Learn about Life in the 1920s

Prominent Universities and Colleges charged with becoming Incubators of Agnosticism

A RELIGIOUS REVIVAL may be on the way, as some believe; but against this optimistic theory lies the charge that some of the country's most prominent universities and colleges, and even many high schools, have become "incubators of agnosticism," and are busy turning out atheists.

As told in these pages several times, the Lambeth proposals, which were promulgated by a conference of Anglican and Episcopal bishops from all over the world in August, 1920, provide, in brief, for a reunion of the churches on the basis that priests of the Roman and Greek Catholic Churches would be accepted as priests of the Anglican Church if their own communions would reciprocate, while it is asked of the Protestant Churches that they should allow their ministers to submit to reordination by Anglican or Episcopal bishops. The proposals have not yet been accepted by any denomination, and their rejection by the Methodists is generally taken as indicative of the attitude of the other branches of the Protestant Church.

Among the lecturers and writers who are alarmed over the present methods of teaching biology and Biblical history in some of our institutions of learning is William Jennings Bryan, who recently alleged in a public address, according to press reports, that professors of biology had led their pupils away from the Bible and had even advised them to disregard the Biblical account of the world's history. On the other hand, we are told, the responsibility for much of the present-day atheistic tendency rests with the Church, since "its obscurantism has been making infidels faster than Mr. Ingersoll ever could."

At a recent meeting of the Ministerial Union of Philadelphia the Rev. Dr. B. F. Daugherty, pastor of a Presbyterian Church at Lebanon, Pa., cited by name two leading colleges for women in which he alleged that professors systematically seek to convert their classes to atheism. In one of these, he declared, according to press reports, a professor teaches definite denial of the Deity and then has his pupils vote on the question: "Is there a God?" showing satisfaction when the vote is in the negative. The same doctrines are being taught, said this pastor, in grammar schools and high schools, as well as in many colleges and universities other than those he named. And yet, declares The Catholic Universe (Cleveland), "an education that is not merely non-Christian but actively anti-Christian, is destructive of character and antagonistic to every institution by which America has been made great. . . . The denial of God is the denial not only of authority but of any sense of moral responsibility."

However. Mr. Bryan's indictment is said not to be taken seriously by professors in New York. "No one at all familiar with American colleges believes such a statement, which appeals merely to the ignorant," replies Herbert E. Hawkes, dean of Columbia University, as he is quoted in the press. "Such extravagant charges," he continues, "have been frequently brought against American universities and colleges in the past, and I presume will be brought in the future. I can not bring myself to believe that, because such assertions are made and are accepted by the ignorant, serious denials of them are required." According to Maurice A. Bigelow, professor of biology in Teachers' College, Columbia, that university "has special branches which are devoted to the teaching of religion, and all courses in religious education will be found there. Biology is taught on its own merits, and is not to be identified with Biblical history." In the same press account we read that the Rev. Raymond C. Knox, chaplain of Columbia, says that "the Bible is a growing influence in American university life," and that Joseph French Johnson, dean of the School of Commerce, New York, declares: "There are no more atheists and skeptics among the educated classes to-day, in my opinion, than there were thirty or forty years ago." "Our present-day belief," says Archibald E. Bouton, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of New York University, in a news-paper interview, "has tended away from a literal interpretation of the Bible and toward a greater stress on the principles of its teaching. Mr. Bryan quotes with disapproval a remark that Christianity is a state of mind, yet we surely have Biblical authority that that is where the Kingdom of Heaven is to be found." At any rate, The Christian Century, an undenominational liberal journal, asserts that "those who are at all aware educationally know that science can be taught in only one way and that is with respect for facts. A laboratory can not be checked up by the theologians at the end of every day's work," tho "some church people of limited horizon will probably deny their young people the privileges of a high school education, and school boards will without doubt face problems and difficulties."

Source: The Literary Digest - February 18, 1922