The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Unbelief

Marsden, George M.

Oxford University, 1994

p. 6

Marsden comments on the subtitle of his book.  “Persons concerned about the place of religion in American life might be particularly concerned that the largely voluntary and commendable disestablishment of religion [on campus] has led to the virtual establishment of nonbelief, or the near exclusion of religious perspectives from dominant academic life.  While American universities today allow individuals free exercise of religion in parts of their lives that do not touch the heart of the university they tend to exclude or discriminate against relating explicit religious perspectives to intellectual life.  In other words, the free exercise of religion does not extend to the dominant intellectual centers of our culture.  So much are these exclusions taken for granted, as simply part of the definition of academic life, that many people do not even view them as strange.  Nor do they think it odd that such exclusion is typically justified in the names of academic freedom and free inquiry.”

p. 371

The shift in American universities from Protestant establishment to established unbelief was greatly abetted in the 1920s and 30s by what prominent scholars inferred from the science of evolution.  So Joseph Wood Krutch in The Modern Temper (1929): “If one took seriously the pure naturalism of modern science, then the only honest view, said Krutch, was that ‘nature, in her blind thirst for life, has filled every possible cranny of the rotting earth with some sort of fantastic creature, and among them man is but one.’  It followed that all the high ideals of human religion, philosophy, or literature, including the belief that there were real distinctions between right and wrong, were illusions.  So it wasn’t just religion under attack from materialism, but humanism as well.

p. 371 - 72

The shift in American universities from Protestant establishment to established unbelief was greatly abetted in the 1920s and 30s by what prominent scholars inferred from the science of evolution.  So historian Carl Becker in The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers “summarized the implications of the outlook of the intellectual avant garde: ‘Edit and interpret the conclusions of modern science as tenderly as we like, it is still quite impossible for us to regard man as the child of God for whom the earth was created as a temporary habitation.  Rather must we regard him as little more than a chance deposit on the surface of the world, carelessly thrown up between two ice ages by the same forces that rust iron and ripen corn, a sentient organism endowed by some happy or unhappy accident with intelligence indeed, but with an intelligence that is conditioned by the very forces that it seeks to understand and to control. . . . What is man that the electron should be mindful of him?’”