Some atheist scientists with children embrace religious traditions

Some atheist scientists with children embrace religious traditions for social and personal reasons, according to research from Rice University and the University at Buffalo -- The State University of New York (SUNY).

The study also found that some atheist scientists want their children to know about different religions so their children can make informed decisions about their own religious preferences.

"Our research shows just how tightly linked religion and family are in U.S. society -- so much so that even some of society's least religious people find religion to be important in their private lives," said Rice Elaine Howard Ecklund, the study's principal investigator and co-author of a paper in the December issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

The researchers found that 17 percent of atheists with children attended a religious service more than once in the past year.

The research was conducted through interviews with a scientifically selected sample of 275 participants pulled from a survey of 2,198 tenured and tenure-track faculty in the natural and social sciences at 21 elite U.S. research universities. Approximately half of the original survey population expressed some form of religious identity, whereas the other half did not.

The individuals surveyed cited personal and social reasons for integrating religion into their lives, including:

  • Scientific identity – Study participants wish to expose their children to all sources of knowledge (including religion) and allow them to make their own choices about a .
  • Spousal influence – Study participants are involved in a religious institution because of influence from their spouse or partner.
  • Desire for community – Study participants want a sense of moral community and behavior, even if they don't agree with the religious reasoning.

Ecklund said one of the most interesting findings was discovering that not only do some atheist scientists wish to expose their children to religious institutions, but they also cite their scientific identity as reason for doing so.

"We thought that these individuals might be less inclined to introduce their children to religious traditions, but we found the exact opposite to be true," Ecklund said. "They want their children to have choices, and it is more consistent with their science identity to expose their to all sources of knowledge."

One study participant raised in a strongly Catholic home said he came to believe later that science and religion were not compatible. He said what he wants to pass on to his daughter – more than the belief that science and religion are not compatible – is the ability to make her own decisions in a thoughtful, intellectual way.

"I … don't indoctrinate her that she should believe in God," the study participant said. "I don't indoctrinate her into not believing in God." He said he sees himself as accomplishing this by exposing her to a variety of religious choices, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and others.

Ecklund said the study's findings will help the public better understand the role that religious institutions play in society.

"I think that understanding how nonreligious scientists utilize religion in family life demonstrates the important function they have in the U.S.," she said.

Ecklund is the author of "Science vs. : What Scientists Really Think," published by Oxford University Press last year.


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Science and religion do mix

More information: Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion Volume 50, Issue 4, pages 728–743, December 2011. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2011.01604.x
Provided by Rice University
Citation: Some atheist scientists with children embrace religious traditions (2011, December 1) retrieved 16 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2011-12-atheist-scientists-children-embrace-religious.html
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Dec 01, 2011
We consider it a vaccination program. Immunization against blind belief and mass genocide.

Dec 01, 2011
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Dec 02, 2011
"Some atheist scientists with children embrace religious traditions"

And the award for naivete goes to....these researchers!

Seriously, atheists, like everyone else, don't live in protected bubbles where their thoughts and concerns are the only important things in life.

Hopefully, Flash's post won't get deleted, because he makes a superb case for why people do things. For my part, he's prophetic, seeing as how the girl of my dreams didn't feel the same way about religion as I do. Nor would she agree to raise our kids without any introduction to religion. But, back when we were 18, I really just wanted to get into her pants and was not remotely concerned about her religious views. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.

Dec 02, 2011
If I every have children I will encourage them to go to churches. As many as possible, every religion. Is part of our culture but certainly not "source of knowledge" beyond know knowledge about the religions and gods/goddesses.

Dec 02, 2011
Let's see, 17 percent of atheists participated in a religious service. That means 83% did not. Given that weddings and funerals tend to occur in churches and they probably have relatives who are believers, in this culture it is hard not to attend a service occasionally. This is more a reflection on the pervasiveness of religion in our culture than about the intents of atheists.

Dec 02, 2011
Eckland is funded by the Templeton Foundation. Enough said.

Dec 02, 2011
Eckland is funded by the Templeton Foundation. Enough said.


Actually, I wish you would say more. I'm familiar with the financial enterprise, and knew there was a charitable foundation, but not that there was any serious controversy or that it got involved in religious issues.

Dec 02, 2011
Eckland is funded by the Templeton Foundation. Enough said.


Actually, I wish you would say more. I'm familiar with the financial enterprise, and knew there was a charitable foundation, but not that there was any serious controversy or that it got involved in religious issues.


The Templeton Foundation(TTF) is a foundation posing a foundation for the promotion of good science, and to "examine" the relationship between science, religion and spirituality, but in fact, it promotes religion and taints science. It comes pre-decided to the debate, insisting that religion and science "support eachother" somehow, and it gives money and support only to those scientists who aims to show this, despite the fact that most scientists are non-religious, and actually sees religion as detrimental to good science. This study fits right into the fold of TTF-funded "research" Biased argumentation that shows how great religion is.

Dec 02, 2011
We thought that [scientific] individuals might be less inclined to introduce their children to religious traditions, but we found the exact opposite to be true


Here, I think, is a perfect example of a researcher failing to understand their subjects. Even the best scientist still has conformation bias, but we at least recognize it as something to be avoided.

Of course a scientifically minded person wouldn't want their children ignorant of religion. They wouldn't want their children ignorant period. It is a fact that religion plays a large role in our society, and it would be doing our children no favors to shelter them from that.

What we largely do not want is for them to become indoctrinated, but that's easily avoided by exposing them to multiple sects and multiple religions. Indoctrination rarely takes if the subject isn't isolated from different points of view.

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