Oh Lord, Elaine Ecklund is at it again. And by “it,” I mean “taking money from the Templeton Foundation, making a survey, and then interpreting the data to show what Templeton wants: a finding that science and religion are in harmony.”
Ecklund’s latest efforts, which haven’t yet been published but were the subject of a talk at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meetings, are summarized by Science Daily. (The Rice University blurb, from where Ecklund works as a professor of sociology and director of the Religion and Public Life program, notes that Templeton funded this research.) And the upshot of Ecklund’s research (i.e., data masaging) is that evangelical Christians don’t reject science as much as we think they do. Here’s her rationale:
Ecklund noted that evangelicals are of interest in this study because they constitute approximately 26 percent of the population in the U.S. and are often considered the most hostile toward science.
“We really wanted to determine if this claim was based in any truth,” Ecklund said. “Although many politicians and the media at large portray evangelicals as distrustful of science, we found that this is more myth than reality.”
Surprise!!! Here is a summary of her “Religious understandings of science” survey:
It includes a nationally representative survey of more than 10,000 Americans and more than 300 in-depth interviews with Christians, Jews and Muslims; more than 140 of the latter three groups are evangelical Christians.
The data, then, though presented as “the largest study of American views on religion and science,” is limited to about 140 “evangelical Christians.” Is that a good sample? Who knows?
And of course you know what Ecklund found: many of them do trust science. Here are the “key findings” as given in the Science Daily post (indented), with my comments:
- Nearly half of evangelicals (48 percent) view science and religion as complementary to one another; 21 percent view them as entirely independent of one another.
Of course, the “complementary” view is totally wrong, for it presumes that science and religion somehow help each other in understanding the universe. As I maintain in The Albatross, this is bogus because religion has no reliable ways to find out what is true. (By “complementary,” I presume they mean “complementary in finding truth,” not “separate magisteria,” which is what the “independence” criterion is for.)
But Ecklund is all about proving that people’s perceptions of evangelicals are wrong, not that evangelicals have an accurate perception of reality.
The same goes for the “independent” characterization, which is Gould’s argument about nonoverlapping magisteria (NOMA): that religion should make no claims about the nature of reality, and science should make no claims about meaning, morals and values, which are the bailiwick of faith.
NOMA, of course, is wrong because religion is not the sole magisterium for meaning, morals and values—secular philosophy has done a better job in the last few millennia. And of course religion, including evangelical Christianity, does make statements about reality: about whether God exists, about whether Jesus came to earth and did miracles and was resurrected, about prayer working, about there being a soul and an afterlife, and so on. Those issues are certainly not “independent” of science, and both scientists and theologians admit that Gould is wrong in arguing that religion does not or should not make truth claims.
So if evangelicals do have those beliefs about science and religion, fine, but they’re misguided. What’s more important—correcting our ideas of how we see these people, or correcting their harmful and misguided beliefs? Ecklund concentrates all her energies on the former. I prefer to deal with the latter.
Note that Ecklund uses the general term “science.” I suspect she’d get rather different results if she asked about specific areas of science, say evolution, global warming, or a 13.7-billion-year old Big Bang.
Finally, there are Pew data contradicting Ecklund’s statistical claims (see below):
- Overall, 38 percent of Americans view religion and science as complementary, and 35 percent of Americans view science and religion as entirely independent.
- In the U.S., 76 percent of scientists in the general population identify with a religious tradition.
This is deceptive, for of course “identifying with a religious tradition” doesn’t mean “accepts a religion”! I identify with Judaism, for instance, as that’s my background, but I don’t believe a word of its doctrine. Ecklund is counting on people to not to look too hard at her wording. The facts about the religious belief of American scientists, which are in the following passage from Faith vs. Fact, are that more scientists are atheists than believers, and that good scientists are the most atheistic of all:
The difference in religiosity between the American public and American scientists is profound, persistent, and well documented. Further, the more accomplished the scientist, the greater the likelihood that he or she is a nonbeliever. Surveying American scientists as a whole, Pew Research showed that 33 percent admitted belief in God, while 41 percent were atheists (the rest either didn’t answer, didn’t know, or believed in a “universal spirit or higher power”). In contrast, belief in God among the general public ran at 83 percent and atheism at only 4 percent. In other words, scientists are ten times more likely to be atheists than are other Americans. This disparity has persisted for over eighty years of polling. When one moves to scientists working at a group of “elite” research universities, the difference is even more dramatic, with just over 62 percent being either atheist or agnostic, and only 23 percent who believed in God—a degree of nonbelief more than fifteenfold higher than among the general public.
Finally, sitting at the top tier of American science are the members of the National Academy of Sciences, an honorary organization that elects only the most accomplished researchers in the United States. And here nonbelief is the rule: 93 percent of the members are atheists or agnostics, with only 7 percent believing in a personal God. This is almost the exact opposite of the data for “average” Americans.
It will be a cold day in Hell (that’s a metaphorical Hell) when Ecklund will admit this. She’s spent her career avoiding it by concentrating on stuff like scientists’ “spirituality” or “following a religious tradition.”
- Only 15 percent of Americans and 14 percent of evangelicals agree that modern science does more harm than good.
Who ever claimed that any believers think that science does more harm than good? Presumably even evangelical Christians use cellphones, take antibiotics, and fly in airplanes.
- Jews (42 percent), Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus (52 percent as a group) and the nonreligious (47 percent) are more interested in new scientific discoveries than evangelicals (22 percent) are.
This is in fact an indictment of evangelicals: they’re just not as interested in science as are other believers or nonbelievers.
But here are some contradictory data from a Pew survey taken in 2009:
52% of evangelical Protestants think that science conflicts often with religion, and 49% of them see science as sometimes conflicting with their own religious beliefs (I suspect evolution is the culprit here). What happened? Did evangelicals undergo a big change in the last five years? I doubt it. There is either a difference between Ecklund and Pew in the sample, in the wording of the questions, or something else. One thing’s for sure: either Ecklund won’t mention this survey, or she’ll find a way to dismiss it. She is, after all, on a mission from God.
And the worst news:
Ecklund plans to write a book about the survey findings with Chris Scheitle, a sociology professor at the West Virginia University.