This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← Christianity: a faith for the simple

Christianity: a faith for the simple - Comments

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 1 by Richard Dawkins

It has long been known that nearly half of US scientists are religious, and I said this in The God Delusion. When I said "elite" scientists, I meant as opposed to run-of-the-mill scientists. My criterion was election to the National Academy of Sciences, which is the US equivalent of the Royal Society in the case of Britain and the Commonwealth. As I also quoted in The God Delusion, the Royal Society, like the National Academy, has an extremely low percentage of religious scientists, comparable to the National Academy's less than ten percent.

Richard

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 09:10:09 UTC | #586575

sunbeamforjeebus's Avatar Comment 2 by sunbeamforjeebus

I believe in TGD the figure was 7%.

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 09:16:50 UTC | #586578

Starcrash's Avatar Comment 3 by Starcrash

In the PZ Myers video a few posts back, PZ gave plenty of reason on why scientists are naturally atheists. In my own personal blog, so have I. Even if a survey finds a different answer, it is still logical to find few religious among the scientific community.

BTW, the current "Read on" link doesn't work.

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 09:21:23 UTC | #586579

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 4 by Stevehill

The link is broken above. (It's here).

I posted on the Guardian discussion a link to Larson and Witham's 1998 finding that only 7% of NAS scientists were believers (and falling), and also made the point that Elaine Ecklund's research was seemingly funded by the Templeton Foundation.

It's amazing what people can be persuaded to "prove" if you dangle the prospect of an annual £1,000,000 prize...

Still, it's interesting that Nick Spencer (of the Theos think tank) is reduced to arguing that you have to be a bit simple to be a Christian. Encouraging progress for "our side"!

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 09:21:36 UTC | #586580

MumboJumbo's Avatar Comment 5 by MumboJumbo

The rest of the Cif article can be found here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/jan/31/christianity-faith-anti-elitist

I am reminded of this quote from Bertrand Russell: "So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence."

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 09:22:51 UTC | #586581

the archangel's Avatar Comment 6 by the archangel

In my MSc class at Birkbeck I find it shocking how many people do not understand evolution being fact, and thinking oh "we are mere Apes" This is in London. There is nothing mere about being and ape and is in fact thrilling to accept. This is the home of A.C Grayling, and they don't know who he is either.

People seem to sometimes go into science hoping for something else, these people in my class seem to want to go into the caring proffesion rather than research. But some of them will inevitably go into research just because it is what they have been trained to do and may carry their strange understanding of science with them. But they would probably mostly contribute to the run of the mill science establishment.

This is I imagine a pattern we may find in many science courses, especially one such as psychology which, though I find these bits boring, does have a caring, medical side to it, which these people with strange views are more enthusiastic about than just discovering new information. I find it strange that I end up trying to show evolution is true and astrology false to people studying a science in England. I try not to waste my time on it too much, but it's a shame because it can inhibit what could be a jolly good discussion which could otherwise be insightful.

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 09:31:29 UTC | #586582

Katana's Avatar Comment 7 by Katana

As the study is a book i can't exactly look at it's methodology or results for myself without buying it. I would be curious to see the breakdown of scientists by field and how they responded; religious, spiritual (weak deism?) or atheist.

A lot of the time the religious ones tend to be engineers, and if a majority of the people surveyed were engineers it could well skew the result one way, as would interviewing a majority of say biologists would (in my opinion). What defines a scientist for this study, having a Ph.D?

As Richard points out that this is a USA study, so the result is likely to be skewed, and people in that country tend to exaggerate there religiosity in surveys, even when anonymous.

Also like the first comment on that article, for a man who seems pro-religion based on his article history he certainly shot himself in the foot with the headline of this one.

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 09:32:47 UTC | #586583

shawn.bishop's Avatar Comment 8 by shawn.bishop

The "Read On" link is empty. Administrator, please fix it.

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 09:34:25 UTC | #586584

TheRationalizer's Avatar Comment 9 by TheRationalizer

I have never liked the argument that "top scientists are mainly atheists". If one wants to use an argument like this then you should be prepared to argue in favour of god if there is a change and the majority of top scientists become religious.

I don't really care much for what top scientists think, I only care for what they can prove. Scientists make mistakes too, I seem to remember Einstein thinking that plate tectonics were impossible.

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 09:52:20 UTC | #586588

TheRationalizer's Avatar Comment 10 by TheRationalizer

Comment Removed by Author

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 09:53:42 UTC | #586589

Atropa's Avatar Comment 11 by Atropa

I despair that my nephew's wife, who has a first class honours degree in science from Cambridge and and is now a medical doctor, believes that miracles happen at Lourdes (and goes there most years). She was quite unimpressed by my remark that, given the thousands of patients who go hoping for a cure, there are only eleven "medically confirmed" miracles claimed by the Catholic church. Spontaneous remission rates would predict many more "unexplainable" cures. Does this mean that a pilgrimage to Lourdes actually lowers your chance of recovery? Has there ever been a case of miraculous regrowth of a lost limb? Er, no. (Of course limb loss is not subject to misdiagnosis or spontaneous remmission though.

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 10:06:31 UTC | #586591

andersemil's Avatar Comment 12 by andersemil

I guess American scientists like so many other American citizens tend to say that they are religious when they really aren't because of social pressure.

http://richarddawkins.net/articles/570647-why-do-americans-claim-to-be-more-religious-than-they-are

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 10:15:23 UTC | #586595

Marcel Gheorghita's Avatar Comment 13 by Marcel Gheorghita

[EDIT] I just wanted to post the link for the original article but someone just beat me to it :)

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 10:16:28 UTC | #586596

Kumar324's Avatar Comment 14 by Kumar324

I think we have to differentiate between people who are scientists and people who are employed/working in science. While the former try to use science as a guide not just to understand things in the lab but also to explain everyday occurences and the natural world, the latter on the other hand are just working in science meaning they consider science to be just another means to a livelihood. They therefore offer the idiotic response of "my work is separate from my personal life" on being questioned about god. So it would be along expected lines if the 'scientists' turn out to be believers because they are not really scientists.

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 10:20:17 UTC | #586598

Mark Jones's Avatar Comment 15 by Mark Jones

Jerry Coyne took a look at Ecklund's study here, with the help of Jason Rosenhouse, and they draw different conclusions from the data:

Asked about their beliefs in God, 34% chose “I don't believe in God,” while 30% chose, “I do not know if there is a God, and there is no way to find out.” That's 64% who are atheist or agnostic, as compared to just 6% of the general public.

An additional 8% opted for, “I believe in a higher power, but it is not God.” That makes 72% of scientists who are explicitly non-theistic in their religious views (compared to 16% of the public generally.) Pretty stark.

Not surprising that Ecklund frames the data as she does, since she appears keen to encourage the 'Science and Religion' meme being promoted by Biologos and Templeton.

It may be, I think, not really that clever people are more likely to be atheistic, because they are as susceptible to human biology as foolish people (I mean, they can be as blind to their own limitations and irrationalities). It's that people who are continually examining reality with the best tool available to disabuse us of our common sensical notions are more likely to conclude there is no God.

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 10:23:02 UTC | #586600

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 16 by Stevehill

@Atropa

A Catholic doctor friend of mine regularly takes groups of kids to Lourdes. His argument is "well, if it makes them feel a bit better"... he's realistic enough to take the view that it's a bit of a trip, and they get some fresh air. And you never know your luck.

I tend to gently wind him up and say if staying at home and being devout and saying a lot of prayers doesn't move God to cure you, why is God going to be any more impressed if you say "How about I move over here a bit? Is that better for you?"

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 10:25:14 UTC | #586603

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 17 by Alan4discussion

Comment 6 by the archangel

People seem to sometimes go into science hoping for something else, these people in my class seem to want to go into the caring profession rather than research. But some of them will inevitably go into research just because it is what they have been trained to do and may carry their strange understanding of science with them. But they would probably mostly contribute to the run of the mill science establishment.

Those who have drifted into becoming "professional students" with vague aspirations to do some good, are probably demonstrating their lack of clear thinking.

I see no problem if they move to hands-on practical applications with enthusiastic commitment to an area of study.

that his children "have been thoroughly and successfully indoctrinated to believe as I do that belief in God is a form of mental weakness".

Or perhaps that it is just a sign of intellectual immaturity, which cannot be understood by the intellectually immature.

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 10:33:49 UTC | #586605

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 18 by phil rimmer

Comment 12 by andersemil

http://richarddawkins.net/articles/570647-why-do-americans-claim-to-be-more-religious-than-they-are

Exactly. This dreadful American disease of social-conformity-at-the-cost-of-personal-hypocrisy seems from my parents' era.

I think there is more research to be done on scientists and their actual religiously rooted behaviours. Most interesting would be a study of relative spousal belief and relationship stability.

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 10:34:02 UTC | #586606

keddaw's Avatar Comment 19 by keddaw

There is a distinct anti-elitist strand in his teaching, which reaches a peculiar, parenthetical climax half way through Luke's gospel when the evangelist observes: "At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children'."

Let's unpack what Luke is saying:

"At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit[which is Jesus], said, 'I praise you, Father[also Jesus], Lord of heaven and earth[modesty is overrated], because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned[only suckers will play along with my game, better make them feel good about it], and revealed them to little children[the Emperor has no clothes?]'."

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 10:42:15 UTC | #586610

bachfiend's Avatar Comment 20 by bachfiend

"I have never liked the argument that "top scientists are mainly atheists". If one wants to use an argument like this then you should be prepared to argue in favour of god if there is a change and the majority of top scientists become religious.

"I don't really care much for what top scientists think, I only care for what they can prove. Scientists make mistakes too, I seem to remember Einstein thinking that plate tectonics were impossible".

I think the point is that, like Laplace when he was asked by Napoleon in 1802 why his book on the solar system made no reference to god, answered that he had no need of that hypothesis.

The top scientists, with a profound understanding of their fields, tend not to root their belief in a god on the basis of their specialisation. This isn't to exclude the possibility that scientists can't utter the most ridiculous statements when they are expressing opinions far outside their field(s) of expertise.

I don't know if Einstein claimed that plate tectonics was impossible. I doubt it. Einstein died in 1955 and plate tectonics as a theory only came into existence in the '60s. He might have been expressing doubt over Wegener's continental drift theory, in which case Einstein was right-continental drift is impossible (and the geologists of the day agreed).

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 10:51:54 UTC | #586615

Daniel Schealler's Avatar Comment 21 by Daniel Schealler

Again, someone confuses the notion of intelligence for the concept of critical thinking.

You don't have to be particularly intelligent to be a competent critical thinker. To the contrary. The cleverer a person is, the better they can be expected to perform when fooling themselves.

No, the criteria here is critical thinking, not intelligence. Besides, I've always considered 'intelligence' to be an undefined folk-psychology term of poor descriptive power and dubious merit. I'm almost as leery of the term 'intelligence' as I am of the term 'spirituality' - in either case it can mean just about anything.

No, the skill-set of interest is critical thinking, and critical thinking doesn't require cleverness so much as training.

The only sound conclusion that a competent critical thinker can justifiably reach regarding the God proposition is provisional rejection, a de-facto atheism, 6.9 on the 7 point scale.

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 11:01:39 UTC | #586618

freerider's Avatar Comment 22 by freerider

Without reading it, I suspect that the survey mentioned above which polled 1,700 scientists was probably pretty vague in its sampling methodology. The comment about the "elite" nature of the scientists has likely been tacked on because the author views anyone with a science degree as "elite".

As you just mentioned, Richard, your definition of elite is more in line with how scientists as a group would characterise those in the NAS.

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 11:52:15 UTC | #586624

colluvial's Avatar Comment 23 by colluvial

Our conviction that scientists, elite or otherwise, are somehow better qualified to discern the nature of reality is dubious.

Is this to say for example that biologists are only on equal footing with barbers, bus drivers, and athletes regarding their understanding of geology or astronomy? Or maybe biologists are even less qualified in those other fields because they invested so much of their mental capacity in one field of science.

Perhaps Spencer means something else when he uses the phrase "discerning the nature of reality". Could it be the ability to invent uninformed fairy tales that people with little knowledge of the way the universe works will swallow? Like Christian mythology?

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 11:58:57 UTC | #586625

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 24 by Jos Gibbons

Comment Removed by Author

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 12:08:56 UTC | #586628

Roger J. Stanyard's Avatar Comment 25 by Roger J. Stanyard

Elaine Howard Ecklund's research is not really evidence of anything; the survery was confined to the USA and ignored the vast majority of scientists, who are outside of the USA. Seems like another case of assumption of US cultural elitism.

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 12:12:02 UTC | #586629

biorays's Avatar Comment 26 by biorays

Youngsters respond to well thought out science and reason! Placating their inquisitiveness with fictional emotion manipulations postpones neuron growth. Where the two exist simultaneously, the mind congeals around certain 'emotional studies' and inhibits well developed analytical scrutiny when the self has begun to identify with emotional ideologies.

I posit that brain development gets significantly inhibited when such dissonance is drip-feed seduced into a youngsters mind, postponing their capacity to focus on reason and deferring their grasp on positively confident independent conclusion skills. This is why so many people find thinking about personal analysis such a 'hard rain' after being ushered under the umbrella of religions neuron sapping emotional brain hungry contradictions. Too many believers are 'dried out' thinkers. Dogma , indoctrination, emotional manipulations and deviant power claims are to blame.

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 12:14:53 UTC | #586630

freerider's Avatar Comment 27 by freerider

Daniel Schealler,

You make a very good point about critical thinking being more relevant than conventional notions of intelligence. The kind if brainwashing techniques used by many religions on their adherents' children are designed (or did they evolve?) to aggressively stifle and in many cases, critically impair the development of the regions of the brain involved with reasoning. Otherwise intelligent individuals can therefore function academically without apparent need to question their delusions.

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 12:18:08 UTC | #586632

lewis.breland's Avatar Comment 28 by lewis.breland

My goodness, Richard! You were up EARLY this morning!

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 12:24:05 UTC | #586635

PurplePanda's Avatar Comment 29 by PurplePanda

People's intelligence cannot be a result of anything more than nature and nurture.

Would it be fair of God to exclude the stupid? No.

But would it be fair to exclude the intelligent? Well, apparently it might be.

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 12:26:00 UTC | #586636

Galactor's Avatar Comment 30 by Galactor

Comment 1 by Richard Dawkins :

My criterion was election to the National Academy of Sciences, which is the US equivalent of the Royal Society in the case of Britain and the Commonwealth. As I also quoted in The God Delusion, the Royal Society, like the National Academy, has an extremely low percentage of religious scientists, comparable to the National Academy's less than ten percent.

Who assesses the eligibility of scientists for election to the National Academy or the Royal Society?

Is membership really a statement of elitism or higher intelligence?

Are you sure that it's not a self-serving club that picks non-religious members or at least keeps the numbers of believers down? One could argue that only the really, really intelligent could get in if they are of a religious persuasion!

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 12:32:58 UTC | #586637