General Question

gooch's avatar

Why are their a larger percentage of atheist in the biological sciences than they have in the field of physics/cosmology?

Asked by gooch (5729points) August 27th, 2008

I have noticed Einstein and many others belive in a creator where as Darwin did not.

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26 Answers

syz's avatar

Has there been some study that you can cite?

lapilofu's avatar

Einstein used the term “God” misleadingly, but he did not believe in a god in the conventional sense of the word.

However, even if he had, Einstein and Darwin are not an effective sample size, so I’ll second the request for a citation.

edited to add: And not to be a hypocrite, here’s a good source for my first assertion.

delirium's avatar

Darwin was a religious man.

PeterM's avatar

Evidence, please.

MrMeltedCrayon's avatar

@Delirium: Actually, Darwin wasn’t religious. He started out that way, sure, but during the course of his research he ended up losing his faith. He was logical in every since of the word, so when he started to notice things like, oh, natural selection, he began to realize that something like a God probably had little to nothing to do with existence. His lack of belief was actually something that troubled his wife a great deal, and while he didn’t apologize for it, he did feel an immense amount of guilt for causing her so much pain. He described himself as an agnostic, if only because he thought atheist was too strong of a word.

“I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars.” – Darwin

Lightlyseared's avatar

I thought it was the death of his nine year old daughter that was the event that caused Darwin to lose his faith. Furthermore I think it would be more accurate to descibe Darwin as an agnositic rather than atheist. He could see both sides of the argument and was not satisified by either.

Interesting side note and completely off topic – Darwin’s grandson taught me biology

gooch's avatar

This is aquick list of belivers in Creationism I notice very few biologist:

Gerald E. Aardsma (physicist and radiocarbon dating)

Louis Agassiz (helped develop the study of glacial geology and of ichthyology)

Alexander Arndt (analytical chemist, etc.)

Steven A. Austin (geologist and coal formation expert)

Charles Babbage (helped develop science of computers / developed actuarial tables and the calculating machine)

Francis Bacon (developed the Scientific Method)

Thomas G. Barnes (physicist)

Robert Boyle (helped develop sciences of chemistry and gas dynamics)

Wernher von Braun (pioneer of rocketry and space exploration)

David Brewster (helped develop science of optical mineralogy)

Arthur V. Chadwick (geologist)

Melvin Alonzo Cook (physical chemist, Nobel Prize nominee)

Humphry Davy (helped develop science of thermokinetics)

Donald B. DeYoung (physicist, specializing in solid-state, nuclear science and astronomy)

Michael Faraday (helped develop science of electromagnetics / developed the Field Theory / invented the electric generator)

Danny R. Faulkner (astronomer)

Ambrose Fleming (helped develop science of electronics / invented thermionic valve)

Robert V. Gentry (physicist and chemist)

Duane T. Gish (biochemist)

John Grebe (chemist)

Joseph Henry (invented the electric motor and the galvanometer / discovered self-induction)

William Herschel (helped develop science of galactic astronomy / discovered double stars / developed the Global Star Catalog)

D. Russell Humphreys (award-winning physicist)

James P. Joule (developed reversible thermodynamics)

Johann Kepler (helped develop science of physical astronomy / developed the Ephemeris Tables)

Leonid Korochkin (geneticist)

Matthew Maury (helped develop science of oceanography/hydrography)

James Clerk Maxwell (helped develop the science of electrodynamics)

Samuel F. B. Morse (invented the telegraph)

Isaac Newton (helped develop science of dynamics and the discipline of calculus / father of the Law of Gravity / invented the reflecting telescope)

Blaise Pascal (helped develop science of hydrostatics / invented the barometer)

William Ramsay (helped develop the science of isotopic chemistry / discovered inert gases)

Lord Rayleigh (helped develop science of dimensional analysis)

Bernhard Riemann (helped develop non-Euclidean geometry)

Nicholas Steno (helped develop the science of stratigraphy)

George Stokes (helped develop science of fluid mechanics)

Charles B. Thaxton (chemist)

William Thompson (Lord Kelvin) (helped develop sciences of thermodynamics and energetics / invented the Absolute Temperature Scale / developed the Trans-Atlantic Cable)

Larry Vardiman (astrophysicist and geophysicist)

Leonardo da Vinci (helped develop science of hydraulics)

Rudolf Virchow (helped develop science of pathology)

A.J. (Monty) White (chemist)

A.E. Wilder-Smith (chemist and pharmacology expert)

John Woodward (helped develop the science of paleontology)

Scrumpulator's avatar

Nice work, Talk about Info!!!

MrMeltedCrayon's avatar

@Lightlyseared: I think it depends more on which particular biographer you ask; I think we can safely assume that the lose of his faith probably came about due to many factors (the death of many family members, especially his daughter, playing a very significant role).

Also, I find myself envious. Being taught biology by a Darwin is probably a pretty awesome thing.

lapilofu's avatar

I’m not convinced your list is accurate, and in any case, it is not a very high proportion of scientists total who believe in God either way. However, of the ones who do, it stands to reason that very few would be biologists because of many religions’ very adamant non-acceptance of evolution—one of the tenets of modern biology.

It seems that it would be hard to seriously study something that contradicts your beliefs fundamentally.

Harp's avatar

There is evidence for Gooch’s claim. A 1998 poll was published in the journal Nature by Edward Larson and Larry Witham: “Their surveys revealed that of all scientists questioned, 39.3 percent professed belief in a personal God, about the same as in the 1914 study. However, among elite scientists—now defined as members of the National Academy of Sciences—the proportion who were believers had plummeted to 7 percent, with biologists showing the least religious conviction at 5.5 percent. In the general population of the United States, some 86 percent profess belief in the existence of a personal God, according to a 1999 Gallup poll.”

delirium's avatar

I wouldn’t count scientists who lived before Evolution was published. You can’t know you’re blind without any light.

delirium's avatar

Also, all biological science is based on evolution. It comes to reason that few of them would be against it.

Poser's avatar

@lapilofu—Biological evolution doesn’t necessarily contradict Christian beliefs, despite what some Christians might have you believe. The Catholic Church’s official position is basically one of, “maybe, maybe not.”

“Concerning biological evolution, the Church does not have an official position on whether various life forms developed over the course of time. However, it says that, if they did develop, then they did so under the impetus and guidance of God, and their ultimate creation must be ascribed to him.” Source

Nothing I’ve ever read of Darwin’s biological theories disproves this idea.

MrMeltedCrayon's avatar

@lapilofu: The problem wasn’t in Darwin’s suggestion that species change over time; people were already leaning toward this anyway. The ‘transmutation’ of species wasn’t a new idea by any means. In fact, the release of Darwin’s paper brought evolution into the mainstream of science with little resistance. The idea that was most strongly criticized and fought against was that of natural selection, the idea that there is no planning or guidance in the evolution of species; people didn’t (and still don’t) like the idea that variations in a species happen randomly and that those best suited to survival live, those that aren’t don’t. It’s the indifference of the natural world that the theory suggests that most disliked; it was cold and harsh and didn’t mesh well with delusions of humanity’s rule of the world through divine right and the belief in the immortality of the human soul. No one wanted to think they were just apes lucky enough to develop higher thought processes.

lapilofu's avatar

@MrMeltedCrayon: Then I meant natural selection when I said evolution. Thanks for pointing that out—I’ll have to be careful with the words I throw around.

@poser: I never said that they were mutually exclusive—I actually didn’t comment on what religious doctrine says at all, or didn’t mean to! All I meant is that many religions (or religious sects/individuals as the case may be) don’t accept it. That seems like the best explanation to me of any disparity between the religiosity of physicists and biologists.

I’m just saying that the common (or apparent, if not common) christian take on natural selection probably has some impact on the number of christian biologists. Regardless of doctrine.

Lightlyseared's avatar

When in doubt quote Dawkins

“The trouble is that God in this sophisticated, physicist’s sense bears no resemblance to the God of the Bible or any other religion. If a physicist says God is another name for Planck’s constant, or God is a superstring, we should take it as a picturesque metaphorical way of saying that the nature of superstrings or the value of Planck’s constant is a profound mystery. It has obviously not the smallest connection with a being capable of forgiving sins, a being who might listen to prayers, who cares about whether or not the Sabbath begins at 5pm or 6pm, whether you wear a veil or have a bit of arm showing; and no connection whatever with a being capable of imposing a death penalty on His son to expiate the sins of the world before and after he was born. ”

delirium's avatar

An incredible quote, lightlyseared. I love it (and him).

Poser's avatar

@lap—I’ll agree with you on that. It seems many Christians don’t attempt to decipher whether there is a place within their beliefs for ideas such as natural selection. Instead, they take some “religious leader’s” word for it, or go with their initial knee-jerk reaction to ideas, then preach those reactions fervently.

allengreen's avatar

Science should clear up religious beliefs in all but the most stubborn or close minded folks.

Poser's avatar

Care to elaborate, Allen?

Lightlyseared's avatar

Science can’t say anything about religious beliefs. Now philosophy on the other hand…

Critter38's avatar

Sure it can. Think of creation beliefs that deal with the age of the earth, or the order in which life was formed, or flood myths, or talking snakes, etc… There are many areas of religious belief that science can rightfully comment on, even if just to say there is no evidence in support of a given belief.

Though I am fully aware that people who are so inclined can always pull out the “goddidit” get-out-of-reason free card.

delirium's avatar

I’m in a carl sagan mood…

“How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?’ Instead they say, ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’ A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.
Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.”

Harp's avatar

ahem…

Zuma's avatar

I don’t think there is any easy way to categorize the spiritual beliefs of scientists, since many do not conceive of God in a conventional theistic sense. Einstein and Hawkings both speak of God, but not in terms of a supernatural being.

I notice that several of the scientists on gooch’s list—Da Vinci, Pascal, Newton, Bacon, Morse, Kelvin, etc.—hark from a period before biology. To suggest that they were “Creationists” in the modern sense—i.e., evolution deniers or believers in young earth creationism—goes way beyond the available evidence. One has to keep in mind that the further you go back, the less public dissent was possible from the received religious view. We really don’t know what their private views were.

Also, the mere mention of God does not make one a Creationist. Wernher von Braun, for example, simply stated that he thought that was an intelligence behind the design of the universe. That doesn’t make him a Creationist or even a Theist (one who believes in a supernatural being). Also, a great many scientists are Deists, which is to say, they view God as a remote and impersonal force of nature, or as a “residual”; i.e., the “error term” left over after all the scientific variables have been accounted for.

These lists of “creationist scientists” are regularly published and just as regularly debunked. Its not as if the beliefs of an early scientist like Da Vinci really have bearing on what scientists believe, or should believe, today.

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