Science and Religion

I would like to quote a paragraph from The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, p. 214-215, which I find quite interesting. Here it is:

A large amount of statistical material has been gathered and analyzed by sociologists of religion in the effort to discover what correlation exists, if any, between religious belief and achievement in the natural and human sciences. Two conclusions from these studies are of interest in my present discussion. The first is this. To quote Professor Robert Wuthnow, professor of sociology at Princeton, “virtually all surveys and polls, whether of the general public, college students, church members or clergy, show inverse relations between exposure to higher education and adherence to core religious tenets” (The Sacred in a Secular Age, p. 189). In other words, the better educated you are in our modern society, the less time you have for religion. But, and this is the significant point, the surveys show that, to quote Wuthnow again, “it is the irreligious who are selected into academic careers in the first place, not that the process of being socialized into the academic life causes them to become less and less religious” (p. 191). The second finding is this. The correlation between academic life and irreligion is much higher in the social sciences and the humanities than it is among the natural sciences–physics, chemistry, and biology. Atomic physicists are much more likely to believe in God than sociologists. These two facts taken together lead Professor Wuthnow to make an interesting suggestion, based on the work of the sociology of science. Science, like every human activity, is a socially embodied exercise and therefore scientists are under the necessity of demarcating the boundaries of their exercise. The editor of a scientific magazine has to be able to recognize what is science and what is not. This boundary definition is much easier in the case of the natural sciences like physics and chemistry. These sciences have a high degree to clarity and internal consistency. It is more difficult in the case of sciences like sociology, economics, psychology, and even more in the humanities, to say where exactly the boundary is to be drawn. Yet the drawing of the boundary is essential to the corporate sense of identity without which the scientific community cannot flourish. Wuthnow suggests that the two facts which I have referred to can best be explained on the hypothesis that the irreligion of academics is essentially a matter of boundary demarcation. It is clear that it is not the contents of these academic disciplines themselves which cause alienation from religion. The irreligion, insofar as it has been documented, is a factor at the point of entry into the study, not a product of it. And further confirmation of this thesis is obtained, says Wuthnow, from the fact that the enormous expansion of scientific work in the United States since the Second World War has not been accompanied by any decline in religion. In the period of twenty-five years from 1955 expenditure on scientific research in the USA increased by over 1,000 percent, which must mean that a vastly greater number of people were giving their fulltime commitment to science; yet in the same period commitment to religion as measured by church membership remained steady. There seem to be good grounds for taking seriously Professor Wuthnow’s conclusion. “While the evidence clearly documents the irreligiosity of scientists themselves, it shows that this irreligiosity is far more pronounced among the least scientific disciplines–the social sciences and humanities–than it is among the natural scientists. And closer inspection of the scientific role itself suggests that scientists in these fields may adopt an irreligious stance chiefly as one of the boundary-posturing mechanisms they use to distance themselves from the general public and thereby maintain the precarious reality of the work they do. … The proverbial conflict between science and religion may be more a function of the precariousness of science than of the precariousness of religion” (The Sacred, p. 199).


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