Why we need college degrees more than we need faith

Rick Santorum has made a number of outlandish statements recently during this presidential campaign that appear derive from his religious … Continued

Rick Santorum has made a number of outlandish statements recently during this presidential campaign that appear derive from his religious worldview, ranging from the claim that contraception is ‘harmful to women’ to the claim that birth control encourages more abortions. But while his criticism of President Obama’s encouragement of Americans to attend college, calling such aspirations snobby, was also off the mark-those with a college degree, for example, have been shown to vastly greater earning potential and job opportunities than those without one-his claim that many students who enter college with a ‘faith commitment’ leave college without one may in fact have some basis in reality. However, the conclusion he draws from this claim is precisely wrong.


View Photo Gallery: Scenes of religious faith meeting politics in the 2012 campaign.

Mr. Santorum views this apparent facet of higher education as a danger, and his proposed solution is simple-less higher education and more faith.

As a faculty member at an institution of higher education, and as a scientist, however, I question the basic premise that loss of faith is a bad thing. If it is true that those who are more educated have a greater tendency to question their religious faith, shouldn’t we consider that this might be telling us more about religious faith than about how harmful getting a college degree can be?

Why do we so readily accept in our society the claim that blind religious faith is a virtue, and the lack of faith as a defect? A recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social found in a survey of Canadian college students and American adult that atheists as a group are the least trusted members of society, on par only with rapists.

Surely in no other area of human activity do we place such great value on accepting claims without seeking to establish their veracity. One of the purposes of education is to teach young people how to question pre-conceived notions and to base conclusions on evidence in order to more capable of performing in their jobs and in their role as citizens.

It is no accident that 90 percent of the members of the National Academy of Science, the nation’s most prestigious group of scientific researchers, claim to have no religious faith. This is not a group of ‘indoctrinated liberals’ who have an agenda to destroy our morality. It is a group of individuals who are trained to question and explore, and in the process have helped produce the knowledge base that powers our modern society.

Joe Raedle

GETTY IMAGES

Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a campaign stop at the St. Mary’s Cultural & Banquet Center on February 27, 2012 in Livonia, Michigan.

An educated workforce, especially in areas of science and engineering, is the key to economic health in the 21st century, and an informed populace is the basis of a healthy democracy. If it is true that education tends to reduce religious faith then we have to decide which is ultimately more valuable.

If, in order to protect religious belief, areas of study that may cause students to question their beliefs be removed from the curriculum, or even if we discourage teachers from discussing such areas in class or discourage young people from seeking higher education for fear they may be exposed to them, then we risk devolving down the slippery slope of irrationality, at the bottom of which we observe societies like those in Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

Santorum’s own choice of faith over empirical knowledge provides perhaps the best example of why blindly accepting faith as virtue is misplaced. When decrying colleges as indoctrination mills, he also described how hard he had to resist the pressures in college to question his faith. In so doing, he also resisted the opportunity to learn about how the world actually works.

As a politician on our national stage, his professed ignorance about the natural world is almost unprecedented. His statements on issues ranging from evolution to the evidence for human induced global warming, and most recently about contraception and birth control only serve to demonstrate that a worldview based on closed-minded faith rather than empirical evidence can result in nonsense as a basis of public policy.

Lawrence M. Krauss is Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, and author, most recently of “A Universe from Nothing.”

  • Marleycat

    This is a very good, cogent article – Thanks so much for affirming that great American value – the importance of education. There is nothing wrong with those who make the decision and choice to forgo a college education in favor of a trade (although in today’s world such a career choice still requires ongoing education, training, and workshops!). However, those people, young or old – who desire to further their education should be able to pursue that with PRIDE and it is fundamentally wrong and dangerous to our nation to demonize higher education as some kind of evil elitism. The reality is – even w/o the today’s brutal attacks on education, the US has already systematically defunded education so successfully that on the worldwide scale we cannot compete with many other countries – even poorer countries. This is not just an economic disaster for the very near future – but a national security issue. If members of our military are unable to read, write, communicate, think critically, and understand math and science in an advanced high tech military theater – we cannot adequately defend ourselves as a world power – simple fact!

  • ccnl1

    From the college ranks:

    As we “thump” along with rational thinking, conclusions and reiteration to counter the millennia of false and flawed religious history and theology!!!–––

    Putting the final kibosh on religion in less than a 1000 words:

    • There was probably no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • There was probably no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    Added support references are available. Just ask.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man

  • plattitudes

    I think the biggest issue I had with this article is the following statement:

    “Surely in no other area of human activity do we place such great value on accepting claims without seeking to establish their veracity.”

    I disagree wholeheartedly with the notion that people of faith do not seek to establish the veracity or truth of the doctrines and tenets they believe in. It seems that the author is of the opinion that if it cannot be proven by science, it cannot be proven at all.

    Proof is there–one CAN come to know of the existance of diety, but it comes from a different paradigm than scientific evidence. The Scientific and Faith paradigms can, and do, coexist, and those who claim they cannot likely have never tried to see it from the other side.

  • plattitudes

    I think the biggest issue I had with this article is the following statement:

    “Surely in no other area of human activity do we place such great value on accepting claims without seeking to establish their veracity.”

    I disagree wholeheartedly with the notion that people of faith do not seek to establish the veracity or truth of the doctrines and tenets they believe in. It seems that the author is of the opinion that if it cannot be proven by science, it cannot be proven at all.

    Proof is there–one CAN come to know of the existance of diety, but it comes from a different paradigm than scientific evidence. The Scientific and Faith paradigms can, and do, coexist, and those who claim they cannot likely have never tried to see it from the other side.

  • Carstonio

    It doesn’t make sense that the existence of an object or phenomenon can be known through means other than empirical evidence. Some believers claim to be able to communicate with deity beings, sounding as if they’re talking about extrasensory perception, but there’s no way to independently verify the existence of ESP. Obviously it’s possible that such perception exists, but we have only some individuals’ word for it that they have the ability.

  • GD1975

    Religious indoctrination is an easier path for folks like Rick Santorum.

  • plattitudes

    @Carstonio, I am sorry that it doesn’t make sense to you, but I would argue that they are known through means OF empirical evidence. The belief, and even knowledge, of God has come to countless people following the same experiment of faith: searching, pondering, and prayer. The resulting observations that God exists, and communication with him have been independently verified millions of times, but you claim that we only have “some individual’s word” for it.

    You deride the ability to communicate with the divine as ESP–an extra-sensory perception, or an ability to observe something through methods other than the 5 accepted senses. If you claim religion cannot be proven because you only rely on proof from these 5 senses, then I’ll claim that no continents are covered in arctic climate because I only accept evidence from 6 continents.

    The extra ‘sense’ we rely on we commonly call faith. It is the evidence of things not seen (or heard, or tasted) by many, though we often use the common senses to try and explain to those who haven’t experienced it yet. It can be confusing at first to rely on something other than the senses you are familiar with, but hey, quantum mechanics is confusing as well. Don’t put something off just because it doesn’t make sense to you at first–or you risk being like the 5th grade science student who decides relativity doesn’t exist, because it doesn’t make sense to him.

  • plattitudes

    @Carstonio, I am sorry that it doesn’t make sense to you, but I would argue that they are known through means OF empirical evidence. The belief, and even knowledge, of God has come to countless people following the same experiment of faith: searching, pondering, and prayer. The resulting observations that God exists, and communication with him have been independently verified millions of times, but you claim that we only have “some individual’s word” for it.

    You deride the ability to communicate with the divine as ESP–an extra-sensory perception, or an ability to observe something through methods other than the 5 accepted senses. If you claim religion cannot be proven because you only rely on proof from these 5 senses, then I’ll claim that no continents are covered in arctic climate because I only accept evidence from 6 continents.

    The extra ‘sense’ we rely on we commonly call faith. It is the evidence of things not seen (or heard, or tasted) by many, though we often use the common senses to try and explain to those who haven’t experienced it yet. It can be confusing at first to rely on something other than the senses you are familiar with, but hey, quantum mechanics is confusing as well. Don’t put something off just because it doesn’t make sense to you at first–or you risk being like the 5th grade science student who decides relativity doesn’t exist, because it doesn’t make sense to him.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    I would have loved to write out a point by point rebuttal to this interesting display of mental gymnastics, but then the irony of your last sentence literally made my head explode.

  • whereislogic

    I find many points wrong in this article but I would like to address the first one made, that Rick is ‘outlandish’ when he states that ‘contraception is ‘harmful’ to women”. The writer just assumes that one could not possibly agree with that statement in spite of many serious medical studies that show strong links between the pill and breast cancer, for one example. The pill is the 1 prescribed med in the world. There are studies by universities that are exploring the levels of ‘pill’ waste in our waters and how that is affecting us. There are studies showing that a woman attracts the ‘wrong’ kind of mate due to the influence on her hormones. “Love and Responsibility” by John Paul II, takes an incredible look into relationships, with a thoughtful case made for how women (who really do take the primary responsibility for birth control) are veiwed more as an object, not a person, because they paradoxically, while thinking that they are acting responsibly, have less, not more, respect from men who are detached from any committment or responsibility to them. Contraception may give women the ability to have ‘safe’ sex but they are in many cases being used and discarded. Hmmm, hooking up has made women happier, less prone to depression and STDs … and men are more committed with less divorce? I’ve only just touched on some of these issues which deserve much more thought, just as the assumption that it is ‘outlandish’ needs more thought.

  • Catken1

    “with a thoughtful case made for how women (who really do take the primary responsibility for birth control) are veiwed more as an object, not a person, because they paradoxically, while thinking that they are acting responsibly, have less, not more, respect from men who are detached from any committment or responsibility to them”

    Mind you, we’re talking the late leader of a religion who views women as either celibate and submissive nuns, or as objects to be used for childbearing until they break and can be thrown out. I hardly think he’s an authority on how men who actually love women see them.
    My husband’s commitment to and responsibility for our marriage and family are not in the least lessened by the fact that I am his partner, lover, and friend, not his brood mare, and that we have no more children than we can properly care for and support.

    As for medical issues involving birth control pills, have you compared them to the medical effects of continual pregnancies?

  • Catken1

    “Don’t put something off just because it doesn’t make sense to you at first”

    Yes, yes, we all ought to BELIEVE in this great mystical being who cannot be perceived with any of our perceptive tools, because if we do, we’ll be given Special Magic Senses that will FEEL its presence! (Never mind that few of those who feel God’s presence ever seem to quite agree on God’s nature.)

    Now, let me sell you some of this marvelous snake oil I have. No, I can’t provide any actual proof or even evidence that it works, but if you REALLY believe in it, if you TRY to perceive it with your extra special super sense that you KNOW you have in addition to the normal five, you will FEEL all your problems and illnesses just MELTING away as you SENSE the power of this magic stuff…

  • Reasonforhope

    I’m very disappointed to see this. As a popularizer of science, Dr. Krauss has written entertaining and helpful books. Now he stoops to this argument? I’m sympathetic to his concern about the anti-intellectualism in some religious circles, but this shallow attack on faith does little to alleviate the situation.

    Instead Krauss perpetuates the false notion that science and faith are incompatible. That view might held by people on both fringes of this discussion, but it really trivializes the issue.

    Anyone who is willing to do a little serious research will find this to be completely inaccurate. It’s easy to find many excellent books addressing the issue from scientists who are themselves people of faith. There are also excellent books by skeptics. Consider Paul Davies or John Polkinghorne or many, many others.

    I’m disappointed that Krauss is either unaware of this work or has neglected it. I understand that Santorum presents rather extreme and uninformed views. does it help matters for Krauss to present equally extreme and, yes, uninformed, views.

  • Reasonforhope

    oops. sorry for the typos.

  • Sara121

    Science and faith are incompatible. Science is built on the acquisition of new evidence that can and should change minds and build knowledge. Faith is the exact opposite. Once a person has faith, any evidence to the contrary is dismissed, and only a loss of faith really changes someone’s mind about something. They are complete opposites.

  • catatonicjones

    plattitudes, enlighten us as to the faith of other believers, Muslims and Hindus and other religions today, and the faith of millions upon millions of our ancestors in more primitive gods than yours. More people today and throughout history have believed in gods that are not your god than believe in your god today.

    Was theirs a real faith, in gods we agree did not exist? It seems your faith as a source of evidence is highly subjective, and that it usually leads to an incorrect conclusion proof that it is useless as a source of evidence.

  • Rongoklunk

    Brilliant article. Of course religion and god-belief are simply superstitions, passed on down to us from our knowledge-challenged ancestors. It’s insane to actually believe the god-hypothesis to be true. Yes. Look to the Taliban if we want to see how religious thinking works. That’s how Christianity worked too when Christendom ruled the planet, It was war, inquisitions, burning heretics alive, drowing witches and generally causing mayhem everywhere on earth.

    And the irony is that there’s nobody up there. No gods, no angels, no devils or demons, no heaven and no hell. Scientists know this. Religious folk don’t.

  • Rongoklunk

    No they don’t. Only religious folk believe such twaddle. Remember – 90% of the National Academy of Scientists are nonbelievers. Think about that. Uneducated people believe in a skygod – but 90% of members of the NAS don’t. They don’t believe in a supernatural being. It is anti-science. It is totally irrational. Why do religious folk hate the truth so much? Knowing that your god is mythical should be liberating.
    Think about it.

  • Rongoklunk

    Yeah I felt the same way when I found out there was no Santa Claus.
    I just couldn’t accept it. I always cleaned out the chimney on Christmas-eve to make it easy for Santa to come down it. And even though I now know there isn’t one – I still keep cleaning the chimney on Christmas eve just in case.

  • Rongoklunk

    The old pope never got laid, never had kids. All he did all day was pray to the great skygod, who educated people know doesn’t exist.

    Popes must be plagued by the cognitive dissonance which is built in to the oddest job on the planet – talking to an imaginary skygod, who of course can never talk back. That was Mother Teresa’s beef too. God never returned her calls.

  • Rongoklunk

    “Surely in no other area of human activity do we place such great value on accepting claims without seeking to establish their veracity.”

    It’s a true statement. Religion has a free pass to be irrational and superstitious, and to encourage others to be likewise, based on nothing at all except an ancient book. In fact the only way to actually believe the bizarre tenets of any religion is to be indoctrinated from the cradle. Then you’ve got a believer for life.
    No indoctrination = no belief.

  • TopTurtle

    Reasonforhope,

    I’m not sure what your definition of compatible is. If you mean that people can both think scientifically and have faith, you’re obviously correct. One can only accept faith by not thinking about it scientifically, however. You have to suspend scientific inquiry to have faith. In that sense, they’re incompatible.

  • TopTurtle

    “Surely in no other area of human activity do we place such great value on accepting claims without seeking to establish their veracity.”

    This statement illustrates one of the most intellectually disturbing aspects of religious belief. People like Santorum not only accept religion without evidence, they view refusal to examine religious belief critically as a virtue! They think believing (only in what they believe of course!) without evidence or even in spite of evidence is a good thing. Pure insanity!

  • Rongoklunk

    You missed it. 90% of members of the National Academy of Science do not believe in a skygod. 90%!!! In every hundred scientists ninety of them do not believe in a god. Because there’s no reason to believe. Our ancestors didn’t know it, but there’s nobody up there.

  • catatonicjones

    “Truth” arrived at through Faith is kept in spite of evidence to the contrary, in spite of any supporting evidence. It is never discarded by the believer.
    Truth arrived at through science is kept only through supporting evidence. It is discarded quickly when evidence proves it not be true.

    Faith and Science are entirely incompatible for this reason. Faith is unreasonable, unreasoned, and insensible.

  • catatonicjones

    ‘… in spite of a lack of supporting evidence …’

  • plattitudes

    wow, talk about false extrapolation. 90% of ONE GROUP of scientists don’t believe in God, therefore only one in ten of ALL Scientists do? Go back to your statistic classes, one group does not a a representative sample make.

  • plattitudes

    wow, talk about false extrapolation. 90% of ONE GROUP of scientists don’t believe in God, therefore only one in ten of ALL Scientists do? Go back to your statistic classes, one group does not a a representative sample make.

  • jade_alpha

    Science has done more good for society in the last 100 years than religion has in all of human history.

  • RickWatcher

    I am not an objector to the use of contraceptives but when he says there is increased dangers to women with there use, he is correct. Problems can range from slight nausea to, increased danger of cervical and breast cancer, heart attack and stroke.
    He is also correct in that higher learning exposes individuals to greater risk of being indoctrinated with socialist, communist, godless ideas and perversions and lies about history, especially American History. This was one of the goals of the Communist Party USA in the 60′s, take over institutions of higher learning to indoctrinate our children. From what I have seen of college education in a number of institutions they are more interested in indoctrination than in teaching true facts or to allow open and equal debate.
    Now as for faith, God in His Word tells us that, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him.” Salvation only comes through faith, “By grace are you saved through faith.” Faith in Christ is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. So once again another very “educated” writer is trying to indoctrinate the masses with his world view.
    Better learn the truth before it’s too late.

  • Sara121

    But Obama didn’t say everyone should go to college. In fact he did push vocational schools and other sorts of job training in both the SOTU and the budget. Santorum ignored that Obama said that and then tried to pass it off as his own idea.

  • Rongoklunk

    It’s the childhood indoctrination that does it. The only brains that accept the god-hypothesis are childrens’ brains. Once accepted by the child it takes a very curious adult to overcome it in later life. Most go through life as if hypnotized , and cram it in their modern minds because they have to. It’s easier than becoming unhypnotized.

  • catatonicjones

    Are you going to rest your hope on some scientists are as foolish as you?

  • catatonicjones

    If you christians weren’t so insistent on meddling in the lives of others, making their fertility decisions for them, suppressing science that you don’t like, we’d just ignore you. That you can’t grow up and out of this childish belief of yours is strictly your business – except you keep insisting on pushing into everybody’s life.

    You’re a bunch of foolish people, no different from those who believe in astrology – the difference is, they don’t have a bunch of politicians pandering to their foolishness to get votes. They don’t interfere in other people’s lives.

  • Catken1

    When he says there are increased dangers to women with contraceptive use, he is completely ignoring the damage and danger to women’s health caused by repeated pregnancies.

    “He is also correct in that higher learning exposes individuals to greater risk of being indoctrinated with socialist, communist, godless ideas and perversions and lies about history, especially American History”

    Exactly what socialist, communist, godless ideas and perversions are taught in history classes? Be specific. Or just be randomly insulting and make it completely clear that you’ve no evidence for your assertions whatsoever.

  • Catken1

    The 5th grader learns more about relativity, finds out more of the evidence in its support as s/he grows up and learns more of the scientific background. Or s/he doesn’t. But either way, the evidence is out there, backed up by observation and rational argument and experiment.
    What rational evidence do you have for your God? What tests have you run to determine His existence and nature, other than just believing very hard with your magic special super fairydust sense? What real, solid, repeatable observations have you made?

  • Sara121

    To build on “what observations have you made?” I often find that people confuse observations with evidence. For example, people like to say that the complexity of life or the so called fine tuning as evidence of god. But these are actually observations. Evidence god would be the data that connects those observations to the causal hypothesis of god. This is what is always lacking from theists, usually because they try to pass off observations as evidence.

  • Catken1

    True, Sara, true.

  • GeniusPhx

    except that there is no correlation between religion and morality. countries who have the highest populations of atheists, 50+%, have much less crime, (we have 10 times more people in prisons per capita then most countries) and we have one of the most religious countries. we treat each other well because of our humanity and social justice, not because of religion.

  • 8811118

    a little insurance policy huh?

    A LITTLE US HISTORY:
    Thomas Jefferson wrote the Virginia papers which was turned into our declaration of independence, he is the one who was, behind the scenes making his own bible deleting the deity of Jesus, Gone are the virgin birth, divine healing, exorcisms and the resurrection of the dead, all of which the chief executive dismissed as “superstitions, fanaticism’s and fabrications. I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.” He was often accused of being an atheist.

    James Madison wrote most of the constitution including the first amendment. He said “Religion flourishes in greater purity without, than with the aid of Government.” “During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.”

  • Cindy.tc

    Good article, but it could use a bit more editing. Finding errors in a published article, especially one that is talking about higher education, really goes against the grain.

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