Only 10% of the Nobel prize winners are atheist ?

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Daniel Wilson's picture
Only 10% of the Nobel prize winners are atheist ?

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David Killens's picture
There are six distinct

There are six distinct categories for the Nobel prize. They are Peace Prize, Literature, Physics, Chemistry, Physiology and Medicine, and Economics.

There are a few of those categories that never conflict with theism, and a very religious person can win the Nobel. For example, Rudyard Kipling was awarded the 1907 Nobel for literature. He also became a Mason.

So Daniel, if we are going to unpack the fact that most Nobel winners were/are theists, then we must first determine which categories are in conflict with theism.

Daniel Wilson's picture
Man, that was an excellent

Man, that was an excellent answer.

Cognostic's picture
RE: Only 10% of the Nobel

RE: Only 10% of the Nobel prize winners are atheist ?

I'm sorry, but that makes perfect sense. What do you imagine the state of religion to be in 1901 until currently.

Pair that with the fact that the categories of Nobel Prizes are not all hard sciences. The Nobel Prize winners that are atheists is actually just a very bizarre fact and I can't imagine drawing any conclusion at all from it. Perhaps were we to break the awards down into categories?

Daniel Wilson's picture
What I mean is that this guys

What I meant is that these guys are very smart, so my expectation was to see a much higher percent of atheists in this community.

Cognostic's picture
Your expectation is invalid.

Your expectation is invalid. No one has to be smart to win a Nobel Peace Prize. In 1979, Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize "for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome povert. In 1993, Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize with F. W. de Klerk for their work during the civil rights revolution in South Africa.

You seem to be confused as to why the prize is given out. It's not about science or being smart.

Daniel Wilson's picture
You are right, I had the

You are right, I had the notion/idea that people are usually getting a Nobel prize for scientific discoveries.

cranky47's picture


a Nobel Prize and religiosity. Please forgive my ignorance, but I think the implication a logical fallacy, but I can't think which one. Non sequitor?

Of course atheism implies nothing. It means only that a the person does not believe in gods. Has nothing to do with intellect per se.

On the other hand you don't need to be especially stupid to be a believer, but It's an advantage. There is also a distinct correlation between religiosity, poverty and education . I also suspect there is a causal relationship. Nor I am not convinced a correlation between affluence and a decrease in religiosity is a coincidence. EG Western and Northern Europe ,Australasia, Canada , the UK and parts of the US .(away from the poverty and ignorance of the bible belt. )

Cognostic's picture
cranky47: Correlation is

cranky47: Correlation is not Causation. "The assumption that Nobel Prize winners are all smart because they win the Award?" We associate great achievements with intelligence and that just isn't always the case.

cranky47's picture


"Correlation is not Causation. "

I'm aware of the difference. I was trying to think of the logical fallacy of equating the two? False equivalence?

My discipline is Social Anthropology. Drives me nuts when people claim that similarities between cultures MUST be causally connected.

Tin-Man's picture
@Cog Re: "No one has to be

@Cog Re: "No one has to be smart to win a Nobel Peace Prize."

...*look of pleasant surprise*... Seriously?... *big smile*... Oh, boy! Yay! That means I may actually have a chance!... *clapping excitedly*... Now, if I can just get that damn aardvark to learn how to walk a tightrope while juggling cantaloupes, I can finally prove my theory of Ant-Eye Matter. Should be an easy win for me.... *scratching chin*... Hmmm... Wonder if it would help if I turned down the voltage on the cattle prod?... *reading over schematics*...

David Killens's picture
There is one very smart

There is one very smart scientist I follow (and respect 100%) a lot on Twitch.

Dr. Jason Steffen

He is a theist, even spent two years doing his obligatory missionary work. Despite being a man of unshakeable faith, he has managed to reconcile science and religion.

Here is part of a speech about science advocacy that he gave at the 2018 Las Vegas March for Science.

"Science can reduce humanity to nothing more than the reconstituted ashes of dead stars and simultaneously ennoble it as the greatest, and rarest gift that the universe offers. As teachers, learners, and practitioners of science, we can use the incredible and awe inspiring truths of science to bring people together, to open their eyes and minds to the natural wonder surrounding them, to let them escape their lives for a moment to touch, feel, and see the infinite. It is crucial that we show our fellow man these truths, that we let them see the wonders of our Universe.

It is also crucial that we not impede their vision with our pettiness, that our pride or arrogance not become a stumbling block. Discovery, when done right, is a humbling experience for all. It exposes us to the immense void of space, the deep abyss, and the microscopic unknown. We must not trifle with that message. We must not use science as a tool of division. We cannot allow it to become partisan. And, to the extent that it has already trodden that path, it is imperative that we bring it back.

Make no mistake, science is a two-edged sword. It cuts both ways and is no respecter of persons or parties. Ideologically correct science was championed in both the socialist utopia of the Soviets where “Bourgois science” was suppressed by the gun and the gulag, and in the Aryan utopia of NAZI Germany where “Jewish science” met a similar fate in the ghetto and the gas chamber. Truly, when science becomes partisan, it dies a tragic death.

Any political ideology that cherry picks the science it will accept does so at the peril of this great nation and the people of the world. It matters not whether that cherry comes from the branch of medicine and epidemiology (with the threat of widespread disease) or climatology (with the threat of widespread famine), from psychology or biology, from nuclear physics or genetics. Science cuts both ways.

As we advance our transcendent cause to learn about our universe and to employ that knowledge for the good and freedom of all, I urge each of us to take great care in our choices of allies and adversaries. We must not alienate those who are actually our most valuable friends in this work. If we want to ensure that science, instead of religion, is taught in our science classes, we must not alienate those religious individuals who share that goal.

As a practicing scientist and as a practicing person of faith, I am often dismayed by short-sighted science advocates who jab and prod and belittle those with whom they disagree in order to score points with their particular choir. By doing so, they paint many people who can more effectively deliver the needed message into a corner, thereby weakening an important bridge to those who may be beyond our feeble reach. I am dismayed by lawmakers who, in grandstanding eloquence, signal with virtue and righteousness their abhorrence for their political counterparts while simultaneously alienating those on the other side who share their desire to see the beneficial advance of science and society.

I challenge each of us. All who value science, who are formal science educators, informal science educators, and science advocates, to use our great message to inspire awe and appreciation, to unite rather than to divide—to rise above our tendencies to belittle and blame. I challenge each of us to build bridges to our audience that they too may see what we have seen, hear what we have heard, and feel what we have felt. Thank you."

Sometimes science and religion are not exclusive.

Nyarlathotep's picture
About 2% of Nobel Prize

@Daniel Wilson
About 2% of Nobel Prize winners are black.

Now that you know that: do you think that means non-blacks are smarter than blacks? Of course not; I think we all realize it isn't that simple. So why would you think that about atheism?
And as a side note (according to the CIA) less than 3% of the world's population is atheist. So if you are correct about the 10%, then atheist are extremely over represented in Nobel Prizes.
And finally, a personal anecdote:
There are 3 physicists in my family. All of them are privately atheists, and all of them presents themselves as religious in their professional lives. Historically, being openly atheist could be bad for your career.

NeverHappened's picture
Ashkenazi Jews are hugely

Ashkenazi Jews are hugely over-represented. Is there a genetic component?

(of course there are many things to affect this including education and culture)

Daniel Wilson's picture
It could be genetic, and it

It could be genetic, and it could be culture, but that's what the data shows.

NeverHappened's picture
Many working scientists are

Many working scientists are atheistically inclined, many are not. To expect otherwise seems to be a little bit back patting.

I worked with a top notch network engineer who is also a devout Muslim, and prayed 5 times a day.

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