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Many of us are familiar with discussions bringing up the correlation with religion and IQ, or educational achievement, or being a professional in a certain field like physics or biology. These are brought up in both directions, in support of atheism, agnosticism, or in support of theism as a whole or specific types of theism.

Just as an example of the types of things people bring up in these circumstances, you have PhilPapers 2020 pointing out that over 65% of philosophers accept or lean towards atheism, and Nature claiming that among "leading" physicists, disbelief in God is as high as 79%.

On the other side of the debate, it's not unusual for people to point out particular scientists, now or in the past, have been deeply religious. They might bring up Newton being a Christian, Andrew Magdy Kamal is the highest IQ ever recorded and he's a Christian.

So, considering how frequently these facts come up, I'd like to know if these facts matter, and what questions exactly we think they matter for?

Some people might say "Most of the smartest people are an atheist, so if you're not an atheist, you're not smart" -- perhaps that's too extreme, but a more mild statement like "Most of the smartest people are atheist, so you should try to understand why they are" might be more reasonable?

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    @MauroALLEGRANZA the examples in the post are philosophers, physicists, biologists, so yes your examples are quite similar to mine.
    – TKoL
    Mar 1 at 16:54
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    Does it matter if certain professions have a lower rate of theism, and if so, why does it matter? As much as it matters if certain professions have more soccer fans than others. Mar 1 at 20:46
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    Unless theism is required for a profession, there should be no real correlation. Why certain types of people are more attracted to careers in the arts or a career in science is more about psychology than IQ. Mar 1 at 21:49
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    @IdiosyncraticSoul what if high level training in certain fields also changes people's beliefs, instead of just attracting people who already have those beliefs? Is it possible that professional philosophers are more atheist than the general public, not because atheist are trying to become philosophers more, but because philosophers turn into atheists more?
    – TKoL
    Mar 1 at 22:02
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    Newton was also an alchemist. People are a product of their times.
    – Barmar
    Mar 4 at 15:53

10 Answers 10

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What reason is there to assume that a more intelligent or better educated person is more likely to have a correct opinion about a disagreement that cannot be settled rationally or by evidence? From about 400 BC to 1400 AD, the smartest, best educated people thought the earth was at the center of the universe, and only a few wacky sun worshipers disagreed. The same people believed that all sublunar matter was composed of four elements, while the average stupid or uneducated person probably would have laughed at the idea.

People have an unfortunate tendency to elevate the opinions of smart or educated people even in areas where intelligence and education do not matter. How can you tell that intelligence and education do not matter? One reliable sign is if equally intelligent and educated people disagree on the topic. There is no such disagreement over Pythagoras's Theorem or the general nature of the stars and planets, but there certainly is with respect to religion.

Belief in God is a psychological matter. It cannot be resolved rationally. This is what theists mean when they talk about faith. Most theists recognize that they cannot prove the existence of God by purely rational means. Many atheists view this as a negative for theism, but everyone believes a lot of things for reasons that are not purely rational; we could not function otherwise. It is a mistake for theists to fall into the trap of thinking that theism should be held to the same standards as a theory of physics.

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    It's probably worth noting that the biggest opposition towards Galileo's heliocentrism (a less-wrong view at the time) was from the Catholic Church. Heliocentrism was labelled as heretical and anti-biblical, and Galileo spent his life under house arrest as a result. Probably not the best example to be using if trying to argue that smart people's opinion on religion doesn't matter. In any case, the people of the past reached the best conclusions they could with the evidence available. We know a lot more now, and our methods are a lot more robust.
    – NotThatGuy
    Mar 1 at 21:53
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    Theists mean different things when they talk about faith. Sometimes it's trusting God who you already believe exists, sometimes it's belief without evidence, sometimes people jump back-and-forth between those 2 from one sentence to the next. But mostly it serves as an excuse people use when they run out of reasons for why they believe in God. Sometimes they say "we all have faith in some things", sometimes they say "we should use a different standard for God that we use for everything else", sometimes they say both in the same paragraph.
    – NotThatGuy
    Mar 1 at 21:58
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    If you don't want people to be "snotty" to you, I'd suggest you at least make some attempt to accurately represent facts and the views of others, make rational arguments, and actually take any criticism ever to heart and actually reflect honestly about the beliefs you hold most dear. When you seem less receptive than a brick wall, people are not going to gently stroke your hair while speaking to you in a soft voice to tell you that you're wrong.
    – NotThatGuy
    Mar 2 at 3:58
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    +1. But it goes beyond that. For most religions outside of Christianity, religion is only to a minor extent a question of belief. True, Abrahamics come closer to Christianity but at the other extreme you have eg. Hinduism where the axiom of maya effectively invalidates all belief including the religious ones. Likewise Buddhism doesnt make distant claims about the Creator but immediate claims about suffering and release
    – Rushi
    Mar 2 at 6:18
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    @TKoL, rationality is useful for criticizing beliefs in most areas, including theology, but there are many areas where rationality is powerless to determine which answer is the correct one. Mar 2 at 22:46
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It doesn't prove anything about the truth of a god's existence, but it's more a question of psychology and potential fallacious reasoning (one way or the other).

This might suggest some cognitive biases or that people are inserting God into the gaps in their knowledge - a more educated person would arguably have smaller gaps in their knowledge (but they may have more gaps, on account of having more knowledge).

The fact that the people studying the nature of physical reality are less likely than the average person to believe in a god would certainly be curious if a god actually exists, while it would be entirely unexpected if a god doesn't exist.

Skeptic explanations

A skeptic might suggest that we see this because belief in a god is based on emotional appeals, incredulity and fallacious reasoning (many theists say similar things about atheists). Having extensive knowledge of the nature of reality dispels many of the bad reasons why people believe in a god. As a prominent example, one might say that they better understand how complex things work and how they formed from simpler things (so they're less likely to see complexity as a reason to believe in God). Of course, as is the nature of cognitive bias, education makes bias less effective, but it doesn't eliminate it entirely.

Biology, psychology and neuroscience also present some theological problems for religions that speak of (human-only) eternal souls and such (like much of Christianity):

  • All evidence we have suggests a slow change over time in organisms (i.e. evolution), which eventually resulted in humas, among the other species we see today. There seems to be no clear line that can be drawn in history that would serve as a point where humans "began", where we started having these uniquely-human "souls", and where they were different from the apes they descended from and which they lived alongside. There is some debate in the anthropology community about which species should be in the genus Homo (colloquially thought of as "human"), and which should be in the ancestor genus of Australopithecus (colloquially thought of as one (non-human) "ape"). This is because there aren't such clear differences between any two species where we've drawn the line between the two genera, and we keep finding more fossils that blurs the line further. This is true even if the modern differences between humans and other apes are more prominent, but even there, modern human DNA is almost 99% similar to chimps, and I believe they're more closely related to us than to other apes (although I can't track down a reference on that right now).

    If you ever want to spend a bunch of hours watching videos discussing anthropology research relating to the above, I'd highly recommend Gutsick Gibbon. It's at least slightly more entertaining than what it sounds like, and she focuses on addressing (young-Earth) creationism claims.

  • We see many traits in animals that we originally thought were exclusive to humans, such as empathy, ideas of equality, complex communication, etc. Practically no-one would say that humans aren't different, but it's questionable to say humans are so different to say we are the only ones with these "souls" and that all other animals just stop existing when they die (at least this seems to be presumed under prominent theist worldviews).

  • Psychology and neuroscience tells us a lot about how and why we think the way we do. These fields have shown that our thinking is heavily influenced by our environment, mental illness, brain injury, they've identified what the brain consists of and which part of our brain does what, and they can with reasonable accuracy predict what the behavioural effects injury to a certain part of the brain are likely to be. We understand what happens to the brain as someone dies, and this serves as a good (natural) explanation of why things like near-death experiences happen. All of this brings into question the idea of a "soul" that's distinct from the brain.

  • We have a fairly good understanding of how human reproduction works, which raises the question of when exactly the soul is inserted into the body. I suspect this is why Christians are more commonly anti-abortion. From conception until childbirth, a fetus slowly develops, gaining more and more functional capabilities. There a negligible developmental difference immediately before birth and after birth, and it's a gradual change up to then. So if you're going to attach it to any concrete physical event, conception probably makes the most sense given the change from 2 separate things to 1 thing (although some do believe the "first breath" is when the soul is inserted). Although at the moment of conception, there is just some sperm and an egg, and the conception process just involves the sperm entering the egg - it seems odd to say that a soul would begin and exist in that. Also, conception can happen without implantation, in which case the fertilised egg is passed in the next period, which would mean every time that happens (along with every natural miscarriage) is a dead person, which seems rough. Unless those never got souls, but depending how far you take that, it might mean that some women are just carrying around some soulless husks, and there is no way for us to tell.

    Others might say that the soul attaches when the heartbeat begins, but that starts off just being some pulsating tissue. Society has quite this spiritual view of the heart, but it's just an organ. If souls are attached when heartbeat begins, that somewhat suggests that it's linked to your heart, but heart transplants are a thing (and most wouldn't say that transfers the soul).

    Another option would be when the capacity for consciousness arises, which in my view might be one of the most reasonable place to draw the line from a functional or naturalist perspective. Our consciousness is the thing that makes us human, more than any individual part of our body. And that forms at 20-something weeks, although that's also a gradual change.

    But, remember: just because you can find some concrete and fairly sudden change doesn't automatically mean that's the right answer.

  • Physics studies the fundamental building blocks of reality. This, in itself, isn't evidence against a god, but it's curious that physicists study these building blocks and they just so happen to also be less likely to believe in a god (although correlation is not causation).

And I'm not saying theology hasn't made attempts to explain these things. But rather just that these may be some of the reasons why people studying these topics are less likely to accept the existence of a god.

More generally, science keeps explaining the things people have attributed to a god in the past, which means there are fewer and fewer things that can serve as evidence for a god's existence (apart from "why does anything exist", which I don't consider to be good evidence, but that's a different discussion). Of course, the less familiar someone is with the relevant fields, the less of this they would know.

Philosophers, on the other hand, are presumably more likely than the average person to be familiar with the evidence and arguments for a god, to have a good understanding of the principles of logical argumentation and fallacies. They may also know more about science than the average person. Although philosophy can get fairly subjective and speculative, and the concrete and reliable parts of philosophy has split off into science and maths. So I wouldn't put too much weight into the consensus of philosophers.

* There are plenty of Christian scientists who don't see the above as problems, but the point is that scientists are more likely to see these as problems, compared to non-scientists who aren't particularly familiar with the research.

Theist explanations?

One possible theist explanation for the scientific bias towards atheism might be that the pursuit of knowledge is a worldly pursuit that distracts one from heavenly pursuits, or that it's egotistical for human to think we can know things (or something like that).

Although it's not a comfortable epistemological position to say that people who care about finding out what's true tend to reject what you believe - that can also be explained by what you believe just being false, and we don't need to appeal to a particular worldview to find that explanation ("people who seek the truth tend to reject what's false" holds under pretty much any worldview).

"It doesn't matter"?

If someone says it doesn't matter what scientists believe about God, they'd be partially right and partially wrong. They'd be right in the sense that scientists believing something isn't necessarily a good reason for us to accept it as true (at least if it's outside their field of expertise). But it does matter in the sense that here is something noteworthy that we can (should?) try to understand and explain.

There is a strong, statistically significant correlation between being a scientist and being an atheist. This raises the question of why. What's the reason for this correlation? Does doing science make people atheists? Do atheists become scientists more often? Is there some other factors that lead people to both science and atheism?

I would argue that anyone who cares about being right about whether God exists should care about things like this, because it can reveal flaws in our thinking (and there might be similar things to consider when it comes to being right about anything else). To think that you're above having flaws in your thinking, you'd probably need to think that you're smarter, better informed, more honest, less emotional, or some such, than anyone who disagrees with you, which seems quite egotistical.

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  • The fact that the people studying the nature of reality are less likely than the average person to believe in a god would certainly be curious if a god actually exists, while it would be entirely unexpected if a god doesn't exist. -- this seems intuitively the case to me as well. But of course I agree with your opening statement, that it also doesn't prove anything.
    – TKoL
    Mar 1 at 17:36
  • Though I would counter what both of us have said here with the idea that, if it matters what all these people think, it seems like it should matter what these people think too: creationmoments.com/sermons/…
    – TKoL
    Mar 1 at 18:48
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    @SystemTheory I don't mean to be rude, but I don't quite understand the point you're trying to make or how it relates to what I've said. Of course we don't yet fully understand the unconscious, and of course this affects our beliefs.
    – NotThatGuy
    Mar 2 at 3:25
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    Your statement on "The fact that the people studying the nature of reality are less likely than the average person to believe in a god..." makes a tacit assumption which renders this argument circular: i.e. that pastors and theologians are not among "the people studying the nature of reality". Assuming that God is not real, this is correct. Assuming he is, they're studying reality much closer than physicists or philosophers. Mar 2 at 17:30
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    @NotThatGuy - In the context of moral discourse there are people who recognize God as a feature of reality and people who do not recognize God as a feature of reality. In the context of scientific discourse, which is a domain of moral discourse, scientists describe structures that perform functions. In Field and Wave Electromagnetics, one day, my professor, Dr. George Prans, says, "The del operator: in search of sources and sinks." Mystery arises in the search for the sources of shared and/or divergent perceptions of reality. The mysterious source maps to God, Reality, and/or the Unconscious. Mar 2 at 18:52
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Whether or not it matters is in fact an ongoing discussion, underneath the epistemology of peer disagreement. Here is an example to illustrate the problem:

Most scientists as of this writing agree on climate change. Most (many?) philosophers as of this writing agree on moral realism. Here is a substantial difference: most scientists agree on the nature of the evidence and arguments for climate change. Philosophers, on the other hand, do not agree in the same way on the nature of the evidence and arguments for (or against) moral realism. So, although there is broad agreement, there is no broad agreement as to why moral realism might be true.

Most of us will admit we have epistemic peers or superiors wrt a given issue. What then to do, when our epistemic peers/superiors disagree with us, further disagree with each other, further, disagree even on their agreements with each other?

The SEP article here https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/disagreement/#PeerDisa offers several solutions. Here are two of them:

  1. Learning that a peer P disagrees with you is a reason to believe you are mistaken. This view potentially leads toward skepticism about itself, as there is currently no agreement about disagreement.

  2. Only first order evidence really matters. If a peer P disagrees with you, your peership and opposite stance on the matter cancel things out. This view seems in tension with everyday life, since a peer who disagrees with me often makes me question the strength of my own position.

So, applied to the case of (a)theism, it depends on (i) who you recognize to be epistemically best wrt to the matter and (ii) what you think about disagreement. (i) is already tricky, as (A) many scientists today possess very little knowledge of philosophy (and/or very little respect), so their thoughts on (a)theism should be realized in light of that. but (B) many philosophers not specilizing in natural (a)theology know very little about natural (a)theology and philosophy of religion anyway. This is not an indictment, just a fact that it is very hard to keep up with other fields inside the current state of academia, even fields that are tangentially related. But also (C) most philosophers of religion who are theist were theist prior to becoming philosophers. So there are sociological effects as well, although of course, it might be said in the backward direction: perhaps the philosophical culture of today mildly attracts intellilgent atheists and mildly repels intelligent theists, who then go on to do work in other professions (say, theology).

But determining (i) is really only the first part of the matter. All the real work still lies ahead of us.

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    Wise words! Most of us will admit we have epistemic peers or superiors wrt a given issue I guess youve never met a know-all!!
    – Rushi
    Mar 2 at 6:13
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    My tendency is to think that when 2 people disagree they must both be wrong. Also that no amount of agreement proves anything. After seeing so much difference of explanation among philosophers, I lost all sense that they know something, only that they are good at disproving things or casting reasonable doubts. "All the real work still lies ahead of us." And the next day, we have to start all over again :-)
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 7 at 1:14
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A very partial answer focusing on a single contributing factor:

Institutional Christianity coped badly with the discoveries of 19th century science specifically regarding origins, since it had always thought that the Bible was a good guide to the real history of the ancient world. The theology of theologians generally remained favorable to adjusting ancient beliefs on the basis of new data, since the natural world is held to constitute divine revelation. (See: SEP: General Revelation.) Doctrine, however, was and is much less flexible. The Catholic Church made a remarkably rapid course correction for a 2000-year-old institution, run by non-scientists, which had always supported the literalist interpretation of Genesis. But remarkably rapid in this case still took about 80 years. The Church was still mostly literalist in its taught doctrine until 1950. Pope Pius XII codified the Church's more fundamental theological position: that the Church supported all ethically conducted empirical inquiry, and that the conclusions from scientific research should be accepted if and when evidence was compelling, explicitly including in the case of origins. (See: Wikipedia: Humani generis.)

Conservative Protestant churches have been even slower to adapt. Many (or most, depending on how you draw the line around "Conservative Protestant") still teach the literalist interpretation. (1)

As empirical conclusions about origins became more and more certain, and the implications have spread through science and medicine, the doctrine that Genesis is literally true has more and more become a doctrine that scientists in all fields must be liars, frauds, or fools. If you're a scientist, or you know some scientists, and you know that you and your coworkers are not liars, frauds, or fools, then you know that the doctrine is false. A pastor who preaches false doctrine must be untrustworthy. Likewise the institution which codifies the false doctrine. Both claim the truth of scripture as their authority; thus the scripture seems untrustworthy by association.


1 - Likewise for most of Islam. I suspect the same reason explains both: Islam and Protestant Christianity have a dispersed, non-hierarchical clerical class and no central authority. This, I suspect, detaches their doctrine from the nuanced considerations of theologians. The accumulated work of scholarly theologians might convince the upper echelon of a hierarchical priesthood, but directly convincing a majority of individual clerics - let alone the laity - is a whole other thing.


Ordinarily I'd feel like this answer is off topic for Philosophy SE and I'd just recommend asking the question on Comparative Religion SE, but... there isn't a Comparative Religion SE.

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    I was raised a young earth creationist, and although I am no longer a creationist of any stripe, the skepticism that this upbringing instilled in me with respect to established experts has stood me in good stead. Mar 1 at 20:56
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    @NotThatGuy, of course you think you understand it better than someone who has been through it. Mar 1 at 22:12
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    @DavidGudeman No, it's more all the people who's been through it who think they understand it better than all the people who are still in it. And also, I've listened to a whole lot of YECs being very open about the immense amount of distrust they have towards secular science.
    – NotThatGuy
    Mar 1 at 22:13
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    @NotThatGuy, you have displayed over and over that you are incapable of understanding religious points of view because your irrational hatred makes it impossible for you to actually listen to anything they say. You think religious people are irrational because you are projecting your own irrational attitude onto everyone else. Mar 1 at 22:18
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    I was responding to the paragraph containing this: "the doctrine that Genesis is literally true has more and more become a doctrine that scientists in all fields must be liars, frauds, or fools." I never thought that even about evolutionary biologists, much less all scientists, and that attitude was not represented by most of the YEC material I read. It was mostly very sober and analytical. I suspect a lot of people get their idea of what YEC types are from arguments on the internet, but the people who engage in such arguments are not typical. Mar 2 at 8:38
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It is evident that a person's beliefs about religion are typically a product of nurture rather than nature. For example, if you are raised in a catholic family in Northern Ireland you are more likely to identify as a catholic than as a protestant; and you are likely to identify as neither if you are raised in China. The fact you cite adds little to that. What it might suggest is that a higher IQ, or training in subjects that require the exercise of logical thinking, is more likely to make a person question aspects of their earlier social conditioning.

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  • "What it might suggest is that a higher IQ, or training in subjects that require the exercise of logical thinking, is more likely to make a person question aspects of their earlier social conditioning." - I think that's pretty notable personally
    – TKoL
    Mar 1 at 22:00
  • @TKoL me too. I think a higher IQ etc definitely tends to make people question what has been drummed in to them at an early age. I softened my claim with 'might suggest' to acknowledge the fact that II don't have evidence to back it up. Mar 1 at 22:09
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There's a number of factors at play that lead to these discrepancies, such as (in no particular order):

  1. Positive feedback loops. If a profession (such as physics) is dominated by atheists, then Christians (and other theists) will feel less at home in the physics culture and be less likely to pursue a career in physics. (I am speaking from personal experience here, as a Christian mathematician. The mathematical culture where I am is generally hostile to Christianity, though in fairness to my colleagues this hostility is mostly inadvertent.) Furthermore, atheism and theism are both contagious to some extent. For these reasons some autocorrelation is expected, and an over- (or under-) representation of atheists in any field be much larger than can be rightly attributed directly to whatever the underlying cause is.

  2. Base rate. People who have a naturally intellectual bent like to go into intellectual professions. That could mean philosophy or science, but for a religious person it also often includes clergy. Thus a lower percentage of religious smart people are scientists and philosophers than nonreligious smart people.

  3. Deep thought. A third driving factor in the disparity is that scientists and philosophers tend to think things through harder than most folks. A very large proportion of people will self-identify as Christians (or other religions) but such identification has no actual baring on their life. They are functional atheists, and the only reason they don't identify as atheists is because they've never thought it through. As scientists and philosophers are more likely to have thought through their beliefs, there are far fewer functional atheists among them and far more professing atheists. According to Pew Research, among Americans, there is no substantial difference among regular churchgoers between strata of education, but less educated people are more likely to self-identify as religious. (Regular church attendance is probably the best easily measurable proxy for actual religious faith.)

  4. Superstition vs. Religion. In the same vein of thought, another large number of people are not atheist but are simply superstitious, not religious. They have spiritual rituals that they believe or hope relate to something real, but this is based in isolated events or mere cultural tradition, and has no rigorous intellectual underpinning like the great religious traditions. Superstition usually dies with education, while religion usually does not. (Incidentally, these factors theoretically would mean that in a non-Christian culture, Christians would be overrepresented among the educated class. This is borne out by data in Asia and North Africa, where Christians form a much larger percent of educated people than they do of the population at large.)

  5. Epistemology. I can't speak for other religions, but at least for Christians, we believe ultimate knowledge of the universe is only found in revelation from God. Human intellect is inadequate. The oft-heard claims about physics or philosophy being paths to ultimate knowledge are appealing to atheists, while they are meaningless for Christians at best. More likely they will be a turn-off for Christians.

There are certainly other reasons, including some that are purely cultural or historical accident. Gender plays a role too: women are more likely to be religious than men, and men are more likely to pursue physics and philosophy than women. I don't know the reasons for those gender discrepancies, but whatever they are, it appears to be a third cause driving a correlation between atheism and physics. Correlation does not imply causation!

Whether these matter to you is, I guess, subjective. Clearly, none of the factors I've mentioned has relevance to the truth of theism. The dearth of theists in philosophy and physics I think tells us more about human psychology than it tells us about anything else.

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    Point 2 was something I hadn't considered, thank you for answering
    – TKoL
    Mar 2 at 15:56
  • Human intellect can be inadequate and paths to ultimate knowledge can be closed without it meaning that there is any alternative. "What if this is as good as it gets?" If that depresses you, perhaps it is that you had an expectation that was not based on sound evidence.
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 7 at 1:07
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    @ScottRowe My point is not that that is an argument for theism, but rather an attitude that theists have, which makes them less likely to do science or philosophy than atheists. Apr 5 at 13:42
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    Right, you don't have to climb Mount Everest just because it is there. And if it's not there, you haven't wasted any time thinking about it. Atheists should think less about ultimate knowledge too. There are lots of practical, immediate problems to be solved.
    – Scott Rowe
    Apr 5 at 14:40
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School teaches facts, but not only facts. School also teaches how to learn new facts, select among multiple alternative offered opinions, and school gives the best grades to those who are most successful at such tasks.

When choosing opinions, there are different strategies. One might select what makes most happy, what gives the best sense of security, what it most convenient, what is most politically appropriate, ...

Science and philosophy are framework strongly biased to choose what is most true and least biased, no matter how inconvenient, how surprising, how irritating. In that, science and philosophy are unique. All other sources of truth are biased towards something else than truth.

Few human have original opinions on anything. Most opinions are copies from somebody else. Heard from a parent, a friend, a teacher, the TV, a colleague, and so on.

No human can by themselves read, evaluate and compare all books that exist today, much less all the books yet to be written. No matter how much you learn in school to double check information, a human life is just too short to double check everything you could learn.

Yet when living in a democracy, as a voting citizen you have a duty to form a useful opinion on various matters like global warming, the global economy, state welfare and health insurance, justice system, education policies, national debt, ethics, disease control and vaccination ...

It follows that yes, it is a useful strategy to look at what opinions are prevalent in the brightest minds on our planet where they are not biased.

Advanced studies will not just look at what a majority of scientists thinks, but seek to discover why there is a majority, and what trends exist, as a way to discover unintentional biases. Science and philosophy do not exist independently, they need financing, and that is a constant source of bias.

However, the opinion of any single (famous) individual is as likely to be delusional crap as it might be truth. Looking at a larger set of mutually independent bright humans from different backgrounds is a useful filter.

Biased organizations however will try to influence people by putting together a set of scientists from a similar background to coerce their target audience that a given opinion is backed by "many smart people", when in effect it's just the biased selection giving a certain result.

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If those professions involve learning more about the nature of the world, then yea, it is relevant. And by and large, the more knowledge we gain, the less religious people tend to be and the less likely they are to believe in god. This is one of the most consistent trends in history which is why the atheist population right now is at an all time high.

The reason is simple: there is simply no evidence for a god. In fact, one can’t even show that it is coherent. Once you dump all the intuitions you get from religious upbringing and the familiarity bias that leads you to consider god as something tenable simply by mere mention of it, you realize that what we’re talking about is a supposed invisible, timeless, spaceless, bodiless “mind” that can’t even be shown to make sense, much less exist.

This shouldn’t be considered dogma. It’s about as dogmatic as saying that there’s no evidence for Santa Claus and then being surprised that more and more scientists have a lack of belief in that.

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  • The main premise is not supported by what actually happens among the general population. The average person in the Western World does not know more about science than 20 or 30 years ago, and it's actually less. Belief in the flat earth model has been increasing, as well as the denial of the existence of pathogens. People's attention spans are shorter, and general scientific literacy is smaller. Yet participation in religion decreased. So it's not because people are getting more knowledgeable. Notice what else decreased: social interactions, making friends.
    – vsz
    Mar 2 at 23:51
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    The modern world gives us more illusion that our needs can immediately be met. This is the biggest driving factor of both decrease in religion and increase in loneliness and depression.
    – vsz
    Mar 2 at 23:51
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    @vsz people think the world can satisfy them and then they are depressed because they didn't learn or heed the oldest advice known to man: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity and a striving after the wind." Funny if it weren't sad.
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 7 at 1:00
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So, considering how frequently these facts come up, I'd like to know if these facts matter, and what questions exactly we think they matter for?

The question which matters, in any field, is

Do you need to evaluate your ideas versus real-world evidence, and adjust your ideas when presented with conflicting evidence??

Sure, there's plenty of cases of scientists being given groundbreaking new evidence and being reluctant to accept it at first. That's how it should be - as the saying goes, extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. But in all cases without exception, if that evidence can be backed up then it is adopted by scientists as the new normal. And there's never a "final" answer - everything always has the potential to be fine-tuned further.

Religion on the other hand does not follow this principle. If you believe in a religion, and its holy text conflicts with observed evidence, as a believer you are required to either say that the observed evidence (however comprehensive) must be wrong, or to stop believing. You cannot hold to both. The only available third path is for the religion to re-evaluate that text as being a parable and not literal truth, but this has only ever happened as a reaction to the religion drastically losing followers and its leaders realising they are becoming irrelevant.

This is a problem if your field of study might contradict a religious text. In the arts, business, or social contexts, this is rarely an issue. In science and engineering though, this typically causes problems, because Bronze Age texts are rarely good guides to modern technology.

Theism and religion are technically different things, of course, but it is vanishingly rare for someone to believe in the existence of a god without a pre-existing religion dictating the god. It's safe to make the assumption that the overwhelming majority of theists are theists because they follow a religion.

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  • Perhaps theists are theists and follow a religion because of a predisposition that they have? It might be a predisposition that nearly everyone has, but environmental conditions affect how the predisposition is shaped or expressed. In other words, ideas are not that different than physical variations, in that they are shaped by what we came with, and where we were born and raised. If people would realize this, all the enthrallment of personhood and groups and so on would end.
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 7 at 0:56
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"atheism, agnosticism, or in support of theism" - I think this is not a full spectrum. A growing number of intelligent people are starting to believe that if humanity will soon get technical capabilities to build the Matrix, then there is a good chance we are living in the Matrix.

And if so, it would be easy to program all major religions as part of the computer simulator.

Regarding the question, my point is that the majority of educated people believe in some form of Intelligent Design, but doubt human description of this intelligent design written in bibles.

On a personal level, when I studied Judaism it bothered me that I cannot squeeze in all my scientific knowledge about tectonic movements, sedimentary layers, dinosaur fossils into 7-10 thousand years of biblical history.

However, in a computer simulator you could program any religion, and it would make spiritual and practical sense in the lives of its believers.

You could also start your simulation from the 19th century and everything before that would be pure fiction.

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    – Community Bot
    Mar 2 at 16:07
  • I think what you're trying to say is that we could be having this discussion about any belief system. "Does it matter if certain professions have a lower rate of belief in x?", where x can be simulation theory, ancient aliens theory, and so on... Am I understanding your point correctly? (For what it's worth, I thought the same thing.)
    – Mentalist
    Mar 6 at 0:52

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