While New Atheists love to argue that most scientists are atheists and this somehow shows that science and religion are incompatible, the survey results from the Pew Research Center tell us something else.
Consider the results:
Yes, scientists are less likely to be theists than the general public, but the simple fact remains that the majority of scientists are not atheists or agnostics. In fact, only 40% of scientists are atheists, a number too small to give significant support to the radical incompatibility claim.
But what of the fact that there are about 4 times as many atheists in science than there are in the general public? I suspect dynamics similar to those mentioned about the NAS are in play. To become a biologist or chemist, one first obtains a B.S. degree in biology or chemistry. From there, the person chooses to go to graduate school to pursue a career in research. Christian students, however, might be more likely to opt for career choices that involve more direct service to those around them. And an obvious choice would be the healing professions. So I did a quick Google search and lookie what I found:
The first study of physician religious beliefs has found that 76 percent of doctors believe in God and 59 percent believe in some sort of afterlife. The survey, performed by researchers at the University and published in the July issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found that 90 percent of doctors in the United States attend religious services at least occasionally, compared to 81 percent of all adults. Fifty-five percent of doctors say their religious beliefs influence how they practice medicine.
These results were not anticipated. Religious belief tends to decrease as education and income levels increase, yet doctors are highly educated and, on average, well compensated. The finding also differs radically from 90 years of studies showing that only a minority of scientists (excluding physicians) believes in God or an afterlife.
“We did not think physicians were nearly this religious,” said study author Farr Curlin, Instructor in Medicine and a member of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University. “We suspect that people who combine an aptitude for science with an interest in religion and an affinity for public service are particularly attracted to medicine. The responsibility to care for those who are suffering and the rewards of helping those in need resonate throughout most religious traditions.”
Further support for this hypothesis comes from looking more closely at physicians:
The survey revealed considerable variation between different medical specialties. Doctors in family practice and pediatrics were far more likely to carry their religious belief into “all my other dealings” and to look to God for “support and guidance.” Psychiatrists and radiologists were the least likely.
For some strange reason, I have never heard the Gnu atheists acknowledge this aspect of reality.