Does Higher Education Lead to Atheism


A Recent Study from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) Suggests that it has for some Students.

Principal researcher and doctoral candidate, Christopher F. Silver, was quoted in a July 2, 2013, article written by David Ferguson and published on The Raw Story website as saying, “College was certainly a huge theme that popped out in this…Quite dramatically, people would say, ‘Hey, I was a Christian going in the first year, after the second I was agnostic, and by the time I graduated, I said I was done with all this.'”

Mr. Silver’s statement was referring to the results of a research study he conducted at UTC designed to investigate the varieties of non-belief present in the United States with the help of Thomas J. Coleman III and others. Religious believers of any tradition were excluded from this study. This study was focused on the differences between self-proclaimed non-believers.

Atheists Divided into Six Groups

The study findings suggest that non-believers can be divided into six sub-groups each with distinct characteristics among the members of these groups. Additionally, the largest sub-group was classified as being Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic (IAA).

The Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic sub-group classification is based on the members shared interest in intellectual activities including the discussion and debate of subjects that attempt to establish things that can be considered as true verses things that can only be believed to be true.

Scientific theories and logical proofs are considered as things that are falsifiable thus able to be proven true. Whereas, the existence or non-existence of God is something that is not falsifiable, so this position must be based solely on belief.

Just over 37% of the 1153 study participants were classified within this Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic sub-group who share a common appreciation for science, philosophy, and critical thinking. The second largest sub-group received 23% of study participants, and the final 40% of participants fell into one of the four remaining group classifications.

Pew Research Data

According to Pew Research Center data from 2007, religiously unaffiliated adults were more likely to have attended college than those who did not attend college. In this study, 53% of the 5009 unaffiliated individuals surveyed had attended at least some college.

With the many factors that influence an individual’s religious affiliation and personal beliefs, it is difficult to know if higher education does in fact lead to atheism for some people. It appears that all we can do is believe that it does or does not until more definitive data becomes available.


3 thoughts on “Does Higher Education Lead to Atheism

  1. I suspect that relgious indoctrination (especially in extremist sects/branches of Christianity) tends to take hole more easily in those born into less educated, and thus less intellectually analytical families or social groups… such people are less likely to pursue higher education.

    • That is an interesting point. So maybe the acceptability of a traditional religion is more of a socio-economic factor rather than a question of the individual’s level of education later in life. My observation is making the assumption that less educated families populate the lower income populations in society. Thanks for you comment.

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