My first introduction to philosophical debate was through Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. The idea that they hammered into a younger me was that faith was stupid and irrational and any person with faith was themselves stupid and irrational and inherently anti-scientific.

This last step is vital. It is not just the faith that is the target of their attacks, but it is the believers too. I recall e.g. Hitchens once asking a believer whether he believed in Jesus' resurrection, and after he responded yes, Hitchens retorted "I rest my case, science has nothing to do with this man's world view", and the audience started clapping.

However .... the majority of scientists are believers. This study from the USA shows that 51 % of US scientists believe in some form of supernatural power. And that is just the USA. If we start including scientists from much more religious countries such as middle-east or Latin America, that number skyrockets to 70-99 %. I am unsure what the numbers are in Europe and Asia, but, either way, I do know that a majority of scientists believe that science and faith are NOT in conflict.

So given this, how come non-scientists like Hitchens and Harris claim a patent on what it means to be scientific and not, when scientists themselves seem to disagree with them?

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    Well, you should find out what part of believers are scientists and what part of non-believers are. The thing is that out of non-believers there are much more scientists. What you are doing is wrong, since you are showing that majority of scientists are believers forgetting that there are much more believers than non-believers. Anyway, the best answer can be given only by those who are critisizing. I am not aware if non-believers in general despise believers and guess it's wrong. Anyway, I am sure biologists and physicists are less likely to believe in resurrection for some reasons(experience)
    – rus9384
    Commented Apr 1, 2018 at 22:32
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    Isn't this a sociological question or one for social psychology ? This is no reflection on the question itself but I don't see how philosophers can resolve it.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 6:41
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    The problem is partly the idea that scientists have some special knowledge or expertise that lends their religious views more weight than others. Hitchens and Harris show that this is not the case. .
    – user20253
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 12:13
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    “I do know that a majority of scientists believe that science and faith are NOT in conflict” — can you please show a source to back that up? Because your poll doesn’t back this up. I know very few scientists who are openly religious but those that are do usually acknowledge that they are conflicted about their faith and how it related to science. Stephen Jay Gould was attacked from all sides for his (probably not -sincere?) statement that science and religion are “non-overlapping magisteria”. Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 12:28
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    There is a HUGE gap between believing in "some form of supernatural power" and believing in the physical resurrection of a human being. The former idea is not unscientific; the latter absolutely is. Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 16:48

13 Answers 13


There is a difference between belief and theism

I am more familiar with Hitchens's views and arguments than with Harris's ditto, so I will answer from that perspective only.

Hitchens differed completely between "holding a belief" and "being a theist". Hitchens's view was that you are perfectly entitled to have any belief you wish. To place a restriction on belief was abhorrent to Hitchens, and any and all arguments that aimed to curtail thoughts — and thereby beliefs — was considered by Hitchens to be "thought-crime", something which he in turn labeled "totalitarianism defined".

So Hitchens never attacked a person for their faith alone. To say that he did is simply wrong and — to borrow a phase — to bear false witness against Hitchens.

Hitchens did however condemn actions and/or arguments, and if he found a person's actions and/or arguments to be reprehensible, Hitchens would say so, and why he thought so. Hitchens was a grand master in being able to differ between a person and what that person said/did. (*)

The event you cite is a perfect example of this:

Hitchens once asking a believer whether he believed in Jesus' resurrection, and after he responded yes, Hitchens retorted "I rest my case, science has nothing to do with this man's world view"

Hitchens is not arguing against the person, he is arguing that person's world view.

So when you say...

It is not just the faith that is the target of their attacks, but it is the believers too.

...you are entirely wrong. This short clip from his debate with Jesse Jackson shows this clearly; he is striking back against the question, not the person. He also states clearly on holding a belief: "that is perfectly fine".

So Hitchens did not not attack believers for simply being believers. No, he attacked theism, that is to say when believers take their belief into the public discourse and claim their arguments have weight on no other merit than the faith of the speaker. Hitchens was not anti-belief, he was against theism. What Hitchens meant by theism is explained perfectly in this clip, from 32:00 to 33:58.

So the question if a claim made by a scientist that is a believer would be attacked by Hitchens or not, depended on only one thing:

Did the scientist invoke faith or science to support their claims?

Hitchens had no problem with believers that made philosophical and/or scientific claims if they 1) were honest with where they got their claims and 2) differed between what they could prove, and what what they took on faith. There are plenty of examples in his speeches, debates and writing where he gives believers due credit for philosophical and scientific accomplishments.

If however anyone tried to argue for a position with "It is in the holy texts", or "this is the divine will", or "You have to take it on faith"... then that was inevitably a Hitch-slap in the making.

Hitchens differed between being a believer and being a theist. You have to be a believer to be a theist, but you do not have to be a theist to be a believer. A scientist that is a believer but not a theist, is one that Hitchens had no problems with.

Hence your question is false: atheist and anti-theists like Christopher Hitchens do not criticise faith for being anti-science, so long as faith does not attempt to be science.

But as we know: faith is rarely content to call itself just faith...

(*) Also it helped greatly if you did not attack Hitchens and/or tried to upstage him on his home turf because if you did, he would subject you to a verbal evisceration without even breaking a sweat. But the fact that he never attacked a person but a person's actions and arguments was a hallmark of his rhetoric.

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    I disagree with this on a few counts. First, your definition of “theist” is at odds with common usage. A “theist” (when it’s not the opposite of a deist) is generally understood to be exactly a person who believes in a religion or deity. Second, it is hard for an external observer to distinguish between deep antipathy toward someone’s beliefs, and deep antipathy toward a person, especially since the latter very often (most often?) leads to the former. This is the dubious idea of “hate the sin, love the sinner.”
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 5:16
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    And third, Hitchens most definitely bore antipathy toward religious people. Your conflation of atheists and anti-theists (“atheist and anti-theists like….”) is, I think, a bit glib. Several of the most prominent atheists (Hitchens, Richard Dawkins) are anti-theist, but the overwhelming majority of atheists are not.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 5:22
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    @Obie2.0 Define "believe in a God" please. You do not believe in a religion, you practice it. And this is not my definition, this is how Hitches defined it and how he acted. So even if others use the words differently, since Hitchens is the subject ot the post, that is how the word is used here.
    – MichaelK
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 5:22
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    When I read quotes like this: “Pakistan has to export a lot of uneducated people, many of whom have become infected with the most barbaric reactionary ideas,” I become modestly convinced that Christopher Hitchens let his antipathy toward religion spill over into dislike of religious people, yes. As with most things, one doesn’t necessarily wait for someone to say that they hate a group. Even Trump, perhaps the most outspokenly prejudiced major political figure of today, hasn’t said “I hate black people,” “I hate Mexicans” (the reverse, in fact). But people infer from his other words.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 5:34
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    @Obie2.0 "Well, people have different ideas of what a God is?". Exactly... cue the glibness. Which is why Hitchens's definition of Theism is much better: theism is faith-based doctrine... argument from faith. The definition is linked in the post he used is linked in the post; hear it from the man himself how he used it. This definition is clear and easy to use: if you enter the public discourse argue from your faith, then you are a theist.
    – MichaelK
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 5:44

Well there are far fewer scientists than there are believers. Personally, I think believers find religion more relevant to their life than science. The main-stream religions have had millennia in learning how to build up community than science. And in fact science has no sense of mission of building up community in the wider world. It's only sense of community is to itself, that is how to train future scientists and keep the scientific mission going. This is laudable, but also very specialized and of little direct relevance to the wider life of society, though of course the indirect benefits are huge: medicine, engineering and so on.

So it's more often the case that theists are not anti-science than they find science irrelevant to the way they live their lives. It may also be the case that they see science as being anti-theistic, which given the statistics quoted by one of the answers, that 98% of elite scientists are Atheists, and the way that Atheists constantly quote science to back up their theses seems fairly astute of them.

The cultural moment seems to lie with atheism. This is what Nietzsche meant by his famous aphorism, that 'God is dead!'. However he himself offers no reasons for this stance, he takes it as a given in exactly the same way that theists take their scripture as the gospel truth.

Personally, I see no conflict between science and religion. Only man was given freedom, everything else follows Gods law. And this is exactly what we see, everything from particles to planets follows laws.

I'd also dispute the way that Atheists think that science is their own personal possession. It is part of the common inheritance of mankind - from Buddhists, Muslims to Atheists.

I also find myself incredulous that Atheists spend so much time running down other faith groups. What would one think of a Sikh, who rather than being involved in his own faith, spent all his time running down Hinduism? One would normally call this a kind of prejudice. It makes little sense. And I think it shows how little understanding Atheists have of other faiths (but then again, one has to admit that theists often have little understanding of atheism...)!

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    It’s not atheists in general who do this, merely a few prominent and bilious members.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 5:25
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    "I also find myself incredulous that Athiests spend so much time running down other faith groups. " While I completely agree that it's an unfortunately common problem and very rude, religious folk defiantly do this to each other too. Often to the point of armed conflict. This problem is not an atheist problem but a problem of human nature.
    – Clumsy cat
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 12:47
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    I also find myself incredulous that Athiests spend so much time running down other faith groups. - The error in this statement is in calling atheism a faith group. Science has no bias, it questions anything that is asserted without sufficient evidence to back it up. Scientists do this to each other all the time, in fact - that's how science works. One person makes a claim and presents evidence and other scientists analyze the evidence and consider in what ways the evidence may be lacking or misleading. This strives to be a purely objective exercise. Nobody is singled out.
    – J...
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 13:09
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    @J...: sure; Science itself has no bias, however athiesm itself does; it's not quite right to call it a faith group as people associate this term with the main religious groupings; however, I used it deliberately because there is a family resemblence. Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 13:20
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    @MoziburUllah The point is that science is critical by nature and is perfectly capable of admitting when it is wrong when the evidence points to new conclusions. This is not faith - religion cannot admit when it is wrong because it takes its own correctness as an axiom.
    – J...
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 14:29

There is a strong hostility toward theistic views in academic science. I read a poll about ten years ago that indicated that the majority of scientists in academia identified as atheists; among the most elite, that number jumped to something like 98%. I can't find the poll now, but my experience has been consistent with this.

It didn't use to be this way; for example, Descartes and Newton were both Christians, and both men viewed science as a way to explore God's creation. In their time, science and religion were commonly seen as being perfectly compatible. In my opinion, the shift from theistic to atheistic was cultural and not a scientific; I.e. there is not an experiment we can do to determine God's existence. However, the scientific atheist will strongly disagree with this and will posit that their worldview is in fact supported by science--or at least that it is the more scientific view. It is this strong belief (that their worldview is supported by science) that, in my opinion, leads to the hostility you note.

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    I presume this statistic is of another country than USA, as at least 33% of the scientists in the study linked in the question believe in God. I don't think there is much value of your statistic unless you find the source. If you cannot, please remove it. This is how misinformation is spread. Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 14:22
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    You are probably thinking of this poll (note that it asked narrower questions).
    – Tgr
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 16:17
  • @Tgr Ah, that poll limited itself to 'greater' scientists (whatever that means). That explains the difference in percentage. Also, it isn't clear how the 'doubt or agnosticism' of that poll compares to the 'who don't believe in God, but do in a higher power or something similar' of the poll in the question. I suppose you can just pick whichever of those polls you like and lie with statistics. Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 18:23
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    Both Descartes and Newton predate modern science, which is based on something variously called the “scientific method” (although different people describe it differently). Furthermore, you say that “ my opinion, the shift from theistic to atheistic was cultural and not a scientific” — you’d be plainly wrong. It’s certainly both, and specific scientific discoveries have been attributed with contributing to this shift (most notably, but by no means exclusively, Darwinian evolution). Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 19:43
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    @Discretelizard the "greater" scientists were NAS members, as explained in the article. The poll asked about belief in a personal god, which is more specific than belief in a god, which is more specific than belief in a higher power (which is how "being a believer" is typically understood). E.g. according to this Pew survey about one-sxith of scientists say they don't believe in God but believe in a higher power.
    – Tgr
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 21:58

I don't mean to be rude, but I think your question is based on several falsehoods that have been addressed in some form or another, so I'll try to address them one at a time.

Do scientists look down on "believers"?

First of all, as a physicist, I don't believe scientists do look down upon or denigrate "believers" or religion per se, and yes, many scientists are believers. What scientists do object to is some of the behaviour of a few religious people, such as insisting that religious beliefs be taught in a science class (this was a criticism of Alan I. Leshner, the CEO of the AAAS, the society that provided that poll you reference). In fact, I would assert that scientists specifically don't tend to target religions, but rather a handful of people from those religions that try to affect science in some way.

I can't find anything that definitively links scientists with denigrating religion (aside from people like Hitchens, Dawkins), but if you look at the survey you reference, only 40% of people view clergy members as having a positive impact on society (versus 70% for scientists), so it may be a cultural thing in the US. (Yes, I realize clergy does not equal church or religion as a whole, so take this whole argument with a GIANT grain of salt).

Most Scientists are believers

As pointed out by Mozibur Ullah and Discrete lizard, this is not a straightforward statement to prove. First of all, the US is quite religious compared to many other places. In a survey, 69% of Americans rated religion as important, compared with just 42% in neighbouring Canada (Note 1; yes I realize it is Wikipedia, feel free to find other sources).

That poll you quote is far from definitive, 51% does not mean a majority, it means, probably a majority (Note 2). The actual number is 32% +/- 2.5% 95% confidence interval (CI) for people that believe in god, plus 18% +/- 2.5% 95% CI for people that believe in some higher power. Meaning if you ran that same survey 20 times, you would get values outside that region on the one of those surveys (on average). This only means that when you add these together you get approximately 50% of scientists believe in god or some higher power, with the caveat that it might be a majority by a few percent, or it might be a minority by a few percent.

If we start including scientists from much more religious countries such as middle-east or Latin America, that number skyrockets to 70-99 %. I am unsure what the numbers are in Europe and Asia

Where are you getting these numbers from? Also, a LOT of science is done in Europe and Asia, very likely more than the US, it it is pretty important to consider those. Having lived in Latin America, I can tell you that not a lot of science goes on there, and neither does a lot happen in the Middle East (although it is growing in the Middle East). When you add on Europe, Japan, China, Russia, etc, I strongly suspect that that number will start to trend in one direction or another, but I doubt it would ever "skyrocket".

Science and Religion are NOT in Conflict

You state that you "know that science and religion are NOT in conflict", that really depends on your religious views. For example, if you religion depends entirely on the Earth being exactly 1000 years old and a geologist tells you that the Earth is more like 5 billion years old, then yes, they are in conflict.

That isn't to say that it is always in conflict, for example you may believe in the the Big Bang, but that it was created by a deity.

The reality science and religion are different at a fundamental level. Religion has a set of rules, and facts that affect ones world view, much of which must be taken on faith. Science on the other hand, aims to take as little on faith as possible, and instead requires us to update our world view. What we take on faith is usually stuff that we don't have time to learn enough about. For example I know very little about the Big Bang, but I know that many researchers have spent their lives doing research and I know a little bit about the most important points, so if I encounter someone who has a strong argument against one of those points, I may not be able to answer it properly, but I take it on faith that it likely has been answered (admittedly, it could be an open question in that field).

Asking whether or not science and religion are compatible is kind of like asking if music and potatoes are compatible. Aspects of the two may clash, or the may not; aspects of the two may even coincide.

Hitchen's Patent and Scientists agreement

First of all, people like Hitchens (and Dawkins) are extremely polarized people, I'm sure if you spent a bit of time looking you could probably find people that have similar views as Hitchens without the attitude. I almost feel sorry that your introduction to atheism was Hitchens and not Bill Nye or something.

Second of all, I have never encountered this argument that non-scientists like Hitchens claim a patent on science, and even if they did, I would say that is certainly untrue. Science, by it's very nature, is everywhere and for everyone, should they choose to explore it (provided they can afford it; this is perhaps another similarity that science has with some religions).

Third, I think your "scientists themselves seem to disagree with them" statement is probably in reference to your poll, but I've already addressed that for the most part. I would just like to reiterate that science and aren't inherently compatible or incompatible.

Note 1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Importance_of_religion_by_country

Note 2: http://www.people-press.org/2009/07/09/about-the-survey-16/

  • I’m not sure being introduced to atheism by Bill Nye would be any good. For what it’s worth Nye’s belief (or lack thereof) in a supernatural are quite hard to ascertain, precisely because he doesn’t publicly talk about it. Not much to learn about the topic from him. Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 17:34
  • As I recall, I've seen some talks that he's given where he goes through logical arguments about why there doesn't necessarily need to be a deity (I think he wrote a book about it too); although you are right, he doesn't say that he believes that per se. Steven Hawking also wrote a book (the Grand Design) which also gives argues there need not necessarily be a deity, without explicitly saying that theists are wrong or anything like that.
    – Dace
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 18:50

First of all, the following argument:

I recall e.g. Hitchens once asking a believer whether he believed in Jesus' resurrection, and after he responded yes, Hitchens retorted "I rest my case, science has nothing to do with this man's world view", and the audience started clapping.

is clearly an ad-hominem, perhaps even a straw-man (ha, if you believe that, then surely you must believe all sorts of scientific nonsense as well!). In other words, that argument is clearly fallacious and therefore can be ignored. (the fact that one side claims the debate is over only highlights the logical fallacy, although this is powerful rhetoric, of course. But it is empty rhetoric , without substance.)

Why would faith be bad for science?

But, for your question, why would Hitchens be so disapproving in the first place? Well, I think the main bone of Hitchens is with religion and not nessecarily belief. In history (and today still!), there have been many cases of religion hindering scientific progress.

Take book burnings, enforcing dogma such as geocentrism or creationism (This is an important case. Darwin wasn't the first with the idea of evolution, merely the first to publish. The earlier discoverer simply feared that going against current religious belief would lead to too much trouble.), resistance against medical intervention due to "interfering with God's will on deciding on the living and the dead", etc.

Is this an honest view on the relation of religion and science?

Of course, religion also has had positive influences on science. Monks transcribed and preserved many scientific texts from the ancient Greeks and the Arabs. Some theologians have become important philosophers as well, take Thomas from Aquinas, for example. For some, the desire to understand God better has lead to careful study of nature, so religion can even provide motivation to do science!

However, partially due to the renaissance, the 'dark ages' have been demonized and the atrocities of the church during that time highlighted and exaggerated. This continues to this day. So, it is likely that all negatives overshadow the positives in the minds of most atheists even if religion were a net positive on science (who can tell? Can you even imagine the middle ages without religion?), as our culture has highlighted these negative points for eons.

Can we blame belief for religion?

So, is all this talk about religion relevant for the question of belief? Yes. I cannot meaningfully criticize you for having a certain belief. However, I can criticize you for expressing a belief (i.e. claiming faith in some statement). The expression of faith is a social activity that is so heavily interlinked that I think it isn't a problem to use arguments against religion to people expressing faith belonging to a religion, unless they explicitly state that they have nothing to do with said religion.

So, is the fact that many scientist 'believe' a contradiction?

First of all,

This study from the USA shows that 51 % of US scientists believe in some form of supernatural power. And that is just the USA.

The USA is already very religious. A lot more religious than most of western Europe, at least (the fact that less laws are deeply influenced by religion doesn't matter!).

Also, the fact that most people in the USA are religious doesn't make it surprising that most scientists are 'believing'.

Furthermore, there is a clear difference with 'believing in a super-natural power' and being a Christian. Being a Christian is met with arguments against religion, but believing in, for example, that there is some thinking entity that subtly influences humans for the good, doesn't directly link to a religion and hence such arguments cannot be made.

Finally, personal belief and even personal support of a religion doesn't hinder science, usually. The influence of religion at large, however, can. So, it isn't strange that some individuals can perform science and still keep their religious connections.

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    "is clearly an ad-hominem" It most certainly is not. It appears that you share the common misconception that "ad hominem" includes any criticism of a person. "perhaps even a straw-man" You're engaging in wild speculation. "In other words, that argument is clearly fallacious" It's not an argument, it's an assertion, and assertions cannot be fallacious, only their justifications can be. Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 16:31
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    @Acccumulation Oh, I thought that if in a debate, you state "I rest my case, science has nothing to do with this man's world view", you claim that 1. you have an argument here, as you 'rest your case' and 2. that you base your argument on the nature of the person. In other words, I interpret what is being said as 'because of your world view, I have won this debate'. Is this not a clear ad-hominem? But perhaps my interpretation was false. Of course, if this is 'merely an assertion', then of course it isn't a fallacy, just stupid. But how can you 'merely make an assertion' in a debate? Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 18:16
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    One of the arguments that is sometimes given as to why the USA is so much more religious than Europe today is through self-selection - Europeans of the past few hundred years who were more religious than average were more likely to have felt persecuted in Europe and chosen migration to America. These emigrants then passed on their religious beliefs to their children. Hence, the USA is largely fundamentalist because it was founded by fundamentalists who were chased out of Europe for being fundamentalists. See Fischer's Albion's Seed for some specifics. Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 1:40
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    @ypercubeᵀᴹ You may wish to review the history of the colonies... that persecution is why freedom of religion and separation of church and state were so ingrained in the US. Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 22:41
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    @ypercubeᵀᴹ: The quote was "religious people felt persecuted in Europe". Unfortunately, some religious people feel persecuted when they aren't; frequently when they find others won't let their specific religion rule everything. Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 17:33

Part of the answer to this question refers to what those scientists actually believe in. I've known many atheists who are more devout in their beliefs than the people I know who follow a specific religion.

Many scientists (for example) will tell you that evolution is a fact; they may also believe in a supreme being or higher power. They're not saying that there is no God, what they're really saying is that if there is a God, then there are boundaries within which he operates as has been demonstrated by science. Even Stephen Hawking once said that his work proving that the big bang occurred 14.5 billion years ago didn't preclude the existence of a God, merely placed limits on how and when he could have created the universe.

If you look at the first chapter of Genesis alongside Evolution, it's actually not a bad attempt at explaining to a simple agrarian people (the ancient Hebrews) the order of the creation of life; but you have to accept that much of the wording is metaphor, especially the length of a 'day'.

Most scientists I know who disparage 'believers' are not disparaging their faith; they're disparaging their literalism. To me, the difference that I've observed is that many scientists shape their spiritualism around an evolving and improving knowledge of science. The 'believers' you're speaking of in this question shape their willingness to accept science around their spiritualism.

In my humble view, the former is the more appropriate response.

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    You seem to be equating blind faith with faith based on evidence. They couldn’t be more different, epistemologically. Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 12:24
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    I think you make the same mistake as Hitchens, although in a different way. You assume all 'believers' blindly follow dogma on all aspects, which is a claim that doesn't follow from their belief in some particular aspect. Hence, there may be very little difference in actual belief system between the 'scientist who believe in higher power' and someone who claims to believe in God. Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 14:25
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    "but you have to accept that much of the wording is metaphor" Even if you treat much of it as metaphor, the order is all wrong.
    – JAB
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 15:56

This discussion is misleading because terms are mixed up. The prefix "anti" should be avoided and replaced by "non" in this case.

I wouldn't say that faith is anti-science, or that science is anti-faith -- per se. Instead I'd say that believers are in this respect non-scientific and vice versa.

There's no need to suggest that there is any rivalry between the two approaches. I thought we've moved past that age.

This is of course only true if you take the principle of "live and let live" to heart.

To answer your question: some people still criticize others for not thinking/believing the same way they do, simply because they 1) want to be right and 2) define what's right as what most people say/think/believe/do/... . This is of most basic human nature and the cause of many conflicts, throughout history and still today, not limited to "belief vs. science". To wholly answer the why, I suggest to post this question at the psychology site.

  • There is rivalry between the approaches: in the US, many people of faith want to put religion into school textbooks instead of science. Anyone who wants some form of Creationism in a science book instead of what we know is being anti-science. There doesn't have to be rivalry, since it's possible to accept both, but there is. Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 17:37
  • @DavidThornley This is the most extreme example. Thanks for pointing it out. To me, Creationism is not even a religious view since even the catholic church rejects it. Creationism is purely opinion-based and does not hold out against any serious exegesis. (which is my opinion...)
    – Oh boy
    Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 11:00

If some random guy on the street sees a person wearing an "I Love Jesus" shirt and mocks them, the person thinks, "Geez, that guy was a jerk." If a biochemist sees someone wearing an "I Love Jesus" shirt and mocks them, the person thinks, "Geez, scientists can be jerks." (semi-related https://xkcd.com/385/)

So, right off the bat, be careful you don't equate "What Person X Does" with "What People In Group Y That Include Person X Do".

Now that that's said, I think half the problem is the large constructs we've put around the concept of science, or of scientists.

Science is simply:

  1. Noticing a facet of reality
  2. Coming up with an explanation as to why it occurs
  3. Devising a test that could prove the explanation wrong
  4. Observing the results of your test.

I think it was Richard Feynman that said the final arbiter of science is observation - aka, it's nothing magical or mystical. Honestly, I do the same thing when I cook dinner ("Hmmm. This didn't turn out very well - it might have been because I cooked the chicken on too high of a temperature. If that's the case, cooking on Medium-Low would solve the problem. I'll try that next time, and see if it comes out better - if not, the problem must be something else.")

And once you think about it that way, that it's simply a methodology for figuring out how the world works, it's pretty clear that Science has nothing to do with Religion. (The idea that it does is relatively modern; like another answer said, many famous scientists of the past viewed their works as a way of examining the beauty of creation.)

  • An extension of the cooking analogy: Some people say that "But the Recipe says to cook at Medium! The Recipe is written by the all-knowning Jamie! It cannot be wrong!" Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 8:24

Many scientists are also pragmatists and have no major problem with religion general. They accept that the human experience is complex and messy and rigorous science is not the only philosophical tool at our disposal. For example very few scientists would contend that art and literature are not valuable even though they don't remotely conform to the scientific method.

Indeed at the other end of the spectrum a theorem can be mathematically valid without having any basis in reality. For example Hilbert's paradox make a very elegant point in terms of set theory but doesn't actually prove anything in terms of observable reality.

The conflict occurs when religion attempts to exert political or moral authority or suppress scientific knowledge based on poor arguments.

You can have faith or belief in all sorts of intangible things and this faith may very well be beneficial but once you wilfully convince yourself of specific things which are manifestly not the case you will sooner or late find yourself in conflict with science if you promote these views.

Science is pretty much neutral on things like the inherent nobility of the human spirit or the value of hope but once you start to tell people how they should live their lives or how children should be educated then it becomes more of a pressing issue.

Also you site studies about the USA, I have seen 'studies' which claim that a majority of Americans believe that the earth is flat or less than 6000 years old... Indeed I'm not sure that there are many more religious countries than the US.


Your question uses very broad terms and thus cannot be clearly answered.

What exactly is "a scientist"? Do you mean research scientists at academic institutions? Or anyone with any link to science? Only universities? Private institutes? Do you include nonsense like "christian science" in your definition?

What exactly does it mean to be "a believer"? The survey you link to doesn't make that clear, either. When asked "do you believe in god?" the definition is left to the person being asked, and might not be the same for everyone. For example, some people believe in some kind of god, but do not believe that this entity in any way interferes with daily life - and thus the science they practice.

From the data you provide, I doubt your initial conclusion, and instead claim that the majority of scientists are not believers. The 18% category of "belief in some kind of supernatural power" is so broad and undefined that you should not lump it in with the "belief in god" category. Those 18% are not necessarily believers, they are just not strict materialists. If you keep them seperate, only 33% of scientists believe in god, and that in one of the most religious western countries on this planet. Almost all of these people will have been brought up religiously, attended church, etc. That the vast majority of them managed to rid themselves of religious belief is more astonishing than the remaining third.

In addition, in many places around the world, including the USA, being an atheist is still not an entirely uncontroversial position. One reason why there are so many more atheists found in the scientific community than the general public certainly is that atheism is more acceptable in that environment. In politics, for example, there was a poll during the last US presidential election that more people would accept a practicing muslim as a president than an atheist. Opposition against atheists is strongly rooted in all the abrahamic religions, and atheists are considered "worse" than believers in other gods in all of them.

What that means is that many atheists will hide their lack of belief and might well answer "yes" to the "do you believe?" question, even on a poll.

Also do not underestimate the power of tradition. I know a few people who are the most irreligious people you can imagine, faith plays no role in their life whatsoever. But they go to church with the family on christmas and if you'd ask them they might well say yes, they believe in god. Mostly, however, they don't give the matter much thought.

Without a more precise poll, it is impossible to say how religious, exactly, what kind of scientists, exactly, are.


Science ultimately rests on an act of faith: faith that the laws of nature (gravitation, electromagnetism, etc) will continue to operate in the same way in the future. Inductive inference - the basic knowledge gatherer of science - is a practical example of this. We have no rational explanation for the existence of necessary causal connections - the "glue" that makes the universe intelligible. Hume was the first to raise this issue.

  • Luckily inductive inference is not “the basic knowledge gatherer of science”, despite popular misconceptions to the contrary. That approach would be fundamentally broken since it could never generate new knowledge (as you seem to know well). Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 22:35

This is rooted in the Conflict Thesis that began in the 1800s. Before that, Christian belief and science peacefully coexisted. Even the often cited Galileo affair was not purely a matter of belief versus science, since Galileo was a devoted Christian. It was more a matter of politics, personality clashes, and human nature's fear of change.

Another aspect to consider is the fact that humans tend to resist the rule of God in their lives, and this has resulted in many attempts to escape divine authority. Darwin's theory of evolution has enabled science to become the ultimate escape hatch, as philosopher Thomas Nagel writes, "Darwin enabled modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning, and design as fundamental features of the world." (Thomas Nagel, The Last Word (Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 131.)

Since science, especially Darwin, has been used as a weapon to attack religious belief, especially Christianity, this has caused some Christians to distrust the claims of science, resulting in responses that are not always rational. These responses only provide more ammunition for the promoters of the Conflict Thesis.

I dealt with these issues as I went from atheism to Evangelical Christianity. My conversion was prompted by internal evidence in Biblical revelation rather than scientific proof, but that left me stuck in the middle of this conflict. As I continued my search for theological truth, I ended up in the Catholic faith. Not only did I find a consistent theology, but I also found an approach to science and faith that transcended the conflict. I find the work of St. Thomas Aquinas to be crucial to dealing with this conflict because he focused on reconciling Christian faith with the science of his day, Aristotle. I am especially happy to see authors like Edward Feser, Michael Augros, Matt Fradd, and Robert Delfino making the thought of Aquinas accessible to a wide contemporary audience. I think this will go a long way to resolving this unnecessary conflict.


Inductive inferences are,as far as i know, the principle epistemological tools of science. Abductive inferences are also possible but are in any case special cases of inductive inference. Deduction also plays a role but it is not ampliative i.e does not produce new knowledge.What some (or most) scientists do not understand is that there are no rational grounds for believing that necessary causal connections (the glue that makes the universe intelligible) will continue into the future. It is an act of faith to assume so. Thank you for taking the trouble to read my comments.

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