Of Education, Faith, Commitment, and Disaffection in Mormonism
By Ken K. Gourdin
One potential reason why Mormons with more education tend, still, to retain their faith and commitment
It seems paradoxical to assert that, among Mormons, (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), educational attainment and religious belief and commitment are positively correlated. That is, the more education a member of the Church has, the more likely he is to believe in the Church’s claims and to participate actively. While I lack a citation, there is evidence that the opposite is true among members of other religious groups—that the more education one has, the less likely he is to believe, and to participate actively.
For more information on the assertions contained in the above paragraph, see Terrie Lynn Bitner (January 29, 2013) “Faith and Intellect” (Web log), accessed on line at the following address July 27, 2013: http://www.ldsblogs.com/11368/faith-and-intellect ; Joseph Walker (January 13, 2012) “LDS religious commitment high, Pew survey finds,” Deseret News, accessed on line at the following address July 27, 2013: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700215244/LDS-religious-commitment-high-Pew-survey-finds.html?pg=all; No author(s) listed (January 12, 2012) “Mormons in America,” Washington DC: Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, accessed on line at the following address July 27, 2013: http://www.pewforum.org/Pew-Forum/Use-Policy.aspx.
Generally, there is less room in the mind of a skeptic to allow for such fantastic reported events as the visitation of angels (and even of God, the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ), of gold plates, of a translation of a reportedly-ancient record from those gold plates by the visionary (Joseph Smith), and so on. (Even leaving aside specifically Mormon truth claims, the claims of Christianity in general are no less fantastic.) Thus, it would seem logical to conclude that the more education one has, the more likely one is (whether he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ or not) to be skeptical of such claims.
However, according to a Pew Research Survey, highly-educated Mormons tend to be more believing and committed rather than less so. In pondering why this might be the case, I have concluded (tentatively) that perhaps it is because the more education one has, generally speaking, the more one is able to tolerate such things as ambiguity and nuance without feeling as though one must jettison an entire paradigm that allows for religious belief and commitment. I would be interested in seeing whether there might be a difference in religious belief and commitment levels among Mormons (and among the religious generally) in the so-called “hard” sciences (mathematics, physics, chemistry, and so on) versus those in the “soft” sciences (such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, and so on).
While, frankly, I lack the grounding necessary to equip me for a full-fledged debate (perhaps someone who is skeptical of my claims here could cite ten scientists who are former believers in Mormonism [or in Christianity generally] for every one believing scientist I could name), I do think it’s interesting that several men with scientific backgrounds are (and have been) included among the Church’s upper echelons (or at least among its better-known members): currently, for example, Russell M. Nelson (a physician) and Richard G. Scott (with a background in nuclear engineering) are members of the Church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles; and historically, such highly-educated believers included (for example) James E. Talmage (formerly of the Twelve and a chemist and geologist) and Henry Eyring (a high-profile member, chemist, amd father of current apostle Henry B. Eyring).
Likewise, members of the Church’s governing councils are also well represented among those with a good deal of education in “softer” fields: for example, Dallin H. Oaks, Quentin L. Cook, and D. Todd Christofferson, all of the Twelve, are lawyers by training, while Jeffrey R. Holland (also of the Twelve) received his education in the humanities. (While I am not a lawyer, I can say with absolute certainty that legal training equips one well to allow for ambiguity and nuance!)