Will Studying Science Make You an Atheist? – Part 1

In the movie Nacho Libre, the main character, Nacho, is a Christian who works at a church-run orphanage. At one point, he makes a friend named Esqueleto, and they have a conversation:

Nacho: I’m a little concerned right now. About… your salvation and stuff. How come you have not been baptized?
Esqueleto: Because I never got around to it, okay? I dunno why you always have to be judging me because I only believe in science.

Earlier in the film, Esqueleto declares: “I don’t believe in God. I believe in science.”

This reflects a common misconception: That faith in God is anti-rational and unreasonable, that science and belief in God are incompatible, and that you have to choose between being a person of faith or a person of science.

Richard Dawkins has said that “Faith is like a mental illness,” it is “the great cop-out, the excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.”1 Dawkins holds the view that Christianity, and faith in general, will eventually go the way of the Dodo bird and become extinct as time goes on.

Except…that is not what is happening. Just the opposite is happening actually – and as it turns out, it is as a result of people studying science more…

As Alex Rex Sandage, considered the greatest observational cosmologist of all time, has said: “It is my science that drove me to the conclusion that the world is much more complicated than can be explained by science.”2

Lesslie Newbigin, the British theologian and social theorist, makes the claim that “statistically, the correlation between academic life and irreligion is much higher in the social sciences and the humanities than it is among the natural sciences—physics, chemistry, and biology. Atomic physicists are much more likely to believe in God than sociologists.”3

Is that true? Does studying science actually tend to lead people to believe in God rather than to become atheists? Studies would suggest the answer is: Yes.

There have been several recent studies on the topic of spirituality and higher education, including an an ongoing study at UCLA, another at the University of Michigan, and another by sociologists at the University of British Columbia which focused on the spirituality of professors.

The data from the former two studies was disseminated in an article titled “Studying science doesn’t make you an atheist… but studying literature does!”, which concluded with this quote from a University of Michigan researcher: ”Our results suggest that it is Postmodernism, not Science, that is the bête noir of religiosity.”

The University of Michigan study showed that those who studied and worked in scientific fields felt that science confirmed their beliefs about God rather than disrupted them.

…to be continued. Click here to read Part 2!


1 The Nullifidian (December 1994)
2 Quoted in: Mark Clark. The Problem of God (p. 38).
3 Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (p.17).

10 thoughts on “Will Studying Science Make You an Atheist? – Part 1

    1. One of the studies I referenced (from University of Michigan) stated that studying science led to less people changing their priorly held beliefs about metaphysical things than humanities studies. I mention a bit about this in parts 2 and 3.

      1. Yes, I read the study. It says, “But students majoring in biology and physical sciences remain just about as religious as they were when they started college.”

        In any case, the linked article was specifically meant to address the question: ” Does studying science actually tend to lead people to believe in God rather than to become atheists?”

        The answer, going by all the evidence–especially the recent evidence collected by Ecklund–would seem to be something like, “It’s complicated.” And that is perhaps being charitable.

      2. Certainly it is complicated. However, there are clearly cases in which studying science leads people to believe in God rather than become atheists, as in the case of the people I quoted.

  1. (Not familiar w/ the commenting system; can’t hit reply to your latest. Anyway . . .)
    “There are clearly cases in which studying science leads people to believe in God . . . ”
    Indeed, I would never deny that. Antony Flew always comes to mind here.
    In one of your other posts you say: “Alvin Platinga, considered one of the greatest living philosophers, is a theist who has so convincingly argued for the existence of God that it has changed the entire climate of academic philosophy, to the point where atheism, rather than belief in God, is now considered a ‘superstitious’ belief.”
    Actually, we don’t know this. No comprehensive survey has been taken. But one survey (not without its flaws) has more philosophers accepting or leaning toward atheism:

    (Hart, by the way, besides being a philosopher, is also a prominent Roman Catholic theologian.)

    1. I took that from Nancy Pearcey’s book Total Truth, where she quotes Quentin Smith deploring the way Christians were taking over philosophy departments in universities across America, warning his colleagues “that the field of philosophy is being ‘de-secularized,’” (Total Truth, p.58) a movement that came about largely because of the work of Alvin Plantinga. The attribution of Alvin Platinga being considered by many to be the greatest living philosopher was from Nick Van Til, “Modernizing the Case for God: A Review of Time’s Review,” Time, April 7, 1980.
      “Plantinga argues for the existence of God at such a high and convincing level that Smith says, “In philosophy, it became, almost overnight, ‘academically respectable’ to argue for theism.'” (Pearcey, Total Truth, p.58)

      1. And the sentiment that atheism must be regarded as a superstition was a quote from philosopher David Bentley Hart – The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), p.16

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