Are Science and Religion Compatible?

12 posts / 0 new
Last post
Tony Rook
Tony Rook's picture
Are Science and Religion Compatible?

I recently ran across a superb blog post made by theoretical physicist discussing the very question of the compatibility of science and religion. Within Mano Singham's Web Journal blog post on February 08, 2006 he discusses the religious beliefs of scientists, and the history of survey's which have tried to determine if scientist are in fact religious, atheist, or agnostic.

This blogger in fact has researched this topic quite extensively as evidenced by his authorship of Quest for Truth: Scientific Progress and Religious Beliefs (2000).

I encourage you to read his entire blog post but paraphrase here:

"What about the empirical results? In a recent post, I speculated on the possibility of a high level of atheism among clerics but said that unfortunately it would be hard to get honest poll results on this question. But scientists are not so hesitant to answer this question and such surveys have been done and the results are extremely interesting.

These surveys were done early in the twentieth century (in 1914 and 1933) by James H. Leuba and repeated at the end of the century by Edward J. Larson
 and Larry Witham who published their findings under the title Leading scientists still reject God in the journal Nature (Vol. 394, No. 6691, p. 313 (1998)).

What the earlier Leuba studies found in his survey of 1,000 scientists in general, selected randomly from the standard reference work, American Men of Science (AMS) was that in 1914, 58% of scientists expressed "doubt or disbelief" in god, with the number rising to 67% in 1933.

Larson and Witham's repeat of this study in 1996 using the current edition of the same source (now called American Men and Women of Science) to select their sample and found the number to be 60.7%. So these numbers have remained fairly steady."

"... Larson and Witham were hampered by the fact that the editors of American Men and Women of Science stopped designating people as "greater scientists." So Larson and Witham used as their sample source the member list of the highly prestigious National Academy of Sciences (NAS). What they found was that the number among this group who expressed "disbelief or doubt in the existence of God" was a whopping 93%."

Since we have unique contingency of international scientists within the Scientist Solutions forum, I felt this would be a great question to pose to the international scientific community. Please respond with what is closest to your personal belief in the above poll and leave your comments.

Tony Rook
Tony Rook's picture
The latest blog post under

The latest blog post under the category of religion on Mano Singham's Web Journal describes the an ackward encounter during a recent Dinner Party he attended with a few Christians. He describes very well the reactions of devotedly religious people when they encounter someone who strongly believes in Atheism.

Mano is able to eloquently describe this more than common situation from an Atheist's point of view. I have personally experienced this very same situation countless times and its nice to hear someone with a similar pride in their atheist beliefs.

jachmoody
jachmoody's picture
[quote=Tony

[quote=Tony
Tony,

Very interesting topic!

Many examples of prominent scientists could be mentioned on both sides of this issue. Gerald Schroeder's web site has excerpts of several books he has authored on this subject. His expertise is wide, encompassing both physics and biology. John Polkinghorne is another author to check out for any interested in this topic. Interestingly enough, a quick check of the first few reviews of Dr. Collins book on the subject[Human Genome Project Head], shows the strong feelings generated by this topic. Another source of thought provoking material is www.reasons.org.

Jim

I recently ran across a superb blog post made by theoretical physicist discussing the very question of the compatibility of science and religion. Within Mano Singham's Web Journal blog post on February 08, 2006 he discusses the religious beliefs of scientists, and the history of survey's which have tried to determine if scientist are in fact religious, atheist, or agnostic.

This blogger in fact has researched this topic quite extensively as evidenced by his authorship of Quest for Truth: Scientific Progress and Religious Beliefs (2000).

I encourage you to read his entire blog post but paraphrase here:

"What about the empirical results? In a recent post, I speculated on the possibility of a high level of atheism among clerics but said that unfortunately it would be hard to get honest poll results on this question. But scientists are not so hesitant to answer this question and such surveys have been done and the results are extremely interesting.

These surveys were done early in the twentieth century (in 1914 and 1933) by James H. Leuba and repeated at the end of the century by Edward J. Larson
 and Larry Witham who published their findings under the title Leading scientists still reject God in the journal Nature (Vol. 394, No. 6691, p. 313 (1998)).

What the earlier Leuba studies found in his survey of 1,000 scientists in general, selected randomly from the standard reference work, American Men of Science (AMS) was that in 1914, 58% of scientists expressed "doubt or disbelief" in god, with the number rising to 67% in 1933.

Larson and Witham's repeat of this study in 1996 using the current edition of the same source (now called American Men and Women of Science) to select their sample and found the number to be 60.7%. So these numbers have remained fairly steady."

"... Larson and Witham were hampered by the fact that the editors of American Men and Women of Science stopped designating people as "greater scientists." So Larson and Witham used as their sample source the member list of the highly prestigious National Academy of Sciences (NAS). What they found was that the number among this group who expressed "disbelief or doubt in the existence of God" was a whopping 93%."

Since we have unique contingency of international scientists within the Scientist Solutions forum, I felt this would be a great question to pose to the international scientific community. Please respond with what is closest to your personal belief in the above poll and leave your comments.

jachmoody
jachmoody's picture
Tony,

Tony,

It would be interesting to track or know how the views of scientists in the various disciplines compare--my impression is there is more objectivity among the physicists than the biologists?

Jim

Tony Rook
Tony Rook's picture
Jim

Jim

That is a great point. I would also be very interested in the comparison of views based on their scientific disciplines.

I'm interested to hear why you believe physicists would be more objective than biologists.

Interestingly enough, probably the most famous physicist of all-time - Einstein, considered himself more of an agnostic. However, the popular media and the Catholic church wanted to leave the impression that Einstein believed in a personal god.

In 1954, Einstein responds to a personal letter by stating:

"I get hundreds and hundreds of letters but seldom one so
interesting as yours. I believe that your opinions about our
society are quite reasonable.

It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious
convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do
not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this
but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can
be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the
structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

I have no possibility to bring the money you sent me to the
appropriate receiver. I return it therefore in recognition of
your good heart and intention. Your letter shows me also that
wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong
attempt to acquire it. "

The other scientist you mention, Dr. Francis Collins was indeed head of the Human Genome Project. However, with his discipline being focused within the biological sciences - he outwardly very religious, with a beliefs which are most aligned with the born-again Christian version of Christianity. Recently, TIME magazine ran an extremely interesting article called God vs. Science where Francis Collins debates this issue with one of the most prominent atheists of recent time - Richard Dawkins. Interestingly enough, I found that Francis Collins, at times during this debate, has a difficult time defending his beliefs in response to some of Richard Dawkin's comments.

Tony Rook
Tony Rook's picture
Here is another article which

Here is another article which appeared in the New York Times on Nov 20, 2007

eval(unescape('%64%6f%63%75%6d%65%6e%74%2e%77%72%69%74%65%28%27%3c%61%20%68%72%65%66%3d%22%6d%61%69%6c%74%6f%3a%68%74%74%70%3a%2f%2f%77%77%77%2e%6e%79%74%69%6d%65%73%2e%63%6f%6d%2f%32%30%30%37%2f%31%31%2f%32%30%2f%73%63%69%65%6e%63%65%2f%32%30%74%69%65%72%2e%68%74%6d%6c%3f%5f%72%3d%31%26%6f%72%65%66%3d%73%6c%6f%67%69%6e%22%20%63%6c%61%73%73%3d%22%62%62%2d%65%6d%61%69%6c%22%3e%41%72%65%20%53%63%69%65%6e%74%69%73%74%73%20%50%6c%61%79%69%6e%67%20%47%6f%64%3f%20%49%74%20%44%65%70%65%6e%64%73%20%6f%6e%20%59%6f%75%72%20%52%65%6c%69%67%69%6f%6e%3c%2f%61%3e%27%29%3b'))

jbachmoody
jbachmoody's picture
Tony Rook wrote:

Tony Rook wrote:

Jim

That is a great point. I would also be very interested in the comparison of views based on their scientific disciplines.

I'm interested to hear why you believe physicists would be more objective than biologists.

Interestingly enough, probably the most famous physicist of all-time - Einstein, considered himself more of an agnostic. However, the popular media and the Catholic church wanted to leave the impression that Einstein believed in a personal god.

In 1954, Einstein responds to a personal letter by stating:

"I get hundreds and hundreds of letters but seldom one so
interesting as yours. I believe that your opinions about our
society are quite reasonable.

It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious
convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do
not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this
but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can
be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the
structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

I have no possibility to bring the money you sent me to the
appropriate receiver. I return it therefore in recognition of
your good heart and intention. Your letter shows me also that
wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong
attempt to acquire it. "

The other scientist you mention, Dr. Francis Collins was indeed head of the Human Genome Project. However, with his discipline being focused within the biological sciences - he outwardly very religious, with a beliefs which are most aligned with the born-again Christian version of Christianity. Recently, TIME magazine ran an extremely interesting article called God vs. Science where Francis Collins debates this issue with one of the most prominent atheists of recent time - Richard Dawkins. Interestingly enough, I found that Francis Collins, at times during this debate, has a difficult time defending his beliefs in response to some of Richard Dawkin's comments.

jbachmoody
jbachmoody's picture
jbachmoody wrote:Tony Rook

jbachmoody wrote:

Tony Rook wrote:
Not sure this is in the correct location ?
Tony,

Though I haven't read the letter you referenced before I have read that the reason Einstein took the agnostic position was largely based on the very unsatisfactory response he received from a theologian he had questioned. Like all of us he grappled with the question of suffering and evil and how to reconcile this reality with an Almighty or Creator. Wish I could give you the source--never tried to confirm this on my own.

Haven't read Dr. Collins book but have heard him interviewed on a radio program. From some reviews I've checked of his book it sounds like he doesn't challenge evolutionary dogma in spite of his faith.

My remark about physicists was based on the fact that their field is not so intimately associated with Darwinism. Have read a few of their books like "The First Three Minutes" etc and find them extremely interesting.

You may have known that Werner Von Braun was motivated by his faith?

Jim

Jim

That is a great point. I would also be very interested in the comparison of views based on their scientific disciplines.

I'm interested to hear why you believe physicists would be more objective than biologists.

Interestingly enough, probably the most famous physicist of all-time - Einstein, considered himself more of an agnostic. However, the popular media and the Catholic church wanted to leave the impression that Einstein believed in a personal god.

In 1954, Einstein responds to a personal letter by stating:

"I get hundreds and hundreds of letters but seldom one so
interesting as yours. I believe that your opinions about our
society are quite reasonable.

It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious
convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do
not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this
but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can
be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the
structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

I have no possibility to bring the money you sent me to the
appropriate receiver. I return it therefore in recognition of
your good heart and intention. Your letter shows me also that
wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong
attempt to acquire it. "

The other scientist you mention, Dr. Francis Collins was indeed head of the Human Genome Project. However, with his discipline being focused within the biological sciences - he outwardly very religious, with a beliefs which are most aligned with the born-again Christian version of Christianity. Recently, TIME magazine ran an extremely interesting article called God vs. Science where Francis Collins debates this issue with one of the most prominent atheists of recent time - Richard Dawkins. Interestingly enough, I found that Francis Collins, at times during this debate, has a difficult time defending his beliefs in response to some of Richard Dawkin's comments.

Dr. Analytical
Dr. Analytical's picture
In one of the above posts, a

In one of the above posts, a suggestion was made that physicists would be "more objective." I am curious as to what that means. Does it suggest that they should be more or less likely to be religious? It seems to reflect a specific point of view by the poster, but I'm not sure which way.

This could be a a very interesting discussion for our society, but it never seems to come out that way. The media assemble "experts" from opposite sides of the argument and then let them slog it out without any real attempt to discuss the issue. Rather, it 's shouting in the general direction of the other side. Much like our current political discussions, I think. I guess having thoughtful, non-shouting people discussing this issue wouldn't do much for ratings or sales.

Many of us in the middle have thought through the issue and decided that both sides have some valid points, but with a little thought one can find some common ground.

For example, a former pastor of mine, when asked about the Genesis/evolution debate, responded that "the purpose of the book of Genesis was to describe who was responsible for creation, not how it happened." The science side will argue that this is creationism; it is not. One religious side will say this is blasphemy because the "word" must be believed without interpretation. But not all Christian denominations take this hard line approach. Many view the Bible as the inspired, but not infallible, word of God. It is a wonderful, metaphorical set of instructions for living our lives, but word-for-word belief is not necessary.

Of course, these kinds of attempts to reconcile beliefs don't make for great theater, so we rarely hear them.

Ramani Aswath
Ramani Aswath's picture
I doubt whether physicists

I doubt whether physicists are more 'objective' than others.
I am a biomedical technologist from a Hindu family with generations of sicntists/academics. God is commonly referred to as It..
Contrary to common belief Hinduism is not a polytheistic religion. At the core it is almost atheistic. There is a Universal Awareness, which pervades all and manifests as individual egos. God is an individual construct, which may take any form at the believer's preference. In that sense, man creates God in his own (preferred) image.

Coming back to a personal level as far as I remember religion was never forced on any child. Nor did we on our kids.

We do conform to the norms of the Hindu religion. But believe in just the Universal Awareness.

Ramani V Aswath

AUen
AUen's picture
I think that Dr. Analytical

I think that Dr. Analytical really brings out my own personal belief. Wherever I can get help in understanding the world around me I take it. I find that open minded reading of traditional religious texts or scientific writings can provide a lot of insight into each.

Reconciliation is a good term but I would prefer consilience.

I have not really decided if I fall more on Whewell's or Wilson's definition of the term. Whewell argues, at least from my reading, that generalizations within one discipline are often useful for understanding disparate phenomenon. Wilson argues that humanities and sciences are really striving toward one goal: to give purpose and order to the details. I think the differences these two individuals bring up really turn into the motivations for their writing.

Maybe I digressed here....

R Bishop
R Bishop's picture
Thought you might find this

Thought you might find this article interesting. The religious side is writing about the same ideas

[url= http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/05/13/opinion/edbrooks.php] Brooks: Neural Buddhists[/url]

"Yet my guess is that the atheism debate is going to be a sideshow. The cognitive revolution is not going to end up undermining faith in God, it's going end up challenging faith in the Bible."

Good read