Why don’t scientists believe in God?

220px-GodfreyKneller-IsaacNewton-1689

Godfrey Kneller’s 1689 portrait of Isaac Newton (age 46)
from Wikipedia.

Some of the best physical scientists who ever lived were firm believers in the God of the Bible. These include Sir Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, Blaise Pascal, Tycho Brahe, Nicolas Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Gottfried Leibnitz, Johannes Kepler, Carolus Linnaeus, John Dalton, Christian Huygens, Robert Hooke, Michael Faraday, Joseph Henry, James JouleJames Clerk Maxwell, John Strutt (aka Lord Rayleigh)  to name a few. In fact the development of modern science only occurred in the climate of the Judeo-Christian culture which posits that the Creator never lies and created laws that never change. Francis Bacon, who is credited with the beginning of the scientific method,  said,

Let no one think or maintain that a person can search too far or be too well studied in either the book of God’s word or the book of God’s works.1

He refers to both the Bible and the laws of nature. They can both be relied upon. They never contradict and so they should support one another. Therefore scientific research can only flourish when coupled with a clear and straightforward understanding of God’s Word.

Rejection of God

In practice in modern academia this does not seem to be the case. We are told that one can believe in the big bang, cosmic evolution where stars and galaxies formed under processes that only involved natural laws over tens of billions of years, geologic evolution of our planet from slow and gradual (uniformitarian) processes over billions of years and biological evolution of life on Earth over billions of years, and also believe in the God of the Bible. But studies yield statistics that are contrary to that assertion. See Table below (figures in %):2

BELIEF IN PERSONAL GOD           1914    1933     1998
Personal belief 27.7 15.0 7.0
Personal disbelief 52.7 68.0 72.2
Doubt or agnosticism 20.9 17.0 20.8
BELIEF IN IMMORTALITY            1914 1933 1998
Personal belief 35.2 18.0 7.9
Personal disbelief 25.4 53.0 76.7
Doubt or agnosticism 43.7 29.0 23.3

Note: The 1998 immortality figures add up to more than 100%. The misprint is in the original. The 76.7% is likely too high.

Here Larson and Witham present the results of a survey that replicated the 1913 and 1933 surveys by James H. Leuba. In those surveys, Leuba mailed a questionnaire to leading scientists asking about their belief in “a God in intellectual and affective communication with humankind” and in “personal immortality”. In 1998  Larson and Witham used the same wording and sent their questionnaire to 517 members of the US National Academy of Sciences from the biological and physical sciences (the latter including mathematicians, physicists and astronomers). The return rate was slightly over 50%.

The results show that those believing in a personal God, to whom we are responsible to obey, and the reward of immortality for doing so is much less that 10%.

With the development of modern science in the past 100 years, including modern cosmologies (including the Big Bang and Steady State theories), uniformitarian geological science and Darwinian evolution there has been major attrition in personal faith in the Creator.

Jerry Coyne, professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago said,3

“…a dirty little secret in scientific circles. It is in our personal and professional interest to proclaim that science and religion are perfectly harmonious.”

“After all, we want our grants funded by the government, and our schoolchildren exposed to real science instead of creationism. Liberal religious people have been important allies in our struggle against creationism, and it is not pleasant to alienate them by declaring how we feel. This is why, as a tactical matter, groups such as the National Academy of Sciences claim that religion and science do not conflict. But their main evidence — the existence of religious scientists — is wearing thin as scientists grow ever more vociferous about their lack of faith.”

But now the most common worldview is atheistic, that the universe started from nothing, producing hydrogen gas that eventually over billions of years evolved into humans and all other life on Earth. Over the past 200 years there has been a definite change in the culture and as the above Table verifies this has been manifest in academia with an increase in the atheistic worldview/belief system.

Certainly there are contributing factors to such statistics, which would include the tendency of those who are atheists teach atheism in our universities and schools and this then feeds back in the next generations, resulting in a change in the culture. With that has been a drift towards scientism, the belief and hope that science has all the answers to life, replacing the personal God of the Bible.  As Jerry Coyne seems to be saying, there is a clear boundary between true faith in the Creator God and what scientism has on offer. Science can explain how God’s laws work in the laboratory with repeatable experimental science, but it cannot explain what happened in the past. A worldview must first be assumed before the at-best-circumstantial evidence is interpreted to explain past events. Scientism then is a new religion.

How does their godless religion work out for its believers? Does it give them life, happiness and eternally fulfilled lives?

Chandrasekar, was a world famous astrophysicist, who won the Nobel prize in physics in 1983. He wrote,4

“In fact, I consider myself an atheist. But I have a feeling of disappointment because the hope for contentment and a peaceful outlook on life as the result of pursuing a goal has remained largely unfulfilled.”

His biographer is astonished. He says:

“What? I don’t understand. You mean, single–minded pursuit of science, understanding parts of nature and comprehending nature with such enormous success still leaves you with a feeling of discontentment?”

Chandresekar continues,

“I don’t really have a sense of fulfillment. All I have done seems to not be very much.”

Why are so many scientists atheists?

One modern day scientist, famous physicist, Richard Feynman, 9 years before receiving the Nobel prize (1965), said,4

“Many scientists do believe in both science and God, the God of revelation, in a perfectly consistent way.”

Is it possible to be a scientist and a Christian?  Absolutely, yes! There is no contradiction to consistently hold to the straightforward reading of the history and science found in the Bible and to the outcomes of the scientific method when consistently and logically applied. That means when it is dealing with the origin of the universe, the planet or life and all organisms on Earth one must interpret the evidence within the worldview of the Bible. To do otherwise is presupposing that man can decide absolute truth himself. In fact, by first understanding our true origins we can better handle the historical circumstantial data. By starting on the correct foundation a more solid building can be built.

Rejection of the Creator comes from the same source as we find written in the account of Adam and Eve in the Garden (Genesis 3). The Deceiver said “…ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). Knowledge by itself causes man to be elevated in pride and pride is at the heart of his sin.  The sin was their rebellion against God’s Will and the same is true of us all because we are all the offspring of Adam. This sin leads to the rejection of the One who created it all.

References

  1. http://irr.org/scientists-and-their-gods
  2. Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham: “Leading Scientists Still Reject God.” Nature, 1998; 394, 313 ;  http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/sci_relig.htm
  3. http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/theistic-evolutionists-what-they-can-expect-after-they-have-surrendered/
  4. Scientists and Their Gods, (Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence?  Dr. Henry F. Schaefer, III.

(Thanks Allan W. for the article on Larson’s survey.)