Home Biologist Many scientists are atheists, but that doesn’t mean they are anti-religious

Many scientists are atheists, but that doesn’t mean they are anti-religious

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(The Conversation is an independent, nonprofit source of information, analysis, and commentary from academic experts.)

Elaine Howard Ecklund, Rice University and David R. Johnson, Georgia State University

(THE CONVERSATION) Mistrust of atheists is strong in the United States. The General Social Survey consistently shows that as a group Americans hate atheists more than any other religious group. According to various studies, nearly half of the country would disapprove of their child marrying an atheist, some 40% of the public do not think that atheists share their view of American society, and only 60% of Americans would be willing to vote for an atheist. . in a presidential election.


However, there is one area where atheism is often assumed: science.

People often think of scientists as “ungodly”. Some of these views may be the result of people hearing more from vocal atheist scientists such as evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, neuroscientist Sam Harris, and others who are at the forefront of a movement known as of “new atheism”. The new atheists are not simply scientists who believe that there is neither God nor gods. They associate their irreligion with an aggressive critique of religious belief as a threat to the well-being of society.

These scientists espouse an often mocking rhetoric about religion and the religious public. Dawkins, for example, argued that religion is a form of “mental illness” and one of the world’s “great evils” comparable to smallpox.

But such shrill attitudes may not be representative of scientists in general.

A recent study we conducted found that most atheist scientists in the US and UK are not anti-religious.

The real story of atheism in science

From quantitative surveys of 1,293 scientists identified as atheists, 81 in-depth qualitative interviews conducted from 2013 to 2016, and background documents collected since then, we found that scientists’ views on religion are much more diverse. than the image conveyed by the new atheists.

Each of the scientists in our study selected the statement “I don’t believe in God” when asked what their view of God was – and chose that choice over options such as agnosticism, the idea that the existence of God or the divine is unknowable.

As sociologists, we see religion as multidimensional – made up of beliefs, practices, traditions, and identities – and seek to understand these dimensions in the lives of atheist scientists and their views on religion.

One of our main conclusions is that most atheist scientists do not want to line up with rhetoric that condemns religious people. While we didn’t specifically ask about Dawkins in the interviews, scientists have referred to him often.

As one biologist we interviewed in the UK put it, “Well he went on a crusade, basically… I think [religion] is an easy target, and I think he’s pretty callous and stalker.

Even atheist scientists who occasionally harbored negative views on religion have expressed concern that such rhetoric is bad for science.

Not only are many atheist scientists not hostile to religion, some believe that religion can also be beneficial to society; in the words of one of our respondents, “you can see the benefits of going to church”. Many, for example, have spoken of the sense of community found in churches. Others pointed to religious attendance as a force for good, encouraging people to act in a more charitable manner.

In fact, in the United States, 29% of atheist scientists also claim to be culturally religious. That is, despite their lack of belief in God, they regularly interact with religious people or organizations, such as having a religious spouse, sending their children to a religious school, or attending services themselves. .

As one atheist biologist told us: “I love going to church for the suspension of unbelief, for the theatrical experience, for the reading, for the liturgy, for the magnificent stories and the mythical quality of these stories, which is intensely spiritual. It is a real experience.

Atheist scientists and religious

We have also found that atheist scientists and people of faith have more in common than most people realize, such as the experience of awe and wonder. While many religious individuals experience spirituality through their faith, some atheist scientists speak of their work with similar notions of awe and wonder.

These scientists speak of “intangible realities that imbue wonder, motivate their work, and are beyond observation” – realities they call spirituality.

[This Week in Religion, a global roundup each Thursday. Sign up.]

As sociologists Penny Edgell, Joseph Gerteis and Douglas Hartmann, when asked about atheists in surveys, explain it most likely that Americans imagine a theoretical person who rejects the idea of ​​God, rather than think of a real atheist that they were able to meet.

Indeed, in an ideologically separate society like the United States, religious and non-religious individuals may not interact in a way that would actually inform their views of each other. As a result, the opinions of religious and non-religious individuals of each other strongly depend on the stereotypes of each group.

Therefore, when people think of atheist scientists, it is too easy to imagine the picture painted from those presented in the public sphere, such as Dawkins et al, in the absence of whoever inhabit their community.

Plus, it’s hard to know an atheist when you see one, especially if they’re sitting next to you in church, as our research indicates.

In an age when our lives literally depend on trust in the scientific community, telling the truth about who atheist scientists are through researching them, rather than letting them be represented by the loudest voices of atheist scientists, has consequences.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/many-scientists-are-atheists-but-that-doesnt-mean-they-are-anti-religious-167677.


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