Chris Mooney interviewed Elaine Howard Ecklund about her new book Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think on Point of Inquiry last week. I was especially interested in what she said about first and second generation atheists. I think the case for atheism is strong and I enjoy making it, but I don't have the anti-religious zeal of the new atheists. This has always puzzled me. Why can't I get on board? Ecklund explained that my attitude is typical of second generation atheists. (I grew up in a Jewish but godless household--there was no God talk, but also no anti-God talk.) The vigorously anti-religious atheists tend to be first generation, she says. I'm not sure if this was just her impression from the hundreds of interviews she conducted, or she collected statistics on the matter. (What's wrong with Borders? They don't have the book!)
More interesting stuff--she found that many religious scientists are reluctant to admit to their colleagues that they are religious. Those who are religious are certainly in the minority. She found that roughly 1/3 of scientists are agnostics and 1/3 are atheists. Some will dismiss her because of her Templeton funding, but she didn't sound like a propagandist to me. In fact, she observed that scientists are less religious the higher up they are in the academic hierarchy. There's more religiosity among scientists who teach at community colleges. That's not the sort of message the Templeton crowd finds appealing. She's found 10 times as much non-belief among scientists as there is in the general population. That doesn't boost the Templeton message that religion and science go happily together.