Barred spiral galaxy NGC1672 [Courtesy NASA] Jesus' crucifixion, exterior of La Sagrada Familia cathedral, Barcelona, Spain [Photo by DHB, (c) 2011]

What do leading scientists and scientific societies say about the "war" between science and religion?

David H. Bailey
1 Jan 2017 (c) 2017

A widely held stereotype of research scientists is that of persons who openly reject any form of religious belief. It is also widely assumed that the fraction of scientists who would be considered agnostic or atheistic has sharply increased in recent decades. There is some truth to these assertions. The percentage of professional scientists who profess a conventional belief in God, or a membership in a religious denomination, is significantly lower than that of the general public. What's more, several scientists have openly criticized religion (see, for example, Atheists).

However, many other scientists do profess religious belief. In a 2014 study, Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund surveyed nearly 1700 natural and social scientists in the U.S. from 2005 through 2008 about their views on religion, spirituality and ethics. She spoke with many of them personally, in their offices and laboratories. She found that nearly 50% of these scientists identify with a religious label. Roughly 18% attended weekly religious services, compared with 20 percent of the general population; 15% consider themselves "very religious," compared with 19% of the population; 13.5% read some religious text weekly, compared with 17% of the population; and 19% pray once or more per day, compared with 26% of the population [Ecklund2010]. In a previous study, Ecklund found that although 30% of the scientists surveyed considered themselves atheists, many of these consider themselves "spiritual atheists," meaning that although they do not subscribe to a traditional Judeo-Christian notion of God, nonetheless they have a deep sense of awe and wonder at the magnificence of the universe and the life on planet earth. Many report a deep craving for "something beyond themselves" [Ruth2014].

Numerous leading scientists have openly acknowledged a belief in God, or, at the least, have declared that they see no need for science and religion to be in conflict. Here are just a few examples:

Many additional examples could be listed. See, for instance, the collection of essays and interviews that were produced from the Science and the Spiritual Quest workshop, which was held in 1997 in Berkeley, California [Richardson2002].

It is also worth nothing that at least one major scientific society has openly declared that science and religion are not in conflict. In its report Science, Evolution and Creationism, the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine declared [NAS2008, pg. 12]:

Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. ... Religious faith, in contrast, ... typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.