Columnist Michael Kinsley confessed to being a "nonbeliever" in the Los Angeles Times last month. In an op-ed piece he conceded, "That puts me in the only religious grouping in America whose members are effectively barred from any hope of becoming president, due to widespread public prejudice against them. There will be a Mormon president, a Jewish president, an openly gay president before there will be a president who says publicly that he doesn't believe in God."
He contrasted that with the current run for the White House in which "four of this year's Republican candidates were personally recruited by God to run for president." That number has since dropped to three.
Ecklund, who has conducted several studies of science and religion, said in the interview that it's possible for an atheist to become a member of a religious community without feeling like a phony.
"I don't think they see it as a conflict," she said. That's partly because they've been out of the mainstream for nearly their entire lives.
"There's a good deal of difference between the science community and the general public," she said. "Scientists are less likely to have been raised in religious homes." When they were, she added, "they were generally raised in homes where religion was not practiced strongly. It was not part of the fabric of life."
So perhaps a scientist who happens to be an agnostic or an atheist sees no problem with turning to religion, if only for awhile, because it could open new avenues of thought for the children. After all, isn't that the heart of science?
"The children can decide for themselves what to believe," Ecklund said.