The New York Times ran a rather weird piece on a supposed relationship between undergraduate majors and religiosity. There may be one, but you sure can’t tell it from this article. It reports on a study conducted by a team led by Miles Kimball of the University of Michigan. While the piece is short, it appears to have a rather high density of nonsense and a very low density of meaningful analysis. It begins with this weirdness,
MAJORING in the humanities and social sciences puts a damper on religiosity. Thank (or blame) postmodernism, the staple of humanities classes, with its notions of relative truth (opposed to religion’s absolute truth) and questioning authority.
I admit that there is still far too much postmodernist craziness in much of the humanities. But is the only choice between relative truth and religion’s supposed “absolute truth”? Is this what students told Kimball and his team? Or is this an unwarranted interpretation imposed on the data by Kimball or the author of the piece? What evidence there is seems to point toward Kimball as the source of the interpretation. He is quoted as saying, “These are arguments that students find persuasive.” Again, did the students tell him that? If so, how did he control for possible student error in self-appraisal?
I take questioning authority to be a good thing. And I think it tends to lead away from both postmodernism and the “absolute truth” of religion to approaches to truth that are on firmer ground but go unmentioned in the article.
How about provisional truth? How about approximations to the truth? Thinking in terms of provisionality or approximation does not make truth relative. It maintains the fact of the manner with regard to all well formed questions. It does acknowledge human limitations with regard to knowing that truth. It doesn’t require faith in the face of evidence or lack of same. There is truth. Sometimes we seek it. Generally, we fall short of grasping it in its totality. With more evidence or a better way of looking at the evidence we already have, we try again. We fall short again but with luck and attention, we get closer. What a wonderful world this is.
And then there’s the unaddressed issue of why students select the humanities or the social sciences in the first place. There is nothing in the piece to support the suggestion of a direct causal relationship between selecting this or that major and religiosity. As far as there is a correlation between the two, the selection of a major and religiosity may have common causes. Correlation and cause are different things.
I really don’t know how Kimball and his team address these issues. The article doesn’t say. But by not addressing them and quite a few others, the article is a waste of the small amount paper and ink used to print it. I hope the actual study, which I can’t find, is much much better.
PS. I also find it strange, and not a good thing, that there seems to be a high positive correlation between majoring in education and religiosity. The few education departments I know about in any detail represent the second most heavily saturated with postmodernist nonsense departments in their respective universities, English departments being first. Perhaps I unfairly extrapolate from too small a sample. I also find it a little weird that the study was done by an economist. But that’s just me.
Via Biblical Paths