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Thread: UK scientists are ‘significantly less religious’ than Brits in general

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    UK scientists are ‘significantly less religious’ than Brits in general

    UK scientists are ‘significantly less religious’ than Brits in general | Barry Duke
    noting
    Are the late Stephen Hawking’s religious beliefs typical of U.K. scientists?
    noting
    The Religiosity of Academic Scientists in the United Kingdom: Assessing the Role of Discipline and Department Status - Ecklund - 2018 - Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion - Wiley Online Library

    From the second link,
    In a new study, researchers from Rice University, Baruch College and West Virginia University find that U.K. scientists are indeed significantly less religious than the U.K. general population.

    In addition, U.K. scientists at elite universities are more likely to never attend religious services than those at less prestigious schools. The study also indicates biologists are more likely to never attend religious services than physicists.

    ...
    The researchers found that while only 18 percent of people in the U.K. said they do not believe in God, 45 percent of U.K. scientists responded the same way. In addition, the researchers discovered that scientists in elite departments (a categorization based on the number of publications per department, published department rankings and insider knowledge) are about twice as likely to never attend religious services than scientists in nonelite departments.
    The authors of that study speculated that this could be in part from social reasons, like pressure to satisfy some social norm. But why some social norm and not another?

    I suspect intellectual reasons, because biologists get closer to the nature of humanity than physicists. This may explain other trends in religiosity among scientists.

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    Leading scientists still reject God
    Belief in personal God 1914 1933 1998
    Personal belief 27.7 15 7.0
    Personal disbelief 52.7 68 72.2
    Doubt or agnosticism 20.9 17 20.8
    Belief in human immortality 1914 1933 1998
    Personal belief 35.2 18 7.9
    Personal disbelief 25.4 53 76.7
    Doubt or agnosticism 43.7 29 23.3

    Back in 1914, psychologist James Leuba surveyed 1000 randomly-selected scientists, and found that 58% expressed disbelief or doubt in the existence of "a God in intellectual and affective communication with humankind", and that amount 400 "greater" scientists, it was nearly 70%. Nearly 20 years later, he repeated his study, he found fractions of 67% and 85%.

    Our chosen group of “greater” scientists were members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Our survey found near universal rejection of the transcendent by NAS natural scientists. Disbelief in God and immortality among NAS biological scientists was 65.2% and 69.0%, respectively, and among NAS physical scientists it was 79.0% and 76.3%. Most of the rest were agnostics on both issues, with few believers. We found the highest percentage of belief among NAS mathematicians (14.3% in God, 15.0% in immortality). Biological scientists had the lowest rate of belief (5.5% in God, 7.1% in immortality), with physicists and astronomers slightly higher (7.5% in God, 7.5% in immortality).
    This is in agreement with the proximity-to-humanity theory. Mathematicians are the farthest, physicists and astronomers in between, and biologists the closest.

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    Sociologist Steve Bruce has written a very interesting book, God is Dead: Secularization in the West. His chapter on science and religion (p. 110) contains a poll on religiosity of US scientists in 1969, as percentages. It asked whether:
    • One regularly or never attends religious services.
    • One's religious identity was religious conservative or no religion.

    Scientific Regularly Never Religious No
    Field Attend Attend Conservative Religion
    Mathematics/statistics 47 35 40 27
    Physical sciences 43 38 34 27
    Life sciences 42 36 36 29
    Social sciences 31 48 19 36
    Economics 38 42 26 30
    Political science 32 43 18 30
    Sociology 38 43 16 36
    Psychology 20 62 12 48
    Anthropology 15 67 11 57
    The least religious scientists are the ones whose research gets them the closest to how our minds work, and the most religious the farthest.


    However, another possibility may be that the usual academic way of researching religion may not be very palatable to the more strictly orthodox sort of believer.


    The rest of that chapter is most interesting, with Steve Bruce having a bit of insight into the creationist-engineer phenomenon. He makes a distinction between "mundane" science and "advanced" science, which is roughly a distinction between science that uses settled knowledge and exploratory science. The former is what's in applied-science fields like engineering and medicine, fields which tend to have the more religious and more fundie scientists.

    He suggests that there are similarities in approach between "mundane" science and fundie religion, that both of them work from what is presumed to be some well-established source of truth. In effect, there is not much difference between using some engineering handbook and using some sacred book in fundie fashion, so there is not as much cognitive dissonance as one might expect.

    Of course, when one takes a broader perspective, that is completely absurd. The provenance of each type of document and the methodologies involved in their construction is completely different, as are the reliabilities of each type of document. But that is not apparent to the fundie, who may concoct elaborate arguments to the effect that their favorite sacred book is as reliable as an engineering handbook.


    Steve Bruce also illustrates the crudity of fundie epistemology by noting that in one sermon, Billy Graham had asked his audience to read the Gospel of John 5 times and then ask for salvation. All that was necessary was to read it, with no effort to understand it being necessary.

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    Psychologists are the least religious of American Professors | Tom Rees noting Religiosity of American College and University Professors8 | Sociology of Religion | Oxford Academic and The Relationship Between Psychiatry and Religion Among U.S. Physicians | Psychiatric Services

    From the first link,
    Fifty percent of professors of psychology at US universities and colleges do not believe in any god, and another 11% are agnostic. That makes them the least religious of a pretty heathen bunch.
    From the second link,
    With other factors controlled, biologists and psychologists—relative to professors outside the top 20 fields—are less likely to believe in God and less likely to hold traditional views of the Bible; professors of communications, English, and history are less likely to hold traditional views of the Bible; sociologists are less likely to have a traditionalistic religious orientation overall; and professors of accounting, finance, and nursing tend to be more religious.

    ...
    Those who are oriented primarily toward research are less likely to believe in God, less likely to have a traditionalistic view of the Bible, less likely to attend religious services, more likely to describe their overall religious orientation as “not religious,” and less likely to consider themselves spiritual persons.
    Parallel to this may be the finding that psychiatrists are the least religious doctors (the third link).

    Also agreeing with the theory of proximity to the human mind.

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    Is there any society in which the scientists are not less religious than the general population?

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    I'd expect any profession that relies on empirical rather than emotive/social thinking to be less religious. There's a pretty well demonstrated correlation between high IQ and atheism.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    I'd expect any profession that relies on empirical rather than emotive/social thinking to be less religious. There's a pretty well demonstrated correlation between high IQ and atheism.
    Believers then get huffy about that and whine "Are you calling us irrational?"

    Table 1 from Religiosity of American College and University Professors | Sociology of Religion | Oxford Academic:
    Belief in God Percent
    I don’t believe in God 9.8
    I don’t know whether there is a God 13.1
    I do believe in a higher power 19.2
    I find myself believing in God some of the time 4.3
    While I have doubts, I feel that I do believe in God 16.6
    I know God really exists and I have no doubts about it 34.9
    No answer 2.2
    Though that study did not try to be specific about what was meant by "God", as James Leuba did. JL specified "a God in intellectual and affective communication with humankind". However, JL's definition is what most people mean by "God", even though a few highbrow theologians might maintain that that's nothing but an atheist smear. Metacrock often seems like that, for instance.

    These are the 20 largest fields by number of undergraduate degrees awarded. The columns are the rows of the previous table:
    Accounting 7.4 14.8 0 7.4 7.4 63.0 0
    Elementary education 0 0 4.6 9.1 29.6 56.8 0
    Finance 8.6 0 8.6 5.7 28.6 48.6 0
    Marketing 20.9 4.7 7.0 4.7 16.3 46.5 0
    Art 10.0 15.0 15.0 2.5 10.0 45.0 2.5
    Criminal justice 9.3 7.4 9.3 9.3 16.7 44.4 3.7
    Nursing 1.9 7.4 14.8 7.4 24.1 44.4 0
    Economics 23.3 16.3 11.6 0 4.7 44.2 0
    Management information 2.9 31.4 5.7 0 17.1 40.0 2.9
    Electrical engineering 2.4 33.3 14.3 9.5 2.4 38.1 0
    Computer science 21.9 15.6 6.3 0 15.6 37.5 3.1
    Business 2.8 27.8 11.1 0 19.4 30.6 8.3
    Sociology 17.9 17.9 25.0 7.1 3.6 28.6 0
    History 9.4 20.8 11.3 22.6 7.6 28.3 0
    Communication 11.1 13.3 17.8 8.9 17.8 26.7 4.4
    English 13.0 16.7 22.2 1.9 20.4 22.2 3.7
    Biology 27.5 33.3 2.0 2.0 13.7 21.6 0.0
    Political science 22.9 18.8 16.7 2.1 18.8 20.8 0.0
    Mechanical engineering 44.1 2.9 14.7 0 14.7 17.7 5.9
    Psychology 50.0 10.9 4.4 6.5 15.2 13.0 0
    Biologists and psychologists are the champions in atheism and agnosticism, at about 60%.

    There are some oddities, like mechanical engineers having a lot of atheists and electrical engineers having a lot of agnostics.

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    Using as columns the rows in the previous post's first table, I find
    Health 1.2 4.9 11.0 6.1 19.50 57.3 0
    Other 7.0 11.7 11.7 7.6 17.8 42.6 1.5
    Comp sci, engr 16.9 15.7 10.2 3.6 14.5 35.5 3.6
    Humanities 16.3 13.0 23.6 1.6 10.2 31.3 4.1
    Social sciences 23.4 16.0 16.0 5.6 12.6 24.7 1.7
    Phys, bio sci 19.5 32.9 3.7 2.4 17.1 24.4 0
    Agriculture 0 12.5 75.0 0 12.5 0 0
    I think that the agriculture sample size was very small: 8.

    The physical and biological sciences were about neck-and-neck with the social sciences. Given all the creationist engineers, it is rather satisfying to see engineering not much worse than the "pure" sciences.

    Here is a table by kind of religiosity.
    -- Progressive Moderate Traditionalist Not religious No answer
    Two-year 37.8 13.4 23.9 19.3 5.5
    Four-year 19.5 31.2 6.7 36.7 5.9
    Nonelite doc 18.6 26.3 4.8 43.7 6.6
    Elite doc 23.9 26.3 11.8 31.8 6.2
    Total, relig only 38.6 42.4 19.0 -- --
    Phys, bio sci 13.0 32.2 5.2 37.4 12.2
    Social sciences 32.5 23.0 4.8 34.9 4.8
    Humanities 35.0 20.7 6.6 31.7 6.1
    Comp sci, engr 11.3 39.6 17.0 28.9 3.1
    Health 12.0 36.1 36.1 12.0 3.6
    Business 13.5 32.3 18.8 26.0 9.4
    The religious ones in the social sciences and humanities are mostly progressive, while those in the natural sciences and engineering are mostly moderate. Engineering has more religious traditionalists than the previous three, something that may explain the creationist engineers, and business was much like engineering. Health had the most religious conservatives of all (!)

    The religious ones being progressive in the social sciences also fits this proximity thesis, though in the humanities that thesis does not work very well. An alternate possibility is what would be a good place for creative people, and traditionalists are not big on creativity.

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    This table is how a sample of 1400 professors divide up by religious affiliation. I've lumped together all the Protestants and all the other religions:
    • None: 31.2%
    • Catholic: 15.9%
    • Protestant: 39.4%
    • Eastern Orthodox: 0.7%
    • Jewish: 5.4%
    • Other religions: 7.6%

    This roughly fits the profile of the US population, though with more unaffiliated.

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    Scientists cultivate skepticism as a practical skill integral to their work; it is hardly surprising if many find atheism (or noncommital "none"-ship) with its reified skepticism and minimum of testable claims appealing. Religious authority in particular is apt to be problem; scientists don't tend to be rabid patriots either, and their family sizes are noticeably smaller. We generally ignore unsigned sources of information, and habitually eschew most sources of socially sanctioned authority by the simplest expedient of gamely ignoring it while at work.

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