Does Science Lead to Atheism?

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No.

That was the short answer. The longer answer is that scientists are more likely to disbelieve in God than are nonscientists, and eminent scientists are more apt to be disbelievers than journeyman scientists. But does science lead them to atheism? Possibly, but it seems more likely that freethinkers or skeptics are attracted to science than that science creates atheists.

I studied this question a few years ago, when John Lynch and I prepared an article for the New Encyclopedia of Unbelief. What follows the horizontal rule is an excerpt from that article. One of the conclusions we drew was that biologists, anthropologists, and psychologists were more likely to disbelieve in God than physical scientists and engineers. That conclusion has recently been called into question, and I will discuss the new data after the second horizontal rule.


Measuring Unbelief among Scientists (1914 and 1933). … the psychologist James H. Leuba surveyed a large number of US scientists in order to learn their beliefs about God and immortality. In both polls, disbelievers (not including doubters or agnostics) represented a plurality over believers and doubters (Table 1). Further, the least likely to be believers were psychologists, followed by sociologists, biologists, and physicists, in that order. The order stood firm across the years. Distinguished scientists (as identified by American Men of Science) exhibited a substantially greater rate of disbelief than “lesser” scientists.

Leuba’s poll was, however, not without problems. First, because the U. S. was almost monolithically Christian, Leuba formulated two questions that asked, in essence, whether respondents believed in a particular Christian conception of God. Asking his questions in that way militated against getting positive responses from, for example, pantheists such as Robert Millikan and Albert Einstein, who associated God with the universe and its laws and thus did not revere, in Leuba’s words, “the God of our Churches.” Leuba asked respondents whether they believed in “a God to whom one may pray in the expectation of receiving an answer” (a question specifically defined to exclude psychological or subjective consequences of prayer), disbelieved in such a God, or had no definite belief. Second, several questionnaires were returned with remarks intended to justify the respondents’ refusals to answer the questions. According to Leuba, most of these were from disbelievers; hence, he concluded, the percentage of disbelievers may have been understated in his poll.

Scientists are more educated than the general population, and Leuba, a religious humanist, thought that increasing education would decrease rates of belief in God. To test his hypothesis, he surveyed college students at two unidentified colleges: a high-ranking college that was divided among the major Protestant denominations, and a college that was “radical” in its leanings. In both colleges, the number of believers in both God and immortality decreased with age or academic advancement (freshman through senior years). Leuba also cites a decrease in belief at one of the colleges between 1914 and 1933, as well as similar results found at Syracuse University in 1926. Leuba, a professor at Bryn Mawr College outside Philadelphia, does not identify the two colleges in his study, but they are probably in the northeast, if not the Philadelphia area. If the major Protestant denominations means the mainline Protestant churches, then Leuba’s studies of college students may not be representative, inasmuch as they omit students affiliated with churches not heavily represented in the northeast. Oddly, Leuba does not mention the Roman Catholic Church.

Measuring Unbelief among Scientists (the 1990’s). In 1996 and 1998, Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham replicated Leuba’s surveys. For consistency, they did not edit Leuba’s questions, despite the cultural changes that had occurred in 80 years. Additionally, American Men and Women of Science no longer highlights eminent scientists, so Larson and Witham derived their “greater” scientists from the membership of the National Academy of Sciences; comparison with Leuba’s “greater” scientists is therefore problematic, because the NAS probably contains substantially more-eminent scientists than the highlighted scientists of the earlier surveys.

Larson and Witham found that nearly 50 percent of the scientists and nearly 75 percent of the “greater” scientists surveyed disbelieve in both God and immortality. An additional 15-20 percent are doubters. It is hard to make much of three numbers, but during the century the percentage of disbelievers increased monotonically in every category, except for a peak in the percent of scientists who disbelieved in 1933. Disbelief in immortality more than doubled among scientists in general and nearly tripled among “greater” scientists. It is thus hard to credit Larson and Witham’s claim that belief among scientists has remained more or less steady for 80 years.

C. Mackenzie Brown has analyzed Leuba’s data and also suggested that demographics may make comparison between Leuba’s and Larson and Witham’s surveys difficult. For example, more scientists now are women, and women are more likely to be religious than men. This factor reduces the number of disbelievers in the later surveys and possibly disconfirms Larson and Witham’s conclusion that scientists’ religious beliefs have not changed much since 1914. Brown has similarly noted that applied scientists are underrepresented among the greater scientists and adds drily that their underrepresentation may be relevant to any discussion of the beliefs of eminent scientists.

In 1998, Laurence Iannaconne and his colleagues examined existing data gathered between 1972 and 1990, and tried to assess the prevalence of scientists’ belief in God. They found that 19 percent of “professors/scientists” have “no religion” and 11 to 21 percent “oppose religion” (Table 2). It is hard to compare these figures with those of Leuba and Larson, but arguably between 27 and 40 percent of professors/scientists may be doubters or disbelievers. The study broke the data down further by discipline and found a hierarchy similar to that found by Leuba: Social scientists, at 36 percent, were most likely to have no religion, followed by physical scientists and mathematicians (27 percent) and life scientists (25 percent). Among the social scientists, sociologists (35 percent), psychologists (48 percent), and anthropologists (57 percent) were most likely to have no religion. According to a 2003 Harris poll, by contrast, 90 percent of all adults [in the U.S.] believe in God and 84 percent in survival of the soul after death; that is, 10 percent disbelieve in God or are doubters, and 16 percent disbelieve in immortality or are doubters.

Interpreting the Data. Leuba speculated whether scientists become disbelievers or whether independent thinkers willing to confront reigning orthodoxies become scientists. The greater scientists are presumably on average more-independent thinkers than the lesser; the fact could account for the increase of disbelief among greater scientists. That conclusion is supported by a study by Fred Thalheimer, who concluded that religious beliefs are frequently set during high school or college and that nonreligious students may choose more-intellectual or -theoretical endeavors.

Scientists who study biology, psychology, and sociology and anthropology are more likely to disbelieve in God and immortality than physical and applied scientists. Leuba speculated that physicists and engineers see a creator in the lawfulness of the physical and engineering worlds. Social and biological scientists may be less likely to see lawfulness in their studies, and Brown asks, further, whether social and biological scientists are perhaps influenced by the suffering that they see and physical scientists do not see. Thus, the question may be why biological and social scientists are more likely to disbelieve, rather than why physical scientists and engineers are less likely. Arguably, then, science leads to disbelief, at least among those already inclined to be independent thinkers.

Leuba predicted that increasing scientific knowledge would lead to increasing disbelief. That prediction is apparently (at least partly) correct. He further predicted that the religions would adapt to the best scientific insights and “replace their specific method of seeking the welfare of humanity by appeal to, and reliance upon divine Beings, by methods free from a discredited supernaturalism.” That prediction, at least so far, is largely incorrect.


Measuring Unbelief among Scientists (2004-2007). Elaine Ecklund and Christopher Scheitle have recently examined the religious beliefs of scientists as a function of discipline. They discuss a survey of faculty at 21 elite research universities. Among the questions they asked were, “Which one of the following statements comes closest to expressing what you believe about God?” The statements ranged from “I have no doubts about God’s existence” through “I have some doubts, but I believe in God” to “I do not know…and there is no way to find out” and “I do not believe in God.” To compare their results with Leuba’s and others, I identified “I do not believe in God” with disbelief and identified “I believe in God sometimes” and “I do not know…and there is no way to find out” with doubt. The comparison is problematic, if only because Leuba’s survey concerned a God who potentially answers prayers. The results are presented in Table 3. They support the conclusion that scientists are more apt to be disbelievers than the general public, but they are at odds with the conclusion that the rate of disbelief correlates with discipline. Ecklund and Scheitle, however, performed a statistical analysis that suggests nevertheless that biologists may be somewhat less inclined toward religion than physicists; they speculate that the correlation, if it is real, may result from what they call the contentious relationship between evolution and certain religious groups.

Ecklund and Scheitle’s study is marred somewhat both by its restriction to elite scientists and by its mechanism for choosing those elite scientists. Not every faculty member at an elite university is an elite scientist, certainly not on a par with members of the National Academy of Sciences. Nevertheless, they found that the best predictor of their scientists’ religious practice is the scientists’ childhood religious practice and conclude, more or less in agreement with Thalheimer, that freethinkers or doubters to some extent self-select when they become scientists. Thus, science may not lead to disbelief; rather, disbelievers or skeptics are led to science.

Finally, Ecklund and Scheitle found that younger scientists are more apt to be religious than are older scientists and note without comment that this finding “could indicate an overall shift in attitudes towards religion among those in the academy.”

Unbelief outside the US. I do not know of any studies similar to Leuba’s outside the United States. Europe is generally thought to be less religious than the United States, but Andrew Curry, writing in Science, notes some disquieting appearances of creationism in Europe. He cites a German study, which I have not read, to the effect that students’ openness to creationism is less a result of religion than of their failure to appreciate or understand science.

Pierre Clément and his colleagues report on a study of the creationist beliefs of teachers, as opposed to professors and practicing scientists. The cohort of “teachers” comprises both practicing teachers and students studying to become teachers. The study included 19 countries, mostly from Europe, the Levant, and northern Africa. Approximately one-third of the teachers were biology teachers, and the remainder taught the national language. Among 14 of those countries, 12.5 % of respondents were agnostic. In France and Estonia, more than 50 % were agnostic. The authors give no indication whether the biology teachers were more or less likely to be agnostic than the language teachers.

The study asked questions such as, “Which of the following four statements do you agree with most? … 1. It is certain that the origin of the humankind results from evolutionary processes. 2. Human origin can be explained by evolutionary processes without considering the hypothesis that God created humankind. 3. Human origin can be explained by evolutionary processes that are governed by God. 4. It is certain that God created humankind.” A similar set of questions asked about the origin of life, as opposed to the origin of humanity. The questions were translated into each national language.

Clément and colleagues considered those who ticked question 4 to be (anti-evolutionist) creationists, whereas those who ticked question 3 were designated creationist-evolutionists - most probably what in the United States are called theistic evolutionists. Only about 2 % of the respondents from France, for example, were creationists; more than 80 % of respondents from Morocco and Algeria were creationists, even among biology teachers. Creationism was more likely in those who were more religious, either in belief or in observance, irrespective of religion. Those who said that the theory of evolution contradicted their own beliefs ranged from a few percent among agnostics, through approximately 25 % among Catholics and Protestants, and 40 % among Orthodox, to nearly 75 % among Muslims. Acceptance of evolution, including theistic evolution, among the entire cohort of teachers, however, increased with years of training, from about 45 % among those with less than 2 years of training through 80 % among those with 4 or more years of training. These numbers are all rough, because I had to pick most of them off some fairly small graphs. I suspect that the correlation with religion is partly the result of demographics; the study did not compare, for example, Catholics and Muslims within a single country, such as France.

The study included five countries in western Europe: France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Portugal, and Italy. Approximately 10 % of biology teachers in the UK and 15% in Portugal responded that it was certain that God created life - the response that Clément and his colleagues consider the creationist response. Nearly 20 % of the language teachers in Italy responded similarly.

On the other hand, roughly 15 % of biology teachers in the UK and Germany, a bit over 20 % in Portugal and Italy, and 35 % in France responded that the origin of life resulted from natural processes (Table 3). The language teachers’ responses to the same question ranged from a low of perhaps 12 % in the UK (which at 35 % also had a relatively high fraction of theistic evolutionists) to 52 % in France. In four of the five countries, the percentage of language teachers who thought that life had resulted from natural processes exceeded the percentage of biology teachers; I haven’t the foggiest idea why.

Finally, the percentage of both biology and language teachers who ticked natural causes or theistic evolution was least in the Muslim and Orthodox countries, Lebanon, Malta, and Poland.

Conclusion. Paul Strode and I tried to show that science is not necessarily incompatible with religion, though it certainly falsifies the specific claims of some religions. Nevertheless, both atheists and creationists (some of them, anyway) want to think that science necessarily leads toward atheism or agnosticism. It is hard to say, but it seems more likely that skeptics or freethinkers, who may be already inclined toward disbelief in God, are more likely to become scientists or, perhaps, science teachers. The claim that social scientists are less likely to believe than are physical scientists may not stand up to scrutiny.

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References.

Anonymous, “Harris Poll: The Religious and Other Beliefs of Americans 2003,” Skeptical Inquirer, July-August, 2003, p. 5.

Brown, C. Mackenzie, “The Conflict between Religion and Science in Light of the Patterns of Religious Beliefs among Scientists,” Zygon 38(3): 603-632 (September), 2003.

Clément, Pierre, and Marie-Pierre Quessada, “Les convictions créationnistes et/ou évolutionnistes d’enseignants de biologie: une étude comparative dans dix-neuf pays,” Natures Sciences Sociétés 16, 154-158, 2008; in French.

Clément, Pierre, Marie-Pierre Quessada, Charline Laurent, and Graça Carvalho, “Science and Religion: Evolutionism and Creationism in Education: A Survey of Teachers’ Conceptions in 14 Countries,” XIII IOSTE Symposium, Izmir, Turkey, The Use of Science and Technology Education for Peace and Sustainable Development, 21-26 September 2008.

Curry, Andrew, “Creationist Beliefs Persist in Europe,” Science 323: 1159, 2009.

Ecklund, Elaine Howard, and Christopher P. Scheitle, “Religion among Academic Scientists: Distinctions, Disciplines, and Demographics,” Social Problems, 54(2): 289-307, 2007.

Iannaconne, Laurence, Rodney Stark, and Roger Finke, “Rationality and the ‘Religious Mind’,” Economic Inquiry 36(3): 373-389, 1998.

Larson, Edward J., and Larry Witham, “Scientists Are Still Keeping the Faith,” Nature 386: 435-436, 1997.

–, “Leading Scientists Still Reject God,” Nature 394: 313, 1998.

–, “Scientists and Religion in America,” Scientific American 281(3): 89-93 (September), 1999.

Leuba, James H., Belief in God and Immortality, Boston: Sherman, French, 1916.

–, “Religious Beliefs of American Scientists,” Harper’s Monthly Magazine, August: 291-300 1934.

Thalheimer, Fred, “Religiosity and Secularization in the Academic Professions,” Sociology of Education 46: 183-202 (spring), 1973.

Young, Matt, and John Lynch, “Unbelief among Scientists,” New Encyclopedia of Unbelief, Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2007, pp. 687-690.

Young, Matt, and Paul Strode, Why Evolution Works (and Creationism Fails), New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers, 2009, chap. 18.

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Tuesday Links from Mike the Mad Biologist on July 7, 2009 3:56 PM

Some links for you. Read More

182 Comments

*braces himself for the incoming e-sh*tstorm*

Personally, I only really care that methodological naturalists, regardless of belief/nonbelief, are fighting on the same side for good science education and public understanding of science. This does not translate to “New Atheists should SD&STFU;” it does mean I’m pro-outreach. We need allies in the non-scientific community.

I’m out.

Of course the validity of any survey depends on the fundamental accuracy, or vagueness, of the questions asked and how each respondent interprets those questions. As such, any survey might be more or less skewed to represent the surveyors intent, e.g., the DI.

Interesting that the phrasing is “more likely to disbelieve”, as if it were some kind of pro-activity, as opposed to “less likely to believe”, which would, logically, be the default position, wouldn’t it? I’m less likely to believe in unicorns and ESP, too. I don’t actively disbelieve, it just never enters the conversation.

Someone should send this to Patty B. Considering the last bit of claptrap I just read, I am certain he could find some way of twisting it into any lie for Jesus.

http://littlegreenfootballs.com/art[…]s._Evolution

I don’t think these results and tabulations really quite address the question.

There’s a qualitative difference between the notion that scientific thinking causes atheism, and the notion that a profession where the supernatural is disallowed tends to recruit people less inclined to swallow supernatural “explanations”.

I think fnxtr has also made an important observation - the number of things we all “disbelieve in” is limited only by our imaginations. It would be more interesting to investigate what scientists think is “probably true despite the lack of any direct or unambiguous evidence.”

Two comments:

First, on a couple of terms. Whether the existence of religious scientists shows that religion and science are compatible depends on what you mean by “compatible”. This point has been done to death, and you really should take note of that past discussion rather than just continuing to talk about “compatibility”. The other term is “necessarily”; I doubt anyone is claiming that science necessarily leads to atheism, not even creationists. It may be claimed that science inclines one that way.

Second, I wonder what would happen if evolutionary biologists were considered as a separate category from other biologists. I have a snippet of anecdotal evidence here: Will Provine had lunch with grad students in evolution at U. of Chicago in the early ’90s. The event was well attended (free pizza!), and Provine took the opportunity to ask how many believed in god, defined very vaguely as any sort of intelligent power in the universe. Out of about 20 students, only one affirmed even this weak position. I generally assume that any evolutionary biologist I meet is an atheist, and I am seldom disabused.

If there is such a correlation, of course we have three options: evolutionary biology predisposes to atheism, atheism predisposes to evolutionary biology, and some third factor predisposes to both. And we can’t choose among alternatives based on that correlation.

There actual examples of people who have been led towards atheism by science. This is precisely the same sort of evidence presented for the “science and religion are compatible” argument, so the case that science leads to atheism is at least as strong as the case that science and religion are compatible.

Or, if we are willing to grow up and admit that people can hold contradictory ideas at the same time, and that people do things for illogical reasons, we could throw out the citing of examples and concentrate on the philosophical considerations.

wamba said:

There actual examples of people who have been led towards atheism by science. This is precisely the same sort of evidence presented for the “science and religion are compatible” argument, so the case that science leads to atheism is at least as strong as the case that science and religion are compatible.

say what? who was led towards religion *by science?* francis collins describes what exactly led him to his religion, and it weren’t science that done it.

regarding the OP: why do you suppose people who are already atheists would be more inclined to be scientists, if indeed religion is compatible with science?

Flint said:

I don’t think these results and tabulations really quite address the question.

There’s a qualitative difference between the notion that scientific thinking causes atheism, and the notion that a profession where the supernatural is disallowed tends to recruit people less inclined to swallow supernatural “explanations”.

I think fnxtr has also made an important observation - the number of things we all “disbelieve in” is limited only by our imaginations. It would be more interesting to investigate what scientists think is “probably true despite the lack of any direct or unambiguous evidence.”

There may also be many hidden social and emotional variables influencing responses among those who don’t unequivocally reject sectarian gods. Nearly all these questionnaires seem to have questions derived from an implicit understanding of the Western version of those religions derived from the traditions of Abraham.

People raised in that milieu could very likely have reservations about rejecting outright the beliefs that are predominant in their society and history. The people formulating the questions may themselves have a limited perspective on what ranges of belief or non-belief may be possible; including suitably nuanced concepts about the deities of other religions. Both of these can severely limit the scope of the questions and the answers that are possible.

A questionnaire that reflects a broader perspective of the deities that have been conceived by humans might actually get better answers. Most of the questions I have seen over the years seem childish, somewhat like those asked by reporters and amateurs who don’t know the concepts well enough to ask an intelligent question, yet who attempt to pass themselves off as “deep”.

As to older scientists being more likely to reject belief in supernatural deities and explanations, I’m not so sure it is just scientists. Many thoughtful non-scientists who have come to appreciate the nature of hard evidence come to similar conclusions. One has only to be engaged with life to notice that fundamentalism, for example, doesn’t hold up but tends to be the refuge of gullible rubes and tax-evading charlatans.

And simply watching the behaviors of sectarians over a lifetime of observation, comparison, and contemplation of what it all means is quite likely to lead many people to reject much of what they see in organized religion. One doesn’t have to be a scientist to come to such conclusions; just reasonably alert and informed.

I don’t know if it is the case generally, but the more exposure in the media that fundamentalists and politically active sectarians have, the stupider they look, and the more likely that people observing them will harbor doubts about our historical religions and deities. Thus, if there are any trends toward more rejection of sectarian religion, it may be simply because we all have a lot more information from improved communication among ourselves.

snex said:

say what? who was led towards religion *by science?*

Who said that anyone was? I said that one claim for the science and religion are compatible is the existence of scientists who hold religious belief.

wamba said:

snex said:

say what? who was led towards religion *by science?*

Who said that anyone was? I said that one claim for the science and religion are compatible is the existence of scientists who hold religious belief.

you did. “There actual examples of people who have been led towards atheism by science. This is precisely the same sort of evidence presented for the ‘science and religion are compatible’ argument…”

I think fnxtr has also made an important observation - the number of things we all “disbelieve in” is limited only by our imaginations.

I chose the term “disbelieve” carefully. Disbelief is stronger than mere lack of belief: To disbelieve in something is to reject it, not merely to question it or doubt it. The question, to my mind, was how many scientists are disbelievers, not doubters or unbelievers. I should have defined disbelief more explicitly, but note the first sentence after the first horizontal rule: “… the psychologist James H. Leuba surveyed a large number of US scientists in order to learn their beliefs about God and immortality. In both polls, disbelievers (not including doubters or agnostics) represented a plurality over believers and doubters” [italics added].

A PDF copy of the original entry that Matt and I wrote is available here for those that want to see the full article.

I don’t know if it is the case generally, but the more exposure in the media that fundamentalists and politically active sectarians have, the stupider they look, and the more likely that people observing them will harbor doubts about our historical religions and deities. Thus, if there are any trends toward more rejection of sectarian religion, it may be simply because we all have a lot more information from improved communication among ourselves.

Um. In a highly sectarian society, media exposure of fundamentalists will meet the same enthusiastic response that Dembski gets from his fan club. There is nothing more persuasive than a shared prejudice. To the extent that such people look stupid, I think it reflects a social trend generally toward a secular outlook. This is probably not a matter of information directly - those who believe see ratification for their beliefs everywhere they look, so the more information they get, the more ratification they find.

I believe that the scientific view (evidence matters, assertions can be tested, conclusions are always tentative, probabilities are important, reality is composed of continua, etc.) is unnatural for people. We are dichotomizing engines, we like certainty, we are uncomfortable with maybe and usually and partially. Consider that in every legal dispute, we arbitrarily demand that one side be entirely right and the other wrong. Judges can’t say, well, you’re mostly right, so I’ll decide 75% in your favor.

So you won’t find questions that allow the respondent to believe in supernatural entities a little bit, or sometimes, or no with respect to weather but yes with respect to fate. People don’t think in these terms. Scientific thinking is an acquired trait, and clearly many people are unable and/or unwilling to acquire it.

Other scientific fields that might be expected to have variable levels of religious belief include astronomy and geology. I’ve sometimes wondered whether certain geological fields (crystallography, mineralogy, petrology, economic geology, environmental geology, for example) might be more inclined (because they can be studied without reference to time) to have more creationists than other fields (paleomagnetism, stratigraphy, paleontology, paleoceanography, plate tectonics, for example) which do use concepts of deep geologic time.

Incidentally, Flint, in civil cases, judges and juries can determine partial responsibility, so it’s not necessarily true that “in every legal dispute, we arbitrarily demand that one side be entirely right and the other wrong”. This doesn’t really change your argument, I just wanted to set the record straight. IANAL, but I do know this from a friend who was sued over an auto accident, and that person was found partially but not wholly responsible. The other driver (who sued my friend) was found partially responsible as well.

Naturally it’s good to question the assumed causality in the tendency of biologists (and other scientists) to disbelieve in religion/god.

Yet the idea that unbelievers tend to be attracted to science as the cause seems equally questionable. Why would unbelievers be attracted to science? Is it because science mirrors their thinking processes already?

For myself, I think that not believing in god and interest in science are quite intimately tied together. I am not satisfied with the easy answers of religion, and so I wish to utilize the processes that do provide reliable answers. Is this unlike the disbelief of most scientists?

I tend toward preferring accommodation myself, since I think it’s a necessary position for teaching most people. Sure, have the bad cops along with the good cops. I’m not one who thinks that one position alone will do. It occurs to me that science might very well do best if, for the most part, religion and science appear compatible, however.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but see, both from experience and from empirical studies, that the thought processes used in science are not very accommodating to religious and wishful thinking.

Here is the reference information and an abstract from a paper which purportedly has empirical data that religious thinking and scientific thinking tend to be antagonistic in the human mind:

FlashReports Science and God: An automatic opposition between ultimate explanations

Jesse Preston a,*, Nicholas Epley b a Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 603 E Daniel St. Champaign, IL 61820, USA b University of Chicago, 5807 South Woodlawn Avenue Chicago, IL 60637-1610, USA

a r t i c l e i n f o Article history: Received 14 May 2008 Revised 8 July 2008 Available online 22 August 2008 Keywords: Causal explanation Religion Science

a b s t r a c t Science and religion have come into conflict repeatedly throughout history, and one simple reason for this is the two offer competing explanations for many of the same phenomena. We present evidence that the conflict between these two concepts can occur automatically, such that increasing the perceived value of one decreases the automatic evaluation of the other. In Experiment 1, scientific theories described as poor explanations decreased automatic evaluations of science, but simultaneously increased automatic evaluations of God. In Experiment 2, using God as an explanation increased automatic evaluations of God, but decreased automatic evaluations of science. Religion and science both have the potential to be ultimate explanations, and these findings suggest that this competition for explanatory space can create an automatic opposition in evaluations. 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

If their conclusions are correct, unbelievers may very well be attracted to science because they lack the religious thinking which tends to cause scientific thought to recede.

Glen Davidson http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

Flint said:

Scientific thinking is an acquired trait, and clearly many people are unable and/or unwilling to acquire it.

But there are communities with which I am familiar (farming and tourist-dependent communities) that have a large segment of “Reformed” church-goers who are quite pushy and “influential” in the community. Yet these same communities also have a large component of people who don’t go to any church and generally reject organized religion. These are people, with high school educations or less, working in the trades or who are just general laborers, or who have their own businesses.

If you were to offer a questionnaire or ask questions about why these folks reject religion, you aren’t likely to get any candid responses. But if you get to know them better and gain their trust, you’d find the reason for that lack of candidness is because these people sense that they would receive some kind of retribution from the sectarians in their community; things like loss of business or employment opportunities, blame for community ills, social isolation, or any number of slights and snubs that would make life harder for them in the community.

If one asks an educated, self-assured scientist who rejects religion about his/her reasons, one is more likely to get candid answers because the consequences perceived by the scientist are not seen to be threatening in the way someone with lesser leverage and standing in the community might perceive about such questions.

This is another reason why I think questionnaires about religious beliefs are so tricky and hard to interpret; you simply don’t know why you are getting the answers you get, and people with perspectives they perceive might get them into “trouble” simply won’t respond. So the results are likely to be skewed.

The “No.” should be blinking text, with rainbow colors.

Analytical thinking is a factor likely to incline one towards both religious unbelief and science. Tendencies to rationalize, on the other hand, are likely to incline one towards religious belief and away from science.

IANAL, but I do know this from a friend who was sued over an auto accident, and that person was found partially but not wholly responsible. The other driver (who sued my friend) was found partially responsible as well.

Yes, auto accidents have a “no fault” exception, where partial decisions can be made. IANAL either, but I think this is atypical.

these people sense that they would receive some kind of retribution from the sectarians in their community; things like loss of business or employment opportunities, blame for community ills, social isolation, or any number of slights and snubs that would make life harder for them in the community.

But I should think this would be true where the preponderance of the faithful is large enough to HAVE that sort of influence. I agree, we have no good way of getting a handle on what the pattern of belief really is.

This is another reason why I think questionnaires about religious beliefs are so tricky and hard to interpret; you simply don’t know why you are getting the answers you get

I was for a while in the business of doing such questionnaires. I could write a book. But rather than write a book, I’ll just give you the punchline: tell me who paid for the study, and I’ll tell you the results.

Are there any surveys which show the numbers of believers upon entry to science who have become doubters or atheists?

Well, my next impression is that the survey also continues to ignore the community factor (which is mentioned in a comment above). Lots of people don’t believe in things (and certainly not obviously false things) merely because they’ve not seen the evidence.

They believe because that belief ties them to a community. We are and remain social animals, and there are those that use that trait to create their own power by controlling the beliefs of others. So not only do the “sheep” believe stupid stuff because they’re told do, they’re told NOT to believe in science or anything that contradicts what they’re taught because, well, that allows scientists or “liberals” to control them. In short, they are controlled by being told others will try to control them. Brilliant, no?

I did not leave the Church because I lost my beliefs (though they have changed over the last few years). I left the Church because of the actions of its members, promoting hate and division, living in fear of the different, and feeding lies.

And while my own local church and community played no part in that, the actions of the larger Church, of so many who call themselves “Christians” has left me in total disgust of the word. My identity and belief changed not by evidence of non-believers, but by evidence of the actions of the believers.

Well, my next impression is that the survey also continues to ignore the community factor (which is mentioned in a comment above). Lots of people don’t believe in things (and certainly not obviously false things) merely because they’ve not seen the evidence.

They believe because that belief ties them to a community. We are and remain social animals, and there are those that use that trait to create their own power by controlling the beliefs of others. So not only do the “sheep” believe stupid stuff because they’re told do, they’re told NOT to believe in science or anything that contradicts what they’re taught because, well, that allows scientists or “liberals” to control them. In short, they are controlled by being told others will try to control them. Brilliant, no?

I did not leave the Church because I lost my beliefs (though they have changed over the last few years). I left the Church because of the actions of its members, promoting hate and division, living in fear of the different, and feeding lies.

And while my own local church and community played no part in that, the actions of the larger Church, of so many who call themselves “Christians” has left me in total disgust of the word. My identity and belief changed not by evidence of non-believers, but by evidence of the actions of the believers.

Flint said:

But rather than write a book, I’ll just give you the punchline: tell me who paid for the study, and I’ll tell you the results.

Zogby? :)

Damn, I meant to say “the Discovery Institute” (who uses Zogby).

Flint said:

IANAL, but I do know this from a friend who was sued over an auto accident, and that person was found partially but not wholly responsible. The other driver (who sued my friend) was found partially responsible as well.

Yes, auto accidents have a “no fault” exception, where partial decisions can be made. IANAL either, but I think this is atypical.

Ow! Ow! Please stop!

Do NOT handle legal concepts unless you are a trained professional.

In negligence cases in most (if not all) jurisdictions in the US there is what is called “comparative negligence,” whereby two or more participants in an accident can be assigned partial liability for the accident. This is, by far, the largest category of lawsuits in the US. In a number of the remainder of cases, something similar can happen, either because partial liability is allowed or because the damages can be reduced because of the plaintiff’s own misconduct. Even in criminal trials, a defendant can be convicted of a “lesser included crime” instead of the crime actually charged.

I still have no idea why this is important in this discussion but I cannot rest while someone on the internet is wrong about the law.

…I cannot rest while someone on the internet is wrong about the law.

You must be VERY tired!

I still have no idea why this is important in this discussion but I cannot rest while someone on the internet is wrong about the law.

It’s important because we’re talking at least in part about how it’s natural for people to think in black-and-white terms. I admit I’m unaware of Supreme Court decisions where parties are partly wrong, though I understand that decisions are frequently split, and that compromises and deals of all kinds permeate the system.

But while I’m definitely not a lawyer, I think we’re talking about two different things. Decisions in law are (from my very ignorant view) typically up or down. How the case is framed is something a bit different, is it not? What pre-decision deals are cut, how awards are determined, how extenuating factors are figured in, these determine what’s being decided. But at the end, isn’t there usually a yes/no decision within that frame?

I like to think of human (population) characteristics as a multidimensional cloud, through which various axes can be drawn. The axis that describes the religious faith/skepticism spectrum is not necessarily the same axis that describes the spectrum of scientific understanding (or skill, or capacity, or what-have-you). Whether or not our position in the cloud is a function of nature or nurture (or more likely both), and how it changes through time, is an interesting question, but I thing it’s a mistake to imagine an axis with religious faith/atheism endpoints that coincides with science.

Thank you…meanwhile we await anair’s evidence that some deity caused the “Big Bang”.

But which one(s)? Odin? Zeus? YHWY? Allah? Osiris? Vishnu? FSM? Q? Organians? Time Lords from Gallifrey? Quetzalcoatl?

gregwrld said:

Thank you…meanwhile we await anair’s evidence that some deity caused the “Big Bang”.

I had been expecting he might come up with the old saw that life is “inconsistent” with the second law of thermodynamics.

But then it’s possible that this is a newer version of a “philosophical” shtick that claims “inconsistency” (or its possibility) by being vaguer and allowing rubes to think, “Yeah, that’s deep; gotcha, evolutionist!”

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on July 1, 2009 11:31 AM.

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