One of the favorite arguments in the atheist movement is to point to leading scientists and note that a majority of them are atheists. The argument is, of course, pathetic and not much different from trying to score some point for male superiority because the same elite scientists are mostly white males. What matters are the arguments and evidence these elite scientists can come up with. If their atheism is linked to their expertise as scientists and scholars, surely this group of people must possess the most powerful and compelling arguments against the existence of God. So I have always said we need to hear these arguments.
Luckily for us, Dr. Jonathan Pararejasingham has compiled video of elite scientists and scholars to make the connection between atheism and science. Unfortunately for Pararejasingham, once you get past the self-identification of these scholars as non-believers, there is simply very little there to justify the belief in atheism. See for yourself. Here is the video.
What I found was 50 elite scientists expressing their personal opinions, but none had some powerful argument or evidence to justify their opinions. In fact, most did not even cite a reason for thinking atheism was true. Several claimed to have been non-religious their entire life and several more lost their faith as children or young students. This is consistent with a recent study that found:
The majority of the nonreligious scientists we interviewed were nonreligious before acquiring a scientific education (emphasis added)
Clearly, the expertise of these scholars had no role in formulating their atheism.
The few that did try to justify their atheism commonly appealed to God of the Gaps arguments (there is no need for God, therefore God does not exist) and the Argument from Evil (our bad world could not have come from an All Loving, All Powerful God). In other words, it is just as I thought it would be. Yes, most elite scientists and scholars are atheists. But their reasons for being atheists and agnostics are varied and often personal. And their typical arguments are rather common and shallow – god of the gaps and the existence of evil. It would seem clear that their expertise and elite status is simply not a causal factor behind their atheism.
Finally, it is also clear the militant atheism of Dawkins is a distinct minority view among these scholars.
My summary of each scholar’s point is below the fold.
- Sir Andrew Huxley, Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
*Simply declares he is an agnostic and provides no justification. I guess agnostic is supposed to be the same as atheist according to the Gnus.
- Steve Jones, UCL Professor of Genetics
*Declares science and religion are incompatible because religion relies on faith and science relies on evidence. It is a confused argument, but even if true, it does not establish the truth of atheism. Does not draw on his expertise in genetics.
- Yujin Nagasawa, Professor of Philosophy, Birmingham University
*Argues that is no one will sin in heaven, God should have made it such that none of us could ever have sinned on Earth. At least it’s an argument, but it’s just another version of the Argument From Evil.
- Dame Alison Richard, Cambridge Professor of Anthropology
*Simply declares she is an agnostic and provides no justification. I guess agnostic is supposed to be the same as atheist.
- Peter Millican, Oxford Professor of Philosophy
*Cites the argument from evil. No evil should exist if God created the world. So there.
- Gareth Stedman Jones, Cambridge Professor of History
*Says he is an “Anglican atheist,” then mentions he is an agnostic toward the end. No argument or justification.
- Roald Hoffmann, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
*There is no God because there are so many different religions. Does not draw on his expertise in chemistry.
- Michael Mann, UCLA Professor of Sociology
*Says he became an atheist at 13, so clearly his expertise had no role in the decision. Gives no argument or justification.
- Brian Greene, Professor of Physics, Columbia University
*Claims science provides more satisfying “nuts and bolts” answers and is better than “God did it.” Invokes God of the Gaps argument.
- CJ van Rijsbergen, Cambridge Professor of Computer Science
*Claims he is a “non-believing Christian.” He likes Christian cultures, but does not believe. No argument for atheism or unbelief.
- Louise Antony, Professor of Philosophy, UMass
*Declares that atheists can practice perfect piety because when they do good, it is not just to please God. No argument for the truth of atheism.
- Leonard Mlodinow, Cal Tech Professor of Physics
*Considers himself a religious agnostic who sees religion and science as separate.
- Lisa Jardine, UCL Professor of History
*She has never been religious in her life. No argument for atheism and clearly, her expertise has played no role.
- Aaron Ciechanover, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
*Simply declares he does not believe in anything beyond this world. No argument for atheism and does not draw on his expertise.
- Herbert Huppert, Cambridge Professor of Geophysics
*Declares he is Jewish, but only in cultural fashion. No argument for atheism and does not draw on his expertise.
- Geoff Harcourt, Australian Academic Economist, Cambridge
*Says he was brought up to be agnostic. No argument for atheism and clearly, his expertise has played no role.
- Elizabeth Loftus, Professor of Cognitive Psychology, UC Irvine
*Argues that memories can be manipulated and religious people can reinforce each other in their beliefs. No argument for the truth of atheism.
- Paul Rabinow, Berkeley Professor of Anthropology
*Declares he is neither a theist nor a militant atheist and expresses a disinterest of getting into those arguments. No argument for the truth of atheism.
- Sir Brian Harrison, Oxford Professor of Modern History
*Declares he has never seen any evidence for the truth of religion.
- Lisa Randall, Harvard Professor of Physics
*Says politicians need to be better at talking about science. No argument for atheism.
- Gabriel Horn, Cambridge Professor of Zoology
*Simply points out he has never felt religious his entire life and has had no interest in it. No argument for atheism.
- Jonathan Parry, Cambridge Professor of Anthropology
*Was an agnostic and became a hardened atheist because of what some priests were saying. No argument for the truth of atheism.
- Masatoshi Koshiba, Nobel Laureate in Physics
*Notes that science only deals in things that can be confirmed by observation or experiment and God does not qualify. Not an argument for the truth of atheism.
- Frank Drake, Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics, UCSC
*Understanding comes through observation and “why?” questions can be answered like this. Not an argument for the truth of atheism.
- Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography, UCLA
*Simply argues that “explanation” was one of the early functions of religion. No argument for the truth of atheism.
- Sir John E. Walker, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
*Lost his faith as an undergrad student because science and his religious views were in conflict.
- J.L. Schellenberg, Professor of Philosophy, MSVU
*Argues that if God exists, there should be no atheists.
- Horace Barlow, Visual Neuroscientist, Cambridge
*Asked if science has disproven religion and does not answer. Instead, argues that science provides some hope of solving various social problems.
- Baroness Susan Greenfield, Oxford Professor of Neuroscience
*Argues that everything is rooted in our brain and if someone wants to argue there is more to reality than this, who is she to argue otherwise.
- Hermann Hauser, Science Entrepreneur (Cambridge)
*Liked Dawkin’s “God Delusion” because it was liberating to admit being an atheist, but doesn’t buy into Dawkin’s argument that religion is evil and must be fought against.
- Stephen Gudeman, Professor of Anthropology, Minnesota
*Claims he is agnostic because he just does not know how the universe began.
- Jim Al Khalili, Professor of Theoretical Physics, Surrey
*Atheists just simply don’t get around to adding religion to their life.
- Mark Elvin, Professor of Chinese History, ANU/Oxford
*Apparently became a non-believer at age 11.
- Stuart Kauffman, Professor of Biochemistry and Mathematics, UVM; accommodationism
*Simply declares he does not believe in God, but adds we need to create a spiritual and value space in our society.
- Stefan Feuchtwang, Professor of Anthropology, LSE
*Says he always been an atheist, but deeply respectful of people’s religions.
- Ken Edwards, Cambridge Professor of Genetics
*Darwinian evolution explains life and has had no personal religious experience. God of the gaps logic.
- Raymond Tallis, Professor of Geriatric Medicine, Manchester
*Argues that God is a logical contradiction and cites argument from evil as an example. Does not draw on his expertise.
- Geoffrey Hawthorn, Cambridge Professor of Sociology and Political Theory
*Declares he is an atheist in intellectual sense, but socially curious about religion. No argument for the truth of atheism.
- Sir Roger Penrose, Oxford Professor of Mathematics
*Declares he is an atheist and just doesn’t believe. No argument for the truth of atheism.
- John Dunn, Cambridge Professor of Political Theory
*Declares he is an extremely robust agnostic. No argument for the truth of atheism.
- Nicholas Humphrey, Professor of Psychology, LSE
*God concept is not useful; God of the gaps argument.
- Craig Venter, Synthetic Life Pioneer; admits he’s an atheist on “60 Minutes”
*Believes universe is far more wonderful than assuming God made it. Personal opinion.
- Paul Churchland, Professor of Philosophy, UC San Diego
*Believers believe in absolute truth and thus cannot learn and this is a tragedy. No argument for the truth of atheism.
- Christian de Duve, Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
*Science and religion approach truth differently and science is moving back the frontiers of mystery – explains things without God. God of the gaps reasoning.
- Michael Bate, Cambridge Professor of Developmental Biology
*There is a deep mystery and feels that mystery is less apparent that once it was. Doesn’t subscribe to particular religion.
- Melvin Konner, Professor of Anthropology, Emory University
*Lost his faith in first semester philosophy course.
- Stephen Jay Gould, Harvard Professor of Zoology and Geology
*Does not know why consciousness should be seen as some higher existence/value. It’s just aspect of life.
- Arif Ahmed, Senior Lecturer Philosophy, Cambridge
*Religious belief does not have evidence.
- Christof Koch, Caltech Professor of Cognitive and Behavioural Biology
*Science throws some cold on water on the notion of free will.
- Peter Higgs, Nobel Laureate in Physics; incompatibility of science and religion
*Admits his atheism could be more a matter of his family background than anything to do with science.