Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Really Smart Scientists don’t Believe in God

It is often reported that, in general, scientists don't much believe in God. And that better scientists believe even less, and that crème de la crème NAS members disbelieve almost uniformly, at somewhere around the 93% level. I certainly am no exception, being on the bottom of the food chain among academic scientists, where the belief rate among us “lesser” scientists hovers around 40%.

This is contrasted with rates among the general public who, in this country, profess belief with almost opposite regularity.

I have no theory about the cause. I just I’d point out some factors that may contribute:
  1. Maybe it's true. Maybe smart people really are less likely to believe. Perhaps (I don’t buy it, but perhaps) this is an example of foolish things putting the wise to shame.

  2. Christian higher education devalues and in many cases demonizes science, redirecting bright Christians into seminary. Among Christians there is a brain drain from science to theology and ministry.

  3. Academia is not the only employer of Ph.D. scientists, or even of exceptionally gifted Ph.D. scientists. Industry takes its share. Perhaps the percentages are quite different there, indicating a bias where talented believing scientists are more comfortable taking that path. (I have no data—just speculating.)

  4. Perhaps extremely talented people are simply more secure and confident. Thus while your average Joe might, from peer pressure, be reluctant to profess his atheism, you average scientist with his Ph.D. sized ego is not. In other words, the percentage of sincere God believers may be way, way less than polls indicated, reducing the disparity between scientists and non-scientists. (In this model, the 7% of NAS believers must be stalwart paragons of sincerity. A doff O’ the cap to ‘em.)
There are probably more factors one should consider before concluding that the smarter you are the less likely it is you’ll believe in God. These are but a few. But the bottom line is: it wouldn’t bother me one bit if it turned out that the hypothesis survived all challenges to the statistics gathering and analysis methodologies.

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