Friday, June 20, 2014

Why Many Scientists are Atheists


Read the following comments in light of the Reasonable Faith podcast HERE, and secondarily this video podcast Here.

 A common comment made by atheists is that the majority of the highest intelligent people in the world are scientists, and that the majority of scientists are atheists.

Depending on who is making the comment, some of the conclusions made based on those two premises are.

- Therefore science has disproven the existence of God, or
- That the evidence against the existence of God is persuasive, or
- That the evidence for the existence of God is unpersuasive, or
- That science has made God's existence highly unlikely, or
- Therefore people can model their opinions on the "God question" based on the opinions of such highly intelligent scientists who are atheists, or
- Therefore belief in God is unreasonable

In response to these types of conclusions William Lane Craig has noted in THIS PODCAST the following in response to the movie The Unbelievers:

-In a survey of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2009, they found that 51% of scientists believe in "God" compared to 41% who do not. So, the majority of scientists did express belief in "God" according to the Pew survey.

Craig might be referring to the survey discussed in the article HERE. The article states, "Indeed, the survey shows that scientists are roughly half as likely as the general public to believe in God or a higher power. According to the poll, just over half of scientists (51%) believe in some form of deity or higher power; specifically, 33% of scientists say they believe in God, while 18% believe in a universal spirit or higher power." So, Craig's use of the word "God/god" refers to some "higher power" and not necessarily a personal God. This result is obviously limited to American scientists and does not include all scientists in the entire world internationally. I suspect the percentages of scientists who are "believers" in some higher power would be much less. Nevertheless, the American survey explodes the common opinion that the overwhelming majority of scientists are atheists.

- Craig continues by saying that the survey reveals that when you compare the percentages that believe in "God" to the percentages from 100 years ago [again in America and not worldwide], you find virtually no change. That back in 1914 there was a survey conducted by the psychologist James Leuba of 1,000 U.S. scientists on their views on God and Leuba found that the scientific community was evenly divided. With 42% believing in a personal God and 42% not believing in a personal God.

- Craig continues by pointing out that the survey demonstrates that the percentages of belief in "God" varies widely depending on the field. For example biologists are much less likely to believe in God than chemists, which is probably a result of the whole Creation vs. Evolution controversy and the sort of self-selection that goes on in the hiring of persons who are biology teachers in American universities.

[[  I would add an example. Atheists like to point out that the majority of scientists at the National Academy of Sciences are atheists. However, I read somewhere that members are elected by existing members. If that's the case (as this link suggests), then it's no wonder that the majority are atheists. Obviously, atheistic members will tend to nominate and elect fellow atheistic scientists to become new members. As the link says, there is no application process since new members are unilaterally elected. Quote, "Because membership is achieved by election, there is no membership application process. Although many names are suggested informally, only Academy members may submit formal nominations."  ]]

- Craig goes on to given examples of top scientists who are believers in "God."

For example:

George Ellis of the university of Cape Town. Craig says that Ellis was described to him by another astrophysicist as "...the person in the world who knows more about cosmology than any other person alive today."

Christopher Isham is a quantum cosmologist in England who has been described as Britain's leading quantum cosmologist. Craig described him as a "Christian".

Francisco Ayala is one of the most eminent and well known evolutionary biologists in the world and he's a Catholic (former Dominican priest).

Allan Sandage was one of the world's greatest astronomers who recently passed away (in Nov. 2010) was a "Christian." In his later life Sandage became a Christian and wrote essays on the subject of religion and science.

Francis Collins the head of the human genome project is a "Christian."

- Craig goes on to point out that when further investigation takes place, it's often the case that the unbelief of atheistic scientists isn't the result of their scientific studies. Rather they often came to their field of study already as unbelievers. Often as teenagers they were atheists prior to their entering into their selected field of science. This has been clearly demonstrated by the Rice University sociologist Dr. Elaine Ecklund in a series of surveys that she did at 21 major research universities between 2005 and 2008. Her research shows that most scientists who are unbelievers do not become irreligious as a consequence of their science.

[["In fact, for the majority of scientists I interviewed, it is not the engagement with science itself that leads them away from religion. Rather their reasons for unbelief mirror the circumstances in which other Americans find themselves: they were not raised in a religious home; they have had bad experience with religion; they disapprove of God or see God as too changeable."- Dr. Elaine Ecklund; Rice University sociologist who conducted research from 2005-2008. Her investigation resulted in the 2012 book Science vs. Religion – What Scientists Really Think]]

- Craig concludes that the disproportionally high percentage of non-believers among scientists as compared to the general population is the result of self-selection. Unbelievers (or the irreligious) are  more likely to become scientists in the first place as opposed to religious believers who will often go into things like theology, New Testament Studies, philosophy, comparative religion or other fields of expertise.

- Regarding the movie The Unbelievers, Craig goes on to say that what he finds so ironic is that, "Here are [Richard] Dawkins and [Lawrence M.] Krauss extolling and celebrating science, and yet they themselves are so unscientific when it comes to examining the roots of the unbelief of scientists."

See also: The bell curve of atheism by Steve Hays




 The following are my specific comments.

It's true that highly intelligent people enter the sciences. But they also enter other fields as well. People enter fields they are more comfortable in or have strengths in. Sometimes scientists can be socially awkward. That's not to say that all scientists are socially awkward. However, it might be the case that those who are socially awkward are drawn toward science more than other fields precisely because it often requires less inter-personal interaction. It also might be the case that science isn't as appealing to socially outgoing personalities precisely because it's understood that entering such fields will result in less inter-personal interaction and they would find that personally boring. This selection effect therefore concentrates and increases the percentages of scientists who are socially awkward.

The stereotype that scientists are often socially awkward might have some justification, otherwise it wouldn't be so common. Also, being socially awkward may itself have a negative effect on having a personal relationship with God. That is, apart from God's grace (whether it be prevenient grace as Arminians believe or efficacious grace as Calvinists believe).


People's strengths can often also be the source of their greatest weaknesses. Which can lead to their downfall. For example, data minded people can miss the forest for the trees. Artistic people might miss the spiritually emblematic character of Nature and reality because of its immediacy. Highly intelligent people can be so self-sufficient and proud that they can deceiving themselves into rashly concluding that they therefore don't need and never needed God. When, upon further reflection, it might have been God Himself who gave them the intellectual (and other possible) advantages that they had which enabled them to eventually succeed. Also, sometimes the greater the intelligence, the greater ability to rationalize one's belief or disbelief.

It's also likely the case that many (if not most) atheistic scientists are totally ignorant about the evidence and arguments for God's existence. Such that they are not in a position to make declarations on it or make recommendations as if they were experts on the topic. It's not their area of expertise. This is demonstrated by how poorly scientists have done in debate with William Lane Craig on the issue of the existence of God. Asking scientists about God can sometimes be analogous to asking Hollywood actors their views on politics. Only a small handful of actors and actresses actually know anything about politics, history, governments, economics et cetera.



The following is taken from comments I made at another Christian blog HERE. I've edited and added to the original comments slightly. Read them in light of the fact that I wrote my comments with a mostly Christian audience in mind.

1. Since the popularity of Darwinism in the late 19th century, academia has tended to be atheistic (especially in the sciences). So, it's no wonder that when classes are taught with an atheistic spin by atheistic professors, that impressionable and admiring students tend to convert to atheism if they weren't atheists already. If they were atheists, then their beliefs end up being reenforced and solidified.

Darwinism became popular because of inferences and interpretations made of scientific data that was discovered in the 19th century. But such atheistic interpretations wouldn't have been as easily accepted if they knew back then the scientific data now being uncovered in the 21st century (think of the whole Intelligent Design movement and how it's challenging Neo-Darwinism).

2. Given what the Bible says about our natural sinfulness and aversion to God, is it any wonder that intelligent and self-sufficient (from a human perspective) people tend to deny the existence of God when they sinfully refuse to see all the subtle ways God has blessed them and given them success? There's a self-reinforcing ignorance and blindness going on. Deep in their hearts they don't want to see God's providential handiwork and so they blind themselves further so that they will continue not to see it. That coupled with how methodological naturalism and the autonomous sinful man's desire of mastering his environment (through physics, chemistry and other natural sciences) perfectly meshes to create self-consciously professing and asserting atheists and metaphysical naturalists. We humans have a natural tendency to want to take God's place and have His powers and prerogatives.

3. If unconditional election is true (as Augustinianism and Calvinism teach), then God tended to elect a greater percentage of those who would not be as naturally gifted in Common Grace blessings (which include high intelligence) as others. In which case, those who are highly intelligent will tend not to be among those who are regenerate in this world. Compare the Biblical passages of 1 Cor. 1:26-31; Matt. 11:25-27; Luke 5:31-32.

4. It might well be the case that people with more well rounded intelligence and/or certain personality types tend to go into fields outside of science (e.g. business, finance, law, leadership positions, politics, public relations type fields etc.) because they have abilities that people who tend to go into science tend not to have. For example, people skills; leadership skills; adaptability to changing environments, circumstances and data; communication skills et cetera. Whereas, some people who prefer the safety of fixed data (or at least generally stable theories), of controlled environments, of abstract thinking and procedural thinking (and technical processes) tend to enter scientific fields. The fact that there are different kinds of intelligence and different areas of intelligence lessens the force of the (probably true) claim that the most "intelligent" people in the world are scientists.

5. We also have to consider the fact that the distribution of atheists in the various scientific fields isn't uniform. While certain scientific fields tend to be filled with atheists, others will be more open to "a higher power", or deism, or theism or even Christian theism. It's not surprising that biologists, anthropologists, paleontologists tend to be atheistic. But microbiologists (for example) are more open to the possibility of intelligent design than the former list of scientific fields because of the amazing complexity and apparent design in their own field. Similarly, I've heard Hugh Ross say a number of times that there are many Christians in the astrophysicist community because of many instances of the apparent manifestation of the anthropic principle they often find in nature (and especially in their own field).

6. The sad and ironic thing of highly intelligent people becoming atheists is that the very thing that makes them especially reflective of the Image of God is the very thing that they use to distance themselves from the God who gave them such intellectual blessings. So that the more God has given to them, the more they want to live ungratefully and unthankfully. Rather than acknowledging the source of their (literally) god-like (because God given) powers. When I think of the many geniuses and prodigies who have existed in times past and present and their amazing abilities, I can't help but be confirmed in my belief in the existence of God. These are people with amazing (seemingly supernatural) mathematical skills, memories, musical talents, etc.

Here's a List of Child Prodigies





Some Quotes from Scientists
(taken from my blog HERE)


Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.
- Professor Richard Lewontin (one of the world’s leaders in evolutionary biology)
[ Source HERE or HERE [source]


Charles Darwin died the 19th of April 1882. In 1879 John Fordyce wrote asking if Charles Darwin believed in God, and if theism and evolution were compatible. Darwin replied "It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist." In the same letter Darwin wrote, "But as you ask, I may state that my judgment often fluctuates. Moreover whether a man deserves to be called a theist depends on the definition of the term: which is much too large a subject for a note. In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.— I think that generally (& more and more so as I grow older) but not always, that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind." Darwin wrote his reply letter May 7th 1879, only a few years before his death.
[Source]

The intelligence bell curve of atheists as rated by Steve Hays:

The bell curve of atheism by Steve Hays

See also my blog:

Book Reviews of Recent Atheist Authors by Christian Apologists


Evidence and Arguments Against Materialism and Naturalism


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