US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Social scientist to religious scientists: No more secrecy

By Meghan Murphy-Gill | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

When Huffington Post blogger and sociologist, Elaine Howard Ecklund surveyed almost 1,700 scientists about their religious beliefs, she found that nearly half "identify with a religious label." Even more, almost 20 percent are actively involved in their places of worship. While 30 percent considered themselves atheists (only 6 percent of whom were actively working against religion), 

"[m]any 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."

Still, many faithful feel that religion and science are two opposing forces, squared off in battle, with religion usually on the defense and under attack by science. Even religious scientists seem to feel this way:

"Within their scientific communities, religious scientists tend to practice what I call a "secret spirituality." They are reluctant to talk about religious or spiritual ideas with their colleagues. I spoke with one physicist who said that he thinks universities are not always very accepting environments for scientists of faith. He believes that if he openly said he is religious, others would question the validity of his scientific work; it is his sense of things that at his elite school, he can be a scientist or be religious, but not both."

But they don't exactly feel a sense of ease in their religious communities either:

"And within their faith communities, religious scientists often practice a "secret science." Sitting in the pews, they are often hesitant to discuss scientific ideas because they are afraid of offending those next to them."

Howard Ecklund goes on to warn against this sort of secrecy because it only serves to maintain the isolation religious scientists feel in their fields, when, in fact, they aren't so isolated. Likewise, they could--and should--be models for children and young people who are interested in the sciences but may be under the impression that it might lead them away from faith.

She calls for dialogue, as would anyone seeking to reconcile two not-so-opposing sides. I happen to think that it falls first on those of us who call ourselves religious to more openly embrace the different fields of science and to stop playing the victim. The challenges and the sense of wonder elicited by the questions and answers of the sciences should only serve to deepen our faith.