Hawking declares ‘There is no God,’ but many scientists disagree

Rice University
Office of Public Affairs / News & Media Relations


David Ruth

Amy McCaig

Hawking declares ‘There is no God,’ but many scientists disagree

HOUSTON – (Nov. 1, 2018) – In Stephen Hawking’s just published final book, “Brief Answers to the Big Questions,” the renowned physicist declares, “There is no God. No one directs the universe.” But according to research from Rice University, the jury is still out for many members of the scientific community.

Elaine Howard Ecklund. Photo by Jeff Fitlow.

Elaine Howard Ecklund. Photo by Jeff Fitlow.

Elaine Howard Ecklund, the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences, professor of sociology and director of Rice University’s Religion and Public Life Program, has been studying the intersection of science and religion since 2003. She’s concerned that Hawking’s posthumously published book may create a false impression about the religious beliefs shared by a large number of scientists.

“Stephen Hawking left a great scientific legacy. I do not think it is the intent of this recent work, but it is dangerous for science if Hawking’s religious legacy is to leave the public with the impression that scientists are all against God or — worse yet — against religious people,” Ecklund said. “Unfortunately, this seems to be how some media sources and pundits are framing his recent book.”

Between 2011 and 2016, Ecklund and her fellow researchers conducted “Religion Among Scientists in International Context,” or RASIC, the first-ever worldwide survey on what scientists think about religion. They have published 17 papers and book chapters related to the study, and a new book, “Secularity and Science: What Scientists Around the World Really Think About Religion,” will be released in spring 2019.

“More than half of scientists in India, Italy, Taiwan and Turkey self-identify as religious,” Ecklund said. “And it’s striking that approximately twice as many ‘convinced atheists’ exist in the general population of Hong Kong (55 percent), for example, compared with the scientific community in this region (26 percent).”

Ecklund noted that only a minority of scientists in each region believe that science and religion are in conflict. In the U.K. – one of the most secular countries studied – only 32 percent of scientists characterized the science-faith relationship as one of conflict. In the U.S., this number was 29 percent. And 25 percent of Hong Kong scientists, 27 percent of Indian scientists and 23 percent of Taiwanese scientists believed science and religion can coexist and be used to help each other.

“There’s a common myth – largely a creation of the West – about science and religion being in conflict, but it appears that most scientists really are not hostile to religion,” said Brandon Vaidyanathan, associate professor and chair of the sociology department at the Catholic University of America, who is a co-author of “Secularity and Science” and was a researcher on the RASIC project. “In fact, on a global scale, we found a significant portion of scientists can be characterized as having religious identities, practices or beliefs, and nontrivial proportions say they have ‘no doubt’ that God exists.”

“Science is a global endeavor,” Ecklund said. “And as long as science is global, then we need to recognize that the borders between science and religion are more permeable than most people think.”

Other authors of “Secularity and Science” who were also involved with the study are David Johnson of the University of Nevada, Reno and Kirstin Matthews, Steven Lewis, Robert Thomson and Di Di of Rice University.

To schedule an interview with Ecklund, contact Amy McCaig, senior media relations specialist at Rice, at 713-348-6777 or amym@rice.edu.

To schedule an interview with Vaidyanathan, contact Mary McCarthy Hines, director of university communications and media relations at the Catholic University of America, at 202-319-6972 or mccarthym@cua.edu.

Rice has a VideoLink ReadyCam TV interview studio. ReadyCam is capable of transmitting broadcast-quality standard-definition and high-definition video directly to all news media organizations around the world 24/7.


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Photo credit: Rice University.

Elaine Howard Ecklund website: http://www.elainehowardecklund.com/

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About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.