Surveys demonstrate a far lower belief in God among scientists than the general public. At the highest level, this 2009 Pew survey indicated that 83% of the general public believe in God, compared to 33% for scientists. Other surveys show that for members of the prestigious National Academy of Science, the percentage drops to about 7%, suggesting the more accomplished the scientist, the less likely they are to believe.
As you can imagine, this is generally spun in one of two directions.
Some atheists will spin it as “See, really smart people do not believe in Bronze-age superstitions.”
Some Christians will spin it as “We told you scientists are atheistic minions of the antichrist.”
Perhaps the atheists are right, after all the bible does teach the God chose what is foolish to shame the wise (1 Cor 1:27).
I would offer two less common observations, never of which I can demonstrate let alone quantify. I’m just putting it out there.
The first is a variation of the [Bradley Effect](Bradley effect - Wikipedia. Roughly speaking, people sometimes give the answer they believe they are expected to give, for fear of embarrassment or of being perceived negatively. It is possible that some scientists are not comfortable admitting they are believers because it doesn’t seem to fit with their chosen profession. Similarly, some in the general public may not be comfortable admitting they are not believers. This effect, if real, would tend to widen the gap between scientists and the general public.
The second observation is not unrelated. The egos of scientists might make them more immune to the cultural and familial pressures to affirm belief. In the first observation above, it was posited that some scientists are embarrassed to admit belief. In this case the hypothesis is that they are much more likely to be honest about their unbelief, or to “own it” if you will.
It is this effect I find fascinating.
There are only about 7% of the NAS scientists who profess faith. I would expect (I could be wrong) that their faith, on average, is quite strong, for it generally takes belief-backed fortitude to take an extreme minority position.
Maybe 7% is closer to the real number of those with strong faith, among everyone. Maybe the 83% number for the general public is highly inflated by pressures arising from our culture.
In my mind, this is why the reduction if not elimination of the stigma of being an atheist is a good thing, a win-win. People should not feel pressured by the culture to affirm something they do not believe.
If this is true, then over the years we should see the 83% number drop (I think we have seen this) and the 7% number hold steady or drop relatively less. (I don’t know.)
In reality the net effect is some linear combination of all these and other possible contributions. I don’t know what the relative weights are, but I would not be surprised if a big effect in explaining the discrepancy is related to scientists answering more honestly than the general public.