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Does science lead to atheism?

July 1, 2009

Over at The Panda’s Thumb, Matt Young asks the question whether science leads to atheism. His answer is a definite “No” and he uses as his springboard an entry that he and I wrote for the New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (Prometheus, 2007; you can read the full entry, on “Unbelief among scientists,” here). As Matt points out,

[o]ne of the conclusions we drew was that biologists, anthropologists, and psychologists were more likely to disbelieve in God than physical scientists and engineers. That conclusion has recently been called into question,

and he goes on to discuss some of the work that has appeared since our entry was composed.

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  1. July 3, 2009 at 11:31 am

    He begins with “The longer answer is that scientists are more likely to disbelieve in God than are nonscientists, and eminent scientists are more apt to be disbelievers than journeyman scientists. But does science lead them to atheism? Possibly, but it seems more likely that freethinkers or skeptics are attracted to science than that science creates atheists.”

    That doesn’t sound like a definite no.

    What’s the evidence that it’s “more likely that freethinkers or skeptics are attracted to science than that science creates atheists”? And the more eminent a scientist (at least measured by, e.g., membership in the National Academy of Sciences or Nobel prizewinners), the less likely they are to believe in God; likewise for more formal education. How is this pattern consistent with self-selection rather than the result of education? Is it evidence of discrimination by nonbelievers in the NAS, the Nobel committee, and academic hiring committees?

    Matt Young also writes that “Leuba predicted that increasing scientific knowledge would lead to increasing disbelief. That prediction is apparently (at least partly) correct.” How is that evidence for a “no” answer?

    In his conclusion, he writes “Paul Strode and I tried to show that science is not necessarily incompatible with religion, though it certainly falsifies the specific claims of some religions.” But “science is not necessarily incompatible with religion” is *consistent* with the claim that science (and education) are factors that increase disbelief.

    Am I missing something? Nobody thinks that *all* scientists are atheists, or that you can’t be a scientist without being an atheist, or that science *necessitates* atheism or agnosticism, but it looks like that’s all that’s refuted here.

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