Re: The more they learn, the less they believe

Allan Harvey (
Mon, 03 Aug 1998 17:53:47 -0600

Prof. Johnson cites the recent study in which the level of religious
belief in "leading" scientists (defined by membership in the NAS) came
out quite low, in contrast to the results for scientists in general. He
opines that this is because the "leading" scientists are more thoroughly
steeped in methodological naturalism and carry it forward to the
conclusion of metaphysical naturalism.

Prof. Johnson's speculation on the cause is, of course, just that. I
think (though I'll admit that what I'm about to say is also speculation)
he has cause and effect backwards. If his interpretation is true, then a
significant fraction of these scientists should have started off as
believers and then abandoned that as they got deeper into science and its
methodological naturalism. Certainly this does happen to some in science
[in my opinion, primarily because people like PJ and to a much greater
extent the "creation scientists" have convinced them of the falsehood
that "natural" explanations are incompatible with theism, but that's
another debate].

However, I suspect more of this difference is due to a lower likelihood
of Christians in science achieving "leading" status. Things today are
not like they were early in the century when talent and a little hard
work could bring a scientist to "leading" status. Now, it tends to take
talent, a *lot* of hard work, and often a good amount of self-promotion.
Because Christians will (we hope) have other priorities besides worldly
success, they will be less likely to exhibit the sort of single-minded,
non-humble, workaholic pursuit that tends to be required (there are, of
course, exceptions) to make a scientist "leading". My semi-informed
guess is that this sort of self-selection is the biggest reason for the
disparity in the numbers.

PJ also wrote:

>Suppose Larson and Witham had asked biologists who are members of the NAS
>to step forward publicly at a scientific convention to affirm in front of
>their colleagues that they agree with this statement: "A supernatural
>being we call God actively guided evolution in order to bring about the
>existence of human beings in furtherance of a divine purpose." How many
>would step forward?

I agree with George Murphy that "actively guided" is a loaded way to
phrase it in that it can be read to imply the *necessity* of "gaps"
(please note that I'm objecting to gaps as a necessity, not as a
possibility). Let's therefore amend it to something like "Under the
sovereign governance of a supernatural being we call God, human beings
evolved into existence in furtherance of a divine purpose."

| Dr. Allan H. Harvey | |
| Physical and Chemical Properties Division | "Don't blame the |
| National Institute of Standards & Technology | government for what I |
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