data, fuzzy thinking, logical fallacies and all the rest? Where’s the EVIDENCE that was ever a good idea?

      And there we are, back to where we started. Where’s the beef? What’s the evidence?

      Is it too much to ask that you not piss on my shoes and tell me it’s raining?

  12. “how “nearly one in five is actively involved in a house of worship, attending services more than once a month.””

    Hmmm, Jews (many who are atheists) or Unitarians? 🙂

      1. My wife and I are both atheists, and we still go to church sometimes just because she’s culturally Catholic and enjoys the ritual and makes me bacon if I go. Mmm holy bacon.

  13. “the more elite the scientist, the weaker the belief in God”

    Unfortunately for me, this equation doesn’t work in reverse. 🙁

  14. Oh, come! How can she speak about radical dialogue, on the one hand, and finding common ground on the other? What on earth is “radical” about that? Radical dialogue is what is happening now, with a lot of people saying that there is no compatibility between science and religion. That’s an argument you can sink your teeth into. (And note, not one religious voice has said what there is about religion that is compatible with science. Not one!) Now, that’s radical, and Ecklund doesn’t like it. Well, of course she doesn’t, you fool, she’s paid by Templeton! Now that’s not radical at all!

  15. Well. The results being spun to please the study sponsors is not unheard of. In the industry-funded drug trials it is by no means exceptional.
    But the data are interesting. My impression is that scientists, as a community, are closer in their religious views to France than the US.
    The march of secularization will continue. And if access to healthcare one day becomes universal it will pick up, as demonstrated in multiple studies. Templeton can’t stop it.

  16. Why is it that the only thing I can think of after reading that title is “Bad Ecklund! You framed all over the sofa again!”?

  17. The best way to raise scientific literacy is to let people know that faith and feelings are not methods of obtaining objective knowledge.

    Catering to “other ways of knowing” just prolongs magical thinking of all sorts.

  18. It would be interesting to turn the question around:
    “What proportion of religious people practice science in their daily lives?”
    I think the answer, if all respondents answered truthfully, would be 100%.
    After all, if you’ve ever wondered: “Why did [thing A] happen? Was it because I did [thing B]? What if I do [thing B] again? Or [thing C]?” – then you’re a scientist.

    I think a lot of the science vs religion nonsense would go away if people on both sides would realize there’s no such thing as a “non-scientist”. If you think, you’re a scientist.

    1. Even better would be “What proportion of religious people use the products of science in their daily lives?”

      1. Actually…I don’t think it would be better. It would be far more effective to point out that they *are* scientists themselves. They don’t just use the products of science – they use science – full stop.

  19. You scientists think you know everything! I look at a set of fossils and see flood geology, and you look at fossils and see shifting frequencies of alleles driven primarily by natural selection and some genetic drift. Same data, two different conclusions! You look at Ecklund’s data and see 72% of American scientists are non-theists and she looks at the data and sees the presence of religion in the community. Have you ever stopped to think that perhaps Ecklund has discovered an “alternative way of knowing” her data? Such smug scientists!

    * tongue in cheek *

  20. It doesn’t matter how many scientists are religious or atheists.

    When you say “look at Joe, he’s a scientist and he believes in God”, that has nothing to do with science/religion compatibility. As everyone has already said, it only proves that humans are good at keeping contradictions in our brain. The same answer can be given to any number of atheist scientists or christian scientists or whatever scientists. We already know your head doesn’t explode when you hold contradictory views in it.

    Probably 95% of scientists were religious 150 years ago, yet science were as incompatible with religion then as it is now.

  21. “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.” (Everyone attributes this to Twain, who in turn said it was Disraili’s, so maybe it’s just one of those truisms that’s been around as long as there have been statistics.)

    Possibly more useful in this case is what my own stats prof used to say: “Statistics don’t lie — statisticians lie.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *