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A scientist is someone who practices science. Many scientists are politically liberal, perhaps more so than society as a whole, and many are agnostic or atheist, perhaps more so than society as a whole.

Scope of term

Depending on the context, the term "scientist" might refer to anyone using the scientific method or anyone with a qualification in a field of science. In most cases, both will be true, but in other cases only one or the other may be true.

Origin of term

The invention of the word scientist is often credited to William Whewell (1794-1866), who was himself a scientist as well as a moral philosopher and Anglican priest. In 1858, he wrote:

As we cannot use physician for a cultivator of physics, I have referred to him as a Physicist.
We need very much[sic] a name to describe a cultivator of science in general. I should incline to call him a Scientist. Thus we might say that as an Artist is a Musician, Painter, or Poet, a Scientist is a Mathematician, Physicist, or Naturalist.[1]

Prior to this, scientists were usually called "natural philosophers" or "natural historians." (The oldest scientific journal in the world, established in 1665, is entitled Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Among its early numbers are letters from Leeuwenhoek describing his discovery of microorganisms).

Science and religion

Many scientists have been religious or held a belief in God (Isaac Newton[2] or monk Gregor Mendel[3]). Scientific ideas date back to the ancient Greeks, and scientists come from a variety of religious traditions, including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. Many scientists believe that scientific discoveries are God-inspired. A 1998 study indicates that among U. S. scientists belief in God has declined between 1914 and 1998, with 7% believing, 72.2% disbelieving, and 20.8% professing doubt or agnosticism.[4] This reflects the decline in the United States among non-scientists as well.


  1. Whewell, William (1858), Novum Organon Renovatum: Being the second part of the philosophy of the inductive sciences, J. W. Parker and Son, p. 338