Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think

By Elaine Howard Ecklund | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
No God on the Quad:
Efforts Toward a Purely Secular University

Of the 21 elite universities where I surveyed and interviewed scientists, eight began with a religious mission. None of the universities is religiously affiliated today. Historian George Marsden, in his eloquently titled book The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief, argues that the modern American university began with a soul that sprang from religious roots and was later trammeled by movements to secularize the academy. Historians Jon Roberts and James Turner support his points by arguing that the sciences were at the center of these secularizing social movements. In time, science was separated from any reliance on religious support, and many scientists took up their own unique value system in which science was considered the superior form of knowledge. The sciences basically stopped needing to engage with religion in any meaningful way. (Religion has certainly not disappeared from these institutions as a whole. Four of the ones I studied currently have a divinity school. And 19 house a center, department, or program devoted to the academic study of religion.)1

At the same time, the vision of the university itself has changed. Once, a primary mission of the university was moral instruction and character building. In such an environment, efforts to integrate faith and learning were paramount.2 Universities like Harvard and Duke, with religious roots, have gradually shifted away from their faith origins in favor of an Enlightenment vision of autonomous human reason. For centuries, Harvard’s coat of arms had portrayed three open books—two face up and one face down. The facedown one represented the portion of truth that could not be discovered by man but must be revealed from God. In a display of secularization, however, Harvard later flipped the third book, in what some considered an effort to flaunt humanity’s potential to obtain all knowledge through reason. And as Harvard’s example shows, pursuing this type of reason implicitly means for

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