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Scientists. Do You Believe in God?

Scientists. Do You Believe in God?

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!

52 Comments

  1. Osman on March 1, 2019 at 7:24 pm

    I grew up in a spiritual family yet questioned the existence of God just like other young people. Yet, a few personal experiences convinced me of a higher power. In college, I studied physics to find some answers about the universe and its most fundamental principles but I found them rather later in cognitive sciences. While I have maintained a belief in a higher power, I have also constantly dug such deep issues to understand why people are different. Basically, it all boils down to a personal assumption that no person should question assumptions of others. Consider that that you are solving a linear system of 10 equations which has 11 unknowns. As you search for another equation (a relationship between your unknowns) you may find one but that would add more unknowns; so we always end of with more unknowns that the number of equations (relationships) to solve a system. The only way to close such a system of equations is to make an assumption while adding your 12th equation. Then you would have 12 equations with 12 unknowns. Even different scientists who deal with such a situation end up making different assumptions. If so, why don’t we let people make their own assumptions when it comes to the belief in a higher power or God. Both science and religion have historically sought answers to unknowns and both have their own assumptions. The only danger is when personal assumptions, whether scientific or spiritual, are institutionalized in the form of a scientific enterprise or religion. Both of these are social clubs that have declared their bylaws. I personally would not belong to any social club to which I am not the President and everyone should say the same thing. Do not defend bylaws of any club, religion, or doctrine if you have not formed it yourself. You know what I mean. Thank you

    • Dave on November 3, 2019 at 3:43 am

      Really well said. To be honest, the equation thing was way over my head, but I understood the analogy. I agree with your perspective and i guess I wouldn’t bash you if I didn’t…lol. Thanks

  2. Rick Johnson on June 12, 2018 at 2:11 am

    I looked up at AAAS. They have done many surveys. They are not the same and the number of atheists seems to grow. I didn’t see this particular research but it is a bit old now, I guess. As far as they know, little over 50 % are atheist and about 47% are religious, About 26% are Christian. Many religious are Agnostic though and were religious before becoming scientists. “You can convert monk to another religion but you can’t take him out of the temple.” Also, most top scientists are older people and older people tend to be religious more.
    That said, atheism is growing in general, not just in the scientific community. Countries where atheism is high are lower in crime. Turns out Norway is one of them .

  3. Kim on November 25, 2015 at 1:22 am

    Your faith is what you fall asleep with at night… it’s what’s left when there is nothing else. It is curious though that so few scientists, compared to the general public, believe in God.

  4. Pablo on October 5, 2011 at 3:01 am

    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

    • Krolik on October 19, 2015 at 4:58 pm

      Though I don’t agree on the point he made in this topic, what he said was still accurate. He said 41% don’t believe in God or a higher power and 18% don’t believe in God. Meaning that 18% believe in a higher power (God like being) which means they are not atheist or agnostic.

      • Lisa on June 12, 2018 at 1:59 am

        Higher power does not equal god. It can be spirituality and many other things. If it was not the case, the 18% wouldve been included in the “do believe”. I am spiritual, I have some believes, they do not equal to god and I am an atheist by default of not having a god.

  5. jknath on June 1, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    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?

    • Jp on December 28, 2019 at 2:29 am

      jknath: miracles do not at all violate and laws of nature. That’s an unfortunate misunderstanding among some folks.

  6. Faithinunkseen on May 13, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    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!

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