ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How Harvard University Became an Atheistic Institution

Updated on May 28, 2011

Someone told me once, that Harvard was founded as a Christian university. How did it become so atheistic then, I wondered. So I decided to do some research to find out.

Harvard was founded quite a long time ago. It received its first chapter in 1650 and became a university officially in 1780. Here's an anonymous quote that gives a good description of the reason for founding of the institution.

"After God had carried us safe to New England, and we ... rear'd convenient places for God's worship ... dreading to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches, when our present Ministers shall lie in the Dust ... it pleased God to stir up the heart of one Mr. Harvard, a godly gentleman and a lover of learning ... to give the one half of his estate ... towards the erecting of a college and all his Library."1

Harvard college had pretty strict rules of conduct which were harsh even according to the 19th century standards. Also, all students had to prove they could read the originals of both Old and New Testament and "resolve them logically".2 The early motto of the university was Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae, which means "Truth For Christ and the Church." Ten out of the first 12 presidents were ministers.

So how did a Christian university become so anti-Christian? Well, it never happens over-night. It was a long struggle over a period of about 100 years. In 1708, John Leverett, became Harvard's first secular president. He did not, and could not have, changed all the rules by himself. He merely tried keeping the college independent of any overwhelming influence of any single denomination.3

In 1805, Harvard was taken over by Unitarians, people who believe every person has their own truth. How did they do it? Well, back in 1708, religious liberals managed to gain a majority in the Harvard's Corporation. Being a majority, they were able to elect their own man as the president. When John Leverett was elected, he set the college's course away from its orthodox beliefs.

If presidents prior to Leverett referred to their alumni by an Old Testament phrase "filli prophetarum", which means, “Sons of the Prophets,” Leverett called the alumni "harvardinates", or “Sons of Harvard.” Fruits of liberal teachings were already beginning to show during Leverett's presidency. The press wrote how students of a formerly strict college were becoming increasingly "riotous and profane".4

In 1720, Harvard's first professorial chair was taken by Edward Wigglesworth, a talented young cleric. He managed to convince the orthodox wing of the college of his adherence to the Calvinistic beliefs. But after being elected, he showed his true colors. He was the first man to publicly challenge the "five points of Calvinism". Being a talented guy, he became the prime favorite of the students. Him and his son Edward, had great influence on New England's theology. They trained the pioneers of American liberal theology, who "led the way out of the lush but fearsome jungles of Calvinism, into the thin, clear light of Unitarianism." 4

Yale, founded in 1702, was actually a reaction to the growing liberal tendencies of Harvard, and was meant to carry on its orthodox tradition. It was doing so successfully well into the 19th century, until it was taken over by liberals too.

When the key figure of the First Great Awakening, George Whitefield, came to Harvard, he was met with indifference by the college's staff. The second time, he was not invited at all. He and his followers denounced Harvard as the "house of impiety and sin". This led to a drop in Harvard's enrollment, and founding of many other Christian colleges throughout the colonies, such as: Princeton College, Queen's College (aka Rutgers), Brown University, and Dartmouth College. But the Unitarians of Harvard played it carefully. Had they brought about change too abruptly, Harvard would be driven out of existence by the general public. But they introduced gradual changes only as fast as the public would allow it.

So, is it a surprise that Harvard and all these top colleges were founded by Christians? Not at all. Because, as the Bible puts it in Psalms 111:10, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."Is it a surprise it became atheistic? No. Because that is what devil is doing all the time. He never creates anything new, he just imitates and perverts what God is doing. He even uses former church people to accomplish the task. And also note that it said wisdom, and not knowledge. Because those two words are not the same. Just because we know a lot, doesn't mean we always make wise decisions. With all the advancement of modern science, you can't say all that knowledge is applied wisely.

Knowledge is a good thing, but when it is left without God's wisdom, it leads to terrible consequences.


1. Samuel Eliot Morison, The founding of Harvard College (1936) Appendix D, and pp 304-5

2. Barrett Wendell, Cotton Mather, the Puritan priest (1897) p 35

3. Samuel Eliot Morison, The Founding of Harvard College (1935) p. 300

4. Neil Brody Miller, "'Proper Subjects for Public Inquiry': the First Unitarian Controversy and the Transformation of Federalist Print Culture," Early American Literature 2008 43(1): 101-135; A Brief History of Christian Influence in U.S. Colleges


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great article!

    • someonewhoknows profile image


      7 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      Science and money have replaced religion.At,least the main strem science and the federal reserve.The schools are controlled now mostly with money.

    • intellichristian profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      If it was just atheists, it would be simple. The problem is that devil uses church people a lot of times to destroy the Christian faith. The more I research this kind of stuff, the more I see that apostle Paul was right when he said "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Ephesians 6:12) There's always a spiritual source to all these things.

    • ColibriPhoto profile image


      7 years ago from Quito, Ecuador

      Good article with interesting information. I enjoyed it. Thanks for your insight

    • Bibowen profile image

      William R Bowen Jr 

      7 years ago

      Great analysis of what happened at Harvard. You are right: the Christian faith tends to create; atheists are mockers and destroyers.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)