Sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund, a professor at Rice University, surveyed 1,700 scientists at 21 elite universities to ascertain how many of them were influenced by religion. Her book, Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think (Oxford, 2010), dispels many myths about today’s science professors, offering an evidence-based peek behind the doors of academia. “I can count on one hand the number of interviewees who were hostile to religion,” Ecklund told a gather in November at Princeton University. “Half of the scientists surveyed saw themselves as religious, meaning they identified with a major faith tradition and were somehow engaged in a faith community,” she said.
Ecklund’s research involved a 34-question survey and 275 personal interviews. Her well-footnoted book profiles how natural and social scientists interact with each other in their own departments, the university at large, students they teach, and the general public. Within the survey, she discovered individuals who identified no religious tradition but considered themselves to be spiritual (spiritual atheists). Among those who were religious, she found varying beliefs about the ultimate nature of things, including intelligent design, evolution, and creationism. Professors presented their convictions or silenced them, either bringing religious thinking into classrooms or keeping it out. Many saw religion as useful in teaching ethical behavior in society.