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I am a former middle and high school science teacher pursuing a doctorate in Science Ed. at George Mason University, with a concentration in cognitive science and the evolution of cognition and learning. Postings on this blog represent my own views, not those of my employer or school. All writing displayed on this page is original work unless otherwise noted, and thus copyrighted.

03 August 2009

Interesting study...

Richard Dawkins tweeted about this, and I found it interesting, so it's discussion time... A key to analysing this may simply be
funded by the John Templeton Foundation,

but I'll attempt to be fair and reserve judgement.

The study concludes that a) majors in social sciences and humanities become less religious, b) majors in the natural and physical sciences maintain their level of religiosity, and c) education majors tend to harbour the religious and strengthen their convictions. I haven't the data to argue with it, so let's simply examine that of the study.

Source: University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, 2009

Firstly, they've separated the measures for importance and attendance, and consider them of equal value in measuring religiosity. I'm not certain I buy into that... If one considers religion to be of less importance, it follows that one is less religious. Attending services of some form or another occurs for a number of reasons, many of them social (data to back this up might help, I know).

The education numbers frighten me a bit. Clearly, there is an upswing in religiosity, by both measures, after completion of college for those in education majors. The article also states
"Education majors are clearly safe havens for the religious," said U-M economist Miles Kimball, who co-authored the study. "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."

I'd love to see the data that spawned that particular conclusion, as it isn't provided and doesn't seem evident from the methods used in the study. I don't deny the possibility that it's true, but something concrete would be helpful. Religion does tend to have a regrettable tendency to make people want to pass it on, however.

The final conclusion is the one I truly take issue with:
"Our results suggest that it is Postmodernism, not Science, that is the bĂȘte 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."

There's nothing at all to suggest that this is true, other than the numbers they demonstrate. Is it possible that courses in sociology, philosophy, and comparative religion simply tend to teach rational thinking and, more importantly, demonstrate the cross-cultural tendencies of the religious to attempt to explain/deal with certain life events? Perhaps the ideas of Postmodernism are more difficult for the religious to confront than those of science; After all, Postmodernist thinking doesn't use empiricism as a standard for doctrine either.

Original paper here.

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