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I was reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and he mentions a study regarding the percentages of believers in the National Academy of Sciences and Royal Society. I was wondering if these figures mirrored the numbers for all other scientists, not merely those elected to prestigious societies. Unfortunately, googling "number of christian scientists" doesn't get me the kind of christian scientists I'm looking for...

Does anyone have any statistics on the number of scientists (Ph.D.-level researchers) who are Christian?

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This question touches on yours, although the emphasis is a little different: Are only 700 out of 480,000 life scientists creationists? –  Flimzy Sep 21 '11 at 19:14
@stoicfury I'd be interested, too; and I'm still hoping for a good answer to the Skeptics question. (I'm the one who asked Are only 700 out of 480,000 life scientists creationists?) –  dancek Sep 21 '11 at 22:59
@Flimzy - Not all Christians would be classified Creationists, especially in the sense that the article is using the term. –  Mike Riess Sep 22 '11 at 3:45
Well the statistics would be anonymous of course. It's not even legal to connect participant data to real names in the United States and share that with anyone beyond anyone but the core researchers. Virtually all studies have to make their findings anonymous before publishing, and the great majority "anonymize" their data even before they review it (usually while they are recording it; see experimental blindness) –  stoicfury Sep 22 '11 at 23:06
"Statistics often conflict" - hmm, no? You obviously (no offense) don't read scientific literature. Most research is supportive in nature; that is, it confirms previously established statistics/findings. You just don't notice because they don't announce that some boring theory was confirmed in the news — they only announce when exciting theories are conflicted, and that's precisely why the general public has a poor impression of statistics. And yes, this question is clearly answerable. There's a big difference between a question being unanswerable and no one knowing the answer. –  stoicfury Sep 24 '11 at 22:13

3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

In 1998, Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham published an article in the leading scientific journal, Nature, their findings on the percent of believers among scientists in the National Academy of Sciences:

We found the highest percentage of belief [in God] among NAS mathematicians (14.3% in God, 15.0% in immortality). Biological scientists had the lowest rate of belief (5.5% in God, 7.1% in immortality), with physicists and astronomers slightly higher (7.5% in God, 7.5% in immortality).

In regards to the question being asked, however, a Pew Survey in mid-2009 found that 33% of all scientists in America (not just those elected to NAS) believe in God, compared to 83% the American public. 18% believed in some sort of "higher power" (unaffiliated with any religion) and 41% are atheist. This suggests that the "average" scientist is more likely to believe in God than the most esteemed scientists.

Religious affliation among scientists

Religious beliefs

This interesting article summarizes some of the findings from the Pew data.

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The data is clear: scientists are less likely to be religious than the general public and the more prestigious the scientist, the less likely they are to believe in God. But it's hard to know exactly how to interpret the data. I wonder if you would find similar results by asking about whether scientists are sports fans or enjoy gardening? Perhaps the results are a function of scientists concentrating their thought and time on their work. Would you find similar trends among businessmen and engineers, for instance? (But +1 for both the question and answer.) –  Jon Ericson Jan 9 '12 at 18:55
It does seem clear: religiosity correlates inversely with education. I'm astonished at the results broken down by age, though. That's exactly the opposite of what I would have guessed. Interesting. –  Kaz Dragon Nov 7 '12 at 8:45
One can wonder then whether a good education "enlightens" the primitive, superstitious religious beliefs out of us or simply inflates our egos ... –  svidgen Nov 7 '12 at 23:12
@svidgen - Why not both? :P –  stoicfury Nov 8 '12 at 2:48
@svidgen Or it could be that those in need (who, in general, tend not to be well educated) will grasp towards the nearest and most available source of hope and community. –  Kaz Dragon Nov 8 '12 at 8:03

You can look at this article: http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/sci_relig.htm, and get a rough idea.

I expect that the numbers will be lower now, in terms of those believing, since so many vocal Christians are so anti-science.

[Summary of a paper that appeared in the 23 July 1998 issue of Nature by Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham: "Leading Scientists Still Reject God." Nature, 1998; 394, 313.]

Larson and Witham present the results of a replication of 1913 and 1933 surveys by James H. Leuba. In those surveys, Leuba mailed a questionnaire to leading scientists asking about their belief in "a God in intellectual and affective communication with humankind" and in "personal immortality". Larson and Witham used the same wording [as in the Leuba studies], and sent their questionnaire to 517 members of the [U.S.] National Academy of Sciences from the biological and physical sciences (the latter including mathematicians, physicists and astronomers). The return rate was slightly over 50%.

The results were as follows (figures in %):

 BELIEF IN PERSONAL GOD          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

 BELIEF IN IMMORTALITY           1914    1933    1998

 Personal belief                 35.2    18       7.9
 Personal disbelief              25.4    53      76.7
 Doubt or agnosticism            43.7    29      23.3 

Note: The 1998 immortality figures add up to more than 100%. The misprint is in the original. The 76.7% is likely too high.

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I wouldn't accept this information as 100% accurate as it was taken from Wikipedia; "Level_of_support_for_evolution", as follows; 'One 1987 estimate found that "700 scientists ... (out of a total of 480,000 U.S. earth and life scientists) ... give credence to creation-science".'

More generally, the following statistic was interesting, as was the accompanying article, "16% of US Science Teachers are Creationists". This article can be found at the following website; www.newscientist.com/.../dn13930-16-of-us-science-teachers-are-creationists.html

However, if you are searching for some fascinating scientific debate for creationism, I suggest viewing Ben Steins's "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" dvd. There are many interviews with respected scientists who believe in Intelligent Design; two of which I have named below and have added a brief biology for each.

David Berlinski
Received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University and was later a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics and molecular biology at Columbia University. He has authored works on systems analysis, differential topology, theoretical biology, analytic philosophy, and the philosophy of mathematics, as well as three novels. He has also taught philosophy, mathematics and English at such universities as Stanford, Rutgers, the City University of New York and the Universite de Paris. In addition, he has held research fellowships at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria and the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques (IHES) in France.

Recent articles by Dr. Berlinski have been featured in Commentary, Forbes ASAP, and the Boston Review. Two of his articles, "On the Origins of the Mind" (November 2004) and "What Brings a World into Being" (March 2001) have been anthologized in The Best American Science Writing 2005 , edited by Alan Lightman (Harper Perennial), and The Best American Science Writing 2002, edited by Jesse Cohen, respectively.

Doug Axe
Received his Ph.D from Caltech and did post-doc research at Cambridge University, and published some of his findings in the peer-reviewed Journal of Molecular Biology. He was trying to see whether it is easy or hard to shuffle amino acids randomly in order to make functional proteins. Those JMB publications show that the number of functional amino acid sequences is tiny, compared to the number of possible sequences.

Doug Axe’s research likewise studies genes that it turns out show great evidence of design. Axe studied the sensitivities of protein function to mutations. In these “mutational sensitivity” tests, Dr. Axe mutated certain amino acids in various proteins, or studied the differences between similar proteins, to see how mutations or changes affected their ability to function properly. He found that protein function was highly sensitive to mutation, and that proteins are not very tolerant to changes in their amino acid sequences. In other words, when you mutate, tweak, or change these proteins slightly, they stopped working. In one of his papers, he thus concludes that “functional folds require highly extraordinary sequences,” and that functional protein folds “may be as low as 1 in 10^77.”

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I don't believe the 700/480,000 figure; there seems to be no good source for the claim. See Are only 700 out of 480,000 life scientists creationists? on Skeptics. –  dancek Sep 28 '11 at 2:15
I'm really not sure how this answers the question. –  Kaz Dragon Nov 7 '12 at 8:48

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