The Rise and Fall of Higher Education


by Ken Ham

Early every fall, one of the great American traditions takes place from coast to coast. Planes take off, trains depart, and compact cars stuffed full of bikes and clothes and computers pull out of driveways. At the end of the journey, teary-eyed parents hug their children in the parking lots of dormitories, say one last goodbye, and then turn around, leaving their child on the threshold of one of the most important milestones of life: college.

Higher education, of course, has done much good for our society. It is the reason we enjoy many life-enhancing blessings. Through education we have learned to prosper in so many ways. Our lives have been transformed by medical advances and technology. We have learned to build the economy of the world. We feed the hungry and heal the sick. We build buildings and cities and nations. We explore the universe. The advances now realized by humankind have been made possible by education.

The American higher education system used to be the envy of nations around the world, but in several profound ways, it is not making the grade.

The American higher education system used to be the envy of nations around the world, but in several profound ways, it is not making the grade. Many Christian parents are concerned about the secular forces at work in public schools and concerned about the worldly environment that festers without restraint on most campuses. So early every fall Christian parents engage in another great American tradition: they shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to send their children to a Christian university, Bible college, or seminary. In good faith they entrust their “heritage from the Lord” (Ps. 127:3; NKJV) to the professors and administrators they believe will protect their children and train them in the truths of the Scriptures and nurture them in their young adult faith.

The students themselves enter eagerly, committed and excited to begin their training—often with a view of being involved in missionary work, becoming a pastor, or in some way use their educational training to be a more effective witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. Both parents and students enter the whole experience with high expectations. What they don’t know is that, like the secular schools they wish to avoid, and like the majority of the great Christian institutions of higher learning of the past, a growing number of the Christian schools they attend are . . . Already Compromised.

The Ivy League Legacy

Seniors of secular and Christian universities graduate as different people; much different than the wide-eyed, impressionable freshmen who entered. But sadly, in many instances, the changes are not all positive. The reasons are many, but the trends are now well documented. It’s almost as if there is an entropy taking place on campus—a moral and theological slippery slope that seems to take institutions in the wrong direction—usually taking the hearts and minds of naïve students with them. Like the proverbial frog boiled to death in a pot of slowly warming water, universities often end up far, far from their intended purpose.


Harvard University

Harvard University was established in 1636 and is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Would you be surprised to find out that it had its roots in a strong Puritan philosophy? It was never affiliated with any denomination, but many of its early graduates went on to be clergyman throughout New England.

Conflict arose, however, between Harvard’s sixth president, Increase Mather, and the rest of the clergymen. Mather was deeply concerned that Harvard was becoming increasingly liberal, lax in its theology, and vague in its church policy. But his warnings went unheeded. Harvard’s curriculum became increasingly secular through the end of the 1700s and was taken over by the Unitarians in 1805, resulting in the secularization of the university. By 1850, it was known as the “Unitarian Vatican.” Charles W. Eliot, who was president between 1869 and 1909, eliminated Christianity as the dominant foundation of the curriculum in order to accommodate Transcendentalist Unitarian beliefs. Currently, Harvard Divinity School embraces a wide spectrum of religious belief. From meditations in the Buddhist tradition to the “Seasons of Light”—a multi-religious festival held each December—Harvard Divinity School strategically encourages an atmosphere of religious pluralism where almost any belief is encouraged, not just tolerated.


Yale, founded in 1701 in Connecticut, is the third oldest university in the United States. Its original purpose? To establish a training center for clergy and political leaders of the colony. A group of ten Congregationalist ministers, called “the founders,” met in the study of Rev. Samuel Russell and donated their books for the school’s first library. Like many universities and educational institutions, Yale came into its own during the Great Awakening and the Enlightenment. Presidents Thomas Clapp and Ezra Stiles pursued both religious and scientific interests as they studied Hebrew, Greek, and Latin—languages that were essential for the study of the Scriptures.

In 1872, however, a professor of economics and sociology named Graham Sumner began to use a textbook by Herbert Spencer that supported a naturalistic, agnostic view of the world. President Noah Porter objected, concerned that it would cause religious and moral harm to his students, but Sumner continued to teach until 1909. The compromise had begun.

A few decades later, President James R. Engel and psycho-biologist Robert M. Dierks were creating research programs testing the outer boundaries of naturalistic, humanistic theory. In one study, they analyzed the sexual behavior of chimpanzees, hoping to discover the evolutionary roots of human development. Today, little residue can be found of the school’s former foundation of faith.


Princeton University was founded in 1746 to train ministers for the Presbyterian denomination. For several decades, the college was the religious capital of Scottish and Irish Americans, helping build the spiritual foundation for the emerging nation of immigrants.

John Witherspoon became the sixth president of Princeton in 1768 and led the transformation of the college into a school that would equip the “revolutionary generation.” At the same time, significant changes were taking place in the school’s philosophy of morality as well as the school’s devotion to what they called “natural philosophy.” Witherspoon’s view of morality was more influenced by the Enlightenment and the ethics of philosophers than the Christian virtues espoused by Jonathan Edwards. He still supported “public religion” on a social level, but he did not believe that it was the only source of virtue. He believed that all human beings could be virtuous independent of God. There was opposition at first, but the momentum was strong and the school began to fragment.

Princeton University Commencement

Princeton Theological Seminary was established in 1811—officially separating the secular and religious focuses of the school. In the late 1860s and 1870s, debates between the president of the college, James McCosh, and the head of the seminary, Charles Hodge, focused on the rising conflict between “science” and religion and Darwin’s evolutionary model. Significantly, President McCosh became one of the first religious leaders to publicly endorse evolution.

In the next decade, President Francis Landey Patton came under fire for his traditional views and administrative methods. He insisted on a structured Christian education program, but many felt that approach limited academic freedom. In 1902 Patton was forced out of the presidency. Liberal Christians dominated Princeton in the early 20th century. Evangelist Billy Sunday was not allowed to preach on campus, but liberal theologians had an open door to influence the university as it became a “modern” institution. Soon even the liberal Christian leaders lost their influence as it was eroded by secularization. By the 1920s, Princeton had ceased to be a Presbyterian institution. Evangelist Charles Templeton, a founder of Youth for Christ International, and crusade partner of Billy Graham, abandoned his faith during his years at Princeton Seminary starting in 1948.


Dartmouth Seal

Dartmouth College was established in 1769 by Puritan Congregational minister Eliezer Wheelock. Dartmouth was the last university to be established in America under colonial rule and is the nation’s ninth oldest college. Wheelock was inspired by Mohegan Indian Samson Occom. Occom had become an ordained minister after studying under Wheelock. He later went to preach to the Montauk Indians on Long Island. Wheelock’s desire was to see a training school for Native Americans so that other Mohegans could be trained to reach their own people with the gospel. For this new school, he chose the motto Vox Clamantis in Deserto, a Latin phrase that appears five times in the Bible and is translated “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”

He chose a seal that strongly resembled the seal of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel—a missionary society started in 1701 in London. Among its most famous alumni is Daniel Webster, who was purported to be able to recite the entire Bible, chapter and verse.

But that was then. Now, 240 years later, Dartmouth has established itself as a premier in the university of the Ivy League but shows little or no expressions of its spiritual legacy.

Dartmouth University

History Repeating Itself?

This is the legacy of the Ivy League, and many of us have become concerned that the same trends are taking place today among Christian institutions that were founded on the same values and principles as these historic schools. The blatant disregard for the Bible and God is obvious on the secular campus, but even more disconcerting is the significant level of compromise we sense taking place among “Christian” institutions—most of which started with intentions as strong as the Ivy League but now show clear signs of the same decline.

How bad is it? We wanted to find out for certain, so we turned again to Britt Beemer, founder and president of America’s Research Group (ARG), a nationally recognized surveying and marketing firm ( When we were considering building the Creation Museum, we asked Britt for his advice. He took down all the pertinent information and went to work with his surveys and number crunching. What he came back with astounded us: ARG thought that 400,000 people would be willing to visit a museum like this in the first 365 days. The actual number turned out to be 404,000! He has done exceptional work for us in the past, including the survey for the book Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do to Stop It.

This research indicates a far greater failure . . . at the level of the “shepherds” in many of our Christian academic institutions.

That study dealt with the two-thirds of the young people who grew up in the Church who are leaving when they reach college age. But this research indicates a far greater failure—a failure in regard to those who train the trainers who influence the minds of the coming generations—a failure at the level of the “shepherds” in many of our Christian academic institutions.

Over and over again, the Israelites were warned not to contaminate the purity of God’s Word with the pagan religious ideas of the day. Jeremiah warned, “Do not learn the way of the Gentiles” (Jer. 10:2; NKJV). The Israelites were to be a nation to shine the light of God’s truth to all the other nations. However, they contaminated their culture by adopting the pagan religion of the age into their thinking. This contamination basically destroyed them.

We contend (and scientifically conducted research will back this up) that many of the professors at many of our Christian institutions today have exhibited a behavior no different than those of the compromising Israelites. They have, by and large, adopted the pagan religion of this age and contaminated God’s Word, thus contaminating the thinking of those to whom they impart their teaching. And we also contend, as the research will clearly show, that there is almost what one could call “deceptiveness” in the way some of these shepherds use language. Subtle twists in semantics clearly show up in their attempts to allay the fears of the unsuspecting parents in regard to what their children are really being indoctrinated in.

In Part 1, I will walk you through the research conducted by Britt Beemer and America’s Research Group. After interviewing more than 300 presidents, vice presidents, religion department chairs, and science department chairs from 200 different colleges, we discovered great cause for concern in the curriculum, conflict between departments, and confusion among the leaders on many levels.

As the numbers came in, our concerns were not only confirmed, they were intensified. As I share the results of the survey, President Greg Hall gives a heart-piercing account of “the battle for the mind” that is raging on college campuses today—both secular and Christian. Greg is the president of Warner University. Not only does he know the ins and outs of both secular and Christian higher education, he also knows the heartache and the joy that comes with maintaining an institution of higher education that upholds the authority of Scripture. Greg has a tremendous heart and a tremendous passion for students. His love for God and his commitment to the Word is obvious in his life and in his career. His insights will lead us through the war of the worldviews between naturalism and Scripture and why the outcome of these battles is so important for our children and our society.

The authority of Scripture is being undermined at many levels.

Our research shows that an “uncertain sound” is emanating from many of our Christian colleges. The authority of Scripture is being undermined at many levels, and the voices of naturalism, agnosticism, and even atheism are permeating the eardrums of generations of young people who become the leaders of tomorrow. And as they step into those leadership roles, most do not have the certain sound of the trumpet of truth to advance the battle as it should be fought. What do we do about it?

In Part 2, Greg and I will leave you with a personal challenge and an action plan that can help protect your children and begin to initiate changes in the system as a whole. You’ll find guidelines for choosing the best schools for your children and questions to ask to verify what they are really teaching. Finally, we will offer students a “Spiritual Survival Kit” that will equip them to thrive, and not just survive, during the college years.

I believe that this book will prove to be even more controversial than the study we did for the book Already Gone. It’s factual, but it’s also personal. As fathers, both Greg and I have had to decide which colleges are best for our kids. Knowing that compromise (to one degree or another) awaits our kids, we had to contend with where to send them and try to prepare them for battle and encourage them to keep their guard up. All we can hope and pray is that if one person is saved or has his or her life changed, or parents can be equipped to help protect their kids from blatant faith-destroying compromise because of the research in this book, we believe that’s enough. All we ask is that this book might be a guide and a defense for the truth as our children leave our homes and begin to walk through a world and an educational system that is Already Compromised.

Already Compromised

Christian colleges took a test on the state of their faith and the final exam is in.

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