Database: What Do History’s Top Scientists Think About God?

This is now the third entry in a collection of inter-related database posts. The object of these posts is to collect data about the religious convictions of leading figures in the history of various intellectual disciplines. As of this moment, I have undergone this project for mathematicians and philosophers. This list is aimed at scientists.

As a note, I realize that you can’t really prove the truth of falsity of a religious position via sociological statistics. I wouldn’t try to do that. This is not my intention here. The motivation for this project for me was to understand how culture has impacted the development of math, science, and philosophy. For example, if only 5% of humans hold to religious belief X but 20 out of the “Top 100” scientists in history believed in X, then that gives us good reason to believe that this religion either actively or passively (via other positions it affirms) encourages the pursuit of science. For instance, Christianity teaches that the universe was created by a God and that God designed the human brain to be capable of reason and intellectual pursuits. People who believe Christianity, then, would have some very good reasons to believe that science can be done – since God’s creating the universe gives them good reason to think the universe would have patterns in it, and knowing God created them in His image gives them good reason to think they are capable of discovering those patterns. On the other hand, if a religion taught as a central doctrine that the world is completely chaotic, people who believe that religion aren’t going to be doing much science, if any.

So, we can gain from these observations a sort of empirical understanding of whether certain religious backgrounds do or do not encourage scientific study. Of course, there are other factors at play here. But looking at this kind of data ought to help us understand these questions better.

As a Christian, I am particularly motivated to understand the role of Christians in science. Especially in light of the firestorm of modern accusations that Christianity is, at its core, anti-science. I’ll readily admit that there are many Christians today who oppose various scientific ideas. But, over the course of history, the data seems to show exactly the opposite. Christians appear all throughout the sciences – in fact, the data suggests that Christians are by far the dominant group in the history of science. There is a similar phenomenon in the data I collected for mathematics and philosophy.

I think it is then quite reasonable to conclude, absent other evidence, that Christianity is in no way anti-intellectual at its core, even if certain subcultures within Christianity might be anti-intellectual. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the data for yourself and see what conclusions you come to. I will be periodically updating this post with any new information I come across, as I admit readily that pinning down the religious beliefs of historical figures is often tricky to do.

Link for the Top 100 I used:

Top 100 Scientists

  1. Isaac Newton – Christian
  2. Leonhard Euler – Christian (Calvinist)
  3. Gottfried Leibniz – Christian
  4. Carl Friedrich Gauss – Christian
  5. Michael Faraday – Christian (Protestant)
  6. Euclid of Alexandria – Likely polytheist
  7. Galileo Galilei – Christian (Catholic)
  8. Nikola Tesla – Likely Deist
  9. Marie Curie – Agnostic
  10. Albert Einstein – Agnostic (maybe pantheist)
  11. Alhazen ibn al-Haytham – Muslim
  12. Louis Pasteur – Christian (Catholic)
  13. Johannes Kepler – Christian
  14. Liu Hui – Likely Taoist or Buddhist
  15. Max Planck – Theist (Christian most of his life)
  16. Augustin Louis-Cauchy – Christian (Catholic)
  17. James Clerk Maxwell – Christian (Evangelical or Presbyterian)
  18. Avicenna of Persia – Muslim
  19. Amedeo Avogadro – Likely Christian
  20. Dmitri Mendeleev – Deist
  21. Robert Koch – Agnostic
  22. Ernest Rutherford – Likely Theist (Likely Christian)
  23. Nicolaus Copernicus – Christian (Catholic)
  24. Bernhard Riemann – Christian
  25. Zhang Heng – Daoist/Confucian
  26. Blaise Pascal – Christian (Catholic)
  27. Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi – Muslim
  28. Henri Poincaré – Atheist
  29. Abu Rayhan Al-Biruni – Muslim
  30. Isambard Brunel – Unclear
  31. Claudius Galen of Pergamon – Unclear
  32. Joseph-Louis Lagrange – Agnostic
  33. Qin Jiushao – Unclear
  34. Paul Ehrlich – Likely Jewish
  35. Archimedes of Syracuse – Likely polytheist
  36. Nasir Al-Din Al-Tusi – Muslim
  37. Robert Boyle – Christian
  38. Pierre-Simon Laplace – Agnostic
  39. Zhu Shijie – Likely Shamanism
  40. Wernher von Braun – Christian (Evangelical)
  41. Henri Becquerel – Unclear
  42. David Hilbert – Agnostic
  43. Niels Bohr – Atheist
  44. Srinivasa Ramanujan – Hindu
  45. Gregor Mendel – Christian (Catholic, Augustinian friar)
  46. Emmy Noether – Likely Jewish
  47. Antoine Lavoisier – Christian (Catholic)
  48. Brahmagupta – Hindu
  49. Edward Jenner – Christian
  50. Pierre de Fermat – Christian (Likely Catholic)
  51. Zu Chongzhi – Unclear
  52. James Watt – Deist
  53. René Descartes – Christian (Catholic)
  54. John von Neumann – Likely Agnostic
  55. Omar al-Khayyam – Agnostic/Atheist
  56. Hermann von Helmholtz – Unclear
  57. Robert Hooke – Likely Christian
  58. George Washington Carver – Christian
  59. Pythagoras of Samos – Pythagoreanism
  60. Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac – Atheist
  61. Aryabhata – Likely Hindu
  62. Alessandro Volta – Christian (Catholic)
  63. Christiaan Huygens – Christian (Protestant)
  64. Carl Linnaeus – Likely Christian (Lutheran)
  65. Walter Hermann Nernst – Unclear
  66. Hippocrates of Cos – Unclear
  67. Charles-Augustin de Coloumb – Likely Christian (Catholic)
  68. Girolamo Cardano – Likely Catholic
  69. Andrey Kolmogorov – Unclear
  70. Hans Christian Oersted – Theist (Maybe Christian)
  71. Andreas Vesalius – Christian (Likely Catholic)
  72. Daniel Bernoulli – Christian (Protestant)
  73. Heinrich Hertz – Christian (Lutheran)
  74. Jean le Rond d’Alembert – Likely Christian
  75. Shen Kuo – Daoist or Buddhist
  76. Bhaskaracharya of India – Hindu
  77. John Dalton – Christian (Quaker)
  78. André-Marie Ampère – Christian
  79. Enrico Fermi – Agnostic
  80. Claude Bernard – Likely Atheist (Maybe Catholic… this is disputed)
  81. Johann Heinrich Lambert – Christian (Likely Protestant)
  82. James Prescott Joule – Christian
  83. Seki Kowa Takakazu – Unclear
  84. Hendrik Antoon Lorentz – Likely Atheist (“Freethinker”)
  85. Otto Hahn – Christian (Lutheran)
  86. Luigi Galvani – Likely Christian (Catholic)
  87. Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier – Christian (Likely Catholic)
  88. Abu-Kamil ibn Aslam Shuja – Muslim
  89. Georg Simon Ohm – Christian (Protestant)
  90. William Thomson Kelvin – Christian
  91. John Bardeen – Likely Deist
  92. Li Shizhen – Likely Neo-Confucian
  93. James Joseph Sylvester – Jewish
  94. Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen – Likely Christian
  95. Sergei Pavlovich Korolev – Likely atheist
  96. Antoinie von Leeuwenhoek – Christian (Reformed/Calvinist)
  97. Jesse Ernest Wilkins, Jr. – Unclear
  98. Humphry Davy – Deist
  99. Lise Meitner – Christian (Lutheran convert, ethnically Jewish)
  100. Alexander Fleming – Unclear (Presbyterian or Agnostic?)

Statistics on Beliefs

Total Counted: 88 (Uncounted: 12)

Theist / Atheist + Agnostic / Other: 61 / 15 / 12

Christian: 44

Atheist/Agnostic: 15

Uncommitted Theist/Deist: 8

Muslim: 6

Jewish (religiously): 3

Hindu: 4

Other: 8

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: