Monday, January 22, 2007

Independant Thought

A secondhand conjecture posts today about a discussion that I guess I missed, apparently a survey indicated that professors are less religious or likely to believe in God than the general populace. Professors at elite universities were indicated to be even less likely to believe in God.

So of course now there can be discussion about A) how this affects students and B) why academics are such godless heathens. Joy of joys.

My thoughts on this: A) In as much as students are able to make up their own minds based on the information available to them. Students, ESPECIALLY at so called "elite" universities are there to learn to think for themselves. And while a professor may on occasion present evidence to support their own worldview, students are free to make up their own minds. Even in some classes students are required to write papers that echo the teacher's worlview in order to get a good grade this does not necessarily cause them to agree. I could make a perfectly good case for universal health care that doesn't mean that I agree with it.

And B) Because to be an academic one must be able to evaluate information and make decisions about it. I'm not arguing that anyone with a brain doesn't believe in God. I am arguing that social pressures (while they still exist) are less prominent for members of elite academic communities because they are encouraged to question the status quo.

If one considers the origins of religion or spirituality this answer makes a bit more sense. When I was two, nobody asked me if I thought there was a God. Many children are raised from a young age to believe in god and many people continue to follow the religion of their parents. Fewer people are left to their own devices to someday sit up from their blocks and say they believe in God. (Note: I'm not saying that people who are not born into religion do not eventually chose a religion. ) I am saying that when your whole family, your culture and your society revolve around the belief in God it can be very difficult to say otherwise. And many times you not only have to reject the idea of God but also a whole set of beliefes and traditions that make up a religion. So to reject those traditions requires someone with a high capacity for independant thought. Surely these individuals are found in many places, but I imagine they are found higher percentages in academia.

The MOST telling part of this discussion is the following questiong from the article (quoted on ASC):

So should we favor elite professors’ views on God, or can we identify other
relevant considerations?

OF course not! You should favor your own beliefs about God. If you question his existance then by all means read up on some of the interesting books that refute the idea of God. But if you REALLY believe, then why do you care what some physics prof believes? What is it with people and the need to agree with others? Why can't we all make up our own minds!?

This drives me NUTS, especially when people who believe seem to think that unless I agree with them their beliefs are meaningless.


DED said...

My mother's Jewish. My father's Catholic. Neither one drilled home a message that I had to believe one way or another. I was free to find my own path.

This drives me NUTS, especially when people who believe seem to think that unless I agree with them their beliefs are meaningless.

I encountered an atheist who felt that all people who believe in God are incapable of rational thought.

Religious belief in this country has become as polarized as our politics.

Shinobi said...

I don't think it is that surprising that it has become so polarized. Religion is very personal, and some people take it very personally if you don't agree with them. (And this goes either way, Athiest, Wiccan, Christian etc>)

Conversely there are plenty perfectly reasonable people capable of interesting discourse on either topic. But we don't hear nearly as much from them.