As opinion surveys regularly attest, the march of science and technology through the 20th century has not left religion in the dust, as some believed - and others even hoped - it would. One who held that hope was James Lueba, a psychologist who in 1916 surveyed 1,000 men and women of science to assess their belief in a God who communicates with mankind and answers prayer. A firm atheist himself, Lueba thought religious faith would recede before scientific knowledge.
He found then that about 40 percent of the physicists, biologists, mathematicians, and other scientists who responded believed in a knowable God. About 15 percent said they were agnostic or had no definite belief. Roughly 42 percent disavowed belief in God, as He was defined in the questionnaire. Many took Lueba's findings as evidence of faith retreating before the advance of modern science.
Now another researcher, Edward Larson of the University of Georgia, has put Leuba's thesis to a further test, exactly duplicating hi#s survey. Science and technology, of course, have taken quantum leaps over the intervening 80 years. Mr. Larson's findings, published in the journal Nature, show, however, that unbelief has taken no corresponding leaps. The proportion of scientists who believe in God has remained constant.
Other researchers say the number of believers is probably understated by Leuba's survey, since the questions are worded in such a way as to rule out a less orthodox faith in an intelligent higher power or Being.
That constant 40 percent among people devoted to probing the physical universe widely diverges, of course, from the 93 percent of all Americans who tell pollsters they believe in God. Still, this figure says something about the compatibility of a search for truth and the perception that truth can't be confined to the world of the senses - or even of the human intellect.