Are "Better" Scientists Less Likely to Believe in God?

we also need to remember that the majority of scientists also believe in higer power.

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Higher power – x^n for large values of n.


Most do not believe in God. And the better a scientist they are, the less likely they are to believe in a god.

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I dislike such statements because they are subjective and generally not useful. I’m sure we could find some definition of “scientist” and “better” where this becomes a true statement, but the actual difference in the likelihood of belief may be trivial.
The underlying factor here is education. Better educated people tend to make better scientists. Better educated people are less likely to believe in a higher power.


My claim is based on empirical evidence:

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Well sure enough! There we have the definition of “better scientist” (NAS members), though that’s not quite the original claim “better a scientist they are, the less likely …”). I agree that NAS member are highly recognized for their work, and are highly successful in their careers. That’ doesn’t necessarily mean there are better scientists - I still that that definition is subjective.

I do not agree that being a better scientist is causal to lower likelihood of belief, but that an association. Education is still the better causal factor here.

My complaint is based on studies reporting that atheists have higher IQ than believers,(which I think are seriously flawed). Again it is education that is likely the causal factor, and the average difference is a few points in IQ, which is not meaningful. If we compared groups controlling for level of education, I think the difference in IQ will drop to near zero.

There is also the awfulness of intelligence testing, but I’ll skip that part today.


I agree that the definition of “better” is subjective and unclear here. It could be that there are other reasons why Christian scientists are less likely to become a member of the NAS. For example, they might be more likely to be interested with teaching so are more likely to take academic jobs with a teaching instead of research-oriented focus. Christian scientists might also value a better balance of family and career life, so will spend less time doing research. It could also be that many of the best Christian science-inclined students choose to become physicians instead of scientists (which may explain why such a large number of physicians believe in God). These are all just speculations. There certainly needs to be much more work to be done before one can claim any sort of causal connection between religiosity and one’s quality as a scientist.


Right or wrong, it’s not a useful criticism. We can do better.


I question this, mainly because I don’t think we have a good way of assessing “better”.

What is clearly true, is that biologists and geologists are less likely to believe in God than scientists in other areas.


not according to that survey:

Well, there you have it. Clearly, biologists and geologists are better scientists.


The real problem with the statement isn’t the statistics behind it, but the anti-scientific implication that correlation equals causation.

Ironically, self-selectiom of atheists for science would explain this, or even peer selective pressure, a Darwinism process if you will. Scientists should know better than to tout this as a dig at religion, if that is what is happening.


That depends on whether you assign belief in a higher power, not identified as God, to the God or no God column. It’s 41% no God, 33% God, 18% “higher power” or something similar. If you add the 7% “don’t know”, it’s clear that most fail to believe in God, whether that’s strict atheism, belief in some other vaguely defined force, or agnostic.

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I seem to recall having read that the two scientific fields with the lowest proportion of theists were (perhaps unsurprisingly) evolutionary biologists, and cosmologists.

God is not more or less likely to exist regardless of what anyone thinks. The term ad populum comes to mind.


I have never found any correlation between the quality of a scientist’s work and their religious beliefs. More to the point, no one really cares what a scientist’s religious beliefs are, unless it begins to affect the quality of their science. For 95% of the scientists I have met, I couldn’t even begin to tell you what their views on religion are because it isn’t something that comes up in normal conversation between scientists. In the field I work in, we are much more focused on transfections than on transubstantiation.


Exactly. Science is secular, like a restaurant. Perhaps the waitress reveals her faith or non fiath, but most the time you never know or care.


33% is not “most.”

we are talking about 51% believers vs 41% non- believers (not 33%).

Depends on how you define “believers”, doesn’t it? Believers in what? The 33% are believers in God. The 51% are believers in either God or in some vaguely described higher power. You don’t get to claim that for God.