One of my colleagues, a highly intelligent individual, is also a devout and active Christian. I mention this because in my work she is an anomaly. The rest of the department, including the author, are atheists. Out of 25 scientists, there is just a single believer in an omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent deity. We as a group are nothing special in this respect. Scientists, on the whole, are notoriously atheistic and non-religious. A study of American scientists (members of the National Academy of Sciences) in 1998 revealed that only 7% believed in a personal god. Contrast this poll with the .opinion of the general American population. A
poll of 2011 showed that 92% of the American public believed in god. Interestingly, in North Western Europe and GALLUP Australasia non-believers outnumber the devout these days.
Over the years I have noted a trend amongst my god fearing colleagues. Most come from a devoutly religious family and from a very young age were exposed to a form of 'Super-Christianity'. The family environment would totally revolve, even spin, around devotion to god. Every aspect of their formative life has been influenced by this Christian context. Having said that, I've known a lot more colleagues who have reacted to this environment negatively by discarding religion and embracing atheism. I accept that my response is an over generalisation and represents my narrow personal view and experience.
I have also noted that Christian scientists come in two flavours: There are those who feel happy to compartmentalise their belief and keep it entirely separate from their professional duties. The analytical part of their brain, for the most part, disturbs their religious beliefs, not a jot. They are content to accept 'faith' as a valid mechanism for devotion without critically analysing the notion of 'faith' as an objective vehicle for obtaining knowledge. They are usually well versed with the New Testament but are selective when it comes to the Old; difficult passages, from a moral perspective, are only faintly perceived. In my experience, they are totally ignorant with regard to modern theology and biblical criticism. Their belief is very much of the heart and not of the head. The second variety is a rare beast indeed. They honestly hold true that science and religion are compatible and will go to great lengths and even greater mental gymnastics to reconcile science with theology. Usually, these scientists are highly knowledgeable when it comes to a close analytical reading of the bible They go as far as to dismiss literal interpretations of scripture and consider biblical miracles as either over zealous story telling or normal phenomenon misinterpreted. They apply their critical training to theology and can be rather inventive in their reasoning. However, they duly stray from the true path of verifiable science and in consequence become theologians with all its epistemological ramifications and reliance upon sophistry.
Returning to my colleague: As I recall she does not belong to a mainstream congregation as such. There is no central meeting area and members congregate in their homes or hired halls. Like many similar ‘churches' the members are very active and devout. Contrast this with the typical Anglican attendee on any given Sunday morn. The church organises various social activities and members are involved in ‘good works’ within the community and at the national and international level. Members also err toward the ‘happy clappy’ crowd and there is an emphasis on uplifting inspirational preaching and musical interludes. There is also a trend toward fundamentalism and literal biblical interpretation although my colleague is not completely in tune with this sort of doctrine. Like the vast majority of professional biologists, regardless of religious belief, she is a firm advocate of evolutionary theory. I would put forth that it is very difficult for a seriously minded biologist to disregard evolutionary theory in preference to the so-called alternative explanation of intelligent design. As an aside, do not be beguiled with the term ‘intelligent design’. It in no way reflects a coherent scientific theory and is simply a fancy way of saying: “an unknowable supernatural entity by means unknown causes things to happen”.
Anyway, my colleague's teenage son recently returned from a Christian residential camp. Once home he took great delight in telling his parents that he no longer believed in evolutionary theory and henceforth intelligent design would shine like a beacon on the road to enlightenment. My colleague was totally mortified and completely at a loss to understand her son's rejection of a sound scientific theory. A theory supported by a great wealth of empirical observational evidence. To her mind a belief in god and an adherence to evolutionary theory are compatible. God's wisdom has supplied a mechanism and evidence to support his act of wonder........
My colleague's son is young, naive, impressionable and perhaps a little in awe of his camp leader and mentor. He has much to learn and hopefully, with time and maturity, will develop the level of discernment necessary to escape the intellectual torpor of fundamental and moribund theological dogma. Arse.