Study: non-STEM college programs make students less religious

Apologetics and the progress of science
Apologetics and the progress of science

Rice University reports on a new study conducted by sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund.


The public’s view that science and religion can’t work in collaboration is a misconception that stunts progress, according to a new survey of more than 10,000 Americans, scientists and evangelical Protestants. The study by Rice University also found that scientists and the general public are surprisingly similar in their religious practices.

The study, “Religious Understandings of Science (RUS),” was conducted by sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund and presented today in Chicago during the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference. Ecklund is the Autrey Professor of Sociology and director of Rice’s Religion and Public Life Program.

“We found that nearly 50 percent of evangelicals believe that science and religion can work together and support one another,” Ecklund said. “That’s in contrast to the fact that only 38 percent of Americans feel that science and religion can work in collaboration.”

The study also found that 18 percent of scientists attended weekly religious services, compared with 20 percent of the general U.S. population; 15 percent consider themselves very religious (versus 19 percent of the general U.S. population); 13.5 percent read religious texts weekly (compared with 17 percent of the U.S. population); and 19 percent pray several times a day (versus 26 percent of the U.S. population).

[…]RUS is the largest study of American views on religion and science.

What would be interesting is to find out what specific arguments scientists who believe in God would appeal to, and which specific arguments scientists who don’t believe in God would appeal to. I actually know a professor who is trying to research this.

Meanwhile, Reasonable Faith has a podcast about the study, and what they discuss is how students who go into non-STEM university programs lose their interest in religion at a much higher rate than people who study STEM.

Here is the MP3 file.

And the relevant portion of the transcript:

DR. CRAIG: Right. If you look at their chart they give, where it shows the changes in religiosity by college major, it shows that in biology, engineering, and physical science and math they were mixed. The overall effect was neither negative nor positive. For some it was positive, some negative. But those majors did not seem to have a very significant effect upon the person’s religious behavior. The majors that had a very positive impact on religiosity were education, vocational or clerical education, business, and what is classified as “other.” All of those majors – whatever those are – have an overall positive impact upon students’ religiosity.

KEVIN HARRIS: And attendance as well – attendance to church services.


KEVIN HARRIS: The big fly in the ointment here is that “both the Humanities and the Social Sciences see dramatic declines in attendance and even more in religious beliefs.” It lowers church attendance, synagogue attendance, and even more in religious beliefs. What do we mean by the humanities and the social sciences?

DR. CRAIG: Humanities would include your non-scientific areas; for example, literature (hence the title of the article), politics.[3] I don’t know if they would include economics in this or not. Religious studies. In the social sciences are things like anthropology and sociology would be included there.

KEVIN HARRIS: The study of art?

DR. CRAIG: Yes, I suppose the arts would be in the humanities – that would be music and graphic arts. It is a big, big catch-all category.

And why does Dr. Craig think this is happening?

DR. CRAIG: […]It could well be that it is because it is in the humanities that the radicals of the 1960s were able to find a place in the university and become ensconced as professors with the relativism that they were championing. In areas like anthropology and sociology you find tremendous relativism where you simply study these cultures and societies without making any sort of judgment as to truth with regard to what they believe. This leads to the belief that it is all relative; there isn’t anything that is objectively true. John Searle is a very prominent philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley. Searle says that he believes that because of the commitment to the objectivity of truth and logic and the scientific method the hard sciences were barred to these radicals of the 1960s – getting into them and influencing them. But where they found an opening was in things like the Women’s Studies Department, Religious Studies, Anthropology, Sociology. These soft sciences. He says the professors in these disciplines are the children of the 1960s that have carried into it their relativistic views of truth. I noticed here the conclusion by the researchers of the University of Michigan (apparently who did this study), “Our results suggest that it is Postmodernism, not Science, that is the bête noir [the black beast or the hated thing] of religiosity.” The enemy of religiosity is postmodernism, not science.

KEVIN HARRIS: Postmodernism, as you’ve pointed out, was mainly a thing confined to literature and the soft sciences.

DR. CRAIG: Right. Women’s Studies, Religious Studies is rampant with Postmodernist perspectives. That has a real ring of truth to it, and could be the reason behind these statistics.

And this is why I recommend that people not drop math in high school, and pick a STEM field to study in college (or a trade in trade school). You are wasting your money when you let people in non-STEM areas indoctrinate you in fact-free irrationality. By the way, I love business administration as a major, for those who do not want to do the lab work. It attracts a lot of conservatives and entrepreneurs.

You can see Ecklund’s book about her research here on the Oxford University Press web site. You can also buy the book here from

And here is a related lecture from Cambridge University featuring Dr. Ecklund.

One thought on “Study: non-STEM college programs make students less religious”

  1. I would like to emphasise that while many faculties in the humanities department (eg. English Literature) are infested with post-modernism, there are notable exceptions which are every bit as analytical and grounded as the sciences. I can assure you that those folks in the Modern History department are not running around positing that we cannot know what happened in the past or some other postmodern nonsense – no sane history department could function with such presuppositions. Are there areas of ambiguity in the study of history? Of course. But what we’re not doing is floating relativism or ‘fact-free irrationality’.

    I’m not sure what precisely the benefit in lumping all these variant disciplines together with one another and (with all due respect) demonising non-STEM degrees achieves. I fear that in a bid to emphasise the compatibility of religion and science we sometimes run the risk of reinforcing a scientistic, anti-humanities mind-set in people and this is most definitely not helpful. Honestly, I cannot see how a history professor (for instance) would be any more likely to indoctrinate his/her class in relativistic ideas than a professor of quantum physics. In fact, I see a real threat of STEM students being indoctrinated not with post-modernism, but a crass modernist empiricism which we would be wise to avoid.

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