Pharyngula

I have survived the first week of classes (my schedule leaves Fridays free of lecturing), as have my students — one down, sixteen to go. I’ve got a fairly heavy load this term, with a brand new introductory biology course (with 84 freshman students!) and a neurobiology course for more advanced students, so it’s going to be a long hard slog, I can tell. Pity those poor students, though — thrown right into the lion’s den. Ask Billy Graham, he knows.

Q. I’m headed for college in a few weeks, and as a Christian I’m wondering what to expect. Some people say that my faith will be attacked there, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that. Do you have any advice for me?

The most important advice I can give you is to keep your eyes on Christ, and not let yourself be turned away from him. Satan will do everything he can to turn you away from Christ, but don’t give in to his pressures. God’s Word says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4).

In what ways might your faith be attacked? One way, of course, will be by those who don’t believe in Christ, and may actually mock the gospel or attack it. And this won’t happen only in the classroom; some of your fellow students may be even more scornful of the gospel than the occasional atheistic professor. But even if you can’t answer all their questions, they aren’t the first ones to raise them, and scholarly Christians have provided answers. Your local Christian bookstore can help you find them.

Poor gospel, all mocked and attacked. This is pretty poor faith, though, that it cannot abide mere mockery.

Billy is wrong about the classroom, though. I seem to have a reputation as a meany-headed atheist, and I’ve got this loud and well-known website that mocks the faith pretty regularly, but I make a loud, clear disclaimer on the first day of class (I have to, because of the well-known godless liberal stuff): no student will be judged on the basis of their political or religious views. Biology 1111 is all about the biology, nothing else. They won’t get mocked or attacked in my classroom, but they will get confronted with the evidence and the real world, which people like Graham mistake for an attack. I’m afraid, though, that when the stars in the sky and the creeping things in the grass are mocking your faith by their existence, then perhaps it’s a time to give up on the faith.

The students are going to be more open in their criticism (remember, CASH pizza party at 7 tonight!), and perhaps it is a most telling strike against faith that young people can look at those scholarly Christians and see right through them — they don’t provide the answers.

But many students from a Christian background turn their backs on Christ in college not because of some intellectual challenge to their faith, but because of social pressure — the pressure to live like everyone else.

Don’t let this happen to you, but ask God to lead you to other Christians on your campus who can encourage you and be your friends. The Bible says, “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).

Oh, Billy … you are delusional in so many ways. Christianity is in the overwhelming majority in this country: the peer pressure is all driving students into the fold, not away from it. The institutional structures do likewise — our local churches, little places in out-of-the-way podunk Morris, have paid youth ministers who have the job of applying pressure to our students. They turn their backs on Christ because they realize there is no Christ, there are only old men with a vested interest in disallowing doubt, who profit mightily from a false authority taken from old superstitions.

I think it will take only a few godless students showing faith, love, and peace in the absence of any gods to demonstrate that god and his priests are not a necessary part of living a good life. That’s what will shake the faith—that’s what will lead these young men and women to greater wisdom.

I’m realistic. It won’t be an old geezer like me lecturing at them — I have a hard enough time leading them to comprehension of the process of meiosis — and what Billy Graham and his acolytes must really fear is the growing demonstration of their utter irrelevancy by people who live well without them.

Comments

  1. #1 paul
    August 30, 2007

    I have been in school since 2001, and have never had a single professor make a remark against any religion whatsoever. I also have never had a course in evolution, or discussed evolution except for perhaps a lecture or two in Biology 101 back in 2001. Yet I ended up, recently as a matter of fact, an atheist. The blame can be laid at the feet of chemistry, biochemistry, physiology, and toxicology courses- in that over the years they forced my mind to undergo a shift towards critical thinking. It twas critical thinking that did me in.

  2. #2 SEF
    August 30, 2007

    (remember, CASH pizza party at 7 tonight!)

    As an advisor, can’t you advise them on their spelling? Eg in the blurb about you! Or is that also something on which you have a disclaimer?

  3. #3 Greg Peterson
    August 30, 2007

    This has it backwards, anyway. Any mockery I experienced on account of my faith just made me dig my heels in and cling to my delusions more tenaciously. It was my degree in biblical studies and subsequent theological studies that made me an atheist.

  4. #4 Ian B Gibson
    August 30, 2007

    But many students from a Christian background turn their backs on Christ in college not because of some intellectual challenge to their faith, but because of social pressure — the pressure to live like everyone else.

    What goes around comes around, as they say.

  5. #5 BobApril
    August 30, 2007

    PZ, much as I like your blog and most of your opinions, I gotta call BS –
    …the peer pressure is all driving students into the fold, not away from it.

    A lot of the peer pressure I recall from college was definitely detrimental to good ol’ Christian values – partying, drinking, drugs, and sex. I suspect that media presentations of college binge drinking and frequent “hook-ups” are overblown, as usual, but there IS some “there” there.
    Of course, that sort of thing doesn’t lead to atheism (if it did, we’d be a majority by now), but it does lead to “in name only” Christians who can’t even make it out of bed on Sunday morning. That’s probably almost as bad from Billy’s viewpoint. Though naturally a lot of them will return to the fold in time to pass the tradition on to their children.

  6. #6 Joshua Zelinsky
    August 30, 2007

    In fairness to Graham he considers theistic evolution to be ok.

  7. #7 DaveX
    August 30, 2007

    Billy Graham is a pretty incredible speaker, though. Regardless of what he’s saying, he is very interesting to listen to– though in my opinion, Jimmy Swaggart is even better. They’ve both got this amazing rhythm to their pitch; it’s definitely an art form.

    Am I the only person here who digs listening to this stuff?

  8. #8 Steve in MI
    August 30, 2007

    To Bob in Comment #6:

    I suspect that media presentations of college binge drinking and frequent “hook-ups” are overblown[…]

    I’m sorry, my friend, but if anything the media presentation of the university experience is deeply toned down.

    Though naturally a lot of them will return to the fold in time to pass the tradition on to their children.

    With apologies for my plagiarism, this must be some new definition of the word “naturally” with which I’d not previously been familiar.

    Posted by: BobApril | August 30, 2007 1:52 PM

  9. #9 K. Engels
    August 30, 2007

    I had a ton of anti-religious professors. Not a single one of them was a science professor though; they were ALL humanities professors. The students used to get so pissed because the professor of near eastern cultures & archeology wouldn’t spout the biblical version of history, the ancient history professor would claim that Zeus/Jupiter/Ra were as real as ‘God’ (not that he was claiming the ancient gods were real), my Arabic professor had more than a few problems with Abrahamic nonsense, etc. A couple of students stormed out when they decided to use their ‘advanced’ 2+2=5 logic to demolish Islam (this was during a lecture that took place on 9/18/2001) only to have REAL logic tear apart their arguments. The professors didn’t defend Islamic beliefs, only expected students to use proper historical methods, use facts not fiction, and, most importantly, not being hypocritical shit stains.

  10. #10 BobApril
    August 30, 2007

    How about “For many undergraduates it is in their nature to study just enough to get their degree/union card to higher-paying jobs, without bothering to acquire critical thinking skills or apply them to their personal beliefs”? Would that qualify as “naturally”? Or am I too cynical?

    Though it IS possible tha’ word doesna’ mean what I thin’ it means. To offer my own plagiarism.

    And if it IS toned down…maybe I need to go back. Nah, probably too late, and my wife would get upset if I joined a frat.

  11. #11 Greg Peterson
    August 30, 2007

    I do like listening to good preachers, DaveX. Especially preachers from a southern/black gospel tradition can be outstanding orators. I bet Ingersoll spoke like that–that’s how my “minds ear” conjurs his delivery when I read his speaches.

    Can I add one little compliment about Graham, at grave risk to reputation? I worked for him, and I like him. I think he is wrong about a lot of things, including theology and politics–but he was decent and he ran a very ethical organization. There’s a tendancy to lump all “televangelists” together, but Graham has (had?) more integrity than Robertson or Falwell or Tilton. I don’t feel near the embarrassment having been associated with him as I would have those Elmer Gantries. And I never sensed that he was posturing or putting on his beliefs. He is mistaken about reality, we can all agree on that. But I don’t think he intentionally twisted his views of reality just to make a buck. There are worse things than being wrong.

  12. #12 King Aardvark
    August 30, 2007

    Davex: you may be weird, but you aren’t the only one. I knew a girl in university who got up Sunday mornings and watched the Gospel Hour or some other damned preaching show even though she wasn’t religious. I didn’t get a good reason why she liked it, but my impression was that it was because of the way they spoke.

    Personally I hate it, but I do find that it’s kind of hypnotic. They certainly do practice their voices, right down to the newbie preacher trying to emulate his favourite televangelist.

  13. #13 Brandon
    August 30, 2007

    But but but … religion makes the young people so happy!

    AP Poll: God Vital to Young Americans

  14. #14 Sonja
    August 30, 2007

    I have an atheist niece who is attending a fine liberal arts college in the Twin Cities and she feels very isolated. Most people at the college are either religious or non-religious pot-smokers. For a young person, the smallest group to be in is “people who think for themselves”.

  15. #15 John the Gnerphk
    August 30, 2007

    :o) I still hold that atheism requires as much faith as any religion. Except, perhaps, for Scientology.

    Now, Agnosticism? That requires precious little faith.

  16. #16 Mike P
    August 30, 2007

    I’m going to throw my hat in with BobApril. College culture is certainly detrimental to Christian values. Professors challenge your worldview, the booze flows freely, hormones go crazy, people hook up, you meet friends with different beliefs. Sure, there is a token contingent of Campus Crusade types, but they’re largely ignored by the general populace. There’s not a lot of active

  17. #17 Mike P
    August 30, 2007

    [hmm looks like I didn’t close the tag]

    atheism being practiced on college campuses, but there sure is an awful lot of negating good ol’ Christian values. Frankly, it’s paradise. Why did I ever graduate?

  18. #18 paul
    August 30, 2007

    “I still hold that atheism requires as much faith as any religion.”

    Oh, I agree! I know that it takes enormous amounts of faith to disbelieve in space vampires. Some days I think it would be less of a mental strain to just go ahead and accept their existence.

  19. #19 Laelaps
    August 30, 2007

    If anything has kept me away from church it’s been all the “campus ministries” that feign interest in students so they can try and push their doctrine off on them. It’s especially irksome just before Easter break; there are priests, youth ministers, and Campus Crusade nuts on nearly every street corner, warning that if the EE bus runs you over as you try and cross the street you’re going straight to hell.

  20. #20 Stuart Coleman
    August 30, 2007

    In two years the only remotely atheistic thing I’ve heard a professor say was railing on intelligent design when we were talking about cosmology, if that’s unfair then I guess nothing’s fair.

    Oh, there was also the History lecture about religions Christianity stole from (Mithras and that kind of thing) where the lecturer took what could be seen as a decently condescending tone, but that was also pretty much just conveying material.

  21. #21 Saber
    August 30, 2007

    I attended school in Tulsa, OK where jeezus isn’t something you joke about. Most of my professors were believers in x-tianity, and even though I’m the anti-religious sort
    I can’t say it bothered me much until I landed in class with a certain history instructor. He started arguing for ID on the second day, so I switched to another prof. (also very religious but tolerable) because, in my opinion, I don’t have anything to learn from someone who doesn’t recognize the essential truth of natural selection. The new prof didn’t like me much because I wasn’t apologetic about my atheism and i didn’t like him much because he wanted to make sure everyone knew he was DOCTOR blah-blah (which made his perspective second only to jeezus himself). At least he graded my exams fairly. As far as pressures from whatever direction about belief goes, it seems to me that by the time you reach college you’ve already experienced enough pressure from the community at large to know how to cope with it.

  22. #22 Brownian
    August 30, 2007

    Good ol’ Christian values? What are these good ol’ Christian values of which you speak that are so persecuted on campus?

    Booze? Dancing? Submitting your work and being graded? Plagiarism? Frat parties? Sunday cram sessions?

    I’m always leery when people mention Christian values as if they were a) consistent; or b) wholly good.

  23. #23 Matt Dillahunty
    August 30, 2007

    “But even if you can’t answer all their questions, they aren’t the first ones to raise them, and scholarly Christians have provided answers.”

    Or…

    Don’t bother investigating it for yourself – just trust that scholarly Christians have done all the legwork to justify your beliefs. Those folks who pose difficult questions simply haven’t examined the issues as deeply as scholarly Christians. You’re justified in dismissing their claims without a moments thought. I promise. No, really. You don’t think you know more than those scholarly Christians do you? That’s what I thought.

    Sad.

  24. #24 Ray C.
    August 30, 2007

    Why does anyone bother to ask Billy Graham anything? His answer to every question is the same.

  25. #25 Ken
    August 30, 2007

    I have to agree with a couple of other people here. It was my religion studies that made it impossible to believe. You only have to read stories like Cain and Able a couple of times before alarm bells start ringing. LOL

  26. #26 Azkyroth
    August 30, 2007

    A lot of the peer pressure I recall from college was definitely detrimental to good ol’ Christian values – partying, drinking, drugs, and sex. I suspect that media presentations of college binge drinking and frequent “hook-ups” are overblown, as usual, but there IS some “there” there.
    Of course, that sort of thing doesn’t lead to atheism (if it did, we’d be a majority by now), but it does lead to “in name only” Christians who can’t even make it out of bed on Sunday morning. That’s probably almost as bad from Billy’s viewpoint. Though naturally a lot of them will return to the fold in time to pass the tradition on to their children.

    Billy Graham may have meant “good ol Christian values” but the fact is that he said “Christians” and the majority of college students, including those who engage in such activities, identify as such.

  27. #27 grendelkhan
    August 30, 2007

    So, PZ, do you ever get people who try to bring the AiG talking points? You know, in the hopes that you’ll end up doing the panels 30-31 dance from “Big Daddy”, where you tearfully admit that there’s something you can explain, therefore Jesus?

    If you do get these folks, what do you do? It can’t be good form to take up class time dismantling them (plus it seems kind of mean).

    DaveX [#7]: They’ve both got this amazing rhythm to their pitch; it’s definitely an art form.

    Am I the only person here who digs listening to this stuff?

    Definitely not; I remember hearing a Baptist preacher give a talk on Martin Luther King Day, and the rhythm and style he had with his words was positively captivating.

  28. #28 Geral
    August 30, 2007

    I’m a junior in Biology attending a university in Michigan and my professors really don’t touch on religion.

    I don’t see any real religious beliefs being challenged straightforwardly. Then again, it only takes common sense to challenge most of them. Most of the Professors I have had when covering the history of their respective topics in classes cover the history of scientific thought and most have touched on creationism before the great minds of biology came up with evidence, a young earth before they knew how to date the age of the Earth, and the disproving of spontaneous generation before Darwin’s Theory of Evolution came around. ALL my professors have made it known that evolution is the backbone of modern biology, and that and all the others are genuine scientific topic and should not be a religious one.

    Shouldn’t.

    And I know many partiers, and many people who don’t party and, whether Christian leaders like it or not, I don’t see any sort of correlation between believers and non-believers in that. I know they hate that but… That fact will only make the preachers come out in stronger force.

  29. #29 Jon Eccles
    August 30, 2007

    Some commenters have mentioned the pleasure of listening to preachers, just for the artistic satisfaction of their delivery. Can I also recommend traditional choral work in languages you don’t speak? Russian Orthodox choirs are the best thing ever, and much of the music in the western canon is written in Latin.

    All of the listening pleasure, none of the needle factor.

  30. #30 Ryogam
    August 30, 2007

    I spent 8 years in college, (yes, I have more than a Bachelors degree) and the only times, and I mean ONLY times, I heard religious beliefs of any kind openly mocked on campus was when students mocked street preachers who would come to the quad and condemn them for drinking, smoking, masturbating, having sex, you know, generally behaving like college students.

    I now wonder how many college students have been driven away from their religious upbringing because they did not want to be associated with those loony preachers. My favorite was when they would condemn female students for dressing provocatively and driving the poor unfortunate male students into sin by causing them to lust within their hearts.

  31. #31 Brian
    August 30, 2007

    Sonja, I think I might know what school you’re talking about, I went there. Are you willing to blow your niece’s cover and confirm which one it is?

    Brian

  32. #32 Dustin
    August 30, 2007

    Christians who bother with college are hypocrites anyway. Truly, 1 Corinthians tells us:

    For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

    Can I get an A-MEN?

  33. #33 grendelkhan
    August 30, 2007

    That should read “something you can’t explain, therefore Jesus”. Whoops. And my markup is broken. Stick a fork in my; I’m done…

  34. #34 Susannah
    August 30, 2007

    “Can I add one little compliment about Graham, at grave risk to reputation? I worked for him, and I like him. I think he is wrong about a lot of things, including theology and politics–but he was decent and he ran a very ethical organization.”

    I agree, I think. I worked in the field (church and missionary organizations) for decades, and am still involved, (with an organization helping abused missionary kids,) long enough to recognize the compromised ethics of many or most of the leaders. Billy Graham is one of the very few that seemed to be honest, in my opinion.

    Seriously deluded, sure; but honest. I think. I have seen nothing to the contrary. (His family, on the other hand …)

  35. #35 Moses
    August 30, 2007

    I was never mocked by a professor. I never saw anyone mocked by a professor. Not even the ones we mocked behind their backs… So, can’t blame college for that. Rather like some others in this thread, my theological studies and experiences with the bull-crap of religion made me an atheist.

  36. #36 tjh
    August 30, 2007

    The main reasons I stopped believing were studying history at college (especially religious history) and observing the often hypocritical behaviour of my fellow Christians.

    Concurrent study of biology and learning about evolution was important, but definitely less important than finding out about historical and present-day inconsistencies in Christian behaviour and belief. I could have survived changing my views about how the world and life began without losing faith. I was (briefly) content to integrate evolution with theism.

    Reconciling the history of Christianity (with all its good and bad) and theology with all the nonsense about right, wrong and God I was being told was unequivocally true by people who seemed to go against half of what my reading of the New Testament seemed to say… not so much.

  37. #37 Brownian
    August 30, 2007

    When I started university, I consulted with another Rev. Graham: Teddy. He never answered my queries with anything other than sweet honeyed silence, but I understood his message: think for yourself (or was it ‘I taste great with milk’?)

  38. #38 frog
    August 30, 2007

    BobApril, the problem is that the structure of “Christian Values” is a little more complicated than they appear on the surface. They have both a positive and a negative image – we’re all sinners, remember.

    So it’s perfectly natural to spend a few years as a drinker, smoker, pot-head rock-and-roller before being born again. In fact, it’s preferable – you’ve given God a chance to save you.

    It’s not like everywhere in the world college is a den of hedonism against mainstream values, and I don’t imagine that in a thoroughly atheistic society there would be such a clear line between a 17 year old at home going to church every week, and his drunken hell-raising college brother, and their 27 year old kid-raising sister. That distinction in and of itself is part of Christian Values.

    Do German college kids binge drink like American college kids? Do French kids wait until college for their first orgy? You don’t have a red light district if you don’t have verboten counterpart.

    Remember the Simpsons: “There’s a time and place for everything. That place is called college.”

  39. #39 Sonja
    August 30, 2007

    Brian #30,

    It’s the one on the west bank.

  40. #40 Dave M
    August 30, 2007

    I used to watch Jimmy Swaggart all the time. Glow Rita God-duh! The music was intolerable, but then he’d preach. I think he knew he had fans in the, uh, unbeliever community. He used to point at the camera and say, “You b’television, with your Playboy magazine-uh, and your marra-wanna cigaret-teh, mocking God-duh, just you wait until you’re cast into the lake of fire-ah, with burning coals heaped upon you-ah, [etc.]” with the crowd going wild. Great stuff. I was really disappointed when the scandal broke, because they took his show off the air in my market. Plus I missed the show where he confessed his see-un.

  41. #41 Susannah
    August 30, 2007

    I just wrote, “Billy Graham is one of the very few that seemed to be honest, in my opinion.

    Seriously deluded, sure; but honest. I think. I have seen nothing to the contrary.”

    Thinking it over, I would like to amend that statement. There is one thing; that conversation with Richard Nixon showing a two-faced stance toward the Jews.

    I am so used to that sort of thing being taught as the “effective” way to deal with non-believers (lying in a good cause, lying by omitting key details or pretending a friendliness that is not felt) that I passed it over as background noise. My parents were past masters at this type of deception for the “cause of Christ”; I’m so accustomed to it that I sometimes fail to recognize it.

    Still, honest according to his lights, but not to be trusted.

  42. #42 Ginger Yellow
    August 30, 2007

    Don’t let this happen to you, but ask God to lead you to other Christians on your campus who can encourage you and be your friends.

    To which God responds: “For My sake! Stop pestering me about every little thing. Just pick up one of the countless fliers from Christian clubs and societies. Jesus!”

  43. #43 Dave M
    August 30, 2007

    Oh, and re: 28:

    I once attended a 3-hour church service in Kiev (during the godless commie era). You’re right, the choir – no more than ten people, if that – was amazing. Those Russian (or Ukrainian, in this case) basses! We were packed in like sardines, and we had to stand for the whole thing. This was hard on my back, and I appreciated those times during the service when the congregation bowed (so I could stretch a bit). It was really something. My Old Church Slavonic (or whatever it was) isn’t so hot, so I didn’t understand a word, which made it really hypnotic. The liturgist went on for an hour straight! So while the live experience was interesting, I think Russian choirs might be better heard on record. (Check out Rachmaninoff’s Vespers.)

  44. #44 Moses
    August 30, 2007
  45. #45 Charley
    August 30, 2007

    College is a fleeting opportunity to grow intellectually, especially for those prepared with curiosity, open-mindedness and critical thinking skills. Fundamentalists discourage these attributes in their children and force-feed them a bunch of lies. They make them suspicious of competing ideas. Finally, they teach them to view their peers and professors not as people from which they can learn, but as targets for conversion to their way of thinking.

  46. #46 peak_bagger
    August 30, 2007

    PZ said: I’m afraid, though, that when the stars in the sky and the creeping things in the grass are mocking your faith by their existence, then perhaps it’s a time to give up on the faith.

    For some, nature speaks of a creator God and does not lead them to give up on faith. I wouldn’t use nature as proof of God’s existence but if you already believe in God’s existence, nature is a great way to appreciate the Creator.

  47. #47 Calladus
    August 30, 2007

    I saw a student challenge my Physics professor at Fresno State. I don’t recall how it started exactly, but the professor mentioned the “Big Bang” and this young lady said something like, “You don’t believe that, do you?” She went on to speak about Young Earth Creationism.

    The professor interrupted her and talked about how the evidence for a big bang billions of years ago was pretty conclusive (he mentioned CMBR). When she pushed him on what started the Big Bang he replied that what ever it was, it wouldn’t be on the test. At that point he ignored her and continued to teach.

    She got little support from the other students. (“Would you hush and let the professor talk? We’ve got a test next week and I still don’t understand the material!”)

  48. #48 Dustin
    August 30, 2007

    The main reasons I stopped believing were studying history at college (especially religious history) and observing the often hypocritical behaviour of my fellow Christians.

    It was from observing my hypocritical Christian friends that I learned the phrase “You can’t judge me” translates to “Deep down inside I have a metric ton of guilt that you can twist like a rusty thumbscrew”.

    Seriously, the assholes fornicate like rabbits.

  49. #49 HP
    August 30, 2007

    I had a ton of anti-religious professors. Not a single one of them was a science professor though; they were ALL humanities professors.

    Same here. An anecdote: I had a music composition teacher (this was in the ’80s) who regarded any mention of religion as an occasion for great hilarity. Those of us who studied with him knew this, but he was new to the faculty and a lot of students didn’t know much about him. Mid-semester he was scheduled to do a master-class lecture. There was about a ten of his students there, and maybe fifty students from elsewhere in the program. He walks up the lectern and pulls out a copy of Good News for Modern Man. He then addresses the students with a perfectly straight face (parodying a popular TV commercial of the time), “You might think that writing music is the most important thing in the world to me. It’s not. It’s my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

    At this point, all of us in his studio began laughing uproariously, while the rest of class was too shocked to move. Shocked by the professor’s inappropriate comment, and shocked by the laughter coming from a large fraction of the students.

    After everything settled down, he tossed away the Gospel and said, “Nah, I’m just kidding. Writing music is the most important thing.”

    Cue applause.

    It was beautiful.

  50. #50 Dustin
    August 30, 2007

    I know I’ve told this story here before, but I do love telling it and I’m going to do it again. Here goes. I once had an economics professor who was the biggest supply siding neocon you’ll ever meet. Once, he decided to explain to us the wonders of the free market in terms more simple than the metaphors used by Adam Smith, which evidently weren’t lame and inappropriate enough. So he decided to tell us about this time he was flying a jet, went into a stall, and swore he was going to die. In the most sanctimonious tone possible, he then told us how he took his hands off the stick and began to pray, and the airplane leveled out. “The free market,” he said, “is just like that.”

    That story really touched me in a way other stories never have, and I mean it in the most sincerely pejorative sense possible when I say I’ve never really been the same since hearing it.

  51. #51 Greg Peterson
    August 30, 2007

    Susannah, you are absolutely right about that Nixon incident, and I’m sure there were others. And Franklin Graham is a flaming nutjob. Billy is no doubt deeply flawed in many ways–but I think he’d admit that. The one way I did not see him as being flawed was in his attitude toward money–so at least that runs counter to the stereotype of a TV evangelist. When I worked for Graham, I actually knew of a case where they contacted a woman to return a large donation to a woman because they learned more about her circumstances and didn’t think she could afford it. Think Robertson has ever done that? But I don’t want to take my excuse of Graham too far. People have access to facts. There really is no excuse for certain types of ignorance. I just think that ignorance is perhaps a more passive flaw, whereas cupidity is very deliberate.

  52. #52 Mooser
    August 30, 2007

    Screw the Oratin’ DaveX, get to the music! I love all kinds of Christian religious music, from Palestrina and Bach right up to shape-note hymn-singing and of course Gospel, Gospel and more Gospel music.
    Funny tho, the orating gets on my nerves, A few minutes of that Southern preacher style of speech, which every Goddam politician in America has adopted for some reason which is beyond me, and I’m ready to slash and burn.
    And the content of that speech; pure shit.

  53. #53 WayBeyondSoccerMom
    August 30, 2007

    Billy Graham’s opinions are published every week day in the Charlotte, NC Observer newspaper, in the Comics section, right below comic strip, “Lio”.

    If you go to:

    http://www.billygraham.org/

    search on “atheist” to see more of Graham’s views on atheism.

    Side note on Billy Graham:

    Here in Charlotte, NC, the new Billy Graham Library made the front page news in the Charlotte Observer in June 2007, for a week. Lots of press coverage, especially when the three former US presidents came earlier in the week to celebrate the library’s opening.

    But, funny, on the first official day, the grand opening, only 316 people came. And, the library is free of charge.

    Funny how the museum has been marketed for over a year and that’s all they get?

    Charlotte, NC is the birth place of Billy Graham.

    Nice to know that a $27 million facility was built, to take care of so few.

    More on the Billy Graham Library can be found at:

    http://www.charlotte.com/graham/story/149026.html

  54. #54 Timothy
    August 30, 2007

    I wish the typical college stereotype was true on all campuses. And yet here I am, sitting in my office at a public university in California that has at least 30 student organizations devoted to religious activities. And no atheist/agnostic/humanist groups that I can discern from a quick scan of the list of groups.

  55. #55 CalGeorge
    August 30, 2007

    My advice, Kid:

    Take the easy route and do what millions of other have done – don’t question your beliefs! If your faith wavers, run to the safety of that Christian bookstore. Avoid being critical of your religion. It’s hard work! College should be fun.

  56. #56 David Marjanovi?
    August 30, 2007

    I’m sorry, my friend, but if anything the media presentation of the university experience is deeply toned down.

    Ah. Interesting… 😐

    Do German college kids binge drink like American college kids?

    In college they have maybe already stopped. The binge-drinking is done when they are still in school. I suppose that those who binge-drink tend to drop out before they can make it to university…

    But is that really different in the USA?

    Do French kids wait until college for their first orgy?

    Decidedly unlikely.

    You don’t have a red light district if you don’t have verboten counterpart.

    Looks like it.

  57. #57 David Marjanovi?
    August 30, 2007

    I’m sorry, my friend, but if anything the media presentation of the university experience is deeply toned down.

    Ah. Interesting… 😐

    Do German college kids binge drink like American college kids?

    In college they have maybe already stopped. The binge-drinking is done when they are still in school. I suppose that those who binge-drink tend to drop out before they can make it to university…

    But is that really different in the USA?

    Do French kids wait until college for their first orgy?

    Decidedly unlikely.

    You don’t have a red light district if you don’t have verboten counterpart.

    Looks like it.

  58. #58 Stuart Weinstein
    August 30, 2007

    Grendel writes:
    “So, PZ, do you ever get people who try to bring the AiG talking points? You know, in the hopes that you’ll end up doing the panels 30-31 dance from “Big Daddy”, where you tearfully admit that there’s something you can explain, therefore Jesus?

    If you do get these folks, what do you do? It can’t be good form to take up class time dismantling them (plus it seems kind of mean).”

    I don’t know what PZ would do, but I have taught intro geology/geophysics courses(for majors and non-majors) and have had students on rare occasions
    bring me some half-baked creataobabbler type questions.

    I never wasted one second of class time on that crap. I did invite
    them and anyone else who was interested (in seeing creatobabbler crap get the proper skewering it so richly deserves) to see me during office hours.

    Parents pay good money to send there kids to college. Spending 5 minutes on that crap is in effect robbing them IMHO.

    Stuart

  59. #59 PZ Myers
    August 30, 2007

    I now include a lecture or two specifically on creationist arguments, but otherwise, like Stuart, other attempts to sneak it in get cut short and they’re invited to talk with me at my office if they want.

    Same with religion. I don’t argue against religion at all on class time.

  60. #60 archgoon
    August 30, 2007

    No anti-religion comments at my classes in college. Closest thing was when a professor commented outside of class that my dreams of quantum mechanics taught on Sesame Street potentially might anger some fundamentalists because God ought to be able to distinguish non-distinguishable particles.

    Von! Twue! Three Indistinguishable Particles! Ah! Ah! AAah!

  61. #61 Alan
    August 30, 2007

    :o) I still hold that atheism requires as much faith as any religion.

    #15 John:
    Stop letting those theists define those of us who call ourselves atheists. We’re quite an inclusive group. Unlike those who hold there’s only “One True Scotsman/Christian”, we accept that most who call themselves agnostic are really atheists. As an atheist I don’t believe there’s a sky god, tooth-fairy, or orbiting teapot. I do not know that these belief’s are a fact. I do believe that these belief’s are knowable. By definition, an agnostic agrees with the first two statements but not the last one. So, if you don’t believe whether you can know there’s a god, you’re agnostic–and we atheists still like you. If you don’t believe there’s a god and you think that you can know the truth of that (not that you do know the truth of it) then you’re an atheist. Color me atheist–with no leap of faith at all.
    Alan

  62. #62 Jonathan
    August 30, 2007

    So… when asking for donations to Campus Athiests, Skeptics, & Humanists, do you have people just make the check out to “Cash”?

  63. #63 Ed Darrell
    August 30, 2007

    I did my undergrad at Utah, and while that is the “den of iniquity” university for the state (not party school — that was Utah State), there were still a fair number of LDS people on the faculty. Heh — Utah had a much better LDS Institute of Religion (off campus) than BYU had (on campus, there).

    I digress. My science profs tended to be faithful sorts — not all of them, but quite a few. Especially in botany, there were a goodly number of Mormons with some rank in their local wards, and Episcopalians, and Catholics, etc. The lab I worked in was dominated by Mormons (at one point two of the three big guys were bishops), but we had a couple of atheists working there, a Jew briefly, and an Iraqi guy who might have been Christian but who kept his faith well under wraps whatever it was.

    It was the humanities that got kids at Utah. On the debate team, especially — but also in journalism and English, and political science and government. Working on specific problems — there were a lot of interdisciplinary environment protection classes, it seemed — we’d run into places where some religious doctrine became a real stumbling block to doing the right thing. Pastors would disagree with the students on solutions, and the students would drop out of whatever church it was in a flash.

    But science? Nah, most of the biology guys I worked with were church goers. Not fundies, not creationists, but church goers. They hated being lumped as atheists by the fundies.

    We probably ought to make a list of things in college that inspire the faith crises that get kids to drop out of churches. I think one of the biggest ones is sex. First, they learn the real facts about birth control and hygiene, and they realize their youth pastor lied to them. People who lie get cut out quick. I saw that work on a lot of people, even when they didn’t turn libertine on sex. Second, I think, would be just the war of ideas. Utah used to have a massive, freshman-year-long series called Western Civilization, a survey of the major ideas of our culture. Freshman would regularly drop into the Huddle or another venue, drink coffee and argue the ideas, and how religion seems to have fouled up so much otherwise good stuff.

    Maybe it’s different in Bible colleges — didn’t Graham graduate from a small Bible college? Where kids are sheltered from all the other powerful ideas that pastors regularly get wrong, maybe science is the only one that gets them. Not so in the real world.

    I’d love to see a study of how faith is affected by majoring in business, too. With daily ethical challenges, faith can be a real anchor in some businesses — I mean an anchor as in “slowing down the career.”

  64. #64 Enrique Bosquet
    August 30, 2007

    Two points on this subject:
    Young Christians coming into new “worldly” environments such as college are not turning their backs on Christ because of intellectual challenges or social pressure, they turn away because of an internal personal pressure or desire to “sin” and enjoy life and explore as a young human student would. It is this natural enticement, referred to by Christians as temptation, which produces an intellectual awakening as the individual realizes that denying one’s self is opposite what is natural for all humans, which is mainly to procreate, especially at that age.
    On the flip-side, large numbers of agnostic, indifferent or atheist individuals that get converted into Christianity when they go away to college are attracted by the hip/cool act that most of these forcefully evangelistic Christian campus groups portray. They use many friendship tactics to entice the innocent, the lonely, the confused, the curious and the sometimes already religious people into their faith. I don’t mean to insinuate that there is a conscious effort to trick the potential convert when they are reached out to, but there is an alternative motive for seeking that friendship. These Christian groups befriend the new arrivals with the purpose of eventually converting them over to their faith. This can cripple the very foundations of any friendship, if one is established. Friendship should only be sought for just that, pure and simple friendship. Friendship because you like the person, you enjoy their company and their conversations or because their presence is delightful to you. It is not a sincere desire for friendship when an undisclosed agenda is present. But that’s a whole other topic…

  65. #65 Susannah
    August 30, 2007

    Greg,
    “When I worked for Graham, I actually knew of a case where they contacted a woman to return a large donation to a woman because they learned more about her circumstances and didn’t think she could afford it.”

    Wow.

    No “God will repay you a hundred-fold”? No stories about the “widow’s mite”? It’s a wonder they didn’t drum him out of the association! (As I have seen done to another mission leader for being too ethical about money issues.)

  66. #66 Kseniya
    August 30, 2007

    Just to add my voice to the tally: In three years of undergraduate education, I’ve never had a professor push religion or anti-religion in class. Religion has come up as a topic now and then, but mostly that happened in the one Religion class I took. 🙂

  67. #67 John C. Randolph
    August 30, 2007

    I find it very telling that right in their own mythology, Satan’s first encounter with mankind is to give them knowledge. So, from the get-go, they equate knowledge with evil.

    Doesn’t take more than that for me to reject their superstition out of hand.

    -jcr

  68. #68 the izz
    August 30, 2007

    My college experience seems to be similar to many others in that professors didn’t overtly challenge religion, but learning actual history tended to make the inconsistencies glaringly obvious. HOWEVER, I find the the professors taught their subject but didn’t really teach critical thinking skills. While the culture of college does tend to be hard on the narrow views of organized religion, it doesn’t do much to counter spiritualism and superstition. Most of my friends and believe in any specific religion, but they did believe in a spiritual force behind the universe and that there must be some kind of afterlife. And for the most part they were still far too credulous about the latest alternative medicine fad, new “scientific” diet craze, or cool eastern religion of the week. This type of thinking can be just, or almost, as danging as organized religin

  69. #69 llewelly
    August 30, 2007

    paul:

    It twas critical thinking that did me in.

    Martin Luther:

    Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight and … know nothing but the word of God.

  70. #70 Kearby
    August 30, 2007

    I’m a freshman at the second largest school in my state. I don’t know where this idea that colleges are anti-religion comes from. In my first week here, I was proselytized to no less that 11 times by at least 3 different organizations. Even got a free Bible out of it.

    I wonder if the people handing out free bibles realize how much doing so undermines their religion.

  71. #71 Greg Laden
    August 30, 2007

    Paul: How can you be in college for seven years without a single course in Evolution???????????

  72. #72 JJR
    August 31, 2007

    My former Mother-in-law was convinced the University of North Texas was “sinful” and “corrupting her daughter”, and she wished aloud that she would transfer out of that awful secular university and go to a decent Christian college instead.

    Well, she did marry an avowed atheist (me) and seemed rather to enjoy the premarital you-know-what as much as I did.

    Ironically, she once declared (this after having watched THE PASSION of course) that I–yes, lil’ atheist me–would “bring (her) daughter back to Jesus, and that Jesus was coming for (me) too!”

    I had to repress a mental image of Jesus of Nazareth dressed up like a Ninja, which is what came to mind and nearly made me bust out laughing.

    My Ex-mother-in-law did in fact turn out to be correct about the first part. When our marriage did finally collapse and fall apart, my ex-wife reverted back to her Fundamentalist roots with vehemence. Her battle to “save our marriage” became also a battle to get me “saved”. She failed on both counts, happy to report. She gave up a promising pre-med course of study for religious/theological studies. Such a waste of an otherwise brilliant mind—and I mean that in all seriousness, as my ex-wife was, whacky religious convictions aside, an otherwise academically gifted and fiendishly smart person, which was a large part of my initial attraction to her.

    I did have a very brief religious conversion and just as sudden de-conversion back to Atheism my first time in graduate school, which I jokingly blame on Postmodernism for weakening my rational faculties. I experienced in a very brief span of time all the intellectual problems and quandries it takes some religious people years to wrestle with. It was a very odd time in my life. I’m grateful for having experienced it, because I know intimately the mental state Religious people are trying to describe with their “know God, know Peace” talk…I’ve FELT it…but today I’m just as convinced today that rather it is “No God, Know Peace/Know God, No Peace”, contrary to popular opinion.

  73. #73 wrpd
    August 31, 2007

    “There is a time and a place for everything and it’s called college”
    I’ve heard Chef from South Park say the same thing.

  74. #74 Mrs Tilton
    August 31, 2007

    All you atheist televangelist fans can have your Grahams and Swaggarts, and welcome to ’em. For me, Dr. Gene Scott is the only man.

  75. #75 Newt
    August 31, 2007

    “I’m afraid, though, that when the stars in the sky and the creeping things in the grass are mocking your faith by their existence, then perhaps it’s a time to give up on the faith.”

    Rock on PZ Myers, rock on.

  76. #76 R. Paul Wiegand
    August 31, 2007

    Alan (#60): (With respect) I disagree that agnostics “are really atheists”, I disagree with your interpretation of agnosticism, and I disagree that many of atheists on this forum are inclusive of agnosticism.

    For more on this, see my comments here.

    I do think that agnosticism and atheism are very similar, and that we should be inclusive of one another. Indeed, I prefer the more general term “non-theist”. (This comment alone may draw enough fire to demonstrate something of my point.)

    And I also agree that no faith is required for either view.

    As to the main point of the post, this is consistent what I’ve said here before: The reason that education can have such a profound effect on a person’s (un)belief is not because religion is attacked in University classrooms, but simply by virtue of teaching people to think critically.

  77. #77 Chili Pepper
    August 31, 2007

    I took a comparative religion course in college, and after she talked about the curriculum for a bit, asked if there were any questions. I asked her what her own religious convictions were, sorta wondering what direction her own bias might be coming from.

    She replied that she considered herself “a William Blake sort of Christian”.

    Best course I took in college.

  78. #78 Caveat
    August 31, 2007

    “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4).”

    So, uh, what’s the problem?

    btw Maybe you guys would feel more comfortable in Canada:

    Have you experienced a crisis of faith?

    Yes, I lost faith
    (21%) 1994 votes
    Yes, but I regained my faith
    (15%) 1423 votes
    No, I never had any faith
    (40%) 3673 votes
    No
    (24%) 2202 votes
    Total votes: 9292

  79. #80 Dave Eaton
    August 31, 2007

    Am I the only person here who digs listening to this stuff?

    From earlier comments, clearly not. I grew up in the south, and have lived up North long enough to know that Southern speech can really grate on some. But I love it. Minus the content.

    I remember seeing Jesse Jackson read “Green Eggs and Ham”, beginning in his almost stumbling lilt, and working towards a crescendo of sorts. It was brilliant, and moving, and Dr. Suess beats preaching any day.

    I think oratory is very important, a great way to move people to act long after they have come to the right conclusions intellectually. The interwebs make an atheist Chautauqua movement possible.

    Speaking of speaking, PZ, if you have the C.A.S.H. kids set up a ‘paypal’ button or something, I’d hit it to help them bring Dawkins to Morris (or to buy them pizza, or whatever.) If something gets set up, make sure we know.

  80. #81 viggen
    August 31, 2007

    the peer pressure is all driving students into the fold, not away from it

    More than merely driving students into the fold, unfortunately. Campus religion is exclusively about the evangelical spreading of religion and nothing else. While older, more settled churches have a laconic feel about them, where it seems more about socialization than faith, campus ministries and youth groups are actively about recruiting new members and brain washing.

    Campus ministries and high school youth groups are the essence of what turned me away from Christianity. They exist for no other reason than to expand the numbers of the faithful and they actively engage in social pressure tactics and brainwashing. The ministries at this level are absolutely not discriminable from Cults in their nature. And, if the lie starts at that level, how can it be anything but a lie in older, less viral churches too?

  81. #82 arensb
    August 31, 2007

    Ryogam:

    I now wonder how many college students have been driven away from their religious upbringing because they did not want to be associated with those loony preachers.

    Ooh, me!

    In my case, it was Tom Short who provided the straw that tipped me into outright atheism.

  82. #83 Tukla in Iowa
    August 31, 2007

    one down, sixteen to go.

    Whoa. For a second there, I though you were talking about your students.

  83. #84 Tukla in Iowa
    August 31, 2007

    Some people say that my faith will be attacked there

    Yeah, education does often have that effect.

  84. #85 HB
    August 31, 2007

    I’m just starting a PhD program at U-Madison and was heading to the bookstore today to buy books. A Catholic student center next door was handing out goodies and inviting folks in for free root beer floats. It was hot, I was thirsty, I thought I’d take them up on the offer. The kid handing out the offers said that he could tell by my T-shirt (a freebie from Science magazine that just had the log and a photo of Einstein on it) that I was just “using them” and would I be considerate enough to not take a root beer float from those who “would need it more”.

    Hmmph!

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