More Scientists Believe In God Than Atheists Want to Think

pie charts from Pew study

In the late 90s, atheists began making the argument that less than a majority of scientists believe in God. In addition to this they argued that the National Academy of Sciences had only about 5% members who believed in God. All of this was due to the publication of a 1998 article entitled "Leading Scientists Still reject God." In that article, the author got hold of a survey done in 1914 by a guy named James Henry Luba and Nature Magazine noticed that the stats had not changed. So the conclusion that scientists are such great priests of knowledge, if they don't believe in God there must not be one.

Research on this topic began with the eminent US psychologist James H. Leuba and his landmark survey of 1914. He found that 58% of 1,000 randomly selected US scientists expressed disbelief or doubt in the existence of God, and that this figure rose to near 70% among the 400 "greater" scientists within his sample [1]. Leuba repeated his survey in somewhat different form 20 years later, and found that these percentages had increased to 67 and 85, respectively [2].
In 1996, we repeated Leuba's 1914 survey and reported our results in Nature [3]. We found little change from 1914 for American scientists generally, with 60.7% expressing disbelief or doubt. This year, we closely imitated the second phase of Leuba's 1914 survey to gauge belief among "greater" scientists, and find the rate of belief lower than ever — a mere 7% of respondents. (Nature, ibid)

Atheists made the most of this since Luba echoed the fallacious conclusions they themselves drew from the data. "Leuba attributed the higher level of disbelief and doubt among "greater" scientists to their "superior knowledge, understanding, and experience" (ibid). Of course this is fallacious, scientists don't have any special knowledge that would tell them God doesn't exist or that he does. It was Nature that polled the NAS. One of the things that I argued at the time was that the questions were rigged to slant the discussion toward the fundamentalist concept of God portrayed in a literal understanding of the Bible. I argued that if you factored in a more liberal concept of God belief among scientists would go way up.

There are now several studies or surveys that reflect this assumption and a new set of findings changes the ball game. Several studies:

(1) Trow, Martin and Associates. 1969. 35% of scientists do not believe God exists. This is a lot more than the general population but a lot less than the over 50% promised by Luba and Nature. It also raises the question if the Luba and/or Nature weren't confusing the issue by assuming that "un-churched" or "non-affiliated, no religious affiliation" means the same as don't believe in God. It does not. Over and over again that distinction is made clear in the better studies.

(Carnegie Commission National Survey of Higher Education: Faculty Study [computer file]. Berkeley: University of California at Berkeley, Survey Research Center [producer]. Ann Arbor, MI: University Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor].

(2)Elaine Ecklund, and Christopher Scheitle: Disbelief in the existence of God was not correlated with any particular area of expertise:

Disbelief in God by Academics4
Discipline %
Physics 40.8
Chemistry 26.6
Biology 41.0
Overall 37.6
Sociology 34.0
Economics 31.7
Political Science 27.0
Psychology 33.0
Overall 31.2

(tabel is from article)

That contradicts the findings of nature which had most unbelief in hard sciences (physics and biology) and more belief in 'soft' or social sciences. Elaine Ecklund, and Christopher Scheitle" questioned 2,198 faculty members in the disciplines of physics, chemistry, biology, sociology, economics, political science, and psychology from 21 elite U.S. research universities.4 Overall, 75% of professors contacted completed the survey."

Euklund and associates also found that in a sample of 21 major universities only 15% of scientists found that science and religion were always at odds. Euklund's findings show that factors which lead scientists to be unbelieving are not usually related to science but to personal aspects of their lives, such as being emigrants, or being raised in atheist households. It's a cultural thing. Think about it, if a kid is bright he wants to excel in the things to which he is exposed, he going to be more likely to go into a religious vacation if he's exposed to religion and less likely if he's form an unbelieving background. The odds are a bright kid will go into science rather than business if his temperament doesn't lead him/her into liberal arts.

"Instead, particular demographic factors, such as age, marital status, and presence of children in the household, seem to explain some of the religious differences among academic scientists... Most important, respondents who were raised in religious homes, especially those raised in homes where religion was important are most likely to be religious at present."
3) Pew Forum on religion in pubic life: (2009) 51% of scientists believe in some form of diety

According to the poll, just over half of scientists (51%) believe in some form of deity or higher power; specifically, 33% of scientists say they believe in God, while 18% believe in a universal spirit or higher power. By contrast, 95% of Americans believe in some form of deity or higher power, according to a survey of the general public conducted by the Pew Research Center in July 2006. Specifically, more than eight-in-ten Americans (83%) say they believe in God and 12% believe in a universal spirit or higher power. Finally, the poll of scientists finds that four-in-ten scientists (41%) say they do not believe in God or a higher power, while the poll of the public finds that only 4% of Americans share this view.
The finding here totally contradicts Luba and the atheist argument. They would have it that more than half don't believe. It's much less than the general public but much more than Luba thought.

A surprising finding is that medical doctors tend to be very religious.

The first study of physician religious beliefs has found that 76 percent of doctors believe in God and 59 percent believe in some sort of afterlife. The survey, performed by researchers at the University and published in the July issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found that 90 percent of doctors in the United States attend religious services at least occasionally, compared to 81 percent of all adults. Fifty-five percent of doctors say their religious beliefs influence how they practice medicine.
These results were not anticipated. Religious belief tends to decrease as education and income levels increase, yet doctors are highly educated and, on average, well compensated. The finding also differs radically from 90 years of studies showing that only a minority of scientists (excluding physicians) believes in God or an afterlife.
“We did not think physicians were nearly this religious,” said study author Farr Curlin, Instructor in Medicine and a member of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University. “We suspect that people who combine an aptitude for science with an interest in religion and an affinity for public service are particularly attracted to medicine. The responsibility to care for those who are suffering and the rewards of helping those in need resonate throughout most religious traditions.”

In the general popularization belief my decline with increases in education but this is not so among the most educated. Professors across the board (all subjects) reflect belief in God similar to that of the General Population. My own explanation is that people who get degrees and go into non-acadmeic jobs know just enough to be dangerous, they don't continue the life of thought they know the old image of atheism was an intellectual image but they don't keep up with learning and thinking as professors do.

Tim Radford writes an article for the Guardian (sept 2003) on how science doesn't have all the answers, give several examples of scientists who have religious beliefs:

Colin Humphreys is a dyed-in-the-wool materialist. That is, he is professor of materials science at Cambridge. He believes in the power of science to explain the nature of matter. He believes that humans - like all other living things - evolved through the action of natural selection upon random mutation. He is also a Baptist. He believes in the story of Moses, as recounted in the biblical book of Exodus. He believes in it enough to have explored Egypt and the Holy Land in search of natural or scientific explanations for the story of the burning bush, the 10 plagues of Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea and the manna that fell in the wilderness -and then written a book about it.
"I believe that the scientific world view can explain almost anything," he says. "But I just think there is another world view as well."
Tom McLeish is professor of polymer physics at Leeds. Supermarket plastic bags are polymers, but so are spider's silk, sheep's wool, sinew and flesh and bone. His is the intricate world of what is, and how it works, down to the molecular level. He delights in the clarity and power of science, precisely because it is questioning rather than dogmatic. "But the questions that arise, and the methods we use to ask them, can be traced back to the religious tradition in which I find myself. Doing science is part of what it means in that tradition to be human. Because we find ourselves in this puzzling, extraordinary universe of pain and beauty, we will also find ourselves able to explore it, by adopting the very successful methods of science," he says.
Russell Stannard is now emeritus professor of physics at the Open University. He is one of the atom-smashers, picking apart the properties of matter, energy, space and time, and the author of a delightful series of children's books about tough concepts such as relativity theory. He believes in the power of science. He not only believes in God, he believes in the Church of England. He, like Tom McLeish, is a lay reader. He has con tributed Thoughts for the Day to Radio 4, those morning homilies on the mysteries of existence. Does it worry him that science - his science - could be about to explain the whole story of space, time matter and energy without any need for a Creator? "No, because a starting point you can have is: why is there something rather than nothing? Why is there a world? Now I cannot see how science could ever provide an answer," he says.
Radford expresses surprise that so many scientists believe in God, even with the old figures that gave atheists such solace. The figure he uses is the outdated 4 in 10. We have to keep in mind atheism is not a rational choice made by thinking machines who feel nothing. It's an emotional choice made by people with low self esteem. They need to put themselves up by putting Christians down. They can't say they hate God, even though they hate themselves and thus they must hate at least the idea of a creator, so the next best thing is to hate those who believe in God. It's very important for them emotionally to believe that they are smarter and that all intelligent people validate their world view. The atheist ideology suggests that science is a priesthood of knowledge and scientists are the only people who know anything. These are not rational analysis based upon empirical data from studies, but articles of faith.


The Scholar said…
Nicely summarized. Do yourself a service and double check your spelling and grammar.
Edwardtbabinski said…
There's obviously a higher percentage of people less concerned with religion among scientists than among the general public. Even the scientists who believe in "God," what exactly do they believe about God and what level of devotion and concern about "God" and their "personal salvation" are we talking about?

I also don't know any atheists who think such percentages constitute proof of atheism, or even count highly as evidence, though if the entire world's percentages of religious belief more closely resembled that of scientists, I daresay many atheists would be pleased to accept that kind of world rather than the one we presently inhabit.

Also note that no one is taking a poll of clergy, people professionally trained to study the activities and words of God in the Bible and in the congregations where such clergymen preach. So perhaps "being a scientist" and the "opinions of scientific experts" now have a generally recognized higher value today than that of clergymen. And isn't that saying a lot in itself?
Bob Sorensen said…
"Also note that no one is taking a poll of clergy, people professionally trained to study the activities and words of God in the Bible and in the congregations where such clergymen preach. So perhaps "being a scientist" and the "opinions of scientific experts" now have a generally recognized higher value today than that of clergymen. And isn't that saying a lot in itself?"

No, hate to break it to you, but your non sequitur does not apply. This was pointing out the fact that atheists do not quite have the stranglehold on "science" that they want people to believe.
Katie said…
This is a great resource, but I cannot share it with my atheist friends as their poor self esteem will cause them to tear it apart due to the grammatical and spelling errors it contains. Please do correct those so the intellectual barricades of those who consider themselves smarter won't cause them to dismiss the research out of hand because of these errors. I'm sure that hardened atheists will still dismiss the facts here, but we can hope that we don't make it easier by not correcting simple mistakes. Thanks!
Frank King said…
I just wrote a blog about this very subject. Amazing timing! If interested, you can read it here:
Anonymous said…
I'm an atheist, and I shared this link. I've never argued that a majority of scientists don't believe in god, and I've never heard it argued, so I was glad to see this post. I shared it and asked my atheist friends (all 3,000+) to never make the incorrect claim--to only note the accurate claim that religious belief among scientific communities is notable lower than that of the general population. I actually promote to theists that a majority of scientists believe in god, because many theists who talk to me try to claim that evolutionary biologists or cosmologists are anti-god or trying to disprove god with their theories. I wish most of *them* realized that most scientists are theists/deists, so they'd realize that science is not an anti-god conspiracy--an argument I *do* hear considerably often that is nicely debunked by stats like these. Thanks again!
Bravus said…
There are factual errors as well as the errors of spelling and grammar.

The pie chart at the top (from the Pew study) for scientists shows, when the 'don't know/refused' category removed, shows 48% with some form of religious belief and 48% without. Factually, neither side can claim a majority of scientists.

Not that such a point would prove a lot anyway.

Similarly, for the Ecklund and Scheitle study, the overall rate of *disbelief* for the 'hard sciences' is 37.6% and for the 'soft sciences' is 31.2%, which doesn't support the claim that "That contradicts the findings of Nature which had most unbelief in hard scineces (physics and biology) and more belief in 'soft' or social sciences." On the contrary, this evidence *supports* the claim in Nature.

These are not the only ones. If you're going to make an argument based on statistics, it's essential to avoid these kinds of errors.
ricegf said…
@Bravus "Similarly, for the Ecklund and Scheitle study, the overall rate of *disbelief* for the 'hard sciences' is 37.6% and for the 'soft sciences' is 31.2%... this evidence *supports* the claim in Nature."

Actually, there's not enough information to determine if the Nature claim is supported or not by this data.

We need more than mere percentages - we also need standard deviation to determine if the difference shown falls within the margin of error.

Common mistake.

I followed the link, but hit a pay wall, so I couldn't gather than info for you.

I believe you are mistaken in your interpretation of the Religious Affiliation pie chart, though. Since Atheist and Agnostic were specified as options, "Nothing in Particular" would seem to refer to belief in a deity without a specific religious affiliation (from the title). Thus they must be included in the "some form of religious belief" category, and the majority claim is supported by the data at 68%.
John Quin said…
There seems to be a lot of discussion in certain circles at the moment as to what exactly the "none's" or "Nothing in Particular" signify in these current surveys.

Anonymous said…
If more people that write articles really concerned themselves with writing great content like you, more readers would be interested in their writings. Thank you for caring about your content. jason hope
Daniel H said…
Interesting article, for theists and atheists both.
I would like to see the questions in those surveys.
The agnostic and atheist responses are the only purely unreligious answers, but depending of how the question is formulated, it's not impossible to be in more than one category.
For example, Einstein was a proud jew as well as a self proclaimed agnostic.
This is possible also among the other religions, one can be culturally a member and participant in a religion without having a belief in the god or gods of said belief.
There is also the "other religion" category. There is a number of godless religions that is much more closely related to atheism and agostisism than a theist religion.

These are however probably very minor deviations that may not impact the result, but as I said, it would be very interesting to read the questions of the surveys, both from 1914 and from the most recent.
Unknown said…
Please proofread and correct all the spelling, typographical, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization errors, even if it means reposting and deleting the old version. Please.

Otherwise, you did an amazing job at reading and summarizing all these statistics.
Anonymous said…
Belief in God has always been the most basic aspect of mankind, throughout the entirety of history all civilizations, tribes and even the most remote individuals unnanimously have the knowledge of God naturally because it is the obvious truth, and even babies see the world as designed and believe in the divine and angels by default.

This also explains why atheists have always been a notorious minority of the angriest, most bitter and most miserable minority of people in the world, and they tend to be ugly neckbeards that failed in life and carry victim mentality due to their psychological issues, it also explains why atheists have very low social skills, are unable to make families and have by far the highest suicide rates, it is impossible to find peace without God

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