A Bad Study on Scientists and Religion

Mike Dobbins is a rather ridiculous anti-atheist writer and the “media relations volunteer for The Freedom From Atheism Foundation.” In an article claiming that 2014 has been a terrible year for atheists, he cites a survey by the AAAS and says that it shows that scientists overwhelmingly are religious.

In February we learned more scientists are religious than atheist, shattering the atheist myth that the study of science leads to atheism. The American Association for the Advancement of Science released preliminary findings of a survey of ‘religious communities and science’ and discovered a mere 25% of scientists consider themselves atheist, agnostic, or non-religious. An astounding 75% of scientists identify with a religious group. This continues an ongoing trend that has more and more religious people realizing science and faith are compatible.

Yeah. Except it doesn’t. The survey was not of scientists but of a far broader group that works with anything that might be science-related. Here’s the groups actually surveyed: Computer and Mathematics; Architecture and Engineering; Life, Physical, and Social Sciences; Medical Doctor (such as physician, surgeon, dentist, veterinarian); Other Health Care Practitioner; Health Technologist; Health Care Support. Architects, doctors, nurses, nurse’s aides, dentists, social scientists? No, not actual scientists.

The AAAS has actually surveyed its own members, who are actual scientists, and found that they are far less likely to be religious than non-scientists. A Pew survey of those members in 2009 found:

A survey of scientists who are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in May and June 2009, finds that members of this group are, on the whole, much less religious than the general public.1 Indeed, the survey shows that scientists are roughly half as likely as the general public to believe in God or a higher power. According to the poll, just over half of scientists (51%) believe in some form of deity or higher power; specifically, 33% of scientists say they believe in God, while 18% believe in a universal spirit or higher power. By contrast, 95% of Americans believe in some form of deity or higher power, according to a survey of the general public conducted by the Pew Research Center in July 2006. Specifically, more than eight-in-ten Americans (83%) say they believe in God and 12% believe in a universal spirit or higher power. Finally, the poll of scientists finds that four-in-ten scientists (41%) say they do not believe in God or a higher power, while the poll of the public finds that only 4% of Americans share this view.

In the elite National Academy of Sciences, the rates of disbelief are far higher. That doesn’t mean atheism is true or that theism is false, of course. But let’s at least get the facts straight.

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  • Glenn E Ross

    I guess it’s a positive that there is an organization The Freedom from Atheist Foundation. We must becoming a real threat.

  • D. C. Sessions

    But let’s at least get the facts straight.

    Sneaky, Ed. Trying to control the debate by controlling the terms — the so-called “facts” have a well-known sceptical bias.

  • corwyn

    In February we learned more scientists are religious than atheist, shattering the atheist myth that the study of science leads to atheism. …a survey of ‘religious communities and science’ and discovered a mere 25% of scientists consider themselves atheist, agnostic, or non-religious. An astounding 75% of scientists identify with a religious group.

    And since that atheism rate is higher than the general population, their own statistics confirm the myth.

  • raven

    Mike Dobbins is a rather ridiculous anti-atheist writer…

    Mike Dobbins is an atheist hater and a serial liar. He however, isn’t a very good liar and it can be amusing for whole minutes deconstructing them. Like this thread.

  • Georgia Sam

    In my experience, devoutly religious people (and I know a lot of them) don’t know what science is or what scientists do.

  • raven

    According to the poll, just over half of scientists (51%) believe in some form of deity or higher power; specifically, 33% of scientists say they believe in God, while 18% believe in a universal spirit or higher power….

    Pretty much demolishes the common claim of the fundie xian science haters that:

    Science = Atheism or Evolution = Atheism.

    Not that the facts ever stops them from making those claims over and over.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Mike Dobbins is an atheist hater and a serial liar.

    Have he and anti-rationalist crankcase Anthony McCarthy found each other yet?

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    No, not actual scientists.

    It does seem inclusive of scientists, as “Life, Physical, and Social Sciences” would seem to include all biologists, physicists, chemists, etc. within the survey population. Of course their numbers are diluted by non-scientists, and even still, the proportion of atheism is much higher than that among the general population, so the basic point remains.

  • colnago80

    Re Raging Bee @ #7

    Hey, at least McCarthy hasn’t shown up here. His shtick seems to be bad mouthing folks like Charles Darwin, James Randi, Martin Gardner, Carl Sagan, etc., people far more accomplished then himself. He got the heave ho over at Larry Moran’s site last year, where he used to post his ravings. I believe that Jason Rosenhouse also gave him the heave ho a couple of years ago.

  • Childermass

    The Pew study of scientists had 4% Evangelical Protestant. Too bad we don’t data to say more of that 4%. I am sure that they are from the more liberal evangelicals as opposed to the fundamentalists.

    Another interesting thing is that the younger scientists are far more likely to be theistic than older ones. Anyone have demographic breakdowns from similar studies from the past. There are two obvious explanations: 1) Theism is increasing among scientists or 2) it takes time for scientists to reject the religion that they were born into.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    I think the god-botherers need to get this straight once and for all:

    1. Science can’t be trusted because scientists are atheists.

    2. Atheism can’t be trusted because scientists are religious.

    Pick one.

  • abb3w

    And even the AAAS study shows that those in the broader science-related fields are disproportionately likely to be atheists, or to view science and religion as in conflict with themselves on the side of science, and disproprortionately unlikely to be very religious, pray regularly, have a strong belief in God, or consult a religious text about scientific questions.

    One interesting thing in this study — it did not use the Gallup three-way split on evolution, but used one more akin to that of the 2002 Plain Dealer poll from Ohio, distinguishing Young-earth creation, Old-earth creation, Intelligent design, theistic evolution (distinguishing further as guided or initiated), and atheistic evolution. However, they appear to have a massive fraction as unspecified form of other/refused/NA — the percentages don’t come anywhere near 100% for that.

  • dugglebogey

    Is that really an atheist a myth? Atheists don’t really care whether studying science leads to atheism. They just want people to study science. I think that’s a religious person’s myth that’s perpetuated to try to keep people from studying science.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    There are two obvious explanations: 1) Theism is increasing among scientists or 2) it takes time for scientists to reject the religion that they were born into.

    Neither explanation seems all that likely. People in general tend to become more religious as they get older, and young people today are the least religious of any group.

    My best guess is that there are larger numbers of young people (including women) entering the sciences compared to older generations, which means they are more representative of the populace at large.

  • Michael Heath

    Area Man writes:

    I think the god-botherers need to get this straight once and for all:

    1. Science can’t be trusted because scientists are atheists.

    2. Atheism can’t be trusted because scientists are religious.

    Pick one.

    This new argument Ed reports here, that scientists are mostly religious, seems related to the old meme that there are lots of scientists who are creationists. And now we have a new meme, that there are lots of climate scientists who don’t “believe” in global warming.

  • raven

    2) it takes time for scientists to reject the religion that they were born into.

    That can happen.

    It took me 45 years, some death threats, and colliding with the creationists to shake me out of xianity. The fundies create more atheists in a day than PZ Myers and Dawkins do in a year.

  • procrastinator will get an avatar real soon now

    Raven,

    Could you provide some context for “some death threats,” from when you were a xian?

    Xianity was a none issue/interest for me from the time I was 16 until the creationists started messing with text books. Then it was time to assert my atheism.

  • raven

    Could you provide some context for

  • raven

    Could you provide some context for “some death threats,” from when you were a xian?

    It’s simple. A lot of scientists get them. Death threats are one of the fundie’s favorite hobbies. You must have just got your first internet account to not have seen that.

    One a good day, PZ Myers has gotten up to 100 death threats. In one day.

    1. UnPoeteMoudit wants to burn atheists alive at the stake.

    Pharyngula:

    193. UnPoeteMaudit .

    16 March 2014 at 8:02 am (UTC -5)

    Quote:

    ——————————————————————————–

    (PZ sarcastically: Hey, it was OK to set people on fire in 1600!

    ——————————————————————————–

    I’ll always get a little chuckle out of the sight of ‘atheists’ claiming normative status for their ethical values and treating their moral pronouncements as propositions of fact having determinable truth values. But let us just ignore the last two centuries of philosophical discourse, just as we do the last hundred years of historical research, and stick with the picture of the world painted by the Enlightened Truth of 18th century Anglo-French philosophastry and the rhetoric of the French Revolution.

    Yes, it was moral to burn heretics, as it would be moral to haul your own living carcass to the stake. I’d gladly set the fires myself.

    2. It’s no secret what drives these death threats. Fundie xianity is based on pure, raw hate. That is all it is and all they have.

  • magistramarla

    I was not surprised that the skewed survey included “other health care practitioners” as scientists.

    I’ve encountered many nurses, curses aids, lab techs, etch. Who are obnoxious with the religious crap.

    I smile and nod to avoid a scene when I would like to tell the lab tech to just take my blood and stop with the “God will guide the doctor in healing you” crap. Nurses are some of the worst. They seem to know how to catch you at your most vulnerable (in pain, wearing nothing but a sheet, etc. ) when they offer to pray for you or something along those lines.

    I would certainly not consider someone who has been trained how to draw blood or take vitals to be a scientist.

  • raven

    Could you provide some context for “some death threats,” from when you were a xian?

    Xian terrorism has been a problem in the USA for decades. There have been two xian terrorist attacks near my house in the last few years.

    They don’t just threaten to kill people. They sometimes kill them. Eight MDs have been assassinated in the last few decades, with around 200 people injured in various attacks. One woman MD was stabbed 17 times and survived because it was right outside a clinic.

    The fundies are violent and beatings, vandalism, firings, attacks and occasional murder are common. Most of my friends are Pagans. They all keep a low profile. Because they don’t want to be attacked by wild eyed, hate filled…xians. It happens a lot.

    Procrastinator person, toxic religion in general and fundie xians in particular are the whole reason Freethoughtblogs exists and largely what their subject is. If you want to know more, read FTB’s.