Study: Some atheists with children attend religious services
December 7th, 2011
06:00 AM ET

Study: Some atheists with children attend religious services

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – Nearly one in five atheist scientists with children involve their families with religious institutions, even if they personally do not agree with the institutions teachings, a recent study says.

The study, conducted by Rice University and the University at Buffalo, found that these scientists affiliate with churches for both social and personal reasons. Additionally, the scientists indicated a strong desire to prepare their children to make educated decisions about their personal religious preference.

“This was so surprising to us just because of all of the public discussion about the ways in which scientists are very against religions people,” said Elaine Howard Ecklund, a sociologist at Rice. “When in fact, those we might most expect to be against religious people are sitting alongside them.”

Study participants also indicated they were involved in a religious institution because of the religious preferences of a spouse or partner.

One of the most interesting findings, according to Ecklund, was that some atheist scientists want to expose their children to religion due to scientific reasoning.

"We thought that these individuals might be less inclined to introduce their children to religious traditions, but we found the exact opposite to be true," Ecklund said. "They want their children to have choices, and it is more consistent with their science identity to expose their children to all sources of knowledge."

Ecklund said there were cases in which survey respondents identified that not only did they introduce their children to one church, but they also attended other religious services in the hope that the children would better understand each denomination.

"I think that understanding how nonreligious scientists utilize religion in family life demonstrates the important function they have in the U.S.," Ecklund said.

Sociologist Kristen Schultz Lee of University of Buffalo co-authored the study, which can be found in the December issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

The data was pulled from a survey of 2,198 tenured or tenure-track faculty at 21 U.S. research universities. Around half of survey respondents identified a form of religious identity, while the other half did not.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism • Church • Culture & Science

soundoff (2,129 Responses)
  1. Terry

    In theory, everyone is welcome at church. Why does this bother you?

    December 7, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • nightsun2k7

      this is true.....as long as you shortly there after conform to the status quo

      December 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  2. risky

    There is one god I know of that we see every day. We refer to it as the Sun; it is our creator and eventually our demise.

    December 7, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • Curious

      Isn't it bad for the skin?

      December 7, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Actually the Universe is God. You're talking about the Sun of God. Unfortunately, as atheists, we don't bow down and worship a Silly Ghost, but it would be cool if we had one.

      December 7, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  3. nightsun2k7

    "We thought that these individuals might be less inclined to introduce their children to religious traditions, but we found the exact opposite to be true".....that's because atheists aren't as narrow minded as christians and have no desire to force our children to believe what we believe....every person is capable of making up their own mind, once the christians catch on to this they might be able to lure more people in rather then shunning them away

    December 7, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • B-Squared

      Hmmm..... Do you think that referring to a group of people as "narrow-minded" somehow demonstrates that you are not?

      December 7, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • nightsun2k7

      @ B-Squared.....point taken......see, not narrow minded

      December 7, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  4. gaucho420

    We're not lunes, that's why. To become an Athiest, you have to have pretty strong will and a brain to filter out the BS of religion, as well as the pressures to break out and be free from the shackles that most of society still follows. And double in the US, land of Jesus.

    December 7, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  5. BrewtownPsych

    As an atheist i don't rule out celebrating Easter, participating in grace when asked by a host, being a godfather (or sponsor), attending church weddings etc., but to do it to my children or in my own household would just be dishonest. I don't begrudge these "cultural Christians" but i could never do it myself, on principle. But i do understand the pressure.

    December 7, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  6. Clint

    That's BS. CNN is just doing the usual "lets get 'em fighting before christmas" routine.

    Nothing to see hear, move along.

    December 7, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  7. YeahItsMe72

    When I'm invited to someones religious ceremony (wedding, bar mitzvah, briss, confirmation, etc) I attend, pay my respects and try to be supportive to my friend.

    I pay no attention to the brain washing messages and cult like behavior. It's okay to tolerate religious people.

    December 7, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • Clint

      Agreed, but I rarely take my kids to those events. When my kids are grown up, they can make their own decision on religion, until then, I'll have noone preaching to them.

      December 7, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • Al

      Agreed. I do speak up in one on one situations, but I'm not going to go arguing with my 90 year old grandparents either (at this point, what's the point?) and I certainly would never attend a religious function and offend. I have christian friends and family members and they all know I think they are demented, but we get along fine. 🙂 And, slowly but surely, I've been picking them off which I could not do if I offended too deeply. I like helping people become mythology proof.

      December 7, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  8. josh

    I will see YOU in church IF the windows are open.

    December 7, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  9. kevin

    All scientists aren't athiests, and all Christians aren't against science. A Christian is an individual who follows Christ, not necessarily one who "represents" the Christian religon.

    December 7, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Ok, and all christians believe that in the end times, all unbelievers will be persecuted and killed because they don't believe in jebus. So that means to me, as an atheist, that every christian I meet thinks they are better than me, and they are thinking in their head about those end times and watching me being tortured and killed, because I'm certainly never going to believe in delusional lies and fairy tales. Any religion that incorporates the persecution and death of all non-believers should be against the law.

      December 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  10. GPC

    Because atheists are often seen as threatening, I think a lot of people who are atheists try to protect their children by making them appear nonthreatening. I've met people who were raised as atheists who regularly attended church with their friends and have a huge amount of knowledge and respect for religion and the religious even though the remain nonbelievers.

    I think this is a mistake though. Atheists should not apologise for not believingin in modern day mythology and modern day gods. We shouldn't put our children at risk of indoctrination to appease the bigoted among the believing population. We need to teach our kids that it's ok not to believe even if most other kids do. Atheists need to have more self-respect and stop kowtowing to the majority. Why insist that your kids should be able to make a choice in something you know isn't true? If they want to believe when they grow up, that's different. But opening them up to the possibility of indoctrination to appease the majority is irresponsible.

    December 7, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • bermille

      I disagree, as an atheist, I should have the right to have my children educated on the many varities of ways religion is practiced in the world so they can make educated decisions, like many in the article has done with their children. Why not?

      December 7, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Linda Operle

      GPC Couldn't agree with you more! I'm Atheist and proud of it. I do not attend church (after a childhood of tortureous Sundays) In my opinion it is hypocritical to sit in church all the while thinking that guy speaking up at the pulpit is full of ##***. More wars have been fought over this fairy tale than for any other cause in history.

      December 7, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  11. JonPeter

    Nice try starting out with a strawman argument about 'atheist scientists' assuming most scientists are atheists. Would the author be offended if someone started an article about evangelists calling them 'fanatical evangelicals' ??

    The reality is that being a scientist does not predispose someone of having faith or lack of faith. For every atheist or agnostic scientist there are as many who find no confllict between religious beliefs and their scientific work. In fact, scientists and other rational thinkers are better equipped to understand how divergent concepts make for a more complete understanding. For example, a religious zealot might demand a choice between creation and evolution, where it is ppresumed that a belief in evolution precludes belief in creation and a creator.

    Howver, a scientis of faith woudl see evolution and natural selection as the work of a creator and not presume to define what a creator could or could not do. In that sense, the scientist might have the deeper faith, by believing but not trying to push their presemptive beliefs on others.

    December 7, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • jbowden4

      I'm glad you know how to read! Oh that's right. Reading comprehension is hard, I know.
      The story is about Atheists who are scientists. It doesn't assume all scientists are atheists, or vice versa.
      If you are going to go on CNN and make idiotic arguments for your dangerous religion, at least have the brains to make it through the article and understand what it is about, instead of making incorrect assumptions.

      December 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Kevin

      The research wasn't assuming scientists were atheists, the research polled "atheist scientists."

      December 7, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • BR

      JonPeter – You really need to pay more attention to the article on which you are commenting. It polled self-identified atheists. There was no presumption.

      Actually, most studies show that higher education, particularly in the sciences, does show a correlation (not necessarily causation) with atheism. The exceedingly few who maintain a religious belief, such as Frances Collins, are demonstrating a compartmentalized way of thinking. To the average rationalist, trying to reconcile evolution with religion by saying, "god did it" is just a way of avoiding the question because you must ask the next question...who created the creator?

      Sign of schizophrenia IMO.

      December 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  12. laughter

    It blows my mind how any logically thinking, decent human being can honestly believe that there are good and bad "beings" that dictate the doings of the Earth. Beings that 1) live in the sky and created the entire multiverse (OMG HELLO??!?!) and 2) live below the crust of the earth causing mahem and chaos and husbands to cheat on their wives....PLEASE USE LOGICAL DESCRETION HERE PEOPLE?! Religion was invented in the BCE to explain scientific phenomena that they didnt have the technology to do so with.

    Regardless, my fiance is a lutheran, and we are getting married in a lutheran church and i will take our children to a church one day so they can decide for themselves. I'll do this because although I have very strong evidence and knowledge of science, I also believe in allowing others to determine their lives and beliefs for themselves.

    December 7, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • lisa

      I hope you tone down the anger around your future wife's minister and family. Or better yet, open your mind to what true faith is and you'll find out it's nothing like you describe. Otherwise I'm afraid your married days will probably be numbered.

      December 7, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Dude, you can't give 5 year-old's lies and untruthful information and then tell them to pick, are you nuts? They could end up believing that nonsense. It's your job and duty to prevent them from being exposed to religious lies until they are legally adults, when they will have the knowledge to realize that what they are seeing is just hogwash. Plus, I think you are compromising too much in your marriage, which indicates that you are married to the wrong person and will eventually end up in divorce.

      December 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Dustin

      I got the impression she wanted to take her future children to church because of her own personal belief (which I disagree with, but that's not the point). I quote "I'll do this because although I have very strong evidence and knowledge of science, I also believe in allowing others to determine their lives and beliefs for themselves."

      No unsolicited relationship advice needed.

      December 7, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Having a hard time finding a girl there Dustin?

      December 7, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Dustin

      Not really, all my female friends wish I weren't gay.

      December 7, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Like I was saying...

      December 7, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Dustin

      It's not my fault people don't read comments carefully and choose to troll instead.

      December 7, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  13. Benjamin

    Surprise! Atheists are intelligent, well-thought out, open minded people. That's how you get without dogma 😉

    December 7, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • smartaz

      If you haven't read some of the posts below, here is a spoiler: There are exceptions to that rule.

      December 7, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Not really

      Let me clarify that: There are a LOT of exceptions to that rule... In fact, the atheists described in this article may be the exceptions to another rule.

      December 7, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  14. arries289

    I'm one of those Atheist married into a family of Catholics who goes to church. My wife and I share the idea that our kids need to make their own religious decisions. My job is to try to expose them to religions other than our sunday norm.

    December 7, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  15. WhatWhatWhat?

    This is ridiculous, and skewed toward the religious perspective. If religion is a lie, why would anyone want to "prepare" their children for delusion? I could see people being pressured by their families into doing some cr ap like this, but of their own volition? As an atheist, I don't think so.

    December 7, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • arries289

      Because, if you are married, you need to comprimise. You can't tell your spouse to up and drop everything just because you might not believe. Also, you have the religious inlaws to deal with :). So, in some ways, it's a bit of a puppet show.

      December 7, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • Skegeeace

      Interesting, isn't it? I'm inclined to believe that there aren't any true atheists, just frustrated agnostics. LOL

      December 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      What kind of idiot atheist marries a religious delusional individual? Are you kidding? People actually do that? Marriage isn't about compromise, that's why the divorce rate is so high. You're supposed to marry someone who has the same interests and desires as you so that you don't HAVE to compromise. Get it? For crying out loud, am I the only sane person here?

      December 7, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • J.W

      What if you fall in love with someone with a different belief than you?

      December 7, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      I never fell in love with someone like that because I never hung around people who didn't believe the same things as me. You're kidding, right? That was just a joke? Wow, the world is in really deep trouble.

      December 7, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • BR

      WhatWhatWhat? – Theism would be a deal breaker for me just as smoking or 'not a dog person' would be so I can't speak to how someone gets that far down the road to the proverbial aisle when cosmology stands between you. But life as a whole is all about compromise. Give to get...can't have everything, etc. Marriage is the same. Similarities outweighing differences is important (opposites attracting is a nice quip but nothing more) but it isn't reasonable to think you'll agree on everything. You give up certain points to keep the peace and you dig your heels in on ones that mean more. Even if it's as simple as, "We said we'd leave at 10." "No...we said we'd get there at 10"

      December 7, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • J.W

      Why is it bad to hang around people who believe different than you? I have friends who believe different than me, and I do not believe I have caused the world any problems.

      December 7, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Give and take, sure, with what time you're going to the party, or which dentist you like or dislike. Absolutely. But I ride motorcycles, why in the hell would I marry someone who doesn't? I met a woman online once and I said, "I'm going to Vegas this weekend." Pretty tame, eh? She said, "Oh I would never go there, I don't drink, smoke, or gamble and I think those things are bad". Guess what? I like all of them. We never spoke again after that. I would never date someone who doesn't believe in 90% of what I do, unless it's just a one-night stand. Again, this is exactly why the divorce rate is so high. Half the problem is that guys have to stop marrying the first girl that spreads her legs for him, and that should be taught to boys at an early age, like 10 years old.

      December 7, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      J.W. – And how many deep, meaningful atheist conversations do you have with those people? None. I've had friends like that too, but the first time the conversation goes to church and religion, there they are, looking down on you. It's pathetic. Politics is out of the question as a topic of discussion also, as well as human evolution, astronomy, biology, etc, etc, etc. It's so much fun hanging out with people who can only talk about the weather without looking down on you, isn't it? Great fun, right.

      December 7, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • J.W

      How do you know that I have no meaningful atheist conversations? I have had conversations about a variety of things. But when I say different beliefs, I did not necessarily just mean atheists, but people such as Catholics and Muslims as well. We may disagree on religion, but we can still be friends despite that.

      December 7, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  16. Ed

    Interesting application of statistics to didtort the results to get the results you want. One out of five. That also included an unknow number of agnostics. Agnostics aren't atheists. Looked at the other way, that's 4 out of 5 that believe.

    December 7, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • RonFromNM

      Ed, read the article again. 1 in 5 atheist scientists with children go to church. This doesn't imply the other 4 in 5 atheist scientists with children believe, it just means they don't bother going to church at all.

      Bottom line, these scientists aren't afraid to expose their children to multiple religious denominational services because any thinking person arrives at the conclusion that it's nonsense.

      December 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Cld

      Actually it said "nearly one out of five atheist scientists...". Not one out of five scientists are atheists.

      December 7, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • BR

      Ed – the scientists self-identified as atheist...not agnostic. So it is a non sequitur to say that the other 4 atheists 'believe'.

      December 7, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  17. Robert in Seattle

    All this shows is that atheists are NOT afraid to let their children CHOOSE what beliefs they wish to adopt, as opposed to religious fanantics who brainwash their kids against their will....

    A truly HONEST person would present their children to ALL potential beliefs and then RESPECT them for whatever path they CHOOSE to follow.

    December 7, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
    • smartaz

      It isn't about being an "honest" person.

      From an atheist view, if you give your child that experience all that really could happen is they end up believing in a God. Maybe they would be closed minded about certain things and not think as scientifically as you may like, but overall there isn't some terrible consequence.

      From a believers view, if you don't teach your beliefs to the child you risk them burning in hell for all eternity.

      Religious parents are not trying to "brainwash"or hinder their child's development. They are simply doing what they feel is necessary for their child's welfare just as atheist do.

      December 7, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Why would an atheist present delusional beliefs to their children before they're old enough to know the difference? If you present the delusion of religion, then why not also present them with the delusion that the earth is the center of the universe, and it's flat? How about the delusion of slavery, are you going to give them an option on that? What about Naziism? With you, anything seems possible. This is why we weed out the bad info, and concentrate on the good stuff.

      December 7, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      smartaz – Yeah, and the Heaven's Gate people did what they believed, and so did David Koresh. They are exactly the same as any other religious delusionist, they do what they do because they have brain damaging delusions of grandeur based on lies and propaganda. They are all exactly the same.

      December 7, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • smartaz

      @WhatWhatWhat Yeah, people committing mass suicide is exactly the same thing as people spending their time work soup kitchens and just reading the Bible. I'm not taking one side or the other. Just simply seeing it from both point of views. All you are doing is proving that lacking the ability to have a rationale thought isn't limited to believers as many state.

      December 7, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      smartaz – They are exactly the same thing, delusional belief in something that is not true. It doesn't matter what that person does in life, believing in lies is believing in lies. You can do what nearly all religious delusionists do, and that is to change the focus of the conversation without actually answering any question so that it makes your side look better, but I'm not falling for it. If you are christian, you believe in the persecution and death of all nonbelievers (i.e. me) and it's my duty to ridicule you about those beliefs until they are changed.

      December 7, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  18. Whoknows

    Did you hear about the dyslexic, agnostic, insomniac? He stayed up all night wondering if there is a dog.

    December 7, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  19. tony

    Religion had to be invented by an Atheist.. . . . Think about it 🙂

    December 7, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • derp


      December 7, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Please, stop making sense. You're embarrassing those that can't figure it out by themselves.

      December 7, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  20. derp

    What do gods farts smell like?

    December 7, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • PES


      December 7, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • Henry

      Newt Gingrich.

      December 7, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.