Friday, June 29, 2007

Science Not the Cause of Non-Religious Scientists

From LiveScience:

Scientists are less religious than the general population, a new study shows, but the reason has little to do with their study of science or academic pressures.

I'm not sure how to interpret these results or if they're even credible.
So why are scientists less religious? The data indicate that being raised in a religious home is the best predictor of how religious someone will be—scientist or member of the general population.
Perhaps they should have examined whether the data suggest that being raised in a free-thinking non-religious home is a predictor of taking up a scientific career path?

Some interesting items from the article:

  • 52 percent of scientists surveyed said they had no religious affiliation, compared with only 14 percent of the general population.
  • Of the religious scientists, however, 15 percent identified themselves as Jewish compared to 2 percent of the religious general population.
  • 14 percent of the general population described themselves as "evangelical" or "fundamentalist.” Less than 2 percent of scientists, however, identified themselves as either of these.
Well, Judaism promotes questioning and arguing, unlike many of the Christian dogmas. Jewish culture strongly promotes education as well. That might explain the disproportionate representation of scientists who identify themselves as Jewish. How many of those scientists accept the central proposition of the existence of a god would have been another interesting question for the survey.

Curiously, younger scientists were more likely to believe in God and attend religious services than older scientists.

If these young and religious scientists continue to stay religious, Ecklund said, "it could indicate an overall shift in attitudes toward religion among those in the academy."

Perhaps the longer one applies the scientific method to the study of life, the harder it is to accept religious ideas. Indeed it would be interesting to follow this up in perhaps 30 years to see how many of the currently young and religious scientists in the survey remain so later in life, and of those, how many continued their scientific pursuits. Moreover, it would be very interesting to interview them now and in the future to learn how they reconcile their scientific studies with their religious beliefs, and whether and how that may have changed over the years.

One footnote-- the original article title is "Science Not to Blame for Non-Religious Scientists" [emphasis mine]. This is a curiously slanted title for a supposedly scientific journal. Use of the word Blame implies the judgment that lack of religiosity among scientists (or any other group, I suppose) is a bad thing for which it is necessary to assign blame. A supposedly impartial scientific presentation should have chosen a title more similar to mine, making no qualitative judgment about the study results.