July 3, 2010

Atheists in church? Too cool...

From an exceedingly interesting piece (to me at least), Elaine Howard Ecklund, Ph.D.: What Scientists Think About Religion:

...Almost a quarter of Americans think scientists are hostile to religion. But what do we really know about how scientists think about morality, spirituality and faith?

From 2005 to 2008, I surveyed nearly 1,700 natural and social scientists on their views about religion, spirituality and ethics and spoke with 275 of them in depth in their offices and laboratories. It turns out that nearly 50 percent of scientists identify with a religious label, and nearly one in five is actively involved in a house of worship, attending services more than once a month. While many scientists are completely secular, my survey results show that elite scientists are also sitting in the pews of our nation's churches, temples and mosques.

Of the atheist and agnostic scientists I had in-depth conversations with, more than 30 percent considered themselves atheists; however, less than six percent of these were actively working against religion. Many atheist and agnostic scientists even think key mysteries about the world can be best understood spiritually, and some attend houses of worship, completely comfortable with religion as moral training for their children and an alternative form of community. If religious people better understood the full range of atheistic practice -- and the way that it interfaces with religion for some -- they might be less likely to hold negative attitudes toward nonreligious scientists. The truth is that many atheist scientists have no desire to denigrate religion or religious people....

Fascinatin'. Among many reasons, because I've often thought about my Catholic faith, that scientists should dig this stuff. Christianity is actually very scientific, in the broader sense of the word. (and I'm myself very much scientific, in all senses of the word, and my reaction to discovering the Church Catholic was, like, wow. So cool!

The immense prestige of the natural sciences caused people in the 19th Century to start applying the word "science" only to the study of the natural realm. But actually science means, by my dictionary, "a systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject : the science of criminology." Myself, I'd define the word science as "disciplined truth-seeking within a particular field of knowledge." One could be a scientific pasty cook.

I noticed especially the line about atheist scientists being "comfortable with religion as moral training for their children," because commenter AOG mentioned that he was doing much the same thing. And he's a respect-worthy thinker. I'd say that AOG's on the right track, but not yet thinking things through clearly. A great scientist named Blaise Pascal pinned all this question down about 350 years ago. (Link, link.)

One of his points was that God can not be discerned by the senses. There's never going to be "scientific evidence" for the existence of God. A fact he regretted as much as we do. But, there is another instrument we can use, and that is the heart. (Not the pump in your chest, of course, but an inbuilt faculty we have for perceiving things in the realm of God.) And you calibrate the instrument... how? By not being hard-hearted. As the operator's manual says, "If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart."

If there is a Creator God, then the realm of God is the larger context which contains the natural realm which is the study of the natural scientist. So the scientist, if he is an intellectually bold chap, ought to be delighted to expand his horizons into a larger sphere. Especially since the Judeo-Christian God (at least in the Catholic view; I can't vouch for Protestant deviants) is the source of that lawfulness of creation upon which natural science is based.

Alas, there's that problem of hardness of heart.

. Posted by John Weidner at July 3, 2010 8:45 PM
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