Scientists and Christianity

Sometimes I’m curious as to why many scientists think that science confirms their atheism, but I see other scientists who are strong Christians.  On a certain facebook page, I asked this question

For you scientists in the group, there are many scientists out there who are atheists and they seem to think every discovery of science shows that we don’t need God out there. But of course YOU guys see no problem with science, God, and belief in God. What do you think the difference between you and them are? I don’t necessarily want to get us into speculating about the psychology of other people, but I have a distinct feeling that they either come INTO their science as atheists or there’s something else involved in their atheism.

Neil Shenvi, a research scientist at Duke University with a Ph.D in theoretical chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, gave me an insightful answer.

Kyle, beyond the obvious answer that all human beings gravitate towards atheism because we do not want God to exist, I think there are several that explain the tendency of top scientists to be atheists.

First, methodological naturalism is the modus operandi of scientists. From there, it is very easy to slip into metaphysical naturalism, especially if you disdain philosophy, which most scientists do.

Second, the success of science and the radical specialization of knowledge means that scientists both have far more knowledge than anyone else in their field and at the same time are often completely ignorant of other areas of human knowledge. For instance, I tend to assume that because I am a scientist, I know more about politics, economics, and even other areas of science than the average person. You can see how this affects religion. A scientist is very easily convinced that he is correct in his atheism simply because he is intelligent without actually thinking through the issue.

Third, the majority of most well-known scientists are atheists and scientists tend to trust other scientists. As a result, atheism becomes self-perpetuating.

Finally, the fact that most career scientists have PhDs means that they are exposed to the ‘culture’ of science for far longer than a person holding a bachelor’s degree. A person getting a BA in English will not be subjected to a decade of ‘humanities culture’, which is often just as atheistic. The longer you are immersed in a culture, the harder it is to avoid absorbing the culture’s worldview. I suspect that the incidence of atheists in the humanities at the top levels is just as high as that in science. Indeed, I suspect it is higher. At my Christian fellowship in grad school, _most_ of the Christians were scientists. There were almost none from the humanities.

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One Response to Scientists and Christianity

  1. Debilis says:

    I agree, that is insightful.
    As a Christian who loves science, this has always bothered me. Almost as much is the fact that so many scientists disdain philosophy. I can’t imagine that anything but judgmental ignorance could make someone disdain an entire field.

    In any case, thank you for posting this.

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