Are You There God? It’s Us, Scientists (RJS)

The staff at BioLogos has but together a couple of infographics illustrating the various positions taken on science, the Christian faith and evolution. You can find more information about the graphic and the data that went into the graphic here. The original posts at BioLogos encourage people to share the graphics with anyone and everyone, but ask for a link back to site to acknowledge the source of the graphic.

One of the infographics is focused on scientists and the positions taken by scientists (click for a higher resolution view, and an even higher resolution version is available at BioLogos):

Is there anything here you find surprising?

The difference between the views of scientists and the views of the general public is not surprising. There is something of a self-selection at play. The distinction between mainline and evangelical may be somewhat distorted, however. The classification depends on the definitions used. Often devout, relatively conservative Christians will not be classified as evangelical because of a nuanced view of the authority of scripture, and this nuance is not captured well by most surveys. Others will object to classification as evangelical because of the stereotype this label carries.  I consider myself evangelical, but I have filled out a number of these surveys (including the one summarized by Elaine Ecklund in her book Science vs Religion: What Scientists Really Think) and I expect that my answers to some of the questions would have kept me from being classified as evangelical. This doesn’t change much in the trends in the graphic other than, perhaps, moving a few percent from mainline to evangelical.

The small percentage of evangelicals and mainline protestants among scientists is something of a concern, but it is encouraging that the percentage of scientists who believe in God shows a reverse trend with age. More younger scientists find science and faith compatible, and in fact identify as having a belief in God. I expect this reflects a change in American culture and the openness of the church to the compatibility of science with the Christian faith. This is a trend that may bode well for the future.

A snapshot version of the views of Americans in general is available in this graphic (see the original here):

The trends with education level and political view are rather striking. I expect that the trend with education level reflects the influence of education on the understanding that people have of the issues involved in the discussion of creation and evolution. In contrast the correlation with political party probably reflects a secondary correlation. I expect that higher education does cause one to be more accepting of evolution, while being a Republican does not cause one to doubt evolution.

Does anything strike you as surprising or unexpected?

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  • Rick

    I was surprised by the “by Field” stats. I heard a debate involving Hugh Ross recently and he indicated that astronomers had higher rates of belief than biologists. If I am reading these stats correctly, he was wrong.

  • Cal

    The problem with these surveys is the sweeping categorization and the being able to tell a Christian apart from a Theist or christianized Pagan.

    What defines a ‘Mainline Protestant’ vs. ‘Evangelical’? Some folks don’t like either terms. The former implies liberalism for some and the latter implies anti-intellectualism to others.

    Also, these identities don’t bring up serious theological problems. There are Mainline Protestants who love Christ Jesus and read the Scriptures as authoritative and there are others who think its a rather quaint book with moral lessons and that Jesus was a good teacher. There are Evangelicals who live out the Gospel and serve Christ as Lord and others who are semi-pelagians who are obsessed with culture war.

    There are even Catholics who remain such but are completely at odds with the teaching of the Magisterium and they get broadbrushed in with those who sleep with a copy of the latest papal encyclical under their pillow (I jest).

    Point is: I have no idea about anything by the end of this survey.

  • RJS


    I agree with your criticism and questions to an extent – but I do think we learn something from these surveys. The observation that 65% of Americans consider themselves Catholic or Protestant (mainline or evangelical) while only 30% of scientists claim the same is significant even without numbers separating cultural Christians from committed Christians. So is the observation that 4% of Americans consider themselves atheist or agnostic, but 28% of scientists choose one of these categories.

    These broad brush strokes give a cultural overview – not all the details. There are things to criticize (i.e. think critically about) and take-home messages.

  • Bev Mitchell

    This was neither surprising nor unexpected, but near the top of the poster appears

    “But that doesn’t mean that scientists aren’t religious.”

     I understand the jargon and perhaps the audience, but there are much better choices of words. Strictly speaking, the last thing we need are “religious” scientists – just imagine it! Scientists who are followers of Jesus Christ, let’s pray for thousands and thousands! Jesus did not encourage more religiosity, but less. We won’t go into what he said about religiosity, but if he were to write some of that stuff on this blog, he would be asked to tone it down (sorry, wandered into a totally different topic).

    Does this kind of thing bug others as much as it does me? Our choice of words and manner of speech does teach others – and BioLogos is full of teachers of science. They do great work, but are we just hoping that scientists will become more religious?

    This may also reveal another potential for confusion. As far as I know, BioLogos is an explicitly Christian site. Yet, using words such as religious and scientist in the same context will bring a much broader group to mind for millions. Last time I checked, lots of scientists were Jewish and Muslim (to mention only two) and many of them are quite religious.

    Unless I’m missing something, some partially hidden parochial assumptions underlie these well intentioned charts. Maybe a broader range of editors is in order.

    Reminds me of a very orthodox Jewish friend and his wife from Tel Aviv who came to spend a year in my lab many moons ago. By their first Friday afternoon, we were able to get them into an apartment close enough to the orthodox synagogue. On Saturday evening we visited them. Jacov rushed out of their apartment with a big smile exclaiming “Bef, the rabbi is religious! “

  • Cal


    That’s just it! This is a cultural display and not a spiritual display.

    That is to say, take two groups: a community out in the sticks and a scientist guild. If one was an agnostic in the former, he would have to be mighty bold to say so openly. Most likely because there is a revivalist, baptist/pentacostal cultural milieu that plays a part in defining these people. The same applies to a devout Hinduist in the Scientific guild. He would be bold to be so openly.

    Both would use pejoratives to shame the outsider. So what ends up happening is either being closeted or by using the ‘in-language’ to redefine some topics. When the agnostic speaks his language may be deprivation of using ‘god-lingo’ or he may always speak in terms of unknown ( i.e. “god works in mysterious ways”). OTOH, the Hindu may talk about his gods as forces in the universe, physical and moral .

    The problem is that many who wear the label “Christian” are not really Christian but only so because of cultural pressure. Scientific community is like a de-pressurized zone where they will not be outcast if they never really believed much of it anyway. The reverse is that sometimes it is a pressure which may closet people. That’s what this survey does show.

    Now, if you believe Christ’s Kingdom is a cultural endeavor, that there can be “Christian nations” then this may be helpful at analysis. But to me who could really careless how many in the local town confess Christ when it has become a cultural function, this does nothing but confirm the idea that social pressure put the name ‘Christian’ on many.

    Like Bev said, it doesn’t really matter how religious a scientist is. I care if he/she confesses Christ as Lord, which is impossible to measure through a survey.

  • Is this supposed to be an indictment of the Evangelical Church’s anti-science character?

    Or could it also be an indictment of the science world’s complete acceptance of Enlightenment thinking?

  • RJS


    I don’t think it is supposed to be an indictment of anything – just informational.

  • RJS


    The problem is that many who wear the label “Christian” are not really Christian but only so because of cultural pressure. Scientific community is like a de-pressurized zone where they will not be outcast if they never really believed much of it anyway. The reverse is that sometimes it is a pressure which may closet people. That’s what this survey does show.

    Nice observation – I think this may be true of the secular University in general. It becomes a de-pressurized zone where people are not outcast for expressing doubt about things they never really believed anyway. It moves the other direction though – where people are outcast on occasion if they really believe. There is a pressure that can closet people in many different ways.

    Some things in “traditional” Christianity need to be rethought and revised (Like young earth, Adam, what it means to be in the image of God, what is the essence of sin, the theology of scripture …). Other things need to be defended against the skeptics (like the existence of God, divine creation, the mission of God, …). I think one of the biggest problems with this dynamic is how groups become defined by fences that prevent important dialogue. I also think that the general culture is going to undergo a sea change in the near future to match the kinds of numbers we see in the “scientists” column. I hope I am wrong here.

  • RJS, you’re right, we can not determine what the intent of this information is.

    I’m just wondering whether this could/should be used to indict one over the other. Perhaps some will use this to show how ‘backwards’ and unscientific thinking among some Christians leads to cutting off the scientific community from faith. Maybe there is something to that.

    But perhaps this information shows a closing of the mind on the other side. I have experienced this in my own small way. I am in very, very close relationship with a gifted evolutionary biologist. In his thinking, there isn’t even a category for God. That is sad.

    Aquinas said that God wrote two books. Perhaps it is both ‘the Religious’ and ‘the Scientific’ who, in general, have difficulty reading both.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Steve (9)
    You suggest,

    “Perhaps it is both ‘the Religious’ and ‘the Scientific’ who, in general, have difficulty reading both (parts of God’s revelation).”

    I think you hit the nail on the head here. Many people, in both of these camps, are very certain of their respective positions – to put it mildly. A corollary of this certainty is to be very poor at understanding the other side – they tend to not even consider where the “other” might be coming from.

    This problem of certainty is extremely corrosive and Christians, at least, have some excellent scriptural reasons to steer well clear of certainty thinking. If, as Christians, we are inclined to think our views are incorrigible we should at least remember that whom much is given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:47-48)

  • “Religion” and “religious” as used today are ambiguous human defined terms. A person can be a scientist and religious because he is a good Hindu or she is a good Buddhist. The writings of Jonathan Haidt are being reviewed on this site; listen to one of his TED lectures about the value of “religion.” “Religion” is becoming an academically approved area to openly work in and publish. Because this definition of “religion” is one that evolved as a method of survival among certain early hominids — “the tribes who chant together, stay together” (?) A concept of “god” even becomes okay, because it is a mechanism of altruistic behavior that focuses on something created by humans. A “god” created in human image. Centers for Neurotheological Study on the Correlation of Survival with Humanoid Conceptual Deities (okay, I made that up). But equating “religion” with “Christianity” (i.e., belief in a real Jesus) is nothing more than Christian lab jargon that should not make it past peer-review to be published.

    Christians should be leading the way in using all of the revelation bandwidth God has provided. Revelation comes in patterns of three. [1] Revelation of the nature and love of God through the creative word recorded in scripture and completed in the words and example of Jesus Christ; [2] revelation as the Holy Spirit guides in all truth and testifies of Jesus (John 16:13-14); [3] revelation in the things God has made (through Christ, Col. 1:17) that testify of the divine nature (Rom 1:20). We have them all given to us on a divine silver platter. If God gave Christians three talents to use, how many have been buried? What will the Lord say upon return?

  • JHM

    I think I found the “By church attendance” chart the most interesting.

    I’ve talked to a number of evangelical scientists who feel a bit outcast in their churches and I wonder if that is part of why the theistic evolutionists don’t attend as regularly as the YECs.

  • Bev Mitchell

    My good buddy theophilus. 10-4
    Revelation not religion! Hey, it even fits on a bumper sticker.
    Can I go to your church? 🙂

  • Bev

    Sure. If you would agree to be the pulpit minister!

  • Paul D.

    I wonder where BioLogos is getting their stats on scientists from. According to Nature, as of 1998, only 7% of US scientists (National Academy of Science members) believed in a God. 72% were atheists, and 21% agnostics.

  • RJS


    Members of the NAS are a very, very elite group. There is a degree of selection simply in the amount of dedication it takes to be eligible for the NAS.

    Elaine Ecklund’s book also shows that the numbers are somewhat lower than reported here for scientists at elite Universities. I posted on her book a few times. Instead of 4% evangelical as int he graph here it is more like 2%.

    The numbers in this graph come from a more complete survey that includes scientists at all levels through a large range of institutions. They are thus reflective of a broader pool. I don’t know what survey data they used specifically – but I have used data with similar numbers in some of the posts on Ecklund’s book. (You can find the posts through the science and faith archive on the sidebar.)