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Spring 2000

Research Magazine > ARCHIVE > Summer 99 > Article

God vs. Science, Again
by Catherine Gianaro

In 1925, Darwinism challenged Christian fundamentalism for the mind and soul of the American schoolchild. The historic Scopes trial of that year was sparked by sociologist James Leuba's 1914 survey of the American Men of Science, which showed six out of 10 scientists did not believe in the existence of God.

More than 80 years later, Edward Larson repeated Leuba's study. The UGA professor of law and history found the same results (Research Reporter, Summer 1997) but the media spin was different.

Earlier this century, the headlines read that nearly half of scientists did not believe in God. After Larson's poll, the media was boasting more than half did.

Just last year, Larson polled members of the more prestigious National Academy of Science. This time, his results were different. Fewer than 10 percent of these scientists reported they believe in God. Larson suggests several reasons to account for the difference.

"We were doing a much more select group," he said. "It could be a greater amount of disbelief the higher up the scientific elite scale you go. Also, the National Academy is a self-selecting body rather than a random sample of top scientists."

Larson and his survey partner, writer Larry Witham, conducted more than 100 individual interviews to find out why scientists believe this way. Among the surveyed scientists, all believed in evolution, none believed in creationism and some believed in an altruistic God.

"These people are committed to naturalism. They spend their entire career finding out about nature," he said. "All these scientists believe in science. It's just a question of whether they also believe in God."

Larson published his first findings in Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion, which was awarded the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for History.

Larson's second survey, which also paralleled Leuba's work, found similar results: significantly higher levels of disbelief in God among top scientists.

"It's interesting to see what NAS members believe," Larson said, "or for that matter, deans of divinity schools, government officials or any other influential group."

And that's precisely what Larson is planning to do next: He is surveying deans of American theology schools to compare their belief systems.

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God vs. Science