No matter how hard scholars try to inject some nuance into the complicated history of science and faith, the language of warfare refuses to die. Witness the title of this book—yet another conflict metaphor. Yet in Elaine Howard Ecklund's telling—in Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think (Oxford University Press)—the best image for understanding science and religion may be neighbors who share a common boundary, with a few aging trees looming over one another's homes. One day they may be chatting and even swapping power tools, the next engaged in tense negotiations about where the property line actually lies.
Ecklund, who teaches sociology at Rice, surveyed 1,700 scientists and conducted personal interviews with 275. This method gives her work both statistical validity and psychological depth. She focused on scientists at "elite" institutions, all of them secular, and some of her findings are encouraging.
Few scientists fit the mold of the "angry atheist" popularized by Richard Dawkins, long the dubiously titled Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford. Ecklund certainly found some scientists (many raised in religious families) who are now hostile to religion and are opposed to granting it any place in their universities. But they are a distinct minority.
True, a whopping 64 percent of these elite scientists are atheists or agnostics (compared with 6 percent of all Americans), while a vanishing 2 percent (roughly three dozen of her 1,700 subjects) are evangelical Christians. But in the middle are many, even among the atheists, who describe themselves as "spiritual," and many more are respectful of religious faith even if they do not share it themselves. Significantly, Ecklund found ...