Scientists and Atheism

I recently watched a video on youtube on BBC. So there was a guy named Laurence krauss. He is an atheist physicist . At some point he stated that “If sience and Christianity were compatible why are the best scientists atheists”. Now this really shocked me. I mean is this true? And if it is does someone have an explanation on why? I have to say that my faith as im a new convert(i converted about 2 years ago)is very shakeable with that kind of stuff. God bless.

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Hey, Nick! I can empathize with you about hearing disturbing things that shake us up. We all like to think of our own team as the “winning” one - i.e. we want our tribe to have more recognized smart people in it than any other tribes have. I think it important to realize that to the extent we base our “faith” on this is to the extent that we have not yet grown into our identity in Christ. Don’t get me wrong here - I’m not questioning your conversion or your status as one loved of Christ. I’m only reminding you that your own journey here will be an ongoing one as it is for all of us. Smart people like Krauss make lots of noise, but it is little more than that when it comes to matters of faith. I’ve not read any of Krauss’ books (at least not within recent memory) but I’ve listened online to what he has to say, and he makes it pretty clear that he doesn’t have anything new to add to the anti-religious screeds of more militant new atheists ever since Hume. Krauss may be a smart physicist. I can’t evaluate there - and am in no position to be able to; but when he turns to religion, it’s pretty clear he has a limited scope and only recognizes a certain narrow view on which he can spend all his powder and shot, shooting it down. I haven’t listened to him recently, and so wouldn’t know if he’s changed at all. But be assured that if he’s stayed “on message”, he’s done little more than provide a valuable service for religion by helping to cull away things that needed to be lost. If he wants to pretend that all of religion is culled away in these sorts of reckonings, then that’s his delusion to own. Take comfort in the fact that, at least on that front, he isn’t as smart as he could have been after all!

Meanwhile, also take comfort that there are also lots of smart people all up and down history and into the present that share with you in the joy of knowing Christ, and also share in the passions of pursuing and exploring truth even if they don’t see their way through into any organized religion. Many of both sorts interact right here! You’re in a good place to process this stuff.

Christians have not done well at promoting science as a vocation to their young people. (BioLogos is trying hard to change that, by the way.)

Krauss would only have a valid point about the incompatibility of science and Christianity if there were no brilliant scientists who are Christian. But that’s not true.

That atheists make up a high proportion of the “best scientists” reflects the statistics that as a group research scientists have a higher percentage of atheists than the rest of the population. Why is that? Certainly a more socially and culturally complex reason than “Christianity and science are incompatible.”

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I agree with what Christy said ^ up there. I’ll just add to it that by any measure Francis Collins is right up there, scientifically, with anyone at a worldwide level. And he’s a nice guy to boot.

I don’t like Krauss at all and I don’t think Christianity is falsified by the fact that smart people are less likely to believe. (It’s falsified in other ways.) But it is likely that Krauss is referring to some interesting data on religious belief among scientists that was first reported more than a century ago and updated about 20 years ago. Some of the take-home messages:

  1. Religious belief is markedly lower among scientists, taken as a single group, than it is among the general population.
  2. Religious belief is much less common among elite scientists, as defined by those elected to the National Academy. (A separate study in the UK found similar differences there, by looking at members of the Royal Society.)
  3. Among elite scientists, there are differences based on field of study; interestingly, biologists (broadly speaking) are less likely to believe in supernatural stuff than are physical scientists.

A nice overview, up to date as of 2009, below.

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Relevance? If we could also show that a higher percentage were misogynists and neglect their children, would that somehow prove that misogyny and child neglect are good things? Good grief! Frankly this rhetoric is just a sign of the rapidly decreasing rationality in the new atheists which just goes hand in hand with their increasing numbers.

I dont think its falsified in other ways. Ive read a lot of answers both to these site and various ones and they were pretty good arguments.

Speaking as an atheist . . .

I don’t support what Krauss is alleged to have said. The sciences are full of christians, and the two are entirely compatible. Krauss should be reminded that one of the earliest champions of the Big Bang theory was a George Lemaitre, a Jesuit priest and well respected astrophysicist.

At the same time, how many potentially great scientists have been scared away from the sciences due to their YEC upbringing? The problem is human traditions that have been forced upon christian theology, such as creationism and anti-intellectualism.

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Don’t worry too much about those so called atheists. Usually these scientists are clever and educated people. And no one with these two qualities is a 100% atheist. To exclude the possibility of a Creator is pure stupidity. They can’t know. So they are 60-70-80-90% atheist, never 100%.

We probably wouldn’t (as self-identified Christians) appreciate people appraising our convictions, our doubts, our lives and then concluding … “well, he’s only 70% Christian because he does x and y and has doubts about z.” It is good to respect the basic dignity of every person to choose for themselves how they self-identify religiously and which convictions they will defend; and to accept that more-or-less at face value, even if we/they are militant jerks about it sometimes.

That said, I’m guilty of this too. And when it comes to empirical appraisals of evidence, numbers are fair game for discussion I think. […and yes, I am forced to grant that people could be so grossly wrong about something so as to be in error about their own self-identification… so there is that. But I think we can typically conclude those such as Krauss, et all, are educated enough on the relevant issues that they would not be mistaken about whether they are atheistic or not according to the common cultural usage of that word.]

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anti-Christian bias ?

Note I did not talk about (any) religion but about the Creator option. Here is my favorite atheist :grinning: Richard Dawkins, he is not a 100% atheist.

Dawkins talks that way but most atheists I know do not. However in my experience the vast majority of us do identify as agnostic as well as atheist. We think it would be more reasonable for more theists to own their agnosticism along side their theism.

My agnosticism merely prevents me from endorsing a positive declaration of God’s non existence. My own hunch remains that He does not exist. A bigger issue for me is fleshing out the mystery of what it may be that “God” refers to. What it turns out to be could play a big role in becoming more assertive in what it is I do believe. Where Christianity is concerned it is really the authority of the Bible to define the word that is at issue. On that I remain unconvinced.

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You are suggesting that skepticism reflects “anti-Christian bias”? Did you notice that the claim is not about Christianity but about religious belief in general?

You are making my point.

Fair enough!

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I’m pleased you think so. Actually there are probably a good number of believers on this forum who I suspect are capable of entertaining the possibility that their belief is mistaken without feeling heretical. I don’t think the fear of God should interfere with ones recognition of their own human limitations. That is definitely my favorite sort of theist. But I wouldn’t be inclined to characterize the strength of their belief as being ‘weaker’ on account of that admission. Would you?

Same goes for my soft atheism. I’m no less certain of my disbelief just because I am unwilling to overstate the justification for it. Personally I tend to trust less the person who oversells their certainty or who holds certainty out as a selling point.

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I wholeheartedly agree with your post.

“Wisdom is knowing how little we know”
– Socrates

Or in my own words, for every answer I get 2 new questions in return.

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And perhaps there is prejudice against Christians, such that they are less likely to stay in, and/or to be promoted within, scientific fields ?

Now this really shocked me. I mean is this true?

No. 65% of Nobel Prize winners have been Christian.

Work by the sociologist Elaine Ecklund at Rice University, published in her Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think (Oxford University Press 2010) found that about 50% of top scientists have a belief in some sort of higher power. I’ll tag @sfmatheson here as well to point out that stats from one or two organizations tend not to be representative. These organizations can easily suffer from in-group bias and selection. Lawrence Krauss is a well known clown and is essentially a less famous version of Richard Dawkins (except his reputation crashed and burned a year ago or so when it turned out that he … err … may have a history of nonconsensual behavior towards women).

Is there evidence for that? And why do you keep singling out Christianity when the data are about religion in general?

I would never deny that people have experienced discrimination based on religion, or on lack of religion. Case by case, we know this happens. What I have never seen is convincing evidence that it occurs on the systematic scale needed to influence the numbers we are discussing. Discrimination against women, on the other hand, has been clearly documented in science, and so we know how to detect it and its effects.

Personally, I don’t see evidence of pervasive discrimination against believers, and I instead suspect that religious belief is less common among scientists because they use cognitive tools that make it harder for religious memes to succeed.

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