Dr. Elaine Ecklund explains her research about scientists and their beliefs in this paper.
Scholars talk a great deal about research done in the 1960’s that revealed differences in religious beliefs among members of different disciplines (especially comparisons between natural and social scientists). My findings, however, do not reveal vast discrepancies in religious belief and practice among disciplines and fields. The true difference lies between academics in these scientific disciplines and members of the general public. With little doubt, scientists at major research universities are less religious—at least according to traditional forms of religion—than members of the general public.
During public lectures about the study, the question inevitably asked first is: Do the professors you studied believe in God? When asked their beliefs about God, nearly 34 percent of academic scientists answer “I do not believe in God” and about 30 percent answer “I do not know if there is a God and there is no way to find out,” the classic agnostic response. This means that over 60 percent of professors in these natural and social science disciplines describe themselves as either atheist or religiously agnostic. In comparison, among those in the general U.S. population, about 3 percent claim to be atheists and about 5 percent are religiously agnostic. When it comes to affiliation with particular religions, scientists are also vastly different from members of the broader society. About 52 percent of scientists see themselves as having no religious affiliation when compared to only 14 percent of the general population. Scientists who are not religious justify their inattention to religion through language that stresses the irrelevance of science to religion. Those not raised in religious homes, the case for the majority of scientists without religious affiliation, also emphasize their lack of experience with religion.
[…]What are we to make of this lack of traditional religion? Is knowledge of science somehow in conflict with being religious? Childhood religious background, not exposure to scientific education, seems to be the most powerful predictor of future irreligion. Those scientists raised in almost any faith tradition are more likely to currently be religious than those raised without any tradition. In addition, scientists who describe religion as important in their families as children are much more likely to practice faith currently. When compared to the general population, a larger proportion of scientists are raised in non-religious homes. When one considers that many more scientists come from non-religious homes or homes that were nominally religious, the distinctions between the general population and the scientific community make more sense. A large part of the difference between scientists and the general population may be due more to religious upbringing, rather than scientific training or university pressure to be irreligious, although these other possibilities should be further explored.
I heard about this research in the latest episode of the Reasonable Faith podcast. You can listen to it to hear Dr. Craig’s comments.
I think this research raises an important question that we need to ask scientists who don’t believe in God. That question is: “which particular pieces of scientific evidence led you to doubt God’s existence?” And then we should have done our scientific homework about the Big Bang, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, the habitability arguments from astrobiology, and so on, to be able to make a positive case for God’s existence from science. Christians ought to be more excited about science, because we have nothing to fear – and everything to gain – from knowing a lot more about science than we know now.
UPDATE: Commenter Eugene has found a related lecture from Cambridge University featuring Dr. Ecklund.