Scientists who put their faith in heavenly power

When it comes to God, a surprising number of scientists are with Galileo. "I don't read the Bible to find out how the heavens go, but how to go to heaven," said Donald Bruce yesterday, quoting the legendary astronomer.

Mr Bruce describes himself as a "believing chemist" - and not such a rare commodity, it seems. As director of a Church of Scotland project entitled Society, Religion and Technology, he was comforted to learn that 40 per cent of scientists believe in God and an afterlife. The figure, reported in the latest edition of the revered journal Nature, has reopened the debate about whether religious belief and scientific pursuit are compatible.

On the one hand, there are figures such as the former Archbishop of York, John Habgood, a trained scientist, and the Bishop of Leicester, Tom Butler, an electrical engineer. And on the other, high-profile atheist scientists, such as Richard Dawkins.

Significantly, the number of God-fearing scientists has not changed in the last 80 years - despite the leaps of discovery made in that time. In 1916 a landmark survey by the eminent researcher James Leuba found that 60 per cent of American scientists did not believe in God. The result caused a sensation at the time, prompting warnings from politicians about the evils of modernism.

While Leuba's prediction that non-belief among scientists would increase in the future has not come true, there has been a significant shift in the views held by practitioners of the three fields surveyed - mathematics, biology and physics/astronomy.

Although biologists were the biggest doubters in Leuba's day, physicists and astronomers are now the leading disbelievers, with 77.9 per cent denying the existence of God. Mathematicians were the scientists most inclined to believe in God today, a total of 44.6 per cent.

Edward Larson of the University of Georgia and his colleague, Larry Witham from Maryland, questioned 600 scientists listed in the 1995 edition of American Men and Women of Science.

Professor Dawkins, Reader in Zoology at New College, Oxford, and author of The Selfish Gene, is one of the scientific community's most vocal atheists. To him, God is simply a rival hypothesis that he deems wrong. In his book River out of Eden, he wrote that the discovery of the genetic code revealed: "there is no spirit-driven life force, no throbbing, heavy, pullulating, protoplasmic, mystic jelly. Life is just bytes and bytes of digital information."

But a spokesman for the Catholic Church dismissed such notions, pointing out that the Vatican employed its own scientists. "In the past scientists were seen as atheistic because they raised questions about God and the universe, but science and religion are becoming more reconciled now. The idea that scientists don't believe in God is a bit of a myth." Clare Garner

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ecommerce Project Manager

£450 - £500 per day + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: The opportunity:Ec...

Advertising and Marketing Communications Manager

£52000 - £58000 per annum + benefits, company car: Ashdown Group: Advertising ...

ICT Teacher

£21804 - £31868 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a qualified ...

DT Design and Technology Teacher

£21804 - £31868 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are urgently for ...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on