Are the views of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris representative of today’s scientists? Apparently not!

That is, not according to the Oxford University Press book “Science vs Religion” researched by Elaine Howard Ecklund, who is the “assistant professor of sociology at Rice University and current director of the program on Religion & Public Life for the Institute for Urban Research, and a Rice Scholar at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy in collaboration with Dr. Kirstin Matthews, where she focuses on science policy” (Wikipedia).

In an interview, Ms Ecklund says, “Many scientists don’t want to be perceived as having any connection with the new atheists. Many regard Dawkins, Harris and the others as having a negative reputation with much of the public, so even atheist scientists aren’t eager to be associated with them. The situation backfires, because the loudest voices then tend to be the most negative and the general public assumes those are representative of all scientists. That cuts down on the dialogue even more.”

Ms. Ecklund conducted an in-depth survey of 1700 top scientists in the United States and surprised herself by her findings that the “1-in-10 believe in God” figure quoted since the early 1990s falls well short of reality when probed a bit deeper.  Her results point to 1-in-3 believing in God, and fully 50% describing themselves as religious.

The website “Read the Spirit”, from which the above quote was taken, has been featuring Ms. Ecklund’s book, and has a two-part interview with the author.  A snapshot of positive public response to the book can be gauged by Amazon.com reviews of it. Here are the links to these.

Here is a brief review and an excerpt that summarises her book

Interview with Ms. Ecklund – Part 1

Interview with Ms. Ecklund – Part 2

Amazon Customer Reviews of “Science vs Religion”

It is encouraging to read that a large subset of scientists are more interested in dialogue than polemics, and that should be mutual.  Strident religion and strident science are equally unappealing to the more open-minded thought.   Whether or not the “new atheist” term is a fair label to stick on anyone – blanket labels for a group of people tend to obscure the nuances in individual standpoints, as most religious people know! – there does seem to be a type of atheism that seems to leave science out of the equation when it contemplates and comments on religious practices.  That is, at least, how it feels when an assessment of religion is made that is based on an unrepresentative sample of more extreme religious ideas and practices and then conclusions are extrapolated to impugn all religious conviction and practice.  Isn’t that akin to testing a drug based solely on its quirks and failures and entirely ignoring its successes?  Somehow I doubt that the same imbalance would be allowed in a lab experiment as strident views seem to accommodate in assessing the larger landscape of religious life!

There is also the question of how feasible it is to assess spirituality through the physical/intellectual lens of natural science.   Reading “scientific” critique of my own faith practice – Christian Science founded by Mary Baker Eddy, and fully explained in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures – has generally felt like reading a critique of a favourite, spiritually expressive Van Gogh painting written by a lover of seventeenth century art who is condemning it for failing to be a detailed, religiously themed Rembrandt.  It isn’t a Rembrandt, it is a Van Gogh which isn’t even trying to be a Rembrandt!   Christian Science is a spiritual healing practice based on the words and works of Jesus – a divine Science – that is all about systematically uncovering in consciousness the forever closeness and love of God that transforms thought and which, through these spiritual means, brings about practical change .  It is not primarily about that change, though.  It is primarily about getting to know God one-to-one, and through each new glimpse of the infinite divine Mind coming to think more spiritually and act more lovingly, humanly.  The practical outcome of physical cure that many have experienced through these spiritual changes cannot be tested in lab conditions, because the lab approach alters the conditions by adjusting the thought environment in which healing prayer operates.

To desire dialogue about the differences in approach and outcomes is fair enough, though…so, yes, let’s encourage the dialogue, respectfully, between religions and the sciences – as many are! – and let’s set aside the polemics and triumphalism on either side!

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Categories: Spirituality and Society

Author:Tony Lobl

I write on spirituality and health for a diversity of online media outlets, from my perspective as a Christian Science practitioner. I have been published by the Independent, the Washington Post, the Guardian, E-Hospice, MindBodyGreen and The Christian Science Monitor and I post regularly on the Huffington Post UK and BuzzFeed. In addition to writing and broadcast appearances I enjoy engaging with journalists, academics, health professionals and government officials about the possibilities for improving health outcomes through a greater emphasis on spirituality in healthcare and social care. I've also greatly valued the many opportunities I have had to travel globally for my church and to meet people around the world. My wife Jenny and I spent 10 years in Boston, USA, before returning to London in 2002, to take on a role as the media and legislative liaison for Christian Science in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. I studied at the University of Surrey earning a BSc Hons Degree in Modern Mathematics before the impact of spirituality on health caught my attention and re-shaped my career.

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  1. If there was an X Factor contest for singing a (gentle) defence against atheism this would win…! | "Oh, Lord, Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"- what Christian Science is, and what it isn't! - October 17, 2010

    [...] Admittedly as a Christian Scientist I also feel there is practical evidence of God in the healings that happen through a systematic glimpsing and grasping of His/Her nature as divine Love.   But that’s a whole other argument, for a whole other blog. [...]

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