Ok, meta-meta-meta-meta commentary time! So:
- Jeff Jacoby writes a column in the Boston Globe lamenting that Isaac Newton's religious beliefs would keep him from getting an academic job today.
- James Kirchick thinks that's ridiculous, saying that “the Newtons of today don't believe in some of the silly things Newton did 400 years ago (like alchemy, and the "domination of an intelligent and powerful Being" over the universe).”
- Kevin Drum, while in agreement about the silliness of Jacoby's column, disagrees with the quoted bit above: "Alchemy is indeed considered silly today, but belief in the "domination of an intelligent and powerful Being" over the universe is, um, still pretty widespread, isn't it? Or did I miss a memo somewhere?"
- Brian Beutler finds fault with Drum's objection, saying “I think it's probably accurate to suggest that "the Newtons of today" (oblique way of saying "the world's most brilliant scientists") don't believe in things like ID, which, in fact, are silly.”
And Brian is, in fact, correct. There's even data!
It just so happens that Greg Graffin (who, when not touring with Bad Religion, teaches Biology at UCLA) wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on this very subject*. In Evolution, Monism, Atheism, and the Naturalist World-View, Graffin explores the religious beliefs of evolutionary biologists around the world. After surveying quite a few of them, he discovered that nearly 90% of them say they do not believe in God.
In contrast, 90% of the general population in the U.S. expressed a belief in God in a 2003 survey.
Belief in a higher power may be quite widespread, but it shouldn't be surprising that elite scientists might not share these views. I think Sir Isaac's job prospects are pretty solid.
*How do I know this? Why, I have a signed copy.