Via P.Z., I came across this article, from the Colorado Springs Gazette, about Christian teenagers abdoning their faith upon reaching college:

The trend is known as the “Great Evacuation,” and the statistics are startling to youth ministers.

Studies have shown at least 50 percent — and possibly as much as 85 percent — of kids involved in church groups will abandon their faith during their first year in college.

In an attempt to reverse those numbers, Focus on the Family on Saturday hosted “The Big Dig,” a conference aimed at teens and youth leaders. The goal was not just to celebrate participants’ Christian faith but also to give them the tools to defend their beliefs against questions they will face.


I’m sure the statistics are basically accurate. A college education is a strong innoculation against finding Christianity appealing, especially the sort of fundamentalist Christianity promoted by Focus on the Family.

But this is not because professors indoctrinate students with atheist propaganda. It is because for most teenagers college is the first time they get a real taste of what is really out there. Just browsing through the typical college course catalog reveals fields of study you never knew existed when you were in high school. Add to that the diversity of backgrounds and religious views found on most college campuses, and it becomes increasingly hard to believe that the Biblical writers had everything figured out a few thousand years ago.

Of course, Focus on the Family uses language in weird ways. When they talk about “the tools to defend their beliefs” they mean “talking points that can be whipped out in conversation to shut up your interlocutor.” These are not reflective people. These are not folks who waste even one solitary second trying to understand the views of those who do not agree with their beliefs. Learning biology is not part of the program when it comes to arguing against evolution, for example. Memorizing talking points about gaps in the fossil record or the gobsmacking complexity of biochemical systems, all while learning how to dismiss your intellectual betters with a contemptuous shake of the head is the preferred approach.

The FotF types have a different explanation for the problem of the youth leaving the faith:

Reasons are multiple for the religious falloff by freshmen, said Bob Waliszewski, Focus’ interim youth outreach director. Some leave churches because they find their beliefs incompatible with moral failings they have, while others have no answers for professors who question their faith.

Find their beliefs incompatible with moral failings they have? I’m not sure what that means. I thought the whole point of Christianity was acknowledging your wretched and sinful state and your consequent need of a savior. We’ve already discussed the second point. It doesn’t seem to occur to Mr. Waliszewski that the extraordinary fact claims of Christianity become harder to believe once you have learned a bit about skepticism and critical thinking, and that college tends to make students stronger in both of those areas.

Reading fundamentalist apologetics can be an excruciating experience for anyone who actually knows a little science and history. This is why the FotF people are so keen on indoctirnating people when they are young. Your typical college graduate is savvy enough to know malarkey when he sees it, making them harder to bring in to the fold.

Comments

  1. #1 David
    August 13, 2007

    It is very sad to here that most teenagers turn their back on their faith when they reach college.

    Personally, I am 19 and going to be a Junior in college. Throughout my first 2 years, my Christian faith has been with me. I try to get to mass as often as I can. Usually I go 2-3 times a month. I do not let colleges, or professors give me my belief, I stick with what got me through a lot of tough times.

    David,
    http://www.americanlegends.blogspot.com

  2. #2 Glenn Branch
    August 13, 2007

    Somehow I don’t think that the last two paragraphs ought to be in block quotes…

  3. #3 Blake Stacey, OM
    August 13, 2007

    Yep, you’ve got a mismatched <blockquote> tag in there.

    These are not reflective people. These are not folks who waste even one solitary second trying to understand the views of those who do not agree with their beliefs. Learning biology is not part of the program when it comes to arguing against evolution, for example. Memorizing talking points about gaps in the fossil record or the gobsmacking complexity of biochemical systems, all while learning how to dismiss your intellectual betters with a contemptuous shake of the head is the preferred approach.

    First, you get 50 bonus points for using the word gobsmacking. Second, I’ll do again what I did earlier today at Pharyngula and link to Bob Altemeyer’s The Authoritarians.

  4. #4 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 13, 2007

    David-

    And I’m sorry to hear that at 19 you’ve already had tough times in your life.

    Glenn-

    Thanks for pointing out the error, which has now been corrected.

  5. #5 Brendan S
    August 13, 2007

    OK, David. Assuming you ever come back here:

    Can you point to an incident specifically where a professor or your college (The entities themselves, not just clubs or people in them) have directly assaulted your belief?

    Your statement seems to make the assertion that your professors and your college directly assault on your belief system, and I’m very curious to know what specific occasions give you this idea.

  6. #6 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 13, 2007

    Blake-

    Our comments crossed in the ether. As I told Glenn, the formatting error has now been corrected. As for “gobsmacking,” I came across it while reading a British chess magazine this weekend. I decided a word that cool just had to be worked into a blog entry!

  7. #7 The Ridger
    August 13, 2007

    The thing is, David is Catholic, not fundamentalist or evangelist. FoF and their ilk consider him lost already. I’d be surprised if that study even counted Catholics, Episcopalians, or even Methodists.

  8. #8 Blake Stacey
    August 13, 2007

    The coolness of the word gobsmacked was first brought home to me by Greg Egan’s phrase, “gobsmacked by the level of scientific illiteracy”, used in the incident described here.

  9. #9 Rose Colored Glasses
    August 13, 2007

    “These are not folks who waste even one solitary second trying to understand the views of those who do not agree with their beliefs.”

    Nor do they bother to understand their own views. They work hard to be oblivious to their own thinking. If they turn scrutiny on themselves, it will all fall apart.

    Being self-aware is anathema to true believers.

    That’s why it’s so much fun encouraging them to explain themselves in increasing detail, because soon enough they’ll see how they’re contradicting themselves, and they sure start to squirm. It’s a giggle.

    BTW, I too like ‘gobsmacked’ and use it at every opportunity.

  10. #10 richCars
    August 13, 2007

    a friend in the Marines was a fundamentalist, during training geology was covered, when he found the earth was more than 6000 years old, he couldn’t handle it. he attempted suicide and was eventually medically discharged.

    fundamentalists are evil, very evil!

  11. #11 john
    August 13, 2007

    it does not surprise me that teens are leaving churches in droves when they graduate. the churches they’re in don’t give them anything to believe in. they don’t model real love. instead of tools for apologetics, they need guidance on how to be human being.

  12. #12 Melissa
    August 13, 2007

    I don’t know where these students go…but it’s obviously not my college. I go to a big state school where the religious organizations are more like Greek houses than cathedrals. Posh buildings, special dorms, free food, cool events…they are a big perk. I felt left out and tempted to join just for the perks.

    It’s not about questions they face, it’s about incentives. At home mommy and daddy pulled them to church. In college, religions obviously need to set up similar incentives to keep kids in church.

  13. #13 Jeremy
    August 14, 2007

    it does not surprise me that teens are leaving churches in droves when they graduate. the churches they’re in don’t give them anything to believe in. they don’t model real love. instead of tools for apologetics, they need guidance on how to be human being.

    Second that. When you’re brought up to think that being Christian has mostly to do with voting for a certain political party, not talking dirty, denying scientific fact, and recruiting other people to do the same thing, you’re going to run into trouble when someone finally says, “Yes, but why should I do those things?”

    Which is to say that it’s these churches’ fault if the religion they pass on to their children doesn’t stand up to a university education, not the university’s or the educators’.

  14. #14 Susan
    August 14, 2007

    I find it hard to believe that people’s faiths would be swayed by entering college. When I was in college and occasionally encountered someone who disagreeded with my belief in evolution. They’d trot out the usual tired arguements about “gaps” in the fossil record, the “living fossil” arguement… “But what about the coelacanth?” Or the, “If humans are decended from apes why are there still apes?” Or the macro vs micro evolution arguement, usually fitting darwin’s finches into that last one. Seriously, do they all read from the same manual? If I tried to counter, they’d either talk loudly over what I was saying, telling me I was wrong. Or they’d politely listen to my response, tell me I was wrong, then change the subject or walk away. It’s always been my experience that people believe what they want to believe, even if you argue overwhelmingly against it. Most of the religious kids in my college were taking business courses anyway.

  15. #15 Matthew
    August 14, 2007

    Yes, they all read from the same manual. I myself was really into the whole “Evolution vs Creation” debate and was very well versed in the arguments used by Creationists. I even had a subscription to the “Creation research Society Quarterly.”

    Most the books about the debate reuse the same arguments and talking points. There are really only two or three really articulate writers in the field, and most the other material parrots them.

    Some folks, like the folks behind the “Peanut Butter, the Atheist’s Nightmare” argument consider even the luminaries to be too liberal and accommodating. There are even fringe groups who believe that God not only created all living creatures as they are now, but laid them out on the earth exactly where they are now. The fact that this belief contradicts the story of Noah’s Ark is generally ignored.

    Personally, I realized a long time ago that the question of Evolution vs Creation has no real bearing on my faith in Christ. It’s a question of the mechanics of how we came about, which is no more relevant to faith in Christ than how many Angels can sit on the head of a pin.

  16. #16 Brendan S
    August 14, 2007

    OK. I didn’t really expect to get an answer.

    I, too, lost my faith in college. And, coincidentally, it was because of CCC and FoF that this happened. My Church in High School did have a lot to do with it too. Maybe I’ll write something up for that out stories blog…

    I watched what they preached, and what they believed, and specifically the level of hate and intolerance spewing from their mouth at the same time as ‘love everyone’ that I decided that this cannot be what I believe.

  17. #17 gravitybear
    August 14, 2007

    Brendan,
    I never had faith in my college.;)

  18. #18 Wes
    August 15, 2007

    Personally, I realized a long time ago that the question of Evolution vs Creation has no real bearing on my faith in Christ. It’s a question of the mechanics of how we came about, which is no more relevant to faith in Christ than how many Angels can sit on the head of a pin.

    The fact that Christ descended from a monkey doesn’t give you pause? :P

  19. #19 Kevin
    August 15, 2007

    “It is very sad to here that most teenagers turn their back on their faith when they reach college.

    Personally, I am 19 and going to be a Junior in college. Throughout my first 2 years, my Christian faith has been with me. I try to get to class as often as I can. Usually I go 2-3 times a month. I do not let colleges, or professors give me my belief, I stick with what got me through a lot of tough times.”

    David, you really should go to class more often. That said, congratulations on passing your tests and making it to junior year. You must have God on your side, helping you take the tests. Is that cheating?

  20. #20 scienceteacherinexile
    August 16, 2007

    Thank God kids start thinking rationally at college…

    Seriously, I escaped my indoctrination/ lost my faith sometime in college. I can’t put a finger on when, as it happened gradually.

  21. #21 Peter Henderson
    August 16, 2007

    I was brought up in the Methodist Church in Ireland and became a Christian at the age of 15. I joined the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (Abbots Cross)after getting married and moving across town. The first time I encountered Young Earth Creationism was after hearing a uS preacher called Dwight Pentecost and I was quite shoocked at how he atributed the atributes of the different races to the sons of Noah. Later on i discovered that the minister of Abbots Cross Presbyterian was a YEC. Dr. David Menton (AiG USA) and Roger Oakland (Understand the times international) have both spoken at the church and they’ve also shown varios Ken Ham/AiG (from a frog to a prince) videos. After doing some research on Richard Dawkins’ supposed silence I was shocked at the deceitfulness of this propaganda. Far from being encouraged by AiG’s nonsense I find my faith increasingly tested by their constant lies and the fact that they appear to be misleading many well intentioned but un-educated christians. I never had a problem with my faith either at school or the Ulster Polytechnic where I studied Chemistry, and the neares we came to religion in science was when my chemistry lecturer talked about Michael Polanyi and how he moved from, Chemistry to Philosophy (the lecturer was in Polanyi’s class at Manchester University). My position appears to be different to many of the fundamentalist Christians both here and the US. If I listened to Ken Ham for long enough I’m sure I’d become an agnostic !

  22. #22 D Dimick
    September 2, 2007

    I will have to agree with the above study. I was a Focus on the Family progeny, raised fundamentalist and in high school trained to debate for Creationism (rather embarrassing in hindsight). After entering college and getting actual facts on instead of dogma and propaganda, I have to say I lost the indoctrination of my youth very quickly. After much work I have now been able to truly ground myself in science and heading to med-school.
    In my opinion, and personal experience, indoctrinating children in such mythology and psuedo-science is dishonest and unfair for the child as it robs them of true choice, and there is no way one can claim that the fundamentalist system is meant to do anything else. Thankfully, university and higher education is a great cure, but it is scary to note the rise of “religious” universities that seek to carry on the lies instilled up until high school.

    To those being schooled in creationism I have one thing to say, if you don’t truly know the other side from their prospective and not just through your own side, there is no way that you can say you know the truth.

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