Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Devil is in the Questions: NCSE on whether scientists reject God

Here.  Now, Eugenie Scott and  the NCSE aren't exactly a neutral organization on this. They are implacable foes of intelligent design, but they are criticized by New Atheists as working too hard to get the support of the religious community for Darwinian evolutionary biology.

Nevertheless I do find this interesting.


Unknown said...

I have always suspected that insertion of clauses like 'personal' God and 'answers prayers' are intentionally dishonest wordings of the question used in order to make the rate of atheism among scientists seem higher than it actually is. Either that or many of these polls are designed by genuinely stupid people who don't realise that you can believe in God without believing he takes an interest in human affairs.

Matt DeStefano said...

I appreciate the author's assessment of Leuda's questions as ambiguous (it's hard not to be ambiguous with the vast amount of theology concerning God's nature), but I find it odd that she does not extend the same criticism to the Gallup questions. Here is the question, as she records it, from Gallup:

Man evolved over millions of years from less developed forms of life, but God guided the process, including the creation of Man

The definition of "God" is ambiguous, especially to those who aren't acquainted with philosophical theology and contemporary definitions. It seems to me that many people could take it to simply mean a vague "higher power" without any identifiable characteristics. (i.e. those that contend that Nature is God, etc.)

"Guided the process" is similarly vague. Would the deist conception of a God count as guiding the process? It seems that if God set up the initial constants and let it roll, it could be justified in claiming that God guided evolution. If that doesn't count, what does? Does God have to manipulate individual adaptations, or just the ones that directly contributed to the lineage of human beings?

It seems to me that the criticism cuts across both polls, and will probably be relevant to any poll which questions one's beliefs about God.

abcde234324 said...

Recently thought about this subject again myself because it came up in The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society By Brad S. Gregory (see pgs. 26-27, and mainly the note #2 on pg. 397). Francis Beckwith recommended the book on Facebook so I'm reading through it.

Anyway, Gregory references some more studies (giving credit to Christian Smith for their attention): Gross and Simmons, "The Religiosity of American College and University Professors" in Sociology of Religion 70:2 (2009): 101-129; Ecklund and Scheitle, "Religion among Academic Scientists, Distinctions, Disciplines, and Demographics" in Social Problems 54:2 (2007): 289-307

He writes that Gross and Simmons found 51.5 percent of American professors across 20 disciplines in institutions of higher education from community colleges to elite universities believe in God--a percentage much lower than in the American population at large--this percentage was much lower among research scholars, a finding consistent with a study by Eckland and Scheitle of the religious beliefs and practices of natural and social scientists at 20 leading American research universities...Ecklund, in her more recent book based on more than 1600 surveys and 275 interviews with natural and social scientists at 21 elite American research universities, noted that "about 36 percent of scientists have some form of a belief in God." Euklund, Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think pg. 35.

So, I haven't looked the the data myself because I don't Eukland's book myself, but that seems to correlate with Leuba's own study among "elite" scientists.

Also, if anyone has it, Rodney Stark wrote extensively on scientists and religion, and professors in general and religion, in his book For the Glory of God. I don't have the book here anymore...I can't remember exactly his commentary on Leuba. What I do remember is his support for the Larson and Witham statistics in general...again, can't remember any commentary on "elite" scientists. I do know Stark cited studies showing social science professors in psychology (the lowest percentage of all)/sociology/anthropology profs had lower % numbers for belief in God vs the hard sciences and also claimed longitudinal studies showed that these percentages were not changed at all by the actual course of study for these professors--in short, more agnostic/atheistic students were becoming agnostic/atheistic professors in the soft sciences and their views remained the same, and the same for the theistic professors (to put it the converse way, theistic students who became professors in the soft sciences weren't losing their theistic beliefs, but a lower percentage of theistic students were choosing the soft sciences in the first place).