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.
Maybe its because I teach at a Community college that is right next to a California mission, but I can certainly attest that there are quite a few religious people who teach at our school, although nobody really goes around announcing their religious affiliation, any more than many people going around announcing their political affiliation.
I recently interviewed some friends and wrote on mathematician's ways of thinking on their subject, showing a close relation of that and some traditions of 'religious' thinking. Esp. the russian story described there had a big influence on modern mathematics. (link)
As a first generation atheist, I ...no, atheist is too strong a word, too much belief tied in with any ..ist. Besides, I like the whole concept of gods although just one is boring, especially a punitive or good-goody one. Egyptian gods are the most endearing. A god of echoes! or one of shadows; now those are gods I can cozy up to. Thor? no, thanks. Allah? too much like Thor. The far east is reputed to have some cool gods. I'll have to look into those. Religiosity is a whole different matter. Too much like veganism. Claustrophobic, really.
Gods are cool, just so long as I don't have to bow down to one. I think if I had had to, I might see the whole thing differently.
David Miliband, who is probably the leading candidate to replace Gordon Brown as leader of the U.K. Labour Party, and a likely future Prime Minister, is a second/third (?) generation (Jewish) atheist. He says, "I have huge respect for people of all faiths, actually. But I also have to be honest about where I'm coming from. ... I've thought about this, and I'm an atheist. I say that. I'm not a person of faith myself. And I think that one's got to be able to say that. In that sense, it's not a problem or a difficulty. But equally, it's not something I go around broadcasting."
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