UK scientists are ‘significantly less religious’ than Brits in general

UK scientists are ‘significantly less religious’ than Brits in general December 22, 2018
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Elaine Howard Ecklund, above, lead author of a new study into the religious beliefs of British scientists, says they are significantly less religious than the UK’s general population.

In addition, the study – The Religiosity of Academic Scientists in the United Kingdom: Assessing the Role of Discipline and Department Status – shows that scientists at elite universities are more likely to never attend religious services than those at less prestigious insitutions.

The study also indicates biologists are more likely never to attend religious services than physicists.

The study utilises data collected in a survey of biologists and physicists employed at elite and non-elite departments, as past research has suggested the distinction could be relevant in understanding differences in religiosity.

The researchers were interested in how UK scientists, particularly those who work at elite institutions, compared to the general population with regard to religious beliefs.

They found that while only 18 percent of people in the UK said they do not believe in God, 45 percent of British scientists responded the same way.

The 18 percent statistic is puzzling, for it was reported in 2017 by the Mail – under the headline “Britain loses its religion: Number of people who describe themselves as atheists is at its highest EVER level” – that:

In 2016, seven in ten (71 per cent) of young people aged 18-24 said they had no religion, up from 62 per cent in 2015.

There has been a decline in religious affiliation among all age groups between 2015 and 2016, but among the oldest people, those with no religion are in the minority.

Four in 10 people aged 65-74 say they have no religion and this drops to 27 per cent of those aged 75 and over.

But the Bishop of Liverpool said: “No religion is not the same as atheism.”

But back to the US study.

In addition, the researchers discovered that scientists in elite departments (a categorisation based on the number of publications per department, published department rankings and insider knowledge) are about twice as likely to never attend religious services than scientists in non-elite departments.

Ecklund, the Herbert S Autrey Chair in Social Sciences, Professor of Sociology, and Director of Rice’s Religion and Public Life Program, observes that that elite scientists may represent the leading edge of the secularising effects of science.

Individuals who are at the most elite institutions may disproportionately feel the cultural pressure to secularise. So, if those methods and mindset are inherently in conflict with religion, then these successful scientists would experience the greatest erosion of religious faith.

Ecklund noted that such findings could also be a product of social forces rather than intellectual ones.

This distinction could have an impact on how the public views scientists, in a national context where some minority groups are bringing challenges to teaching evolutionary theory, for example.

Elite scientists might express less religiosity because they assume that, as elite scientists, they are supposed to be or need to be less religious to fit a professional ideal. Because they might already be on the fringes of that professional ideal in the first place, non-elite scientists may feel less social and cultural pressure to further conform to it.

Study co-author Christopher P Scheitle of West Virginia University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology said this might also help explain why UK biologists are more than 2½ times more likely to never attend religious services than British physicists.

Said Jared Peifer, an assistant professor in the Department of Management at Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business, suggested:

It is possible that UK biologists might be concerned that being seen as a more active participant in religion would violate some professional norm.

Ecklund added:

This norm might result from the history of public conflict surrounding issues like evolution and human embryonic stem cell research, which are most clearly connected to the biological sciences.

The researchers hope their work will help foster a better understanding of the social dynamics between religion and science beyond the traditional focus on the US.

The study was funded by a grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation.

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  • Cozmo the Magician

    Must be nice to live somewhere that you are not looked down on for not kissing jesus’ ass.

  • Jim Jones

    Not just scientists.

    Church of England staring at oblivion as just 2% of young Britons say they identify with it

    UK’s national religion facing ‘unrelenting decline’, research finds

    CofE affiliation has fallen to just 2 per cent among adults aged 18 to 24, while the majority of every age group now has no religion, the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey found.

    The number of Britons who describe themselves as part of the church has more than halved since 2002, from 31 per cent to 14 per cent. The number who actually attend sermons is far lower.

    The sharpest drop was among 45- to 54-year-olds, only 11 per cent of whom identify with the CofE compared to 35 per cent in 2002.

    The strongest affiliation with the church was among over-60s, but even there a minority of 30 per cent say they belong to the denomination.

  • Mark

    Trust me, it is. I can think of virtually no one I’ve known even vaguely well who is religious or who mentions religion at all except as a topic of discussion. Certainly nobody at all who practices the intrusive religiosity I encountered living in the states 30 years ago, which my entire family found extremely unnerving. In the UK and in my experience in Western Europe in general, religion is seen as a private thing and rarely discussed publicly; professing your “love for Jesus” or whatever is likely to go down like a lead brick in a greenhouse and your companions suddenly discovering urgent appointments elsewhere.

    If anything, it’s the religious who tend to get looked down on, or at least so they keep claiming when they are prosecuted for refusing to offer services to LGBT people or banned from harassing women outside abortion clinics.

    Alistair Cambell once famously said of Tony Blair’s labour government, “we don’t do god”. Notwithstanding his boss’s occasional, nauseating proclamations of religious angst, he pretty much summed up the UK as a whole.

  • Phil Rimmer

    Templeton shit. Trying to rescue some semblance of godly goodness with the still un-evidenced hypothesis that social pressure on scientists rather than living fact based lives drove them to their godlessness.

    In earlier news we learned that godlessness in scientists rather more clearly reflected a knowledge of how minds actually work. The most godless appear to progress like this…Psychiatrists, Psychologists, biologists, earth scientists, physicists, mathematicians….from those knowing what it takes to create a mind and have it fail to those dazzled by the clockwork.

    One gets the impression that this is research clever enough to ask only the “necessary” questions. They did not set out, as scientists should, to break hypotheses.

  • Kanawah

    The UK is abandoning fairy tales for reality.
    I just wish that America would do the same.

  • Jim Jones

    The divisions in society are too great. Guilt leads to hatred.

  • Mark

    It does smack of them starting out with a desired conclusion, then bending the facts and questions to fit. Better they’d turned their attention to US universities and asked a few probing questions as to why those who work closely with the latest evidence of how the universe or human mind works still feel obligated to loudly profess their religious beliefs.

  • Brian Shanahan

    Crooked survey is crooked. For a country where it is known that the largest religious position is “none” at about 40% of the population, getting an 82% response rate for “I believe in god” is suspicious and a strong indicator that the numbers have been cooked. And the reported numbers of scientists who “believe in god” is way out of kilter with proper polls too.

    But then again as you say it’s templeton shit. The authors of this propgand piece already had stuff like:

    Elite scientists might express less religiosity because they assume that, as elite scientists, they are supposed to be or need to be less religious to fit a professional ideal. Because they might already be on the fringes of that professional ideal in the first place, non-elite scientists may feel less social and cultural pressure to further conform to it

    as their conclusion even before starting, and worked their whole job around that conclusion. It’s like the Parnia nde “study” all over again.