Atheism makes you a great scientist?

A reader asks, perhaps facetiously:

Funny, but given the homage being paid to science in so many of these first threads, I was just wondering if there’s any actual evidence that, in practice, atheists make better scientists than believers.

There is. In the United States a general survey population of PhD scientists showed a 40% rate of theism (belief in a personal god). But among a sample of National Academy of Science members, the creme of the scientific profession, the rate of theism is 7%. You can see the data here. Other data shows that research universities tend to have a higher proportion of atheists & agnostics than bachelor granting institutions, who have a higher proportion of atheists & agnostics than 2 year colleges.

Does this mean that atheism makes you a better scientist? Matthew Nisbett has communicated to me that the extant social science tends to lean toward the proposition that secular individuals choose particular vocations, specifically, scientists who are atheists & agnostics are already non-believers by the time they enter university. Perhaps within the sciences there is a positive feedback loop whereby the culture is congenial to non-believers; I once worked in a lab with a colleague who was an evangelical Christian who did research on evolutionary biology.  He told me once that probably every few days for the past year someone had asked him how he could reconcile his religious beliefs with his scientific work, both his colleagues and his fellow Christians. One can add many other speculative processes which might lead to the sorting you see above; e.g., I suspect that the demands of time and the relatively modest remuneration results in those with large family and community obligations (one requiring sufficient funds for modest comfort, and the other time for participation) to opt out of science. And there is data that the religious are more likely to be married and have children.

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