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[Summary of a paper that appeared in the 23 July 1998 issue of Nature by Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham: "Leading Scientists Still Reject God." Nature, 1998; 394, 313.]

Larson and Witham present the results of a replication of 1913 and 1933 surveys by James H. Leuba. In those surveys, Leuba mailed a questionnaire to leading scientists asking about their belief in "a God in intellectual and affective communication with humankind" and in "personal immortality". Larson and Witham used the same wording [as in the Leuba studies], and sent their questionnaire to 517 members of the [U.S.] National Academy of Sciences from the biological and physical sciences (the latter including mathematicians, physicists and astronomers). The return rate was slightly over 50%.

The results were as follows (figures in %):


     BELIEF IN PERSONAL GOD          1914   1933    1998

     Personal belief                 27.7    15       7.0
     Personal disbelief              52.7    68      72.2
     Doubt or agnosticism            20.9    17      20.8

     BELIEF IN IMMORTALITY           1914    1933    1998

     Personal belief                 35.2    18       7.9
     Personal disbelief              25.4    53      76.7
     Doubt or agnosticism            43.7    29      23.3

Note: The 1998 immortality figures add up to more than 100%. The misprint is in the original. The 76.7% is likely too high.

The authors elaborated on these figures:


Disbelief in God and immortality among NAS biological scientists was 65.2% and 69.0%, respectively, and among NAS physical scientists it was 79.0% and 76.3%. Most of the rest were agnostics on both issues, with few believers. We found the highest percentage of belief among NAS mathematicians (14.3% in God, 15.0% in immortality). Biological scientists had the lowest rate of belief (5.5% in God, 7.1% in immortality), with physicists and astronomers slightly higher (7.5% in God, 7.5% in immortality).

Larson and Witham close their report with the following remarks:


As we compiled our findings, the NAS issued a booklet encouraging the teaching of evolution in public schools.... The booklet assures readers, 'Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral'. NAS president Bruce Alberts said: 'There are many very outstanding members of this academy who are very religious people, people who believe in evolution, many of them biologists.' Our survey suggests otherwise."

There is a review of earlier studies of the religiosity of scientists at pp 180ff of:


Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi and Michael Argyle. The Psychology of Religious Behaviour, Belief and Experience. London & New York: Routledge, 1997. ISBN: 0-415-12330-5 (hbk) or 0-415-12331-3 (pbk).

On the subject of eminent scientists, they mention unpublished data collected by one of the co-authors: "Beit-Hallahmi (1988) found that among Nobel Prize laureates in the sciences, as well as those in literature, there was a remarkable degree of irreligiosity, as compared to the populations they came from." The reference is to: Beit-Hallahmi, B. (1988). The religiosity and religious affiliation of Nobel prize winners. Unpublished data.