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Atheist scientists are in minority, survey suggests

21 September 2017

iStock

A NEW survey suggests that among scientific and technical professionals in the UK, Germany, and France, atheists are in a minority.

It found that, among the British respondents, almost half categorised themselves as between spiritual and religious, while 21 per cent said that they were agnostic and 25 per cent said they were atheist.

The survey of 3000 science, medical, technical, and engineering leaders was conducted by the pollsters Ipsos MORI for the Scientific and Medical Network: an international organisation pledged to conduct evidence-based enquiry into themes bridging science, spirituality, and consciousness.

Roughly one in three of the UK participants, and a quarter of those in France and Germany agreed that religion or spirituality was important to the way in which they live their lives. In all three countries, people with higher educational qualifications were more spiritual or religious than those with lower qualifications.

Most of the respondents felt that religion and science were independent realms that could be compared: 44 per cent in the UK, 52 per cent in France, and 47 per cent in Germany. A quarter in the UK, however, and 21 per cent in France and Germany, said that they contradicted each other. In the UK and Germany, 21 per cent saw them as complementary; and, in France, 16 per cent. In the UK, 15 per cent of atheists meditated regularly.

Professor Eric Priest, a mathematician and a former President of the Royal Astronomical Society, said that the survey reinforced previous research which showed that most scientists “reject the outdated claim by New Atheists of a conflict between science and spirituality”. He suggested that, instead, many scientists had “a more subtle, nuanced view of the relationship, and recognise that questioning, imagination, creativity, reason, faith, and community are common features of both science and religion”.

The Revd Keith Ward, a former Regius Professor of Divinity in Oxford and an expert on the relationship between science and religion, said: “This is a well-constructed survey which throws doubt on the assertion that scientists mostly find that their work is incompatible with religious belief.

“The facts are much more complex, and it is good to have evidence that this is so.”

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