Do scientists become atheists because of their focus on science? This is one of many questions examined by Elaine Howard Ecklund, a sociologist at Rice University. Her research is based on a survey of 1,646 scientists at 21 elite research universities and in-depth interviews with 271 of the scientists. Her conclusions are very interesting.
Our study data do not strongly support the idea that scientists simply drop their religious identities upon professional training, due to an inherent conflict between science and faith, or to institutional pressure to conform…Study examines religious beliefs of scientists. July 12, 2007
So why (in the United States) are there are a higher proportion of scientists who profess atheism, than in the general public? Ecklund writes, “It appears that those from non-religious backgrounds disproportionately self-select into scientific professions.” In other words, a higher number of atheists, compared to theists, choose to become scientists. This means that science does not turn people into atheists; rather, it simply draws atheists into its fold.
One other interesting result from the survey is that younger scientists are more likely to believe in God than older scientists, and they are more likely to attend religious services. Ecklund states that, “If this holds throughout the career life-course for this cohort of academic scientists, it could indicate an overall shift in attitudes toward religion among those in the academy.”