By Christopher Jones

It has long been asserted by many advocates of secularism that religiosity is most common amongst ignorant and uneducated people. As people become more educated, it is argued, they become less religious. Likewise, when societies become more and more educated, they will become less religious.

A recently published study in the journal Sociology of Religion provides mixed support for this hypothesis. Stating that their aim is to “to cast doubt on assumptions of faculty atheism,” sociologists Neill Gross and Solon Simmons conducted a survey of 1,417 full-time college professors.

According to this survey, the religious views of professors breaks down as follows:

Atheist 9.8%
Agnostic 13.1%
Nonspecific Higher Power 19.2%
“I find myself believing in God some of the time” 4.3%
“While I have doubts, I feel that I do believe in God” 16.6%
Belief in God 34.9%
No Answer 2.2%

While this survey finds that 51.5% of professors believe in God, it also found disparities by institution. Not surprisingly, professors in religiously affiliated schools are most likely to be theists. On the other hand, 36.5% of professors in elite doctoral universities are atheists or agnostics.

When it comes to academic disciplines, professors in the health sciences were most likely to be theists, with 76.% expressing a belief in God. In a separate questionnaire, a full 36.1% of health sciences professors describe their religious beliefs as  “traditionalist” while another 36.1% describe themselves as “moderate.” Only 12% describe themselves as not religious. This conforms closely with the (probably very incomplete) list of Christian faculty at UNC compiled by Beacons on the Hill, which lists 38 Christian faculty in the medical fields. Business professors also scored high when it comes to holding traditional or moderate theistic views, and business professors are also heavily represented in the Beacons on the Hill list.

Professors in the computer science and engineering fields also place highly with 50% professing theism. This is also interesting in light of the Salem Conjecture, which claims that engineers appear more likely to be creationists than those in other scientific fields.

Gross and Simmons also found that professors oriented primarily towards research were “less likely to believe in God, less likely to have a traditionalistic view of the Bible, less likely to attend religious services, more likely to describe their overall religious orientation as ‘not religious,’ and less likely to consider themselves spiritual persons.” They advance several possibilities as explanations for this, including institutional bias in hiring. However, given that religious professors are common in the health, business and engineering fields, I wonder if there is something else at work here. Are religious people more culturally inclined to pursue careers in these fields? Anecdotal evidence from my time at UNC tends me to believe this may be the case. Gross and Simmons consider the possibility that “given that modern academic and scientific knowledge has been defined as a secular domain, deeply religious intellectuals may be less inclined to devote themselves to its advance, and more inclined to see teaching or service as their academic calling.”

It’s an interesting concept that Christians in America today may be more inclined towards practical fields and away from high academic intellectualism. As to why this may be, watch this space in the coming weeks as we delve into the modern trend of anti-intellectualism in the American church.

Christians have a problem with doubt.

Or more precisely, we have a problem coming to terms with doubt. In Christian circles, it is common to hear of someone confessing doubts about the truth of Christianity. These doubts are usually expressed with great trepidation, as if having them makes one a lesser Christian. The response from the church is often to attempt to shore up the doubter’s faith through rapid-fire appeal to various rational arguments, many of them of poor quality. At other times, the church assumes that the doubter is having an emotional reaction rather than an intellectual problem, and attempts to provide support on a purely emotional level. In small groups and bible studies, the Christian who expresses doubts often finds himself beset by every other member of the group, each offering his or her ten second proofs of the correctness of the Christian religion.

Christians today have a problem with the way we view doubt. We view doubt as a flaw, a sign of weakness. We view it as something to be corrected by more belief.

But doubt is not necessarily a bad thing. Doubt is a tool used to determine the truth or falsehood of a proposition. Descartes used methodological doubt to find an absolute truth that he could build a philosophy on. Doubt properly applied is used to strip away unfounded assumptions, so only that which can be supported remains. Rather than being a weakness, doubt is a basic tool of logical reasoning.

In order for doubt to be an effective tool, it must be properly utilized. That is, it must be used in conjunction with reason. Doubt without reason is emotionally based, while doubt with reason is a tool for determining truth.

Unfortunately, many Christians today seem to place all doubt in the emotional category, while ignoring its applications in determining truth.  This is part of a wider rejection of intellectual approaches to religion in contemporary western culture. Such an approach tends to attract people to Christianity through emotional appeal. However, as these new Christians mature in their faith, they begin to ask questions and express doubts. They begin to look for the “solid food” Paul describes in Hebrews 5:13-14. And they do not find it in churches which focus on emotional appeals. Rather than viewing a lack of blind faith as a problem, the church should embrace doubt as a tool of logical reasoning. After all, if Christianity is true, what is there to be afraid of?