Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Majority Scientists disbelieve GOD

  1. May 9, 2003 #1

    Leading scientists still reject God
    Nature, Vol. 394, No. 6691, p. 313 (1998) © Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

    Sir — The question of religious belief among US scientists has been debated since early in the century. Our latest survey finds that, among the top natural scientists, disbelief is greater than ever — almost total.

    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.

    Leuba attributed the higher level of disbelief and doubt among "greater" scientists to their "superior knowledge, understanding, and experience" [3]. Similarly, Oxford University scientist Peter Atkins commented on our 1996 survey, "You clearly can be a scientist and have religious beliefs. But I don't think you can be a real scientist in the deepest sense of the word because they are such alien categories of knowledge." [4] Such comments led us to repeat the second phase of Leuba's study for an up-to-date comparison of the religious beliefs of "greater" and "lesser" scientists.

    Our chosen group of "greater" scientists were members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Our survey found near universal rejection of the transcendent by NAS natural scientists. Disbelief in God and immortality among NAS biological scientists was 65.2% and 69.0%, respectively, and among NAS physical scientists it was 79.0% and 76.3%. Most of the rest were agnostics on both issues, with few believers. We found the highest percentage of belief among NAS mathematicians (14.3% in God, 15.0% in immortality). 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). Overall comparison figures for the 1914, 1933 and 1998 surveys appear in Table 1.

    Table 1 Comparison of survey answers among "greater" scientists
    Belief in personal God 1914 1933 1998
    Personal belief 27.7 15 7.0
    Personal disbelief 52.7 68 72.2
    Doubt or agnosticism 20.9 17 20.8

    Belief in human immortality 1914 1933 1998
    Personal belief 35.2 18 7.9
    Personal disbelief 25.4 53 76.7
    Doubt or agnosticism 43.7 29 23.3
    Figures are percentages.

    Repeating Leuba's methods presented challenges. For his general surveys, he randomly polled scientists listed in the standard reference work, American Men of Science (AMS). We used the current edition. In Leuba's day, AMS editors designated the "great scientists" among their entries, and Leuba used these to identify his "greater" scientists [1,2]. The AMS no longer makes these designations, so we chose as our "greater" scientists members of the NAS, a status that once assured designation as "great scientists" in the early AMS. Our method surely generated a more elite sample than Leuba's method, which (if the quoted comments by Leuba and Atkins are correct) may explain the extremely low level of belief among our respondents.

    For the 1914 survey, Leuba mailed his brief questionnaire to a random sample of 400 AMS "great scientists". It asked about the respondent's belief in "a God in intellectual and affective communication with humankind" and in "personal immortality". Respondents had the options of affirming belief, disbelief or agnosticism on each question [1]. Our survey contained precisely the same questions and also asked for anonymous responses.

    Leuba sent the 1914 survey to 400 "biological and physical scientists", with the latter group including mathematicians as well as physicists and astronomers [1]. Because of the relatively small size of NAS membership, we sent our survey to all 517 NAS members in those core disciplines. Leuba obtained a return rate of about 70% in 1914 and more than 75% in 1933 whereas our returns stood at about 60% for the 1996 survey and slightly over 50% from NAS members [1,2].

    As we compiled our findings, the NAS issued a booklet encouraging the teaching of evolution in public schools, an ongoing source of friction between the scientific community and some conservative Christians in the United States. The booklet assures readers, "Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral"[5]. 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
    Department of History, University of Georgia,
    Athens, Georgia 30602-6012, USA

    Larry Witham
    3816 Lansdale Court, Burtonsville,
    Maryland 20866, USA
  2. jcsd
  3. May 9, 2003 #2


    User Avatar

    Erm.... so?
    The misleading thing about this study is that it is totally ambiguous as to the causal link. Maybe more atheists enter science because they see it as a source of explanation? This doesn't say anything about science itself.
  4. May 9, 2003 #3
    Maybe that is because you can only ask the scientist as a human being about his/her (dis)beliefs, and can not adress that question to science (a human activity) itself?
  5. May 9, 2003 #4
    That scientists tend to be skeptical comes as no surprise to anyone. Such is the entire history of science. Somebody has to challange the statis quo in an organized fashion. In the case of the sciences, they have found an indespensible way of doing this.
    Last edited: May 9, 2003
  6. May 9, 2003 #5

    Les Sleeth

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Very well done. I am convinced scientists regularly spin-doctor their biases. The strategy is often two-pronged. First, they present materialistic theories that are poorly supported by evidence, but which they imply are all but proven. Second, they advance an image of objectivity on their part and tolerance for non-material views in others which is utterly false. The truth is, they are committed to convincing the world that its creator is matter, mechanics, and accidents, and that notions of God are the surviving superstitions of primitive peoples.

    This site is full of people in MAJOR denial about their biases and how they distort facts to justify the religion of materialism. Personally, I am thrilled to the core when I find that rare individual who couldn't possibly care less what the "truth" is, but just wants it like it is, whether that is materialism or theism or something in between or something entirely different.
  7. May 10, 2003 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Greetings !
    Yes, but I believe it is also a matter of
    simple brain power, a wiser person will
    question things, including the concept
    of God, and see it has no justification.
    And scientists are naturally ussualy wise
    people in most respects.

    Live long and prosper.
  8. May 10, 2003 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Greetings !

    On another note, I can see 4 threads with
    the word God in their title on top of this
    forum right now. Don't you guys have the
    God & Religion forum to discuss this stuff ?!
    I really don't see why these threads should be
    directly in Philosophy if you have the
    other forum, some people here may wish to
    discuss more serious subjects...:wink:

    Live long and prosper.
  9. May 10, 2003 #8


    User Avatar

    Re: Re: Majority Scientists disbelieve GOD

    You, sir, have no idea what science is about.
    Science is about looking for truth from the evidence we have, and there is no way that can be done without assuming that some aspect at least of the truth can be found by material means. If you don't make that assumption, then you get nowhere, except the knowledge that you have no knowledge. Maybe not even that.

    Everybody has biases. Even the neutral have a bias, towards neutrality.

    I think you confuse materialism with science. Many scientists are materialists, because they can only approach what they are studying from a material perspective. But everybody has beliefs. The truth is that science does attempt to be objective. That's why we call them THEORIES - to dissuade a claim to monopoly on the truth. And out of the melee of conflicting theories do we get closer to truth. The poorly supported do not live long, when confronted by what is better supported. That is critical, and though there is a temptation to substitute theory for hypotheses, the core of science is to maintain this.
    Many scientists are spiritualists. The data does confirm this existence does it not? The heros of science, your Newtons, Einsteins, Maxwells, Keplers, Darwins, Galileos are almost exclusively theists. This fact was interestingly ignored. Science requires the assumption that there is usefulness in dealing with material existence. It does not imply that this is all that exists. The idea that it is, is an unneccessary prejudice. Are theologists scientists? From your post, you must think there is a hidden breeding factory where scientists are manufactured and programmed. I assue you that is untrue.:wink: If a scientist is atheist, even antitheist, his/hers experiences suggest so. That is nothing to do with science itself.

    Where? This site is full of people in MAJOR denial about their biases and how they distort facts to justify the religion of God/democracy/spiritualism/moderatism/neutralism/pragmatism/logic/mathematics/technology/physics/biology/soliphism/socialism/capitalism/communism/fascism/chemistry/sensationalism/realism/idealism/existentialism/humanism/atheism/agnosticism/nationalism/modernism/vanilla-with-chocolate-sprinkles-ice-creamism. (Delete as appropiate) Clearly one's own belief is holy and true, right?

    Oh sure everyone wants the objective truth. We are just never going to get it.
    Last edited: May 10, 2003
  10. May 10, 2003 #9
    Re: Re: Majority Scientists disbelieve GOD

    I understand your point, Drag, but also think that while you personally may not consider the subject to be serious, others do. Plus, it is hard to get answers over there which don't involve circular reasoning to the max, and I might bump into that BoulderHead jerk who only wants to make fun of me.
  11. May 10, 2003 #10


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Re: Re: Re: Majority Scientists disbelieve GOD

    Hmm... Don't provoke me !
    I don't visit that forum, but I can make
    much greater fun of people if I see this
    one needs defence... :wink:

    Peace and long life.
  12. May 10, 2003 #11
    But that's part of the problem Drag, you need to come over and play more often.

    Actually, you are very much correct. That forum does say God and Religion. I think there is a topic both there, and here, which defines god.

    Not that our Mentor needs it, but I hearby give my consent to have the topic I started here in philosophy moved to God and Religion. Mentat, you were right.
  13. May 10, 2003 #12
    It is obvious why dominant majority of natural scientists don't believe in superstitions (like Gods or Santas) - they know FACTS about nature.

    Very few other people know natural facts, especially in US where natural education is quite poor. That is why majority of others have no choice but to turn to superstitions - they simply don't know facts about nature.
  14. May 10, 2003 #13
    In my opinion the last several posts have been some of the most arrogant, patronizing, and insulting posts I've seen in this forum.

    Just when I thought we were making progress here. :frown:

    Alexander, you should stop insulting people's education just because they don't agree with you. It's not logically sound to revert to this tactic.

    I think I said before in Boulder's other thread that some threads on God belong in the "god and religion" forum but some do not. It's a fine line. This one probably belongs over there but Boulder's I think belongs in the philosphy forum.
  15. May 10, 2003 #14
    I am not insulting, I just state facts.

    Is telling a child (who belives in Santa) that Santa does not exist an insult?
  16. May 10, 2003 #15

    Les Sleeth

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Re: Re: Re: Majority Scientists disbelieve GOD

    I wish I hadn't written that response, it was late, I was exhausted, I'd had a little too much wine with my friends . . .

    However, now that I've put my foot in my mouth (and you've quoted me in your post so I can't delete it!), I will try to more carefully say something.

    I know exactly what science is. As an ideal it is wonderful. Also, I have no illusions about just how material the universe and I myself are, and the abilities of science truly are helping us all understand our existence better (not to mention making life more liveable). I read lots of science and watch it (or history) whenever the TV is on, so I am a big fan.

    I do not confuse materialism with science. It is fine for scientists or anyone else to be materialists . . . I do not object to people having any belief they choose as long as it does no harm.
    But if you think materialist scientists, which appear to be the large majority, are as you say " looking for truth from the evidence we have," then you are wrong.

    The evidence they look at is material evidence, and the investigative method they use only reveals material processes. That's fine too because that is what science is about. But the materialist scientist proves his/her bias when you hear someone say or imply that "based on all the evidence we have, there is not basis for considering that anything immaterial is part of creation." If they had the courage to speak their opinion they would go on to say, "So based on the evidence we have, there is no God, there is no soul, consciousness is an illusion, and any report of immateriality must be false because we can't verify it."

    Hmmmmmm. Now that's interesting. Let's see, you only look at material, and you only apply an investigative method that reveals materiality. Gee, I wonder why you never find immaterial stuff?

    Then, check out this clever strategy I've heard from materialist scientists.

    There actually is [me talking here] evidence of immateriality beyond superstition. The example best supported by existing records is the enlightenment of the Buddha . . . but the experience of enlightenment has been going on for a long time since then too, so it is a well documented event. In fact, there is so much evidence describing this consciousness phenomenon that one could easily spend a lifetime researching it (as I seem to be doing). And the enlightenment experience is NOT religion, but it does appear to be what so attracted and mystified those people who eventually turned the memory of the enlightenment event into a theology.

    Now here's the clever strategy I spoke of. If you refer the material scientist to this evidence, they might say it is not in the scope of science. To me this deserves another "hmmmmmm." So, let's see . . . from your studies there is no evidence of immateriality, and you can't study the most consistent reports of it because it's outside your scope. I love that, brilliant!

    I really think you are wrong about "many" scientists being spiritualists, at least how many compared to the total number of scientists. Saint's figures could be off by quite a bit and still indicate that.

    I said I can respect another's beliefs as long as it does no harm, but when you suggest the materialist scientist "does not imply that [materiality] is all that exists," you've hit on exactly the harm I think they are doing.

    Virtually every thing I see, written or filmed, appears to me to reflect an attitude that only material processes are considered possible influences on every single feature of existence. I heard it a couple of days ago as I was watched Walter Cronkite interview anthopologists searching for missing links in human evolution. I see it in the interpretations of zero point energy. I see it when Dennett proposes "dismissing" the issue of consciousness and the hoards jump on that bandwagon desperate to get rid of anything that interferes with material interpretations. I see it when chemogenesis is promoted as "most likely" prior to having enough evidence to speak with such conviction.

    If you think I want to substitute God or spirit in models without evidence, think again. What I want is for materialist scientists to stop pretending they are not trying to prove materialism, to stop using their bully pulpit (i.e., the status they are now enjoying because of their successes with science) to prematurely push materialistic theories while claiming they are not, and to recognize the potential for distortion of their views by the discipline they are participating in. And it wouldn't hurt if they really did study ALL the evidence.

    I deserved that. [b(] I apologize to everyone for the tone of my earlier post.
    Last edited: May 10, 2003
  17. May 10, 2003 #16
    No. But implying that the reason they have the beliefs they do is because they are poorly educated is an insult. And let's not pretend any of this is as certain as Santa existing. So comparing someone's belief to an obvious fiction like Santa is also an insult.
  18. May 10, 2003 #17


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Hey !
    How dare you say Santa is a fiction ?!
  19. May 10, 2003 #18
    Yeah, Flipton, don't you indeed know that Santa exists (in contrast to vast variety of gods)?

    I have a picture of Him (with my son on His lap).
  20. May 10, 2003 #19


    User Avatar

    If they said this was proved because of science, then they are wrong. Then they make more or less the same mistake LG does - exchange assertions for facts, and lack of proof for proof of non-existence.
    Based on the evidence we have, there is no basis for for considering anything immaterial is part of creation. Because immaterial does not coagulate to evidence - rather, it is indifferent to it. The basis that something immaterial is part of creation is nothing to do with any sense that we have seen the immaterial - because that by definition does not make sense. But that we feel it is there.
    Based on available evidence, there is no proof for God, there is no proof for a soul, there is no proof for the existence of consciousness, there is no proof of immateriality. But the lack of evidence does not equate to evidence of lack. This is an individualist mistake - not a reflection on science.

    You can't apply an investigative method that reveals immateriality.

    Immaterial: not having material form, without substance.
    Material: of or having an effect on real or solid matter or substance, not spirit.

    Your sight only reveals the material, as that is the nature of immateriality. If immateriality can be found investigatively, or disproved investigatively, it would cease being immaterial and manifest as material.
    Of course lack of finding does not mean lack of existence.

    But how can you investigate this? This is people's beliefs, what people think. This is a study in subjectivity, without instruments. You can interview these people, but without self-experience, this is meaningless. You can rarely reproduce enlightenment. All you can do is a statistical study. But is that the truth? You can not really differentiate what is evidence of immateriality, from what is simply belief in immateriality. Here's why science can't really get a hold of it. It is subjective, and does not manifest outside the mind.
    But scientists do try to work on it. You can test the psychology of people who claim it. You can scan their brain patterns to see if it is changed. There is even a group of people, who created the new field of neurotheology (you'd hate them. They are about the most psychotic materialists alive) who are working on a material explanation using magnetic fields. Allegedly, they have reproduced feelings like this by using electromagnets at certain positions and frequencies around the brain. They postulate that spiritual visions can be just the effect of errant magnetic distortions.

    You can't prove or disprove immateriality with science, period.

    That's 60.7% expressing doubt towards god. That means 39.3% must be fervent believers, without doubt at all. 39.3% is a large number, no matter how you look at it, and the fact appears that the number is growing. (the distinction of "greater" scientists is vague, and not very illuminating - does it mean that atheists do better research? Or that NAS brainwashes it's members? Or that God decided to punish atheists by making them greater scientists?) Some people may not believe in God, but still be spiritualists. Some people may also be neutral on the spiritual/materialist thing. Further, not all scientists are from the US.
    What would you consider many? 70%? 100%?

    I'll quietly point out the incorrect definition involved, if you consider immaterials (as opposed to unknown materials) having an effect on observable existence. As to non-observable existence, well, they don't show that in a science programme do they? :wink:

    I see a biased field of statistics. Let's take an example. Who would they show on TV to demonstrate chemogenesis? Would it be your average scientist? A theist professor working in astronomy? No, they would go to the prime person in the field, the man who works in the field because HE believes in it. They would put it to the most outspoken worker, the one that grabs the most audiences/readers. They pick fields too to do this. And who would they pick to argue for the opposite view? The average scientist? The nuclear physics who believe in divine order? No, they would go to the evangelist, the self-styled defender of the faith, the slayer of evolution. The rest, the moderates of the spectrum don't get a look in, partially because they don't care, and partially because they don't know. The boldest supporters of whatever stance will always be the most fanatical one. Always remember the others skulking behind. What about those who declare that immaterial items are out of science's scope? They don't feature. The only times they feature is when they have to feature it, and then, I think you can see that science is independent of God.
  21. May 10, 2003 #20
    I think most scientists don't believe that there can be a God because such a thing is umm...something that u can't prove, lol. Because I mean what is God really? Is he this guy who sits somewhere waaayyy in the heaven's watching everyone and everything that he created? Or maybe God was a thought or belief created by people to use as an explanation for life?
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook