About 500 years ago, a Polish astronomer proposed a mathematical refinement: If you put the sun at the center of the observable universe, the math is a lot cleaner than if you put the Earth at the center. The astronomer was Nicolaus Copernicus, and his proposal turned the Christian world upside down. This proved to be more than an improvement in celestial mathematics, notes Thomas Kuhn. It threatened “the drama of Christian life and the morality that had been made dependent on it.” The publication of Nick’s book on celestial math marks the beginning of the scientific revolution—and with it, the enduring antagonism between science and religion.
But wait! Are religion and science really enemies? Are they truly opposed worldviews? That’s the common belief.
This week, you might be surprised to learn that there are many people of faith among scientists at our nation’s elite universities, according to a new study by sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund. This is the first comprehensive study of what scientists really think about religion. She studied both natural scientists (physicists, chemists, and so on) and social scientists (such as yours truly, a sociologist). I wasn’t interviewed in her study, but she did talk with sociologists at the University of Michigan. And, I had the pleasure of meeting Elaine after her book was published and we talked about her findings.
Now, it is true, Elaine learned, that over half of elite scientists do not claim any religious affiliation, while most Americans do. But is the glass half empty or half full? If we assume science and religion are mortal enemies, it is notable that half do indeed claim a religious affiliation. As she notes in her new book “Science vs. Religion,” the greatest denominational similarities between scientists and the general public are mainline Protestants and Catholics. Scientists identify with these religious denominations in about the same proportions as the general public.
But very few scientists are evangelical Protestants, she finds. And, there are more Jewish scientists than the proportion of Jews in the American population. There are also more Buddhist and Hindu scientists, relative to their proportions in the population.
Surprised? This week on OurValues.org, we’ll explore the key findings from this landmark study. Stay tuned. More surprises in store!
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(Originally posted in www.OurValues.org)