Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Science, Education, Religion and Irreligion

"A large amount of statistical material has been gathered and analyzed by sociologists of religion in the effort to discover what correlation exists, if any, between religious belief and achievement in the natural and human sciences. Two conclusions from these studies are of interest in my present discussion. The first is this. To quote Professor Robert Wuthnow, professor of sociology at Princeton, 'virtually all surveys and polls, whether of the general public, college students, church members or clergy, show inverse relations between exposure to higher education and adherence to core religious tenets' (The Sacred in a Secular Age, p. 189). In other words, the better educated you are in our modern society, the less time you have for religion. But, and this is the significant point, the survey shows that, to quote Wuthnow again, 'it is the irreligious who are selected into academic careers in the first place, not that the process of being socialized into the academic life causes them to become less and less religious' (p. 191). The second finding in this. The correlation between academic life and irreligion is much higher in the social sciences and the humanities than it is among natural sciences- physics, chemistry, and biology. Atomic physicists are much more likely to believe in God than sociologists. These two facts taken together lead Professor Wuthnow to make an interesting suggestion, based on the work of the sociology of science. Science, like every human activity, is a socially embedded exercise and therefore scientists are under the necessity of demarcating the boundaries of their exercise. The editor of a scientific magazine has to be able to recognize what is science and what is not. This boundary definition is much easier in the case of the natural sciences like physics and chemistry. These sciences have a high degree to clarity and internal consistency. It is more difficult in the case of sciences like sociology, economics, psychology, and even more in the humanities, to say where exactly the boundary is to be drawn. Yet the drawing of the boundary is essential to the corporate sense of identity without which the scientific community cannot flourish. Wuthnow suggests that the two facts which I have referred to can best be explained on the hypothesis that the irreligion of academics is essentially a matter of boundary demarcation. It is clear that it is not the contents of these academic disciplines themselves which cause alienation from religion. The irreligion, insofar as it has been documented, is a factor at the point of entry into the study, not a product of it."

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