Are Top Scientists Overwhelmingly Atheists?

Posted on 06/29/13 39 Comments

This is another guest post from my friend J. Steve Miller. You can visit Steve online at his website: www.jstevemiller.com

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Abstract: Writers often cite surveys as evidence that the vast majority of America’s elite scientists are atheists. Since surveys find the majority of America’s general population believing in God, many infer that the study of science typically leads to rejection of faith in God.  This paper examines the studies, compares them with related studies, and concludes that most American scientists probably believe in God, and that the majority of elite scientists see no conflict between science and belief in God.

Dramatic Claims

The assured results have been proclaimed from the housetops.  Larson and Witham claimed that their survey of elite scientists “found near universal rejection of the transcendent.”1 Atheist Richard Dawkins relied upon this study in The God Delusion.2 More recently, philosopher Alex Rosenberg cited this study as finding “95 percent of the most distinguished scientists in America (along with their foreign associate members) don’t believe in God.” Rosenberg’s conclusion? “An unblinking scientific worldview requires atheism.”3

That’s quite a claim! But frankly, it appeared rather sensational, so much so that I took drastic measures. I dug up the primary documents. Harvard scientist Stephen Jay Gould suggested these drastic measures as “the primary rule of intellectual life”:

“when puzzled, it never hurts to read the primary documents—a rather simple and self-evident principle that has, nonetheless, completely disappeared from large sectors of the American experience.”4

The Survey Versus the Reports

What I found was quite enlightening.

  • The study never asked about belief in God in general, but     about belief in a very personal God who answers prayers and communicates actively     and effectively with people. In other words, respondents didn’t comment on     God in general, just this specific formulation of a very personal God. The     questions would likely put many deists, as well as theists who tend to     doubt people’s reports of God communicating directly with them, in the     category of unbeliever.5
  • The figure was 72 percent (hardly “near universal     rejection”) who said they rejected this specific view of God.
  • The questions were worded poorly.6 So much so, that     Eugenie C. Scott,  executive     director of the National Center for Science Education, examined the study     and concluded that the questions were so poorly worded  that that the survey was “not well     designed for investigating the religious views of scientists (or anyone     else).”7

A Clearer Study Begs to Differ

A more straightforward, recent study of a much larger number of elite scientists found 40 percent of the respondents saying that they believed that God guided the evolutionary process (theistic evolution). Another 5 percent believed in a “special creation” by God, which brings us to 45 percent whose belief in origins includes an active God.8 But don’t conclude that the remaining 55 percent were atheists. The rest simply said that they didn’t believe God was guiding evolution. So even among those remaining 55% are surely many who believe, like many deists, that God jumpstarted the universe with its precise settings and natural laws, then let it develop on its own without interference. (About 25 percent of Americans believe in an impersonal God.)9 If this observation were controlled for, this survey would likely indicate that most of these elite scientists believed in God.

Comparing Apples to Kiwis

Dawkins and Rosenberg believe that the preponderance of atheism among American scientists (which we question above), when compared with the preponderance of theism among the general American population, demonstrates that scientific enlightenment inexorably leads to atheism. But this type of comparison requires an apples to apples comparison. Do the elite scientists surveyed differ from the general American population in ways other than their scientific prowess?

Many surveys of the American population find women expressing stronger spiritual beliefs than men. Since the membership in the National Academy of Sciences (the survey pool for the Larson and Witham survey) appears to be 95% men,10 this should be factored into any comparisons. And so should the seemingly large percentage of scientists who may be first generation Americans, since people’s religious beliefs are often impacted by their parent’s beliefs, and the beliefs prevalent in their cultures of origin. One study of elite scientists (teaching at our top research universities) found only 59 percent of them to be non-immigrant, US citizens. Twelve percent of the natural scientists were Asian.11 Obviously, we must control for this when comparing their religiosity with the general US population.

Attending my brother’s graduation from Georgia Tech, I noticed an intriguing phenomenon. Comparing undergrads to Masters  students to PhD recipients, students began to look more Asian the further they advanced in their education. Surely we wouldn’t argue that scientific study changes our appearance! Rather, we know that Asians represent a significant proportion of our science programs and become much more  prominent in our Masters and PhD programs. Among Georgia Tech undergraduates, Caucasians  outnumber Asians two to one; but in the PhD programs, Asians outnumber Caucasians.12  

Since a significantly greater proportion of Asians tend to choose “no religion” on surveys,13 as opposed to those born in America, I’d assume that a survey of Georgia Tech students would find their more advanced students to be less religious than undergraduates. If so, this might be due more to the influx of Asian students than from religious students losing their spirituality as they go along. Eight thousand Purdue students are Asian. This is a significant factor that surveys must consider.

A Study of Elite Scientists Born in America

A study of 642 elite scientists limited their survey to only those born in America. Only 1.4% “listed themselves as atheists or agnostics.” But don’t conclude that the rest were avid church attenders. While over three fourths indicated affiliation with a religious body and over one half attended services two or more times per month, 38.5 % of the total number of scientists answered “no” to the question: “Do you believe in life after death?” Of course, many people who believe in God don’t believe in life after death.

Of those who indicated disbelief in life after death, should we assume that their reason is because they feel their science leads them inexorably to this conclusion?  While many writers took the earlier-mentioned surveys to indicate that scientists typically reject religion because they believe that science and religion are inherently contradictory, this survey actually asked the scientists. 86.4 percent of the 642 saw no conflict.14

Conclusion

Surveys that use vague questions or fail to appropriately control for relevant demographics skew results and draw unwarranted conclusions.  I see no evidence that top American scientists almost universally reject belief in God. Nor do I see evidence that most scientists see science and religion as mutually exclusive. In fact, I see evidence that most top American scientists indeed believe in God.  I certainly  see no indication from these surveys that “An unblinking scientific worldview requires atheism.”

* * *

1. Larson and Witham, Leading Scientists Still Reject God, Nature, Vol. 394, No. 6691, p. 313 (1998). 2. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006),pp. 126,127. 3. Alex Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), p. vii. 4. Stephen Jay Gould. 1997. “Nonoverlapping Magisteria.” Natural History (March): 16–

22, 60–62. 5. Here’s the statement the scientists were asked to take a position on: “I believe in a God in intellectual and effective communication with humankind, i.e., a God to whom one might pray in expectation of receiving an answer. By “answer”, I mean more than the subjective psychological effects of prayer.” Albert Einstein, for example, although he often insisted that he believed in God and that he wasn’t an atheist, would have to answer “no” to this question, since he believed in an impersonal God who didn’t answer prayer. He was a strict determinist.   6. Referring to the above statement, the scientists were asked true or false on this statement:  “I have no definite belief regarding this question.” So let’s say a scientist believes in God and believes that God might communicate with a fellow human, but he isn’t definite in this belief because God has never communicated in such a way with him. He’d likely answer “true”, indicating that he had “no definite belief regarding this question.”  Yet, Larson and Witham took this answer to mean they were agnostic or atheist.

7. Eugenie C. Scott, Do Scientists Really Reject God?: New Poll Contradicts Earlier Ones, Reports of the National Center for Science Education, Volume 18, Issue 2, March-April, 1997, pp. 24,25.

8. Larry Witham, Many Scientists See God’s Hand in Evolution, Reports of the National Center for Science Education, Volume: 17 Issue: 6, 1997,  November–December, p. 33.

9. http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report2religious-landscape-study-key-findings.pdf 10. Here is the membership list of the National Academy of Sciences – http://www.nasonline.org/member-directory/

11. Elaine Howard Ecklund, Jerry Z. Park, Conflict Between Religion and Science Among Academic Scientists? Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion (2009) 48(2). 276-292.

12.http://apps.irp.gatech.edu/apps/Enrollment/ethnicity.cfm?TERM=201302&time_status= Total&FTE=0 13. http://www.gallup.com/poll/159785/rise-religious-nones-slows-2012.aspx – In Gallup’s recent survey, 27 percent of those classifying themselves as having no religion were Asian.  14. Ted R. Vaughan, Douglas H. Smith, Gideon Sjoberg, The Religious Orientations of American Physical Scientists,  Social Forces. Jun., 1966, Vol. 44, Issue 4, p519-526, 8p. University of North Carolina Press. A more recent study of elite American scientists (professors at top research universities) found the majority seeing no conflict between science and religion. Ecklund and Park, Opt. Cit.

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  • Walter

    In fact, I see evidence that most top American scientists indeed
    believe in God.

    Yes indeed, but apparently not many believe in the personal God of the Christian faith.

    I certainly see no indication from these surveys that
    “An unblinking scientific worldview requires atheism.”

    A scientific worldview does not require atheism.

    • David

      Walter (or anyone else reading this). Would you be able to recommend a book that would be a good rebuttal to Cold Case Christianity or Case for Christ? Something on the same reading level? Thanks.

      • Walter

        You might try The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond The Grave

        Be warned though, some of the essays in that anthology are not written for a popular audience.

        There is also Robert M. Price’s book The Case Against The Case For Christ, written as a direct rebuttal of Lee Strobel’s book.

        You could also try one of several books written by Randal’s sparring partner, John Loftus.

      • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

        Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” is fabulous.

        • RonH

          Ehrman outguns Strobel by a couple of orders of magnitude, IMO.

          On NT reliability, I highly recommend any of the debates between Bart Ehrman and Dan Wallace (they’ve had three or four, I think). Clean, tough matches. One of ‘em got written up as a book, I believe.

          Even Wallace recommends the intro to textual criticism bit in the first part of “Misquoting Jesus” as one of the best lay-level treatments of the subject.

          I don’t agree with Ehrman, but I like and respect him. He’s a great communicator, both in print and in person. His courses for The Teaching Company are also excellent.

  • McCafe

    Steve Miller writes:
    “Many surveys of the American population find women expressing stronger spiritual beliefs than men. ” — “Since the membership in the National Academy of Sciences (the survey pool for the Larson and Witham survey) appears to be 95% men, this should be factored into any comparisons.”

    “in the PhD programs, Asians outnumber Caucasians. ” — “Eight thousand Purdue students are Asian. This is a significant factor that surveys must consider.”

    “A study of 642 elite scientists limited their survey to only those born in America. ” — “While many writers took the earlier-mentioned surveys to indicate that scientists typically reject religion because they believe that science and religion are inherently contradictory, this survey actually asked the scientists. 86.4 percent of the 642 saw no conflict.”

    Therefore:
    “I see no evidence that top American scientists almost universally reject belief in God.” and “I certainly see no indication from these surveys that “An unblinking scientific worldview requires atheism.””
    Conclusion:
    Compensating for gender, nationality and race, I get a survey – and the survey result – that I agree with.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      It seems that you are challenging Steve’s analysis based on a speculation about his motivations. And that smacks of the genetic fallacy. What you should do is challenge his qualifications on their independent merit, irrespective of whether he offered those qualifications to get the survey results amenable to his position.

      • McCafe

        You are right. My initial knee-jerk reaction focused on what I perceived as “red flags” in his presentation – gender based, race based and nationality based conditions to forming a different survey. I will go back and see if I can formalize a better response.

        • McCafe

          Steve Miller objects to the results of a survey of American scientists by Edward J Larsen and Larry Witham taken in 1996, a repeat of a survey conducted by James H. Leuba in 1914 and again in 1933. He cites the use of these survey results by Richard Dawkins and Alex Rosenburg to further their philosophical agenda.

          Are there any compelling reasons to reject the results of this survey? Miller answers with three specific charges 1)because the study never asked about belief in God in general, 2) the study showed that personal disbelief in God was only 72%, not “near universal rejection” and 3) he claims that the questions were poorly worded.

          As to objection #1: because the study never asked about belief in God in general – Miller does not present any evidence that the respondents would have answered differently or that the results would have been different if the questions were phrased more specifically. He offers that the survey causes deists, and theists who doubt personal accounts of communication with God, to fall into the category of unbeliever. Unless you have evidence; not intuition, anecdotes or a general feeling, that the number of these theorized deists and theists would significantly affect the results, or that the members of the sample would have actually responded differently given a more specific phrasing, then the Larsen and Withan results stand in line with the previous historical results in 1914 and 1933. And if you have objections to the results of the 1996 study then you should also have objections to similar results from the 1914 survey instance and the 1933 instance. But I do not see where Miller has objected to those results.

          Objection #2: the study showed that Personal disbelief in God in 1996 was only 72% (in 1933 it was 68% and in 1914 it was 52.7%), not “near universal rejection of the transcendent” as Larsen and Withan characterize the findings in an article for Nature in 1998. Larsen and Withan use the phrase “near universal rejection of the transcendent” to encompass both survey choices of “Personal disbelief (72.2% and “Doubt or Agnosticism” (20.8%) totaling 93%, as opposed to Personal belief (7.0%). Is this objection to the use of hyperbole in a separate presentation of the survey results a compelling reason to reject the survey results? No, the hyperbole might be regrettable, or not, but it is irrelevant.

          Objection #3: The questions were poorly worded. This is a re-statement of objection #1.

          Based solely on Miller’s three objections we simply are not compelled to the wholesale rejection of the survey results.

          Miller goes on to offer a recent, different survey, from 2009, which he claims is more representative of American scientist’s view of God. And he offers suggestions as to how future data samples should be altered in order to “appropriately control for relevant demographics” such as race and gender. His reasoning seems to be that if you want to know what percentage of American scientists are atheists you should alter your data sample so that it closely follows general American population in race and gender. By this reasoning if 75% of the general American population are theists then we need to “appropriately control” our survey data sample of American scientists so that we ensure that 75% of the American scientists we sample to find out how many are atheists, are theists.

          If I have mis-read or misunderstood any part of the presentation then I am open to clarification.

          • steve miller

            McCafe, thanks for your thoughts! I actually think that a lot more research and analysis needs to be done in this area, so I appreciate the back and forth. My objections actually went past the three you mention. So I’ll add these to your three:

            4) Another recent study with more straightforward questions found a much larger percentage of scientists believing in God. This contradicts the results of the other study. You can see some discussion of this survey and comparisons here:

            http://ncse.com/rncse/18/2/do-scientists-really-reject-god

            The article concludes: “The answers showed that a large proportion (40%) of prominent scientists believe in a God that is sufficiently personal or interactive with humankind that human evolution is guided or planned.” I added the 5% of prominent scientists who believed in special creation, to come up with the 45% that I mentioned in my post and suggested that many of the remaining 55% may believe that God exists, but didn’t actively participate in the evolutionary process.

            5) For a person to conclude from the Larson and Witham report that the study of science leads people to atheism, you’d need to control for the fact that so many top scientists were born in other countries. Yet, this was not controlled for.

            • McCafe

              Steve, can we take one more step to help me out of my confusion here – is it your view that if you are trying to establish through the use of a survey the percentage of atheists within a group it is legitimate to alter the sample group (control) such that certain people who may be prone to atheism can be discarded based solely on racial origin (Asian) or gender (male)?

              I do appreciate your contributions on this blog.

              • Steve Miller

                McCafe,

                Some are trying to conclude from these studies that a study of science naturally leads to atheism. I’m merely saying that the above studies don’t prove that. In order to give evidence for that, you’d need to ensure through controls that you’re making apples to apples comparisons.

                One study I quoted actually controlled for this by only asking scientists born in America. It was an older study from the 1950′s, but the only study I found that controlled for this. If a newer study controlled for this it would be interesting.

  • David Marshall

    Very interesting post. I discuss this question in Chapter Two of The Truth Behind the New Atheism, “Are Scientists too ‘Bright’ to Believe in God?” Taking Dawkins’ stats for granted (oops!) I give seven other explanations for those stats: (1) anti-Christian socialization on campus, beginning in some cases in high school (I have seen it, as a substitute teacher); (2) irrational extension of the principle of methodological naturalism; (3) bias against miracles in research; (4) common belief in the allegedly arbitrary nature of miracles; (5) churches setting their kids up to lose their faith by preaching bad science; (6) scientists work hard in their own fields, and don’t often have time to thoroughly investigate religious claims; (7) there is a certain panache that society encourages about science, and scientism is closely intertwined with the concept behind that.

    I accepted Dawkins’ figures for the sake of the argument, assuming that eventually he was bound to get something right. But apparently that was a mistake. Still, profs still do tend to lean atheist far more than the general population. So I think the explanations above still help explain the phenomena.

    In East Asia, by the way, the more education you have, often the more likely it is you will be a Christian. In Singapore, that goes all the way to the PhD level.

    • Steve Miller

      David,

      Thanks for those insights, which certainly must be controlled in order to make more accurate conclusions from the data. I especially appreciate your insight:

      “In East Asia, by the way, the more education you have, often the more likely it is you will be a Christian. In Singapore, that goes all the
      way to the PhD level.”

      Do you have the studies which found these results? That’s significant data.

      To put it on a smaller scale, let’s imagine that someone starts a university in a region that’s 90% Buddhist. I’d expect that a survey of the upper classmen and professors would find a significantly smaller percentage of Buddhists than among locals, if only because there would be much more diversity in such a setting. Those who were nominally Buddhist may have considered no other option while growing up. Now, in the university, they’ve been exposed to many options. But this statistic wouldn’t necessarily imply that “the more educated one gets, the more he realizes the mindlessness of Buddhism.”

      Similarly, in a university placed in a predominately Christian culture, many locals check “Christian” on surveys out of default, not so much because they gave it rigorous thought and decided it was true. When these nominal Christians go to college, they now find many options, so that I’d expect a smaller percentage of Christians in a university setting than in a non-university setting. (Also, of course, you have a more diverse population in universities due to people attending and teaching from all over the world.)

  • http://nolscuriosity.wordpress.com/ Nolan

    This is a really awesome article, and I think this sort of scientific skepticism is well warranted when atheists make convenient factual claims.

    Unless I’m mistaken, even with the reasonable suggestions factored in, the data still suggests much less belief in a personal god among scientists, even less among the most respected of scientists.

    The concept of “god” is fuzzy, so I don’t care if scientists believe in Einstein’s god. Einstein’s god gels more with atheism than theism. What matters is

    • rabenatz

      Filtering out all the factors he doesn’t like (gender, nationality etc.) to custom generate the result he wants is not scientific skepticism.

  • RonH

    Someone should tell John Polkinghorne that he didn’t have the chops to be a real scientist.

    I don’t know that it’s ever been investigated, but I have a hunch that YECism has played a role in these stats. When I was growing up in YECist contexts, we were warned off of state universities or other secular environments because of all the EVILution we’d encounter. Of course, the “approved” institutions lacked real science programs. I think a whole lot of Christians got revectored away from hard sciences (or at least revectored to irrelevant institutions). (I ended up at a state school anyway, but chose computer science instead of biology… partly because I thought it would conflict less with my faith.)

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Someone should tell John Polkinghorne that he didn’t have the chops to be a real scientist.

      If Polkinghorne used the same quality of arguments for his science as he uses for his Christianity, I would be happy to tell him so.

  • James

    Steve,

    Thank you for posting this article. It is quite interesting.

    I would like to offer some general, unbiased input from a mathematical perspective. In order to conduct an unbiased poll of this nature for the purpose of analyzing data and drawing a conclusion(s), three things (as a minimum) should be done:

    1. Clearly define the population (N) from which one intends to sample.

    2. State the precise sample size (n).

    3. Ask questions in the survey that give the responders a sufficiently wide array of choices as not to pidegonhole them into a category where they may not fully belong.

    Your article didn’t cite the size of the population (N) or the sample size (n) that Larson and Witham drew from. In your footnotes, you cited a statement from the Larson and Witham survey (i.e. I believe in a God in intellectual and effective communication with humankind…). I take it that the only possible responses to this question were “agree” or “disagree”, with no other alternatives to choose from. If the Larson and Witham survey was filled with questions of such a nature that “pidgeonholed” those who took the survey, I would tend to agree the results that Dawkins and Rosenberg claim appear to be “sensationalized”. Separately, the other survey you referenced offers the sample size (n = 642), but I didn’t notice a reference to the specific population (N) or the list the specific questions in the survey. Without doing so, and unless the same questions in both surveys were asked, one can not directly compare the results of the Larson and Witham survey with the other survey you cited.

    I believe an unbiased poll of this sort might include questions of this nature (keeping it simple):

    Which of the following categories would you say best characterizes your position:

    1. Strong atheist (i.e. I reject the claim of the existence of supreme being).
    2. Agnostic (i.e. I am uncertain if a supreme being exists or not).
    3. Theist (i.e. I believe a supreme being of some (unknown) nature exists.
    4. I believe that a supreme being of a specific nature exists.

    5. I believe Dr. Rauser IS the supreme being… ;-> (sorry, I couldn’t resist)

    Perhaps Dr. Rauser or Dr. Marshall might offer their opinions re. an appropriate list questions for such a survey. I believe it is of the utmost importance for any survey to be done with complete scientific integrity that does not lead to sensationalized claims re. the “data”.

    Thanks.

    • Kerk

      *Checks out the option #5*

      • James

        Kerk, does that list of questions seem reasonable? Maybe you would like to add to (or modify) the list. That list was off the cuff, but I get the idea that the Larson and Witham survey somewhat pidgeonholed those who took the survey. If it did, I would be inclined to disregard the “results” that Dawkins and Rosenberg claim.

        • Kerk

          No, the list is actually quite comprehensive. Except, I would add “Weak atheist.” Otherwise some people would be torn between #1 and #2.

          Incidentally, I researched this topic myself several years ago, and found several interesting studies. Sadly, they are all locked in peer review, and inaccessible without loging in.

          But read here, under the subtopic “Studies on scientific beliefs.”
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relationship_between_religion_and_science#Studies_on_scientists.27_beliefs

          • James

            Thank you for the reply. I considered adding “Weak atheist”, but I have heard some people try to equate “agnostic” and “Weak atheist”. Either way, a list of questions in a survey of this nature should allow sufficient choices to give the respondents more degrees of freedom than “agree or disagree” to narrowly worded statements. The more I hear about the specifics of the Larson and Witham survey, the less I think of the “results”.

            Thanks for the link. I am going to check it out right now.

  • cyngus

    If you were born in a Christian family that had baptized you or forced you to go to church, you’d be a Christian all your life in the eyes of Christians.

    Anyway, any listing of “top scientists” as belonging or not to a religion is irrelevant to atheism as well to theism. Science does not prove or disprove the existence of God. It just happened that science has brought more support to disbelief in God(s).

    As an atheist, I just see that science has found facts that do not support biblical facts. However, I do not say that science in itself has worked to show the falsity of claims about God existence. It’s just that the humanity, through science, gather more and more information about a reality that escaped to the ignorant writers of the bible.

    Even if a scientists would say “I believe in God”, it is totally irrelevant to the science.

    • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com/ physicsandwhiskey

      “If you were born in a Christian family that had baptized you or forced you to go to church, you’d be a Christian all your life in the eyes of Christians.”
      Hahahaha!! Seriously?

      • cyngus

        Yes. At least in the Eastern Orthodox Christian religion, in which my parents were brainwashed, they do not believe you’ll ever be an atheist after you were baptized. You are just a Christian trying to deny God.

        Telling that you’ll never be an atheist after you were baptized, is a better way to pester an atheist than to tell “he/she was never a true Christian”, after somebody disbelieve God who was born or member of a Christian denomination.

        Maybe Christians here will jump up and down about at idea that you’re irremediable Christian for being baptized, even if apparently you are an “atheistic apologist” (Randal’s new word)

  • Pingback: Science education and Atheistic beliefs – reconsidered | WhyJesus

  • Ray

    Here’s the abstract of the study Miller describes as “a study of elite scientists born in america”

    One
    means of understanding the relationship between science and religion in
    contemporary society is to study those persons
    who are most fully exposed to both
    systems—scientists themselves. An assessment of the religious practices
    and beliefs of
    a representative sample of American natural
    scientists indicates that they are neo-orthodox in their religious
    orientation.
    This pattern is underscored by a rather dramatic
    shift from the religious affiliations of their parents. Moreover, there
    is
    considerable variation in the religious orientation
    among scientists. Scientists in applied fields and those working
    outside
    of major universities are, in contrast to other
    scientists, somewhat more orthodox in their religious beliefs and
    practices.

    (the rest is behind a paywall,) but just from this I see the following:

    1) The study is from 1966. Almost 50 years old. Both the American Public and Scientists have become significantly less religious since then. It’s also telling that Miller had to dig so far back in the literature to get a result he liked.

    2)The abstract says working scientists are significantly less orthodox than their parents. Again, not clear what that means, but one might suspect that even this study indicates that scientists in 1966 were less religious than the public at large.

    3)There is no evidence whatsoever that the study was restricted to elite scientists. Indeed the reference to “those working outside major universities” would lead one to suspect that this study does not even apply the minimal standard of eliteness Ecklund uses (working for an elite university.)

    I am also suspicious of the self reported atheist/agnostic number. I suspect that a lot of the reason the number is so low is that the question wording encouraged scientists to self identify by cultural affiliation rather than belief.

    An additional note: The 86:4% no conflict number came from the Ecklund study, not the 1966 study, at least according to the footnote. It’s worth mentioning that when the Ecklund study asked scientists their beliefs, rather than cultural affiliations, about God, nearly two thirds were atheist/agnostic.

    • cyngus

      Actually 100% of American scientists where religious, after the introduction in 1954 Pledge to allegiance, of “one nation under God”.

      All Americans citizens were actually forced to be “under God” because of the fear from Communists who were “atheists”.

      I do understand that most Communist Party members were atheists, but to call the entire Communist countries as “atheists” and force all Americans “under God”, was the most stupidest thing Eisenhower pushed Americans to.

  • SiMoebus

    It is a conceptual gymnastics that some engage in. It is disheartening that people believe that science and religion are mutually exclusive.

    • rabenatz

      Well, the author of this article did the same by filtering out gender and nationality at will because he didn’t like the effect this reality has on the result of the study.

  • Nervegas

    And you seeing things your way means anything because…? The more educated the people, the less religious followers. Once you question you seek answers. And if the answer is a constant ‘you have to have faith’ any rational person will not see that as enough. And if you keep poking you will see that the whole ‘god’ thing is a thing without facts. Nothing can be shown, found, explained without the book. THAT is not enough for any self-respecting scientist. How do you know an egg comes from a chicken? Research, observation, repeatability. How do you know an egg does not come from a bunny? Research, observation, repeatability. You claim there is such thing as ‘god’ but are not willing to allow for research, observation and/or repeatability outside the book which does nothing but tell a story. ANY good scientist knows there is no such thing as ‘god’ but they understand that humans have this delusional space in which we like to created things like the tooth-fairy, santa, god, witches etc.

  • rabenatz

    Nicely done. Just teak and explain away the study until it fits your agenda. XD Sorry, but you don’t get to filter out all the non-American elite scientists.

    • gary

      He’s not filtering anything out, he’s talking about normalizing the statistics to adjust for a possible alternate causality that could potentially (but not necessarily) skew the results. His point is that the education or intelligence *may* (note the stress on the may) not be the cause of more people to identify as atheist, but rather their cultural origins, and the fact that cultural demographics in science fields are significantly different from the population in general.

      What he’s suggesting is a perfectly normal statistical process that is done in many studies. If (a) the conclusion is the reality and (b) the cultural differences don’t play a part, the results will be the same or similar. If however the normalized data shows different results, it would indicate that the conclusion isn’t warranted. Who knows, it could still be the reality – it would just mean that this particular study can’t adequately or definitively support that conclusion.

      tl:dr – Saying “you don’t get to filter out all the non-American elite scientists” is misguided since the the original study already “filtered out” all the non-American laypeople.

  • François Paganel

    But does God believe in USian scientists ?

  • Snoops27

    All you have done is twist the numbers to suit your religious needs!

  • bluaway

    If god is so powerful, why doesn’t he, she, or it ever manifest? Is death, only after the brain is not functioning, is when people are to meet this god?

  • Stephen Jones

    Scientific thought, that is critical thought, most definitely cannot include a god. I would put little or no trust in any individual that used a deity to support scientific reasoning. Imagine how flawed my thinking would be in the following example: “Based on personal communications with my deity, I have been informed by him that the current subatomic theories are flawed. Further he has informed me that I am not able to articulate said flaws as this is beyond human comprehension at this point in our existence.” This is laughable. Deities exist for other emotional reasons such as fear of death. Gods are man made, man was not made by gods.

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