"These data reveal that at least some part of the difference in religiosity between scientists and the general population is likely due simply to religious upbringing rather than scientific training or institutional pressure to be irreligious."
That is likely to be hotly debated in the years ahead, and there is a hint in her own research that suggests otherwise. The disciplines she studied include physics, chemistry, biology, sociology, economics, political science and psychology. Physicists did not lead the list of nonbelievers, which may be a bit surprising given the historic battles between the church and Galileo and Copernicus. Of all those surveyed, biologists were least likely to be religious, the study shows.
And who's on the hot seat these days? Biologists. Most of the controversial issues today involve various biological fields from stem cell research to evolution to genetic engineering. Physicists can relax. It's pretty much agreed now that Earth revolves around the sun. But biologists are in deep conflict with a society in which 90 percent claim some affiliation with a religious organization.
Ecklund said she doesn't know if the lack of religion among biologists is a cause or effect of that ongoing clash. One would guess it's probably both.
She made no attempt to define religion. Instead, she relied upon the terms and "predictors" that have been used in numerous polls of the general public.
So what is religion? And what is God?
No less than Albert Einstein grappled with those questions throughout his life. It is often said that he was religious, and believed in God, but his idea of God was quite different from the deity worshiped by so many today.
In his wonderful book on Einstein, Walter Isaacson tells of a dinner party in Berlin when Einstein was asked if he was religious.
"Yes, you can call it that," he replied. "Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in fact, religious." He spent the rest of his life trying to explain what he really meant.
Einstein, by the way, was raised in a religious home.
Lee Dye is a former science writer for the Los Angeles Times. He now lives in Juneau, Alaska.