July 10, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

The myth of scientists as atheists

scientists as atheists myth
Today we’re talking about the scientists as atheists myth.

I confess.I am a scientist and I am not an atheist.

Uh oh!

Am I asking to be burned at the stake….er, over the lab Bunsen burner?

Why is there such a persistent myth that scientists must be atheists?

Or is it that good scientists must be atheists?

And by good, I don’t mean top performers with stellar careers.

Rather, I mean, well-behaved scientists.

Someone once told me that trying to get a group of scientists to all do one thing is like herding cats.

I’d say trying to get scientists to think or believe one thing such as a religious or spiritual believe is like herding cats who are chasing mice.

We can’t shoehorn scientists all into an atheistic box.

In fact, I believe that the notion that almost all scientists are atheists is a myth. A recent Pew poll agrees with my view: 51% of polled American scientists believing in some kind of deity. While that rate is far lower than the general public in the US, it is still a majority.

I should disclose that I am not highly or even moderately religious person. It is most accurate to call me an agnostic, but I’m not a full-blown atheist.

According to Wikipedia, a number of prominent scientists of yore were also not atheists including Albert Einstein:

Albert Einstein‘s religious views have been studied extensively. He said he believed in the “pantheistic” God of Baruch Spinoza, but not in a personal god, a belief he criticized. He also called himself an agnostic, while disassociating himself from the label atheist, preferring, he said, “an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”[1]

And I know many living scientists who are not atheists.

I don’t see the problem with scientists believing in something for which they lack scientific proof such as a deity. I also have no issue with scientists who are atheists, but I do find it disturbing how some atheistic scientists in effect proselytize atheism or make fun of believers.

As I said, I’m an agnostic right now. I don’t believe humans are necessarily smart enough to know everything and I see no compelling reason to rule out the existence of a deity.

So can religion and science mix or at least not explode?

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