Re: The more they learn, the less they believe

Jonathan Clarke (
Mon, 03 Aug 1998 10:04:01 +1000

Phillip E. Johnson wrote (citing the most recent Larson & Witman study):

> "This year, we
> closely imitated the second phase of Mr. Leuba's 1914 survey to gauge
> belief among "greater" scientists, and found the rate of belief lower than
> ever - a mere 7 percent of respondents.
> Mr. Leuba attributed the higher level of disbelief and doubt among
> "greater" scientists to their "superior knowledge, understanding, and
> experience." 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."
> Such comments led us to repeat the second phase of Mr. 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 percent and 69 percent
> respectively, and among NAS physical scientists, it was 79 percent and 76.3
> percent.
> Most of the rest were agnostics on both issues, with few believers. We
> found the highest percentage of belief among NAS mathematicians (14.3
> percent in God, 15 percent in immortality). Biological scientists had the
> lowest rate of belief (5.6 percent in God, 7.1 percent in immortality),
> with physicists and astronomers slightly higher (7.5 percent in God, 7.5
> percent in immortality).
> Overall comparison figures for 1914, 1933 and 1998 surveys appear in
> the accompanying table.
> YEARS: 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"

Pondering these results gives rise to further questions. Given the much
higher level of religious belief among "lesser" scientists, why do so few
"greater" scientists believe? Is it indeed because "the more people know" the less
they believe"? It is because consciously or otherwise, the US NAS selects against
those with belief in God? Is it because Christians are not ambitious in reaching
the top of their profession (perhaps we feel overall there are bigger fish to
fry)? How do these figures compared with other professions? What is the
proportion of "ordinary" as against "great" business people, engineers, lawyers,
etc., who believe in God, immortality etc.?

On a more positive note, 7% of the 517 NAS members represents >35% people in the
academy with belief in God and immortality. While we all wish for more, this is
surely a great asset to the faith. What is being done to use these people to
explore the science faith interface. Here in Australia we have a number of
Christians in the Australian academy of science who are open about their faith and
overtly encourage informed discussion of science faith issues in the public eye.

In Christ