Friday, 2 January 2015

Debunking the myth that all scientists are religion-hating atheists

Both fundamentalists extremists and the New Atheists seem keen to peddle the myth that religion and science are mutually exclusive. Biophysicist Sylvia McLain however disabuses both parties of their misapprehensions:
I really hate to be the one to break the news, but scientist is not synonymous with atheist. Scientists also don't all have the same gender, race, sexual orientation or political ideology, much less religion or lack thereof. Whether or not a person is religious, with respect to their vocation as a scientist, is completely irrelevant. Just like sexual orientation, race and gender should be irrelevant to being a scientist. Reinforcing the scientist = atheist stereotype, whether you are for it or against it, necessarily excludes people. No one should be excluded from science if they want to do it, be excited about it or read about it.

Richard Dawkins aside, the view that all scientists – even if they be atheists or famous people – hate religion is not really true. Peter Higgs has very sanguinely criticised Dawkins for his anti-religious stance, and goes on to say that he doesn't think science and religion are incompatible. Brian Cox himself echoes the same sentiment. There are, moreover, a number of prominent openly religious scientists, such as Frances Collins, currently the head of the US National Institutes of Health; Gerhard Etrl who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry (2007) and William D Phillips who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997. And this is just naming a few. Most scientists in the media don't make a stand one way or another, perhaps because they too think it is irrelevant. Maybe this is a crazy idea but I am guessing a fair few scientists don't like Star Trek either.

The cartoon stereotype that all scientists are religion-hating atheists isn't just annoying; it is harmful. It is divisive and does nothing to encourage people into scientific discovery. In fact, it reinforces the idea that only a certain type of person can do science. This is not true. Professional science has enough diversity problems as it is, with women and minorities still grossly under-represented, without throwing religious-typing in there too. Public scientists and critics alike need to take a bit more care in lumping all scientists into the same stereotypical category. The world is much more complex than that.
Full article here.