Readers speak: Why are scientists so much less likely to believe in God?

We know scientists are roughly three times more likely to reject belief in God than the general public, but do we know why? (public domain)

We know scientists are roughly three times more likely to reject belief in God than the general public, but do we know why? (public domain)

A reader’s response to one of my previous posts. Alan graciously agreed to let me share his thoughts with you:

Hi Tyler,

My name is Alan. By way of introduction, I come from a young-earth creationist background, but “evolved” to an old-earth creationist position when I was in my early 20s, and then “evolved” further to an “evolutionary creationist” position about 3 years ago in my late 30s.

Anyway, I enjoyed many of your posts, in particular the one entitled “3 seriously bad theological implications of YEC.” I wanted to give you my two cents regarding your comment on the prevalence of atheism/agnosticism in the sciences (particularly the biological sciences). My view is that while it may be true that atheism is more prevalent in the sciences, my sense is that part (not all) of the reason for that is that Christians have largely abandoned the field!

Because of the false dichotomy between “evolution” and “belief in God,” a dichotomy promoted by BOTH atheists like Richard Dawkins AND creationists like Ken Ham and Ray Comfort, you are bound to have atheists more inclined to study/pursue subjects (evolutionary biology, paleontology, etc.) which they have been conditioned to believe 1) upholds their worldview and 2) undermines Christianity. Additionally, and for the same reason, you are bound to have Christians who tend to fear the study/pursuit of those same subjects, which they have been conditioned to believe (just like the atheist) 1) upholds atheism and 2) undermines Christianity. If the church had long ago come to reject the false dichotomy, it might have rather encouraged its people to pursue careers in biology, paleontology, etc., and there would likely be much more proportional representation of both Christians AND atheists in those fields.

What do you think?

Alan S.
Baltimore, MD

I told Alan that I think he might be onto something. We know belief in God is much lower among scientists than it is in the general public, and, ironically, that fact is used to serve the agendas of two extreme and diametrically opposed views. Richard Dawkins, for example, makes use of the data in his book, “The God Delusion” and elsewhere, as proof that science has unraveled enough of life’s mysteries that we no longer have any “need” for God. Meanwhile, K-Ham and the like use it as evidence that the findings of science can’t be trusted (unless they come from Answers in Genesis!), and that the scientific endeavor itself is built upon a fundamentally atheistic worldview that erodes faith like acid.

I suppose the only way to really test their theories would be to analyze the percentage of individuals whose preexisting spiritual beliefs change upon in-depth exposure to the sciences. I’ve heard a number of anecdotes either way (believers becoming atheists the more they study science and vice versa), but I’m not aware that any comprehensive study such as this has ever been done. If it were undertaken, I would wager that its findings would support Alan’s hypothesis: That atheist scientists were generally inclined toward atheism before they became scientists, and that theist scientists were generally inclined toward theism before they became scientists.

And of course, I agree with Alan’s opinion that “faith or science” is a false dichotomy. I think the church, as a whole, was far more in line with what it should be when devout clergy like Gregor Mendel and Georges Lemaître were helping lead the world into a new era of scientific breakthrough, than it has been since certain branches of it embraced nonsense like “The Genesis Flood” with open arms.

What do you think, readers? Why is faith in God so much lower among scientists than the general public?

Tyler Francke

Category: Current Events, History, Latest Developments, Readers Speak, Science

  • http://worldinfocus.net/ Colin Morrison

    When I began my science studies, I was a believer (in a fairly unspecific way – I knew very little of Christianity as I discovered when I lived at a university chaplaincy!). As my knowledge in the sciences grew, so did my faith diminish. If I ever found a scenario where science said one thing and religion another, I always went with the science. Many of the others in that chaplaincy were creationists of some sort, and the reason was pure ignorance combined with religious upbringing.

    My own hypothesis is that the personality types drawn to the sciences are overwhelmingly the intuitive thinker variant (NT in Meyers-Briggs parlance). I am very confident that these types are also the least likely to be religious. Religion is not an intellectual position, but an emotional one, fed by fear of death, the need to belong, childhood conditioning and other things. Those most inclined to disregard emotion in favour of rationality are both most drawn to science and most likely to disregard religion.

    Trying to pin this on Dawkins isn’t valid – he’s only been actively campaigning for about a decade, and the people at the top of the scientific tree that form the basis of this statistic have been scientists much longer than that.

    So in short, while I do not dismiss Alan’s idea entirely, I consider it a minor trend in the overall outcome.

    • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

      Hey Colin! Good to hear from you again! Thanks for sharing a bit about your own story. I’d like to respond to one of the points you make here.

      Religion is not an intellectual position, but an emotional one, fed by fear of death, the need to belong, childhood conditioning and other things.

      I can’t disagree, at least from my experience, that fear of the unknown and a need to belong are big factors in why some people remain religious. I think growing up in a particular faith tradition is the main reason people become religious in the first place, though it’s not uncommon to see someone raised in a Christian home ultimately gravitate toward a denomination very different from their parents’ — and sometimes a different religion altogether.

      But, still, I can’t fully support your premise. For one thing, none of the reasons I personally became a Christian had anything to do with fear of death, the need to belong or childhood conditioning.

      Now, would you say it’s fundamentally impossible for someone to come to religion on intellectual terms? Please consider the following scenario.

      You say religion is an emotional, not intellectual position, but I imagine you would not say the same thing about a philosophical stance like deism. Many of our greatest thinkers throughout history have been inclined toward belief in some type of higher being, a fairly recent example being the philosopher Antony Flew. Since he did not subscribe to any particular religion or believe in an afterlife, he clearly was not influence by a desire to belong or fear of death.

      So, let’s say someone has come to adopt the philosophical position of deism, that the universe was the creation of a powerful and intelligent being. Is it completely unreasonable, from that point, to conjecture that if a being created the universe, and presumably humans as well, that It had a reason for doing so? And if It created us and had a reason for doing so, isn’t it logical to think that It would have interacted with us at some point, seeing as we seem to have the capacity of understanding or conceiving of a higher power (apparently unlike any of the other life forms we share this planet with)?

      And if someone did reason that a higher being had created the universe and human race for a purpose, and thus might have interacted with us in some way…well, that sounds a lot like religion to me. Then the only remaining question would be what kind of religious worldview they think makes the most sense.

      I know this is not a premise that you would subscribe to, but would you agree it is, at least, one possible way that someone might come to religion from an intellectual point of view rather than as an emotional response?

      • http://worldinfocus.net/ Colin Morrison

        “Now, would you say it’s fundamentally impossible for someone to come to religion on intellectual terms?”

        In a word, yes.

        It’s completely reasonable to posit the idea of a deity. I don’t have much of a problem with deism, save it falls foul of Occam’s Razor – it is an unnecessary extra step in the creation of our Universe.

        It is, however, completely unreasonable to believe in the existence of, or worship, said deity given the paucity of evidence.

  • david

    Christianity, at least the evangelical variety, has had much too much anti-science bias for the last 50 years, at least. This has lead to the idea that being a scientist is not something that bright young evangelicals should pursue. I would add people like Chuck Colson to the list, along with the usual suspects like Ham and Morris, to the list of those who have been pushing some of the best potential young evangelical scientists into other fields. As an intuitor myself, I would question whether it is a simple as the idea that intuitors tend to be non-religious. I would guess that at least some of the prominent scientista who are Christians (Collins, Gingerich, Conway Morris, Haarsma, Polkinghorne) are also strongly intuitive. A divide has been formed between faith and science and is fed by people on both sides of the divide, while those of us who stand in both worlds feel attacked from.two directions

    • http://worldinfocus.net/ Colin Morrison

      On the INTP Central forum (my MBTI type, and very common in the sciences), I found two straw polls which found unbelievers around the 70-80% mark there. Regardless of where they are from, that is massively above the baseline for unbelief.

      The OP was about the conditions causing people to pursue science, or not. We know that most scientists are intuitors, and that a small minority of them are religious.

      • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

        On the INTP Central forum (my MBTI type, and very common in the sciences), I found two straw polls which found unbelievers around the 70-80% mark there.

        That’s interesting data, but hardly conclusive, right?

        • http://worldinfocus.net/ Colin Morrison

          The topic comes up from time to time on that forum and others like it, and it always supports my own personally findings that at least one personality type, my own (and that of Einstein, Darwin and other famous scientist atheists), is naturally predisposed against religiosity.

          I’d be curious to know what your MBTI type is – I have a fair idea what it might be, but I’ll not skew the result by saying.

          • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

            Yes, but my point was just that a straw poll on online forums can hardly be presented as conclusive proof of anything. For one thing, we wouldn’t know if the respondents’ pool is a good representative sample, and such a poll would most likely suffer from a small sample size. The methodology is also far from ideal. E.g., I’m presuming the answers to the polls were public, and therefore, some in the apparent minority views would probably feel pressured not to answer.

            I took the Myers-Briggs test a few times in college, and the results varied slightly, but I think the two more accurate tests pegged me as an ENFJ. How did your prediction hold up? :)

          • http://worldinfocus.net/ Colin Morrison

            Understood, and I agree, I’d love more data, but I know my type very well. If you spend some time on the INTP central forum, you’ll get a taste of what we are like en masse – it’s the only forum I’ve seen that encouraged trolls, they were considered great sport to the members!

            You’ll see the constant need to justify every argument (a bad argument is quickly dismembered), a reliance on, or qualification of the lack of (see above!) data and an impatience with waffle. In that environment, there is little to no tolerance of religion – it gets shredded. This holds for the other INTPs I know irl – atheists all.

            While we’re not all eggheads, we contribute 20% of the top one IQ percentile despite being only 2-3% of the populace. Einstein, Darwin, Hawking…all INTP poster boys. Curiously, 4 in 5 INTPs are male. My boss is the first female one I’ve met.

            How did I do? Pretty good. I knew you’d be F; the FJ component is important, which I understand as meaning your decision making is influenced by emotion much more than for me, and J means you prefer a speedy decision to one based on more evidence, whereas I am a dreadful procrastinator. N is suggestive of a reflective person, and we share that.

          • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

            I knew you’d be F; the FJ component is important, which I understand as meaning your decision making is influenced by emotion much more than for me, and J means you prefer a speedy decision to one based on more evidence, whereas I am a dreadful procrastinator. N is suggestive of a reflective person, and we share that.

            Yes, all your presumptions here are generally true of my personality. You don’t think certain types are “better” or “worse” than others, do you? I think there is enormous value in our differences, the strengths and the weaknesses.

            While we’re not all eggheads, we contribute 20% of the top one IQ percentile despite being only 2-3% of the populace. Einstein, Darwin, Hawking…all INTP poster boys.

            That’s a cool factoid. I would put forth Christian theologians like Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas as candidates for INTP, as well. Would you agree? Too bad Myers and Briggs weren’t around yet…

          • http://worldinfocus.net/ Colin Morrison

            It is my hypothesis that the frequencies of the different types in the human population are selected for evolutionarily – the most common types (ISTJ, ESFJ and similar) are the ones that do most of the day-to-day stuff that makes society tick. We don’t need many e.g. INTPs (architects), ENTJs (executives), INFPs (artists) etc. – a few of those are enough to fulfil the tasks they excel at. We all have our place. I know I am better at thinking, abstracting, creative problem solving than most; I understand systems intuitively. Yet I’m a terrible diplomat, atrociously disorganised and need to get in shape!

            I believe those theologians of old have been typed as INTP – in the pre-scientific era, theology was the best place for the absent-minded intellectual. Even recently, we had Georges Lemaître, priest and first proposer of the Big Bang.

            However, the evidence is now in, and the INTPs, at least, have changed their opinions to fit the facts. There is no purpose to the Universe, save human intent, and no plan, save what we set for ourselves. It’s an awesome responsibility, it’s about time we stopped shirking it by deferring to myths.

            It does raise the intriguing question – why would a god create some beings that are less likely to believe in it, and punish them for it? It’s much like some of the nonsense about gay folks – why make them sinful? I appreciate you’re far from a Biblical literalist, but it means that your god is either not fair, or that there is no requirement of faith for salvation.

            As Ricky Gervais (I suspect he is also INTP) once said, “Thank God for making me an atheist”.

          • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

            It is my hypothesis that the frequencies of the different types in the human population are selected for evolutionarily

            Your hypothesis sounds like a very interesting one. I’m presuming you must think personality is tied pretty closely to genetics, otherwise how would the traits be passed on? Also, I’m curious as to how evolution could select for a particular personality type. Obviously, people don’t pick their mates based on who can do “the day-to-day stuff that makes society tick,” so what do you think it is about ISTJs and ESFJs, for example, that gives them reproductive advantage?

            I believe those theologians of old have been typed as INTP – in the pre-scientific era, theology was the best place for the absent-minded intellectual.

            Reading the words of Augustine and Aquinas, I find it very hard to believe that their faith was based on little more than the time period in which they lived, and that they would have likely been atheists were they alive today. But there’s no way to really know for sure.

            It does raise the intriguing question – why would a god create some beings that are less likely to believe in it, and punish them for it?

            This is a really good and important question. I think I would have to have a better understanding of where our personality really comes from before I could even hope to offer an appropriate response. For example, if personality typing really is a product of evolution, then I could say there must be some value (survival, reproductive, etc.) to the various types that goes beyond just whether they make a person more or less likely to believe in God. Faith is something I do believe is very important to God, probably the most important thing, but it’s not the only thing.

            In the light of evolution, I don’t think we can look at everything in nature and say it is exactly in line with what God would want it to be. That’s not to say I believe anything in nature is outside God’s will, just that sometimes he allows things to take their course. Like the Ichneumonidae, for example, whose larval cannibalistic practices so disturbed Darwin that historians say it was one of the things that nudged him away from belief in a benevolent creator. I don’t think God deliberately crafted this behavior in the Ichneumonidae larvae. Sometimes, a survival mechanism is just a survival mechanism.

            However, I will say that, however predisposed an individual may be toward atheism or theism, I think every person either has been or ultimately will be offered a fair chance to believe or reject. And I do believe God is fair; I believe he does not ignore initial predispositions or traumatic life experiences that have pushed people away from faith. And I also don’t believe he harbors hatred toward a person simply because he or she has honestly observed the available evidence and made rational conclusions about his existence or lack thereof.

          • http://worldinfocus.net/ Colin Morrison

            The selection in this case is at the population level – a tribe with a good balance of types for their environment will out-compete one with a poor balance. Humans are adapted as social generalists – that’s why we’ve survived so long. One scenario I’ve pondered is how a population in a generational spacecraft would evolve; the types present would be very different. It is my understanding that type is part genetic, part environment. Any genetic involvement is enough for evolution to play a part.

            “there must be some value (survival, reproductive, etc.) to the various
            types that goes beyond just whether they make a person more or less
            likely to believe in God.”

            Ignoring the loaded question, are you saying then that God, having deliberately made some humans less likely to believe in order to aid survival of the population, weights that in his judgement of them? Thus I, having become an atheist from careful weighing of the evidence and of the tendency of human populations to create narratives for themselves, am excused my unbelief more readily than someone more prone to believe like you? (ENFJs are the most theistic type according to one source I hope to track down for you)

            “I don’t think we can look at everything in nature and say it is exactly in line with what God would want it to be.”

            You’re saying then that God makes compromises? If he’s all powerful and all knowing, why should he need to? You are correct in one thing, though – evolution is an unguided process.

            – “Faith is something I do believe is very important to God, probably the most important thing,”

            and:

            – “I also don’t believe he harbors hatred toward a person simply because he
            or she has honestly observed the available evidence and made rational
            conclusions about his existence or lack thereof.”

            Why? Based on what evidence? If you substituted ‘me’ for ‘God’, I think you’ll find you are saying what you think should be the case, rather than based on any doctrine – and if it is, it’s based upon what the author of those doctrines wished at the time, which is why the OT God appears ignorant, savage and misogynistic to us, because the men (and religions are almost ALWAYS made by men, not women) who invented him were all those things.

            I am atheist for precisely the reasons you state, yet the doctrines are quite clear what I’m in for – the unforgivable sin must be punished. Given such a nasty punishment, I would not show defiance unless I was highly confident I am correct, to about the same degree I am confident the sun will rise in the east tomorrow.

          • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

            Ignoring the loaded question, are you saying then that God, having deliberately made some humans less likely to believe in order to aid survival of the population, weights that in his judgement of them?

            No, that’s not what I was trying to say, but I know I’m probably not explaining it very well. The main point I was getting at is that, no, I don’t believe God deliberately stacks the deck against anyone as to whether they will or will not ultimately believe. What I was trying to say is that, if personality types have survival value, then I would point to evolution as the reason we have them, not a deliberate act of God.

            Like with the Ichneumonidae larvae. I don’t think we can point to that behavior and say it is something that proceeded directly from the mind of God. Sometimes, a survival mechanism is just a survival mechanism, not something that can be read as a perfect reflection of God’s character or intent.

            Thus I, having become an atheist from careful weighing of the evidence and of the tendency of human populations to create narratives for themselves, am excused my unbelief more readily than someone more prone to believe like you?

            Because you used the words “more readily” and not “entirely,” I feel comfortable saying, yes, I do believe something like that happens. That is, I believe God is understanding of the events outside an individual’s control that might push them toward or away from faith. A number of Jesus’ parables and teachings, the Parable of the Talents, for example, indicate that we will be judged based on what we have been given, and I think those teachings apply to this discussion.

            You’re saying then that God makes compromises? If he’s all powerful and all knowing, why should he need to? You are correct in one thing, though – evolution is an unguided process.

            Answering your second question first, I don’t believe God “needs” to make compromises, but yes, it certainly appears that he does. Scripture teaches pretty consistently that it grieves the heart of God when we hurt, kill and abuse one another, and yet he allows it. And if he allows some freedom in the exercise of our own wills, I think it’s reasonable that he also allows some freedom in the course of nature.

            That being said, though evolution does have all the appearances of an unguided process, at least partially driven by random occurrences, I do not think that completely precludes God’s involvement. For example, I do not believe humans were an accident, or that our appearance from lower forms of life took God by surprise. And the Bible does support this idea. Casting lots is also completely random, but Proverbs 16:33 says, “Its every decision is from the Lord.”

            “I also don’t believe he harbors hatred toward a person simply because he or she has honestly observed the available evidence and made rational conclusions about his existence or lack thereof.”

            Why? Based on what evidence?

            I find support for this in some of the teachings of Christ, as I’ve mentioned. Also, Jesus’ call to love God with all of our minds (Matthew 22:37) illustrates that he in no way wishes us to “turn off our brains,” as it were, when we consider spiritual matters. Similarly, the teachings in Matthew 24:14 and elsewhere in the Bible (that the timing of the coming judgment is at least partially based on human action) further indicate to me that God takes external factors into account when judging an individual. As Paul wrote in Romans 10, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”

            One of my favorite biblical passages is Paul before the Aeropagus. His statement in Acts 27:17 seems to indicate that God is pleased when people the world over seek him in their own ways and “perhaps reach out for him and find him,” and verse 30 says God is willing to forgive “the former ignorance” of those who are born into other faith traditions and have never heard or properly understood the good news of Christ.

            And finally, 2 Peter 3:9, which says God “is patient with us, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” God is not eager to see anyone die apart from him, and therefore, it seems reasonable to think he would offer as much leeway as possible when judging us.

            All of this is just to say that, while I don’t consider myself a universalist, I do believe the Bible presents a far more complex and nuanced picture of God than the black-and-white, vengeful executioner that some of my fellow Christian brothers and sisters seem to envision.

          • http://worldinfocus.net/ Colin Morrison

            I’ve nothing to add that wouldn’t take us off-topic, save that to my eye, God is whatever people want him to be. To the cruel and power-hungry, he is vengeful and brutal. To the loving and compassionate (I’m presuming you fall into this category), he is also thus.

            To summarise, I have sought and not found. I have applied my considerable gifts to the matter of reality, and found him missing from it. I know I am not that different from many who seek scientific careers. When we learn and hone our reasoning skills, belief in the unprovable inevitably suffers. A few compartmentalise their beliefs and their science – Miller, Collins et al. Most find themselves having to choose one or other.

          • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

            To the loving and compassionate (I’m presuming you fall into this category), he is also thus.

            I only wish I were, but thank you anyway. I certainly believe that many use and twist religion to their own evil ends, and I sincerely hope I’m never deemed guilty of such. I believe in a loving and compassionate God because that is what I see in Jesus, who was described as the exact imprint of his nature. But I have very much enjoyed talking with you, and I wish you the best in your scientific endeavors.

          • Stavros

            @Colin… I appreciate your concise thinking on this matter, but here, in my opinion, is where you err: “I have applied my considerable gifts to the matter of reality, and found him missing from it.” Jesus made it quite clear that the truth is revealed to babes, not to the learned. Applying all the intelligence in the world won’t bring “illumination” in the Christian sense. Prayer, stillness, faith, constant vigilance, warfare against the passions, and ultimately HUMILITY… these attract God. He is not an answer, a sum, an anecdote, or a logical conclusion, but an experiential Reality to be sought with one’s whole being. Anyway, I am halfway between an atheist and a theist (of a mystical bent), bouncing back and forth between these positions, so I am not trying to preach at you. But I think many people err in saying that they “applied all of their (intellectual gifts) to the matter, and found God missing”, when mystics across traditions are unanimous in telling us that the mind alone simply cannot even come close to grasping God. If one is serious, I believe, one has to enter the laboratory… that is, with sincerity, enter onto a tried and transformative spiritual path and do the work.

  • Melody

    I think there are probably many factors, but I would disagree that the one brought up is a major one, at least in my experience. I think that science-minded young people who were evangelical would WANT to study science in order to prove evolution wrong. But as they study science, they will realize they have been misled, and all too often, they dismiss their entire religion and become atheist or agnostic because they’ve been lied to (not just about evolution but also the entanglement of religion with politics and the general hostility of some religious people toward science are just a few of the things that might start to bother them).

    I also wonder if these polls have taken into account the fact that many US scientists are foreign-born. Not that there are necessarily more atheists/agnostics in other countries, but that would probably skew the statistics somehow or influence how the study should be designed – making sure to include all the options for religions, etc.

    • Melody

      Of course, maybe as a young evangelical begins to study science and finds things that disagree with what they have been taught, there is a certain personality type that will reject it and find another career path. I wonder, though, if these people were cut out to be scientists anyway.

      • Melody

        Sorry for the serial posting, but as a mom, I just thought of another possible factor, and that is gender-related – the strong emphasis within some strains of Christianity for a woman to find a mate, start making babies, and stay home to raise them may discourage young women from pursuing science as a career. It also might discourage young men from choosing it, as they have to “settle down” young and start making money to support a stay at home mom and children – not really conducive to years in graduate school and post doc.

        Just another thought…

        • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

          I think, in truth, that it’s a complex issue and the whole thing can’t be traced to a single root cause. The bottom line, though, is that the Answers in Genesis theory that honest science “causes” atheism is not what’s really at work in these cases. Thanks for your thoughts, Melody!

  • Julian

    “Faith or science” is a false dichotomy. Belief in God or Darwinian evolution is true. Darwinism is a philosophy dressed up as science. Both Dawkins AND Ken Ham fully understand this. Darwinism is really just a 19th century creation myth. I’ll let Dr. William Provine explain: “Evolution is the greatest engine of atheism. Attempts to join evolution with God are futile, as seen in beliefs that God is simply natural law itself or that God created but now is silent. Those gods, frankly, are worthless”, Provine says. “They don’t give life after death, they don’t answer prayers, they don’t give you foundations for ethics. In fact they give you nothing”. He also said: “Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear—and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either”. If Darwinian evolution is true, Provine is correct!

    Princeton theologian Charles Hodge figured it out in 1874 when he said: “Haeckel says that Darwin’s theory of evolution leads inevitably to Atheism and Materialism. In this we think he is correct. We have thus arrived at the answer to our question, What is Darwinism? It is Atheism. This does not mean, as before said, that Mr. Darwin himself and all who adopt his views are atheists; but it means that his theory is atheistic, that the exclusion of design from nature is, as Dr. Gray says, tantamount to atheism”.

    “Our latest survey finds that, among the top natural scientists, disbelief is greater than ever — almost total. Our survey found near universal rejection of the transcendent by NAS [National Academy of Sciences (U.S.)] natural scientists. Biological scientists had the lowest rate of belief (5.5% in God, 7.1% in immortality), with physicists and astronomers slightly higher (7.5% in God, 7.5% in immortality). As we compiled our findings, the NAS issued a booklet encouraging the teaching of evolution in public schools. NAS president Bruce Alberts said: “There are many very outstanding members of this academy who are very religious people, people who believe in evolution, many of them biologists”. Our survey suggests otherwise. — Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham. 1998 (Jul 23). “Leading scientists still reject God.” Nature 394:313.

    • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

      Hey Julian! It is quite an extraordinary claim to say “belief in God or Darwinian evolution” is a completely black and white, one-or-the-other proposition, and I’m afraid you’ll need more than the words of William Provine to convince me. He is entitled to his opinion, and I’m entitled to mine, which is that he is incorrect in this case.

      Provine also said, “Of course, it is still possible to believe in both modern evolutionary biology and a purposive force, even the Judeo-Christian God. One can suppose that God started the whole universe or works through the laws of nature (or both). There is no contradiction between this or similar views of God and natural selection.” He went on to say, however, that this view of God is, for all intents and purposes, atheism, that it paints the picture of a deity that could not have anything to do with human morals, answer prayers or otherwise take an interest in the goings-on of us lowly mortals. That is where he and I would disagree.

      I ask you, Julian, even if it is true that all of life on this planet could have arisen from a purely natural process, why does that necessarily mean there is no God? A scientist can now rightly say that we no longer need to invoke the supernatural to explain the source of clouds and rain, or the conception and development of a human baby. Does that mean I am wrong to praise God for the sun, and the rain, or to thank him for a child? Of course not. Why, then, should it be any different with evolution?

      Princeton theologian Charles Hodge figured it out in 1874 when he said: “Haeckel says that Darwin’s theory of evolution leads inevitably to Atheism and Materialism. In this we think he is correct. We have thus arrived at the answer to our question, What is Darwinism? It is Atheism. This does not mean, as before said, that Mr. Darwin himself and all who adopt his views are atheists; but it means that his theory is atheistic, that the exclusion of design from nature is, as Dr. Gray says, tantamount to atheism”.

      Again, I’m supposed to be convinced by a quote? Charles Hodge was certainly an important and prominent theologian, but what of two other, equally important and prominent (or perhaps even more so) figures who also taught at Princeton Theological Seminary, James McCosh and B.B. Warfield? Neither man believed Darwinian evolution was necessarily at odds with orthodox Christian belief. Here is McCosh, in a paper published in Popular Science Monthly in 1876:

      Suppose that we admit all that the lecturer claims on this subject: what then? Have we thereby set aside any doctrine of philosophy or religion? The Christian, even the Christian theologian, may say wisely: “Let naturalists dispute as they may about the derivation of plants and of the lower animals; their hypotheses, arguments, and conclusions, do not interfere with our belief that God is to be seen everywhere in his works and rules over all.”

      And again, in the same essay:

      The fact is, that final causes presuppose efficient causes; and the efficient causes effect, by their coöperation, the final cause. We argue final cause, that is design, from the collocation of efficient causes to promote an evident end, say the ear to hear and the eye to see. The doctrine of development (Darwinian evolution) does not undermine or in any way interfere with the argument from design. This was asserted by Hugh Miller when the “Vestiges of Creation” was published, and has been gracefully illustrated and defended by Prof. Asa Gray in his pleasant book, “Darwiniana.”

      The study published in Nature is interesting, but it proves nothing. Even if every scientist in the world was an atheist, that wouldn’t definitively prove that God and evolution are irreconcilable.

      • Julian

        Hi again Tyler. I am trying to answer all of your questions today. Better get another cup of coffee in me.

        “It is quite an extraordinary claim to say “belief in God or Darwinian evolution” is a completely black and white, one-or-the-other proposition, and I’m afraid you’ll need more than the words of William Provine to convince me.”

        It is an extraordinary claim. Now let’s look at the evidence. The definition from the National Associations of Biology Teachers for (Darwinian) evolution is:” an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments”. A God guided process is not what science educators mean by evolution. The key words in the NABT definition are unsupervised, impersonal and chance. They are insistent that evolution is an unguided and mindless process and that our existence is therefore a fluke rather than a planned outcome. That is the philosophy of naturalistic materialism which is the doctrine that “nature is all there is”. If nature is all there is, then nature had to have the ability to do its own creating. Darwinian evolution is a theory about how nature might have done this without assistance from a supernatural creator. That is why evolution in the Darwinian sense is by definition mindless and godless. The Darwinian Theory doesn’t just say that God created slowly. It says that naturalistic evolution is the creator and God had nothing to do with it. It’s compatible with Deism but really it’s just atheism straight with no chaser.

        “He went on to say, however, that this view of God is, for all intents and purposes, atheism, that it paints the picture of a deity that could not have anything to do with human morals, answer prayers or otherwise take an interest in the goings-on of us lowly mortals. That is where he and I would disagree.”

        Yes and 95% of the biology teachers at major Universities would disagree with you. That’s the whole point of this post.

        “I ask you, Julian, even if it is true that all of life on this planet could have arisen from a purely natural process, why does that necessarily mean there is no God?”

        I’m still trying to figure out where you are coming from. So you are saying God made the laws of physics and chemistry and evolution follows those laws. Therefore God is ultimately the creator of everything even if evolution was, as the Darwinist say, unsupervised and purposeless. That’s correct, right? The notion that God is a remote First cause who establishes the scientific laws and thereafter leaves nature to its own devices is called Deism. As you well know, Deism is different from Theism which implies a God who takes an active supervisory role in the world, like the God of the Bible.

        When Darwinist say that their theory does not deny “the existence of God” and claim that they are saying nothing about religion, they usually mean that they are willing to allow Deism as a possibility for people who are unwilling to give up God altogether. Many evolutionists see no harm in making this concession, because a God who confines his activity to the ultimate beginning of time is unimportant to human lives. For that reason even George Gaylord Simpson found Deism to be perfectly consistent with his Darwinian doctrine that our true creator is a purposeless material system.

        The important question is not whether God exist; that has been answered. The question really is whether God cares about us and whether we need to care about God’s purposes. Deism answers no to these questions.

        Thanks for the great passage from James McCosh, though Charles Hodge was arguably the most influential theologian in mid-century America. I will have to read that paper. I found this quote interesting “does not undermine or in any way interfere with the argument from design.” Interesting, he is arguing for design but every biology professor at the major Universities will tell you design in nature is but an illusion.

        “I’m supposed to be convinced by a quote?”

        No, you should convinced by reason and logic. Darwinism is an ideology that goes far beyond the scientific evidence into philosophy.

        “that wouldn’t definitively prove that God and evolution are irreconcilable.”

        Darwinian evolution is a naturalistic and materialistic philosophy. What this means is that materialistic explanations for all phenomena are assumed to exist. You just put God out of a job, so who needs him?

        • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

          Glad you liked the James McCosh quote. I think you will enjoy the paper if you get a chance to read it. I would guess McCosh would be sympathetic to intelligent design if he were still around.

          I’m still trying to figure out where you are coming from.

          Let me try to explain; I realize I haven’t made this fully clear.

          I don’t support young-earth creationism because I don’t see that it’s actually honest even to the Bible it claims to be based on. I believe that taking Genesis 1-3 as entirely literal history means reading things into the Bible it never intended to say, and it creates all kinds of problems and contradictions within the text itself.

          I oppose intelligent design primarily for theological reasons. If it can be scientifically, objectively proven that an all-powerful God was absolutely necessary in the creation of the universe, then he never actually gave us free will to choose him, or not. And what kind of faith can he really ask us to have, in a world where his existence is a scientific fact? Indeed, where his existence is as demonstrable as gravity or electromagnetic fields?

          No, I do not believe God “tipped his hand,” especially in such a way that we wouldn’t actually see it until we discovered DNA or the Cambrian explosion.

          However, I also would not at all call myself a deist. I believe God is and has always been immanent in creation (as Hebrews 1:3 says, “uphold(ing) the universe by the word of his power”), just not in a way we can measure scientifically. We can absolutely see him and his hand, but we may only see clearly with the eyes of faith.

          Let me try to explain with an analogy. When I became a born again Christian on Oct. 20, 2006, I absolutely believe I became a new person. I was moved from a place of spiritual death to a place of new life in him. I believe this change was more real than anything I have ever experienced. And yet, a doctor who examined me, before and after, would see no evidence of this whatsoever. The operation of my brain and heart and lungs and everything else were the same on Oct. 21 as they were on Oct. 19.

          And so, if the National Associations of Biology Teachers wants to define evolution as a random, unguided process, that’s fine with me. In my mind, it is only “apparently random,” just as — to their eyes — I would appear to be the same man as I was before I was in Christ, even though, in truth, I am a completely new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

          I believe — like beauty — randomness is in the eye of the beholder. In biblical times, people sometimes determined the proper course of action by “casting lots.” The exact method of casting lots differed, but it usually involved small tiles, sticks, bones or stones, which were then scattered on a table or the ground. It was their equivalent of what we may think of as a coin flip or the roll of the dice. Completely random, right? Not according to scripture: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33, ESV).

          In practice, Christians are able to see God’s hand in apparently random events all the time. It’s the same way I think of how I met and fell in love with my wife. To some, the circumstances of our story might appear totally random, but we seriously doubt it. We believe that God foreknew and was deliberately involved in our meeting and eventual marriage — just that he was working “behind the scenes.” And we thank him for his work all the time.

          This is the same way I believe God “worked” in the process of evolution. The path
          evolution has taken certainly appears, at times, random and even bizarre (see: the duck-billed platypus). But what is random to our eyes is not random to God’s; indeed, I don’t think the word “random” is in his vocabulary. And so, I think we can rightly trust that even though evolution involves some random processes, it in no way means that we are an accident, or that God was somehow “surprised” when evolution yielded the first humans. Evolution or not, I believe we are made in the image of God, male and female alike.

          One last passage for you I think would be appropriate. It was written by the Scottish evangelist Henry Drummond for his book “Ascent of Man” in 1904, and it partially inspired the title of this website:

          There are reverent minds who ceaselessly scan the fields of Nature and the books of Science in search of gaps—gaps which they will fill up with God. As if God lived in gaps? What view of Nature or of Truth is theirs whose interest in Science is not in what it can explain but in what it cannot, whose quest is ignorance not knowledge, whose daily dread is that the cloud may lift, and who, as darkness melts from this field or from that, begin to tremble for the place of His abode? What needs altering in such finely-jealous souls is at once their view of Nature and of God. Nature is God’s writing, and can only tell the truth; God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.

          If by the accumulation of irresistible evidence we are driven—may not one say permitted—to accept Evolution as God’s method in creation, it is a mistaken policy to glory in what it cannot account for. The reason why men grudge to Evolution each of its fresh claims to show how things have been made is the groundless fear that if we discover how they are made we minimize their divinity. When things are known, that is to say, we conceive them as natural, on Man’s level; when they are unknown, we call them divine—as if our ignorance of a thing were the stamp of its divinity. If God is only to be left to the gaps in our knowledge, where shall we be when these gaps are filled up? And if they are never to be filled up, is God only to be found in the dis-orders of the world? Those who yield to the temptation to reserve a point here and there for special divine interposition are apt to forget that this virtually excludes God from the rest of the process. If God appears periodically, He disappears periodically. If He comes upon the scene at special crises, He is absent from the scene in the intervals. Whether is all-God or occasional-God the nobler theory? Positively, the idea of an immanent God, which is the God of Evolution, is infinitely grander than the occasional wonder-worker, who is the God of an old theology. Negatively, the older view is not only the less worthy, but it is discredited by science. And as to facts, the daily miracle of a flower, the courses of the stars, the upholding and sustaining day by day of this great palpitating world, need a living Will as much as the creation of atoms at the first. We know growth as the method by which things are made in Nature, and we know no other method. We do not know that there are not other methods; but if there are, we do not know them. Those cases which we do not know to be growths, we do not know to be anything else, and we may at least suspect them to be growths. Nor are they any the less miraculous because they appear to us as growths. A miracle is not something quick. The doings of these things may seem to us no miracle, nevertheless it is a miracle that they have been done.

  • Julian

    What I find amusing is atheist have to posit something comes from nothing, life comes from non-life and the existence of multiverses to get around the fine tuning of the universe. Very irrational but they do believe in nothing after all.

    • http://worldinfocus.net/ Colin Morrison

      Straw man #1: “Something comes from nothing” – the Universe came into being from a previous unknown state. We’ve pushed back the history of the Universe to that of Planck time, which is pretty good going for just a few hundred years scientific endeavour.

      Argument from Personal Incredulity #1: “Life comes from non-life.” – Experiments have established that the raw materials of life form naturally. We have not ruled out a naturalistic cause of life. We do know it is rare, because we have only found organisms descended from one such event.

      God-of-the-gaps Argument #1: “Fine-tuned Universe” – We know of only one exceedingly small part of the Universe where life is even possible. There is no reason to suspect that this occurred by anything other than chance. The vast majority of the Universe is extremely hostile to any kind of life we can envisage. Hardly ‘fine-tuned’….

      Straw man #2: “Atheists believe in nothing” – that’s nihilism.

      So, four logical fallacies in two sentences. Par for the course in creationism.

  • Paul

    First, let’s please throw out the Myers-Briggs stuff. A lot of psychologists really don’t believe in it, and it’s not a particularly consistent test. I wouldn’t say you can make a solid, reasonable, straightforward argument from it. The NAS is pretty disparaging of it, and it has little test-retest validity. That being said, it’s still a fun thing to do every so often, and I find that I often get different results.

    Second, Evolutionism IS a philosophy. Darwinism is another name for Darwinian evolution. It doesn’t require inherent belief in atheism, regardless of what Jerry Coyne, Dennett, and Dawkins want you to believe. Darwin himself said that it didn’t; he was an agnostic for personal reasons (i.e. his daughter died). Some of the biggest supporters in the beginning were religious figures. Today’s best examples of that are George Coyne, Kenneth Miller, Francis Collins, and Simon Conway Morris.

    Third, I don’t think that most scientists disbelieve in God because of science. I believe that many scientists come from fairly irreligious backgrounds. The other reason, I believe, is that the theory of science and religion being in conflict was pushed for years, despite the fact that it was essentially refuted over 100 years ago. This is not my reasoning. It is John Polkinghorne’s. According to the linked survey, the majority of younger scientists believe in God or a higher power, but religiosity decreases with age.

    Fourth, to respond briefly to the “fine-tuning” argument being a God of the Gaps approach, I disagree with that idea. It’s not a proof of God in any way. It merely suggests that the universe has been ordered in such a way that intelligent life could arise. There are possible naturalistic reasons for why it has arisen (multiverse, inflation, etc.), but those in their own way are equally problematic. Inflation requires additional fine-tuning, and the multiverse is (as far as we know) unobservable.

    • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

      I agree. Good thoughts, Paul, thanks!

      • http://worldinfocus.net/ Colin Morrison

        My hypothesis doesn’t require Myers-Briggs – any natural variation in likelihood to believe suffices. I may have cited an autistic patient treated by my psychologist brother who could not conceive a deity. Is he not to be saved because God made him incapable of belief?

        “It doesn’t require inherent belief in atheism, regardless of what Jerry Coyne, Dennett, and Dawkins want you to believe.”

        – that is patently untrue. Coyne and Dawkins have acknowledged the opposite. Dennett, I don’t know.

        “Third, I don’t think that most scientists disbelieve in God because of science. I believe that many scientists come from fairly irreligious backgrounds.”

        – and I can tell you right here that obtaining a biology degree played a big part in shedding what faith I had (as a generic Protestant). The critical skills acquired means it begins by throwing out the obviously untrue stuff, and once that happens, critically examining everything else. The resurrection of Jesus is just as likely as the world popping into existence in six days – i.e. both impossible, probability = zero. What’s more, there are plausible reasons for that myth – i.e. people making stuff up.

  • Berg

    Really? This is the dumbest most Simple question I’ve ever heard. Scientist don’t believe in God because they have abrain and think for themselves. Through science and experimentation people can make their own conclusion which is pretty dangerous for religion which TELLS you what to think. Being religious just means you’re lazy and like a sheep to be led around and told what to think. Its pathetic

    • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

      First ofd all, a third of scientists do believe in God, and more than half of scientists either believe in God or some form of a higher power. Second of all, religion does not tell you how to think. It gives you a guide for how to live. Religious leaders may tell you how to think, but so do many, many other people in our society. Being lazy and led around “like a sheep” by perceived authority figures is a human problem, not a religious people problem. Smart, mature adults learn how to sift the wheat from the chaff, as it were. Finally, your implication that scientists (the 41 percent or so who are atheists, anyway) “have a brain and think for themselves,” while the millions of engineers, doctors, business people, teachers and many others who contribute to society and believe in God evidently do not “have a brain and think for themselves” is absurd on its face.