Ecklund’s still at it

Elaine Ecklund is making more hay out of her Templeton-funded research than I would have thought possible.   Author of the book Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think, she has spent her post-publication time distorting her findings as loudly and as often as possible, and spinning them to claim that they show the need for a consilience of science and faith.  Templeton could not have gotten more bang for their bucks.

Her latest piece, “Science on Faith“, is in The Chronicle of Higher Education. (It’s behind a paywall but I got it from the library.)  Once again Ecklund emphasizes the many scientists who “identify with a religious label,” (these, of course, include atheists like Jason Rosenhouse and me!), and who “see themselves as spiritual.”  After cannily making her readers think that many atheist-scientists are actually “spiritual” folk, only a hairsbreadth from accepting Jebus, she reaches her familiar point: university scientists need to talk more about religion in and out of the classroom:

Talking with these scientists, I have found that many of them simply don’t know what to do when their students bring up issues related to religion. Academic scientists want models that involve more than just asking students to compartmentalize their thinking. . .

According to my findings, a sizable minority of natural and social scientists—about 20 percent, some religious and some not—now think that although the scientific method ought to be value-neutral, religion can meaningfully intersect with the implications of their research and the education of their students. A scientist’s faith might motivate her to fight global warming, for example, or to decline research grants from sources that support nuclear proliferation.

Or, one might add, call into question the modern theory of evolution, cast doubt on global warming, or, in the case of Francis Collins, go around lecturing that human morality is not an evolved or secular phenomenon, but ironclad proof of God’s existence.  Of course, Ecklund never mentions the possibility that a scientist’s faith could lead her to activities that are not quite as congenial to liberals as battling global warming.

Having established the dire state of disparity between science and faith in universities, Ecklund then tells us scientists what we must do.  She has three prescriptions:

1.  Learn moar religion. As Ecklund says,

First, academic scientists must acknowledge religious diversity. While scientists have an elaborate vocabulary for the subjects they deal with in their own fields and subfields, those without a religious identity (more than 50 percent) have limited experience, knowledge, or interaction with religion and religious people. (Thirteen percent of scientists were raised with no religious tradition, and those who were raised in religious homes were mreligious in name only.)

Scientists need to understand that different religious traditions intersect with science in distinct ways. Just as not all biologists study the same biological systems, not all religious people have the same beliefs or apply their beliefs in the same way. (For example, many Christians have no problem accepting evolution, while certain Christian groups reject it.)

Academic scientists have a particular intellectual responsibility—in the face of public conflict between religion and science, as well as because of the increasing diversity of their own student populations—to deepen their understanding of religion.

Well, of course many of us have other claims on our time, but I am doing this, Dr. Ecklund!  But not for the reasons you think!

2.  Get rid of our pervasive scientism!

Second, we need to acknowledge the limits of science. Scientists should be willing to discuss what science is and what it is not, which is very much in keeping with Gould’s idea of nonoverlapping magisteria. Philosophers of science and scientists themselves have discussed what they call scientism, a disciplinary imperialism that leads scientists to explicitly or implicitly assert that science is the only valid way toward knowledge, and that it can be used to interpret all other forms of knowledge.

Scientists who want their colleagues to do more to advance the public transmission of science—particularly those who think their colleagues are already doing a poor job in this regard—mention rejecting a form of scientism that has no room for meaning and morality.

Yeah, I’m really going to take up a lot of classroom time discussing this one!  And doesn’t Ecklund know that some people see “science” as more broadly construed, as one species of rationality—a rationality that can also apply to those other unspecified “ways of knowing?”  And others, like Same Harris, see the very roots of morality—and its applications—buried deep in science.  Finally, Dr. Ecklund, is it really a slur on university science teaching that we “leave no room for meaning and morality”?  As humans, we do have codes or morality, and do find meaning in our life (much of which is involves studying the universe). Our job, though, is not to foist our personal beliefs on our students, but to teach science. Let the philosophy department teach students how to think critically about these other things!

Some day I’m going to make a list of accommodationist code words, and what they really mean.  “Nuanced” is one, and now “scientism” is another.

3.  We should talk more about science and religion. Ecklund’s explanation here is really funny:

The third stage is a willingness of scientists who are religious to talk publicly about the connections between their own faith and their work as scientists. These “boundary pioneers,” as I call them, can show students that it is possible, under certain conditions, to view science and religion as compatible. And they can provide colleagues with a model for how to discuss the ways in which science and religion interact. These individuals must be well-respected scientists, yet outgoing and savvy enough to connect with nonscientists.

Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and an evangelical Christian, is the most recognized example of a boundary pioneer, among others who are less well known.

When you read stuff like this, you begin to suspect that Ecklund is either blinded by the infusion of Templeton cash or is completely disingenuous.  For what makes her think that those of us who follow her advice are going to promote a harmony between science and faith?  Collins may be one “boundary pioneer,” but what on earth makes Ecklund believe that when more rational scientists learn about faith and begin discussing it, they’re all going to show that science and faith are compatible? What about those atheistic “boundary pioneers” like Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, and Victor Stenger—not to mention smaller fry like me? If a student came to me outside of class and asked for my honest opinion about faith and science, I’d tell him, in a civil fashion, that the two areas are completely incompatible, and then explain why.

After all, what would happen if America’s leading scientists started broadcasting their views about science and faith?  Remember these data, published a while back in Nature by Edward Larson and Larry Witham:

Our chosen group of “greater” scientists were members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Our survey found near universal rejection of the transcendent by NAS natural scientists. Disbelief in God and immortality among NAS biological scientists was 65.2% and 69.0%, respectively, and among NAS physical scientists it was 79.0% and 76.3%. Most of the rest were agnostics on both issues, with few believers. We found the highest percentage of belief among NAS mathematicians (14.3% in God, 15.0% in immortality). Biological scientists had the lowest rate of belief (5.5% in God, 7.1% in immortality), with physicists and astronomers slightly higher (7.5% in God, 7.5% in immortality).

And, as that link shows, the atheism of NAS scientists has grown steadily since 1914.  Ecklund should be careful what she asks for.

64 Comments

  1. Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Just as not all biologists study the same biological systems, not all palm readers have the same readings or apply their readings in the same way.

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:39 am | Permalink

      Furthermore, “seance” would be the proper substitute for nuance.

      • Kevin
        Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:04 am | Permalink

        Don’t forget phrenology.

        One of my all-time favorite words.

        Phrenology!

        • Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:44 am | Permalink

          This calls for a more “seanced” discussion of phrenology. What do the spirits have to say about this?

  2. Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    This woman irritates me intensely.

    Really?! I hadn’t noticed!

    The real question is (as you say): How did this woman get all this mileage out of one, rather poorly done, study? She goes on pontificating as though what she had shown in her study is somehow the latest thing in science-religion studies — or, rather, religion-science studies.

    The other side of the coin is the fact that most high school teachers apparently don’t teach evolution. They either don’t “believe in it” — though it’s hard to know what this could possibly mean — or they are afraid of the reactions of those who object on religious grounds. It’s bizarre to suggest that scientists should get involved in religion. What kind of solution would that be? And to what?

    • Sigmund
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      The original study has really damning results about the lack of religiousness amongst scientists.
      The strangest thing about the study was her identification of ‘spiritual’ atheists as a significant subgroup.
      Does anyone know how she identified this group?
      For instance was there a question in her survey that asked “do you consider yourself to be spiritual?”
      It’s such a waffly term that I question whether any scientist would simply volunteer it without being specifically asked.

      • Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        Yes, she used horribly flawed qualitative methodologies to force atheists to admit that they feel something may possibly sometimes seem to be beyond the natural world. If you keep asking people the same friggin’ question for an hour, eventually people will accidentally produce the money quote, just to shut you up.

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:56 am | Permalink

      The whole Templeton racket appears to be a Rudolf Steiner flashback. I keep asking myself how special pleading for “spiritual obsequiousness” is any different from anthroposophy?

    • Sajanas
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      Churches get a lot of mileage out of Mother Teresa shaped buns and Jesus toast. Even a poorly done study must be a tremendous boon for them.

      Teaching evolution (and really, anything that contradicts a parent’s religious belief) requires the teachers to be protected from the backlash of parents, and with public school boards and PTAs and the like, I really don’t see teachers having the kind of freedom to teach just the facts. Perhaps some wider regulations regarding parental complaints about class content is needed. Also, science teachers don’t necessarily have any training in science at the college level, so they may fundamentally misunderstand some concepts. I’ve had an undergraduate Anthropology teacher explain evolution very, very poorly, even though he was a PhD.

  3. Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    These accommodationists haven’t ever heard of the concept of triage, have they?

    Press pretty much any Christian on the question of why they have faith in Jesus, and, before long, you’re all but guaranteed to hear a story they title, “Doubting Thomas.” And that story, as y’all are (I’m sure) sick of hearing by now, is about a zombie who gets his rocks off from direct digital intestinal stimulation.

    The last thing these people need is encouragement, and thinking that chanting a “Darwin! Darwin! Darwin!” mantra will do them any good is just plain nuts.

    They’re infected with a crippling mind virus. The only cure is a jab in the arm with the needle of rationality. It stings, sure — all vaccines do. But is that any reason to withhold treatment?

    We have a golden opportunity here to eradicate the most crippling mind virus in all of human history, and the accommodationists are whining like a bunch of toddlers that they don’t want their friends to have to get an owie because it hurt them and they wanted the blue bandage instead of the green one.

    Pathetic.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Kevin
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      Ecklund isn’t an accommodationist. She’s an out-and-out believer.

      She has swallowed the entire story, including zombie Jesus hovering over us in heaven completely and fully human. (One wonders where he craps.)

      Accommodationists would have us pat her on her widdle head and tell her, “awwww, aren’t you the cutest thing?”.

      • Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:17 am | Permalink

        She’s a sorry — erm, make that, “apologetic” — zombie blood drinker?

        Sure would explain a lot. I mean, her basic premise reads exactly like the typical “Lie for Jesus” setup line.

        <sigh />

        b&

        • Kevin
          Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink

          Yes, I think apologist is a much better description of her.

  4. Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    And doesn’t Ecklund know that some people see “science” as more broadly construed, as one species of rationality—a rationality that can also apply to those other unspecified “ways of knowing?”

    Everytime someone asks us to acknowledge the limits of science, they’re asking us to give up on rational thinking when the results make them uncomfortable. “Science” isn’t some body of knowledge or pat methodology. It’s the process of uncovering truth through observation and rational thinking. Whether you want to call it “science” or “rationality,” it’s simply the only way of knowing that has taught us much worth knowing. One can argue for the arts as an alternative “way of knowing” with a straight face. But religion? What has it EVER taught anyone that couldn’t be better arrived at through non-magical means, and without a great deal of evil tripe piled on top?

  5. Kevin
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Code words. Yes. It’s all about the code words.

    Especially words like “purpose” which is usually teamed with “ultimate purpose”. This means “size, condition, and temperature of my post-death apartment.”

    “Scientism” means “all that stuff we know that is factually true but makes some of us uncomfortable to think about.”

    “Nuanced” means “your arguments are too straightforward, sensible, factually correct, and logically bulletproof for us to attack directly.”

    Code words, indeed.

  6. Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    You have no sympathy from me, Coyne. You didn’t help promote her as a fine developing scholar when she was a grad student (only to have her turn out like this…), and you don’t have to suffer her as a “peer” reviewer for the rest of your life. I think there is a causal relationship–Templeton cash produces disingenuous behavior. I have the article reviews to show for it…

    • Marella
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      You have my sympathy.

  7. SWH
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    I’m left to wonder if she really understood Gould. Or if she and I have different understandings (it’s been a while since I read the relevant work – and my recollection may be tainted by subsequent input from elsewhere). As I recall, he says something to the effect that religion can be separate from science and hold its own position as long as it claims no empirical effects on the universe. Which is a pretty blanket form of deism. I’m quite happy to grant religion that position, it is – by definition – outside of our competence to examine. It wouldn’t line up well with the idea of a god performing miracles or intervening in peoples lives, but that’s not my problem.

    It is less clear to me that science can say nothing useful about areas like morality and meaning (see Sam Harris, for arguments to the contrary). The suggestion that a person’s religious convictions might help them pursue worthwhile science (in particular the example of working to fight global warming) struck me as Poe-like.

    I’d be interested if her science/religion “boundary pioneers” come up with a mechanism to resolve what I see as their cognitive dissonance.

    • Sigmund
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      NOMA as explained by Gould is terribly flawed (Russell Blackford explains this brilliantly).
      On the other hand we are not talking about Gouldian NOMA, rather we are talking about NOMA FA – NOMA for accomodationists.
      NOMA FA has two and only two rules.
      1. Science can say nothing about religion and the supernatural realm.
      And equally but no less importantly
      2. Science can say nothing about religion and the supernatural realm.

      • Kevin
        Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

        NOMA Lite?

        NOMA for Dummies? (No. Too mean.)

        NO MAS?

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted February 7, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

          I prefer NOMA *FAIL* (*Fucked-up Accommodationist Incessant Lie*).

  8. Hempenstein
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    I’m reminded of a reply by Tom McCahill, who wrote drive reports on new cars for many years for Mechanix Illustrated. His commentary was legendary. (Two examples from Wikipedia: he described the AC Cobra as “hairier than a Borneo gorilla in a raccoon suit”, and that the ride of a 1957 Pontiac to be as “smooth as a prom queen’s thighs”.

    He’d answer readers questions too, and a woman wrote to him (trying to win his accomodation), “Dear Mr. McCahill, My 14y/o son is an avid fan. Will you please tell him that real men don’t swear.” McC replied, “Lady, if that’s what you think, you tell him.”

  9. locutus7
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    I’m suspicious of the sudden rash of accommodationist rants in the public discourse. It seems orchestrated.

    One wonders if prominent christians, perceiving the gnu atheist threat, are asking both their religious scientist colleagues and “friendly” atheist acquantances to attack their common enemy: the shrill, fundamentalist Gnu’s.

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      Templeton? Is there a way to “follow the money” here?

      • Microraptor
        Posted February 7, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

        Maybe we could do it in reverse: we steal all the Templeton money and see if the accommodationalist stuff dries up.

  10. Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Biologists in the pulpit: http://www.farleftside.com/2009/7-13-09.html

  11. Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Just out of curiosity, can anyone name a theist or an accommodationist who actually understands what the Gnu Atheists are saying?

    • Sigmund
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Michael Dowd, the ‘Thank God for Evolution’ guy is the closest I’ve seen. He had a very interesting interview last week on DJ Grothe’s podcast ‘For Good Reason’.Dowd doesnt try to demonise or misrepresent the Gnu arguments. He basically comes across as an atheist himself!

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      Larry, I’ve come to the conclusion that the essence of modern accommodationism is to NOT understand what the Gnus are saying.

      If they did actually read, comprehend and understand Gnus, they’d cease to be accommodationists and just be, I dunno – rational? Reasonable? On our side? Oh, right, I’ve got it: unemployed.

      • Marella
        Posted February 7, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

        If you listen to what the Gnus are saying you are obliged to engage with their arguements. Since the Gnus include Hitchens, Dawkins, Coyne, Dennet and PZ, this is a rather daunting task that none of the accomodationists is really up to, so they burn straw men instead. So much easier.

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted February 8, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        I agree.
        I cannot think of an accomodationist who is not a lame-hack one-trick pony.
        A bit like secretly-atheist priests who remain in the pulpit and lie to their ignorant suckers of a flock because they have no other skills.

    • Microraptor
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

      It often seems like the first principle of being an accommodationalist is to completely ignore what both sides are saying.

  12. Ougaseon
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    “Let the philosophy department teach students how to think critically about these other things!”

    I’m so mad at you for making me defend Ecklund in any context, but tangential to her religious claptrap, is the idea of having scientists teach critical thinking. I would argue that this should be the primary purpose of most science classes, with the actual ‘science’ serving only as a vehicle for the communication ‘applied philosophy’. This is especially important because most students are required to take at least one science course at university, and the bottom line is that the details of, say, general chemistry are largely irrelevant to most of them. It’s the process of determining how we know what we think we know that is really important for people to learn, and science courses, not philosophy ones, are the best way to reach the most people. It also completely undermines the rest of Ecklund’s thesis but thats just a bonus.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Oh dear. What I meant is that philosophy courses should be the vehicle for talking about morality and the meaning of life. In fact, in an hour I’m going to lecture on the evidence for evolution, and one of the first things I’m going to say to the students is that I’m going to oppose evolutionary assertions with the creationist ones prevalent in Darwin’s era—as a way to show how scientists thought critically about evidence at that time.

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      I’m going to disagree with you here, very heatedly.

      Critical thinking needs to be taught in middle school. Maybe as late as high school. But no later.
      ;-)

      • Microraptor
        Posted February 7, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

        I don’t see why we can’t start doing it in elementary school.

        • Posted February 8, 2011 at 12:35 am | Permalink

          Absolutely–and Santa Claus is an excellent way to do just that. If you’ve never read Dale McGowan’s essay, here’s the link:

          Santa Claus–The Ultimate Dry Run

          He’s a funny, smart writer (and a cool dad)–enjoy! (That’s actually an older post–be sure to click on Home to read the series he’s on right now–Romanticism vs. Enlightenment. The most recent two posts are on the bowdlerization of Darwin’s Autobiography–with more to come.)

        • Michael Kingsford Gray
          Posted February 8, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

          Why not as soon as your child can understand the world around them, say at age 2?
          Why does critical thinking have to be taught by a school-teacher anyway?
          If the parents aren’t teaching critical thinking from the outset, then they are guilty of child abuse.

          • Microraptor
            Posted February 8, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

            Sounds good to me.

  13. jay
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Sure there are limits to science. I can think of lots of things that pragmatically, and possibly theoretically cannot be unambiguously answered by science.

    But.. NOT ONE OF THOSE THINGS can be answered by religion. They are simply unknowable.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted February 8, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      Example(s), please?

      • Microraptor
        Posted February 8, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

        Well, we don’t actually know what it was like before the Big Bang.

        Nor do we know the precise origin of life on Earth.

        Or on a note slightly closer to home, we don’t actually know what caused TWA Flight 800 to crash into the Atlantic Ocean (we know the probably cause, but it actually could have been something else).

        • Michael Kingsford Gray
          Posted February 8, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

          They cannot be answered today, but that does not mean that cannot be answered by science.
          That is the reason for my question.
          Your final “They are simply unknowable” is just not true.

          • Microraptor
            Posted February 8, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

            You asked for examples of questions science can’t answer. I provided some examples (that aren’t fluffy meaning of life questions). Leave the goalpost shifting to the fundies.

            • Michael Kingsford Gray
              Posted February 9, 2011 at 12:42 am | Permalink

              Indeed, I did no such thing!
              I politely asked for examples.
              This included (primarily, as it was your ultimate assertion): “They are simply unknowable”.
              Leave accusations of goal-shifting for those who actually practise the tactic.

              You still have yet to answer my simple question:
              Why are your provided examples “simply unknowable”?
              You made the assertion. All I am asking you to do is support it.

              • Microraptor
                Posted February 9, 2011 at 1:29 am | Permalink

                That wasn’t my assertion, that was Jay’s. I merely provided examples of things that may fall into that category yet aren’t religious claptrap.

              • Michael Kingsford Gray
                Posted February 9, 2011 at 2:00 am | Permalink

                That wasn’t my assertion, that was Jay’s.

                The confusion was my fault, not yours. I apologise for any injury. I did not check sufficiently before responding.

                I merely provided examples of things that may fall into that category yet aren’t religious claptrap.

                But you seem to be ignoring “jay”‘s terminal assertion, which was integral to my response.
                Sure, the first part taken as given is open to interpretation.
                But the terminal statement is not.

  14. Posted February 7, 2011 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    So, let me ask this: what, exactly, was all this supposed to accomplish? Is this supposed to be a way to reach religious folk?

    The whole basis of what we call “science” is providing good evidence and tests of what we’re learning. To start making caveats about “other ways of knowing” is simply denying the value that the methodology of science distinctly provides. That’s not going to get anyone to accept science, and it’s simply lying (which I know the religious greatly favor.)

    I like how, with satan being considered nothing but a fan of noisy music anymore, a new demon had to be created, and it bears the name, “scientism.” And of course, someone who believes in scientism is a… scientist! Therefore, scientists are simply folk following a different philosophy/religion.

    The subtle part of this is amusing, however, and I’ve seen it more than a few times. Science can then be treated as just another belief system, subject to the same flaws as the others, and able to be sneered at by religious folk – never recognizing that they’re sneering at something that has now been reduced to the same level as their own belief system. It’s one of the many reasons why I don’t think many people actually believe, they simply kick up a fuss about not being respected.

  15. Kirth Gersen
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to write a very learned article for publication in a prestigious journal: maybe HuffPo. I’ll entitle it “Tertiary and Quaternary Ways of Knowing.” My thesis is that science and religion are not the only two ways of knowing. Starting from the demonstrable fact that a viable “way of knowing” (like religion) need produce no actual testable knowledge, then Roadrunner cartoons and Three Stooges reruns should qualify as well. I shall study them with all due gravity, keenly open to the nuances of the numinous they’re sure to inspire.

    As more and more people tune into these reruns due to increased demand, viewer records will reflect the increasing importance of these Ways of Knowing. Laws will be passed to allow me to poke people in the eye, since denying me that right is tantamount to religious discrimination.

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

      “I shall study them with all due gravity.”

      That’s essential for the Roadrunner, as Wil E Coyote discovered a law of gravity unknown to Newton: gravity is observer dependent and only works if: a) you look down and there’s nothing beneath your feet; or b) you look up and there’s a large rock over your head.

  16. Posted February 7, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Even among those scientists who are not religious, many see themselves as spiritual.

    Well, I am spiritual. That is to say, I enjoy the occasional glass of wine.

    Talking with these scientists, I have found that many of them simply don’t know what to do when their students bring up issues related to religion.

    Well, she’s right. I could not tell you in advance what I would say to a student who raised a religious question. But, then again, I could not tell you in advance what I would say to a student who raised a scientific question. It’s going to depend on the question asked and the context in which it was asked. I’m wondering if she thinks that scientists are mechanical robots who regurgitate rote memorized speeches.

    According to my findings, a sizable minority of natural and social scientists—about 20 percent, some religious and some not—now think that although the scientific method ought to be value-neutral, religion can meaningfully intersect with the implications of their research and the education of their students.

    Some of us have long wondered whether the social sciences were real sciences. However, with only 20%, perhaps they are more scientific than I had thought.

    The third stage is a willingness of scientists who are religious to talk publicly about the connections between their own faith and their work as scientists.

    Can I read that as encouraging atheist sceintists to talk publicly about their atheism?

    Elaine Howard Ecklund is an assistant professor of sociology at …

    And that is an example of why some of us question whether sociology is a real science.

    Is Ecklund paid real money to write this nonsense?

  17. Kirth Gersen
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    “Is Ecklund paid real money to write this nonsense?”

    Naw — it’s just Templeton money — an “Other Way of Buying.”

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      *zing!*

    • Marella
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

      I bet it still pays for a really nice car!

  18. Posted February 7, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    She even distorts “NOMA” in her third sentence.

    Over the past few years I have asked hundreds of university scientists whether or not they engage with religion in their classrooms. The majority say they do not, and they refer to the idea of “nonoverlapping magisteria” (NOMA), made famous by the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould. He believed that science and religion are two totally separate ways of discovering truth.

    I am pretty sure even Gould never said religion was any kind of way of “discovering truth.”

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      No such conflict should exist because each subject has a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority—and these magisteria do not overlap (the principle that I would like to designate as NOMA, or “nonoverlapping magisteria”).

      The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty). To cite the arch cliches, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven.

      ["Nonoverlapping Magisteria", by Stephen Jay Gould]

      A religious person will of course read absolute “moral truth” into religion.

      Gould thought differently (“we then become free to conduct moral discourse—and nothing could be more important—in our own terms”). But acknowledged the possibility of the religious interpretation (“spared from the delusion that we might read moral truth passively from nature’s factuality”) as the extreme there no morality is seen as a function of evolution (or society outside of churches).

      • Posted February 7, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

        That’s the most familiar passage, but it doesn’t show that he didn’t say it elsewhere in the book. :- )

        But I’m pretty damn sure he didn’t. I’m pretty sure I would have noticed.

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      Hmmm … Nu-Accommodationism = Creationist Ultra-Lite?

      They seem to share all the quote-mining, general (and specific) ignorance of Gnus *actual* points, misrepresentation of science, special pleading, claims of “persecution” and demonising of Gnus based on caricatures employed by your average Comfort-Ham (mmm, comfort ham); they just lack the Old Testament theme parks, creepy facial hair and, probably, the sixth toe.

  19. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Compare Ecklund:

    Philosophers of science and scientists themselves have discussed what they call scientism, a disciplinary imperialism that leads scientists to explicitly or implicitly assert that science is the only valid way toward knowledge, and that it can be used to interpret all other forms of knowledge.

    Scientists who want their colleagues to do more to advance the public transmission of science—particularly those who think their colleagues are already doing a poor job in this regard—mention rejecting a form of scientism that has no room for meaning and morality.

    with Carroll:

    Most modern scientists and philosophers are physicalists, but the idea is far from obvious, and it is not as widely accepted in the larger community as it could be. [...]

    Ernst Haeckel coined the term “dysteleology” to describe the idea that the universe has no ultimate goal or purpose. His primary concern was with biological evolution, but the conception goes deeper. Google returns no hits for the phrase “dysteleological physicalism” (until now, I suppose). But it is arguably the most fundamental insight that science has given us about the ultimate nature of reality. The world consists of things, which obey rules. Everything else derives from that.

    None of which is to say that life is devoid of purpose and meaning. Only that these are things we create, not things we discover out there in the fundamental architecture of the world. The world keeps happening, in accordance with its rules; it’s up to us to make sense of it.

    Ecklund can have her cake and eat it too, recognition that supernaturalism is a dud has room for meaning (and morality), and scientists do think that this should be “transmitted”. “Scientism” and “reductionism” (“everything else derives from that”), as well as “materialism”, are all replaced by a more modern concept. But somehow I don’t think that this fact will make Ecklund happy.

    Btw, has Ecklund her concepts and history correct? Isn’t “scientism” a theological device rather than general philosophical? [I can't find its etymology on the web. In fact, I can't find an unambiguous definition. Which both support a fuzzy theological root, as I see it.]

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

      “Scientism” as far as I can tell is much more of a knee-jerk pejorative than it is a technical term. It tends to be used by clueless people and people with agendas (often the same people of course) more than by genyoowine philosophers of science. I think the clueless agenda types think it’s way technical, but they’re wrong.

  20. Marella
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    I know I have said this before, but if science can’t answer a question then it has no answer, only opinions.

    I have decided to announce that I am an unrepentent ‘scientist’ in the most abused and derided form of the word. If religion is a ‘way of knowing’ anything at all then how come there’s tens of thousands of them which can’t agree on anything? If fact it seems to me that every single theist believes whatever they like and no two believe exactly the same thing. But all scientists know what you get when you add HCl to NaCl, and we can go and do the experiment for ourselves if we want to check. If religion could say one true thing as simple or as useful as this fact it might be worth something, but it can’t.

  21. gillt
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Compare this

    And doesn’t Ecklund know that some people see “science” as more broadly construed, as one species of rationality—a rationality that can also apply to those other unspecified “ways of knowing?”

    with this

    Our job, though, is not to foist our personal beliefs on our students, but to teach science. Let the philosophy department teach students how to think critically about these other things!

    If science, you know, is what goes on in the lab AND is also a way of knowing then why shouldn’t science instructors teach the whole thing? Besides constraints on time why can’t skepticism and critical thinking be a part of Biol 101.

    Btw., I have a friend who teaches Eng Comp where Sagan’s “Demon-Haunted World” is required reading.

  22. krzysztof1
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    //Yeah, I’m really going to take up a lot of classroom time discussing this one! //

    That’s the thing. Science educators need all the time they can get in order to help students learn what they actually need to know. I might suggest that a required “philosophy of science” course, in which the nature of science compared with things like philosophy and religion, be a part of the curriculum [if it's not already]. But as a former academic, I know how much opposition there is to adding hours to majors, etc.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ec92009 and TheBritishAtheist, Jerry Coyne. Jerry Coyne said: Ecklund's still at it http://wp.me/ppUXF-7j4 [...]

  2. [...] Elaine Ecklund, a sociologist at Rice University, has gotten tons of mileage out of her Templeton-funded study on science and religion.  Over and over again (I’ve written about this many times here: just search for “Ecklund”), she’s claimed that scientists are far more religious than people think (even though they’re far more atheistic than the general public), and used her results to bash scientism, promote religion, and urge scientists to bring up their faith in the classroom. [...]

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