Scientists, Atheism, and Religion Deflating a Narrative of Conflict

Elaine Howard Ecklund September 22, 2022

The “conflict thesis” between faith and science is one of the most stubborn myths that contribute to declining levels of public trust in scientists. Many outsiders, especially religious people, assume that all scientists are anti-religious, based on the rhetoric of a few highly publicized scientists. In fact, even among those identified as atheist scientists, a diversity of views and opinions on religion exist. It is this diversity, argues sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund, that holds the key to building bridges of understanding and pathways of dialogue across real and perceived divides. Whether you identify as religious or not, Ecklund’s research on the Varieties of Atheism in Science (Oxford University Press 2021) provides helpful data and context to understanding a less well-known dimension of the intersection of faith and science. In this lecture, she will present core findings from a survey of over 1,200 atheist scientists in the US and the UK and 81 in-depth interviews. Together we will explore what everyday atheist scientists think about religion and the limits to what science can explain atheist scientists’ views on meaning and morality, and the routes that led to atheism in science. Speaker: Elaine Howard Ecklund is the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences, Professor of Sociology, and director of the Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance at Rice University. As a sociologist of religion, science, and work, she is particularly interested in social change and how institutions change, especially when individuals leverage aspects of their religious, race, and gender identities to change institutions. Over the past several years Elaine’s research has explored how scientists in different nations understand religion, ethics, and gender; religion at work; and the overlap between racial and religious discrimination in workplaces. Most recently Elaine is co-directing a $2.9 million grant in order to create a new field of sociological research examining science and religion. Ecklund has received funding for her research from the National Science Foundation, Russell Sage Foundation, Lilly Endowment, Issachar Fund, John Templeton Fund, Templeton Religion Trust, and Templeton World Charities Foundation. She is the author (with students and colleagues) of over 100 journal articles and seven books, the latest of which is Varieties of Atheism in Science (Oxford University Press 2021) with David R. Johnson.