Students at Oxford are more likely to convert to evangelical Christianity than those at less prestigious universities, according to new research.
This is due to the high pressure and stressful environment at Oxford, and the fact that Oxford students are inherently more creative than average.
The hypothesis was put forward by Dr Edward Dutton, a researcher for the Finnish Lutheran Church. Dutton claims that “students from state schools where [sic] over-represented amongst those who became Christians while at Oxford”. He attributes this to the mind-broadening effects of gap years on private school students.
Ellen Harvey, a Magdalen undergraduate involved in the Christian community, attacked Dr Dutton’s hypothesis. “The fundamental flaw with his argument is that it excludes God, assuming that someone becomes a Christian because of solely human factors, the influence of other Christians, psychological impulses… It is astonishing that in an extensive bibliography the Bible has not been referenced”.
To this claim, Dr Dutton responded, “This is a piece of social scientific research which draws upon the empirical method at the heart of science. The existence of the Christian god – by its very nature – cannot be proven empirically or, entirely, disproven. It is a doctrine of faith you can take or leave, something which stands in contrast to the scientific position.”
Dr Dutton himself was careful to downplay his findings. “Obviously, at this stage, and as I stress in the paper, there is a degree to which the intelligence research is speculative. But it is, I think, a plausible observation in light of the evidence so far accrued by myself and others”.
Other Oxford academics are skeptical about the conclusions that Dr Dutton has drawnfrom his research.
Dr Justin Barratt, an Oxford experimental psychologist working on cognitive science of religion, said, “I applaud the attempt to bring social, cognitive, neuro-, and evolutionary sciences together, but I don’t find the result compelling in this case …The paper reads more like an intelligent speculation based on some preliminary findings than a rigorous and compelling scientific study.”
Dr Dutton conceded that his results should not be taken too seriously. He insisted “I entirely agree that the case is not proven yet…[but]there is a strong tradition of ‘intelligent speculation’ in the sciences, justified because it provokes debate and may take us closer to the truth. To really prove it – or disprove it – we would, of course, need to conduct a major survey of student religious experiences, intelligence and creativity.”
The paper was published in the Romanian online “Journal for Interdisciplinary Research on Religion and Science”. It draws on interviews conducted by Dr Dutton with 25 members of OUICCU, the university-wide Christian union, as well as similar interviews at three other universities.