Signs of a Culture Change? Younger Scientists More Likely to Believe in God
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
One of the overlooked findings of the Pew survey of U.S.-based scientists is that roughly 51% say that they either believe in God (33%) or a higher power (18%) and roughly 30% self-identify as Protestant (20%) or Catholic (10%). The findings cut against a commonly voiced claim by many outspoken atheists that scientists are overwhelmingly non-religious and that a scientific worldview is incompatible with religious belief.
In addition, among the sample of AAAS members surveyed, roughly 2/3 of scientists ages 18-34 say that they believe in God (42%) or a higher power (24%). This is in sharp comparison to their senior counterparts age 50-64 (50% belief) and age 65 or older (46% belief). It's hard to say what accounts for this difference and there are a number of factors probably at play, including wider generational and societal influences. It's also never a good idea to leap to conclusions based on a single survey finding.
One possible influence, that deserves further study, is that within the professional culture of U.S. science (specifically AAAS members), it is now more acceptable to be religious than thirty years ago. This possible increase in tolerance and acceptance of religious faith may be an impact of programs such as the AAAS Dialogue on Science and Faith and the visible example set by scientists such as Francis Collins.
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