American Scientist

In 1914, James Leuba, a psychologist at Bryn Mawr, conducted several surveys of scientists and college students regarding their religious beliefs, publishing his findings in a 1916 book titled The Belief in God and Immortality. Among scientists generally, 41.8 percent indicated they were believers in a personal God (defined as a being to whom one could pray, expecting a response), whereas 41.5 percent expressed disbelief in such a God and 16.7 percent declared themselves to be agnostic. Among elite scientists (those with an asterisk by their names in James McKean Cattell's American Men of Science), the percentage of believers was lower, at 31.6 percent. Among elite biologists, the subset who believed in God was even smaller—16.9 percent. In 1996 and 1998, Edward Larson and Larry Witham replicated Leuba's study, publishing their findings in the April 23, 1997, and July 23, 1998, issues of Nature. Their surveys revealed that of all scientists questioned, 39.3 percent professed belief in a personal God, about the same as in the 1914 study. However, among elite scientists—now defined as members of the National Academy of Sciences—the proportion who were believers had plummeted to 7 percent, with biologists showing the least religious conviction at 5.5 percent. In the general population of the United States, some 86 percent profess belief in the existence of a personal God, according to a 1999 Gallup poll. These figures dramatically indicate the great no-mans land separating the religious convictions of ordinary citizens from those of the scientific community, especially its leading members. This dissensus has fueled many of the bitter battles recently fought over evolution and stem cells and has ignited explosive devices laid along several political byways.
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