The Sciences

From Point of Inquiry: Why Use the "S" Word?

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyMay 11, 2010 5:44 PM


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I've talked in the lasttwo posts about some of Elaine Ecklund's surprising findings about atheist scientists, as discussed on Point of Inquiry (show website here; listen here;download/subscribe here). In this blog post, then, I want to move on to discussing another group that she finds in her survey: spiritual scientists, some of whom are also atheists. This is a topic we discuss beginning around minute 25:20.

The first point about these "spiritual" scientists is that they aren't like spiritual Americans in general. They don't believe in angels and demons. They don't put together an eclectic blend of, say, Christianity, Buddhism, and New Age beliefs.

Rather, as Ecklund observes, they want their spirituality to be of a sort that is entirely consistent with science. And a considerable percentage of them actually overlap with the group of atheist scientists in Ecklund's sample.

For these spiritual but essentially atheistic scientists, "spirituality" involves a sense of awe and wonder at the complexity and beauty of nature. But this raises a pretty big question. Why call it "spirituality" at all? Why use the "S" word, if it does not mean what everyone thinks it means?

Scientific spirituality appears to be an important trend and one we need to understand--but it is certainly open to this criticism. And I would be interested to hear how a "spiritual" scientist would respond to it.

(For more on the Point of Inquiry episode with Elaine Ecklund, you can find the show website here; listen here;download/subscribe here).

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