Why Don’t Brilliant Scientists Like Stephen Hawking Believe in God?

by Natasha Crain

Famous physicist, cosmologist, and author Stephen Hawking died this week. He was widely known as one of the most brilliant scientists of our time.

He was also widely known as an atheist.

In fact, many of the most famous scientists today are atheists.

This point has not escaped the attention of skeptics who often promote the idea that science and God are in conflict. As supporting evidence of that supposed conflict, skeptics often claim that virtually no scientists believe in God. More specifically, they back up their claim by citing a 1998 research study that showed 93 percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences (an elite scientific organization in the United States) don’t believe in God. That finding caught the media’s attention and it’s been continually quoted ever since as a known fact about the relationship of religious belief and scientific professions.

For example, atheist neuroscientist and popular author Sam Harris has written:

Although it is possible to be a scientist and still believe in God — as some scientists seem to manage it — there is no question that an engagement with scientific thinking tends to erode, rather than support, religious faith. Taking the U.S. population as an example: Most polls show that about 90% of the general public believes in a personal God; yet 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences do not. This suggests that there are few modes of thinking less congenial to religious faith than science is.

My purpose in this post isn’t to dissect Stephen Hawking’s personal religious beliefs. I only refer to him here because his death has once again raised this subject in popular discussion. My purpose is also not to dissect whether God and science conflict (I address this in multiple chapters of Talking with Your Kids about God). My purpose instead is to look at the question of whether it’s true that scientists don’t believe in God and the implications of the answer.

While we know that truth isn’t determined by vote, statistics get people’s attention—and young people especially trust “expert opinion”—so it’s well worth our time as parents to explore this question. When your kids ask why scientists don’t believe in God (because they’ve heard that’s a foregone conclusion), this is the discussion you need to have…

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Why Don’t Brilliant Scientists Like Stephen Hawking Believe in God?