In a comment to the earlier post on Einstein’s view of god, reader M. Nieuweboer pointed out that as Einstein got older, he seemed to dissociate himself more and more from religion and the idea of a god, and became more explicit in rejecting attempts to make him seem religious.
This comment piqued my interest and I began to wonder if there was a correlation between the age of scientists and their levels of disbelief. As a personal aside, I myself started out in life quite religious, being at one time a lay preacher in the Methodist Church, but as I got older and my depth of understanding of science increased, belief in god increasingly seemed utterly preposterous.
I tried to find any literature on this topic but could not. There is indirect support for the idea that level of disbelief correlates with age. Studies have consistently shown over a period of a century that the more eminent the scientist is, the higher the level of disbelief. For example, the percentage of scientists in National Academy of Sciences who believe in a personal god is in the single digits. Since eminence increases with age, one would thus expect to see a correlation of age with disbelief. But this does not tell us whether it was the increasing depth of knowledge of science that comes with age that causes disbelief or whether young scientists with low levels of belief were more likely to have the kinds of minds that enabled them to become eminent later in life.
What would be required to distinguish between the two possibilities is a longitudinal study that followed scientists over their lifetimes. While the result would be interesting, I don’t think the question is important enough to warrant that much expenditure of resources.
I cannot think of any eminent scientist who went from disbelief to belief later in life but that may be due to my ignorance. Physicist John Polkinghorne became an Anglican priest late in life, but he seemed to have been always religious.
If readers know of any well-known scientists whose religious belief increased with age, I would be grateful for the names.