Monday, May 30, 2011

Religious Belief in Academia and Elsewhere

Does the fact that as you go up the educational scale, religious belief goes down, count as evidence against religious belief?

My overall theory is that there, percentagewise, the number of dedicated religious people is about the same in the highest levels of the academic community as there is in the community at large. The difference is that people who don’t have a serious faith still have a vague religious belief in the population at large, but as you move into academia, unless people are serious about their religion, they become unbelievers.

I know that are ex-believers out there who left the fold, but there are also migrations for unbelief to belief. But what you lose at the top level of academia are the people who say "Yes I believe there is a force out there; I just don't believe in organized religion."

May the force be with you.

60 comments:

Jake Elwood XVI said...

And also with you.

Mike Darus said...

I suspect that the enemy of faith is not inteligence but pride.

Crude said...

Does the fact that as you go up the educational scale, religious belief goes down, count as evidence against religious belief?

I don't know. Would the fact that so many college professors apparently either believe in God or a higher power count as evidence in favor of religious belief?

I'm thinking of this survey from 2006, 10% don't believe in God, 13.4% are agnostic, 19.6% believe in some higher power, 4.4% sometimes believe, 16.9% believe but have doubts, 35.7% believe without doubts.

My own theory is this: Talk about 'higher up the educational scale' usually isn't a question of 'being more educated, learned, and well-read' itself, but of something more narrow: "How far someone got in university/college studies." Which is problematic because A) The higher you go, the tighter the culture gets, B) Even the broader culture has its own community standards and therefore biases, C) The higher you go, the more specialized your knowledge generally gets.

C is particularly a problem, because "higher up the educational scale" sounds like "someone knows more, about more", when it really typically means "knows more, about little".

Compare the two questions: "Should the fact that these five highly educated men are against the new highway tax bill count as evidence against the bill being a good idea?"

"Should the fact that these five endocrinologists are against the new highway tax bill count as good evidence against the bill being a good idea?"

I can see the instinctual reaction to the first question being, "Oh wow, highly educated you say? Surely they know something important!" And to the second, "What the hell does an endocrinologist know about highway taxes?"

Walter said...

The difference is that people who don’t have a serious faith still have a vague religious belief in the population at large, but as you move into academia, unless people are serious about their religion, they become unbelievers.

I agree with this.

I believe that the folk religion of America is actually a vague type of deism, despite the fact that many will identify themselves as "Christian" for cultural reasons.

John W. Loftus said...

One thing we don't see very often at all, if at all. We don't see people becoming more conservative as they become more educated.

Karl Grant said...

One thing we don't see very often at all, if at all. We don't see people becoming more conservative as they become more educated.

George W. Bush, Alma mater: Yale University (B.A. History), Harvard Business School (M.B.A.), in fact is the only President to have ever-earned an MBA

Eric Cantor, Alma mater: William & Mary Law School (J. D.), Columbia University (Master of Science)

Sarah Palin, Alma mater:University of Hawaii at Hilo, Hawaii Pacific College, North Idaho College
Matanuska-Susitna College, University of Idaho (B.S. Communications)

Rand Paul, Alma mater: Baylor University, Duke University (M.D.)

Ron Paul, Alma mater: Gettysburg College (B.S. Biology), Duke University (M.D.)

Newt Gingerich, Alma mater: Emory University (B.A. History), Tulane University (M.A./PhD European History)

Mitt Romney, Alma mater: Brigham Young University (B.A. English), Harvard Business School (M.B.A.)
Harvard Law School (J.D.)

Tim Pawlenty, Alma mater: University of Minnesota (B.A Political Science), University of Minnesota Law School (J.D.)

The list could go on and on. So I seriously doubt the vladity of that statement.

woodchuck64 said...


In this paper we have shown, using longitudinal data, that Americans who are liberal during the typical college years are more likely to attend graduate school with the aim of completing a doctorate than are their moderate or conservative peers. We also demonstrated that this tendency is not a function of the most commonly supposed variables, and that attending graduate school results in only a modest shift further to the left in terms of political self-identification. ...

Ethan Fosse

Karl Grant said...

I remember reading about that in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

David Horowitz, founder of Students for Academic Freedom and a prominent critic of perceived ideological bias among college faculty members, was harsher in his critique of the e-mail experiment, arguing that it was "flawed at the outset." The experiment focused on how college administrators handle an activity in which they are likely to try to hide any political bias they might have—much, he said, as he believes professors who abuse bright conservative students in class go on to give them good grades to demonstrate their own fairness. And, he argued, the experiment had failed to look at how liberal or leftist assumptions are built into many academic fields—such as women's-studies programs that teach that gender is a social construct—and how students who reject such ideas are unlikely to be allowed to advance....

Amy J. Binder, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California at San Diego, said last week that she would have been angry if she had been on the receiving end of a more elaborate field experiment, such as one that involved the submission of fake applications. That said, she argued that the e-mail experiment represents "a very thin test of the whole universe of experiences that undergraduates have when they are thinking about what their future careers will be and whether they are interested in graduate school or not."

woodchuck64 said...

Karl Grant,
The e-mail experiment criticized is not the paper I cited. Same authors, different papers.

Karl Grant said...

Woodchuck64,

The paper you cited is linked to in the Chronicle article and also discussed. The exact location of the link is the third paragraph down, first sentence, exact position: along with a paper on a new, related study. Do click that link and tell me what you see.

woodchuck64 said...

Karl Grant,
I was aware of that and I saw no criticism of the article I cited. See discussion starting at "Tracking Young Liberals Over Time".

Anonymous said...

Lofty is talking nonsense as usual.

Karl Grant said...

Woodchuck64,

The entire article is critique of the authors work. They point out their previous study had some fairly large flaws in it. If one study has flaws in it, why would you think the other study is correct?

Besides, there are counter-examples. And if Wikipedia is to be believed, there is very little difference in the percentages of liberals and conservatives with college degrees.

Not to mention that the number of liberal and conservative college graduates has a tendency to fluctuate, as shown by this Times article back in 1948 were more college students were Republican than Democrat. It stayed that way until the early 1970s, so even if more liberals do graduate from college than conservatives, I wouldn't take that as a fact of nature or a permenant state of affairs.

And regardless, Loftus is wrong when he says that more educated people don't become conservative since most high-ranking Republicans have one or more college degrees. Which, according to him, is something we are not supposed to see very often, if at all.

Victor Reppert said...

There have been plenty of people who have adopted more conservative theological positions. In fact, people on the level of Kripke, Putnam, Alston, Van Inwagen, and Kretzmann seem to be less subject to academic peer pressure than people further down the academic food chain. Even politically, Hilary Putnam was an out-and-out Communist in his earlier days and gave it up later. So, I think these sorts of generalizations just aren't very helpful.

woodchuck64 said...

Karl Grant,

Let me first point out that my citing that article should not be taken as supporting any implied point that education causes liberalism or that liberals are smarter than conservatives. Rather, the article shows that liberals might be more likely to pursue advanced degrees.

The entire article is critique of the authors work.

I don't agree. There are two articles mentioned in your Chronicle link, but only one of them is specifically criticized. I did not see any specific criticism of the article I originally cited: "Political Liberalism And Graduate School Attendance: A Longitudinal Analysis".

They point out their previous study had some fairly large flaws in it. If one study has flaws in it, why would you think the other study is correct?

I simply don't agree that finding a mistake in a researcher's study thereby invalidates all the work that researcher has done or will do. Further, I question your claim that the study-- "Political Bias In The Graduate Admissions Process: A Field Experiment"-- really has large flaws. What was the author's response to David Horowitz? Does the mere existence of critical comments automatically allow one to conclude a study has fairly large flaws?

The two articles mentioned are not yet published, so have not undergone sufficient peer review for full confidence in the results admittedly. Nevertheless, the study "Political Liberalism And Graduate
School Attendance: A Longitudinal Analysis" simply used the results of a large nationwide health survey Add Health so should present a good starting point for understanding college students political affiliations and changes over time.

Further, your Chronicle link mentions the Woessner studies which also demonstrate liberal-dominance in academia (here for example). It should not be controversial that liberals dominate academia at this time. The exact reason for that can be debated.

Papalinton said...

@ Karl Grant
OK you've listed all eight conservatives who bought their testamurs, especially Dubbya, a full-fee paying student.
How does this list substantiate your claim?'

B. Prokop said...

To Karl Grant: You may have misunderstood Loftus. I think he was not referring to POLITICAL conservatism, but rather to RELIGIOUS conservatism. I.e., he appears to be saying that a liberal theologian does not get more theologically conservative as he gets more educated.

Now as to whether that is true in general, I have no idea, and no data.

John W. Loftus said...

What then is helpful Vic? You were the one who introduced the issue of numbers.

Let me be specific. Name me one biblical scholar who became more conservative after attending an accredited university in biblical studies. Just one.

If you can pull that out of your hat congratulations for a job well done. Tough isn't it? That's my point.

BeingItself said...

To answer the question, of course it does not count as evidence against religious belief.

But it should make the religious believer uncomfortable.

From as far back as I remember, religious beliefs seemed to me patently absurd. Rising dead bodies? Talking donkeys? It all seemed just so so stupid. Even as a 7 year old.

And now as an adult, the apologetic gymnastics I encounter only further my conviction that it's all bullshit.

But, the only thing that gives me pause is that some very smart well educated folks seem to believe this stuff.

But that is not "evidence" that I'm wrong. Just good reason to be skeptical of my own beliefs. Which any honest person should be.

Karl Grant said...

Papalinton,

How do you know they bought their degrees? In fact, considering how many liberals get degrees from the same universities and join the same groups (both Bushes and John Kerry were part of the Skull and Bones for example) who is to say how many liberals buy their degrees?

Now do you have anything besides unsubstantiated border-line insults of politicians? Anything besides a common rhetorical charge flung around by both sides against their college-educated opponents and not one commonly backed up at that?

Karl Grant said...

B. Prokop,

Well, that would be my mistake than. If it was theologians Wikipedia has a small list of Conservative theologians. Greg Bahnsen, Donald G. Bloesch, F. F. Bruce, D. A. Carson, Norman Geisler,etc... which kind of undermines Loftus's claim of it not happening at all.

Karl Grant said...

Name me one biblical scholar who became more conservative after attending an accredited university in biblical studies. Just one.

How about one of these fellows?

Let's try Frederick Fyvie Bruce, one of the founders of the modern Conservative Evangelical movement. Educated at the University of Aberdeen, Cambridge University and the University of Vienna.

Or how about John Warwick Montgomery? Has the A.B. with distinction in Philosophy (Cornell University; Phi Beta Kappa), B.L.S. and M.A. (University of California, Berkeley), B.D. and S.T.M. (Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio), LL.B. (La Salle Extension University), M. Phil. in Law (University of Essex, England), Ph.D. (University of Chicago), Th.D Doctorat d'Universite (University of Strasbourg), LLM and LLD in canon law (Cardiff University). He also holds an honorary doctorate awarded in 1999 by the Institute for Religion and Law, Moscow.

Both are listed as conservative theologians and both have attended, and hold degrees, from reputable institutions.

John W. Loftus said...

Congratulations Karl! Nice job.

You do realize of course, that biblical studies has advanced quite a bit since their day.

I can think of R.C. Foster who graduated from Harvard in my own non-denomination. But that too was in a previous generation.

Sorry, I should have said in today's biblical studies departments.

Victor Reppert said...

Eta Linneamann. She was a very theologically liberal biblical scholar, who has now gone to a more conservative position.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Vic.

Now how easy is it for you to think of people who became more liberal agnostic or atheist?

You have heard to the SBL haven't you, that bastion of liberalism?

Karl Grant said...

How about Gary Habermas, holds a Ph.D. (1976) from Michigan State University in the area of History and Philosophy of Religion; and an M.A. (1973) from the University of Detroit in Philosophical Theology.

D. A. Carson Ph.D. (1975) in the New Testament from the University of Cambridge.

John Piper Bachelor of Divinity degree at Fuller Theological Seminary,did his doctoral work in New Testament Studies at the University of Munich, Germany (1971–74).

All conservative theologians and about your generation, I believe.

John W. Loftus said...

Keep 'em coming Karl. I know these men. Gary is a friend of mine.

Kudos to you!

Karl Grant said...

If Gary is a friend of yours than you should know he is considered a conservative theologian. Which makes me wonder why you would make a statement like One thing we don't see very often at all, if at all. We don't see people becoming more conservative as they become more educated. which you already know to be false and can disprove yourself. Doing something like that is typically considered dishonest or at the very least misleading.

Brian said...

I wouldn't have thought that naming conservative theologians counts as evidence against the claim that "We don't see people becoming more conservative as they become more educated."

After all, the claim wasn't that "We don't see people who are both conservative and highly educated."

(Victor's example of Eta Linneamann, unlike the others, is relevant to Loftus' question.)

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't have thought that naming conservative theologians counts as evidence against the claim that "We don't see people becoming more conservative as they become more educated."

That claim has morphed into "I meant in biblical studies", then "No, I mean MODERN biblical studies". And John didn't object to Karl's examples.

Brian said...

John should have objected. (Otherwise, it makes it seem as if he meant, all along, that no one completes higher education and comes out a conservative. But that's a totally ridiculous claim.)

And before he moved the goalposts, he should have objected to the putative (but unsuccessful) counter-examples offered against the un-morphed claim. One can be a conservative after completing higher education, and yet fail to have become more conservative while doing so.

Anonymous said...

But that's a totally ridiculous claim.

It is, isn't it.

One can be a conservative after completing higher education, and yet fail to have become more conservative while doing so.

But that becomes very hard to track, now doesn't it?

Brian said...

But that becomes very hard to track, now doesn't it?

I should think so. No doubt that's the right way to reply to Loftus (perhaps coupled with a request for good, solid, scientific evidence for his claim, eh?)

Gimli 4 the West said...

I wouldn’t doubt there is a current trend in the academy toward unbelief. There was a strong trend toward communism in the political science department at the university I attended in the early 80’s. My only philosophy class was taught by an ex-Lutheran who couldn’t give a lecture on Plato without taking a swipe at Christians or Christianity. Even my favorite chemistry professor, who I labored to provide important data for his research, took pains to express his unbelief.

The Castro communist, the embittered former Christian, and the scientist who thought finding God should be like finding aldehydes in the atmosphere seem dated and silly to me now. For those who can predict what will be taught and whether belief will rise or fall in the university in 400 years, you’re a better man than me.

Karl Grant said...

Brian,

Mr. Loftus did not object to the examples, which seems to make the examples valid for his purposes. I don't know for sure if they became more conservative after attending the big name universities; as Anonymous said that is a kind of hard thing to track. I can tell you that they didn't turn into liberals either after acquiring their degrees.

Papalinton said...

C'mon Victor
I think it is about time you come out tell everyone you are a deist at best.
There is no shame in admitting that.
Cheers

Victor Reppert said...

Huh? Where in blazes would you get an idea like that?

Gimli 4 the West said...

Come on Vic, you're a smart guy. You don't believe in all that virgin birth-snake handling stuff, do you? You're not going to get tenure telling students to drink strychnine. We'll let you believe in a "higher power" so long as your politics are right.

Pap must be an academic.

cl said...

Victor,

"Does the fact that as you go up the educational scale, religious belief goes down, count as evidence against religious belief?"

Presuming that's a fact, of course not!

Karl Grant,

And regardless, Loftus is wrong when he says that more educated people don't become conservative since most high-ranking Republicans have one or more college degrees. Which, according to him, is something we are not supposed to see very often, if at all.

Of course, don't forget the more important fact: that Loftus is being a total hypocrite here. Elsewhere, he writes that "We should all ask for positive evidence for that which we accept as true." Yet, here he is, feeding us his fantasy du jour without any evidence whatsoever!

Priceless.

Karl Grant said...

CL,

Well, I am still kind of wondering why in the world he would make a statement like that in his first place and than a few posts down admit he knows modern conservative theologians with degrees from respected institutions (I know these men. Gary is a friend of mine.). It completely undermines his original post (I don't know if Habermas became more conservative after obtaining his degree but he definitely stayed conservative). In my mind, that wasn't a particularly smart thing to do because it makes him look dishonest or at the very least forgetful (speaking of which, what kind of friend forgets what their buddies' world-view is?)

woodchuck64 said...

Victor,

Would you be willing to tell us (if you haven't already) if you have become more liberal or more conservative theologically over your tenure in academia? How about your political leanings? Do political leanings often track theological leanings or vice-versa in your experience? Thanks.

cl said...

Karl Grant,

It seems to me you're assuming Loftus is concerned with consistency, and that he actually believes the standards he holds theists to--when datum after datum testifies to the contrary.

Victor Reppert said...

I'm considerably more conservative theologically than politically. The apparent connection between these things is largely a matter of historical accident. In fact, I think that what conservatism and liberalism is at this particular time is largely a matter of things which are connected to one another only accidentally.

In fact, I could easily construct an argument, on biblical grounds, that right-wingers are all going to hell. It's not an argument I accept, but it is about as strong as most arguments that all Xs are going to hell.

Papalinton said...

Yes Victor. For a guy who really does enjoy the philosophical interplay, you would love opportunities of exploring the philosophical questions brought up through the vast number of human research activity in the sciences, anthropology, sociology, psychology, medicine; all those collective areas that are building a cogent and compelling narrative of the human condition. This would be a far cry from and in comparison to that offered by running along the trolley tracks of apologetical philosophy on a theological sidebranch line.

For an obviously intelligent thinker and a person who is clearly one driven by compassion, sincere and with a sense of fair play, you have much to contribute to the wider community.

You would be delighted and relieved in acknowledging and accepting the responsibility [as I know you rightly would] that comes with the freedom of agnosticism. There is so much of the world that is so exciting as we transit to a global community without the localised impediments of religion.

Victor Reppert said...

Thank you for the salvation tract.

Anonymous said...

There is so much of the world that is so exciting

Like ranting angrily on forums, every day, repeatedly, making little sense, and screaming about how much you hate God. lol.

Christians can study science and philosophy just fine. You're the only one who seems to be "running along the trolley tracks on a theological sidebranch line". It's just atheological instead. ;)

Anonymous said...

Let me translate Papa for everyone,
"I can't understand why so many intelligent thinkers are theists and not agnostics like me...I should attempt to make my position look better through acting as though only agnostics can 'explore the philosophical questions brought up through the vast number of human research activity in the sciences, anthropology, sociology, psychology, medicine' and ignore the fact that many (if not most) in these fields are religious...I'm so passionate about my position, and he would be a great convert to our side...let's rescue the perishing and pray for the dying...agnosticism will prevail."

Papalinton said...

@ Anonymous
" .. and screaming about how much you hate God."

I don't hate your god. How can you hate a nothing?

Papalinton said...

@ Anonymous
Don't get me wrong. I am definitely an atheist. I was thinking more of the transition, that Victor might want to consider agnosticism, from theism, in the first instant. Indeed, agnosticism is an honorable and honest frame of mind for those who simply cannot decide, for a multitude of reasons, yes or no.

Victor, will need to consider his own circumstances to determine how he manages the transition to secular scholarship from apologetical scholarship.
Anonymous, it will be Victor's call, and his alone, when he makes that decision.

Cheers

Anonymous said...

Papalinton, you got sent packing last time you came on here spurting your evangelistic nonsense.

When I say got sent packing, I mean your arguments were shown to be complete rubbish- ie: When you claimed that the "inconsistent" readings of the Christian text make it all meaningless.

Please, less huff-puff-your-beliefs-are-so-obviously-stupid. It won't go down well around here- this is a place for serious discussion.

Anonymous said...

Well said Anonymous on June 03, 2011 12:09 AM

Papalinton said...

Anonymous
"When I say got sent packing, I mean your arguments were shown to be complete rubbish- ie: When you claimed that the "inconsistent" readings of the Christian text make it all meaningless. "

Having a little pious huffy, are we?
Anonymous, the archetypal and quintessential Don Quixote tilting at windmills dressed in his armor of christian-colored theism.

How droll.

Papalinton said...

Victor, surely you don't really reside in the same camp as Anonymous and Ilion and others, do you?

Their views are anathema to the more reasoned perspective you portray. Although your base premise remains largely posited on supernatural superstition, you nonetheless possess a wonderful capacity to provide delightful humanist insights in the manner that you present, and comment on, on various bulletins lodge on this site.
With a change in perspective, you would more capable of generating genuine change, a facilitator, in a much more diverse, mixed and multicultural society that is the inexorable trend experienced by all aggregations and pockets of communities across the country. No more would you be required to throw out the anchor of reactionary, staid conservatism, but be a real changer of people's lives to a greater moral and ethical society.

Cheers

Victor Reppert said...

If we go by "camps," then there is no way to get around having people in your camp with whom you differ greatly, or even who has a personality that is in some ways repugnant to your own. That's life.

Papalinton said...

I have lived and worked in South East Asia. I have lived and worked among the Aborigines of Australia for many years. They differ greatly in those aspects that I would be most familiar with back in my neck of the woods. All shapes and sizes, all manner of differing beliefs. Some were repugnant. But what I learned was that a family with wife and kids in SE Asia or within Aborigine communities, had the same ideal wishes and desires as I did; to be safe, to be protected, to be fed, housed, to work and be a contributing member of the community, to want the best for their children and to share life with their neighbor. In other words they were driven as I am by those very same and well-understood commonly shared humanist ideals regardless of worldview overlay.
Our lasting friendships transcended the superficial overlay of belief systems.

cl said...

"Please, less huff-puff-your-beliefs-are-so-obviously-stupid. It won't go down well around here- this is a place for serious discussion."

Again, though--like some have with Loftus--this assumes Papalinton is actually concerned with serious discussion, cogency, and things of that nature. To date, the rambling and incoherent nature of his posts directly confronts that notion. At least, that's what I've seen from Papa thus far. I mean, did anyone else notice how his comments have failed to address a single point raised in the OP, or even the thread?

Papalinton said...

cl says: "Please, less huff-puff-your-beliefs-are-so-obviously-stupid. It won't go down well around here- this is a place for serious discussion."

Followed by a tirade of ad hominem.

cl said...

"Followed by a tirade of ad hominem."

Oh please. Nowhere did I even suggest that one or more of your arguments should be classified as false on behalf of your rambling tendencies. IOW, no ad hominem. Now, if I'd said, "PL rambles and rants therefore anything he says is false," you'd have a point.

cl said...

Of course, you could always redeem yourself by actually engaging any of the arguments.

Papalinton said...

cl
Idiot
And that's not classified as false.