Some early 20th century studies have shown that scientists are less likely than the general population to believe in the existence of God (1) while a further study in 1969 suggested that approximately 35% of scientists did not believe in the existence of God (2). More closer to our time is an informative study by Elaine Ecklund (Professor of Sociology) and her companion Christopher Scheitle.
Ecklund and Scheitle attempted to question some 2198 faculty members of a variety of academic disciples including physics, chemistry, biology, sociology, economics, political science, and psychology from 21 elite American research universities (3). Overall, they managed to question 75% of the contacted professors. Conclusions found that among the different disciplines, disbelief in the existence of God was not correlated with any particular area of expertise. The study suggested the following (the percentages represent non-believers in God):
- Physics: 40.8%
- Chemistry: 26.6%
- Biology: 41%
Total = 37.6%
- Sociology: 34%
- Economics: 31.7%
- Political science: 27%
- Psychology: 33%
Total = 31.2%
Their calculations suggest that no particular field is associated with a disbelief in God’s existence. However, they found that there are several other factors that play a role in disbelief, for example, the study found that those scientists who were immigrants disbelieved in God to a greater degree than those who were born and raised in the America. The study also found that scientists come disproportionately from non-religious or religiously liberal backgrounds compared to the general population. That would suggest that at least some part of the difference in religiosity between scientists and the general population is probably due to religious upbringing rather than scientific training or institutional pressure to be irreligious.
Another interesting area was the correlation between marital status and number of children on religiosity. Those who were married (especially with children) attended religious services more often. Those who were just living together were more likely than married scientists to believe that “There is very little truth in any religion.”
Although many non-believers try hard to argue that science and religion are in conflict with each other, it is evident that most scientists do not necessarily see this. Ecklund’s research found that only 15% of those surveyed thought that science and religion were always in conflict. Of those studied about half of them expressed some form of religious affiliation (4).
It is a fact that belief in God among scientists is lower than that of the general American population. However, Ecklund and Scheitle found that other factors played a role in non-belief that were related to upbringing and family status, and not always areas of expertise. The pair conclude that it is often “demographic factors, such as age, marital status, and presence of children in the household, seem to explain some of the religious differences among academic scientists” (5).
1. Leuba, J. 1916. The Belief in God and Immortality: A Psychological, Anthropological, and Statistical Study.
2. Trow, M. 1969. Carnegie Commission National Survey of Higher Education.
3. Ecklund, E. 2007. Religion among Academic Scientists: Distinctions, Disciplines, and Demographics. p. 289-307. Available.
4. Ecklund, E. 2013. Scientists Negotiate Boundaries Between Religion and Science. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. p. 552–569.
5. Ecklund, E. 2007. Ibid.