Elaine H. Ecklund and David R. Johnson, "Varieties of Atheism in Science" (Oxford UP, 2021)


Not all atheists are New Atheists, but thanks in large part to the prominence and influence of New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens, New Atheism has claimed the pulpit of secularity in Western society. New Atheists have given voice to marginalized nonreligious individuals and underscored the importance of science in society. They have also advanced a derisive view of religion and forcefully argued that science and religion are intrinsically in conflict. Many in the public think that all scientists are atheists and all atheist scientists are New Atheists, militantly against religion and religious people. But what do everyday atheist scientists actually think about religion?

Drawing on a survey of 1,293 atheist scientists in the U.S. and U.K., and 81 follow-up in-depth interviews, Varieties of Atheism in Science (Oxford Academic Press, 2021) by Professors Elaine Howard Ecklund and David R. Johnson, explains the pathways that led to atheism among scientists, the diverse views of religion they hold, their perspectives on the limits of what science can explain, and their views of meaning and morality. The findings reveal a vast gulf between the rhetoric of New Atheism in the public sphere and the reality of atheism in science. The story of the varieties of atheism in science is consequential for scientific and religious communities and points to tools for dialogue between these seemingly disparate groups.

Elaine Howard Ecklund is the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences, Professor of Sociology, and Director of the Boniuk Institute at Rice University, Houston TX. Her research examines social and institutional change, especially when individuals leverage aspects of their religious, racial, and gender identities to change institutions. Elaine is the author of seven books, over 100 research articles, and numerous op-eds. She has received grants and awards from multiple organizations.

David R. Johnson is an associate professor of higher education in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at Georgia State University. His research agenda examines how universities are shaped by changes in their institutional environments, especially as it relates to capitalism, religion, and politics. He has previously published in numerous academic journals, a book with Johns Hopkins University Press, A Fractured Profession: Commercialism and Conflict in Academic Science (2017), and co-authored another book with Elaine Ecklund, Secularity and Science: What Scientists around the World Actually Think, from Oxford University Press (2019). In fact, they joined Carrie Lynn on New Books in Secularism in September 2019 to discuss that book; listen here.

Carrie Lynn Evans is a PhD student at Université Laval in Quebec City. carrie-lynn.evans@lit.ulaval.ca @carrielynnland

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Carrie Lynn Evans

Carrie Lynn Evans is currently a PhD student of English Literature with Université Laval in Quebec.

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