Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Scientists beliefs in God and about Science/Religion

Been incredibly busy so no time to blog.

PNAS paper has been accepted subject to some very minor amendments which we are making. Should be in final final form next week.

Fascinating long e-discussion with Nobel Laureate required a detailed response partly because he cc’d his last to a number of other world-class scientists. Eventually made a short email then a detailed response (4pp) which addressed all the points he made. That way the cc’s people could look if they wanted but were not burdened.

The basic points I made were:
  1. Although they are in a minority, there are some outstanding scientists who are sincerely religious (Amongst Nobel Laureates I could name Hewish, Phillips and I believe Martin Evans)
  2. There is a fundamental difference between (A) "I do not believe in God" and (B) "there is an irreconcilable conflict between science and religion."
  3. Unless an organisation is explicitly committed to (B) it is unreasonable to complain if it takes actions that are incompatible with (B).
  4. Any form of persecution for people’s views on religion should have no place in science.
  5. Perhaps it would be constructive to focus on what we can agree about in this area, with respect to academic freedom and reasonable debate.
The data on scientists religious views are quite interesting.

The only scientific study of religious beliefs amongst scientists at elite universities in the US of which I am aware (Ecklund and Park 2009) found the following:

Reported PositionAll ScientistsExcl. Social Science
I do not believe in God
34%
37%
I do not know if there is a God and there is no way to find out
30%
29%
I have some doubts but I believe in God
15%
13%
I have no doubts about God's existence
15%
13%
Other(Higher Power/believe in God sometimes
13%
14%
Source: Ecklund and Park 2009
rounded to
nearest 1%

When asked for their view on the statement “there is an irreconcilable conflict between religious knowledge and scientific knowledge.” 17% Strongly Agree, 19% Somewhat Agree, 7% have No Opinion, 24% Somewhat Disagree and 33% Strongly Disagree”.

So only 36% of scientists Agree with (B) vs 56% who Disagree. It would of course be very interesting to se how this correlated with atheism. Strongly no doubt, but probably not more than 50%.

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