Elaine Ecklund, a sociologist at Rice University, is making a career out of trying to pretend that American scientists are less atheistic than they really are. I’ve written about this extensively (just type “Ecklund” into the search engine of this site), as have others. Jason Rosenhouse at EvolutionBlog, for example, has pointed out how Ecklund distorts her survey data to inflate the degree of scientists’ religiosity and spirituality.
Science Daily recently highlighted a new paper by Ecklund and Kristin Lee in The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, “Atheists and agnostics negotiate religion and family.” I’ve only skimmed the paper lightly, so I’ll just quote the Science Daily report, most likely an unedited or lightly edited press release from Ecklund’s university. The study is based on exactly the same data Ecklund collected 5 years ago for her book, Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think. Science Daily reports:
Some atheist scientists with children embrace religious traditions for social and personal reasons, according to research from Rice University and the University at Buffalo — The State University of New York (SUNY).
The study also found that some atheist scientists want their children to know about different religions so their children can make informed decisions about their own religious preferences.
“Our research shows just how tightly linked religion and family are in U.S. society — so much so that even some of society’s least religious people find religion to be important in their private lives,” said Rice sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund, the study’s principal investigator and co-author of a paper in the December issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.
So what was the surprising finding among America’s “least religious people”? Ecklund’s sample of 275 natural and social scientists from 21 “elite U.S. research universities” showed this:
The researchers found that 17 percent of atheists with children attended a religious service more than once in the past year.
But is that really so astounding? Some atheist scientists want to expose their children to different religions to let them either observe the worship or to allow them to decide for themselves whether they want to be religious, and, if so, what religion would they choose. Indeed, the report gives that and other reasons for that behavior:
“The individuals surveyed cited personal and social reasons for integrating religion into their lives, including:
- Scientific identity – Study participants wish to expose their children to all sources of knowledge (including religion) and allow them to make their own choices about a religious identity. [JAC: Ten to one it was Ecklund herself who identified religion as a "source of knowledge", just as she herself injected, despite denying it later, introduced the term "spirituality" into her survey of "spiritual" atheist scientists.]
- Spousal influence – Study participants are involved in a religious institution because of influence from their spouse or partner.
- Desire for community – Study participants want a sense of moral community and behavior, even if they don’t agree with the religious reasoning.”
Remember, we’re talking about only 17% of atheists with children—one in six—who go to church more than once per year. Twice would qualify. And apparently many of those atheists aren’t married to other atheists.
Indeed, Ecklund and Lee’s paper notes that “having a religious spouse or partner was the main reason that scientists who were not religious involved their children in a religious community with no clear gender differences [sic].” So most atheist scientists are taking their kids to church not because of the irresistible pull of faith, a sneaking sympathy with religion, or even a desire to expose their kids to worship, but simply to placate their spouses.
Ecklund continues to recycle her old data, desperate to find evidence, however thin, that scientists are religious. Why? Because she wants to show that religion is alive and well in America, even among the godless. Here’s her conclusion as given by Science Daily:
Ecklund said the study’s findings will help the public better understand the role that religious institutions play in society.
“I think that understanding how nonreligious scientists utilize religion in family life demonstrates the important function they have in the U.S.,” she said.
Now the antecedent of “they” is unclear (Ecklund is a dreadful writer), but I’m pretty sure she and Lee are referring to “religious institutions,” not to “nonreligious scientists.” In other words, they’re trying to show how religion itself has an important function in America. Well, maybe it does, but not among this group, since 83% of atheists scientists don’t expose their kids to church.
Why does Ecklund continue to trawl her data for dubious conclusions like this, publishing paper after paper distorting her results to show how religious we atheist-scientists really are? Well, he who pays the piper calls the tune, and if you check who funded Ecklund and Lee’s research, you’ll find this acknowledgment:
This research was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, Grant #11299, Elaine Howard Ecklund, PI.
Are you surprised? Ecklund has given Templeton great value for their money, producing exactly what the Foundation wants. Her incessant stream of papers, all pretending to show the same conclusion form different angles, shows how canny Templeton is in promoting a comity between science and faith.