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God on the Quad? (RJS)

posted by Jesus Creed Admin

We are looking at the recent book by Elaine Howard Ecklund Science vs Religion: What Scientists Really Think. The earlier installments are here: first, second, and third. The book relates various ideas about science and religion that emerged from her interviews with 275 scientists in seven departments (Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Psychology, Sociology, Economics, and Political Science) at 21 “elite” universities (Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, U Penn, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Chicago, UIUC, Michigan, Minnesota, UNC, U Washington, Wisconsin, USC, Washington University St. Louis, and Yale).

This book is worth serious consideration by both Christian and non-Christian scholars. It will provide invaluable insights for any one involved in campus ministry or a church near a university campus.

In chapters 6 – 7 Ecklund considers what these scientists thought about how religion is or should be dealt with in the University.  Of the 275 scientists interviewed, 191 were asked “What place should religion occupy in a university like yours?” Of these 191, ~42% mentioned some kind of positive role, ~36% saw no  positive role for religious people, institutions, or ideas in the university, the remainder are mixed. Approximately 54% mentioned the dangers that religion can have for science. Ecklund discusses three models or reasons for eliminating religion from the University and three models or reasons for including religion in the University distilled from the comments of these 191 professors across disciplines.

What place is there for religion within the University? Is there a place for God on the Quad or should we have no God on the Quad?


The Model of Opposition: Religion ought to be viewed in opposition to scientific reasoning. Some of the scientists interviewed view the purpose of the university as “inherently focused on reason and rationality, and little else.” (p. 93) Religion should not be at the university as anything other than a subject for dissection. Because there is no truth in religion that is not also found apart from religion – religious “knowing” or thought simply does not belong. The only real questions are secular questions.

The Model of Secularism: Universities ought to be bastions of secularism.Scientists who talk extensively about separation of church and state argue that there are enough places in the broader society where religion has taken hold and that universities should be places where knowledge is protected from its grip” (p. 97)

The Model of Pluralism: Universities ought to foster pluralism. There is a serious danger from bringing religion into the university because religion is inherently partisan and will privilege one group over another. Proselytizing has no place in the university. Some wonder if one can even hold an exclusive view and be a true scholar.

The Model of Nurture: Universities ought to nurture students – including spiritually – in their formative years. In general this is not considered part of the intellectual mission of the university, rather the university should provide resource for the development of the whole person, providing athletic facilities, social opportunities, and, for those who wish, the opportunity for spiritual nurture. This is supporting student choice and diversity, not establishing any belief as preferred.

The Model of Legitimacy: Universities ought to extend legitimacy to religion as a subject of study. This is a two-edged sword. While religion should be acknowledged as a subject for study and for the impact it has on some subjects, not just for dissection but from a variety of perspectives, it is separated and bounded and kept away from the other disciplines.

The Model of Connected Knowledge: Universities ought to support the connection of religious knowledge to other forms of knowledge. Ecklund comments on Marsden’s call for “Christian scholars to take bold initiative in connecting their beliefs to their specific disciplines while at the same time playing by the rules of their particular guilds.” In a lecture at an InterVarsity Graduate conference in 1999 NT Wright
made much the same call – for connection of faith with academic
discipline (Jesus and the
World’s True Light
(9.8MB MP3)). This is harder than it sounds. In Ecklund’s interviews social scientists struggled to see a way to connect faith with disciplines, natural scientists saw it as nearly impossible. No one saw faith as having any influence on the scientific method of their discipline. 

What do you see as ways that religion can or should have a place within the university? What is the connection between religion, intellectual diversity, and scholarship?

If you wish to contact me you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net



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Scot McKnight

posted May 25, 2010 at 7:58 am


RJS, a very nice taxonomy of the models of knowledge for religion and science. Thanks.



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Jason Lee

posted May 25, 2010 at 8:28 am


It seem much in the academy is about power. Until you have some there is little you can do but do your work well, love people, and keep your head down. When devout Christians have paid their dues and gain secure places in the academy they can then be more articulate about faith and that it is not unreasonable or is not an unreasonable lens through which to look at scientific problems. But for whatever reasons, few devout Christians have paid their dues or even aspire to according to Fosse and Gross. As Ecklund points out, this is not entirely true for Catholics. In what ways might Catholics or patterns in Catholic universities be good models for devout Protestants wanting to cultivate or be faithful people in the academy?



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RJS

posted May 25, 2010 at 9:03 am


Jason,
Unfortunately much of “church” is also about power and prestige. It takes a secure place to have a voice to articulate the relationships between faith and reason. There are attack hounds waiting to pounce.
More importantly though – there is an underlying sentiment among the “common folk” that science is atheistic and unsupported, and an under appreciation of the issues and an unwillingness for interaction on the part of leaders. Academics in general – science in particular – is simply irrelevant and unsupported within the evangelical church. It is #$&@! hard to find a way to move forward and the primary cost is isolation.
Catholicism has some advantage – the diversity means that it has a somewhat more respectable image within the academy. There are also good models for interaction between academia and the faith.



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Rick

posted May 25, 2010 at 9:25 am


RJS #3-
“…the diversity means that it has a somewhat more respectable image within the academy.”
I wish you would open this up further.
What is a respectable level of “diversity” and what does it include?
How do you think this happened for RC scholarship?
What do you think Evangelicalism learn from that RC history (if anything), and apply to current conditions, to get a “respectable image”?
Please also expound on the “good models of interaction”.
If this has worked for RC’s, why can it not work for Ev’s?



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Mike Hickerson

posted May 25, 2010 at 9:39 am


Jason,
I think that’s a common perspective – “Until you have some there is little you can do but do your work well, love people, and keep your head down. When devout Christians have paid their dues and gain secure places in the academy they can then be more articulate about faith…”
Many religion traditions, though, don’t accept “keeping your head down” as a legitimate approach to one’s faith. This includes evangelical Christianity, but could also be applied to other traditions that encourage overt expressions of faith. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that religious traditions that encourage “quieter” expressions of faith – e.g. liberal Protestantism – are much better represented in the secular academy.
Additionally, articulation of your faith is something that requires practice. It’s not realistic to expect someone to spend 10 to 20 years keeping quiet about their beliefs, and then suddenly emerge as a tenured C. S. Lewis.



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Scot McKnight

posted May 25, 2010 at 9:40 am


RJS, in light of your comment #3, let it be said again that your presence — faithful resolute presence — on this blog articulating a scientist’s grappling with matters of theology and Bible, even Genesis 1-11 stuff, reminds us all that you deserve a place and we need your place at the table!



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RJS

posted May 25, 2010 at 9:53 am


Mike,
To me your comment suggests that you don’t really understand. This is part of the problem. I agree that keep one’s head down is not a good approach. The faith is real and it needs to be lived. But neither is standing like a dandelion waiting for the approaching lawnmower a very useful approach. Especially when the lawnmower is as likely to be propelled by “fellow” Christians as by agnostic or atheist scholars – secular colleagues.
If organizations like IVCF actually lived up to their potential and provided a safe place for quality thinking, if the campus workers thought that critical thinking was a valuable skill – one necessary to be mastered, if a local church didn’t find real engagement with thinking scholars more trouble than it is worth, … it might be a little easier.



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Jason Lee

posted May 25, 2010 at 10:02 am


RJS,
I completely agree. Your point presents another sphere the faithful scientist must navigate … that of the Christian community. This is especially perilous among Evangelicals. The devout scientist is embattled on both sides and seemingly must translate Japanese to English for some and English to Japanese for others … all the while doing so for those who don’t appreciate the translation and who have a gut-level distaste for not just the content of the speech, but the very sound of the other language and its history and cultural trappings.



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RJS

posted May 25, 2010 at 10:04 am


Rick,
That is a great question. The RC church has an institution and a long-lived scholastic tradition. Granted it is not and was not perfect – but it meanders toward truth confident in the hand of God.
Evangelicalism is, perhaps, rooted in personal feelings, led by the charisma of local leaders, head pastors, and tinged by a faithful remnant mentality, somewhat fearful of the pursuit of “truth.” This is a broad generalization, and I think things are changing.
I have to go to a meeting – but will come back to this.



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Jason Lee

posted May 25, 2010 at 10:18 am


Mike Hickerson,
Your comment indicates to me that my statement was a little unclear and probably too simplistic. What I wanted to say is that there are seasons for things. There is a season for listening and there is a season for acting and speaking. These seasons don’t fully preclude a little speaking and acting along the way as you propose. But I do generally hold to the idea that because of the level of faith-hostility in the academy, devout Christians need to go out of their way to take the time to build rapport with colleagues and pay their dues professionally by doing high quality work.
Keeping one’s head down does not in any way equate an absence of witness of kingdom missionality. To exaggerate a little, academics tend to expect evangelicals to be brash, obnoxious, sloppy, mean, prejudiced bigots who want to make America a theocracy by way of state coercion. And academics often see evangelical’s Jesus as a kind of nazi in the sky, gleefully sending sinners to their eternal torment. One of the best ways to debunk this characature is to be low on words and high on love and faithfulness … at least until those seasons come when there are opportunities to be more creative in integrating faith. The Bible does not always promote verbal boldness in every time or setting. Zeal without knowledge is not always good. This is something that evangelicals must be mindful of.



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DRT

posted May 25, 2010 at 10:28 am


I really appreciate RJS and Scot’s comments on this about people who think like scientists having a place in church. I was basically just kicked out of my church because of the way I think. It’s too bad…..
Dave



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pds

posted May 25, 2010 at 11:01 am


The Design Spectrum
I find it disturbing that positions 1 to 3 are held by any thoughtful persons these days. The inherent anti-religious bigotry seems obvious. They each entail some degree of thought and/or speech censorship. I find it remarkable that these positions are not being called out based on well accepted principles of human rights and tolerance. They are also philosophically simplistic.
Does the author define “religion”? With any reasonably broad definition, positions 1-3 are virtually impossible.
Why is anti-religious bigotry so widely tolerated on campuses?
Tim Keller’s sermon on Exclusivity is directly on point here, and shows how positions 1-3 are rather hypocritical.



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Jason Lee

posted May 25, 2010 at 11:22 am


pds,
I can’t remember if its in the below book or another that Tobin and Weinberg find evidence that academics dislike evangelicals mainly because they don’t like their politics and political power. Remember that academics are overwhelmingly and devoutly politically liberal. The UnCivil University: http://books.google.com/books?id=jWDSPgAACAAJ&dq=the+uncivil+university&ei=q-f7S9zyBovUywTC7eSYCg&cd=2
Sociologists like Peter Berger would propose that plausibility structures might help us understand academics’ religious prejudice. When like-minded people are surrounded by themselves they can believe a lot of things, including unfair things about other groups. Contact theory would suggest that when insular groups begin to have even a few of the despised minority in their midst their prejudice is reduced. Thus the need for a few devout Christians(even evangelicals) to pay their dues and be a presence and eventually identifiable presence in the academy. I don’t think the Church has any clue as to how difficult this actually is, let alone any commitment to helping in any way. Of course there are exceptions.
Remember also that academics see evangelicals and other conservative Christians as having too much power in culture. They see them as incredibly hateful toward gays etc… Why should they give the culturally powerful and intolerant any more room to bring their activity into the university. So they’d probably see their restrictions on evangelicals as kind of balancing an imbalance of influence that a destructive group has. Again, I’m exaggerating and simplifying here to illustrate a perspective I suspect represents the general thinking of many in the academy.



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RJS

posted May 25, 2010 at 11:43 am


Rick (#4),
What are the flagship evangelical (or semi-evangelical) academic institutions?
Wheaton takes that role at times – but this is iffy. Wheaton has strict controls on acceptable thought. Even Catholic Christians must seek employment elsewhere. At least though – the institution is nondenominational. There is some room for open thinking and testing ideas.
Calvin also claims something of this position – but the tight denominational connection makes it difficult to take any real leadership role.
I could not teach at either of these institutions – I could not sign the “Adam” statement without crossed fingers at Wheaton (extreme and almost dishonest nuance) and I would not send my kids to Christian schools as Calvin demands of its professors.
Could Baylor rise to a position of prominence here? Perhaps – they didn’t fire Beckwith when he returned to Catholicism.
Evangelicalism won’t break the stereotype with walled enclaves – but with moderately open institutions where it is safe to be a Christian scholar and the “other” is not an object of fear from which we must be protected. My opinion anyway.



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pds

posted May 25, 2010 at 12:05 pm


http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/
Jason #10 and #13,
Good points. Your earlier phrase “keeping your head down” is not the best metaphor. Being “all things to all men” gets at it better, and is biblical. We need to love others and understand others. But we also need to point out inconsistencies and be faithful to the gospel.
All these issues apply outside the academy as well.



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kevin s.

posted May 25, 2010 at 12:32 pm


Odd that no liberal arts colleges are represented here. I’d be curious to know whether that would skew the results on way or another. Also, not to be snarky, but since when is Minnesota an elite university? Did the author graduate from there or something?



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Norm

posted May 25, 2010 at 12:35 pm


RJS,
When I allowed my daughter to attend Baylor in 1997 I was hoping it would be conservative enough. However in her Pre Law American studies classes they brought in Professors that really challenged my perception of what a good conservative Biblical school should be. This was especially true in a couple of her Biblical studies courses. Thirteen years later she has a different perspective from 1997 and so do I. My point is that Baylor has been moving toward those goals slowly but surely and with it moves those who are exposed to a broader spectrum of ideas. Yes Baylor may not be perfect but coming from where they were 20 years ago it?s remarkable.



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Kristen

posted May 25, 2010 at 12:45 pm


This is not the first time we’ve been talking about Catholic universities as somehow hitting a balance well.
I wonder to what extent subtle differences in theology might be at play here.
I’m sure I’ll be getting this wrong in subtle yet significant ways and invite correction from the more theologically learned people here of whom there are many. But in broad strokes, Thomas Aquinas thought that human reason wasn’t fallen. We do lots of bad things, it is far easier than it should be to desire the wrong things, but we do retain the human ability to discern the right. Reformation ideas of “total depravity” are largely about saying “no, every part of us is corrupted, most definitely including reason.” Noetic effects of sin, and all that.
Even the wackier elements of the scholastics are relevant here. They spent all this time trying to figure out how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, BECAUSE THEY THOUGHT THERE WAS AN ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION AND WE COULD FIGURE IT OUT.
I don’t want AT ALL to paint Protestants in general as no-nothings — certainly there is a tremendous intellectual heritage particularly in Reformed strains. There is a lot of scholarship and learning and reason. But still … it’s different somehow.
Still, it seems to me (though I am a non-scientist and so far beyond my competence right now it is ridiculous) that trying desperately to come up with a distinctively Christian understanding of say chemistry is a fool’s errand. Molecules are molecules. Some people may see the complexity of molecules and give glory to God and some may not, but at the end of the day molecules are molecules.
And I have a strong instinct which I am not fully able to articulate, that these subtle differences in perspectives make a difference. Somehow.



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Jason Lee

posted May 25, 2010 at 12:48 pm


Kevin,
The author did her PhD at Cornell and is from NY. I’m sure the book details the indicators of elite schools that it is using. It probably has to do with scientific research activities of the school. You have to define your scope and start somewhere. Lib arts schools would be a broader study.



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kevin s.

posted May 25, 2010 at 12:49 pm


“I can’t remember if its in the below book or another that Tobin and Weinberg find evidence that academics dislike evangelicals mainly because they don’t like their politics and political power. Remember that academics are overwhelmingly and devoutly politically liberal.”
This is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Failure to adhere to the prevailing political orthodoxy will make you very unwelcome as a student, much less a professor, at most universities.



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RJS

posted May 25, 2010 at 12:50 pm


kevin s.
From Ecklund, Elaine Howard, and Scheitle, Christopher, 2007 “Religion among Academic Scientists: Distinctions, Disciplines, and Demographics” Social Problems 54 (2):289-307. (Same rationale is given in the book of course, but I have the article at hand, not the book.)

The University of Florida ranked elite institutions according to nine different measures, which included: total research funding, federal research funding, endowment assets, annual giving, number of national academy members, faculty awards, doctorates granted, postdoctoral appointees, and median SAT scores for undergraduates. … Universities were ranked and selected according to the number of times they appeared in the top twenty-five for each of these nine indicators.

These institutions are the top 21 on the list I believe.



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RJS

posted May 25, 2010 at 12:54 pm


kevin s. (#20),
In the physical sciences at least that is a bunch of bull. The concern over political persuasion is strong in the sense that it impacts the practice of science – funding and creationism for example; but on economic and other issues there is a broad spectrum of opinion.



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DRT

posted May 25, 2010 at 1:27 pm


If you would all take what I am about to say with a grain of salt, I am currently on the rebound….
It seems to me that many of the churches themselves, independent of the ideology or dogma they accept, make it so it is impractical for people of a questioning bent to actually go there for any length of time. If one is expected to keep their mouth shut and listen to the mindless theological exegesis of people whose sole purpose is to be mindless (not thinking) then there really is no place for religion and scientifically minded people to worship together.
Please, is it not correct that the whole idea of most churches is to have you accept things without question and give money to them so they can have more people accept these same things without question? My basic downfall in my church was when I raised points that are valid and they took out the ancient book of shunning and implemented it?s secret powers. Have you all seen the Charlie the unicorn shun the non believer video? Just throw that into google and enjoy?
Rant over.
Dave
PS, no captcha?



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R Hampton

posted May 25, 2010 at 2:18 pm


On Constitutional grounds, state run colleges and universities must be secular and plural – that is, have no preference for any particular religious tradition. As such, religious courses can (and are) offered, but the institution itself is not a force for religious promotion. Of course private institutions are free to follow the dictates of conscience, as they should.



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Fish

posted May 25, 2010 at 3:12 pm


I’m glad my degrees are in engineering and an MBA. God never came up, and why would He? I have absolutely no clue what any of my many professors thought about religion or politics.
Sometimes it sounds as though academia is one big science/religion battleground when I suspect it’s not even remotely on the radar in a lot of the big fields. There’s really no reason ever to bring religion into the study of technology.



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RJS

posted May 25, 2010 at 3:32 pm


Fish,
I don’t think it does come up often in class. In the physical sciences there is no need – and in the life sciences only if the ID or creationism position is broached, usually by a student. It certainly has never come up in a class I’ve taught.
This is why the sixth option above is hard to work out … I just don’t see how my faith has any impact on my science or scientific method.



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AHH

posted May 25, 2010 at 3:37 pm


I agree (from experience) with RJS #22 that in the physical and biological sciences there is not any oppressive academic orthodoxy with regard to liberal or conservative politics. It just doesn’t come up most of the time, and if it does come up there may be interesting or heated discussions but there is recognition that it does not affect one’s science. The same is true in engineering academia in my experience.
The situation may well be different in the social sciences, and in fields like history.
In the “hard” sciences, I would say that hostility to Christianity in academia mostly comes from either:
A) negative perceptions of Christianity no different from those of many non-scientists, such as baggage from childhood or bad encounters with Christians or rejecting a caricature of Christianity one has picked up somewhere.
B) more specific to science, the perception that Christianity is anti-science and anti-intellectual, due in large part to “creationism” in various forms.



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Danimal

posted May 25, 2010 at 10:44 pm


RJS said: “I just don’t see how my faith has any impact on my science or scientific method.”
I’ll bet that it has a lot to do with how you relate to colleagues, grad students and undergrads though. It seems to me that relating with others and communication is just as important for success in science as raw brain power and I would bet that your faith has shaped some of your relationships with others (i.e. loving others).
I can count at least 3 (and know 2 personally) very successful full professors in my (typically very secular) field that are Christians and do excellent science but are also well known for being people who are fair and conduct themselves with integrity.
I definitely identify with the concept that we are to do good science while living and relating to others in a way that is shaped by our faith.



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Rick

posted May 26, 2010 at 10:56 am


Kristen #18-
Good thoughts on the RC theological aspect. In addition to what you mentioned, I wonder if the high regard for Tradition (including Papal authority), allows for more flexibility in scholarship; whereas Evangelicalism may be more restricted due to its emphasis on Sola Scriptura.
RJS-
I think Baylor is the school to watch, and although it has had some pushback, it sees (as you mentioned) to want to maintain a path towards a certain level of scholarship. Wheaton will be interesting to watch in regards to its recent change in leadership.
I think a closer study of the history of RC scholarship may provide some models for Evangelicals. It is certainly worth looking at the history of both streams, and finding applicable lessons.
As someone who has a burden for colleges and college ministries (they are far too often overlooked, yet are so critical), I can only imagine what impact Evangelicals could have if there was even a slight reduction in tension, and a slight increase in respect.



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RJS

posted May 26, 2010 at 12:18 pm


Danimal (#28),
I hope it leads to a difference in priorities and to a difference in treatment of coworkers and students, placing me on one end of the range of practice.
There is a tendency for faculty to be ego-centered and even occasionally abusive toward students and coworkers. This should be “off-limits” for a Christian. Of course I know many non-christian professors who treat students very well – so it is not a clear distinction by any means.



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