A 2009 Pew survey found that only 33% of respondents who were scientists believe in God compared to 83% of the general public. Even starker, a 1998 survey found the rate of belief among members of the National Academy of Sciences to be “a mere 7%.”
“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)” (Nature, Vol. 394, No. 6691, p. 313).
It’s not too surprising, then, that astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has remarked,
I want to put on the table, not why 85% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences reject God, I want to know why 15% of the National Academy don’t. That’s really what we’ve got to address here…[I]f you can’t convert our colleagues, why do you have any hope that you’re going to convert the public?
Hearing this, science writer Michael Shermer, attending the same conference, corrected Tyson. He reminded everyone that the figure for NAS scientists who reject God is actually 93%.
This irreligious state of affairs among scientists has prompted Sam Harris, an assiduous promotor of atheism, to observe that “there are few modes of thinking less congenial to religious faith than science.” I fully concur with his statement. The question seems to be not whether but why science fosters atheism (or whether it attracts people who already lean toward it).
In tackling the question, we have to avoid easy answers like “scientists reject God because they’re smarter than most people.” That’s like saying scientists are right, there’s no God, which presumes the matter of God’s existence or nonexistence to be settled. Another example of an easy answer: scientists don’t believe in God because there is suffering in the world. Even the general public is aware that there’s suffering in the world, yet manages to have faith.
The question we will ask is whether there is anything about the way scientists go about their business, whether there is anything about the scientific method in particular, that tends to skew thinking in an atheistic direction. I believe that’s the case.
Science twists toward atheism right from the start. Before it even gets going, it has eliminated (completely in theory though only partially in actual practice) what scientists dismiss as “psychological factors,” which are not only deemed inessential but a hinderance to objective knowledge.
Now science should attempt to mitigate against these factors as much as possible. Nevertheless, the elimination of the psyche’s contribution to the world, a world which I’ve described elsewhere as a holistic phenomenon, a sort of interface that involves an encounter with things, bodes ill for developing a way of thinking that would lead to God or the transcendent. As I see it, consciousness itself is already something transcendent. As sentient, nature transcends not only its own oblivion but, through the senses, its own body’s spatial limits. But science wants to grasp the universe as if no consciousness were present. Because it wants to be clinical, its method tries to involve the individual as little as possible. “Subjectivity” is probably the dirtiest word in science. Not the best path to spiritual enlightenment in my opinion.
Related to this is the following. For the most part, scientists spend their time studying brute processes that have no awareness, much less intelligence (even though it takes intelligence to understand them). If I now casually observe that work-related matters tend to rub off on people, I obviously don’t mean that dealing with insensate things turns scientists into stupid people. By all accounts, scientists are brilliant people. But it might tend to make them stupid in a certain way. Career tunnel vision is a well known phenomenon. Historians tend to see things in terms of history, politicians in terms of politics, artists in terms of art. It would not be surprising if physicists and biologists tended to think about the world and about themselves in terms that eliminated their own spirit in favor of blind nature and insensate objects.
I’ll give an example. When scientists explore consciousness and perception, they don’t begin by focusing on their own sentience or even on sentience as such but on the farthest thing from it: light rays, sound waves. Input. Data. Science is then forced to complete the cycle the way it began: consciousness emerges as output, as a mere byproduct of the functioning nervous system that processes the incoming data. Such a manner of thinking, wholly devoid of spirit, makes science materialistic and, in a certain sense, narrow-minded.
To believe in God, we don’t need to reject science. We don’t have to deny that consciousness arises in the brain as the outcome of a physical process. What I do reject is the claim that science is the only way toward enlightenment. In some respects, it even hampers enlightenment.