What are the religious views of leading scientists who support evolution?

John G. West
Discovery Institute
May 1, 2009
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Although the idea of “theistic evolution” receives plenty of attention from the newsmedia, it clearly represents a fringe position among leading biologists. According to a 1998 survey of members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), nearly 95% of NAS biologists identify themselves as either atheists or agnostics, a percentage of unbelief far higher than in any other scientific discipline.

religious graph 1

SOURCE: Larry Witham, Where Darwin Meets the Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 271-273.

Similarly, according to a 2003 Cornell survey of leading scientists in the field of evolution, 87% deny existence of God, 88% disbelieve in life after death, and 90% reject idea that evolution directed toward “ultimate purpose.” 

 religious graph 2 
SOURCE: Gregory W. Graffin and William B. Provine, “Evolution, Religion and Free Will,” American Scientist, vol. 95 (July-August 2007), pp. 294-297; results of Cornell Evolution Project Survey.

Outside the circle of top biologists, the rates for atheism and agnosticism are somewhat lower, but they still are dramatically higher than the rates found in the general population. According to a national survey of faculty at both four-year and two-year colleges and universities published in 2007, more than 60% of all college biologists consider themselves atheists or agnostics.

religious graph 3 
SOURCE: Neil Gross and Solon Simmons, “How Religious are America’s College and University Professors?” (Feb. 6, 2007) Available at http://religion.ssrc.org/reforum/Gross_Simmons.pdf.

The rates of atheism and agnosticism are not quite as high among scientists outside the field of biology, but again, they are dramatically higher than what is found among the general population. According to a survey published in 2007 of college professors at the nation’s major research universities, nearly 64% of scientists at those institutions classified themselves as atheists or agnostics.

religious graph 4

SOURCE: Elaine Howard Ecklund, Religion and Spirituality among University Scientists, Feb. 5, 2007, p. 2. Available at http://religion.ssrc.org/reforum/Ecklund.pdf.

In sum, Darwinian biologist Richard Dawkins, avowed atheist and author of The God Delusion, is far more representative of the beliefs of evolutionary biologists than Christian geneticist Francis Collins, author of The Language of God.