Science vs. Religion: What are scientists’ religious beliefs? 3, 2000, cover of TIME as J. Craig Venter and Francis Collins jointly announced the mapping of the human genome, three years ahead of the expected end of the Public Genome Program.Do scientists at our nation’s top universities fit the stereotype of anti-religion atheists? A few are hard core atheists, reports Elaine Howard Ecklund in “Science vs. Religion,” but not many. About half identify with an established religious affiliation, as we discussed yesterday. (Read earlier articles through the “Recent Posts” links at right.)

But let’s explore that finding today. Claiming an affiliation is one thing. Believing in religion is quite another. What do scientists actually believe when it comes to religion? Almost three-quarters say “there are basic truths in many religions.” This compares with just over 80% of Americans who believe the same. About a quarter of elite scientists agree that “there is very little truth in any religion.” Only 4% of the general population feels the same.

Do any scientists believe that one religion has a monopoly on truth? Not many—only 3%. But only 12% of the American people believe so anyway.

A glaring difference between elite scientists and other Americans comes when asked about belief in God, Ecklund finds. Almost all Americans believe in God. But only a third of elite scientists believe in some sort of God.

How about religious practice? Just over half of elite scientists say they never attend religious services, compared with 22% of the general public. Roughly equal proportions (about 30%) attend less than once a month. Almost half of all Americans attend religious services once a month or more, compared with 18% of scientists.

The picture that’s emerging from Ecklund’s research shows that the reality is more complex than the simple dichotomy of science versus religion. Yes, scientists are less religious than the general population. But there are also many religious scientists, even a few outspoken evangelicals—like Francis Collins, who headed the prestigious Human Genome Project (1993–2008), and was appointed last year by Obama to head the National Institutes of Health. Collins says he feels no conflict between science and religion. (Read about Francis Collins’ latest project in ReadTheSpirit today.)

Would science be better off or worse off if more scientists were like Francis Collins? Would religion be better off or worse off?

Please, click on “Post a Comment” below and share your thoughts! I really appreciate all the comments you add to I read them. I think about what you’re adding to the discussion. Finally, let me add just a quick response to JJBodine on your comment about “moral” vs. “mortal”: Yes, I did mean “moral,” but you raise a good point. Sometimes these conflicts do seem “mortal.”

(Originally posted in

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