Elaine Ecklund:

This would be a typical response from the atheist scientist who is not spiritual when I ask, “So how do you answer questions that have to do with the meaning of life, big questions such as why are we here, what’s the purpose of my life?” They would answer, “I don’t think those are important questions to be asking.” Those questions just don’t matter. It wasn’t that they had an answer that was different from the general public. They just didn’t think those were important questions. Now, the atheist scientists who are spiritual would give answers to those questions, and they would give them through the sense of being spiritual. They would talk about how they found awe and beauty in nature, they found awe in the birth of their children, they found awe in the very work that they do as scientists. They just couldn’t see that as being explained only by science—there has to be something else out there beyond themselves. But then they did not see that as being God, or needing to name it as theism of any sort.
So what should people take away from your study?
Many of these scientists who are atheists are not hostile to big questions of the meaning of life. I thought there would be scientists who were religious. I thought there would be probably a lot fewer scientists who were religious than people in the general public who are religious. None of those findings were surprising. But this spiritual atheist finding has really been surprising to me personally.
Yes, this is another installment of “the utterly vapid meaninglessness of the word “spiritual”. But you know what makes people hostile to the “big questions of the meaning of life”? The understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all “meaning of life”. The question itself betrays an inherent confusion that wears just a mite thin after, oh, about the thousandth repetition. What’s the meaning of your life, other than annoying me with facile generalizations about people who supposedly walk around all day thinking of art, music and love in terms of subatomic particles? (Thank you, Martin Figura.)