Religious Scientists: Faith in the American University (HuffPo)

My friend, Elaine Howard Ecklund, blogged at the Huffington Post last week on the topic near and dear to her heart, the presence of (or lack thereof) university faculty, especially those in the physical and natural sciences, with a faith commitment or religious allegiance or spirituality. Elaine recently published the book Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think. It’s a great work that depends not on anecdote or speculation: but upon interviews with faculty in elite research institutes. The results surprised everyone.

Plenty of faculty have some kind of faith commitment- not always the kind that aligns well with any of the three major book religions. Nor would it surprise most participants in university life that such faiths are eclectic, unassembled, and largely un-informed through low praxis, no matter if it is part of a historic faith tradition or, as Newbigin has said elsewhere, a “supreme monad” in the sky.  While it is popular to think of those faculty in the humanities and the social sciences as atheists or agnostics, even those disciplines had their fair share of people of faith. I’ve only browsed Elaine’s book, but the surprises are there: the evidence points toward the faculty in the sciences with some kind of religious faith.

I’m a little concerned about the reduction of religious faith to a chaplaincy-type of function, i.e., helping to cope with crises or difficulties in life, that 42% of the scientists affirmed. But that non-missional perspective should not surprise any campus minister or faculty or student coming from an evangelical perspective. Indeed, our tribe has enough trouble imagining that there is any other perspective on campus. What might be helpful for those following Jesus is to respond to such views and voices with an affirmation of how such dynamic of service and comfort reintegrates those on campus (and beyond…) for robust, authentic, communal participation in the mission of God.

If you read Elaine’s post, you’ll have noticed the lament of the chemistry professor on the homogeneity of the faculty on anything beyond the purview of their research or discipline. I’ll defer any elaboration on this phenomenon for now: but, that comment hits dead-center on lack of curiosity that produces such bland uniformity regarding anything of philosophical, political, and -especially- ethnic character. I’d posit here that the homogeneity and the lack of curiosity work reciprocally. The sense of infinite regress here generates the frustration of the chemistry professor and for many others: including myself!