Questionable Motives

May 21, 2010

What do scientists really believe about god?

Filed under: belief,Science,Statistics,theism — tildeb @ 4:25 pm

We often hear claims that science and religious belief are compatible because they are concerned about different questions and different ways to know. Even the NSCE (National Center for Science Education) supports this canard. There is also a general consensus that many scientists themselves are often as religious as the general public, so we are left with a sense that those who suggest that science and religion are incompatible say as much probably because of some assumed bias.  Thankfully from Elaine Howard Ecklund’s new book Science vs. Relgion: What Scientists Really Think brought to us by Jason Rosenhouse we now have a much better idea of what percentage of various scientists actually believe about central religious claims about the veracity of god compared directly to the public percentage:

Asked about their beliefs in God, 34% chose “I don’t believe in God,” while 30% chose, “I do not know if there is a God, and there is no way to find out.” That’s 64% who are atheist or agnostic, as compared to just 6% of the general public.

An additional 8% opted for, “I believe in a higher power, but it is not God.” That makes 72% of scientists who are explicitly non-theistic in their religious views (compared to 16% of the public generally.) Pretty stark.

From the other side, it is just 9% of scientists (compared to 63% of the public), who chose, “I have no doubts about God’s existence.” An additional 14% of scientists chose, “I have some doubts, but I believe in God.” Thus, it is just 25% of scientists who will confidently assert their belief in God (80% of the general public.)

For completeness, the final option was “I believe in God sometimes.” That was chosen by 5% of scientists and 4% of the public. Make of it what you will.

Also stark is the data on religious affiliations. Here we find that 53% of scientists claim no religious affiliation at all. I was very surprised by that number, since religious affiliation is as much about cultural identity as it is about specific beliefs. For example, when asked for my religious affiliation I always say that I am Jewish even though I am also an atheist. (Apparently I have this attitude in common with a lot of Jewish scientists, fully 75% of whom are atheists according to Ecklund’s data.) This tells me that for more than half of scienitsts none of the traditional religions play any role at all in their identity. It was only 16% of the public that claims no religious affiliation.

From the other side, Evangelical Protestantism is the religion of 28% of the public, but only 2% of scientists.

Again, pretty stark. Religion is poorly represented among scientists, and where it appears it is of a vastly more liberal sort than among of the public generally. It is beyond me how anyone can look at all of these numbers and persist in denying that there is a conflict between science and religion. Of course there is a conflict.

How can Jason reach this conclusion? Because the numbers – regardless of whether or not they are slightly higher or lower – are so starkly and dramatically different. The interesting question is why? I think it is because the theological assertions that back up religious truth claims are highly suspect so the answers they provide are necessarily poorly informed by anything more than the assertions themselves. In comparison, most people who work in a scientific field must inform their conclusions with something significantly more substantive than “because I believe it to be true” so they recognize what a weak conclusion looks like and have come across no compelling reasons or evidence to think of these religious answers are worth believing.



    The take home message is that if science and religion are incompatible then there is no way we would still see 30-40 percent of scientists acknowledge there is a God or higher power behind everything,” he contended.

    Comment by 4amzgkids — May 22, 2010 @ 3:42 pm | Reply

  2. From your (lower) link:

    Yet scientists may be just as likely to believe in God as other people, according to surveys.

    This is not true. ‘Just as likely’ is a probability of .5, or a 50/50 chance. Look at the number outlined above: it is just 9% of scientists (compared to 63% of the public), who chose, “I have no doubts about God’s existence.” An additional 14% of scientists chose, “I have some doubts, but I believe in God.” Thus, it is just 25% of scientists who will confidently assert their belief in God (80% of the general public.) The probability of scientists believing in god is about .25 compared to the general public at .8. Scientists are SIGNIFICANTLY LESS LIKELY to believe in god as other people.

    Today many scientists say there is no conflict between their faith and their work.

    Many more say there is. And for excellent reasons. Just ask a biologist.

    One would be hard pressed to find a legitimate scientist today who does not believe in evolution.

    Arrggghhhh. What nimrod is writing this crap? Scientists don’t believe in evolution as an article of faith like believers in some magical sky father do; they accept the preponderance of evidence that makes evolution the best explanation.

    Yet in a 2001 Gallup poll 45 percent of U.S. adults said they believe evolution has played no role in shaping humans. According to the creationist view, God produced humans fully formed, with no previous related species.

    Yes, 45% are ignorant idiots. Go figure. Creationism is a belief with no evidence to back it up and no way to falsify it as anything more than a an article of faith IN SPITE OF overwhelming evidence in favour of evolution by natural selection.

    Many scientists—and theologians—maintain that it would be perfectly logical to think that a divine being used evolution as a method to create the world.

    Yes, and these folk also think it is ‘perfectly logical’ without any evidence to believe in turning wine into blood and a cracker into flesh with a few words of Latin, that someone could be born of virgin and walk on water and raise the dead and so on. Perfectly logical. What these folk think is ‘perfectly logical’ and what someone uninfected by the christian religious meme might think is an example of ‘perfectly logical’ I’m guessing are not even remotely similar. And for good reasons… including logic.

    Like other scientists of faith, Primack, who is Jewish and reads the Bible regularly, argues that the Bible must not be taken literally, but should be read allegorically.

    How convenient. When a scientific claim and a theological claim are in conflict, by all means alter the theology into an allegory.

    “There’s no way that scientists can ever rule out religion, or even have anything significant to say about the abstract idea of a divine creator,” Greene said.

    And even less to say about intergalactic mushrooms sent to spy on humanity. How odd.

    Instead, Greene said, science and religion can operate in different realms. “Science is very good at answering the ‘how’ questions. How did the universe evolve to the form that we see?” he said. “But it is woefully inadequate in addressing the ‘why’ questions. Why is there a universe at all? These are the meaning questions, which many people think religion is particularly good at dealing with.”

    That’s because the ‘why’ questions are the wrong questions. Why are a flying unicorn’s wings hollow? That’s another stupid question. No wonder religion is so good at answering them: their answers are as hollow as that unicorn’s wings and just as illuminating.

    “Religion is about ethics, or what you should do, while science is about what’s true,” Primack said. “Those are different things, but of course what you should do is greatly determined by what’s true.”

    I thought religion was an allegory? Now it’s about ethics. Presumably morality. But not Old Testament morality – except for certain bits which are compatible with modern morality – and some New Testament bits but we won’t compare and contrast those ethical and moral claims with Scientology claims or Islamic claims or Hindu claims because, although they can’t all be right and many are in direct conflict, surely in some esoteric sense they are all kind of, sort of, almost, possibly, compatible. And here’ a little taste of the cognitive dissonance so prevalent in scientists who try to also be religiously devout: what’s true really does matters because it informs ethical and moral actions, but religion has no concern for what’s true in this sense because when in competition with science and other religious claims, religion is merely an allegory or metaphorical or in need of some convoluted interpretation, and the list of excuses never ends. So we are informing our ethics with allegory and then acting to make what’s true compatible with our favourite religious notions. Gee, I wonder what could be so difficult about accepting the assertion of compatibility between of these two conflicting notions – what’s true, and what is believed to be (metaphorically) true?

    And this terrible article only gets worse from this point on. But please, go read it yourself and enjoy the mental gymnastics. It’s a workout.

    Comment by tildeb — May 23, 2010 @ 7:52 pm | Reply

  3. I would like to present you information which is about to become a world sensation.As far as I`m concerned there is no connection until nowdays between Darwin`s theory and the version about the origin of the world in the Bible.According to the Bible the world has been created in six days,but according to the science this process has taken billions of years.If we exclude the difference in time and we pay attention to the SEQUENCE,we will see that there is no contradiction between both,but only the question-why in the Bible things happened so fast?There is an answer and it`s in the Bible itself.Moses described the creation from his own sight as an eyewitness.How could he have seen something happen before his existence?For forty days he has been at the mount Sinai where he got information about the past,present and future.The creation had been recreated to him there,he had seen how the already existing world had been made.The long process of evolution had been shown to him in the first six days and the SEVENTH day had been dedicated to human`s appearing.After that he had seen the difference between Adam`s origin and Eve`s one.Adam comes from the dirt in the process of evolution,but Eve comes from DNA material out his body,which marks another jump for the evolution or in other words-the missing section of the chain which science is looking for.
    If I contacted to you by mistake and this is the wrong address,please make sure that you send me the correct e-mail where I can find the people who are interested in sort of information.For contact

    Comment by dimitar zdravkov — June 25, 2010 @ 10:36 am | Reply

  4. I Corinthians: 1:27

    For God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

    Comment by debbie — July 2, 2010 @ 12:23 pm | Reply

  5. For God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

    “And this means what, specifically?”


    Comment by Timotheus — September 13, 2010 @ 1:20 pm | Reply

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