Presidentiality: Are colleges encouraging atheism?

Presidentiality” is Need to Know’s series that dissects what the candidates are saying, doing and promising on the campaign trail. Each episode takes the language of the 2012 election out of the political realm and deconstructs it through the lenses of historical precedent, economic theory and science.Since the 1960s, there’s been a widely accepted orthodoxy that colleges are hotbeds of liberal activism. Opposition to the Vietnam War rocked campuses across the country, and the works of atheist philosophers like Bertrand Russell and Emma Goldman were influencing anti-establishment thought.

Conservatives have long argued that academia unfairly tilts left — and they have stats to back it up. A controversial study in 2005, for example, found that more than two-thirds of college professors described themselves as “liberal.”

So when President Obama says he wants every kid to have the opportunity to go to college, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum says he knows why.

“It’s no wonder President Obama wants every kid to go to college. The indoctrination that occurs in American universities is one of the keys to the left holding and maintaining power in America,” Santorum said at a rally last month in Florida. “As you know, 62 percent of children who enter college with a faith conviction leave without it.”

And Santorum isn’t the only presidential candidate who thinks college is anti-religion. Newt Gingrich shared some of the same concerns in a speech to a group of pastors in Florida last year. ”I for one am tired of the long trend towards a secular, atheist system of thought dominating our colleges, dominating our media,” Gingrich said.

It may be true that many college professors are liberal. But does that mean that colleges, as Gingrich claims, are encouraging atheism? That number Santorum threw out — that 62 percent of kids who go to college with religious beliefs leave without them — would seem to prove his point. The number comes from a 2007 study published in the journal Social Forces looking at the relationship between education and religious faith.

But as it turns out, later in that same study, the authors came to the complete opposite conclusion: They found that 76 percent of kids who don’t go to college end up attending church less often, a higher percentage than those who do go to college. “Higher education,” as they put it, “is not the enemy of religiosity.”

Another study published in The Review of Religious Research last year, found that kids who went to college were slightly more likely to pray and read the Bible more often.

So campuses have changed a lot since the ’60s and ’70s. But why?

For one thing, with the job market as tight as it is, students these days are much more focused on preparing for their careers than pondering big questions about life and religion. In the ’60s and ’70s the typical college experience involved a broad range of courses in the humanities and liberal arts. Statistics show that, today, larger numbers of students are enrolled in pre-professional programs for careers in finance, medicine and law. Secular indoctrination isn’t exactly on the syllabus.

Students these days, it seems, are less interested in Emma Goldman and more interested in Goldman Sachs.

 

Comments

  • Anonymous

    I think colleges have changed.  In the late ’70′s it was real education – at least for my
    son who got his EE. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/jskoluder Joe Koluder

    The timing of this, considering where we are at in the Sierra Curriculum, couldn’t be any more relevant!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jskoluder Joe Koluder

    Considering the topic of last Tuesday’s class, the timing of this story couldn’t be any better!  

    Let me know what you think, Sierrans ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/CosmicChuck Chuck Denk

    While social conservatives will continue to believe that a college education promotes atheism regardless of the facts, I have a better explanation of what a college education led to, prior to losing belief in God. In my case, I became an atheist while still in high school (a Catholic high school at that), when I found that the dogma was insupportable. Subsequently, books of a philosophical nature that I read while I was in the US Navy, prior to going to college, confirmed my justification for being an atheist. When I finally did go to college, I was able to learn why I had already become an atheist as well as learn what a college education can provide which may lead someone to become an atheist. 

    [I have a B.A. in Philosophy with a Computer Science minor.] have an insatiable interest in cognitive science. neuroscience, the Psychophysics underlying vision and our other senses, as well as physical sciences in general. What I’ve learned has provided me with scientific reasons for why the existence of God is not only not necessary, as well as that there is no philosophical reason for there to be a God, much less anything else that is Supernatural – Occam’s Razor, the Cosmological Principle, and the Principle of Parsimony – there’s no justification to postulate the existence of entities beyond necessity, since the Universe is able to create itself, and even if a Supreme Being did create the Universe, that Supreme Being cannot interfere with what goes on inside of the Universe (Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion, for every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction in conjunction with Causality entails that if a Supreme Being could act on ‘something’ inside the Universe, then that ‘something’ inside the Universe would have to have a two-way causal link with that Supreme Being for there to be an opposite reaction, in which case the referent of “Supreme Being” could not be supreme.)While the current situation for most college students may be focused on business-related or STEM-related curricula at the expense of Humanities, where critical thinking is applied to finding how to do something better in one or more ways, there is a different focus at times when subject matter that emphasizes anti-intellectualism and/or anti-technology.When the majority of college students are majoring in Humanities-related subjects application of critical thinking will have more of a philosophical emphasis, and it’s the use of critical thinking applied to oneself with one’s beliefs filtered through a skeptical net, such that any beliefs trapped by the net become fodder for more scrutiny. The only reason why professors of liberal arts can be held accountable is for teaching the students how to be skeptical about what they believe. The subsequent steps are dependent upon how much the student’s continue to value the belief systems they were brought up with and whether or not they have too much invested on those belief systems to cut the “umbilical cord” and reform their belief systems based on critical self-analysis. Forty to fifty years ago, when counter-culture was dominant on college campuses, the majority of students started their college educations already predisposed to disbelieve what they had learned from their parent’s generation and quite a few of them did become atheists, but quite a few of them did not stay atheists, but became born-again Christians (or Jesus Freaks to use the epithet that was dominant in the vernacular at the time). Of course, there was a lot of experimentation with family and community structures then, which “broke the mold” constraining families to having a nuclear structure.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jskoluder Joe Koluder

    Very interesting.  And the timing couldn’t be better.  

    What do you think, Sierrans? :)

  • Denise Nejedlik

    A college education gives individuals the tools to think, find facts and to be more objectively about issues. Religion and values are what you learn from your parents

  • http://www.facebook.com/jskoluder Joe Koluder

    Interesting

  • OCTheo

    Religion is a scam, the biggest scam ever on humanity. It is just a form of controlling populations. You can be spiritual without belonging to any religion. I stopped believing in religion when I was in the seminary, aspiring to be a catholic priest. I left at the end of my studies because I all my questions were never answered. I was made an outcast, and always discriminated because of my stance. Today, I no longer belong to any religion. 

    College is not the reason youths are getting away from religion. Knowledge base has expanded beyond the church and our parents. Inquiring minds can search the internet and find out things that 20 years ago, were only available in divinity colleges.

    And again, when young people see the actions of the leaders and believers of these religion, it is easy to see through the hypocrisy. The wars, the killings, the racism, the social inequality, the whole social system in both CHristian and Islamic world is full of lies in comparison to the teachings of these religions. 

    The politicians who are pointing to colleges as the reason for atheism, are just the same hypocritical fools. Santorum went to college, so did his wife and sure all his children will go to college. However, this moron feels that it is wrong for President Obama to encourage all American children to go to college. To Santorum, it is elitist to go to college, just because he wants only the children of the well connected like him, to rule the rest of us forever. 

  • Jon Thomas

    My local PBS station, WETP, had 2 curious “glitches” during the broadcast of this episode. The sound briefly cut out while the names, Bertrand Russell and Emma Goldman, were airing. I have cable. It was not a satellite or similar common broadcast stutter. There were no other “glitches.”

    This is not the first time this sort of “mistake” has happened. It has happened during other programs in what could be considered controversial or “sensitive” instances.

    Please check into this occurrence.

    Thank you..

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BVGE6UDI7XDHTCFRUSFUEVFVHI runi

    One of the reasons we send our children to college is so they learn to think critically. 

  • Anonymous

     I watched this program this afternoon. As I watched Gingrich and Santorum blame colleges for liberal bias, a thought struck me: You could most likely find parallels in these attitudes that were aimed at the entertainment industry, the press, and other intellectuals back during the Red Scare days of McCarthyism in the 1950′s. This period of time is almost universally regarded as one of the most infamous in our nation’s history. It destroyed the lives and careers of many innocent people. Rick and Newt would be right at home in this time….right along side Roy Cohn, Richard Nixon, and Tail Gunner Joe himself.

    I can say this with all certainty; I would not care to live in a country as envisioned by these two frightening human beings. 

  • BAJ

    ”I for one am tired of the long trend towards a secular, atheist system of thought dominating our colleges, dominating our media,” says Newt Gingrich.

    How dare people float anti-Newt ideas to students when they should clearly be propagating the party line. The next thing we will see is students analyzing those ideas for themselves and in some cases reaching anti-Newt conclusions.

    That must be stopped: priests, gauleiters and commissars would never stand for this kind of thing; nor should Newt’s army. McCarthyism must not die.

  • JeanDeaux

    Educationat institutions -should- be without -any- religious influence. That is what churches do. With the troublesome intrusion of religion into so-called ‘education’ (training) and into government it seems as though no one is even aware of the fact our government is sending young men and women to battle in places where religion has great influence or even control of government. One side say let’s kill ‘them’ – and that ‘one side’ changes all to often based on their religion – then it changes – maybe not today – but we have seen EVERY religion kill other based on their religion.

  • Ddbecker

    Why a link to the 2005 study, but not to the 2007 study.

  • Anonymous

    My first grandchild just started his College years this past fall.  I warned him against paying any mind to liberal professors. It is important when your child enters college to stay tuned into what is being taught by his/her professors and that you have warned and given good examples of the fallacies of what they teach so your child can be aware and not fall into the false teachings.  Actually I don’t think it is a good idea to send kids to college any longer. As my daughter said when home schooling I am more concerned with my daughter going to heaven rather than harvard.  I totally agree. 99@ of these institutions are totally athiest.

  • Freedom Fighter

    As Felix the Governor said to the Apostle Paul: “Me thinks that too much learning hath
    made thee mad (crazy)”. If things don’t change for you, you are going to be one surprised
    dude when God reveals Himself. I hope you find Him and don’t frustrate yourself trying to fill that big gaping void in your life with “philosophy”

  • A thinker in Kansas

    When I taught English composition and rhetoric at the university level, one of my jobs as teacher was to help students identify fallacies and develop their critical thinking skills. Fallacies are faulty thinking, problems of logic, not “false teachings” as in “things that my religious faith community believes to be untrue.”

  • TOM

    I DID NOT READ THE INFORMATION ABOVE BECAUSE IT COMES FROM POLITICIANS AND JOURNALIST WHO SAY AND PRINT WITH OUT MORALS AND DIGNITY…INSTITUTES TEACH EVOLUTION AS A SCIENCE…LET EACH STUDENT MAKE UP THEIR OWN MINES….ATHEISM OR THEISM……TOM

  • Dudeman

    Only 99%? That other 1% must not be encouraging enough critical thinking…

  • FightingStupid

    “I warned him against paying any mind to liberal professors… fallacies of what they teach so your child can be
    aware and not fall into the false teachings.”

    >> Professors teach students to THINK for their own, give them the tools to gather the RIGHT information to make INFORMED decisions.  They do not TELL them what to think like the church.  What is “false” teachings is to tell the student to “just believe” in something that is not true, never been proven, or supported by scientific rigor.  

  • Studioguy1

    Funny how a university education didn’t stop Santorum or Newt from being religious nutcases. I guess that proves that their propaganda is just that…propaganda. They would both love for your kids to be stupid, uneducated dolts who do whatever their, “leaders” tell them, without question. Education usually leads to informed decisions.

  • Matias irigoyen

    I think it’s Rick Santorum’s comments are a sign of wide ignorance. Education is the keystone of liberty. If he want’s America to be a ensign of Liberty as it has been for so many years first he needs to help every american to be free and no one can be free living in ignorance. Education gives us the tools to become what we want to become and achieve our dreams and goals. Ignorance is a yoke that       bond us to the world’s doctrines, opinions and fashions of our time.
    College is not the problem of young americans leaving the church. I’m a Christian and i attend college and i still keep my faith and make a daily effort to follow Christ. The more knowledge i get the more clear is for me that God is Real. So the problem is not in college itself or in atheist teachers but in every American Home. Like it says in proverbs 22:6 (and Rick Santorum should know this) “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it”
    If someone leaves the church in college its because he wasn’t well taught and because he didn’t have a true conviction of what being a true follower of Christ Means.

  • BelgianWoman

    “62 percent of children who enter college with a faith conviction leave without it”: no wonder: in college you learn to actually USE your brains and be critical. Santorum reminds me of the days, some 100 years ago, when the priest said to the baron and factory-owner: “you keep them poor, I’ll keep them ignorant”.

  • coronado27

    What I don’t understand is that someone who has 3 degrees from 3 different colleges can really say this with a straight face.

  • Anonymous

    Rick Santorum will say the most nitwitty things when he is well educated from colleges.  His ridiculous lies and foolish saying are not going to help with women or anyone who wants a college education or additional training so that a job is in their future. Republicans attacking birth control, attacking health care for more people, attacking unions, attacking all the things that will help Americans that we need.

  • Clay

    Pretty simple reason he can say it – because it it true.

    I also have been to college’s – but there is no chance my children will set foot in one unless they dramatically change in the very near future, which they won’t because the liberal agenda is now ingrained in the American media and mindset

    I can’t tell you how sad that makes me as a vetran, I wish I had never supported the US in conflict, I am ashamed for doing so

  • Clay

    “Republicans attacking birth control, attacking health care for more
    people, attacking unions, attacking all the things that will help
    Americans that we need. ”

    Need? Unions are pure evil, how anyone could think for a second they “need” one is incredible. Even more so in a time when companies are “best shoring” every job we have. Unions will just make you unemployed right now, not let you get paids a lot for doing little which is almost certainly what you really want

    More health care? Republicans are not attacking health care, they are attacking socializing health care and they should be. The system is not working as it should right now but that is most definitely not the asnwer. 12 TRILLION. That is all you need to know

    Attacking brith control? Wrong again. They are resisting the unconstitutional nature of the bill that was passed which makes brith control an entitlement as if it connected to some kind of medical condition – I am sorry but child birth is NOT a medical condition. It is natural and is suppose to happen.

    Your post is just amazing. I don’t even support the republican party and I can’t believe anyone in American actually thinks like this. What is happening to the US? It is unbelievable

  • Truth

    “62 percent of children who enter college with a faith conviction leave
    without it”: no wonder: in college you learn to actually USE your brains
    and be critical. Santorum reminds me of the days, some 100 years ago,
    when the priest said to the baron and factory-owner: “you keep them
    poor, I’ll keep them ignorant”. ”

    I see so you believe you are smarter than 80-90% of the people in the world do you? Because the percentage of people in this world that believe in a religion. That absolute pinnacle of ignorance and aggorance working in combination.

    It has nothing to do with being taught “to think critically” – it has to do with peer pressure and social expectations. It is impossible to teach anyone to “think critically”, human beings are able to think, there are not different forms of it. Maybe you should have taken some course on the human mind while you attended your college.

  • Truth

     ”I think it’s Rick Santorum’s comments are a sign of wide ignorance. Education is the keystone of liberty.”

    That depends on the type of education one is getting. If they are being taught lies and things that are harmful to themselves and others then no it is not the cornerstone of liberty. Education can take away liberty just as fast as it can help someone get it – and in this case it most definitely is taking away

  • Truth

    “Professors teach students to THINK for their own, give them the tools to
    gather the RIGHT information to make INFORMED decisions.  They do not
    TELL them what to think like the church.” 

    Comlpete and absolute bullshit. The professors put extreme pressure on the students to hide or be ashamed of any notions of relgion or conservative views. They out right teach children that people are religious are “nutcases” that should be avioded at all cost. I have had more than one “professor” use those very words during lecture.

    What is “false” teachings is
    to tell the student to “just believe” in something that is not true,
    never been proven, or supported by scientific rigor.   ”

    There is no proven explanation for how humans came to be – zero. Funny how it is not true, never proven, ect when it is creationism but it is fine when it is “scientific”. You are also aware it is possible to believe in BOTH as many Christians do – right?

    But, of course they are not even talking about that, they are talking about the liberal/conservative atmosphere of college these days which has absolutely nothing to do with Church or religion

    Funny how people who are “educated” or deny religion are allowed to be complete bigots and prejudiced and it is perfectly fine.

  • Mex Seiko

    There you go! That’s exactly how it’s done. That’s how you inoculate a mind against their religion.

  • Mex Seiko

    Interesting how most comments for this article negate its conclusions.

  • Reality Check

    Just because it doesn’t agree with your (outdated) religion doesn’t make it wrong. And just because you happen to believe in a God egotistical and uncaring enough to set in motion all the suffering of the world (if he was omniscient, then he knew humans would become sinful, and he created them anyway) doesn’t mean you get to make decisions for those people more intelligent than you are.