And there are the believers, too. Francis Collins, who led the Human Genome Project, identifies himself as Christian. In an interview with PBS, the man who helped to discover the genes for Huntington's disease and cystic fibrosis firmly rejected the idea that science and faith must collide. Present-day primatology pioneer Jane Goodall has used her Christian upbringing to promote religious tolerance. (As a teenager, a passionate crush on a local man of the cloth led Goodall to church as many as three times in a Sunday [source: Academy of Achievement]). Reaching farther back into history, astronomer Galileo Galilei practiced Catholicism and bundled up daughters Virginia and Livia for the convent for life.
Still there's some truth to the atheist-scientist misconception -- scientists in the United States are more likely to not believe in God when compared to nonscientists [source: The Pew Research Center]. Here are the numbers from one 2009 Pew Research Center survey:
- One-third of scientists said they believed in God, compared to 83 percent of the general public surveyed.
- Nearly one-fifth reported not believing in God but having faith in a higher power (general public came in at 12 percent).
- Roughly two-fifths said they didn't believe in a God or higher power (4 percent among the general public).
Why does a flock of the science faithful not subscribe to God?
Well, scientists often grapple with the lack of physical proof for a higher being. There's also the idea that the world's most momentous discoveries -- such as evidence for the massive explosion called the big bang -- paint a different picture of the world's origins when compared to certain religious explanations.
Whether scientists grace your local place of worship or believe their work replaces the need for a higher being, it's no longer orthodox to label these brilliant minds as atheist.