Earlier this month we heard that “the majority of professors entertain at least the possibility of God’s existence” in a recent study of Professorial faith. Now, to clarify that immensely, another bit of filigree in survey form has come along – according to research by a SUNY Buffalo Professor, 66% of Natural Scientists consider themselves “spiritual.” Aha – they fooled you, didn’t they! As The Chronicle notes: “the findings belie the stereotype that all scientists are atheists.” Ok. Well, it’s unclear what “spiritual” means and how it’s to fit into American stereotypes about professors, an issue especially complicated by the survey’s statement that “even among scientists who are atheists, 22% consider themselves ‘spiritual.’” Oh, yes, that belies the atheist stereotype, right?
Wait, I’m confused. These recent religion studies are generally announced as notable refutations of academic irreligiousness, but when examined tend to very closely confirm such perceptions. That fact that such flimsy findings as that a “majority of professors entertain at least the possibility of God’s existence” or that some atheists are “spiritual” are trumpeted as proofs of unperceived academic religiosity provides even greater proof of a remove from popular sentiment. At core, as both surveys acknowledge to some extent, American academics, when compared to the wider population, are considerably less likely to posit a clear belief in God and much less likely to belong to or participate in organized religious activities. I don’t suggest that this should be changed, but, by any objective measure in these studies (definitely not “spiritualism”) professors are much less religious than wider society. I don’t suggest this is a result of discrimination (although occasions are conceivable) and am not advancing any plan to change this – the faith of professors hasn’t ever bothered me a bit – but one might as well accept that, well, they are typically agnostic, or even more skeptical (read “godless heathens”).