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The end of the religious university?

The debate over Trinity Western University is merely a skirmish in a long war. A war that traditional religion is bound to lose.


 

I have been following with great interest the debate stirred up recently about the nature of Trinity Western University and its statement of faith required of all instructors. Much of this has spiralled off into debates over the nature of absolutist vs relativist belief and whether there is really such a thing as secular and so on. But I think the issue is, at heart, a simple one.

A university’s main goal should be the rational pursuit of knowledge and truth.  Traditional religion, premised as it is on faith and revelation, is incompatible with that goal.

Related: Academic freedom at Trinity Western? Also see: TWU in its own words: special no-straw edition, and Christian universities are necessary.

Take, for example, Milton’s Paradise Lost, which I am teaching to my introductory literature students right now. Paradise Lost attempts a defence of God’s justice in the light of evil and suffering in the world. This, of course, is a knotty issue and one that philosophers have struggled with over the centuries, and any decent presentation of Paradise Lost must at least acknowledge the complexity of the philosophical problems that the poem raises. If evil exists in the world because humanity — in the form of Adam and Eve — have brought it upon themselves, why is there so much evil? Why are children made to suffer in this world without having done anything wrong? For that matter, why should any humans suffer for the crimes committed by their ancestors? There may be good answers to these questions, but any responsible professor will have to acknowledge that the problem of evil may pose insurmountable difficulties to traditional theism. But how can the English professors at TWU propose such a possibility if they are committed to traditional Christianity “without reservation” as their statement of faith requires?

Let me put it another way. Imagine that you are a student and you have written a paper and received a low grade on it. You go to your professor and the following conversation ensues:

YOU: I believe I deserve a higher grade on this paper.

PROF: Okay. Why is that?

YOU: Well, that may be, but I felt inspired to write what I did. I really felt that God was speaking to me when I wrote that paper.

PROF: Hmm… that’s strange. Because I really felt that God was speaking to me and told me to give you an F.

YOU: But I have faith in this paper.

PROF: And I have faith in my red pen.

The above is absurd, of course, because there can be no resolution to this disagreement. How can you argue about belief when the only reason for the belief is the belief itself. The only real standard for university work must be the conventions of reasoned scholarship. Did the paper conform to the standards of the discipline? Did it cite appropriate evidence? Were its arguments logical? Was it clearly expressed?

A university based on traditional religion cannot claim to value any of these standards very highly since religion, as it is normally practiced, discounts evidence and reason in favour of the choice to believe, otherwise called faith. Faith, of course, is the right of the believer, and I will always defend the right of citizens of this country to believe what they choose and to express that belief. And I have no objection to any religious group setting up whatever schools or colleges they like (provided they are not funded with public money). But we should hold institutions called “university” to a higher standard.

Eventually, I think, the problem will solve itself. Religious universities will fade away as more and more people feel free to evaluate traditional religion with an even hand and find that, at its heart, its claims are nonsense. Christianity is very quickly going the way of Greek mythology, becoming a series of shared stories embodying potentially valuable lessons, but not an account of the world to be taken literally. Does anybody really believe that Noah saved all the animals of the world on the Ark? Or that Joshua made the sun stop in the sky? Most sensible Christians that I know are not dogmatic or evangelistic; but then, Milton would have considered them atheists. Even devoted academic Christians are fast becoming near-atheists, increasingly seeing the Bible as a series of metaphors and fables, and God as merely an underlying force, rather than a personal being.

No doubt a few old-fashioned die-hards will hang on for a while yet, maybe centuries yet, but the day will come when TWU’s statement of faith won’t matter a bit. Because no one in their right mind will sign it.


 

The end of the religious university?

  1. The thing I find puzzling about the statement of faith is that it makes it an environment in which one would not even be able to freely and openly engage in theological research since it requires you to not only be a Christian but to believe in certain theological assumptions.

    What if a Christian philosopher at the school came to to believe that god was not indivisible but was instead multiple or plural? This is, according to their own rules, not acceptable at TWU.

  2. Pingback: January 26, 2010 - Science and Religion Today

  3. How sad that Mr. Pettigrew does not understand the compatibility of faith, research, reason and learning. If a person of faith believes Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” then the universe and everything in it (including complex human beings!) are open for exciting study and learning by persons of faith. It would be a denial of their faith in God not to examine all the wonders of this spectacular world. In examinaing all the different aspects of the universe, a university faculty person of faith is continuously seeking to integrate faith and reason for the student.

    George Giacumakis, Prof. of History, California State University, Fullerton & Biola University

  4. Dear Todd Pettigrew,

    Your piece “The End of the Religious University” is problematic not because it exposes the supposed inability of a faith based university to conduct honest research, but because of the underlying assumptions you make about reason, faith and human knowledge. Neither philosophically nor historically can your claim be upheld that “A university’s main goal should be the rational pursuit of knowledge and truth. Traditional religion, premised as it is on faith and revelation, is incompatible with that goal.” Historically, the university is not a child of the Enlightenment nor of modern secularism, but the university and its passion for rational inquiry is a Christian idea. I highly recommend to you the work of Edward Grant (Reason in the Middle Ages, Cambridge University Press) and R.W. Southern, who show that the standards you mention originated from within Christian scholarship.

    On the philosophical side I can recommend the work of Charles Taylor, Michael Polanyi, Paul Ricoeur, and Hans-Georg Gadamer whose insights have clearly shown that the kind of rationalistic conception of knowledge you imply does, to put it mildly, no longer enjoy scholarly consensus; have you not heard that presuppositionless knowledge (also known as scientific objectivism, or rationalism) has been mostly replaced by a more adequate, involved model of knowledge? This model acknowledges, to put it crudely, that no knowledge can be had without trust, without ‘faith,’ in some sense. Terry Eagleton has quite masterfully explained these issues in his “After Theory” (2003) but also in his recent Yale Lectures, in which he takes issue with Richard Dawkins’s rationalistic scientism, a position not that different from what you seem to imply. Good luck, too, with the notion that religion will disappear; have you looked around lately? Sociologists and cultural commentators (Peter Berger, Phillip Jenkins et. al) constantly affirm the contrary, so I am not sure if your adherence to what Taylor described as the “subtraction narrative of secularism,” i.e. the belief that human maturity and rational progress entail the demise of religion quite describes our current social reality; Indeed it does not look as though either religion or religious institutions will disappear;

    I was frankly surprised (and somewhat disappointed) to hear from a fellow academic such simplistic views on reason and faith; neither is the near bizarre illustration of ‘grading by inspiration’ clear or helpful. I would also be careful with the highest standard of truth you describe: for as you well know, the highest standard of truth remains in many ways the experimental, verifiable standard of the natural sciences, combined with an ever increasing pragmatism that drives university administrators; if we encourage the kind of rationalism you seem to pursue, not only the religious universities but ANY universities will disappear. Your comments are harmful in two ways: first they encourage university administrators obsessed with widget production and ‘relevance’ to reduce universities to professional schools (at least in that case you no longer need to worry about Milton); second, your opposition faith and reason propagates the same dualism so loved by fundamentalists; do you really want to encourage them? Why not rather propose the integrative model of reason and faith that gave rise to the rigorous pursuit of truth in the West and to our institutions of higher learning in the first place? If, let’s say, Erasmus came to your department, would you throw him out or accuse him of the bizarre grading practice you suggest? Yet Erasmus seems to have believed the tenets of ‘traditional’ Christianity. Do you know from personal experience that Trinity Western University is peopled by fideists? I have worked in this place for 10 years, have won numerous national and international academic awards, published with academic presses and journals and have hosted internationally well known philosophers and Muslim apologists; this weekend I attended a think tank on “nursing and spirituality in a pluralistic,global society” attended by profs from UBC, Durham, and a CRC in sociology from Toronto — how is this the negation of reason or the highest standard of truth? There exist, to be sure, fideistic and fundamentalistic strands of religious belief (as they exist on the secularist side), but I do not see why working within ‘traditional Christianity’ (are we clear what we mean by that?) should mean that my academic instincts or observations are any less valid than yours. Why don’t you hang out with faculty here for a few days? Maybe we can compare notes on grading English papers….

    Sincerely,

    Jens Zimmermann
    Professor of English
    Trinity Western University

  5. Mr. Pettigrew,

    Why would you use an admittedly “absurd” fictitious conversation to support your point? In academia, it’s called a “straw-man” argument and it is a weak method of refuting another party’s position.

    The issue at hand is not “at heart, a simple one.” This will require more than simple thinking. So please don’t insult our intelligence with flimsy illustrations.

    Ben Auger
    TWU Alum ’05

  6. Yaawwn. I’m sure that Mr. Pettigrew’s sermon-esque point of view plays well in, say, some English departments near and far. But the reflective person will want more than (a) Mr. Pettigrew’s straw versions of scholars who hold religious beliefs, and (b) his naive caricature of religion in general. If this is the best that private university bashers can do (and I suspect it is), TWU will be around for a long, long time.

    Myron A. Penner
    Assistant Professor of Philosophy
    Trinity Western University

  7. Mr Pettigrew would do well to read the documents that stand at the basis of the establishment of the Modern research university. He can find an exhaustive synthesis of this material in Thomas Albert Howard’s “Protestant Theology and the Making of the Modern University”. Any truly rational person would recognize immediately that the Modern university has much more of a basis and interest in a negotiated settlement between faith and reason that forms the bed rock of said university model. The founding document, “Über die innere und äussere Organisation der höheren wissenschaftlichen Anstalten in Berlin”, created out of efforts of J. G. Fichte, W. Von Humbolt and the theologian who was the true inspiration of the Modern research university, F. D. E. Schleiermacher, was the ideological basis upon which many North American universities were established. Fully 70% of university professors and administrators from North America were educated within this German model during the turn of the 20th century. While the supremacy of reason was no doubt elevated in this effort, it was certainly not done with out the recognition, as per Kant, of the limitations of reason or the need for certain a priori commitments that could not be established by reason alone but were needed for the research enterprise nevertheless. Kant’s “Conflict of the Faculties” provides considerable caution to both administrators and faculties in their tendency to sometimes over extend the reach of reason. This technocratic/pragmatic understanding of reason has long been rejected in our time. As my colleague Jens notes above, gone are the days when even science can claim the field of absolute objectivity and Polanyi’s work in itself demonstrates this beyond a ‘reasonable’ doubt. Indeed such an objectivist rationalist position is as blind as the position Pettigrew so illogically lampooned in this article. Th fact is, Schleiermacher, a theologian (horror of horror’s), was arguably the chief architect of the theoretical and epistemological basis for the University of Berlin in 1910, and thus for the Modern research university. While it is true that theology was relegated to the professional schools, it was never to be banished from the university and many German universities continue to have such a department. All Mr Pettigrew has done is show his ignorance of just how far epistemology has come since the hard rationalist days of G. W. Leibniz and Hans C. Wolf.

    Mr Pettigrew,

    I think Jens Zimmermann, who occupies a Canada Research Chair here at TWU, has said it best. If you really want to get a sense for how healthy our range of inquiry is, visa vie academic freedom, come and talk to us. Don’t just snipe from the sidelines with an argument from the 17th century. Those days are long gone.

    Archie J Spencer

    Associate Professor of Theology, Associated Canadian theological Schools and Trinity Western University

    For a basic overview go here

    http://www.oslo2000.unio.no

  8. Mr. Pettigrew,
    In interest of all fairness, I agree. It seems to me that ALL universities are in danger of going the way of the horse-drawn-buggy, because there seems to be a significant number of people like yourself who seek objective criticism (aka the bottom line) above actually engaging in suppositional searching for truth and dialogue with those who disagree with you. And, as for Christian colleges and universities, I happen to have helped start a college that is going to seek accreditation and then grow into a university, so no, we are not going anywhere.

    Nathanael Davis
    TWU Alum ’07
    Administrative Assistant
    Aletheia Christian College

  9. In response to Dr Zimmerman and Dr Spencer, I would be happy to visit TWU. In fact, pay my way and I would love to participate in a public panel discussion — frank, friendly, collegial — on the subject of religion in higher education.

  10. I fully suppport the thoughtful remarks of my colleagues at Trinity Western, above. I can only add that my own field of expertise–modern political philosophy–is impossible to imagine without understanding its positive indebtedness to biblical revelation. The social contract tradition, for example, is based on biblical principles, after all. Despite Pettigrew’s stereotypical view of the clash between faith and reason, a few of the best political philosophers of modernity (Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, etc.) saw no such inevitable dualistic opposition. Can anyone imagine Abraham Lincoln’s campaign against slavery without study of his knowledge of the Bible? As for the “problem of evil,” only the biblical tradition treats evil as a problem precisely because of belief in a good God. This paradox is not equivalent to a leap of blind faith so much as it is an invitation for human beings to reflect on what exactly evil is, with their hearts and minds. Happily, the humanities faculty at my school fully support this inquiry.

    I am delighted, however, that Pettigrew respects rational inquiry, even if he identifies “traditional Christianity” with fundamentalist obscurantists rather than with sophisticated Christian minds like Kierkegaard or Rene Girard. I doubt that we both agree that the suppression of religious universities hardly counts as a rational argument against faith. In my view, this suppression manifests an attitude of “might is right” on the part of elites that no longer are committed to reason or faith.

    Dr. Grant Havers
    Chair, Department of Philosophy
    TWU

  11. I too welcome Mr. Pettigrew to Trinity for a thoughtful discussion on religion and education. However, I hope that we would not reduce our discussion to religion but consider other important social factors like the state, economics, and culture. For example, what role ought the state to play in higher education? Are public universities arms of the state? What influence does the state have on academic freedom? Or we could consider education and economics? In what ways does capitalism curtail open dialogue and discussion? Should programs, like those in the Humanities, continue if they are not economically viable? What is the underlying cultural narrative of the modern university? How are university professors and research agendas shaped by that culture?

    Christian Smith makes an excellent case in “Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture” (Oxford) that all humans are believers and the institutions they inhabit are animated by the assumptions they believe true about the nature of reality. His carful and constructive argument about culture as a “moral order” shapes our institutions. The view that modern universities, states, etc are not constructed and maintained by some kind of belief system in today’s world is unimaginable. It also ignores social reality. The scientific enlightenment narrative is one such moral order. It is not, however, the only one. It is, I agree, a powerful one but not without weakness. The belief that objective observation, empirical fact, and rational analysis will relieve all human failing while driving away the darkness of traditional ignorance is a grand narrative certainly worth debate.

    The Englightenment narrative is the hope of many but not all. It is a powerful narrative that shapes the modern university if not the modern state. In a globalized world where pluralization comes to describe the many competing narratives that exist, we need, if anything, to dialogue and discuss these narratives that have shaped our world. We also need some sociological imagination to dream about other worlds we may inhabit.

    Michael Wilkinson, PhD
    Associate Professor, Sociology
    Trinity Western University

  12. Mr. Pettigrew’s attempt to identify “religious traditionalists” with simple-minded biblical literalism tells more about the quality of his mind than about the religionists he’s mocking. I suspect Pettigrew’s knowledge about the great theologians of the Christian tradition could be fitted into the brain of an ant. Indeed the only thing he seems to know about the Christian or any other religious tradition is contained in his rant against fideists and fundamentalists. It is not the Christians but crusading secularists like Mr. Pettigrew who have done the most to subvert critical thought in my lifetime. Paul Gottfried, Raffensperger Professor of Humanities, Elizabethtown College (Pennsylvania)

  13. Mr. Pettigrew,

    It would seem the issue at heart is not as ‘simple’ as you propose. I hope instead of offering a glib request for travel funds you will reply to (at least some of) the above posted comments. Since the above replies appear too challenging, I offer something easier.

    You ask “how can the English professors at TWU propose such a possibility [the problem of evil] if they are committed to traditional Christianity “without reservation” as their statement of faith requires?” The ‘simple’ answer is “very well.”

    I speak from firsthand experience when I say that TWU faculty demand that their students actively engage with the “tough” questions. In the English department, along with the Political Science, Biology, Philosophy, and yes, Religious Studies departments, students are challenged by diverse scholarship and varied perspectives. Visit any classroom at TWU and you will quickly discern this is the case. Attend, for example, a lecture for Philosophy 384 and you witness students being confronted with the very problem of evil that you assume is impossible to discuss within the realm of Traditional Religion.

    TWU prides itself on being a liberal arts university. Every student, from every discipline, is required to complete a minimum of six credits in English, along with credits from Humanities, Science, Philosophy and other departments. As an English professor, maybe a better question is to ask how can English professors propose such a possibility if no one is required to take their courses (as is the case at UofT, McGill, Queens, etc). You assume that it is impossible for TWU faculty to educate their students based on the ‘conventions of reasoned scholarship.’ I would argue they do it better than most.

    Of course, you would not know that because you appear to know very little about TWU. Until you visit their campus, or reply to their faculty, or converse with their students, or investigate their academic standards, I will dismiss your ignorant comments as being merely uninformed.

    Until then,

    Daniel Reynolds

  14. Teaching Christian mythology is important to understanding Western-based literature. I grew up with a Christian background, so could understand and appreciate the works of Milton and indeed all writers, philosophers, scientists, etc. up until the Enlightenment.

    My friend who grew up without any Christian religious knowledge couldn’t pass English 100 after 3 tries. I’m sure I couldn’t pass similar literary courses in India or Japan or China or Iran or anywhere else in the world where Christianity is not the accepted mythology.

    We now live in a multi-cultural/multi-faith society with a huge diversity of religious backgrounds and ethnic histories. A Christian faith-based higher educational institution cannot long prevail.

    I suspect that in the near future, courses in basic faiths mythologies will be necessary for university-level students, and we will all be more knowlegeable as a result, and able to read other cultures literature.

    Oh, and given that everyone in this discussion seems to be attaching their degrees as some sort of validation of their statements …

    Marushka
    BA, Fine Arts, English, Anthropoly, UBC
    MA, Liberal Studies, SFU

  15. Marushka, multi-culturalism is not new and does not preclude the existence of faith-based higher-learning institutions. Furthermore, if you had any knowledge of what you speak of at all, you would know that Trinity Western offers many courses covering different religions and cultures in depth and is possibly one of the finest example of an interdisciplinary approach there is. This seems to be where secular technocratic institutions like SFU, UBC etc fail.

    I say this because, you, a byproduct of such an education, seem woefully uninformed about the diversity and nuance that flows through the history of Christianity, religious experience and world religions in general. Your reduction of religion in general to mere Mythology (!) is cringe-worthy and painfully disrespectful. And you do this AFTER having studied in both liberal arts and scientific fields.

    As for using degrees to validate one’s point- this did not work in your case. You spelled Anthropology wrong and your grammar is enough to make one weep.

    Theresa Willmer
    BA, Philosophy & English
    TWU – 2005

  16. As a student who attended TWU recently, I would just like to point out that, if anything, I learned more about other cultures and other religions in one year than I ever did in the public school setting. Not only did I learn about other religions, but through the school I had opportunities to openly engage in them. In my year at TWU,I visited two Bhuddist temples,a Muslim mosque, went to an Eastern Orthodox Sunday service, had coffee with Bahai believers at a Bahai meeting in Abbotsford,and visited with Mormon missionaries. In the entire process of learning about all the different Eastern and Western religions, not once did they say or teach in a way that would claim we have the right faith. In my Eastern Religions class, there was a boy who was Sikh. He was invited to tell the class more about his faith. The same was the case in my Western Religions class where a student who was muslim shared openly about their faith. All this to say that I think your perspective of what the learning process is like at a faith based institution is skewed to say the least.

  17. Maruschka,

    It is a shame that all you learned from your vast educational career is:

    a) to talk out of reflex
    b) but only if that reflex is your behind

    It seems that none of your academic reflexes are showing. Only your prejudices. Academics encourage discussion and the search for truth and knowledge. It’s as if you never opened a single textbook.

    I’d imagine you’d challenge all of us with reason and rationality, but it seems you’ve lost touch with that academic weapon. Contrarily TWU representatives in this discussion are wielding it with poise.

    Armin Martens
    BBA (I’m I the only business student here?)
    2009

    P.S. When a person brings into question their own eternity, chances are they have mentally and spiritually beaten themselves to death with the subject. As able thinking adults, Christians want answers. We don’t close our eyes, plug our ears and pitifully wimper “god is real”, ignorantly deflecting life’s challenges. I don’t merely cross my fingers and say “I hope all this faith stuff is working”. I believe God is infallible because I’ve tried to stand up against him time and time again and between me and him it seems he’s better at winning. If you disagree, that’s fine. But let these responses be a indication that although you may think you’re smarter than us because of our faith, you’re the one closing your eyes and ears, because not one of your responses has stood to the statements by trinity profs.

  18. Grace.

    I wonder if there isn’t a way to engage in this dialogue sans cheap shots and insults.

  19. To our TWU students and alumni responding here. Be thorough and reasonable in your response but don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Rational debate needs respect for all regardless of point of view. Happy posting!

  20. Pardon my simplistic language, but I think I can make sense of this argument.

    So, Professor Pettigrew says the way to have rational investigation is to observe something, gather evidence, and make a conclusion, right? But with the theological university, it sounds like the conclusion is already in part “written in stone”. You have a conclusion (Jesus did it with magic), and you then can skew the evidence to fit the conclusion.

    Then, apparently every single faculty member at TWU decided to post “NO! WE DON’T DO IT THAT WAY”!!! (capslock indicates anger/shouting). I assume that the anti-Pettigrew crowd are arguing that there is some sort of complex model of understanding they use, maybe some kind of religious study paradigm.

  21. Dear Steve,

    First of all, no need to shout. Remember a true rational discussion is composed and respectful. Shrieking in caps indicates you are losing the argument. It seems to me you are either hiding your understanding of the development of scientific and philosophical epistemology in the last 50 years or, more likely judging from your response, you do not know it. The arguments employed by myself and Zimmermann above can be found on the campus of any Western research university. It is not a specifically religious perspective on epistemology, though it does include religious ways of knowing in its purview, and I might add, its criticism. You need to read more, I think. See for example Charles Taylors “Secular Age”, which argues that secularization includes more in its epistemological scope than a strict rationalist position based on your perception of what constitutes scientific method. You should also read David Hume’s “Traeties Concerning Human Understanding” and his “Dialogs Concerning Natural Religion” both of which demonstrate how clearly empirical investigation can be affected by sensory perception and “habits of thinking” more akin to custom (called common sense) than some principle of pure rational capacity. This is why Kant, (who says Hume woke him from a “dogmatic slumber”, similar to the one you are exhibiting), wrote his “Critique of Pure Reason”, upon which basis most of Modern scientific inquiry has been established; (It limits the rationalism you think will solve all your truth issues). Also add to the list Micheal Polanyi’s “Personal Knowledge”, (a scientist and philosopher of renown) and his “Tacit Dimension”, who taught many scientists that there is no absolute separation between the observer and the object under observation. The nature of our involvement with the universe, materially and intellectually, does not permit that kind of rationalist objectivity.

    So you see, the field is mixed, in all Western research universities, in respect to establishing a firm epistemology, philosophical, religious, scientific or otherwise. This fact makes room for the element of faith. Indeed it makes it needed. There is no view from nowhere friend, so check your anger at the door and enter the dialog informed. Oh, and read H. G. Gadamer’s ‘truth and Method” cited by Zimmermann above. Get back to us when you are done.

  22. Correction: Capital T in “Truth and Method”, for my students sake.

  23. One aspect that seems to be missed in the reason of why, if at all, Christian University’s may come to an end is the fact that they tend to be more expensive. When a young person is looking at years of study even a few thousand each year can add up. I am a mother of children at university age and my second child decided that she could not afford the added expense. True academic research requires us to look at other possibilities for the outcome.
    Carrie

  24. You’re all being immensely disrespectful. Despite what you may think of Dr. Pettigrew’s opinions on religion, you can at least all address him in a respectful manner as DOCTOR Pettigrew, seeing as how he is the possessor of a hard-earned PhD.

  25. This is not disrespectful at all. I agree with you he should be referred to as Dr. Pettigrew but he should show that he is a doctor if he expects people to address him as such. Also, this is how academics conduct themselves. Someone states an opinion, in this case Dr. Pettigrew calls into question the legitimacy of those who have worked hard for the university degree at faith based institutions. Guess what many of the individuals responding to his comments are also PhD holders and there views need to be respected as well.

  26. What is also interesting is that many of the TWU alumni and faculty have spent a great deal of time condemning Dr. Pettigrew for having little knowledge of TWU; yet condemning the education received by individuals at other universities (ex. UBC). While it may not seem likely that to some that Dr. Pettigrew possesses a vast knowledge of TWU, it seems far more unlikely that TWU possesses a vast knowledge of the education quality of every other university in the country. This contradiction, in combination with the many “cheap shots”, is unfortunately significantly decreasing the validity of your arguments.

    All that said however, I am curious about the “statement of faith”. Admittedly, I know little about TWU and do not pretend to possess a vast knowledge of religion. However, it would seem to me that a statement of christian faith (if it means what I think it means)would foster the attraction of very “like-minded” individuals to the university both as students and faculty. Consequently, the underlying pursuit of knowledge would be confined to one very similar viewpoint that maintains the status quo of the university. Does TWU hire faculty of varied faiths within this “statement of faith”? What happens if a faculty member and/or student disagrees with philosophies of Christianity? Is the disagreement permitted? discussed? If not, any attempt to teach varied religious classes within the university would be futile and not representative of a “liberal arts” education.

  27. correction: there should be their…sorry

  28. No body from TWU is questioning Dr Pettigrew’s credentials. I am sure they are stellar. We are responding to the content of his article not his personal education or the prestige of the position he holds. I am sure he knows that as well. For your information all of the profs responding here have credentials from peer Universities in Canada and abroad; and Jessel I agree that some things can be read as cheap shots but there are also substantive responses to his position. Why don’t you focus on those and offer your own evaluation. Dr Pettigrew is quite capable of defending himself.

  29. I posted this in response to Dr. Pettegrew’s comment on his no-straw version of this blog but I thought it was relevant to this discussion as both forums are on the same topic.

    Dr. Pettigrew,

    I’ve been following these articles closely the last couple of days and have distinguished two main arguments. I believe that there is a degree of truth in one of your claims.

    Thank you for your measured reply. In my observation, I believe you have accurately raised two cogent questions. First, you argue that faith and reason or reason and revelation are polar opposites and cannot coexist. This is especially true, you argue, for a liberal arts university where the goal is a rational pursuit of Truth. I believe that a few of TWU’s faculty members have made counter arguments about the compatibility of the faith-reason relationship and I am not in a position to add to their arguments.

    However, I do believe that I can speak into your second argument, which you have made clear in your most recent comment on this forum. To summarize, you point out a discrepancy between TWU’s Statement of Faith and what actually goes on at TWU. This, in my opinion, is a valid argument that deserves further discussion.

    In this second argument you make a legitimate point. I have experienced a broader interpretation, from faculty, of TWU’s Statement of Faith. This interpretation varies from what a narrow one implies. When one takes a narrow, while legitimate view, of our Statement of Faith and compares it to the academic pursuit that actually takes place on campus there are glaring discrepancies. To answer your final question, yes, opposition to the Statement of Faith can be found within TWU.

    Why do these discrepancies occur? Well, for many reasons. One reason I believe and have experienced has to do with TWU heritage. TWU has made a successful transition from and Evangelical Free Bible college to a liberal arts university. TWU is proud of its heritage and laments losing a part of that heritage that was once necessary and important (and I believe the spirit behind the Statement of Faith is valid and necessary). Currently, TWU is successfully negotiating the faith reason relationship, a territory that is not often consciously attempted but arguably occurs on all university campuses.

    If you were to visit TWU you would find the discrepancies between our doctrine and teachings that you rightly to point out. However, what you would not find is a trend towards pure reason. In fact, I believe that you would find a community that is committed to the highest level of academic integrity while remaining on every level fully committed to the Christian faith. Again, you may not believe that this type of society is possible but I believe TWU’s testimony begs to differ.

    Thank you for your open-mindedness and I hope constructive discussion can continue.

    Caleb Ratzlaff

    No trolls please.

  30. Always love.

  31. Jessi,

    Here are some things you might want to know about the Statement of Faith:

    1. Only faculty and staff at TWU are required to sign the Statement of Faith. Students have no connection to this document. If feel that this is an important distinction.
    2. By signing this document, staff and faculty are affirming the core tenets of Christianity and confirming that their personal beliefs correspond to this document. Simply put, you must be a Christian to sign this document.
    3. Every member of TWU community (staff, faculty, students) signs a Community Covenant, a different governing document. This is essentially the Code of Conduct for students. While this document contains distinctly Christian values and statements, it is not doctrinally-oriented. In other words, you do not have to be a Christian to sign this document.

    You can read the TWU Statement of Faith here. You can read this document here (http://www.twu.ca/divisions/hr/employee/documents/statement-of-faith.pdf)

  32. My faith in our Lord depends on both reason and belief in the absurd. Christ rising from the dead cannot be revealed by reason. Reason, however, causes me to explore Christianity. Reason tells me that something cannot come from nothing; the very first tiny particle in existence had to come from something.

    Let’s remember it is a choice to go to TWU. It is a choice to sign the Statement of Faith. If I was a non-Christian, I likely would not have gone to TWU. However, ALL education is indoctrination. A university that believes there is no absolute truth teaches there is no absolute truth. I much prefer to know what the bias is of my professors. Schools that teach knowledge is the acquisition of facts no longer allow students to think. There is nothing to think about in the memorization of facts. I am challenged to doubt, dialogue, and scrutinize in my search for truth, rather than merely accept the truth of the statement “there is no truth.” Anyone can memorize, but I am free to think thanks to my liberal arts education at TWU.

  33. I admit that I too know very little about the TWU Statement of Faith. However, if you read through the Statement of Faith (SofF), as I just did, you might be struck by a few observations. I beg anyone with more experience to confirm and/or correct my comments, as needed.

    My initial impression is that this document is distinctly Christian. Anyone that signs this statement would undoubtedly be affirming a thoroughly Christian perspective, and subsequently denying non-Christian religious views. In this sense, the document is very narrow. As such, it would appear that TWU staff and faculty are very like-minded.

    Yet, at the same time, you may notice that this document contains a very broad depiction of Christianity. This is a more subtle observation, and requires some, albeit minimal, knowledge of Christianity. Within Christianity, like any ideology, there is a diversity of perspective. This makes sense and is not surprising. However, there is little within this document that would be identifiable and/or contradictory to any particular sect of Christianity. Take a close look at the ten claims. There are few, if any, phrases in the entire document that are divisive. This seems intentional. It means that those who sign this document can maintain their unique particular views while subscribing to the consensus general view.

    The idea of both general and particular is not a new one. Neither is the concept of diversity within singular thought. But perhaps they would be better explained if some relevant examples were provided. I offer the following as conversational sparks, not infallible examples.

    The topic of “beginnings” seems like a relevant place to start. Based on my reading of this document, I see no reason why a biology professor at TWU could not teach evolution theory in his/her classroom. This is not incompatible with the SofF, based on my interpretation. Likewise, it would appear that a psychology professor could affirm the SofF and still instruct his/her students on Freudian theories. And I see no reason why a Philosophy course at TWU should not focus on Nietzsche, Hume, Kant, or any other major thinker.

    My point here is that academia does not occur in a vacuum. There does not exist a single scholar without his/her own perspective. I challenge anyone to find me a Political Science professor without an opinion on the proroguing of Parliament. Or find a Business professor without his/her own view of how to best aid Canada’s economy. These individuals teach on every campus. Those who choose the academy as the workplace are entrusted with the responsibility of balancing their personal convictions and their scholarly claims.

    The challenge issued by Dr. Pettigrew appears based on the assumption that professors will always champion their unique and personal convictions, whether Christian or otherwise. His argument is simple: TWU professors are distinctly Christians; TWU professors teach distinctly Christian ideas; Distinctly Christian ideas are not of the highest academic standard. Personally, I am not convinced of the truth of any of those statements. The first seems irrelevant. There are those who have more eloquently questioned the last claim. I am more interested in the second.

    Dr. Pettigrew has questioned the ability of TWU faculty to teach rationally while maintaining a Christian (faith) perspective. His example of the problem of evil leaves me wanting. I seriously doubt than any critically thinking individual would deny the challenge this problem poses to theism, as he asserts. The well-documented quality of academics, of both faculty and students, at TWU suggests this is not the case on their campus. Nonetheless, I am interested to hear if anyone has a situation/topic where TWU faculty would be unable to teach freely. I recognize the perils of entering into the world of “what if,” but I think it could prove valuable to the discussion.

    Is there a subject/issue/course/etc that would be off-limits at TWU? I feel like the answer to this question gets to the heart of the issue. If the answer is yes, it would appear the claims of Dr. Pettigrew (and CAUT) have some merit. Or, at the very least, they deserve further discussion. However, if the answer is no, this would appear to be a non-issue.

    So what is it? Yes? No? Maybe?

    Anyone?

  34. Dr. Pettigrew,

    How would you grade a paper that positively argued for the growth of religious universities? I seriously doubt that you would discredit scholarship based solely on its topic. Why then do you assume that the faculty at TWU would do the same?

    It is obvious that you hold deep convictions, as do they, on controversial topics. Yet your commitment to academic excellence would compel you to examine the quality of the paper based on the strictly academic standards. Are these standards not exempt from personal bias, or are they somehow swayed when placed under the lens of our own presuppositions? My hope is that scholarship can rise above the scholar; I believe that the strength of the academy is greater than the personal convictions of any narrow-minded academic (Christian, atheist, or otherwise). But if it is not, I am afraid that it will not be the end of the religious university, but reasoned scholarship altogether.

  35. It’s unfortunate MACLEANS chose to publish this piece without another better one highlighting the more subtle nuances of the issue. People pay to have their businesses advertised in MACLEANS because of its wide readership. In the interest of promoting the best, and not just any kind of journalism, methinks a few advertisers need to be contacted regarding the quality of some of MACLEANS articles. After all, I don’t want to advertise in just any Canadian magazine, but only the best one!

    Best.

  36. If a student wishes to pursue a religious education, it’s a free country. They are free to waste four years of their life. Organized religion is and always has been about fostering ignorance and consolidating power.

  37. Let people go to whatever school they want to – Christian or not.

  38. To: Carson J.

    Thank you for the reply.

    It is an answer from a Canadian magazine. A better answer might be one that asks a few questions: What is a better way of engaging the reading public in this issue? What might a better written article on such an issue look like? Who proof-read Mr. Pettigrew’s manuscript for accuracy and soundness?

    In turn, a better way of proceeding might involve printing two well, written articles on the same issue included in the same edition. Or, it may have a monitored and respectful discussion between two people representing opposing positions on the same issue (see Dan Cray. God vs. Science, Time, Nov. 5, 2006) But that might happen if and only if MACLEANS is not just a Canadian magazine but the best one.

    Again, methinks the advertisers in MACLEANS (Fusion, et.al.) might benefit from a few well written letters expressing concern over the editorial decisions being made on their behalf. I’m sure they would appreciate hearing whether or not their money is being well spent.

    Best.

  39. None of these comments replete with citations of eminent thinkers has convinced me that WTU has anything special to offer except possibly an entree into the ranks of neo-Conservatism. What is its real raison d’etre, anyway? Isn’t it to offer an alternative to the humanism of publically supported universities? That has been going on in Canada at least since the Baptists founded McMaster in order to counter the growing humanism of other Canadian universities, such as U of T. McMaster eventually gave up the Baptist affiliation in everything except name, and so too will TWU give up its in time, when the present phase of reaction has passed.

    As for these disputations, nothing has changed since I darkened a university’s doors lo these many years ago. Squadrons of professors belittling each other’s knowledge of the ‘essentials,’ and advising each other where they should be going to find a path to the true light.

    The Buddha merely smiled and pointed up.

    I agree with one comment without reservation: that students of Western literatures in all universities ought to be given courses in Christian mythology, symbolism and ethics, and church history. Call it ‘an anthropology of Christianity.’ It would prepare them better to cope with the content of literature courses up to and including the 19th century.

    As for the vitality of modern Christianity, are there any avowedly Christian poets and dramatists producing significant work at present? Modern Christian literature is a virtual wasteland, with a few notable exceptions such as CS Lewis and TS Eliot.

    In BC as a whole, home turf of WTU, church membership and attendance is dropping like a stone. Throughout Canada, except in small pockets like WTU, the Alberta oil industry and the Canadian federal government cabinet, the age of faith is truly past.

    Garry Eaton

  40. While Enlightenment ideas on faith and reason are being examined, why not pull up a page on freedom from Rousseau’s Social Contract? If WE, the people (as the Americans say), decide on a particular form of leadership, government, and law, by choosing voluntarily to submit ourselves to their authority, we do not lose freedom, we only exchange one kind of freedom for another – natural liberty for civil liberty, and we are all the better for it. If we, as Christian academics, decide willingly to submit to a particular creed and living standard that we have already chosen for ourselves, before coming to a Christian university, we have only exchanged one kind of academic freedom for another, that of functioning in an academic community that upholds the same higher Truths we believe in. The real question right now is whether other voices in academe, outside this institution, are willing to give us the freedom to fonction as Christian academics in community, rather than as isolated individuals here and there throughout the pluralistic, public university system. As previous blogs have already stated, we have all completed our graduate and post-graduate studies in public universities around the globe, and are pursuing our disciplines with as much rigour as academics anywhere, but each of us has chosen to come together because we share a common faith and a common love for God and humanity.

    The Enlightenment ideal of progress through human reason crumbled in the wake of two devastating world wars, where science proved to be responsible for unthinkable destruction carried out in the midst of “civilized” society. All the major artistic movements of the twentieth century rejected rationalism as the only way to truth and knowledge and clearly proclamed the failure of reason alone. “Science without conscience only brings ruin”, declared the humanist Rabelais in the 16th century. At TWU, we have not given in to post-modern despair, but have hearkened back to the Renaissance model of of educating the whole person, body, mind, and spirit, in a community that together acknowledges the spiritual as well as the material. We strive to help students develop their full potential as integrated human beings, stressing conscience as much as science. And as long as there are students in the world still seeking this fuller experience of life, and faculty willing to provide a supportive community where faith and reason can flourish in harmony, a university such as Trinity Western will always have its place in society.

    Kelsey Haskett,
    Associate Professor of French, TWU

  41. Dr. Pettigrew states “I have no objection to any religious group setting up whatever schools or colleges they like (provided they are not funded with public money).” This begs the question why any public money ought to be spent on schools, colleges, or universities, most of which are funded by taxpayers.

    Since the general public include believing Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims and Jews to name a few why should the taxes paid by these people be used to fund secular universities or pay the salaries of academics like Dr. Pettigrew who ridicules religious believers unlike serious critics of religion such as former University of Calgary Professors Kai Nielson and Anthony Flew, and current ones like Jack MacIntosh and John Baker, who respect religious arguments even though they strongly disagree with them.

    In terms of basic justice in a multi-cultural society the use of taxes in this way is a serious misuse and injustice. Therefore, believers of all stripes ought to be allowed to opt out of paying taxes that support secular institutions where professors ridicule their beliefs.

    No doubt most people will disagree with this point and it is not an argument that I support. On the other hand it is a logical consequence of Dr. Pettigrew’s position and something that attacks on faith based institutions like Trinity Western University by groups like the CAUT can only encourage.

    Anyone seriously interested in a healthy university sector that is publically funded ought to recognize that using people’s taxes to attack their fundamental beliefs is wrong. “No taxation without representation” is a slogan to be taken seriously. Either our public higher education sector represents the intersts of the public or it will continue to wither under attack by cost cutting politicians.

    Perhaps this is what Dr. Pettigrew wants. If so let him declare his committment to free market policies and private universities where the question of public funding is no longer an issue. After all such a move would reduce all of our taxes.

  42. Anyone who claims that TWU offers only an “entree into the ranks of neo-conservatism” has likely spent less than 5 minutes on our campus. Most of my colleagues are opponents of the Iraq War and the Bush legacy, although there are exceptions as well. There are even a few Burkean conservatives (like myself) who criticize the neocons (who are former leftists, after all) for Jacobin attempts at global democracy-building. I doubt that any other school in Canada would so easily tolerate and encourage such a politically heretical position.

  43. Having read the above, I respond as a former Fulbright Scholar-Teacher at TWU in AD 2000, who taught U.S.-Latin American relations and Afro-American history. I am now a retired community college instructor who has also taught at state university. Except for seminary, my degrees are from state universities.
    I found the quality of student scholarship high at TWU. I also found the quality of scholarship high among faculty. I also found a very broadminded faculty. I am glad to know that TWU includes discussion of evil (theodicy) in literature. When I took Milton at a California State University we never discussed the subject! Nor, for that matter, did we discuss Biblical allusions in Shakespeare. If you wanted Bible you took Bible as literature, which was mostly Wellhausen’s theory; or you took an off-campus course sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship that was taught by one of the university’s faculty. (The college would not allow it to be so-taught on campus.)
    As for Christian colleges dying, the exact opposite is happening. Enrollment is growing, despite costs. Last semester I taught as an adjunct in a Lutheran university (I’m not Lutheran). It has Buddhists and Muslims in the student body. Why would a Muslim go to a Lutheran university? Because they knew what they were getting into, unlike at a secular campus!
    The year I taught at TWU Day was running for Parliament. The Vancouver Sun took exception to his views of Genesis. I wrote the paper asking what political relevance views of Genesis were and showed how Genesis might indeed be relevant. My letter was never published. Such is the mind-set that comes with a non-faith based education. It has its own fundamentalism.
    TWU is evangelical, taking the gospel seriously; and free, free from state control and free to think critically.

    Sincerely,

    T.D. Proffitt, III, Ph.D.

  44. You know, I’ve been trying to stay out of this, but someone has to point out the obvious.

    Todd Pettigrew’s summary of the written material relevant to TWU is irrefutable. No one has attempted to refute it. Based on nothing more than the obvious interpretations of the words on the page (or the screen, as case may be) faculty at TWU are constrained by strict promises regarding the limits of the intellectual inquiry, and the university is unabashedly promoting unchallengable truths.

    At the same time, I have no reason to doubt the growing body of first-hand testimony that claims exactly the opposite is occurring on the ground. You can write a few people off as ideologues or even liars, but as the evidence mounts I am prepared to believe the students and faculty who are claiming otherwise.

    Now what surprises me, and the reason I’ve been forced to point out the obvious here, is that everyone keeps treating these two facts as incompatible. As though it must be that either the words don’t mean what Todd thinks them mean or that the reality must be other than as it has been presented. In fact, I’m perfectly convinced that both are true. It seems obvious to me that faculty at TWU must sign their statements of faith and then ignore them (not in terms of faith, you understand – I mean only in academic terms) and that the university must run, in practice, very differently than it presents itself in theory.

    I’ll let someone else cry “hypocrisy!” over this. I’ve seen so many things function radically different in practice than presented on paper that I’m not even surprised. It’s the norm rather than the exception. It happens everywhere. Read the stated goals and policies of any university. You’ll find things that’ll make you laugh your head off. As though anyone seriously thinks this is possible, in practice, in today’s world…. I can’t claim I’m surprised TWU fits the pattern.

    So I don’t really know how I feel about this. But I think that Todd is being unfair by holding TWU’s words against the institution. Every university indulges in unrealistic rhetoric. I also think the TWU proponents are being willfully naive in their suggestion that it all works just fine and so the problems of faith-based learning are solved. It works only because many of the ideals of it are being circumvented in practice. When that’s the case, can you really claim it’s solved?

    That’s all I wanted to say. You’re welcome to continue slugging it out.

  45. Well certainly, if you define faith as that which “discounts evidence and reason in favour of the choice to believe,” then of course it is going to seem incompatible with “the rational pursuit of knowledge and truth.” But loading one’s definition of ‘faith’ in this way has all the marks of theft over honest toil (to borrow Russell’s expression).

    What’s needed–and what Prof. Pettigrew neglects to provide–is some argument(s) to support his assertions. What good reason, e.g., is there to think that faith is believing that a proposition p is true when the available evidence says otherwise? I’m afraid Pettigrew doesn’t tell us.

    And what will he do with the long line of great thinkers in the Western tradition who, precisely because they did attend to reason and the evidence, concluded that theism was true. What will he do with Christian philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, Samuel Clarke, and Gottfried Leibniz–or, in our own day, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, William Craig, and Alexander Pruss? We can scarcely say that these individuals have all discounted reason in working out their (theistic) philosophical systems; indeed precisely the opposite is true. Is Prof. Pettigrew at all aware of the complexity of the rational arguments that have been employed in defense of theism?

    I think Prof. Pettigrew owes us a lot more here by way of substantial and convincing argument. Otherwise, I’m afraid, he may find that the charge of believing without any evidence is one that he has unwittingly laid at his own door.

    Richard Davis, PhD
    Associate Professor of Philosophy
    Tyndale University College

  46. I was a business professor and dean at TWU for 18 years. Fortunately in that time I never had a colleague with the narrow and uninformed understanding of Christianity and faith as does the author of this article. My heavens (if he’ll pardon the expression), has he ever visited the campus, talked to a single TWU professor, read any of their publications (including those of TWU professors with Canada Council grants and so on)? I hope that his own teaching and publishing is characterized by better research and a more open mind than is indicated by his article.

  47. Dr. Pettigrew’s unconvincing argument aside, the issue with CAUT seems to boil down to whether or not an institution that requires its professors to declare themselves committed to a certain ideology or worldview is legitimately a place of “academic freedom,” in the way that this latter quality is understood by the CAUT investigators. If the answer is “not,” as they insist it is (they will not change their minds unless the signing of the statement of faith is no longer a requirement), then does that severely undermine TWU’s standing as a bona fide university in Canada? Everything circles around the issue of a declared, single ideology (which is not a pejorative term!) and the notion of “academic freedom,” and the more focused the discussion stays on this, the more clarity may arise.

  48. Thanks to everyone for such an engaging discussion.

    The closing quote of the original CAUT article was this: “Academic freedom can’t be bounded by a particular ideology. It would be like a university saying that we’re a Marxist university and unless you’re a Marxist, you can’t teach here.”

    To pick up on Kara’s point, I would argue strongly that such statements should be allowed, for a very simple reason: stated assumptions are far less damaging to the pursuit of truth than unstated assumptions. Unstated assumptions become the unassailable orthodoxy – the otherwise hidden bias in the academic publication and hiring process that dictate which opinions are heard and taught.

    It’s easier to attack such entrenched ideologies when they are explicitly stated, which is, no doubt, why CAUT is going after Christian universities rather than the real and daily infringements of academic freedom that occur at every university. Far from being criticized, TWU should get kudos for making at least this part of their hiring process explicit and transparent. And for both faculty and students, it is only when the parameters are defined at the outset that you can know where you stand in relationship to them.

    Statements of faith are never as damaging as faith without statements. Pettigrew seems to think you can’t question a statement of faith. I would argue that it is vastly more difficult to question an establishment that exists without one.

  49. “…Stated assumptions are far less damaging to the pursuit of truth than unstated assumptions. Unstated assumptions become the unassailable orthodoxy – the otherwise hidden bias in the academic publication and hiring process that dictate which opinions are heard and taught.” That was perfect Rachel.

  50. There are those that believe, without objective evidence, that reality transcends the material reality. There are those that believe in the equally unscientific notion that there is nothing that is real beyond the material reality. Often, this is a faith in what Charles Taylor calls “subtraction stories” (stories that explain secularity as human beings liberating themselves from “certain earlier confining horizons”). No one can fault a scholar for having a faith in this “secular” story, or in any other story for that matter. It only becomes a problem when that person insists that his story is the only true and right story and works to suppress the voice of any other story. This is what I fear from those in the CAUT, Mr. Pettigrew – as much as I fear the same from any religious fundamentalist.

    There are all sorts of academics, both good ones and bad ones, but in my experience, the line that divides the good from the bad has little relation with their belief in the presence of a transcendent reality or not.

    I agree with Mr. Pettigrew, that religion as it is often practiced, discounts evidence and reason. But this is not always the case. I have encountered professors in public universities with the same faith as Mr. Pettigrew and they were excellent scholars. I have also encountered the same in Christian universities.

    There is no human being that isn’t influenced by some form of faith. The best we can do is be aware of the faith from which we experience reality, and the best way for a scholar to do this is to encounter meaningfully with other scholars of varying faiths – secular and otherwise. One should be very interested in this dialogue, so much so that he would actively seek it out even to the point of paying for his own plane ticket to create such a meaningful encounter.

  51. Based on that pathetic “straw man” argument, you would clearly benefit from an education at TWU which has always had high marks for the excellent education its students receive.

    Many universities today teach a moral relativism that does not even recognize there is objective good and evil. I suggest you crusade against them. They are the ones teaching a world view that does not match with reality.

    • Michael, you may be interested to read my other post on TWU, where I answer your concern about the straw man question.

      As for the “high marks” that TWU gets, my impression is that this claim is based on student evaluations, but given the nature of the institution, I suspect that the students there are pre-disposed to appreciate TWU’s approach, so I am doubtful as to how useful such evaluations are. If TWU has been positively evaluated in other ways, I would be glad to know about them. I have said I would gladly accept an invitation to go to TWU and see for myself, but so far no one has invited me.

      As for moral relativism, I know of no university dedicated to promoting the idea of relativism as part of its expressed mission. Indeed, I doubt that even the most dedicated post-modernists would support moral relativism on all issues. You’d be hard pressed, for instance, to find any scholar at a Canadian university prepared to argue that raping a child is wrong only because of social convention. If you know of any, please let me know. I’m sure the TWU folks would enjoy calling them names for a while.

      But even if relativism was the norm at secular universities, Christianity is not the only non-relativist position. And even if it was, it would not, in my view, be a satisfying alternative. I’ll take relative truth over absolute falsehood any day.

  52. If the goal of TWU is to engage in the same level of academic investigation as a secular university, then why does it exist at all?

    Isn’t the point to limit the scope in some way? Either you want to give full assessment to the wide diversity of opinions that is out there or you don’t. TWU clearly, on some level, does not, for even if it claims to encourage much more academic freedom than its statements of faith and codes of conduct would imply, those documents immediately exclude from the discourse anyone who would never sign or write such a thing.

    The students who went to my Christian high school–a school whose graduates populate the corridors of TWU–would also have claimed that our school was completely open to alternative opinions. In reality, nothing could have been further from the truth. The questions we “wrestled with” involved trying to reconcile the complexities of life with the Christian worldview. There was no effort to analyze situations from other viewpoints or to ask questions that, in the asking, challenged Christian beliefs. Indeed the “tough questions” if I may use Daniel Reynolds’ words, would not be considered tough to a person weighing all interpretations equally. Rather, they were “tough” because they asked students to contend with the reality that Christianity sometimes contradicts common sense morality.

    Certainly there are secular versions of this same type of reasoning, in which academics attempt to fit new learning into a predetermined worldview. However, in neither case does this represent honest academic inquiry.

    Part of the point of education is to expand and adapt one’s worldview, whatever it may be, to an increasingly complex understanding of reality. While faith is no barrier to this, a willingness to change one’s faith in the face of new learning is.

    Prohibiting certain representatives of the world’s complexity from finding their way into an institution–because they do no conform to a predetermined statement of faith–is antithetical to this process of learning.

    And I believe it shows in the postings from TWU faculty here in the comments section.

    “The Enlightenment ideal of progress through human reason crumbled in the wake of two devastating world wars,” writes Kelsey Haskett. Yes, and wars fought over Christianity devastated Northern Ireland. No worldview has a monopoly on either deliverance or devastation, but Haskett, like so many of the people I went to high school with, thinks nothing of citing history selectively in order to support her belief in hers. This is not academic investigation. It is dogma.

  53. Dear Todd, No university may be officially “post-modern”, but that is their world view nonetheless. More importantly, that is the evil nonsense they teach their students.

    You may be correct that no Canadian professor (so far) has claimed child rape is morally right. Many (most ?) seem to think the rapist needs counseling or treatment however, rather than declaring their actions evil. Movement in that direction seems to be increasing in our society.

    In any case, despite your numerous attempts at clever sophistry, the central issue is can Christians be trusted to pursue and follow the evidence and proclaim truth despite “their faith”.

    May I suggest that academic freedom, as well as the North American universities that proclaim it are the product of Christian thought and action. Perhaps you should read a politically incorrect history for a change. You could start with “The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success” by Rodney Stark.

  54. Pingback: Should religious universities force staff to sign a Statement of Faith? Canadians don’t think so

  55. The unfortunate thing about universities teaching a secular fundamentalist doctrine is that this sort of ignorance regarding faith will exist and continue to grow.

    If I have faith that my credit card will be accepted, the plane I am on will get me to where I am going safely, or that a chair will take my weight, is that the “blind” faith the writer so ludicrously describes?

    No, it is based on evidence, reason, and experience. That is the Christian faith. Secular institutions teach a one-sided perspective, one could argue is purposefully designed to prepare devout secularists for the future. Is that free thinking?

  56. re-reading this article really has me scratching my head. Does the writer really believe that the recent 80 million plus Christians in China who are committed to suffering presecution from the atheist state, or the Christians around the world being beheaded and burned are believing a Greek fable that will soon fizzle out?

    Their faith is very real, as is God. It is a relationship with a real, living Saviour. Don’t allow your own inability to recognize this cloud your thinking. If you have sat in secular institution all your life pandering to atheist Profs, read the liberal press, and had only secular friends you are the result of the very thing you are trying to express your contempt for – a biased, slef congratulating bubble.

  57. “It is a relationship with a real, living Saviour. Don’t allow your own inability to recognize this cloud your thinking.”

    Lol… priceless. “Dont let the fact that you see no evidence for religious assertions cause you to dismiss them as bunk”.

    That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

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