Sunday, August 02, 2009


Religious Education

A University of Michigan Institute study has purportedly found that College students who major in the social sciences and humanities are likely to get less inclined towards religion while those majoring in education are likely to become more religious. Perhaps surprisingly, "the study found that students majoring in biology and physical sciences remain just about as religious as they were when they started college."

"Education majors are clearly safe havens for the religious. Highly religious people seem to prefer education majors, tend to stay in that major, and tend to become more religious by the time they graduate," said U-M economist Miles Kimball, who co-authored the study.
The religiosity of the students was judged by their answers to such questions as 'How often do you attend religious services?'; 'How important is religion in your life?'; and 'How good or bad a job is being done for the country as a whole by churches and religious organizations?'

The story notes that the researchers used business majors as a reference point because:

"We wanted a major that was culturally neutral and that attracted a large number of students. The content of most business courses does not touch on values," said Kimball."
... which is, in its own way, dismaying.

The authors theorized that three powerful streams of thought interact with choice of college majors to amplify the impact on religiosity, and these are - science, developmentalism (the belief in progress), and postmodernism (the belief that everything is relative).

"There are important differences among the college majors in world views and overall philosophies of life. At the same time, students recognize to some degree the differences among majors and chose a major based, at least in part, on religiosity," said Kimball.

"Our results suggest that it is Postmodernism, not Science, that is the bete noir of religiosity. One reason may be that the key ideas of Postmodernism are newer than the key scientific ideas that challenge religion. For example, religions have had 150 years to develop resistance or tolerance for the late 19th century idea of Evolution, but much less time to develop resistance or tolerance for the key ideas of Postmodernism, which gained great strength over the course of the 20th century" ...
It is interesting that the authors think postmodernism is most inimicable to religion, given Intelligent Design Creationism's -- at least apparent -- embrace of a social contructivist view of science, particularly that of Steve Fuller. Partially, of course, it is a cynical adoption of any argument that provides even a scrap of intellectual cover for ID. But it may also be a step on the way of religion evolving under the selective pressure of exposure of the young to education in current ideas.

But the irony is that the best way for those "atheist-scientists" Jerry Coyne keeps talking about to achieve the death of religion may be to encourage the sort of postmodernism that relegates science to just another social construct with no claim to objectivity.

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