Two recently viewed movies suggest different conclusions. In the movie “Religulous,” Bill Maher suggests that religion suppresses one of our most important human attributes—doubt. He suggests that our ability to question—question authority, question existence or question society— is critical for human progression. He states that religion replaces doubt with a false, unsubstantiated surety. According to Bill, religion causes us to actually lose direction. Even worse, fanatical religious zealots or those who profess “they know” when that knowledge is only an illusion, become dangerous. I tend to agree with much of what Maher says and have noted in the past that our basic ability to question nature, society and in particular authority is essential for democracy, and this ability is often lost within religion.
It is no wonder, then, that those who are religious are incapable of moral action, just as children are. To be moral requires that one accept full responsibility for oneself. In order to act in the world as an adult, one must be able to recognize that the world is structured and the situatedness of all individual action. The choices that present themselves in the course of day-to-day living are influenced by social forces over which we have no control. Moreover, there is an element of randomness in the flow of events that prevents any of us from being able to predict fully what will happen next. Morality is a basis for making choices, in the context of a probabilistic world, embedded in a particular political economy.
Religion is an almost universal institution in human society
Sociological studies (e.g., Ecklundt 2010) have probed the religiousbeliefs of scientists, particularly in the United States. Theyindicate a significant difference in religiosity in scientistscompared to the general population. Surveys such as those conducted bythe Pew forum (Masci and Smith 2016) find that nearly nine in tenadults in the US say they believe in God or a universal spirit, anumber that has only slightly declined in recent decades. Amongyounger adults, the percentage of theists is about 80%. Atheism andagnosticism are widespread among academics, especially among thoseworking in elite institutions. A survey among National Academy ofSciences members (all senior academics, overwhelmingly from elitefaculties) found that the majority disbelieved in God’sexistence (72.2%), with 20.8% being agnostic, and only 7% theists(Larson and Witham 1998). Ecklund and Scheitle (2007) analyzed responsesfrom scientists (working in the social and natural sciences) from 21elite universities in the US. About 31.2% of their participantsself-identified as atheists and a further 31 % as agnostics. Theremaining number believed in a higher power (7%), sometimes believedin God (5.4%), believed in God with some doubts (15.5%), or believedin God without any doubts (9.7%). In contrast to the generalpopulation, the older scientists in this sample did not show higherreligiosity—in fact, they were more likely to say that they didnot believe in God. On the other hand, Gross and Simmons (2009)examined a more heterogeneous sample of scientists from Americancolleges, including community colleges, elite doctoral-grantinginstitutions, non-elite four-year state schools, and small liberalarts colleges. They found that the majority of university professors(full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty) had some theistic beliefs,believing either in God (34.9%), in God with some doubts (16.6%), inGod some of the time (4.3%), or in a higher power (19.2%). Belief inGod was influenced both by type of institution (lower theistic beliefin more prestigious schools) and by discipline (lower theistic beliefin the physical and biological sciences compared to the socialsciences and humanities).
Global Warming as Religion and not Science
Several typologies characterize the interaction between science andreligion. For example, Mikael Stenmark (2004) distinguishes betweenthree views: the independence view (no overlap between science andreligion), the contact view (some overlap between the fields), and aunion of the domains of science and religion; within those views herecognizes further subdivisions, e.g., the contact can be in the formof conflict or harmony. The most influential model of therelationships between science and religion remains Barbour’s(2000): conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration. Subsequentauthors, as well as Barbour himself, have refined and amended thistaxonomy. However, others (e.g., Cantor and Kenny 2001) have arguedthat it is not useful to understand past interactions between bothfields. For one thing, it focuses on the cognitive content ofreligions at the expense of other aspects, such as rituals and socialstructures. Moreover, there is no clear definition of what conflictmeans (evidential or logical). The model is not as philosophicallysophisticated as some of its successors, such as Stenmark’s(2004). Nevertheless, because of its enduring influence, it is stillworthwhile to discuss this taxonomy in detail.