ELCA and Ecklund attempt to reconcile science and faith

I’ll soon be debating a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) on the topic of whether science and religion are compatible, and to prepare I’ve been trying to find out something about how the church regards science.  Like other liberal faiths, ELCA is basically okay with science (including evolution) and appears to take the accommodationist line of “separate magisteria,” with God having set up the laws of science.  But it’s hard to find information on the church’s official stand, and so I’ve been reading Covalence, the church’s online science-and-religion magazine.

The October 2011 issue of the magazine features not only a blurb on the church’s grant from the Templeton Foundation (surprise!!), but then touts the research of Elaine Ecklund, another Templeton-funded researcher who has made a career of surveying American scientists and then characterizing the data (often in very dubious ways) to show that scientists are pretty happy with religion. But, in fact, her data show quite the opposite, and it takes some fast talking to claim otherwise. (For a few of my posts on Ecklund’s distortions, see here, here, here, here, and here). I must say that, although I don’t read much social science, I’ve been appalled at how Ecklund manages to turn black into white about the religious attitudes of scientists. And I’m disturbed that the reviewers of her papers don’t look very hard at how whether her data support her conclusions. Further, Templeton keeps throwing money at Ecklund: they apparently don’t care whether her data support her conclusions so long as she gets the conclusions they want.

And those conclusions—which are invariably that science and religion are compatible, and that scientists aren’t as atheistic as everyone thinks—are widely touted in the popular press, whose writers apparently can’t be bothered to read her original papers. The ELCA site falls into the same trap.  Have a look at what they say below (my emphasis):

. . . This month Covalence looks at an innovative grant program funded by the John Templeton Foundation that pairs up pastors and scientists in order to educate parishioners on scientific topics and how science relates to religion. It’s a challenge and it’s uncommon and it really is unprecedented in the Templeton Foundation’s history since it has traditionally funded universities to enable them to offer public events, research and unique classes to university students.

The reach of the Scientists in Congregations grant, though, will be much wider. Educational materials are being worked on for grades six through high school, while adult forums are looking at science in relation to upcoming lectionary readings and artificial intelligence.

Should this program take off it could have a strong impact beyond the 37 congregations that were awarded grant monies. Of this group at least four of the congregations are within the ELCA and are working closely with nearby universities to bring professors and scientists into the congregation.

Also in the area of inspiration and education, the ELCA Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology is in the process of developing a three-session confirmation module dealing with creation and science. The Alliance is looking for congregations willing to field test the confirmation module, a module that is designed to help students explore how scientific theories and biblical creation stories can go together as we consider God’s world and the human place in it.

The Alliance member and pastor taking the lead on the confirmation module project is Rev. George Murphy, who is both an ordained pastor and a PhD. physicist — a rarity in any denomination.

But as more pastors are taking an interest in science themselves and befriending their local astronomers, philosophers, doctors and researchers, it seems that scientists too are less antagonistic toward religion than previously thought. Only 15% of scientists at major research universities see religion and science always in conflict, according to a Rice University study that was recently published in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Rice sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund contradicts the idea that most people in understanding reality and origins of Earth and how life developed see irreconcilable conflict in religion and science, because a majority of scientists interviewed by Ecklund and her colleagues viewed religion and science as “valid avenues of knowledge.”

It’s the recognition of validity of both faith and scientific fact as valid avenues of knowledge that makes life today a little more interesting whether you are sitting in the pew, active in the pulpit or making discoveries in the lab.

Well, Ecklund’s conclusions are wrong or misleading on several counts, and the writer of the Covalence piece, Susan Baretto, either hasn’t read the paper of Ecklund et al. that she cites, has read it and doesn’t understand it, or does understand it but goes along with Ecklund’s distortions.

The paper, by Ecklund, Park, and Sorrell, was published in 2011 in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (reference below; free download); it’s called “Scientists negotiate boundaries between science and faith.” I won’t go over the paper in detail, but want to point out why the characterization above is simply wrong. The “spiritual” part of Ecklund et al. is covered in greater detail in a past guest post by reader Sigmund.

Ecklund et al. surveyed a smallish sample (275) of American scientists at “elite” universities, asking them about their views on spirituality—which Ecklund and the Templeton Foundation take as a synonym for “religion”. Here are the exact questions the scientists were asked.

  • I’m going to use the words religion and spirituality interchangeably here, recognizing there is a lot of public discussion about the differences between these terms. Could you say a bit about how you understand the terms religion and spirituality?
  • How do religion and spirituality come up, if at all, in the course of your discipline?
  • How about in teaching, does religion or spirituality come up at all in interactions with students or teaching and in what kinds of ways?
  • I’m also interested in the relationship between religion and your work as a scientist. How does religion (or spirituality) influence the work you do as a scientist?
  • On the other hand, how does being a scientist (social scientist) (if it does at all) influence how you think about or view religion?
  • Some say there is a “conflict between science and religion.” How would you respond to such a statement?
  • How about now for you personally, how would you describe the place of religion or spirituality in your life?
  • What religious or spiritual beliefs do you hold (religiously or spiritually speaking)?
  • If you have a religious tradition, in what specific way does being part of that religious tradition influence your life now? What kinds of things do you do to practice being part of that religious tradition?

Note that there is nothing about whether scientists viewed religion and science as “valid avenues of knowledge”!

Here are the distortions in the ELCA characterization above, and in the paper of Ecklund et al.:

  • While 15% of scientists saw religion and science as always in conflict, 70% saw them as sometimes in conflict, and another 15% as never in conflict. In other words, 85% of scientists saw some conflict between science and religion. As the paper notes:

When asked about their own views on the relationship between religion and science, respondents fell into three categories. About 15 percent of scientists who completed in-depth interviews said that religion and science were always in conflict. Another 15 percent said they were never in conflict. About 70 percent of those interviewed gave specific contexts in which religion and science are in conflict and others where they are not. The narratives of all three groups of scientists provide important insights into issues related to boundary negotiation.

To concentrate on only the 15% who see “no conflict,” while omitting the other 85%, is dishonest on the part of Baretto. It’s understandable that many scientists would see religion as only “sometimes” in conflict with faith, for of course some claims of some religions don’t conflict with science at all! Some of these are moral dicta, like “love they neighbor,” and those can’t conflict with science. In other cases, liberal faiths fully accept the findings of science, even evolution, and there’s no conflict there, either.

  • The 15% who see “no conflict” contain some scientists who are uncomfortable with the “methods” of religion. Ecklund divides this group into two classes, those with “porous” boundaries between science and faith, and those with “rigid” boundaries.  She gives no data about the relative proportions in these two groups! The “rigid” group saw science and religion as so separate that they could not be in conflict.  As the paper notes:

. . . [these] respondents said that religion and science are not in conflict for them because they are not religious. For these individuals there is a barrier erected between the two; science and religion are not in conflict because religion is outside of and—according to many in this group—generally “irrelevant to” science. Religion and science were separate, with science being a far superior form of knowledge than religion. In this way, these respondents were somewhat similar to those who fell in the “always in conflict” category because they saw science and religion as separate and inherently different. Yet, we placed them in the “no conflict” category because they came to a different conclusion about the connection between science and religion. Rather than perceiving a battle between the two, which science will inevitably win, as it disproves religious dogma through further scientific discovery, these respondents often saw science and religion more as nonoverlapping magisteria (Gould 1997). They were so irrelevant to one another that they were not even in conflict.

  • Those who answered “only sometimes in conflict” include “spirituality” as a kind of religion. Note that this tactic was actually promoted by Ecklund et al. in the first question above when they asserted, “I’m going to use the words religion and spirituality interchangeably here, recognizing there is a lot of public discussion about the differences between these terms.”  And this rather shady move lead to a higher proportion of scientists than expected seeing science and religion as “compatible.” As the paper notes,

. . . Respondents who viewed religion as only sometimes in conflict with science tended to manage the science-religion relationship by changing the definition of religion. Specifically for them, religion most compatible with science would be best defined as spirituality. On the whole, scientists were more spiritual than we had expected. Across all disciplines, 68 percent surveyed considered themselves spiritual to some degree. They used this label to mean a variety of things, from a vague feeling of something outside themselves to a deep and compelling, other-centered worldview that directed how they conduct research and interact with students. To an extent, this mirrors what Robert Wuthnow and others have found among the general public (Wuthnow 1998).

But, as Ecklund et al. implicitly recognize, “spirituality” covers a huge range of emotions, including simple awe at the wonders of the universe that has nothing to do with religion. If you are of that stripe, then of course you see no conflict between science and “religion”. This deliberate conflation of religion and spirituality leads Ecklund et al to their conclusion:

. . . On the whole, scientists are more spiritual than we had expected and scientists who view themselves as spiritual are also less likely to see religion and science as in conflict. By broadening the definition of what constitutes religion to include noninstitutionalized forms of spirituality—scientists are drawn from within the realm of science into the realm of religion. These scientists use a redefinition of religion as about spirituality; the boundaries between religion and science become porous and the nature of science is also redefined.

  • No scientist, much less a majority of them, said that “science and religion are both “valid avenues of knowledge!” I looked in vain for survey results showing this, since it is so surprising, and in fact there isn’t anything to support the claim that a majority of scientists see a religion-science comity.  That is simply made up by the author of the ELCA blurb.

The “statistic” apparently comes from what two scientists said, and the “avenues of knowledge” quote comes from Ecklund et al. themselves. As the paper notes (my emphasis):

As one Episcopalian chemist explained:

“As a scientist you’re always on the cutting edge … . I expect religion to kind of work the same way, so the idea of something just stable and fixed, that you can’t really have any new ideas … . Things that we’ve learned in the past 2000 years, that has to be factored into those old truths. Religion has to be dynamic. There has to be research and new ideas and sometimes as a scientist you participate in creation.”

What is most interesting about this quote is the overlap between boundaries that it exemplifies. This chemist essentially afforded science and religion the same knowledge structures. New discovery was experienced through both, and for both there was even the possibility of creation. Science and religion each should be expected to change as new experiences provide them room to do so. This respondent saw both religion and science as valid avenues of knowledge, able to bring broader understanding to valuable questions.

A sociologist who described himself as a practicing Unitarian Universalist said, in response to being asked whether science and religion are in conflict:

“Such a statement is typically made by someone who’s a partisan on one side, not someone who is trying to find all of the tools that are available to explain the character of our world and the place of humans in it. There’s just too much evidence of people being very thoughtful and creative working on both sides or working with both traditions of the inquiry … . I think it leads people to reject forms of learning … . It is much more productive to say that we should use all the tools that we have available, religious and scientific to address these profound questions, not use that to drive wedges between us.”

Notice, similar to the Episcopalian chemist quoted above, this respondent sees both religion and science as providing valid forms of knowledge and tools to answer important kinds of questions. He even sees science and religion influencing one another.

So there’s no “majority of scientists” who believe this—only these two quoted in the paper. There may be a few more—after all, there will always be a handful of religious scientists who take this stand—but this is not a majority by any means! The statement that “a majority of scientists interviewed by Ecklund and her colleagues viewed religion and science as ‘valid avenues of knowledge'” is either a lie or an unwitting distortion.

Perhaps I’ve belabored this too long, and I certainly am not saying that the ELCA always engages in this kind of distortion. Indeed, the distortion may be due to ignorance rather than duplicity.  What I am saying is that religious people will grab onto any straw, no matter how thin, to support their claim that science and faith are compatible. And when they see a sociological “scientist” making such claims, they don’t examine them too closely. Susan Baretto misled her readers, and misled them toward what they wanted to hear.

What is more worrisome, I think, is the way that Ecklund repeatedly distorts her findings and pitches the distortions to the public (see her PuffHo pieces), trying to minimize the very real atheism that permeates the scientific community. And most worrisome is the way that the Templeton Foundation gives Ecklund (and others) oodles of money to reach such conclusions, and doesn’t seem to care too much whether those conclusions are sound.

h/t: Sigmund


Ecklund, E. H., J. Z. Park, and K. L. Sorrell. 2011. Scientists negotiate boundaries between religion and science. J. Scientific Study of Religion 50:552-569.


  1. Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    All I can say. JAC, is thank you. You are doing something I cannot come close to being able to handle. For the record, if anyone asks, you speak for me, too, when it comes to religion.

  2. Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Eklund has proven herself to be…well, the most suitable term isn’t very flattering. Let’s just leave it that she’s been suggested to haggle over the price.


    • brujofeo
      Posted January 5, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      C’mon now, that’s just sour grapes. We’re just miffed because we don’t have the skill set to be proper whores.

      Imagine if we all we had to do for a living is suck that filthy lucre out of Templeton’s hind tit. Sure beats working, I expect.

      Just more proof that laws against prostitution will never work. With such endless demand, trying to stem the supply is the ultimately pointless Whac-A-Mole.

  3. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    “Covalence, the church’s online science-and-religion magazine”

    Covalence? – nice try, religion.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted January 5, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      They apparently hold 8,9-dihydronaphthalene to be especially spiritual.

      • Timothy Hughbanks
        Posted January 5, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

        Oops, I guess that would be 1,9-dihydronaphthalene. 😊

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted January 5, 2013 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps celebrating the carbon-carbon covalent bond, and its necessity for life on Earth.

  4. johncozijn
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Lot’s of interesting points. To comment on two:

    1. Conflating religion and spirituality is becoming very common and causing all sorts of problems in evaluating the data (which I try to do). Another example of this is Pew’s move to ask: Do you believe in God or some kind universal spirit? Clearly these are not the same thing at all.

    2. This woman keeps on getting money because peer-reviewed journals keep publishing her. We’ve known since at least Sokal that peer-review in the social sciences is … hmmm … problematic.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 5, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      Do you have the same problem with “religion” and “superstition”?

      • johncozijn
        Posted January 5, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

        From the POV of constructing useful survey instruments, the issue is trying to get an accurate bead on what people actually believe, which at an individual level is often very messy. The International Social Survey Program is a good example. The basic belief question gives six options that broadly cover atheism, agnosticim, “higher power” (specifically excluding “god”), and varying degrees of certainly about “god”. There are separate questions on the many kinds of woo, as well of course about affiliation (self and parental) and attendance. And much more.

        • gbjames
          Posted January 5, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

          I’m not sure that answered my question which had to do with concept conflation. Is conflating “religion” and “superstition” as problematic to you as “religion” and “spirituality”? I’m trying to suss out what part of the “messiness” is troubling you.

          • johncozijn
            Posted January 5, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

            Sorry, short answer: yes, it’s all a problem and very difficult to unravel with poorly designed instruments. But the point about the “spirituality” conflation is that this has become a conscious tactic by religious researchers in order, to put it crudely, to boost the numbers.

            • gbjames
              Posted January 5, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

              Interesting. I tend to think of it the other way around on the basis that while religion tends to greater institutional elaboration, at root religion is just a dressed-up set of superstitions. And “spirituality” just a friendly fuzz-word to cover this up. My take on it is that all of them refer to flavors of belief-without-evidence and what they share is often more important than how they differ.

              • johncozijn
                Posted January 5, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

                That might seem the case intellectually but it’s not in fact how secularization works, at least in the data I’ve looked at. Disaffiliation of course comes first (which most importantly means parents aren’t sending their kids to church, youth camp etc). But in terms of belief (which always follows) the key is theism (a god who care about me). Once that goes then it doesn’t matter what half-way house people occupy (reincarnation, wicca, crystals), their scores on virtually all measures of religiosity, and its attitudinal correlates, plummet.

              • gbjames
                Posted January 5, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink

                “That might seem the case intellectually”

                As opposed to… emotionally? 😉

                How secularization works is an interesting subject but it is not the only subject. And it should not be confused with the problem of understanding how religion/superstition operate in human minds and in human society.

                Religion formalizes and institutionalizes superstition. Certainly organized religion is more hazardous to society than, say, crystal-bearing new age woo but I do not think the dogmatic and formalized end of the belief-gradient can be eliminated as long as people lack the ability to think critically and are willing to think that red strings can ward off the evil eye.

              • Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

                Well, while I’m far from a fan of the word, “spirituality” does have a rather common meaning that describes only the kind of (non-religious) wonder and reverence Jerry wrote about above.

                I would certainly call religion a huge, elaborate superstition, that is, synonymous with superstition. “Religion” and “spirituality” aren’t quite synonymous like that. Which makes Ecklund’s equivocation pretty contemptible; she’s cooking the books.

              • gbjames
                Posted January 6, 2013 at 7:59 am | Permalink

                I’m not a fan of the “spirituality” because the word’s common usage reflects the etymology. Using it in the generic “wonder” sense takes special modifiers if you don’t want it understood as a subtle endorsement of religious woo.

                The root word is “spiritual” (adj.)

                “of or concerning the spirit” (especially in religious aspects), c.1300, from O.Fr. spirituel (12c.), from L. spiritualis, from spiritus “of breathing, of the spirit” (see spirit). Meaning “of or concerning the church” is attested from mid-14c. The noun sense of “African-American religious song” first recorded 1866.

              • Posted January 6, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

                You could go one step further and claim “spirit” as the root…

              • gbjames
                Posted January 6, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

                I had considered that but didn’t want to wander too many little steps from the original term used here. And it is too early in the day to enjoy spirits anyway. Perhaps a glass of Scotch in honor of Hitch later on…

                “Spirit”, though, is a nice spooky word.

                spirit (n.)
                mid-13c., “animating or vital principle in man and animals,” from Old French espirit, from Latin spiritus “soul, courage, vigor, breath,” related to spirare “to breathe,” from PIE *(s)peis- “to blow” (cf. Old Church Slavonic pisto “to play on the flute”).

                Original usage in English mainly from passages in Vulgate, where the Latin word translates Greek pneuma and Hebrew ruah. Distinction between “soul” and “spirit” (as “seat of emotions”) became current in Christian terminology (e.g. Greek psykhe vs. pneuma, Latin anima vs. spiritus) but “is without significance for earlier periods” [Buck]. Latin spiritus, usually in classical Latin “breath,” replaces animus in the sense “spirit” in the imperial period and appears in Christian writings as the usual equivalent of Greek pneuma.

                Meaning “supernatural being” is attested from c.1300 (see ghost); that of “essential principle of something” (in a non-theological sense, e.g. Spirit of St. Louis) is attested from 1690, common after 1800. Plural form spirits “volatile substance” is an alchemical idea, first attested 1610; sense narrowed to “strong alcoholic liquor” by 1670s. This also is the sense in spirit level (1768).

              • Posted January 6, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

                That is fascinating! I took note of the use of the Hebrew word “ruah” (רוח). The Hebrew word which came to my mind was “neshama” (נשמה) or even “nefesh” (נשמה). Using Google Translate, I see they overlap and are the three most popular. The one you chose bears closest connection with the overlap meaning you chose, i.e., air or wind.
                This is fun!

              • gbjames
                Posted January 6, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

                This has me wondering if perhaps there is some long lost Catholic sacrament. Based on words of the apostle: “Come. In His name, let us break wind together.”

      • johncozijn
        Posted January 5, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink


        Secularization as a social process is what I meant, of course, and isn’t that what counts?

        The last stage in the process is an increase in confirmed non-believers (effective atheists), precipitating out of a parental generation that believes “something” but is not religious.

        And there are surprises. In more secular societies, older, more religious people are *less* likely to believe they will survive their own death than younger, less religious folk. I thought this was an error, but I controlled for all possible confounders in a (tri-nation) regression analysis and the correlation won’t go away.

        Bottom line is that the process of secularization is not itself particularly rational!

        • gbjames
          Posted January 5, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

          Many things count. Truth counts. Honesty counts. Life is more than political strategy.

          Secularization is good. I am a member of several organizations whose primary purpose is to encourage secularization. But it is not the only thing that matters.

          Word games and obfuscation in the service of secularization is a place I am unwilling to go. Fortunately, this is not a choice that confronts us. Those who call themselves “spiritual but not religious” may be half of the way on a journey from Crazytown to Saneville. Or they may be half way on a trip in the other direction. What is important is to not confusing the halfway point with being a resident of Saneville.

          • johncozijn
            Posted January 5, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

            Secularization is not a political strategy but a human process, and it rarely involves any deep contemplation of “truth”, at least in the more secular societies for which we have good data. Most non-believers don’t have strong views about religion, it’s just not relevant to them, and they’d prefer it if the geezers in wizard cloaks stuck to their churches and stayed out of the public square.

            • gbjames
              Posted January 5, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

              “Secularization is not a political strategy”

              This will come as quite a surprise to the people at the Secular Coalition for America, the FFRF, People For the American Way, and others.

  5. Chuck
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Elaine Ecklund is an object lesson in the type of spin the Templeton Foundation practices and seems to indicate that they are a PR organization.

  6. gbjames
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Typo… in the second bolded block of text, both of the 15% categories are the same, “always in conflict”. I suspect one should be “never”.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted January 5, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink


      It’s understandable that many scientists would see religion as only “sometimes” in conflict with faith, for of course some claims of some religions don’t conflict with faith at all!

      Mote typos, I assume. Replace “religion” and “faith” with “science”, perhaps?

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted January 5, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        *More*! Is there a law that says you must include a typo when correcting someone else?

        • Posted January 5, 2013 at 10:27 am | Permalink

          Yes, taht woudl be Muphyr’s Law.



          • brujofeo
            Posted January 5, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

            Goren, ewe beet me two it.

        • Diane G.
          Posted January 6, 2013 at 2:09 am | Permalink


          • HaggisForBrains
            Posted January 6, 2013 at 5:04 am | Permalink

            Thanks, Diane, that is it exactly. A subset of Murphy’s Law.

            • gbjames
              Posted January 6, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

              I think you mean Murphry’s Law.

              Oops… Did I just…?

          • Posted January 6, 2013 at 5:40 am | Permalink

            How perfect! Skitt’s Law will now become part of my vocabulary. After all, I need a good excuse, lately.

  7. Alext T
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Looking over the comments of those who said there were no conflicts, it sounds like they aren’t so much saying there isn’t an overlap but that where there are overlaps, science is so clearly superior that the conflicts were decisively won long ago.

  8. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    It’s an old trope of religious liberals to plug “dynamic” religion- i.e. religion capable of changing its mind about various things, but often they don’t have the courage to take it very far.

    Many religious ideas instead of needing to be dynamic just need to be dynamited. 🙂

    And ditto, conflating religion with spirituality is a bad methodology.

  9. krzysztof1
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I’m curious to know how you got that gig (the debate with the pastor). Someone you knew personally? Did the person approach you? Just wondering.

    • brujofeo
      Posted January 5, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      I think he must have lost a bet.

  10. JimV
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    I think this case might make a good opening statement (with some abbreviation) for the debate: science plus religion tend to produce bad science, because religion does not strive for objectivity.

  11. krzysztof1
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I think what we have with the Templeton Foundation is money trying to spread a point of view. I see it as an attempt at mind-control.

  12. Erp
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Are you debating a pastor or a theologian or someone who is both? In Lutheran terms I believe pastors have to have a congregation but theologians tend to have academic positions not congregations.

  13. Posted January 5, 2013 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    It sounds like Ecklund is a food critic who, in her efforts to find out how a pie tastes, nibbles around the crust instead of eating a piece. Why not eat a slice instead of surmising what it taste like from nibbling on the crust?

    On the other hand, she may be afraid to sample the pie because it might not meet her expectations.

    • Posted January 5, 2013 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      If we’re going to go with the food critic analogy, then Ecklund is the lead researcher at the independent consulting firm hired by Pepsico to survey consumer satisfaction with pizza, and she’s pulling out chart after chart “proving” that Pizza Hut is every bit as good as Pizzeria Bianco.



  14. Sam
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Science (in a variety of fields) is what helped to undo my faith, especially since, for example, in my formative religion, God is a friendly, physical being with a beard. Nor are science and religion equally valid approaches, of course not.
    And if God is The Scientist that wound up this world and then let Nature take its predestined course, of what use is praying to that God and building edifices in his name? Why is a God that did his job 13 billion years (or so) ago worthy of worship?

  15. Brygida Berse
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    And most worrisome is the way that the Templeton Foundation gives Ecklund (and others) oodles of money to reach such conclusions, and doesn’t seem to care too much whether those conclusions are sound.

    And that explains everything. A conflict of interest of this degree makes the science invalid.

    • Posted January 5, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Templeton is also bankrolling science these days

      SEE HERE Please note especially that even Sean Carroll who at one time turned his nose up at Templeton funding has done a u-turn…

      My teeth grind thinking about this torrent of misspent money

      • Posted January 5, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        Hard to imagine that this isn’t seen as a conflict of interest. In the US, I don’t think doctors are even allowed a free, disposable ink pen or pad of scratch paper from a medical product manufacturer, anymore.

        Most scientists rely on outside funding. Those funded by the likes of Templeton would risk their careers, to say the funds come from wacky folks who believe in supernatural, invisible, unverifiable beings.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted January 5, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

          I wish that were true about scientists risking their careers, but I suspect that because Templeton doesn’t interfere [as far as I know] in what’s eventually published this will not happen.

          However scientist who get a Templeton research grant are fully aware that sticking a bit of woo in their summing up of their research results [& in their appearances in the media] gives them a leg up in the annual Templeton Prize stakes.
          [The Dalai Lama who won The Big One last year trousered $1.7m to do with as he pleases]

          • Posted January 5, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

            Sad state of affairs… Slanted reports are similarly to be noted in the works of expert witnesses (doctors included) who do frequent work for certain government offices. It is a sign of corruption, but few see it and fewer of those choose or have the background to recognize it.

            • Michael Fisher
              Posted January 5, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

              Changing tack…

              As a medical professional what do you think of DSM-IV & the in progress DSM5? Is there a potential for US “mental professionals” to line their own pockets via their own DSM?

              I raise this question because no amount of control seems to prevent the growing medicalization of our lives & I’m not convinced it’s not partly for profit. The expanded DSM is not entirely as a result of a better understanding of the human machine [I suspect].

              • Posted January 5, 2013 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

                Psychiatry is too far from my area of expertise. There was introductory training in medical school but no overlap since. That is, except to call myself a “bonehead” for being an orthopaedic surgeon.

            • brujofeo
              Posted January 5, 2013 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

              From the POV of a litigator who has to deal with “expert” witnesses–in particular psych testimony–I highly recommend Margaret A. Hagen’s “Whores of the Court” (http://www.amazon.com/Whores-Court-Psychiatric-Testimony-American/dp/0060391979/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1357420721&sr=8-1&keywords=whores+of+the+court) and anything by the brilliant Elizabeth F. Loftus.

              “Today I made an appearance downtown
              I am an expert witness, because I say I am
              And I said, ‘Gentleman….and I use that word loosely….
              I will testify for you
              I’m a gun for hire, I’m a saint, I’m a liar
              Because there are no facts, there is no truth
              Just data to be manipulated
              I can get any result you like
              What’s it worth to ya?
              Because there is no wrong, there is no right
              And I sleep very well at night
              No shame, no solution
              No remorse, no retribution
              Just people selling T-shirts
              Just opportunity to participate in the pathetic little circus…
              …and winning, winning, winning'”

              –Don Henley, “In the Garden of Allah”

              • Posted January 5, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

                Exactly, Brujofeo. Thank you. I was so trusting and naive, growing up… My patriotism isn’t lost, but the naivete has turned to something grounded in harsh reality. We have horrible corruption.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted January 5, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink


  16. Sastra
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    This struck me as odd:

    A sociologist who described himself as a practicing Unitarian Universalist said, in response to being asked whether science and religion are in conflict: “… It is much more productive to say that we should use all the tools that we have available, religious and scientific to address these profound questions, not use that to drive wedges between us.”

    In addition to the question of whether a sociologist qualifies as a scientist, there’s also the question of whether a Unitarian Universalist qualifies as someone who is “religious” in the same sense as an Episcopalian, to whom he is compared for that Religion-and-Science-Both-Valid-Avenues-to-Knowledge set.

    UU’s usually don’t believe in God. They tend to be divided between humanist atheists and New Age-y spiritualists. If this guy belongs to the first group he could simply be equating religion with morality. If he belongs to the second group, he could be into anything from pyramid power to quantum healing. As you always ask — what knowledge? Give an example.

    I just thought it strange to use a UU here as a prime example of a ‘believing scientist.’

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted January 5, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      AAAAAAAhhhh! The whole probe of “religion versus spirituality” and “science in conflict with religion” is akin to asking, “Which conference, the AFC or the NFC, will have more SuperBowl winners over the next ten years??”

      If Templeton threw some money at that query, at least there would be an interested audience.

      I imagine working at the Templeton Foundation is similar to work at a boutique advertising agency. Everyone is attempting to get the vacation schedule worked out, and who ordered new laptops and are they necessary, can we get our offices painted this year, and why is the parking lot flooded if there are four consecutive days of rain, etc??? Oh, and our big account, “Preparation H”…no one here uses it, but, there’s our cashflow generator.

  17. beyondbelief007
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, you MUST frame the terms of the debate clearly and succinctly as you concluded your recent post re: Kloor. You must establish the NARROW definition of compatible that you mean, and then call them out EVERY time they try to weasel to the OTHER equivocal meaning.

    I wouldn’t waste time reviewing their stance on science… Just prevent equivocation on what you mean by ” compatible”.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 5, 2013 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      Terms you must prevent the religious from equivocating on:


      I wish I was kidding. But half your debate is likely to consist of attempts to keep them clear and specific, so that they don’t just slide blithely from one meaning to another and seem to ‘win’ through a sneaky bait ‘n switch.

      And I wish I wasn’t so sure that the minute I post this comment, I’ll probably think of a few more of their deepities you’ll probably need to watch out for. They don’t think straight themselves.

  18. Posted January 5, 2013 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Im guessing since he’s from the ELCA (the denomination I grew up in) your opponent in the debate will probabaly be some kind of theistic evolutionist.

    The one thing I always ask religious people who believe in evolution is how the idea of evolution could possibly square with the idea of a loving god. Evolution is a brutal process built on the survival of creatures more able to kill or avoid being killed, and the deaths of living things that are not fit to survive in their environment. I’ve heard that 95 to 98 percent of all species that have ever lived have gone extinct.

    And they’re telling me a loving god chose to create this way when he could have proofed things into existence? He could have avoided the suffering of millions upon millions of creatures but chose not to? Its probably the least loving way a god could have made life. It makes no sense.

    I understand why some scientists or the media might want to water things down so the religious might find it easier to support the fact of evolution, but really the two ideas are not compatible. You should call him out on something like this during the debate.

    Just recently started reading your blog. Love it!

  19. Brygida Berse
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    And they’re telling me a loving god chose to create this way when he could have proofed things into existence? He could have avoided the suffering of millions upon millions of creatures but chose not to? Its probably the least loving way a god could have made life. It makes no sense.

    You are right, but one doesn’t even need to accept evolution in order to notice that the natural world is filled with animal suffering; it’s enough to observe nature around us. Trying to reconcile this with the notion of a loving god should cause cognitive dissonance regardless of one’s stance on evolution.

    • Posted January 6, 2013 at 3:05 am | Permalink

      Yeah good point!

  20. Sigmund
    Posted January 6, 2013 at 3:56 am | Permalink

    Eclund herself has made the explicit claim that the majority of scientists interviewed by her viewed religion and science as “valid avenues of knowledge.” This claim is on her Rice university page and is repeated in many places online (including a Templeton Foundation report.)
    As Jerry mentions above, there is no valid means of making that claim from the results of the paper. It is entirely Ecklunds own conclusion from the answers she recieved in her interviews. And it is also clear exactly HOW she makes this conclusion.
    She seems to have decided that any scientist that doesn’t conclude that science and religion are ALWAYS incompatible can be placed in the category of thinking that religion is a valid avenue of knowledge.
    Remember, the questions do not ask or even hint upon this point.
    In fact, as detailed above, the actual numbers of scientists who see at least some conflict between religion and science is at least 85% and probably much higher (since she includes within the no conflict category those who have a somewhat NOMA view, who, if they followed Gould’s definition, would certainly see a conflict between the prevailing forms of theistic belief and science.
    And remember the word “always”.
    For a scientist this is a very specific term that denotes something for which there is no possible exception. It is totally inappropriate to use it in regards a question about an unclear term like “religion”.
    Is it possible that there are some forms of “religion” like some kind of weak deism, an atheistic form of buddhism, or some sort of non supernaturalistic christianity (thinking Jesus was just a man who had some good moral lessons to teach) that could be thought to be not in conflict with science? And that is even forgetting the possible interpretation of the question of whether specific aspects of religion are in conflict with science. It cannot be that ‘everything’ in religion is on conflict – so surely the most likely answer from a scientist (70% of her respondents) is – as she found out – that religion and science are ‘sometimes’ in conflict.

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