Tuesday, March 06, 2012

More Notes on Higher Education and Religion

By Gary Berg-Cross
In a recent post Edd Doerr did some checking on facts behind the Rick Santorum beef with college education as for "snobs" & in fact "indoctrination mills". Rick S had made much of research that had found that 60 percent of students lose their religious affiliation during the college years as shown by behavior such as not attending church. Indeed there is much data to show that college student’s views change during the college years and as Edd argued such critics need to “understand that education leads a great many young people (though not all) to think about and move on from traditional pieties and formulations. And that is a good thing.” 

It would probably be another good thing might be to take this hot topic as an opportunity to realistically discuss higher education and youth's move from religion. Certainly there is more to this move from religion than a college education.Some see it as a general cultural phenomena.  Rob Boston in his talk to MDC pointed to changes in Europe that go along with a secular, social safety net.  This argument explains why America is much more religious than other Western countries.  It is due to the lack of a strong government safety net. With fewer government social programs, people are more dependent on churches to provide for their needs especially when they fall on hard times.

Nigel Barber writing in HuffPo provided alternative statistical facts that challenge Santorum's theory. When one looks at young people who did not attend college, the decline in church attendance is even greater than those attending college with 76 percent saying that their religious attendance had fallen. Nigel notes in passing that “the numbers actually losing their religious affiliation are much smaller with 13 percent of four-year college students renouncing their religious affiliation compared to 20 percent of those who did not pursue college.”
So in fact young people who attend college are like other young people in church going behavior. During these years they go to church less often but when then marry, and/or raise a family, church attendance rises.
So perhaps the widely held explanation for college student’s changing views as heavily influenced by liberal (aka free-thinking) college professors is wrong. True Among college education might be such liberal ideas as encouragement of rational skepticism and critical thinking. All part of the slippery slope of a liberal education – one designed to produce adults who can think for themselves and pass the lessons of one generation to another. This is not part of the one-sided conservative vision of what goes on in college which conveniently ignores the proselytizing efforts of many religions on American campuses. Perhaps many students recognize, like Alfred North Whitehead, the risk of "rigidity.”
"It is rigid dogma that destroys truth; and, please notice, my emphasis is not on the dogma, but on the rigidity. When men say of any question, 'This is all there is to be known or said of the subject; investigation ends here,' that is death." Alfred North Whitehead from Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead, recorded by Lucien Price (1954)

In distinction to this rigidity a classic, liberal educations aims not to proselytize and fill people up with rigid dogma and supporting facts, but to light a fire to know and to understand. When I was in college a Prof described the aims of higher education as “turning cock sure confidence into thoughtful uncertainty.“ If this sounds a bit wishy washy one can balance this with a quote from Derek Bok: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance. “


Explicit Atheist said...

Yes, my understanding is that Rick Santorium's assertion about university education undermining religious belief is not supported by the evidence - not even by the particular study he cited when making that assertion. This is a common attribute of factual assertions of Republican candidates - they are often false. They don't follow the evidence, they misinterpret the evidence to fit their argument. They start with an argument, then they try to claim that the evidence supports their argument. They do this backwards.

Gary Berg-Cross said...

Yes, Rick Santorium's assertion about university education undermining religious belief seems not to be supported by the evidence such as discussed at "Santorum's Atheist Factories:The Data by:Mike Caulfield"
http://www.bluehampshire.com/diary/14153/santorums-atheist-factories-the-data who provides stats that college graduates represent 17% of the population & 20% of the non-religious population. As he says. "That's an over-representation, but it's miniscule. " More interesting things are going on here, but Pols like Santorum can get away with a sound bite and something less than a half truth.