You Mean They Don’t Believe in a God…? I’m Shocked

What do 50 of the most renowned academic minds have to say about God?

Dr. Jonathan Pararajasingham put together a film with their responses. It’s over 30 minutes long, so if there are any particular parts you think we should pay special attention to, please leave the timestamp in the comments!

Someone at 3quarksdaily pointed out that the roster includes 47 white guys, 1 Indian guy (Partha Dasgupta), 1 black guy (Neil deGrasse Tyson), and 1 woman (Rebecca Goldstein). (Those numbers are edited from the original comment). That shouldn’t matter since we’re talking about god’s existence and the evidence for/against that… but I wonder if you’d get a wider range of answers if you included more “science minorities.”

(via Open Culture — Thanks to Megan for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Andrew B.

    Nice use of Mozart’s Requiem, by the way.

    • Molly

      The opening to Mozart Requiem is always so perfect for these sorts of things, I think because of the way the initial harmonic/melodic figures, if you’ll pardon the pun, evolve…

  • Michael

    7:22.  Oliver Sacks.  Brilliant and perfect.

  • Francoisvaldy

    Its 48 white guys for a reason minorities tend to not have access to the things that usually breeds atheists I know that from experience as a triple minority (atheist, black, immmigrant) 

    • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

      Thank you. It irritates me when people complain that there aren’t enough minorities and/or women represented in atheism. Doesn’t anybody think that’s because there aren’t that many minority/women atheists to begin with? If you slice a representative section of the whole, you’ll get 96% white men because that’s more or less representative of the entirety. More minorities tend to be religious because they are often raised in environments where they are not privileged enough to be able to let go of religious beliefs — studies have shown that the more financial secure and well-off one is, the more likely they are to abandon religious belief.

      So the next time you see what you think are too many white men being interviewed or talked to regarding atheism, remember that that’s probably because it’s an accurately proportionate representation.

      • Joan

        I certainly hope it is not accurate that 96% of athiests are white men, because that would doom the movement.  The most important demographic to enlist is those who are raising small children and elementary school teachers, both groups which are +/- 96% female.  It is an inefficient process to have women continuing to inculcate religion and superstition in children and then rely on male academics to reason it away 18 years later in the minority who attend college.  It would make much more sense to recruit the women through reason and then let them raise all the children athiest in the first place.  Certainly that’s the only way there’s a chance to pick up the 30% of the population drop out of high school.

        • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

          Oh, I agree that if 96% of atheists are indeed white males, then we’re probably doomed. I just wanted to make the distinction between recruitment and representation. It’s not like there’s some conspiracy to leave out minority and women atheists from conferences and such — it’s just that there aren’t enough of them to comfortably say we have such diversity in our ranks.

          • Joan

            What process are you using to determine the gender split among those athiests who are not ‘prominent’, who are not members of the ‘official’ movement and who don’t attend conferences?

        • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

          Oh, I agree that if 96% of atheists are indeed white males, then we’re probably doomed. I just wanted to make the distinction between recruitment and representation. It’s not like there’s some conspiracy to leave out minority and women atheists from conferences and such — it’s just that there aren’t enough of them to comfortably say we have such diversity in our ranks.

    • GregFromCos

      Is the problem here lack of women Atheists? Or lack of prominent women scientists? There have been 6 female scientists to win a nobel prize in Physics or Chemistry, and only 1 since the 1960′s. Too me it sounds like you have a larger issue with the misogyny within the top ranks of the sciences.

    • http://www.facebook.com/GooBallin Goo Ball

      Agreed. Here’s hoping the Atheist community will stop forcing in other social issues.

  • Anonymous

    13:12 Sir David Attenborough
    True class and an absolute legend.

  • http://billybobsbibleblog.blogspot.com/ billybobbibb

    Leonard Susskind (21:40) characterizes evolution “a bunch of random mutations”, but this has shown not to be the case, as anyone reading Dawkins’ “The Selfish Gene” would realize.  Sound bites like this provide fodder for the ID crowd and I really don’t appreciate it.

  • Anonymous

    8:50   Bertrand Russell.  The best one of the lot.  “There can’t be a practical reason for believing what isn’t true…  Either the thing is true or it isn’t.  If it is true, you should believe it, and if it isn’t true, you shouldn’t.  And if you can’t find out whether it is true or whether it isn’t, you should suspend judgement.”   Unfortunately, I can see that quote being taken out of context in FAVOR of belief in God.  But in context, it’s perfect.

  • Matt.

    ahhh.. so where does Partha Dasgupta fit in? Perhaps we should make it 47 white guys..

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Whoops! I’ll fix that. Thanks :)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BWYTJU2N7NQRFXYX6AE5CR626M Benjamin

    #26 didn’t look to white to me…perhaps Indian.  Just wanted to point that out. So #47 old white guys, 1 Indian ( or whatever) 1 AA & 1 Woman.

  • GregFromCos

    I see that he used the show “Closer to Truth” for lots of the clips. Anyone have any experience with that show? Is it worth checking out?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sanela-Grljevic/1261427452 Sanela Grljevic

    20:31 Sir Harold Kroto – Best commentary reflecting my own views on religion :)

    • http://twitter.com/MegaZeusThor Mega Zeus Thor

      I agree. I really liked what he had to say. 
      Most of them were good, some perhaps just too brief. 

  • Annie

    Too many good ones for me to list, but Partha Dsgupta (15:40) gets my vote for the quickest and most determined “no” when answering is there a god? or do you believe in religion?

  • adam

    I think 4:05 – Alan Guth’s statements regarding identifying the “why” questions inherent in defining the laws of physics, and his inability to apply our mere instrument called science – was telling. What no one approached throughout was the question of paradox. To use the terms “infinite” and “regress” focused on by Guth, I would present this analogy: infinite is to regress as creation is to destruction. In a multi-dimensional universe in which the most unlikely occurrences are scientifically probable, how can these great minds so confidently state that an omission is more likely than an occurrence?
    At 22:33, Quentin Skinner’s comments were interesting.  Science is a fantastic instrument, but would have a greater impact (especially in speculative academic thought) if it took the merits of theology more seriously. I can understand being an atheist, but I am baffled by the approach that Skinner himself chooses. Religion has undoubtedly changed the world, whether its advancing science, committing horrible war crimes, or helping a child forgive their parent. The effect is tangible evidence that religion, at least in some way, shapes the world that scientists study. 

    As the under representation of minorities points out (see also Francoisvaldy’s comment), it is more often sociological, cultural, and psychological factors that shape the world and what we think, NOT the “empirical evidence” that only spawns more and more questions. 

    Talk about infinite regressions…

  • http://twitter.com/Toxicpath Somite

    There is really something truly wrong with you if you watch that video and only care about the racial and gender makeup of the speakers.

    • Anonymous

      indeed.

    • Surgoshan

      The quality of their statements should be judged on their merits.  The fact that 94% of them were white men should also be judged.

      No one suggested that we should *only* care about the race and gender of the speakers.  We should care about that as well

    • Surgoshan

      The quality of their statements should be judged on their merits.  The fact that 94% of them were white men should also be judged.

      No one suggested that we should *only* care about the race and gender of the speakers.  We should care about that as well

      • http://twitter.com/Toxicpath Somite

        Yes but to even bring it up is ludicrous and a distraction.  It is true that it reflects socioeconomic problems that should be improved but those problems are irrelevant to this discussion.

        Actually, they are very relevant. Eradicating religion would take care of most of the obstacles that minorities face and it would result in a more diverse academic environment.

        • Surgoshan

          It’s far more than that.  Either the individual who made the video couldn’t find non-white non-male speakers or didn’t try.

          If the first, is that because there aren’t any?  Is that because they don’t exist or because they’re not recorded?  In either case, why?

          If the second, is that because s/he actively avoided them or because it didn’t come up?

          These are all non-trivial issues that need to be addressed.  The fact that educated people tend not to believe in god is, to me, trivially obvious and has been the case for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  The other questions are the interesting ones which need to be addressed.

          • Silent Bob

            The “individual who made the video” is, as Hemant stated, one Dr Pararajasingham.

            For some reason I find it highly unlikely that he has a prejudice against non-white academics.

        • Joan

          Eradicating religion among men would be likely to perpetuate and exaggerate the present reality, which is that religion is a ‘women and children’s thing’ whereby men outsource moral standards to the women in their life and then blame their bad behavior on the women for failing to “make them” behave well.

          In addition, it will not “take care of the most of the obstacles that minorities face” if the athiest movement continues to assume “we” are 97% white males,  and sees women, who comprise slightly more than half the population, as a “minority” whose concerns are irrelevant.  When an athiest asserts this it makes it pretty clear that women’s problems consequent to society being sexist are not rooted exclusively in religion.

        • Joan

          Eradicating religion among men would be likely to perpetuate and exaggerate the present reality, which is that religion is a ‘women and children’s thing’ whereby men outsource moral standards to the women in their life and then blame their bad behavior on the women for failing to “make them” behave well.

          In addition, it will not “take care of the most of the obstacles that minorities face” if the athiest movement continues to assume “we” are 97% white males,  and sees women, who comprise slightly more than half the population, as a “minority” whose concerns are irrelevant.  When an athiest asserts this it makes it pretty clear that women’s problems consequent to society being sexist are not rooted exclusively in religion.

        • Joan

          Eradicating religion among men would be likely to perpetuate and exaggerate the present reality, which is that religion is a ‘women and children’s thing’ whereby men outsource moral standards to the women in their life and then blame their bad behavior on the women for failing to “make them” behave well.

          In addition, it will not “take care of the most of the obstacles that minorities face” if the athiest movement continues to assume “we” are 97% white males,  and sees women, who comprise slightly more than half the population, as a “minority” whose concerns are irrelevant.  When an athiest asserts this it makes it pretty clear that women’s problems consequent to society being sexist are not rooted exclusively in religion.

    • The Pint

      Caring about what the speakers have to say doesn’t mean you can’t be concerned that 94% of them are white men, nor does it mean that we give their words any less consideration.

      However, if this is supposed to be an accurate sampling of the overall academic world, there’s a serious problem when only have 1 white woman and 2 non-white men in the mix. What was the criteria for deciding who was in the “Top 50 most renowned academics” list? I have a hard time believing that Tyson and Dasgupta are the only non-white male academics and Goldstein the only female academic who would have anything worth saying on the topic.

      • GentleGiant

        I don’t know where you get “Top 50 most renowned academics” from, the video contains 50 renowned academics, nothing in there about the “Top 50″ of anything.
        Also, seeing that this montage is taken from various clips, maybe it’s a matter of there not existing footage of other renowned academics (of the non-white or female kind) being asked these kind of questions?

    • american mutt

      At what point is a person allowed to care about the demographics of scientists? Never? Should it never be brought up?

  • http://twitter.com/MegaZeusThor Mega Zeus Thor

    About halfway through. Really enjoying it. Good post. Thanks to the YouTube editor and all of the interviewers, and others involved getting these answers on tape over the years.

  • Hitch

    Nobel prices are very male heavy, and especially in the sciences women and minorities are underrepresented. It’s a problem. Mary Curie was agnostic.

  • Helen

    Even though it is mostly old, white, nerdy dudes—I feel as if I am in very good company. 

  • michelle

    20:32 Sir Harold Kroto – “It’s not that I don’t need some mystical thing, it’s that I don’t accept it.  I think people who do accept it – they have a tremendous  Achilles’ heel in the sense that they accept anything, any old story from anywhere a thousand years old for which there’s no evidence.  These people bother me because they’re in positions of power and responsibility and when people are willing to accept one of twenty or thirty stories from thousands of year ago, I wonder what else they are prepared to accept when it comes to decisions that affect me.” 

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    There were a couple of themes that resonated with me. 

    One is that just because we would like certain things to be true, doesn’t make them true.  See #29 John Searle at 17:17.

    Another is being comfortable with the unknown… that its OK not to have answers to everything.  See #47 Rudolph Marcus at 31:05

  • Anonymous

    An awful lot of english dudes too. I’d like to see a video like this compiled from interviews with atheist car mechanics from the American midwest.

    • Joan

      I really liked the video, was very pleased to see interviews with people I already admired for other reasons, but agree, not representative of the ‘average athiest’, if there is any such person.

  • paulalovescats

    So most scientists are men. Get over it. There are differences between the brains of the 2 sexes. I won’t say genders.


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