Study: Education doesn't breed atheism

by Whitney Jones, posted Friday, August 05, 2011 (3 years ago)

LINCOLN, Neb. (BP)--Contrary to popular belief, atheism is not the norm for people with higher education, new research shows.

Education does not push people away from God, it just makes them more likely to accept a liberal attitude toward religion, reported USA Today.

Philip Schwadel, associate professor of sociology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said that for each year of education beyond seventh grade people are actually 15 percent more likely to attend some sort of religious service.

However, his article in Review of Religious Research said people are also 15 percent more likely to believe that truth can be found in more than one religion. Schwadel attributed that to wider-spread friendships, since education allows students to meet a larger group of people with different religious beliefs.

"People don't want to say their friends are going to hell," Schwadel said.

Another example of liberal-leaning attitudes toward religion that often come with education is the 13 percent decrease in people who say the Bible is the "actual word" of God. Schwadel found more people tend to say the Bible is God's "inspired word."

With high school and college education, people are 14 percent more likely to believe in a higher power, and Schwadel noted that more than nine out of 10 believe in some sort of deity.

People with higher education also tend to switch to mainline Protestant denominations because many believe they are not as strict and do not impose rules into their personal lives, Schwadel said.

Not everyone is buying into this research though, particularly atheists. Hermant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist blogger at Patheos.com, said he was skeptical of Schwadel's research because he had always heard that education breeds distaste for religion.

But he added, "It must depend on how you define religion."

However, Schwadel is not alone in his findings. Barry Kosmin, co-author of the American Religious Identification Survey from Connecticut's Trinity College, found similar information in his study of the religious beliefs of people with post-graduate degrees.


Whitney Jones is a student at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and an intern with Baptist Press.

Download Story