So you think science has a problem?

There are a number of opinion piece writers, usually  philosophers of religion or accomadationist atheist philosophers who really hate  today’s vocal atheists. Particularly if those atheists are also scientists. They often pretend to be concerned about the reputation of science. “These gnus should STFU,” they argue, “because it’s just turning people away from science.” And science needs all the friends it can get with the current attacks on climate and evolutionary science.

In my review of Elaine Ecklund’s book Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think I argued this position, which she also was pushing, is mistaken (see Are scientists hostile to religion?). That in fact the data just doesn’t support it. If these people were really looking at the data properly perhaps they should be telling militant Christian activists to STFU – because polls show that people are losing the respect they used to hold for ministers, priests and the church. The data I referred to is in the graph below.

%age of US public considering professions of “very great prestige.”

Now the Gallup polling organisation has revealed data showing a steady decline in the public confidence of the church and organised religion:

Forty-four percent of Americans have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in “the church or organized religion” today, just below the low points Gallup has found in recent years, including 45% in 2002 and 46% in 2007. This follows a long-term decline in Americans’ confidence in religion since the 1970s.

See the graph below:

via U.S. Confidence in Organized Religion at Low Point.

Perhaps its time for these writers of opinion pieces to start considering the data that is staring them in the face. Rather than their knee jerk whining about the gnus and public respect for scientists they should write about a real phenomenon.

After all there are plenty of  factors they could speculate on as explanations for the public decline of confidence. As the article points out child molestation by Catholic priests and cover-up by church leaders appears to have had a noticeable effect. One could also consider the role that conservative religion plays in US politics today, the ongoing demands to be allowed to continue discrimination by religious bodies, interference in education, moral hypocrisy, and so on.

Perhaps these horrible gnus may have also been having an effect. Just not in the way these commenters claim.

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7 responses to “So you think science has a problem?

  1. I still think there are important exceptions to beating the drum. For example, in the US the majority of people trying to maintain separation of church and state are religious. I think the best way to support these people is not to associate the church/state separation lobby with atheism but to join the lobby group as an individual and keep a low profile.

    History shows that single issue lobbying is the most successful kind. So if you want to make a difference that’s the way to go.


  2. Pingback: Can Non-Liberal Christianity Be Saved?

  3. Am I mistaken or does that graph actually show a recent rise in opinion toward religious professionals and respect for scientists clearly dropped.

    Meanwhile, I want people to continue speaking out against coercive religion.


  4. The first graph shows a dip in regard for religious leaders after 2000, so yes this regard improved after the dip. The decline in regard for scientists occurred in the 70s and 80s and probably represented a general concern about environment and technology. I was using the graph to show the activity of the New Atheists after 2001 had no influence on regard for science (as Ecklund was claiming) but it could have contributed to the decline in regard for religious leaders at the time.

    The second graph plots results for questions bout confidence in the church and organized religion. There has been a steady decline over any years with sharp dips apparent at times when child molestation by priest and the catholic church’s cover up were made public.


  5. Bad scientists see a correlation and insert their pet theory as a causation. You just shy away from doing this. Tut tut tut.


  6. Max, don’t you mean theologians? They are well know for substituting wishes for reality.


  7. Again with avoiding reality Ken. YOU are the one who just did this. Tut tut tut.


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