Surveys I have seen indicate about 40% of scientists believe in a God to whom one may pray in expectation of an answer. That’s not a god who went off after creating a universe and did something else. That’s a god who is interested in human beings. Forty percent would adhere to that statement.
The numbers are smaller when you ask members of the National Academy of Sciences and there’s various reasons people have proposed why so-called, ‘elite’ scientists have an even lower proportion of believers. But it’s not as devastatingly absent from the scientific community as people might assume based on the fact that the pronouncements that they hear coming from scientists are usually more in the skeptical or even the atheistic perspective.
I think whether or not scientists are believers should not have a whole lot to do with how they conduct science. The fact that I am a believer, as far as I am aware of, has had very little influence on my scientific work. And I think that’s important to keep that distinction. If I am asking a scientific question, it’s the tools of science I should be using and not assuming something supernatural happened in the test tube at that moment and that would explain my data point.
So I do think people of faith and people who don’t have faith are capable of thoughtful ethical decision-making. So any notion that we are becoming less ethical as scientists because of a diminution I think has to be actually countered by arguments to say that a sense of ethical behavior is not distributed to just the people who are in fact interested in spiritual matters.
I think it would diminish the hostilities, which are bad for our culture if more scientists were, in fact, willing to stand up and say that faith and science need not to be in conflict because right now that’s a minority view that doesn’t get heard very much and it’s apparent to some people that we are having more of a cultural war – a war that seems to imply that some worldview needs to win and some world view needs to lose.
I would not want to look forward to a culture where science lost and religious faith became the dominating force for truth. I would not want to live in a culture where faith lost and science, with all of its reductionism and its materialism became the sole source of truth.
I think we need both kinds of truth. I think we need both kinds of world views to the extent that scientists can help with that realization of a dual ways of finding answers to the appropriate kinds of questions that each world view can ask, then I think that would be a good thing.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think’s studio.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock