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Are Most Doctors Religious? s/o Conjoined Twins Thread

Posted by on Sep. 14, 2011 at 8:22 AM
  • 17 Replies

So someone in the conjoined twins thread has asserted that she never met a doctor that didn't recognize his abilities and learning to have come from God. 

I thought this article was interesting and I would bring it here.

The researcher behind this study is "surprised and disappointed," but I'm neither.

Although most religious traditions call on the faithful to serve the poor, a large cross-sectional survey of U.S. physicians found that physicians who are more religious are slightly less likely to practice medicine among the underserved than physicians with no religious affiliation.

In the July/August issue of the Annals of Family Medicine, researchers from the University of Chicago and Yale New Haven Hospital report that 31 percent of physicians who were more religious--as measured by "intrinsic religiosity" as well as frequency of attendance at religious services--practiced among the underserved, compared to 35 percent of physicians who described their religion as atheist, agnostic or none.

Charity, service, self-sacrifice, generosity, and kindness are human properties, not religious virtues. I wouldn't expect a group of people from a common culture to show much substantial variation in empathy and public service along religious lines.

Despite the fact that he is disappointed in the result, I do have to commend the author for making a positive policy recommendation:

Policy makers and medical educators hoping to increase the physician supply for underserved populations should take these results into account cautiously, said the authors. "No one knows how to select medical students in a way that would actually increase the number of physicians eager to serve the underserved," Curlin said, "but our findings suggest that admissions officials should ignore both the general religiousness of candidates and their professed sense of calling to medicine."


Just thought I would share; 35 percent is a considerable number.  Also interesting is that they were more likely to help underserved populations than those identifying as religious.

by on Sep. 14, 2011 at 8:22 AM
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by Gina on Sep. 14, 2011 at 8:26 AM


I'm also not surprised by the difference in who serves under served communities except that I thought the gap would be significantly larger. Most of the "Christians" I know hate being around people who are not exactly like them.

by Roma on Sep. 14, 2011 at 8:37 AM

There have been studies of scientists that show large majorities of them are atheist/agnostic.  I would be surprised if this wasn't the case with doctors as well, a larger portion than the general public being atheist or agnostic.

The other thing is....basing what you think about something by looking around you and drawing conclusions is a poor way to determine truth.  If I was to drop an alien from another planet in Mumbai, they would draw significantly different conclusions about what people are like than if I dropped that same alien in Stockholm, Shanghai, Manhattan, Houston, or Kabul.

All people aren't like that....whatever your "that" is.

by Bronze Member on Sep. 14, 2011 at 9:18 AM

Sir — The question of religious belief among US scientists has been debated since early in the century. Our latest survey finds that, among the top natural scientists, disbelief is greater than ever — almost total.

Research on this topic began with the eminent US psychologist James H. Leuba and his landmark survey of 1914. He found that 58% of 1,000 randomly selected US scientists expressed disbelief or doubt in the existence of God, and that this figure rose to near 70% among the 400 "greater" scientists within his sample [1]. Leuba repeated his survey in somewhat different form 20 years later, and found that these percentages had increased to 67 and 85, respectively [2].

In 1996, we repeated Leuba's 1914 survey and reported our results in Nature [3]. We found little change from 1914 for American scientists generally, with 60.7% expressing disbelief or doubt. This year, we closely imitated the second phase of Leuba's 1914 survey to gauge belief among "greater" scientists, and find the rate of belief lower than ever — a mere 7% of respondents.

Leuba attributed the higher level of disbelief and doubt among "greater" scientists to their "superior knowledge, understanding, and experience" [3]. Similarly, Oxford University scientist Peter Atkins commented on our 1996 survey, "You clearly can be a scientist and have religious beliefs. But I don't think you can be a real scientist in the deepest sense of the word because they are such alien categories of knowledge." [4] Such comments led us to repeat the second phase of Leuba's study for an up-to-date comparison of the religious beliefs of "greater" and "lesser" scientists.

Our chosen group of "greater" scientists were members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Our survey found near universal rejection of the transcendent by NAS natural scientists. Disbelief in God and immortality among NAS biological scientists was 65.2% and 69.0%, respectively, and among NAS physical scientists it was 79.0% and 76.3%. Most of the rest were agnostics on both issues, with few believers. We found the highest percentage of belief among NAS mathematicians (14.3% in God, 15.0% in immortality). Biological scientists had the lowest rate of belief (5.5% in God, 7.1% in immortality), with physicists and astronomers slightly higher (7.5% in God, 7.5% in immortality). Overall comparison figures for the 1914, 1933 and 1998 surveys appear in Table 1.

Table 1 Comparison of survey answers among "greater" scientists 
Belief in personal God 1914 1933 1998
Personal belief    27.7    15    7.0
Personal disbelief    52.7    68    72.2
Doubt or agnosticism    20.9    17    20.8
Belief in human immortality 1914 1933 1998
Personal belief    35.2    18    7.9
Personal disbelief    25.4    53    76.7
Doubt or agnosticism    43.7    29    23.3
Figures are percentages.
Repeating Leuba's methods presented challenges. For his general surveys, he randomly polled scientists listed in the standard reference work, American Men of Science (AMS). We used the current edition. In Leuba's day, AMS editors designated the "great scientists" among their entries, and Leuba used these to identify his "greater" scientists [1,2]. The AMS no longer makes these designations, so we chose as our "greater" scientists members of the NAS, a status that once assured designation as "great scientists" in the early AMS. Our method surely generated a more elite sample than Leuba's method, which (if the quoted comments by Leuba and Atkins are correct) may explain the extremely low level of belief among our respondents.

For the 1914 survey, Leuba mailed his brief questionnaire to a random sample of 400 AMS "great scientists". It asked about the respondent's belief in "a God in intellectual and affective communication with humankind" and in "personal immortality". Respondents had the options of affirming belief, disbelief or agnosticism on each question [1]. Our survey contained precisely the same questions and also asked for anonymous responses.

Leuba sent the 1914 survey to 400 "biological and physical scientists", with the latter group including mathematicians as well as physicists and astronomers [1]. Because of the relatively small size of NAS membership, we sent our survey to all 517 NAS members in those core disciplines. Leuba obtained a return rate of about 70% in 1914 and more than 75% in 1933 whereas our returns stood at about 60% for the 1996 survey and slightly over 50% from NAS members [1,2].

As we compiled our findings, the NAS issued a booklet encouraging the teaching of evolution in public schools, an ongoing source of friction between the scientific community and some conservative Christians in the United States. The booklet assures readers, "Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral"[5]. NAS president Bruce Alberts said: "There are many very outstanding members of this academy who are very religious people, people who believe in evolution, many of them biologists." Our survey suggests otherwise.

Edward J. Larson
Department of History, University of Georgia,
Athens, Georgia 30602-6012, USA

Larry Witham
3816 Lansdale Court, Burtonsville,
Maryland 20866, USA


Leuba, J. H. The Belief in God and Immortality: A Psychological, Anthropological and Statistical Study (Sherman, French & Co., Boston, 1916).
Leuba, J. H. Harper's Magazine 169, 291-300 (1934).
Larson, E. J. & Witham, L. Nature 386, 435-436 (1997).
Highfield, R. The Daily Telegraph 3 April, p. 4 (1997).
National Academy of Sciences Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science (Natl Acad. Press, Washington DC, 1998).
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by Ruby Member on Sep. 14, 2011 at 12:01 PM

One of my sisters is an RN working on her doctorate, she's an Atheist. Most of her classmates in medical school are non-Christians.

by on Sep. 14, 2011 at 12:04 PM
And in all truth and honesty DOES IT REALLY matter?
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by on Sep. 14, 2011 at 12:05 PM

I don't care what they believe as long as they are doing their job to their best ability.

by Member on Sep. 14, 2011 at 12:06 PM

Most of the docs I know personally are religious, but not all of them.

by Whoopie on Sep. 14, 2011 at 12:18 PM

Having been a hospital nurse for over 30 years, most of the MDs that I have worked with have not been overtly religious. I worked for 20 years in the same large, Nicu that respresented the League of Nations in terms of physicians. We had them all..... None of their belief systems interfered wit treatments rendered or decisions made-


by Jes on Sep. 14, 2011 at 12:21 PM
Back in Cali it was pretty even... Some Docs were religious, others weren't.

Now, I go to a Religious hospital and clinic so yes all the ones I've met are religious...
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by on Sep. 14, 2011 at 12:24 PM

Quoting Sisteract:

Having been a hospital nurse for over 30 years, most of the MDs that I have worked with have not been overtly religious. I worked for 20 years in the same large, Nicu that respresented the League of Nations in terms of physicians. We had them all..... None of their belief systems interfered wit treatments rendered or decisions made-


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