It is a shame that some churches appear antagonistic towards science and cause young people to leave the church as a result. As discussed in the last post, Young Earth Creationists invoke some of this antagonism.
Instead of reflecting antagonism regarding science, churches should encourage exploration of God’s creation through science and engineering. An excellent way to show love towards others, as Jesus asked Christians to do, is to create inventions and make discoveries that help people.
Millions of scientists and engineers in the United States are Christians. Some of the top ones in the country—indeed, the world—are Christians.
This post, the third in a series on Young Earth Creationism, discusses scientists’ views on religion.
Scientists and Engineers Are More Religious Than Previously Thought
The most comprehensive survey ever conducted of U.S scientists’ religious views was carried out by Rice University in 2014.
It found that 62.8% of U.S. scientists are adherents of the Christian religion (Protestants, Catholics, etc.), 11.1% are of other religions (Jews, Muslims, etc.), and 24.4% are atheist, agnostic, or affiliate with no religion.
This compares to 75.4%, 4.5%, and 15.5%, respectively, of all U.S. adults.
The survey found only small differences between scientists and all adults for most attributes of religiosity. For example, 15.0% of scientists consider themselves very religious, while 18.8% of all adults do, and 18.2% of scientists attend religious services weekly, compared with 20.1% of all adults.
One Major Difference Between Scientists and Others
There was one significant difference: “I know God really exists and I have no doubts about it.” Of scientists, 35.9% responded yes, while 55.5% of all adults did so (more in both categories believe in God but have some doubts).
I can see how more scientists would pause on the “no doubts” part. No doubts? None? Zero? Ever?
Fortunately, God does not ask us to have “no doubts,” but simply to believe in his son. See John 3:16.
Increased Belief and Religious Activity Among Scientists
The comprehensive 2014 survey found that scientists’ belief in God and religious activity are at much higher levels in 2014 than in earlier years.
For example, a 2009 survey found 51% of U.S. scientists believe in God, a universal spirit, or higher power, while 41% do not. Such numbers are similar to earlier surveys. The 2009 survey included only members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, though.
Two surveys of “elite” scientists also suggest a significant increase. A 1998 survey of elite scientists—members of the National Academy of Sciences—found that only 7.0% of those responding believe in God. But the group was then made up of only about 500 scientists; it was not representative of all scientists (and NAS members tend to be much older). The 1998 survey has been criticized for several other reasons, including labelling those who expressed just some doubt as agnostic.
A 2010 survey of “elite” scientists (determined by university affiliation) reported significantly more believers among such scientists than the 1998 survey: 36% responding that they believe in God or a “higher power,” 30% agnostic, and 34% atheist.
The actual “believe” percentage might be higher because all those who responded “I do not know if there is a God and there is no way to find out” were counted as agnostic. A person can not “know” and think “there is no way to find out,” and still “believe” in God. Indeed, the same survey showed that 47% of “elite” scientists affiliate with a Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or other religious tradition.
The 2014 survey suggests this trend towards more belief in God among scientists continued after 2010.
What Matters is an Individual’s Relationship
Of course, these surveys are not all of the same scope and do not use identical questions. But their results allow some inferences, including that there are many scientists and engineers who believe in God and who are Christians, as well as that their numbers seem to have increased significantly recently, possibly due to differences between the older generations and the younger generation of scientists.
I am not suggesting that any person should cause their relationship with God to depend on whether 7% of scientists or 97% of scientists believe or whether more or less believe now than before. These things go up and down. What matters is a person’s individual relationship with God.
Young Scientists and Engineers and Richard Dawkins
The 2009 survey found belief in God among scientists inversely correlated with age. For example, the percentage of scientists under 35 who said they believe in God was 50% higher than for those over 65.
The 65+ crowd is the generation of Richard Dawkins, a celebrity atheist professor of zoology who publishes books and videos advocating atheism.
Dawkins’ style is rude and sarcastic, which appeals to old men and teenage boys, but it appears to have run its course with scientists.
In a recent survey, 80% of British scientists who mentioned Dawkins said he misrepresents science and scientists. My view is that Dawkins’ books set up straw-men and then knock them down.
Perhaps the younger generation figured out the problems with the views of Dawkins’ generation.
Many Top Scientists are Christians
Many of the top scientists in the world are Christians. Here is a video with brief remarks by 10 of them:
There is no registry of scientists who are Christians, of course, but many famous and award-winning ones are listed here.
A common response to such lists is “oh, they were before Darwin.” But this is incorrect. One of Darwin’s closest friends, evolutionary scientist Asa Gray, was a dedicated Christian, as was Gregor Mendel, “the father of modern genetics.” Lots more came after.
Other high-profile, Christian scientists who worked (and are working) in the 20th and 21st century were awarded multiple Nobel Prizes, invented physics formulas, headed the Max Planck Society, led the Human Genome project, and served as world-renown nano-engineers. Keep in mind that the vast majority of scientists are not awarding winning or famous! There are millions of Christian scientists and engineers today.
My impression is that scientists who are Christians often have a deeper faith than others, as they have often given much more thought to it and have often gone through a period of extreme doubt that helped them better understand their faith.
When Young Earth Creationists Criticize Scientists Personally
This is not to say that there are no scientists who are hostile to religion. There are plenty. There are non-scientists who are hostile to religion, too. And there are religious people who are hostile to religion!
There are millions and millions of Christian scientists, though. Young Earth Creationists who claim that scientists and engineers who say that the Earth is old are liars, only doing it for the money, deliberately misleading people, treating evolution as their religion, pushing an atheistic agenda, etc., are saying such things about enormous numbers of their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Why Are Some Scientists Less Religious?
As these surveys show, a large percentage of scientists believe in God and are religious. It is often a smaller percentage than the general population, though. Why?
As a lawyer, I was trained in law school to “think like a lawyer.” Engaging in the intense study of legal analysis, I became impressed with its effectiveness in finding the answers (or at least the best options).
We were warned early and often that we should not apply such thinking to our lives or other areas, else we would make some pretty big mistakes with our relationships and lives. Indeed, my cross-examination skills are not well received at home.
Lawyers in most states are required to attend periodic mental-health and substance-abuse seminars. Often, the refrain of not applying “thinking like a lawyer” to life and relationships is reinforced.
Science is the study of the natural world. My take is that an extreme focus on the natural world can dull one’s view of the supernatural world. Scientists and engineers have to study difficult material for years to become effective. This focus can impress one with the effectiveness of the rules and procedures that apply to the natural world (the scientific method, for example).
I can see how such study and work can enforce an appreciation for the natural world and its rules and procedures to the extent that other modes of thinking are denigrated.
I studied electrical engineering in undergraduate and graduate school. We studied the scientific method and lots of scientific and engineering rules and procedures.
We were never warned in engineering school, as we were in law school, against applying our vocation’s thinking to our lives. I suspect that most scientists and engineers are not warned. Few science or engineering professors think that way. My impression is that scientists and engineers do not think as much about social and other relationships, such as a relationship with God. And my impression is that few scientists and engineers are required to attend mental health and substance abuse seminars on a regular basis (as lawyers are).
This is not to say that a little warning or education would change everything or that this is the only reason.
I am suggesting, though, that while there is nothing wrong with a deep focus on the scientific and engineering mode of thinking, doing so without consciously realizing and adjusting for the fact that it applies well to the study of the natural world but applies poorly to other areas of life can have a negative impact.
Important: Don’t Get Caught Up in Scientism
Here is a brief video of Dr. William Craig Lane introducing the concept of the differences between knowledge and truth on the one hand and scientific proof and scientism on the other.
Results from a Worldwide Study: Scientists May Be More Religious Than Others Around Them
Indeed, when Rice University, in a separate study in 2015, surveyed science and religion worldwide, it found that it is simply not the case that scientists are always less religious than the general population in which they reside. For example, “39 percent of scientists in Hong Kong identify as religious compared with 20 percent of the general population of Hong Kong, and 54 percent of scientists in Taiwan identify as religious compared with 44 percent of the general population of Taiwan.” That is, scientists and engineers can lead in this area.
It may be that younger scientists and engineers are figuring out that applying scientific thinking to matters besides the natural world is not an effective approach to life. It may be that they have realized the problems with Richard Dawkins’ way of thinking. This may be why the most recent surveys of scientists’ religion indicate a significant uptick.
Indeed, there are millions and millions of Christian scientists and engineers who are not only not antagonistic towards science, but who love both science and God.
Sources and Notes
… comprehensive survey … 2014 …: https://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/content_files/RU_AAASPresentationNotes_2014_0219%20(1).pdf
“… 2010 …” Elaine Howard Ecklund, Science v. Religion, Oxford: Oxford University Press (2010) pages 15-16.