Scientists. Do You Believe in God?

by on 21st of December, 2009 in Inspiring & Thought Provoking

Perhaps at no other time of year like the winter solstice is the mixture of religious beliefs and daily life more intertwined.  Most people, regardless of race and country of origin, come from a faith that believes in God or a Higher Power.

As scientists, it is a widely held belief that we do not believe in God because of our passion for truth. Some think that science and God do not mix and cannot mix; that you cannot be a scientist and actually believe in a higher power or a universal source of knowledge that is not measurable by any lab test.

My experience of what scientists believe

When I speak to my colleagues and friends in the science community, I actually find the opposite belief to be true. Most people I speak to not only believe in God, but in the paranormal, spiritual, and supernatural. We can’t measure any of this with a DNA or RNA test, yet for some, proof is not always something you can hold in your hand. What I have found is that for most scientists, their own experience is proof enough.

This makes sense to me because as scientists, we are trained to have an open mind and to not let our personal biases sway our results.  Scientists need to be open to any and all possibility in order to make progress. So a scientist who has experienced divine guidance or intervention, while knowing that there is no explanation with physical laws on how such a thing could have happened, has all the evidence they need to know fact from fiction.

The stats

The stats say that the split is about 50-50 of those who believe in God and those who do not. A survey taken by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in May and June of this year and reported by David Masci in the Los Angeles Times, found that 51% do believe in God and 41% do not.  These numbers haven’t changed much over the last 100 years either,  despite the numerous discoveries in evolution and biochemistry over the years.

The same poll found that 41% of chemists believe in God while scientists in the fields of biology and medicine were much less likely to believe in God (32%). In terms of age, the younger generation of scientists (18-34) are more likely to believe in God than their senior colleagues.

In comparison, the scientific community tends to believe less that the general public do.  95% of American adults say they believe in a God or higher power and only 32% believe in evolution whereas 87% of scientists believe that life evolved over time.

Based on this data, it would suggest that for many of us, science and religion are not necessarily incompatible and one does not need to choose between the two.  We can believe in a higher power and evolution. We can experience things not explainable by science and not need to write it down in a lab notebook as proof it happened.

Many of our scientific predecessors believed in God; Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1627), Rene Descartes (1596-1650), Robert Boyle (1791-1867), Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), and Albert Einstein (1879-1955). Even under persecution for teaching that the sun was the center of the universe, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) maintained his faith in God. And Galileo had no proof that his theory was true using the tools available to him at the time.

Brilliant minds over the ages have recognized that there are some things we can’t explain but that doesn’t mean they aren’t true. Sometimes all you have to base your theories on is a hunch or a feeling or indirect evidence that there is more to this than meets the eye.  Does it mean we reject everything that doesn’t fit our cozy model because we can’t measure it in a test tube? No. It means we keep an open mind until we can.

Here’s what I think

I love science because I love the process of solving the riddle and uncovering the clues to unraveling whatever problem I am trying to solve. I love the process of discovery and not just the end result. Fortunately for us scientists, there is an infinite number of puzzles to tackle in the universe and things to discover.  Thank God for keeping a few things secret.

ps: I wanted to let you all know about www.bethematch.org. Your bone marrow may hold the cure for a child with cancer. Joining the registry is easy. It is just a cheek swab.  You don’t need to give bone marrow unless you are determined the best match for a patient.  The greatest present to give any child or parent of a sick child is the chance to live. You might be the match!

50 thoughts on “Scientists. Do You Believe in God?”

  1. Nick Oswald says:

    Nice post Suzanne. I believe that is it impossible for us to know whether there is a God/higher power or not, so as scientists we must remain open to this possibility.

    However, believing in a religion is different to believing in the possiblity of a God. Religion is someone else’s opinion on whether there is a God, and the primary literature to back up their claims is not rigorously peer reviewed by any means.

  2. Felipe says:

    Like Laplace (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre-Simon_Laplace): “I had no need of that hypothesis.”

  3. Thanks Nick- good point. Believing in what a body of people who make up an organized “church” tell you is true is not necessarily the same as believing in God. The former, on the surface, appears contrary to scientific training (figure something out for yourself) and the latter is simply admitting that you really don’t and can’t know everything.

  4. Dan says:

    To answer the question of what I believe – I’m a Teapot Agnostic. That is, I find the creeds of each religion to be equally counterfactual, just as much so as fictitious religions such as Pastafarianism. But I think I’d like to be remembered for what I do believe, not what I don’t believe, so here’s a link to An Atheist’s Creed. Secular humanist, rationalist, these are good too, in place of atheist.

    And as Nick says, one can believe in religion without believing in a god or gods. But I don’t even believe in religion, personally. A person can have all of the community benefits of religion without being a part of one – that is, just by building and supporting relationships full of love and friendship.

  5. Ryan says:

    I appreciate this post–it’s topic that I think about a lot. I’m probably in the minority of your readers in that I attend my church’s services every week. I’m also a biochemist. It’s true that many people have a hard time reconciling their religion and some scientific principles, but I think that this is usually a results of either misunderstanding what the science is saying, or mistaking their traditions and opinions for religious truth. It’s not like we throw out all of science when apparent contradiction arise within it. The same thing is true for me with religion–contradictions just call for deeper investigation and understanding of both science and my religion.

    1. Avatar of Catherine Catherine says:

      Hi Ryan,

      There are quite a number of us out here. I too have a biochemistry / molecular biology background and it can be a real challenge to maintain any kind of religious faith in the face of scientific debate/challenge and an increasingly aetheistic/agnostic society. A lot of the classes I took in graduate school, particularly if they involved genetics and evolution, started with comments such as: “This class is based on Darwinian evolutionary concepts which as scientists I hope we all adhere to…” for example.

      In my quest to reconcile my passion for science and my faith, I have come across quite a few writers and associations that I feel are very helpful. The first book I read on the topic was “Science” by Dr. Victor Pierce – an Oxford Professor – who in three volumes “Science”, “Archeology” and “Prophecy”, defends the legitimacy of the Bible http://www.ucb2go.co.uk/store/results.php?c=&s=Victor+Pearce. He has since passed away but did some radio interviews on English Christian radio years ago so there may be some archives hanging around somewhere but I was really inspired by the book and it served to strengthen rather than shake my faith.

      I have also found the “Reasons to Believe” forum for Christians in Science very helpful. They have a tonne of resources and books authored by active and prominent scientists tackling “God’s place” in modern science http://www.reasons.org. The Veritas Forum is also very good and like “reasons to believe” organizes talks and seminars / public debates at various venues around the country http://www.veritas.org. Good luck with everything and “Keep the Faith”. It will serve you well.

  6. Jack M. Gallup says:

    Evolution: God’s favorite Crayon?

    Know that I too, have Love …

    Know I too, can Love …

    know I, how to love …

    know I, to love …

    kno I tu love …

    no i tu lovE …
    … noitulovE

    Evolution …

    Just an interesting way of looking at things…

    Myth strives not to be science, since science uncovers the
    contours of the infinite unknown. Religion should always
    strive to keep up with science in order for it to be a
    truly relevant dogma. Only through scientific revelation
    can the rusts of religious thinking co-appeciate
    how intricate things really are.

    Those who believe the Earth is a mere 6000 years old
    are also more prone to viewing it as more expendable.
    If the Earth is appreciated for its nearly 4.6 billion-year
    genesis, what an extremely time-intensive work of art it truly
    becomes.

    Both vantages should lead to enlightenment — but only religion
    can blind the eyes of science. So, I will always hold religion
    and religious thinking suspect until I am dust.

    Believing in God? That’s another issue entirely.

    I think She’s terrific.

    ~jack

  7. Thank you Jack- you are always insightful.

    Ryan- thank you for commenting. I also think about this topic a lot. I think that science and the spiritual are not mutually exclusive. One is analytical and the other is intuitive. They can both be right.

  8. Kyle says:

    In agreement (I think), religion is not a word that is really relevant for this discussion. Also, I dislike the term’s use because sometimes nonreligious people use “religion” to imply a certain corruption of the opinions of the religious in the issues what, why, and to a limited extent how, is matter (we mainly think of us).
    A better and more inclusive term would be faith. Unless we are totally apathetic (which we aren’t, since we have visited this web page and maybe read its contents), everyone has certain faiths. If I understand his statements correctly, even Dan has a faith (e.g. the universe is product of natural, impersonal forces). One of the proper, “God intended” roles of “reason, evidence, and the human mind” (including science) is to replace some faiths with knowledge. Currently science does not give the knowledge, or compel me to a faith, that the universe is product of natural, impersonal forces. Sometimes they compel me to faith of the contrary. Also, they do not satisfy all of my curiosities. For these, and other reasons, I have placed my faith in a “religion” that includes a single God (with three persons, wink).

  9. qetzal says:

    Suzanne, you wrote:

    “Most people I speak to not only believe in God, but in the paranormal, spiritual, and supernatural. We can’t measure any of this with a DNA or RNA test, yet for some, proof is not always something you can hold in your hand. What I have found is that for most scientists, their own experience is proof enough.

    This makes sense to me because as scientists, we are trained to have an open mind and to not let our personal biases sway our results. Scientists need to be open to any and all possibility in order to make progress. So a scientist who has experienced divine guidance or intervention, while knowing that there is no explanation with physical laws on how such a thing could have happened, has all the evidence they need to know fact from fiction.”

    That strikes me as fairly self-contradictory. Science does indeed teach us not to let our personal biases sway our results. But isn’t a personal experience of ‘divine guidance’ exactly that – a personal subjective experience that’s unverified and unsupported by science? And if one choosed to believe in God based on such ‘evidence,’ isn’t that exactly the sort of personal bias that science teaches against?

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not disparaging your belief. That’s your business, and I don’t think you have any obligation to treat every part of your life the same way you approach science. I just think it’s a mistake to argue that science justifies belief in God.

    Sure, scientists need to keep an open mind, but being open to the *possibility* of God (or the paranormal, or what-have-you) is very different than *believing* in God. Science does not justify belief in things that aren’t adequately supported by evidence. If you believe those things anyway, you have to look elsewhere for justification.

    All IMHO, of course.

  10. Richard says:

    Most people in Europe does not believe in God anymore and does not go to church. Belive in God is a leftover from human evolution. I hypothesize that belive in High Power was very beneficial for survival until few thousand years ago, so it is likely coded in some brain genes. I just want to understand the world as best as I can. Religion is unecessary for that.

  11. Hi Qetzal:
    “I just think it’s a mistake to argue that science justifies belief in God.”

    I am not arguing that. I said they are compatible.

    Personal bias: interferes with the ability to be impartial. Unfairly influencing or favoring one result over another.

    Personal experience: based on sensory awareness. This is empirical. There is no judgement involved. It is what it is.

    Keep in mind, when it comes to explaining someone’s personal experience, one can be equally as biased against the divine or supernatural as they can be for it.

  12. qetzal says:

    Suzanne,

    If you’re point is that they’re compatible, I agree. (More or less, anyway.) But you also said:

    “So a scientist who has experienced divine guidance or intervention, while knowing that there is no explanation with physical laws on how such a thing could have happened, has all the evidence they need to know fact from fiction.”

    To me that sounded like a claim that belief can be *scientifically* supported based solely on personal, subjective experience.

  13. Hi Qetzal,

    “So a scientist who has experienced divine guidance or intervention, while knowing that there is no explanation with physical laws on how such a thing could have happened, has all the evidence they need to know fact from fiction.”

    “To me that sounded like a claim that belief can be *scientifically* supported based solely on personal, subjective experience.”

    I didn’t say it was scientifically supported. I actually said it was not scientifically supported when I wrote “…there is no explanation with physical laws…”.

    What I am saying is that for some people, “evidence” can take forms other than traditional science. What is seen or heard by an individual can be as real as a PCR result. Unfortunately, an individuals’ sensory proof is usually not available to others for peer review. It can only be subjective and so it can never be thoroughly evaluated.

    Regardless, not all scientists need affirmation and approval from their colleagues in the form of peer review before knowing their observations are correct. Galileo was one of them. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut.

  14. Shoba says:

    Nice discussion Suzzane. After watching the documentary “what the *#@$ do we know?”, it has changed my view of God and religion! Existence of both God and religion is better reasoned with the view that everything is made up of matter.

  15. Thanks Shoba,
    Funny you mention that movie because another scientist friend of mine also mentioned it yesterday and “Down the Rabbit Hole”.
    http://www.whatthebleep.com/

    I’m definitely curious to see it now.

  16. qetzal says:

    “Regardless, not all scientists need affirmation and approval from their colleagues in the form of peer review before knowing their observations are correct.”

    Actually, I don’t know any scientists who think that way, so I agree. I’m curious though. How do you *know* that your personal experience is actually divine intervention, and not something else?

  17. Dan says:

    The comment by Qetzal caught my attention (I’ve been lurking), and Suzanne here is what you originally said on the compatibility of religious belief and science:

    Based on this data, it would suggest that for many of us, science and religion are not necessarily incompatible and one does not need to choose between the two. We can believe in a higher power and evolution. We can experience things not explainable by science and not need to write it down in a lab notebook as proof it happened.

    That’s true, technically speaking. But if you are a religious scientist, you had best not act religious (professionally at least). If in the course of your collection and interpretation of data to test your proposed model, you do so in a way consistent with that which you’d expect from a religious person, you’d get ridiculed. And rightly so.

    So if you’re going to be a religious scientist, you have to compartmentalize. Some of the time, you rely on revelation and credulity, and professionally, you rely on epistemology and skepticism. If you choose to pursue one of those two mindsets all of the time, you effectively choose between your faith and your science. (I say effectively, because sure, there are examples of people who embrace the former while discussing science, and scientists lose their patience with them. Likewise, there are people who embrace the latter while still going to church, and we call them Uniformitarianists. But both of these are just examples of people just going through the motions of one or the other.)

  18. Aaron Stephan says:

    Wow, such a heavy subject, Suzanne. It is true; a lot of great scientists past and present do/did believe in a god. But your second paragraph speaks volumes on why they are the exception, and why science and religion should be held at odds:

    “What I have found is that for most scientists, their own experience is proof enough…This makes sense to me because as scientists, we are trained to have an open mind and to not let our personal biases sway our results.” Our personal biases must arise from our experiences, where else could they come from? I, as a scientist, take painstaking efforts to make sure that my own experience is representative of reality. That is, is the experiment repeatable? Are the proper controls run? Does the evidence support the claim? Are there alternative explanations that could give a similar result?

    “Scientists need to be open to any and all possibility in order to make progress.”
    The truth is, the large majority of religious or superstitious people aren’t just open to the idea of any god, they choose one over another. If we need to be open to the possibility of God, then we must also be equally open to the possibility of Zeus, Ra, Flying Spaghetti Monster, or any other of the infinite possibilities of entities that could exist. As a non-religious scientist, you could say that I AM open to the possibilities of each of these entities, and if any evidence supported their existence, I would believe in them, too. Choosing a specific entity as existing without any evidence does not help us make progress. In fact, it does just the opposite. It is funny that you mentioned Galileo who fought against the church’s dogma because the evidence suggested otherwise. Being open is only half the equation; following the evidence is the other half.

    “So a scientist who has experienced divine guidance or intervention, while knowing that there is no explanation with physical laws on how such a thing could have happened, has all the evidence they need to know fact from fiction.”
    Dan hit it on the head with this one. This is a perfect example of why religious scientists have to compartmentalize. The minute words like “intervention” are used, you are making a claim that God is interacting with the physical world. If that happens, then all bets are off. Each time one of our experiments doesn’t work, we could consider the possibility that God has intervened with our experiment. There may be no need to do further experimentation, as our “God of the Gaps” can fill in the rest. And to think that a scientist would consider divine guidance or intervention as sufficient evidence of anything is scary. Mentally ill patients often have divine guidance or revelations with disastrous consequences. For instance, the schizophrenic man that beheaded someone on a Greyhound Bus because God’s voice told him McLean was a force of evil http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Tim_McLean . How can we just write him off as being crazy while our own revelations are something to be held sacred?

  19. Thanks Suzana for saying we should keep our mind open, although it is not that I
    have first heard it.

    It is fruitless exercise to try to convince people about the existence of God by naming scientists who had faith in God. Einstein made a major mistake when he spoke on the benefit of socialism. We laugh at it and leave it there because we know the great scientist had ventured to speak on a subject he had not studied. We accept Einstein so long he confined himself to the arena of science. The judgements on the existence of God should come up with proof. So long we don’t get it, leave us to question Him. We cannot accept religions which preach against having an open mind. They call for an unconditional surrender. As we have come to know about the existence of God through religions.
    Let’s reject religions and search on our own.

  20. Hi Pranati,
    Thank you for your comment. Well said.
    Thank you also Aaron and Dan- I enjoyed reading your viewpoints.

    Happy New Year All!
    Suzanne

  21. dnatech says:

    Nice post here. I’m not a scientist. But was a science student and i do believe there is a Great Power behind all things including the mystery of sciences.

    p/s:Just my 2 cents

  22. Varada says:

    Believe we are living in the crossroads of science and religion , hopefully the Large hadron collidor will unlock some secrets of the higgs boson and its nature. I cannot fathom this anyway. It is a sensible article enjoyed reading it.

  23. Mel says:

    Just wanted to mention that Einstein did not in fact in believe in God, it is something very often misattributed to him despite this quote:

    “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

    I should also say that the movie “What the bleep do we know?”, which I have admittedly not seen myself but read about at length, is notorious for misquoting many people, including scientists who agreed to appear in it, and is quite firmly based in pseudoscience. While I think open-mindedness is a cornerstone of scientific thought, to paraphrase Richard Dawkins, let us not be so open minded that our brains fall out.

    Pseudoscience is something that scientists should be especially mindful and critical of, and movies like this one and “The Secret” are a prime example of the kinds of beliefs that should really be raising flags to a scientist. Let’s not forget that other cornerstone of science, skepticism. I find it quite concerning to meet scientists who believe in things like astrology, homeopathy, ghosts, angels etc. I find that it reflects a lack of skepticism and rationality that would in my mind hinder a scientist’s ability to perform thought exercises and critically evaluate their peers.

    My personal view on religion and God is that it is a very badly and vaguely defined concept and that the questions concerning it are essentially non-questions. Not all questions are worth asking. For example, what color umbrellas do elephants on Mars like to eat? It is a nonsensical question, just like “Is there a magical supernatural person in space who controls everything we do and sent his son to Earth to say sensible things and then die a horrible gruesome death, before haunting his students as a zombie?”. It is nonsensical to me so I do not feel it deserves my opinion.

    When someone poses a clear question with a clear definition, I will address it. Until then, I will continue to deal with things that actually concern me and really do affect my daily life and my future.

  24. Hi Mel,
    Thanks for that long and thoughtful comment.
    For the Einstein quote, do you have a reference or source?

    Since you haven’t seen the movie “What the bleep do we know” and presumably I am sure you would not waste your time on a movie like “The Secret”, do you think it is wise to form conclusions on a subject based on your own experience or first hand knowledge? Or do you think as scientists, it is too open-minded to take others opinions and movie reviews as “gospel”?

    I understand your dislike for those who believe in angels and astrology, but what about the mind-body connection?
    Here is a recent article on research performed by scientists from UCLA who studied the effects of thoughts and pain relief, showing a connection between the mind and the body:
    http://esciencenews.com/articles/2009/11/13/can.thinking.a.loved.one.reduce.your.pain
    Is it your opinion that people should not bother studying these subjects?

    There is room for everyone to ask the questions they seek answers for. Because it is unworthy of attention to some people, doesn’t make it so.

    All of the questions above are rhetorical, by the way. Except the first one on the source for your quote. Citing references is just good scientific practice.

  25. Mel says:

    It is quite a well known quote, basically the first thing that comes up if you google “Einstein God”, but anyway you can also find it at http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Einstein, which names the source as “Letter to an atheist (1954) as quoted in Albert Einstein: The Human Side (1981) edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman”.

    As for the movie, I didn’t read movie reviews about it, I read evaluations of it by scientists (including ones that appeared in it and were badly misquoted and cherrypicked), and have also watched small clips. In my experience, anyone who tries to tell you that the principles of quantum physics apply at the macro scale generally are making things up, it is a very easy way to identify pseudoscience.

    As for the mind-body connection, I am quite confident that psychosomatic illnesses and the profound effects of mental state on the physical state are very real, not only because there is plenty of evidence about this in the literature but also because it is something that occurs regularly in daily life and is easily identifiable. None of that can be said of God or angels or astrology. I realize that some people claim to hear the voice of God or see angels or feel guided by the stars, but frankly it has simply never happened to me. Perhaps I am unlucky in that respect?

    I think there is a difference between questions that don’t concern everyone and questions that philosophically don’t concern ANYone because they don’t make sense. This is a fine point and philosophers and scholars have written on it at length so I will just refer you to people like Dan Dennet, Richard Dawkins and their lot.

  26. Thanks Mel. Good answers. Not a Dawkins fan- I know he’s a popular scholar among athiests. I am sure he is well studied and makes good arguments.
    As for the Einstein quote- I did as you said and found there was more to it. He didn’t believe in a personal God but never-the-less believed in God:

    “I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.”
    (published in the New York Times, April 25, 1929)
    http://www.spaceandmotion.com/albert-einstein-god-religion-theology.htm

    He also said:
    “In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views.”
    (Einstein: His Life and Universe,’ written by Walter Isaacson)

    more quotes: http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/quotes_einstein.html

  27. Mel says:

    I think there is little confusion as to Einstein’s views. As he said himself, he has expressed it “very clearly”, he does not believe in a personal God, which is the classical everyday “definition” of God and the way most believers think of God. The sort of deism he talks about is exactly the kind of thing Carl Sagan believed, and really what all naturalists and scientists believe, that there is beauty in the cosmos and especially in life. It has very little in common with the wildly elaborate beliefs of the major faiths in the modern world. Also, many people would claim not to really believe in a personal God, but when you press them on fully elaborating on their beliefs, it is clear that they do believe in a personal God.

    I also suspect that that last quote you posted is taken out of context, it is unclear as to who “they” are and exactly which views he is referring to. I say this because, if you read the quote as I think you do (and as I initially did), it is starkly in contradiction with all the other quotes on that page.

  28. Hi Mel,
    Here was the other half of that quote:
    “I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangements of the books, but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.”

  29. Mel says:

    Interesting. I looked up that last quote and it seems that it has been widely misquoted. I have tracked down the original source of the quote:

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1607298,00.html

    And here it is:

    “I’m not an atheist. I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws.”

    Notice the sentence “The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds”, which has been omitted on many quote websites. I find that interesting because this sentence completely alters the meaning of the quote, especially when you read the next couple of things Einstein said in this interview (see link above). What he is basically saying is that he understands the reasoning behind the conclusion that there is a God (very loosely defined though), but his belief is that the entire question is beyond human contemplation. His statement that he is not an atheist is no different from that of Dawkins, who places himself at 6.9 on the atheism scale from 1.0 to 7.0, it is the sort of atheism often described as “teapot agnosticism”.

    I find it very interesting how both sides of the argument are really scrambling to claim Einstein to their side, and it makes sense to me that he would be annoyed at being often misquoted or taken out of context (hence the “what really makes me angry…” and “It was, of course, a lie what you read…” quotes which address both sides). I don’t think his views were really that complex or unusual, from what I can gather Einstein would have been in full agreement with Dawkins and Sagan, and his appreciation for things like Spinoza and deism are shared by those people if you have read them carefully.

    Thanks for the interesting discussion, Suzanne!

  30. I think he would be annoyed at someone else trying to put words in his mouth with your comment, “What he is basically saying is that…”

    Regardless, it doesn’t matter to me which side he is on. I merely posted quotes. I don’t have any investment in Einstein’s belief system. We are all free to believe as we wish. Brilliant people are athiest and brilliant people are spiritual. And the opposite is true.
    There is no linkage between intelligence level and religious convictions.

    The list of scientists mentioned in the article are just examples of some of our forefathers who also juggled and maybe struggled with their belief in God with their love for science, like many of us do today. They were asking the same questions that you consider “non-questions” and yet they were some of the greatest scientists that ever lived.

    It is good to keep asking questions about everything in the universe- life, the soul, God, RNA expression, chlorophyll producing sea slugs, whatever. None of it is useless or meaningless. An open mind questions everything. We can only make progress if the questions are asked. If we assume to already know everything, we learn nothing.

    Fun chatting with you too!

  31. Jack M. Gallup says:

    I haven’t noticed any hint of violent
    criticism from a mediocre minds here
    at all. Einstein would most likely
    happily approve of this entire
    discourse.

    But certainly I’ve over-anthropomorphized
    my own sentiment here – apologies All!

    ;]

  32. Adrian says:

    I read both Mel’s and Suzanne’s comments about Einstein’s quotes. Just as an outside observer, not a scientist or anything like that. I did notice one thing. Suzanne gave the quotes, where as Mel, seems to me, that is more or less interpreting the quotes. I would have to say that as an outsider to Einstein’s belief, I find that his quotes are subject to interpretation. Unless Einstein is very clear, either said ‘I do believe in a God’ or ‘I do not believe in a god’, his quotes will not have an exact answer to that question. Further more the fact that he even contemplated the idea of a “God” existing, even if we do not know his conclusion, does indeed show that he was open to possiblity. Remember that is all that matters, that we remain open to possiblity. Other wise nothing that does not exist in its natural way, ie. cars, airplanes, computers, video gaming systems, would not exist.

    You might want to argue that some things are not worth pursuing, like “what color umbrellas do elephants on Mars like to eat?”, but if we close our minds to possibility we close our minds to knowledge. Also note that is does not matter what the findings are, either an unexplicable force that guides everything, or everything happening at random but appear to us as beautiful arangement of actions, at the end they are still subject to interpretation.

    Science does not create what is contained in the field being studied, but rather explains what’s inside that field. Thus science itself is closed minded, it can’t see outside itself.

  33. Maezeppa says:

    Einstein did not believe in God. One can always argue the possiblity that supernatural beings exist even when believing the actual possibility is about zero.

  34. Avatar of Kevin Kevin says:

    Quite simply, Not a Chance.

  35. Hi Fred- your comments were sent to the spam folder and then accidentially deleted so I am posting them for you. I can see you spent a lot of time writing this so I didn’t want your points to be lost.
    Suzanne (the author)

    Comment: stumbled upon this article, it’s very bad. the author doesn’t seem to understand that the pursuit of truth suffers whenever non-skeptical mindsets are adopted. if you are a scientist, you should be skeptical about the existence of an intelligent being that created and/or controls the universe. the existence of such a being is a grand proposition about the nature of the universe and one that requires a great deal of supporting evidence before it can be argued as truth. how arrogant it is to claim your personal experiences are sufficient to allow you to know the origin and purpose of the entire universe! if you are a good scientist, you know that your personal experiences can and will horribly mislead you in your search for truth (this is why scientists utilize instruments, not just their 5 senses or inner monologue, when making measurements). to believe in something because it has been personally revealed to you is simply a bad way to formulate your understanding of nature.

    The author conveniently leaves of some statistics. the national academy of sciences, a group of some of america’s best scientists, is ~80+% agnostic/atheist, and one can also find more recent polls that show the scientific community at large is about 60% agnostic/atheist. The author asserts the percentage of non-believing scientist has not significantly changed over time, yet the author provides no data to support their assertion. It is difficult to imagine where such data would come from, but I would expect that as society has grown more secular so has the scientific community.Also, ~15% of the american public is agnostic or atheist, not 5%. I am tired of seeing people use Einstein as an example of a scientist that believed in god. the man used the word god, but what he meant by god is drastically different from what most people mean by god. he certainly did not use the word god as the author uses it in their article. Einstein’s god was a concept he obtained from empirical observations about the universe. Einsteins god concept was more a statement of ignorance than a statement of truth. In a comment, the author asserts that personal experience can provide empirical tests of god’s existence. this comment demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of the definitions of empiricism and falsifiability.

    I will end with a quote from the author:”What I have found is that for most scientists, their own experience is proof enough.”This statement contradicts my own personal experience as a biologist, as almost all scientists I know do not believe in god and would never count their personal experience as “proof enough.” But if the author’s statement is true, then most scientists are bad scientists; that may not be surprising. most chess players aren’t any good, most poker players don’t know what they’re doing, and maybe most scientists get at least some of their beliefs from authority figures and private feelings.

  36. Avatar of Journeyman Journeyman says:

    Ms Kennedy.

    I have very much enjoyed your articles both in content…and your openess and honesty. It is refreshing. I see in the comments though, a variety of perspectives originating often from religious bias(either a learned trait or a result of ignorance regarding basic theology),lack of objectivity or too much blogging…and not enough honest study.

    My father, a Phd research physist at Argonne National Labratories, not only worked with a number of scientists close to Einstien but had the privileage of meeting him after taking a research professorship at the University of Chicago with Arrgone. My father said he was a man searching for truth. A man who had come to realize that in the vastness of this universe, man with his extreme limitations ..not only in his faculties…but with his only the basics in technology..could never find all the answers with science alone. He writes, “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.”
    “What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos. (Albert Einstein to Joseph Lewis, Apr. 18, 1953)” As you read the writings…not just quotes… of Einstein, you see a man wreastling with what he believed. What are apparent contridictions are desire really a desire to understand that which is beyond a finite scientific method…and the place for each…faith and science. In 1941 he wrote, “Even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exist between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies. Though religion may be that which determines the goal, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up. But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” –- In Science, Philosophy and Religion, A Symposium, published by the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc.

    Yet there are still atheists that feel the need to place him under the umbrella of atheism…as almost a validation of their “non-belief”. His reaction you quoted before Here it is again, ““In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views.”
    (Einstein: His Life and Universe,’ written by Walter Isaacson) Some things do not change.

    He was in a personal search and wrestled with that. Before he died, after refusing heart surgery, he was asked he had to do it all over again, would he still be a scientist. He responded, “I think I would have liked to study the Tamud”.

    1. Avatar of Rawana Rawana says:

      Douglas,

      I’ve enjoyed what you have written!!

      Fantastic stories about Einstein, and impressive statistics!!

      Many thanks for the invaluable wonderful discussion..

      Kind regards,
      Rawana

  37. Avatar of Journeyman Journeyman says:

    Fred and Mel,

    I would direct you to a survey conducted by Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund, released in June of last year. Ecklund surveyed 1,646 faculty members at elite research universities, asking 36 questions about belief and spiritual practices. The study would appear to debunk the oft-held notion that science is incompatible with religion. The study, which revealed that about two-thirds of the scientists believe in God, showed stark differences based upon their professional disciplines. Those in the social sciences are more likely to believe in God and attend religious services than researchers in the natural sciences, the study found. The opposite had been expected. Nearly 38 percent of natural scientists — people in disciplines like physics, chemistry and biology — said they do not believe in God. Only 31 percent of the social scientists do not believe. Some stand-out stats: 41 percent of the biologists don’t believe (59% said they do), while that figure is just 27 percent among political scientists.

    In separate work at the University of Chicago, released in June, 76 percent of doctors said they believed in God and 59 percent believe in some sort of afterlife.

    What I like about the study is that is was a series of questions that eliminated the intentional slanted imbalence seen in so many surveys, such as seen so often in political polstering. Previous surveys have been so slanted it was like asking, “Do you beleive in a personal God who sits on a throne with a white beard and throws lighting bolts?” When they say “no”. The survey concludes…see, they don’t believe in God. Wheaton college in Illinois did a huge survey a number of years ago that just said, “Do you believe in God?” Close to 80% of the scientists that ansered said “yes”. Now I don’t begin to know, what they meant by God, but it did mean they beleived that man…and this universe was more than just the sum of our parts. There is something behind the curtain. And that every answer looked for in life would ulitmately never be found just through science alone.

  38. Hi Douglas,
    Many thanks for that wonderful story and response. How amazing for your father to have met Einstein. Thank you for reading and commenting.

    Kindest regards,
    Suzanne

  39. Avatar of ChrsRcc ChrsRcc says:

    I’m Christian and I believe in God. However, I don’t necessarily agree with the Bible’s account of events. I personally feel that evolution, the Big Bang theory, and other methods are God’s work. Everyone views God in their own way, and I believe they’re not wrong. In my opinion, there is a God, regardless of what religion you belong to.

  40. Avatar of Catherine Catherine says:

    Hi All.

    I think I posted this originally in the wrong place. It does address everyone’s comments but was in reply to Ryan’s specifically… Let me know if you browse any of the sites and find them interesting. There might be some upcoming talks in your region. I always learn a lot through them and get to consider things in an entirely new way..

    Original Post: Hi Ryan,

    There are quite a number of us out here. I too have a biochemistry / molecular biology background and it can be a real challenge to maintain any kind of religious faith in the face of scientific debate/challenge and an increasingly aetheistic/agnostic society. A lot of the classes I took in graduate school, particularly if they involved genetics and evolution, started with comments such as: “This class is based on Darwinian evolutionary concepts which as scientists I hope we all adhere to…” for example.

    In my quest to reconcile my passion for science and my faith, I have come across quite a few writers and associations that I feel are very helpful. The first book I read on the topic was “Science” by Dr. Victor Pierce – an Oxford Professor – who in three volumes “Science”, “Archeology” and “Prophecy”, defends the legitimacy of the Bible http://www.ucb2go.co.uk/store/results.php?c=&s=Victor+Pearce. He has since passed away but did some radio interviews on English Christian radio years ago so there may be some archives hanging around somewhere but I was really inspired by the book and it served to strengthen rather than shake my faith.

    I have also found the “Reasons to Believe” forum for Christians in Science very helpful. They have a tonne of resources and books authored by active and prominent scientists tackling “God’s place” in modern science http://www.reasons.org. The Veritas Forum is also very good and like “reasons to believe” organizes talks and seminars / public debates at various venues around the country http://www.veritas.org. Good luck with everything and “Keep the Faith”. It will serve you well.

  41. Happy Friday!
    How does science explain the following:

    An unwatched child at a church revival hit by a 45 mph car while running back and forth across the street. Then flew 16′ up and projected 50′ out landing on a sidewalk head first. The Honda accord with a basket ball dent 4″ deep from the 8 year old child. The child hospitalized for a few hours and after MRI’s and Cat Scans found no injury. Just a couple of scratches.

    A young adult who experience an asthma attack and suffering from a new prescription reaction eventually passing out. Then rushed by ambulance to a hospital to find congested lung tissues with an oxygen level of 10%. After 18 hours the same condition of 10% oxygen. Then two individuals confessed a prayer out loud of him walking out of the hospital the next day to come true.

    Have a great week end!

  42. Avatar of jknath jknath says:

    I am not sure how a scientist can believe in the religions that have virgin births and rising from the dead as their basis of belief. How can a scientist believe in anything that goes against the laws of physics/nature?

  43. Avatar of Pablo Pablo says:

    after checking the PEW Survey you quoted , i don’t seee how you can say 51% of scientists believe in God. 41% say they do not believe in either God or a higher power and another 18% say they DO NOT BELIEVE IN GOD, but they do believe in a higher power.that is clearly 59% who say they do not believe in God?
    How did you arrive at 51% believe in God?
    Pablo

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