Every time I read an ethics question, I usually find myself scurrying for the web definition of ethics. This type of behavior (that your friend has undertaken) has become the standard for society and one is almost looked down upon for not manipulating facts to suit one's circumstances. That being said, it is possible that unethical behavior is afoot, and it is quite possible your friend is being both presumptuous and unethical. Some important questions to address before jumping to a conclusion though:
a) with what caveats and/or commitments, if any, does the parent's fiscal support come?
b) why does your friend presume the fiscal support is dependent on his religious leanings?
c) could your friend support himself if the parental funding was withdrawn?
d) is your friend actively lying or is your friend withholding the truth?
To answer to the best of my ability:
a) unknown- we never discussed this
b)He presumes that not only his fiscal support, but his inclusion in the family as a whole is dependent on his religious leanings. He believes that he would likely be disowned entirely by his parents if he were to announce that he does not believe in a god. Whether or not that would actually be the case is difficult to predict. It depends on how well he knows his parents. I've heard of atheist parents to turn to religion in order to attempt to improve their children's lives- I could imagine the reverse being possible as well. I beleive that love for a child can be an overwhelming thing.
c) It's my understanding that he could not support himself; definitely not with the same degree of comfort. It depends on your definition. Could he finish school? Probably, by taking on debt. Could his little brother? I'm not sure, but probably as well. It's just a matter of financial burden, which their parents currently assume.
d) Unknown, but I can say that he would definitely have to actively lie in order to keep up appearances. His family is more religious than mine, and you have to say something when you don't attend church. Anything other than the real reason is a lie in my opinion.
No, because he is doing this to protect himself from an unethical reaction by his parents.
It would be a response made by them out of pure prejudice. They are already paying for a biology degree, and only would withhold it on account of prejudice. So no, when you do something simply to avoid the unethical reaction of another individual, all you are doing is nullifying an unethical act that should never occur in the first place. It makes no sense why we should not nullify unethical acts with means that do not equal the harm of the original act.
To add more weight to why it is ethical. In reality the parents want him pursuing the truth. They just are confused as to what the truth is. Second, people can benefit from his education.
John -- I think you are inferring an awful lot more of the parents and their motivations that the original post warrants. From the information provided, all we know of the parents is that they are conservative and that they are funding the educations of both their sons. That's not a lot of rope with which to hang them.
Whether the son has acted unethically depends on the ethical compass one adopts -- from an Aristotelian perspective, eudemonia is not being achieved or pursued but instead raw self-interest is being served so we should hold the son's actions to be unethical. So, the only major ethical framework that would give the son a thumbs up would be one of a more Machiavellian nature -- perhaps Utilitarianism or Painism.
I'm working based on the moral psychologist Kohlberg. It is a mistake in my opinion to classify this as raw self interest. Rigid morality takes a much lower place on the scale to that of a more equalizing universal morality. In the greater sense, the minimization of harm is of greater value than any singular set concept.
But with the parents, the title of this post makes it clear that the son feels the parents will respond with prejudice.
You seem to have completely ignored my argument that once an unethical act has been performed, it is cognitively underdeveloped thinking to assume such rigidity as to roll over and allow it to do harm just to uphold a principle. It is a glitch, and it needs to be corrected. Doing something less unethical to counter it, is perfectly fine.