Exactly how religious are scientists? The typical assumption is that they aren’t terribly religious at all. Further I think most people assume this is a relatively recent change – say around the time of the second world war. It’s always a difficult question since there’s debate about who is or isn’t a scientist. Are doctors? Are people with computer science degrees? Are people with degrees in science but not practicing in the field? There’s also the question of significance. For instance I’m almost certainly insignificant and especially compared with a Nobel Prize winner. When making these studies do you give more weight to people who’ve published significant articles or who are in academia versus private facilities?
It gets complex fast. Any study attempting to answer these questions should be taken with an eye of skepticism. It is interesting though that 100 years ago a survey was sent to 1000 scientists asking them about their belief in God. Around 30% of “greater” scientists believed in a personal god and about 48% of “lesser” scientists did. The numbers were remarkably close to what a 2006 Pew study found with 33% of scientists believing in God.
Now of course there is a certain apples to oranges nature to that comparison. It is interesting though that things don’t appear to have changed that much.
Back at my old personal blog (now sadly neglected) I’d discussed a few issues of the religiosity of scientists. I was primarily discussing a survey released in 2014 about the religious beliefs of scientists. About 1.7% of scientists self-identified as Mormon. That’s slightly higher than what ARIS finds for national Mormon self-identification but about on par with past Pew numbers. Unsurprisingly Jews, atheists, and eastern religions were represented at higher rates.
The more interesting question of course is about how religiosity is manifest. Only 15% of the scientists surveyed considered themselves very religious. Also only 18% attended religious services regularly. That’s a bit more in keeping with what I suspect most people expect from the religious practices of scientists. Yet quite surprisingly a full 36% of scientists said they know God exists and have no doubts. That’s pretty high.
As I mentioned before figuring out who to include in these surveys is tricky. A different study by Elaine Ecklund polled only “elite scientists” and included both natural scientists and social scientists. To my surprise she found relatively little difference between the two groups. Their numbers were much lower though. 14% believed in God but had doubts and only 9% believed in God without doubts.
Of course believing or disbelieving in something simply because a significant number of scientists believe in something isn’t a good idea. Science inherently is pretty opposed to that sort of authoritarianism. It is still pretty interesting seeing these trends though.
 I think Jews and Asians are over-represented partially because of the strong academic push of these communities as well as immigration of scientists from Asia. For atheists it of course fits the stereotype but also there is a distinct move away from religious beliefs by professional academics.