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But For the Grace of Genes

By Elaine Howard Ecklund and Conrad Hackett But For the Grace of Genes Science may consider fundamentalism a threat, but our study shows that most scientists are spiritual—suggesting both sides may have more in common than they think. Image Modified from © Laguna Design / Photo Researchers, Inc. When President Barack Obama appointed Francis Collins, a geneticist and evangelical Christian, to head the National Institutes of

By | April 1, 2010

But For the Grace of Genes

Science may consider fundamentalism a threat, but our study shows that most scientists are spiritual—suggesting both sides may have more in common than they think.

Image Modified from © Laguna Design / Photo Researchers, Inc.

When President Barack Obama appointed Francis Collins, a geneticist and evangelical Christian, to head the National Institutes of Health in 2009, a cry went up. The problem? Collins is a theist. A religious believer, the critics said, was not the right choice for the public face of science.1

While the majority of scientists are not evangelicals, there are several well-known scientists—like Ken Miller, John Polkinghorne, and Freeman Dyson—who are engaged in public efforts to persuade believers that they do not have to choose between their faith and science.

What do the country’s leading scientists really think about religion? Scientists have investigated the question, but have asked only a small number of narrow survey questions about religion.

To get a more definitive answer, we reviewed responses from 744 tenured and tenure-track scientists (chemists, biologists, and physicists) working and teaching at the top 21 US research universities, according to the University of Florida’s “Top American Research Universities” report. The data were collected between 2005 and 2007 as part of the Religion Among Academic Scientists study (RAAS), which uses extensive state-of-the-art measures of religious identity, practice, spirituality, and belief, and can compare the answers to those given by the general public.

Not surprisingly, scientists differed from the general public in several key ways. Compared with 34% of all Americans, only two of the natural scientists we surveyed agreed that “the Bible is the actual word of God and it should be interpreted literally.” When it comes to belief in God, 63% of the general public agrees with the statement, “I know that God exists.” Yet only 5% of physicists, 7% of biologists, and 10% of chemists say the same. On the flip side, 39% of biologists, 36% of physicists, and 24% of chemists say they do not believe in God, while only 2% of the general population identifies as atheist.

But our findings also uncover surprising areas of common ground. Eighty percent of scientists who teach and do research at top US research universities were raised in a religious home and 55% were raised in a home where religion was important. Scientists show the most overlap with the general public in the realm of spirituality, with 62% of scientists considering themselves spiritual. A surprising 38% of atheist scientists say they are somewhat spiritual, as do 61% of agnostic scientists. Nearly half of all surveyed scientists say they attended religious services at least once in the last year.

Although scientists who work at elite universities are less religiously conservative—and less committed to organized religion generally—than the public at large, most scientists think religion has some degree of truth. Many individual scientists have a positive attitude toward the idea of religious truth and think their colleagues have a positive or neutral attitude toward religion. Only a minority believes there is an irreconcilable conflict between religious knowledge and scientific knowledge. Since a majority of scientists are interested in spirituality, this may be an area where they will find fruitful terrain for talking about issues of science and faith with the public.

Awareness that many scientists are not hostile to religion and emphasizing areas of overlap between scientists and the general religious population might help to advance constructive engagement between science and faith, lessening the threat factors on both sides.

Ecklund is a faculty member in the sociology department at Rice University, where she is also associate director of the Center on Race, Religion and Urban Life.

Hackett is a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

1. S. Harris, “Science is in the details,” The New York Times, July 26, 2009.

Comments

Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 32

March 29, 2010

There is an interesting disconnect between the rating given to the article and its contents. The article reports the results of a legitimate survey. Why has it been given such a low rating? Answering my own question--The very small number of respondents were disappointed in the results of the research. I wonder if they view the results of their own research through the same type of prism.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

March 29, 2010

I emphatically disagree with your contention that the article in your April issue contains "surprising new data on how scientists feel about religion and spirituality". Although you try to gloss over the irreconciliable differences between science and religion, the data clearly show that <10% of eminent scientists (in three different fields) believe in a god; in addition, over 30% of the scientists specifically label themselves as atheists, compared to just 2% of the general population. These data, in fact, are consistent with earlier studies that you describe as having asked scientists "only a small number of narrow survey questions about religion". Religion is called "faith" for a reason; there is no credible scientific evidence to justify believing in a god. \n\n\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

March 29, 2010

No comparable statistics are reported for the general population to support the claim that "our findings also uncover surprising areas of common ground". The entire second half of the article reports only the survey results for scientists, and degenerates into mere descriptions of statistics, "many scientists", "only a minority", and so on. \n\nThe reporting on religious history, self-description as "spiritual", and attendance at religious services looks pretty hazy. Does going to a funeral, wedding, or other socially obligated function count as attendance at a religious service? Does growing up in a religious household and rejecting that belief system constitute "common ground" with believers?\n\nMy Oxford English Reference Dictionary includes this definition(#3 of 4)for spiritual: "(of the mind etc.) refined, sensitive, not concerned with the material." \n\nHow many of us would rather be described as unrefined, insensitive, concerned only with the material? \n\nLet's not confuse finding common ground with developing a sufficiently large map of the vaguely defined terrain.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 23

March 29, 2010

It appears necessary to conduct such pseudo research to convince the taxpayer that there are still a few "Nice" Scientists around. There is too familiar muddle with the glossary of 'Religion, God, Faith & Spirituality'. Best of the acrobatics can be played with the familiar tools of Tautology, Malobservation, False anologies & perverse Generalizations. Such efforts are politically correct at the least and play to the galleries at the most! The Lay Press sees a poetic justice when at long last, the Science surrenders to Faith and endorses the God. Both the Almighty and the Public forgive you for your earlier improprieties.\n\nWhen will we realize that the faith as an emotion resides in the limbic lobe of the Brain; whereas SKEPTICISM is the foundation stone of Science. The latter gives intellectual gratification and the former offers peace of mind (albeit, due to conditioning).\n\nIt is very easy to confuse a young adult by statements like "Even Science is a Faith!" or "Whether the God is first Truth or Ultimate Truth?"\n\nThose who want to unite Faith & Science are as naive as an 8 year old, who believes that her persuations will bring her divorcing parents together.\n\nSuch efforts will always be illusory as are the efforts to PROVE the Grand Unification Theory. Was it not Bayes who set out too prove the existance of the God by a mathematical theorem. While he brought out an excellent Statistical tool, he concealed it from the World, since he thought it disproves the existance of God.\n\nIn essence, if you believe in God, enjoy it - even if you are a Scientist at emotional plane. For those trying to bring it forth at intellectual level, all I can offer is prayers!!!
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 23

March 29, 2010

What is the propriety of the Generalization, "?suggesting both sides may have more in common than they think"? Because the authors feel so, without paying heed to very fundamentals of Sciences. Better place for such articles is Theological Journals. The Scientist ought not to succumb to such page fillers, whose only aim is to invite correspondence
Avatar of: Bill Tankersley

Bill Tankersley

Posts: 4

March 30, 2010

who concluded with "there is no credible scientific evidence to justify believing in a god."\n\nThere is no scientific evidence at all (quantity = zero) that humans with all our knowledge, equipment, and money can create a single atom of material, much less give it life.\n\nBill T.\n
Avatar of: Michael Holloway

Michael Holloway

Posts: 55

March 30, 2010

Why is it that some atheists have such a problem being tolerant of other people's religious faith? Do they feel they're supplying a necessary counter balance to intolerance of atheism?\n\nanonymous poster wrote:\n"Those who want to unite Faith & Science are as naive as an 8 year old"\n\nPlease reference where someone wrote that they want to "unite" faith and science. I don't doubt there's plenty of nutty posts on the net to that effect. I'm looking for some serious opinion from someone that knows something about theology or religion. What you've written is the standard reductio ad absurdum from extreme atheits. What Ayala, Collins, and many others are pointing out is NOT that science and religion are the same, but that they're compatible in the sense that one can, with ease, be both a believer, and understand and respect good science at the same time. No one is saying that they aren't very different. No matter how many times this is pointed out to anti-religion crusaders though they still come back with the "idiots trying to unite science and religion" reductio. That's just as dishonest as any creationist insisting that evolution is an atheist conspiracy.
Avatar of: Jonathan Heald

Jonathan Heald

Posts: 3

April 6, 2010

Perhaps some posters need to re-read the last paragraph in the article:\n\n"Awareness that many scientists are not hostile to religion and emphasizing areas of overlap between scientists and the general religious population might help to advance constructive engagement between science and faith, lessening the threat factors on both sides."\n\nThe purpose is not to imply that scientists are generally religious, or that they accurately reflect the general population with regards to religious/spiritual beliefs and practices.The purpose is to demonstrate that, contrary to what people like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins would have us think, religion and science are not irreconcilable opponents. \n\nWhy are some scientists so resistant to engaging the public, demonstrating the importance of science, and emphasizing our similarities?
Avatar of: Dov Henis

Dov Henis

Posts: 97

April 6, 2010

\n"Religion, Virtual Reality"\nhttp://www.the-scientist.com/community/posts/list/240/122.page#4701\n\n\nDov Henis\n(Comments From The 22nd Century)
Avatar of: Michael Jacobs

Michael Jacobs

Posts: 2

April 14, 2010

the scientific community is far less religious than the general public, which is stated in the article. Why even stir up this controversy? Religion is not even relevant to science, which is exactly the common ground shared by believer and non-believer scientist.
Avatar of: Gary Huber

Gary Huber

Posts: 23

April 14, 2010

Many scientists do have a very strongly held set of beliefs without any absolute proof. Their religion is called "philosophical materialism", and Darwin is one of the prophets. Why else would thousands of otherwise intelligent atheists spend years of an ascetical, almost monastic existence in the pursuit of scientific activities, forgoing the high salaries that their brains could surely command in other fields?\nWhy else do many of the same absolutely foam at the mouth if anyone challenges the Theory of Evolution? \n\nI'm not putting them down by any means. We are all hard-wired to pursue Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, whether in the laboratory, at church, or both. \n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

April 14, 2010

How is spirituality defined? What exactly is spirituality? The word is thrown around by many and often carries very different meanings. To the very religious it can refer to connecting with God, whereas my high school english teacher, who was an atheist, used the term to describe his enjoyment of hiking through forests. Comparing the 'spirituality' of an atheist to that of a theist can easily be apples and oranges.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 10

April 14, 2010

The real issue at hand is that Science and Faith accomplish very different goals and are concerned with very different agendas.\n\nScience is the means by which we determine how the Universe actually is as opposed to how we believe it to be.\n\nFaith is the means by which we convince ourselves that the Universe is the way we want it to be as opposed to how it actually is.\n\nThe problem is that the methods, mechanisms and goals are diametrically opposed. One of the most ludicrous examples of this can be found in the new head of the NIH; here we have a distinguished scientist proclaiming that morality and love cannot be explained by science and that these human qualities can only be explained through the christian god. This is a problem in that he has undue influence over some of the very research that can and will prove him wrong.\n\nReligion is fine for those that choose it. The problem arises when they seek to place aspects of Reality off limits to science out of fear that their beliefs will be exposed for the delusions they are.\n\nScience can be employed to investigate anything that is actually real. The only things that science cannot be used to further our understanding of are things that do not exist. The epitome of this can be expressed by commenting that if god is real and exists then science can be used to investigate the nature and characteristic properties of this god. If it is impossible for science to do this it can only be so if said god does not exist. The notion that science cannot investigate god or any other aspect of religion is a convenient fallacy used to prevent science from illuminating the dark recesses of religious delusion.\n\nThat said I do not believe for a minute that this debate will ever be resolved as there are plenty of folks out there that have no interest in the truth if it does not support their belief system.
Avatar of: MARK WEBER

MARK WEBER

Posts: 19

April 14, 2010

It seems to me so much of this debate has to do with how it is framed, and yesterday after seeing the TED Talk by Michael Specter, "The Danger of Science Denial" I have a new way of thinking about this. The problem I have is not with Religion. I went to Church as a child and I incorporate religious institutions into my life through my extended family. The problem I have is with science-denial. Science denial is an interesting concept. If Creationism is framed as a form of science-denial, which seems that way to me, then why would we teach it in our science classes? Science denial like any form of denial is a way of shaping minds to have them think in ways that are counter to the facts.

April 14, 2010

The idea that some scientists can be religious as well is not surprising. They are able to compartmentalize their brain, 6 days for science and Sundays for religion! If you are a true scientist you should use the same rigorous standards for accepting any type of theory or hypothesis. Whereas science is based on reason, logic and proof, religion is based on faith which in reality is blind acceptance. How can they be reconciled? A better way to examine this question is to consider how many members of the National Academy of Sciences are believers. "Spirituality" is a term that has no meaning and is an empty term.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 182

April 14, 2010

\n\n\nScience uses references and facts.\n\nIs there a reference for \n\n**morality and love cannot be explained by science and that these human qualities can only be explained through the christian god** ??\n\nWhich are the facts supporting ** he has undue influence over some of the very research that can and will prove him wrong** ??.\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 10

April 14, 2010

I was asked where I got my comment about Collins and his belief that morality can only be explained by god. Here is a source that refers to his book (The Language of God) in which he outlines these beliefs:\n\nhttp://pandasthumb.org/archives/2009/07/francis-collins-3.html\n\nMy point is that his faith short-circuits his reasoning centers and this is not a good characteristic of a scientist. Given the facts, it is hard to accept that a person can legitimately be a scientist and a believer; while in practice it is possible for such people to do good science in one area that does not conflict with their beliefs, these very same people will routinely reject data that does conflict with their beliefs and this makes me rather uncomfortable. It is one thing in a rank and file scientist, entirely another matter when it comes to the head of an institution such as the NIH.\n\nAs for how he may be able to influence research into areas that conflict with his beliefs it is quite easy to see how this might come about. Imagine a grant application intended to follow up on findings that identify the centers of the brain that form the basis for our moral decisions? How about research that involves any other controversial science that conflicts with the Christian religion? Is it not rather obvious that there are many intersections where this might be a problem? \n\nIt is all too easy for believers to be unaware of their personal bias and how it influences their decisions. A man in his position needs to be as free as possible from any possibility of such bias, and by his own writings Collins is clearly susceptible to potential bias arising from his personal beliefs.
Avatar of: Tom Wanamaker

Tom Wanamaker

Posts: 4

April 14, 2010

I'm sure that there are some who rated the article so low because they are disappointed with The Scientist for bothering to acknowledge the existence of religion as well as its influence on the scientific endeavor. \n\nAnother possible reason for low ratings is the fact that the article doesn't really seem to tell us anything that we don't already know: professional scientists are less likely to be religious than the general public, but many researchers nonetheless manage to maintain spiritual/religious views while doing good science. I suppose good scientists should collect some data before making their conclusions, but these conclusions seem to be self-evident. \n\nThe bigger question is what to do with the information. I teach in a high school and I see one of my primary objectives to be educating future scientists (and citizens) about what science is and is not. \n\nI let my students know that religious education is a job I will leave to their parents and religious leaders. For some, any scientific finding that contradicts their fundamentalist views makes ALL of science suspect (which can then create problems for all of us in the science business). The good news is that when I show respect for their religious views, nearly all of my students and their families will reciprocate. \n\nI think that getting a greater number of people to understand and accept science is a more constructive approach than trying to get them to let go of religion. Folks like Dawkins may be right, but by being so militantly anti-religion, I think that they can end up doing more harm than good.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 5

April 14, 2010

I think that some of you are putting all religions in the same category as fundamentalists. Judaism and Catholicism are two religions that I am most familiar with, and both of them put a high value on scientific discovery and the search for truth whether it be in the material world of science or the matters pertaining to the spirit. For example, every academic or scientific institution I have ever dealt with has jews who are leaders in their field of science. Moreover, the Vatican has had its own observatory since the 18th century and houses a lot of work in astronomy. Also, may I remind you that Gregor Mendel was a monk.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 3

April 14, 2010

Lack of common Ground is not our problem and finding it is not a solution.\n\nA difference about religion does not make us incompatible as humans. To say that scientists and religious people can find common ground doesn't get us anywhere - of course we have common ground: I don't hate my mother because she believes in God, and she doesn't hate science though she goes to church. She can see the value in both. \n\nA lack of common ground in general (which is what this article claims that we have surprisingly much of) is not where are problems come from. They come from the fact that people are trying to bring Sunday school into the science classroom. Scientists bristle, and respond by criticizing the religious ideas and pointing out how they are different from science. It is a necessary defense. It does not mean that scientists want (or expect) religion to go away. They are merely pointing out that it doesn't fit in the science classroom, and no amount of "spirituality" or common ground will change that.
Avatar of: Roselyn Cerutis

Roselyn Cerutis

Posts: 19

April 14, 2010

\nI was trained (and believe) that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.\n\nI agree with Mark's comments about science deniers. Excoriating someone else's religious beliefs is counterproductive, and does not further the scientific cause....
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 182

April 14, 2010

\n\n\n\nNew Funding Announcements for Applications on\n\n** Centers of the brain that form the basis for our moral decisions**\n\n** Controversial science that conflicts with the Christian religion**\n\nStudy Section Acronym: CB (Christian Brain)\n\nStudy Section Description: Controversial Brain in conflict with controversial moral without controversial science.\n\nSRO: Francis Collins, MD, PhD\n\nMEMBERSHIP ROSTER\n\nCHAIRPERSON\n\nFrancis Collins, MD, PhD\nProfessor Center High Christianity\nHeavenknows, WK, 98075\n\nMEMBERS\n\nAlloween Geraldine, MD\nProfessor Center for Christian Physics\nHellknows, CK, 58701\n\nBilanciato Michael, PhD\nAssociate Professor University Christian Mathematics\nLimboknows, TH, 10435\n\nCollins Francis Again, MD\nProfessor Center Christian Genomics\nGodlanguage, GH, 15432\n\nDietrich Marlene, MD, MBA\nProfessor Center for Christian Economics\nHolycows, PP, 34680\n\nPfeiffer Edith, MD, PhD\nAssociate Professor\nUniversity of Christus Christa Christum\nKristinalis, CA, 75320\n\nAD HOC REVIEWERS\n\nFrancis Collins, MD, PhD\nNIH Director and God\nBensalem, NU, 21200\n\n\nAll Christians are encouraged to apply.\n\n\nInquiries and letter of intent should be directed to Francis Collins, MD\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 9

April 14, 2010

Atheists Scientists think they are above either positive or negative evidence of God?s existence. They just avoid this discussion and state that there isn?t any evidence acceptable to them?so there isn?t a God and this is silly discussion. The so-called misuse of the ?null hypothesis?. Would a GOOD 14th century European Scientist declare that North America did not exist because there was no evidence?at least in Europe? I'm sure many mediocre 14th century Scientist did. However, we actually don?t really practice science this way. We make a hypothesis and then we test the hypothesis. One might make a very valid hypothesis that God does not exist. But...good scientists don?t close their minds to the possibility that their pet HYPOTHESIS may be completely wrong. \n\nWith that said, personally...I?m actually not sure but I reserve my belief. In my head, I?m basically agnostic but am certain that there are forces much more powerful than myself. Natural disasters, when I die, etc? Many, many important events in my life have been "out of my control". \n\nThere is so much ignorance on both ?religious? extremes?literal fundamentalist to confirmed atheists. Like political extremist, both sides meet at the poles of the ideological circle. \n\nFor the record...Darwin was actually a very religious person. Please try reading the ?Origin of Species?. Here?s one example:\n?Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual. When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings, which lived long before the first bed of the Cambrian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled.?\n\nHere, Darwin is actually giving more credit to his image (or hypothesis) of a "creator"...for coming up with such an amazing system of called evolution. \n\nHaving a closed mind is not a valuable characteristic for a scientist. \n
Avatar of: Rolando Calderon

Rolando Calderon

Posts: 2

April 14, 2010

Religion is a personal matter:Let it stand where it belongs
Avatar of: Gary Brooke

Gary Brooke

Posts: 3

April 14, 2010

I find this kind of article fairly sad, but it does raise enough irritation in enough people (like myself) to actually make a comment (so I guess it has worked on that level). The biggest problem is what do you mean by spiritual? For a frank informed debate, we require adequate definitions. Spiritual is not adequate ? it could mean anything from believing that fairies created the universe to the belief in ghosts. At any level, it is not compatible with science as several excellent commentators have already discussed. Furthermore, atheist scientists do not feel threatened by fundamentalists per se ? it is the fundamentalists who feel threatened by science as it does so much to undermine their belief systems.
Avatar of: Fred Schaufele

Fred Schaufele

Posts: 52

April 14, 2010

The article is an example of poor science writing (science used very loosely here) in which the authors say 'I want to write that scientists have common ground with the large religious population'. So the article focusses on the 'spritual' response, apparently because it was the only area approaching the pre-determined, desired common ground. Most of the responders, like me, seem to be irritated because the writers of the article started with an agenda (find common ground), found little but proceeded to focus on that. We reject that in a research manuscript and reject it from The Scientist magazine.\n\nAs many others have correctly pointed out, spirtual can mean many different things to many people. I am not spritual in the same sense that some of my religious relatives may be. But I reject the notion that they have exclusive domain over the interpretation of spiritual (or for that matter ethical) solely as a religious term. \n\nI am equally irritated by the petty tone of many of the responses. It is proper to vigorously defend one's point of view, But one can do so while respecting that everybody is entitled to her/his own opinion on all matters. If I can't convince you to be 'kind' on purely social grounds, then please be aware that the inclusion of such attacks is counterproductive to convincing others of your viewpoint.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 107

April 14, 2010

A fundamental flaw in this analysis is the idea that spirituality necessarily has anything to do with religion.\n\nHere are some spiritual values that are shared by every atheist I know: love of family and friends, honesty and love of truth, hope for the future, curiosity, respect for life, and awe at the size and complexity of the universe. Even Richard Dawkins feels these things, but I'm sure he would not admit to being spiritual on a questionaire like this, simply out of embarassment at the silly use his answer would be put to.
Avatar of: Tom Thunnell

Tom Thunnell

Posts: 6

April 15, 2010

The capacity for the toleration of cognitive dissonance among otherwise intelligent people never ceases to amaze me !\n\nTom Thunnell
Avatar of: Jim Bowman

Jim Bowman

Posts: 1

April 15, 2010

I can't seem to detect any conflict between science and Christianity. Science tells me that a whole lot of energy went wild about 13.8 billion years ago resulting in the universe as we currently know it. What science (Darwin, Dawkins, Hawking, etc) can't seem to tell me is where all that energy came from before that point in time. So I don't have a problem that science can't confirm that God was there first - and will certainly outlast all of us and our universe (as we know it).
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 10

April 15, 2010

One thing that I think is clear both from the comments about this article and my experience in general is that spirituality means very different things to many different people.\n\nI am what most would describe as an athiest in that I do not believe there are any supernatural gods of any kind and that the properties of the Universe prohibit such entities from existing - in other words, magic and any other supernatural force is the invention of human minds and nothing else. The closest thing to a god I can conceive of is an entity that has such a deep understanding of the properties of the Universe that they can wield technology that is as advanced as possible and therefore have capabilities to do things that seem godlike. See A.C. Clarke's comment about sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic.\n\nThat said, I consider myself to be a deeply spiritual person but not in the mystical sense. To me my spirituality stems from contemplation of my place in the Universe, my sense of meaning such as it is, how I interact with others, my relationships and my efforts to become the best person I am capable of being. No magic, no supernatural planes or beings, just plain introspection and contemplation along with a sense of awe and respect for the Universe. Thus one can be spiritual without being religious.\n\nI also want to comment on the argument that just because we do not know god exists does not mean he does not exist. This is not the same as the argument that just because 14th century cartographers did not know about North America it did not exist. The crucial difference is that the god(s) described by Christianity and most religions are supernatural beings with magical powers, and that is pretty easy to show as being impossible given the Universe we live in. Everything we know about the Laws of Nature shows them to be inviolate, and nothing suggests this will ever change. The strongest statement one can make is that we do not yet fully understand all these laws, but that does not provide any support for the idea that a supernatural god can or does exist. What we do not yet know about the full nature of all the laws is pretty well defined and has no room for magic of any kind, so how can such a god exist?\n\nFurthermore it is clear that the term Supernatural refers to one of two things; either things we have yet to understand about Nature and which are actually natural, and things that are the invention of human minds and do not in fact exist. This means that there really is nothing supernatural that exists for if it actually exists it is in fact natural. Thus, by definition, a supernatural god cannot exist.\n\nUltimately science and religion cannot be reconciled from the perspective of religious belief as science defines Reality as it is while religion defines Reality as the believer wants it to be. They can be reconciled, however, from the perspective of science as science can study religious belief in humans and develop a detailed and accurate model of how such belief comes about and what purpose it serves from an evolutionary perspective.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 9

April 15, 2010

The idea of a 14th century map maker/scientist being totally convinced that North America can't exist is total relevant to this discussion. This conclusion was based on essentially negative results. How many examples exist throughout history of the majority of scientist being absolutely certain of something that later turns out to be totally wrong? Most of these conclusions were based on negative results or subjective desires to understand the universe before...we actually understood...much. It makes us feel comfortable to think we know better...and possibly others are just simply ignorant. We have the real knowledge...this desire to know the truth, before we actually know...much, is very similar to the born again types. They have some secret knowledge...that most others don't have. These type of social approaches are much more about power than searching for truth. \n\nThe extreme use of words like supernatural or magic just distorts this discussion. Of course it's easy to attack religious fundamentalist. This is just an extremist type of argumentative tactic to make points...usually used in political discussion...from extreme opponents on opposite sides. It is certainly possible that a God or force beyond our current knowledge-base exists that somehow acts within natural forces as we may or may not understand or comprehend these natural forces at this time. That a God exists that isn't describe correctly by the bible...as written by humans long ago. The so-called non-literal interpreter of...spirituality or some forms of organized religion. This is a formal possibility...certainly. Of course, a scientist may decide to pick and then test a hypothesis that God certainly can not exist. I do wish we knew either way because it might make life simpler. I'm sorry to say the conclusion that God doesn't exist can't be made without direct evidence either way. We don't do real science this way. \n\nUse of negative results is extremely risky. Look what happened to the flat earthers, those that thought proteins must contain the genetic materal, etc... Distorting this discussion by using words like magic isn't that helpful.
Avatar of: Jim Clark

Jim Clark

Posts: 14

April 15, 2010

Hi\n\nA number of the comments to this piece demonstrate the dangers of the thesis that science and religion should "make nice" to one another because they share common ground. Aside from the erroneous nature of this conclusion empirically, as pointed out by a number of people, this view only furthers unwarranted efforts to cloud very real and important differences between science and religion.\n\nFor example, someone writes that both science and religion are based on faith, the former being faith in physical materialism. Sorry, scientific methods and theories based on the premise of physical materialism, naturalism, whatever, have been substantiated so many times in so many domains that the epistemological foundations of science are beyond dispute, unlike the epistomological bases for religious beliefs.\n\nOthers allude to past beliefs that have been discredited, drawing analogies to current beliefs of scientists. Sorry again, but many of those past beliefs were NOT based on the kinds of firm footing that much of contemporary science is based on. To draw a parallel between the beliefs of 14th century people about the then unknown world and today's scientific views is ludicrous and serves primarily to allow people so inclined to dismiss science.\n\nRelated to the above, some commenters allude to keeping an open mind. Keeping an open mind, however, does not mean that all ideas are equally credible or that scientific beliefs never become so well established that for all intensive purposes we can treat them as certain. Moreover, attaching some degree of uncertainty to scientific beliefs in no way increases the much lower estimates of the truth value of beliefs not tested in like empirical manner.\n\nOthers allude to the absence of proof not being proof of absence. But this runs contrary to scientific thinking. In science, we don't believe things absent good reason and act as though our belief was true until negative results occur. There is some reason to propose the idea in the first place (e.g., fit with data, theoretical inference) and to be maintained the idea must past multiple tests. Scientific confidence increases with the rigour of the tests passed. This is not to deny that during the creative process scientists might indeed generate all kinds of wild possibilities. But these possibilities are hypotheses to be tested, not facts or laws until tested.\n\nThere are other false claims (e.g., Darwin was religious ... who knew?), which if they were in a scientific journal, would lead to serious charges (probably against the editor as well as the author). But of course, in this public forum debating science and religion, why should one feel constrained by such quaint scientific notions as validity and truth? The point, for some people at least, appears to be to undermine the scientific view, and the ends justify the means.\n\nOne last point ... it is an empirical question whether polite debate or more challenging arguments are more effective (toward what ends?), but my impression is that we might need both, perhaps depending on the audience.\n\nTake care\nJim
Avatar of: Albert Marinus

Albert Marinus

Posts: 2

April 16, 2010

... you need so many, i didn't. Visit my site http://genastropsychica.blogspot.com/ for example differender then others, errorer then internet, noisier then Newton, heavyer then Einstein, lighter then Hawking, quietner then Higgs, believeble then Freud, lazyer then Plato. Better then me but same bibles. On the laddersitecounter at the 88st (april 16th) place of the top 300 ranklist. In already 12 days more then 530 readers [700 hits] from all over the world, even your president until Russia. Ore the Pope and Oprah too, thanks YouTube also by typing '' starstwarning ''. Love your enemies as you save your friends and win no loss ...
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 10

April 16, 2010

I have seen many times the claim that when one dismisses the supernatural one has a closed mind.\n\nThis is simply untrue. It is not unreasonable to dismiss specious claims unsubstantiated by any evidence especially when there is substantial evidence to the contrary. This is not a sign of a closed mind, rather, it is evidence of rationality.\n\nTo date there has not been a single case of valid evidence for the supernatural being verified. Thus, to be extremely skeptical of any claims of the supernatural is rational, not evidence for a closed mind. Taken further, the supernatural claims in most if not all cases fly in the face of all that we know about Reality and that alone is a solid basis for extreme skepticism. Finally, in the rare event that something claimed to be supernatural actually turns out to be real in some way, it inevitably ends up being a natural phenomenon previously unknown or poorly understood by the original observer. This is where the notion of a closed mind comes from however it is not a valid interpretation. What happens is that the phenomenon is evaluated rationally and some aspect of it - the factual aspect - turns out to have merit. This is the rational approach to such claims. While few survive this, those that do are not rejected once understood. Inevitably these fail to completely overturn the existing models of Reality, at best they modify them somewhat.\n\nNo, it is not evidence of a closed mind to reject obviously absurd claims of the supernatural. The true sign of a closed mind is to reject evidence of the natural in favor of the supernatural, and this we see all around us. I have experience many people that refuse to accept natural explanations for thier supernatural claims no matter how clear and obvious they may be. That is the true sign of a closed mind.\n\nRegards, another Jim.
Avatar of: David Gilley

David Gilley

Posts: 9

April 16, 2010

A serious misconception exists by both anti-evolution types and pseudo-intellectual types...that Darwin didn't believe in God. That somehow Darwin's theory disproves the existence of a Creator (Darwin used this exact word in Origin of Species). Make sure to read about Darwin's life (several good texts are available) and closely read his writings...especially Origin of Species. I know this is hard to swallow for those that believe there is no God but take comfort that Darwin may have been wrong...if it makes you feel better. It certainly makes life more complicated. \n\nDarwin's own words from Origin of Species (very end):\n\nThere is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.\n\nSome with strong positions either way either love this phrase or...have had real problems with this writing and claimed that Darwin's wife made him write this. The point is...Darwin wrote this himself and published it. The problem is...very few people have actually read his writings. Both sides make up their own projections of his writings. \n\nQuestioning is not dangerous but our job as scientist. Check your facts before expounding...this act is highly dangerous...because it misleads.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 10

April 16, 2010

However, this does not alter the validity of his work as so many believers want to believe...\n\nIt is, however, a fallacy that he recanted his work on his deathbed. He did no such thing (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Hope )\n\nOne thing I find fascinating about all this is how quick believers are to cry foul when a scientist makes a mistake yet will never admit or acknowledge the mistakes they themselves build their beliefs upon. The word disingenuous comes to mind.\n\nBack to topic. I find it sad that people feel that science must be reconciled with faith when it is clear they have little in common and serve diametrically opposed purposes. Science is the means by which we seek to understand the true nature of Reality while faith is the means by which we seek to impose our need for things to be a certain way on Reality. They can never be reconciled for they are diametrically opposed.\n\nScience is investigative, faith is declarative. Those that need faith often have little use for science as it tends to get in their way. Scientists that profess faith, on the other hand, are simply being human as many humans seem to have a need for the comfort of faith in a world that is not always as they want it to be. Some of us, however, have managed to just accept the world the way it is and are more interested in understanding what it is as opposed to wanting it to be a certain way.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 9

April 16, 2010

The point is that believing or claiming to know for sure that there is no God/Higher power/Creator/Budda/Progenitor is an act of faith or belief, just as much as being certain there is a God described by fundamentalist bible pushers. Hate to disrupt the illusion grandeur/ominpotent. \n\nNothing this important is above the principle of testing a hypothesis. Often the argument goes that we don't need to disprove the existence of something absurd like a two headed, polka dotted giraffe in Africa. This is followed by a confident laugh that having to disprove the existence of God is somehow similar or just ridiculous.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 10

April 16, 2010

"The point is that believing or claiming to know for sure that there is no God/Higher power/Creator/Budda/Progenitor is an act of faith or belief, just as much as being certain there is a God described by fundamentalist bible pushers. Hate to disrupt the illusion grandeur/ominpotent. "\n\nThis is something of a fallacy. While I would not take the position of knowing for sure that there is no god of some sort, it is very reasonable to state that given the facts we have in hand regarding the nature of the Universe there is no possiblity of a supernatural god existing. This is not a statement of faith in any way, it is a simple observation of the facts. One key point about these facts is that they strongly suggest (I cannot say this strongly enough) that it is not possible for such a supernatural god to exist. The Laws of Nature, whatever they may be, truly appear to be immutable. Any belief in a being capable of violating them has no basis whatsoever in fact whereas a conclusion that this is not possible is strongly supported by a large body of fact.\n\nThat said, another way one can go about it is to say something like "Given what we know to be true about the Universe and given how the Christian God is described in the Bible it is possible to state with reasonable certainty this God cannot exist as described in the Bible". This statement rests upon a massive body of knowledge regarding the Universe we live in and a solid understanding of how the Bible is quite inconsistent and irreconcilable in many ways with said Universe. Familiarity with the Bible combined with our knowledge of the Universe provides the data required to make such a statement, and it is again not a statement of Faith.\n\nNow, conversely, one can only make a statement to the effect that any god exists out of Faith for we have no tangible evidence of any sort to support such a statement.\n\nThus the simple truth is that Faith, once again, does not have any real use in science for Faith is the means by which we convince ourselves the Universe is how we want it to be as opposed to how it actually is. We need Faith to base our belief in God upon for the simple matter that the Universe does not contain any tangible evidence we can use to arrive at the conclusion that God exists.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 6

April 16, 2010

What we know about religions today is only the reflect of the thoughts of their chiefs which do not want that we know more about God because they fear about losing their power over us. So you must do a distinction between being spiritual and religious today. Spirituality has nothing in common with modern religions. You may be spiritual without being religious. I am spiritual but not religious, and I know from my deepest heart that God exists.\nFundations of ancien (more than 2000 BC) religions were closely linked to God and were rich of knowledge about the universe, and about the human being. \nScience only begins to understand universe, which is built based on mathematical rules and not on hazard events, from the smalest to the biggest. "What is below is like what is up". And you can add "What is in my heart is like what is out of my heart". Consider only that the electomagnetic field of the heart is a torus, the same torus standing for the form of the electomagnetic fields of solar systems, galaxies and so on. If you compare the form of the orbits of Sirius A (close to Orion ring and Pleiades) and Sirius B (a white dwarf of Sirius A) with the form of the DNA helix, you will see that they are the same. And a lot of ancien civilizations known that reality, and even more the Dogons, an african tribe called "uncivilized" !!!, while modern scientists have just discovered that since 80's! \n\nScience, spirituality and religion? When scientists start to consider the unvaluable knowledge of the very ancien religions and spiritual peoples, it will do a fabulous jump ahead! But humankind is not ready yet!\n
Avatar of: Art Caylor

Art Caylor

Posts: 1

April 16, 2010

Let not certainty become arrogance. Are not all scientist human, and all humans imperfect? Is our history of science not littered with disputes and rectifications of past 'certainties'? If we strive to be honest, perhaps we should use great care with boasts such as 'always' and 'never'; or humiliation and a full plate of crow may be our just reward.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 9

April 16, 2010

RE: "This is something of a fallacy. While I would not take the position of knowing for sure that there is no god of some sort, it is very reasonable to state that given the facts we have in hand regarding the nature of the Universe there is no possiblity of a supernatural god existing. This is not a statement of faith in any way, it is a simple observation of the facts."\n\nThis seems to be basically the thoughts of an agnostic, which is the major point of keeping the mind open. It's always easy to tear down the extremes by using words like supernatural/magic/paranormal/ghosts. Darwin seemed to believe in a Creator...that wasn't supernatural (in the literal biblical way)...but "started" in some unknown way "natural" evolution. \n\nAlso, it's very difficult for me to understand a scientist being a confirmed/pure atheist or pure religous fundamentalist, which have to be mostly based on belief. There isn't anything wrong with having beliefs...it's just not evidence based/hypothesis driven science of an extremely valid/interesting topic area. \n\n
Avatar of: daniel miller

daniel miller

Posts: 40

April 16, 2010

The headline tries to make an analogy that is not true. Religion, particularly fundamentalism, and spirituality are very different. While there are particular flavors of religion that can exist quite nicely with science, fundamentalism is not one of them. By their very being, fundamentalists insist that their dogma trumps any contradictory scientific evidence. That's what fundamentalism is all about.\n\nSpirituality on the other hand is more a feeling that there is more to life than Slobodnik's game where the prize for surviving this moment is continuing to live the next moment. Spirituality gives people the opportunity to make their own reasons for existence and to live according to their own code of behavior. Spirituality does not require some sort of supernatural being or some supernatural essence the way most religions do.\n\nFor what it's worth, the existence or nonexistence of God is totally irrelevant because in all human existence there has never been a moment when something happened that required His/Her existence and there is little prospect for it to happen in the future. That means that if God exists, s/he has no material effect on this universe, and if not, then again s/he has no effect.
Avatar of: Gary Huber

Gary Huber

Posts: 23

April 17, 2010

Many of the comments have charged that believers in a God have no evidence to back their belief, and then they contrast this with science, which has lots of evidence. First of all, religious believers can legitimately point to a wide variety of evidence, such as historical, philosophical, and singular events in their own lives. One can dispute their chain of arguments or their assumptions, but to say that they are irrational, have a "cognitive disconnect", or that there is no reasoning going on is simply false. Sure, you cannot use test tubes or computer models to prove that someone rose from the dead, got reincarnated, is a prophet, or evolved blindly from an organic soup, but there are other ways, besides scientific experiments, of apprehending the truth. \n\nSecondly, science is not a meant to be a religion or even a world-view. It is a tool, and nothing more. There is nothing to keep a believing Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, or a member of any other major religion from using the tools of science. These tools include the laws of math, equations of physics, and observations of biology. Nothing in any of the teachings of the major religions prevents productive use of these tools.\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 9

April 18, 2010

Science is a search for truth. DNA sequencing, Westerns, computer modeling, microscopes, etc...are tools used in science. \n\nUnneeded controversy arises when extreme fundamentalists...from the atheist side like so-called intellectuals such as Dawkins to born again bible pushers such as Collins...claim to "know" the absolute truth. Collins basically sequences DNA (being scooped by a relatively small private company). He uses the tools of science but this isn't science itself. This is technical work that can lead to science. He is hopefully a good administrator(the main function of the NIH Director), because NIH needs a lot of help at this time. Dawkins is even further away from actual science, just distorting or cherry picking historic/social events to justify his strong opinion that God does not exist. He uses silly and extreme language to make pseudo-intellectual arguments to score points to "beat" the other side...to "win" his game. This is not science or at all useful. Don't fall for either approach. The interesting things is that they are essentially the same approach.\n\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 182

April 18, 2010

\nI don?t know much about Dawkins but I don?t think he has ever claimed to know the absolute truth. \nIn the past, F. Collins spoke publicly about his theistic view of the world. And he got all the responses that he needed. As an individual he was entitled to do so. And so was/is Dawkins. We all are entitled to debate on theirs, as well as others opposite views. There is nothing to fear about controversial topics when there is respect and genuine interest in advancing any public discourse. However, it is disappointing to observe the apparent interest in mixing NIH with the ?religious? discourse, focusing it on Francis Collins. After his confirmation as Director of NIH, he publicly stated that he has no religious agenda for NIH. So far, the indications are that Collins and the NIH leadership, in dialogue with the scientific community and health organizations, are entirely focused on advancing the practice of true and effective science and medicine to the benefit of the public. It seems that going back again and again on statements that he might or might not have said can only distract the attention on the true goals of NIH and could be interpreted as a subtle way of undermining his role and effectiveness as NIH Director. \nThe biography and credentials of Francis Collins are public. There is no scientific need for ?casual reports? on Collins?s Curriculum Vitae.\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 9

April 18, 2010

The point is that fundamentalist do indeed claim to know the absolute true about God. Try reading what these two have published. This is a major topic of this discussion here. Using Dawkins or Collins is just to make a point regarding extremist beliefs not to attack these two very public figures...and certainly not whether Collins is qualified to be director of NIH. He might be and hopefully he is. The tactic of distraction in an argument seems to work well temporarily in political discussion, usually used by the right, but isn't very effective in a real discourse.\n\nOf course, this isn't a scientific discussion as pursued in our journal articles and just because something has been discussed before...isn't a very good argument to cease further discussion.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 182

April 18, 2010

\n\n**Using Dawkins or Collins is just to make a point regarding extremist beliefs **\n\nClassifying Dawkins and Collins as fundamentalists sounds like an **extremist belief**. As far as I can tell, both of them are strong believers and supporters of evolution. \nA fundamental difference between the two lies, I think, in their personal interpretation, not scientifically based, on how the world could have evolved and continue to evolve. \nAs other posters have said: science can?t prove whether God does or does not exist. An ongoing discussion on the topic can be intellectually stimulating and provide new ways for a more ? de facto? progressive and transformative society. Imposing one or the other?s view of the world would represent a ?backward step?. In any case, the subject has, in essence, nothing to do with NIH and should be kept out of her domain. \n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 9

April 18, 2010

RE:**Using Dawkins or Collins is just to make a point regarding extremist beliefs **\n\nTurning a point back back onto your "opponent" just turns a discourse into a circular argument. Potentially effective in a scored debating contest but doesn't really work in leading a discourse forward. Both Collins and Hawkins have extreme points of view regarding the existence of God. This is in the public record and Collins was specifically mentioned in this article and had been unfairly attacked by extreme believers of atheism. Hawkin's had been praised/heralded as being above it all. With that said, using the word fundamentalist may be inappropriate in this context because it is a highly charged word. \n\nHowever, Wikapedia defines fundamentalist as:\n a belief in a strict adherence to a set of basic principles (often religious in nature), sometimes as a reaction to perceived doctrinal compromises with modern social and political life. (therefore, not sure this word doesn't apply here...sorry). \n\nNo offense intended in comments regarding NIH...though the strength and weakness of NIH are certainly open to discussion at another time.\nThe thread of this online discussion regarded "spiritual" views of the scientific community.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 182

April 18, 2010

\n\nI agree that ?Collins had been unfairly attacked by extreme believers of atheism?, which is distressing. It doesn?t impress me that ?Dawkins had been praised/heralded as being above it all?. I personally think that there is an underlying consequential way of understanding and exercising economic power. But I could be wrong. \n\n

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