Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think

By Elaine Howard Ecklund | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
The Voice of Faith

When I talked with scientists at our nation’s elite universities about their religious colleagues, no one was mentioned more often than Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. At the time of these interviews, Collins was at the helm of the Human Genome Project, the largest effort ever to map the intricacies of DNA, the road map of life. Collins is also an outspoken evangelical Christian and recent author of The Language of God. In a book that is part autobiography and part science, he writes about his upbringing by flower-child parents who met at Yale and raised him on a farm in the Shenandoah Valley of rural Virginia.

Although I did not interview him as part of this study, Collins represents a group of scientists for whom religion is important now but was not an important part of childhood. These individuals came to faith—and particularly to an understanding of how their religious traditions connected with their lives as scientists—over the course of a struggle. Another group of religious scientists were raised in a religious home. These too experienced a struggle, trying to maintain faith in the midst of traditions that often suppressed questioning. For religious scientists, the struggle between faith and science generally occurred in adolescence or young adulthood rather than after receiving their training in science.

Surprisingly, given public stereotypes of scientists as atheists and religionhaters, these scientists came through such struggles to a place where they do not see any conflict between religion and science.1 As we’ll discover, scientists who have achieved such reconciliation generally understand their faith traditions differently than do the nonscientists who share their faith. If we look closely, however, it’s possible to see some areas of overlap between these scientists and religious members of the general public. Also contrary to stereotypes put forth by some nonreligious scientists, believers did not consider their traditions and beliefs influential on how they conducted their research. None of the religious scientists I talked with supported the theory of intelligent design.

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