TWU in its own words: special no-straw edition -

TWU in its own words: special no-straw edition

By Trinity Western University’s own admission, it takes many of the big questions of life as already answered.


My previous post was accused of portraying religious scholars as straw men, an accusation levelled at me by faculty and alumni of Trinity Western University itself.

Related: Academic freedom at Trinity Western. Also see: The end of the religious university? And: Christian universities are necessary.

In response, I have compiled the following, from TWU’s own website, explaining its views on education. There, TWU makes gestures towards openness, but those gestures are constantly contradicted by statements indicating that many of the answers to life’s most important questions have already been provided and no new answers are needed or possible. Consider (emphasis mine):

“Both individually and corporately Trinity Western wholeheartedly embraces all the Bible teaches in regard to faith, ethical commitments, and way of life, believing it to be the ultimate standard of truth and hope.”

“We base our teaching and scholarship on revealed truth, and encourage our students to consider carefully the basic worldview tenets of a biblical Christian faith.”

[TWU’s philosophy] “ invites students to consider and embrace evangelical Christian faith. One goal of our mission is to develop thoroughly Christian minds.”

“Distinctive Christian approaches are usually more evident in the humanities than in the natural sciences. But even for the latter we are engaged in faith-based learning.”

“Faith-based and faith-affirming learning intends to lead students to know God and His world.”

“We believe the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, to be the inspired Word of God, without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for the salvation of men, and the Divine and final authority for all Christian faith and life.”

“The Bible is sourced in God in a unique way that cannot be said of other literature. As a final, finished product the biblical scriptures are “without error” and can be relied on with full confidence as an authoritative guide to Gods message of salvation and the manner of living appropriate for Christian people.”

“Scripture will be of little value if it does not govern how we live out our lives both as individuals and as a corporate body. Therefore we gladly embrace it not only for our doctrinal commitments, but also for our daily lives.”

“Therefore, the faculty and staff of Trinity Western University strive to encourage confidence in the authority of the Bible and respect for its beauty, truth, and unique and divine character. We deplore an indoctrination approach that discourages authentic investigation, but we are satisfied that the truth of the Scriptures can meet any challenge.”

“Increasingly we are facing a ‘crisis of authority’ in every area of society which has resulted in a breakdown in such areas as government, business, educational institutions, the family, and even in the church. In contrast to this approach, our loyalty to Scripture requires us to reject the assumption that there is no absolute truth to which human beings must submit.

general knowledge in itself is not sufficient to lead to salvation. That is why we need a verbal divine utterance by which God not only supplements our knowledge of the created order, but by which he also corrects our interpretation of it. Thankfully, God has given us such an authoritative Word in Scripture, the ‘complete revelation of His will for the salvation of human beings.’

So, to summarize, TWU welcomes open debate on all subjects except the following:

  • Is there a God? [yes]
  • If there is, what is the nature of God? [see Bible]
  • Does the Bible have any special status? [yes]
  • Are all religions equally valid? [no]
  • Are there parts of the bible that are immoral such as its denigration of women or its endorsement of slavery? [no]
  • Where did the universe come from? [God]
  • How did life begin? [God]
  • How does one live a moral life? [see Bible]
  • What is a meaningful life? [see Bible]
  • Can we fully understand the world through experience and reason? [no]
  • Is there such a thing as truth? [yes]
  • What is truth? [see Bible]

While I am sure that on an individual level, TWU has many fine faculty members doing good work, I cannot see how, in general, a student can pursue a skeptical, open-minded course of study on these vital questions when the university itself proclaims these questions to have been settled. Similarly, I cannot see how a student who submits an essay questioning, say, the existence of God could be graded fairly given the ideological framework of the university.

To be sure, all professors have biases and ideology, but when an institution deliberately sets out to ensure that all faculty have the same biases and ideologies, it drastically reduces the opportunity for real intellectual growth, the opportunity afforded to students who are exposed to conflicting points of view on the most important questions that face us.


TWU in its own words: special no-straw edition

  1. The following quotation is an interesting claim from Todd Pettigrew about Todd Pettigrew:

    “…I cannot see how, in general, a student can pursue a skeptical, open-minded course of study on these vital questions when the university itself proclaims these questions to have been settled. Similarly, I cannot see how a student who submits an essay questioning, say, the existence of God could be graded fairly given the ideological framework of the university.”

    But Mr Pettigrew’s self-reporting about what he can and cannot see has no descriptive value with respect to how TWU actually functions.


    Myron A. Penner
    Assistant Professor of Philosophy
    Trinity Western University

  2. Professor Pettigrew,

    That you cannot fathom how a university operating from a confessional stance would approach the topics you raise is not evidence in your favour – it is merely your unsubstantiated opinion. Are you aware that TWU does not require its students to sign the statement of faith? We welcome students from all religious or non-religious perspectives. Do you seriously think we respond to student questions on these topics with “God said it so that settles it, no discussion permitted”? Please. Before you proclaim that TWU is not worthy of the title “university” it would behoove you to do a little research. After all, you say yourself that assertion without evidence or citation is worthy of the red pen. Lucky for you your words are not on my desk for grading.

    Dennis Venema
    Associate Professor and Chair,
    Department of Biology
    Trinity Western University

  3. Mr. Pettigrew.

    My son attended Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, and I can assure you, they have biases there where God is concerened. To many of my son’s professors, God doesn’t exist and therefore if my son stated he did, he was wrong. He wrote a paper on Darwinism as a religion and received a failing grade. The comment “religious diatribe” was placed, in red ink no less, right above the F. Of course, my son was allowed to make changes and take certain references out, if he wanted a passing grade. It seems Darwinism is not up for grabs, yet Creation is. Hmmmm!

    Main stream universities are indeed open minded forums for most types of thinking, unless you choose to defend a Christian perspective. Again, my daughter encountered similar ignorance from professors at the University of Waterloo. So please, Mr. Pettigrew, while you are slamming TWU for being honest about their stance on God, you should also slam secular universities for their hidden bias against God. Which is worse?

    Susan Stark

  4. Prof. Pettigrew, after expressing my alarm at your notion that essay grading reflects the degree to which the instructor agrees with the student, allow me help you overcome your self-confessed inability to see: My rubrics consider neither conformity nor regurgitation, but coherence of argument, engagement with opposing views in the academic literature, nuancing of positions, depth of thought, etc. I have given grades ranging from A+ to F for papers with which I agree, and grades ranging from A+ to F for papers which which I disagree.

    Arnold E. Sikkema, PhD
    Associate Professor of Physics
    Trinity Western University

  5. Prof Pettigrew,

    You state that you “cannot see how, in general, a student can pursue a skeptical, open-minded course of study on these vital questions” at TWU. I can tell you for a fact that your imagination has failed you on this point.

    I am an alumnus of TWU. I came from what could be considered a fundamentalist Christian background, and I had my views of religion challenged thoroughly and intelligently during my studies at the University. Many of my friends at TWU graduated as agnostics or atheists after examining their beliefs in the light of their studies. Some may be appalled at the idea of a “Christian University” having this result. I see it as a sign that it’s doing its job brilliantly. It’s making people consider learning and life thoroughly, and its leaving them open to personally choose how they transform themselves and their lives in light of what they discover. For me, TWU’s strength was the sheer bravery of intellectual and religious honesty the faculty display in their teaching and scholarship.

    To take your list as an example, during my time as a student I was encouraged to:

    1. Question whether there was a (G)god

    2. Debate vigorously whether the Bible had any special status (with no predetermined conclusion)

    3. Be open to the idea of all religions have equal validity

    4. Thoroughly consider the ethical questions provoked by parts of the Bible (I even gave an open-ended film presentation on the issue of genocide in the Old Testament)

    5. Study the origins of the universe in a purely scientific manner in my science classes (yes, we studied evolution). And as an added bonus, I had the option to discuss the many philosophical and theological questions this study provoked in me in my humanities classes, freely, openly and with a liberating lack of predetermined or assumed answers.

    6. Question how life began (see above).

    7. Openly discuss and debate what it means to live a moral and meaningful life, with no conclusions forced upon me from a religious standpoint.

    8. Consider the possibility of understanding the world only through reason or experience (There’s a considerable philosophy component to a liberal arts degree. If you do your homework, you’ll entertain these ideas.)

    9. Debate the idea of absolute truth, question and discuss the nature of truth.

    I hope you do visit TWU, with as open a mind as the professors who teach there.

    Veronica Collins
    TWU Alumnus ’06

  6. talk about a slap in the face article for anyone who attended or attends Trinity.

  7. Prof. Pettigrew,

    As an alumnus, I too was encouraged to examine all of these issues which you have said were off limits.
    I think the rub is that in our Interdisciplinary courses, we were taught that while we hold sacred the tenets of Christian doctrine (or whatever) we acknowledge that by doing so, we are adopting a particular (and often within TWU varied) interpretive stance. It is just such an application of the reality of postmodernism that allows a Christian intellectual to suggest that there is such a thing as Truth, but also that you and I have a different ground from which we see that ‘object’. Professors at TWU were dogmatic in their pursuit of honest scholarship, not of blind faith or narrow, false questioning.

    I have attended two post-secondary institutions since my time at TWU, and while studying in the MA program at Laurentian University, I found that my professors who were openly hostile to faith in general and Christianity specifically were intellectually and pedagogically weak, because they did not know where their epistemological or interpretive framework was. In fact, two specific professors were working on research that revealed they did not have solid interpretive ground, and they were searching for it. And they taught interpretation. Other professors who held to a particular faith were aware of their assumptions and taught well, from their perspective. If your PhD and tenure is founded on the search for an interpretive framework, how can you teach your students anything except that there really is nothing to hold on to. Except maybe material reality.
    If one is able to admit and observe their own bias, doesn’t that bode well for any research they engage in? One of the main lessons I was taught at TWU was that we all have a particular interpretive framework, and as long as we can recognize that, we will be better able to articulate for ourselves and others whatever it is we are saying.

    Further, where I currently study, at UVIC, the student’s society is so narrow minded that they have withheld funding for a pro-life group, based on the fact that they are pro-life. To suggest that secular universities promote unrestrained intellectual freedom is a farce, as is evidenced by my brilliant colleagues here in Victoria.

    David Pasivirta
    TWU Alumnus ’04

  8. Prof Pettigrew,

    As a student currently attending this University, I find your biased summary ABSOLUTELY absurd. However, since it is coming from your unsubstantiated opinion… I expect nothing else. Not once have I been told that my opinion is not welcome, especially if I question my beliefs. It is the opposite. An engaging conversation between student, class, and professor occurs; rather than simply being told “No, It is only this [Insert Biblical Reference] way.” I think you need to do a bit of research before you attempt to Shout out your thoughts.

    Nice try though…

  9. Mr. Pettigew,

    I’m so glad to see that you have at least made a minimum effort this time in acquiring so called ‘evidence’ to back your theory on a student’s inability to fully develop a ‘skeptical, open mind’ at TWU. It’s clear that the educational instructors at Trinity Western had quite an effect on you, hence the need to issue a new article on the matter. Perhaps the intellectual response was more than you initially bargained for. Regardless, the follow up article was not only delightfully amusing but also extremely intriguing.

    I first want to thank you for writing these articles. It’s an excellent reminder of the ignorance that still exists in the world regarding faith and education. It appears from your articles that consider yourself to be somewhat of an expert on TWU’s education system. Would that be assuming too much? I do apologize if it does. Let’s say for arguments sake you are. Then as an expert you would have attended any number of Religious Studies and Philosophy classes in which the topics often ranged from Plato to modern art, correct? You would have sat through numerous discussions on different theories of how the world was formed, as well as the relationship between historical and biblical events, right?

    Now Mr. Pettigrew, I will not now, or ever claim to be an expert on this subject, in fact my focus was mainly on kinesiology and theatre. However, I DID attend the university as well as a number of classes in both Philosophy and Religious Studies, and I can tell you from PERSONAL experience that the only ‘close-mindedness’ I experienced or saw, was in the faces of my secular friends back home anytime I mentioned Christianity.

    In all honesty I admire you courage to write so boldly on a subject you clearly know so very little about. To blindly walk so such a strong perceptive with very little evidence as to the truth behind it… One might say your actions almost mimic the very thing you appear to be fighting.


    Pamela Sukut
    TWU Alumi ‘09

  10. Mr. Pettigrew,

    I graduated from TWU in 2008 with a B.A. in Biblical Studies. I entered into these studies as an evangelical Christian and supported the statement of faith of TWU. Through my rigorous study of the Bible at Trinity Western University (which involved the acquisition of Greek and Hebrew, thorough historical-critical analysis and debate in a free and open academic environment), I became an atheist. Now, this was in no way the intent of TWU, but I think it provides an argument against your assertions. At no point was my faith position ever a concern, and in fact I was able to engage in meaningful religious and academic dialogue with both professors and peers at TWU (and also be an editor at the student newspaper) with no concern that my particular ideology would prevent me from attaining the knowledge and grades I worked to achieve.

    I think you are fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of education at TWU. While the institution itself is dedicated to certain faith principles, those said faith principles do not alter the either the knowledge itself or the way that the knowledge is acquired, it merely alters the way that people integate said knowledge into their concept of the world.

    Mr. Pettigrew, your current position is baseless in reality, I hope you will eventually come to see that.

    Best regards,

    Logan Fidler
    TWU Alum ’08

  11. Dear Mr. Pettigrew,

    I’m a student sitting in my biology professor’s class, but he informed us about this article. You’ve made it next to impossible for me to pay attention to the non-religious lecture he is giving us on protein structure. Your ignorance was just too hard not to pay attention to, sir.

    I’m in my second year at Trinity Western University, and I’m, frankly, offended by your article. You have made many assumptions about TWU students, faculty, and staff that are irresponsible in their nature because of your lack of investigation. I would like to know how many students you have talked to that are unaware that they are being “subjected” to the “biases and ideologies” of professors and faculty. We come here by choice, and I know of students that struggle with their faith while attending TWU just based on the challenges aimed toward each of our beliefs that are presented within our classes.

    I have never, in my life, experienced such an open discussion of ecumenical dialogue, along with interreligious discussions (Atheism and Agnosticism included), that challenge each contributor to thoughtfully consider all options and either reinforce, reject, or revise their original views. Outside of the environment provided by TWU, I often find that theological discussions end up with two people simply “agreeing to disagree” instead of unpacking the gravity of the questions they are working through and reaching some sort of clarity that satisfies both contributors.

    The best part about Trinity Western University is that students are capable of questioning their faith, discussing their disagreements, and addressing secular and religious worldviews in a safe environment with knowledge that there will not be any ramifications from staff and faculty. The most encouraged “bias” I’ve encountered in my courses here is that students should be intentionally questioning their faith on a regular basis.

    Something that Trinity Western University offers to me, that I doubt any university that prescribes to the secular religion could or would, is the ability to critically explore my faith and use resources that will allow me to integrate my faith into everyday interactions. The fact that this right is required to be provided for secular society (and their lack of faith) on a regular basis should be reason enough for you to allow me to use resources that are going to strengthen my opinion.

    I sincerely hope that you are not trying to suggest that using education to strengthen and challenge one’s views is out of line. Or are you? My own personal views differ in one way or another from each and every professor I have taken a course from, but to know that they have some sort of Christian viewpoint that I can call upon while struggling with solidifying my own is much more comforting than the idea of bringing a faith-based question to a secular professor that may openly degrade my faith.

    As a liberal arts institution, Trinity Western University recognizes the necessity for students to receive a well-rounded perspective on society and requires students to take specific courses that facilitate this type of holistic knowledge. Instead of avoiding anything that challenges our faith, TWU directly addresses each situation and challenges its students and professors to critically think through the arguments presented and come to a conclusion that uses reason and research to back up our thoughts. It seems to me that the less informed and more closed-minded demographic in this sense is the one that you represent. If you were to utilize the extensive research that students and professors use at TWU, or if you engaged in an open-minded dialogue with anyone from TWU, you might find that the ideas and skeptical attitudes of secular society are fully indulged and critically analyzed here, even though you claim they are ignored at TWU.

    I can tell you that, last semester, I wrote a case study for my “Theories of Personality” course (Psychology 301) and fully indulged myself in the theories that Freud developed. This was highly encouraged by my professor, and I found myself seeing a lot of validity in Freud’s observations, despite his being a psychologist that could easily be identified as one that does not follow Christian ideals. I was then encouraged to critically assess Freud’s theories and see how I could apply my faith to what I found through my research and objective observations of Freud.

    If you could find me a university that had a different plan of teaching that would apply more directly to my lifestyle, I would be very surprised.

    Thank you for offering me with the opportunity to seriously consider the reasons I’ve chosen my Christian university. I can say that I feel much more fortunate than my brother (who attended the University of Washington in Seattle) in that I am able to integrate a, as you called it, “vital” part of my life into every single day of my education.

    God bless!

    Nathan Tedrow
    Psychology Major
    Class of ‘12
    Vice President of Student Relations for the Student Association
    Trinity Western University

  12. Professor Pettigrew,

    First let me say that I appreciate what you’ve done here — you’ve used TWUs own statements about itself to support your criticisms. If I were to read those statements without any other knowledge of TWU, I would probably draw some of the same conclusions.

    That said, I do have to second the comments from my fellow alumni. I spent 6 years doing undergraduate and graduate coursework at TWU in the field of biblical studies. If any department at an evangelical university were to resemble the doctrinaire portrait you’ve painted (with the aid of the university’s own statements), one would expect it to be the religious studies department. In my time there I never found that to be the case. In class discussion and in my research papers I was able to question the tenets of evangelical Christianity without repercussion. My classes at TWU provided me with a safe environment where I could seriously and critically examine and challenge the sacred texts of my faith tradition without fear. That is something I am incredibly grateful for.

    Professor Pettigrew, while I disagree with much of what you’ve been writing, I do think you’re bringing up some very important questions, and I thank you for that. Some of the issues you’ve raised should not be as quickly (or as harshly!) dismissed as they have been. I hope that future TWU commentators on your work will show you a little more grace . . .

    I’m sure your articles will help fuel the ongoing conversations regarding faith and reason, academic freedom, and the nature of the university within the TWU community. If at all possible I’d encourage you to visit TWU, chat with the professors, talk with the students, and get a feel for the culture of the campus. I think you’ll find that many of the university’s official statements (like the ones you quoted above) don’t adequately capture the complexities of the TWU community.

    James Hamrick
    TWU ‘06

  13. Todd Pettigrew has such a heavy opinion on something he doesn’t even know

  14. I have taught at TWU for over a decade, and at a public university part time for five.

    I have never had any issue taken by management with anything I have said at TWU. However I was spoken to about something I said at the public university, entirely related to the fact that the student did not like the fact I was a Christian. Apparently academic freedom does not exist anywhere, particularly if it exercised by a religious person.

    I would sign my name, but I am afraid of losing my side job, I need it, religious freedom does not come with a large salary at TWU.

  15. Since so much has been said in rebuttal to my posts on this topic, I feel as though a few extra thoughts might be worthwhile.

    First, the points I have been making have primarily been about what I see as a conflict between religion and my own ideas of what a university ought to be. I have been careful to avoid personal attacks — though not all my readers have done likewise. And while the situation with CAUT and TWU spurred my original post, my interest there was in the larger issue of religion and education, not with TWU specifically. I addressed TWU in particular in this post because I was attacked before for not dealing with the real case. But I was careful to indicate that I was not talking about individual instructors but rather the institutional philosophy(a point that seems to have been overlooked).

    Second, as many of my OnCampus colleagues are often obliged to point out, this is not an article and I am not a news reporter. It’s a blog. It’s opinion. It’s personal.

    Third, I still feel that few if any have addressed my main points directly. For one: how can the emphasis that religion places on revelation and faith be squared with the rational processes of academic inquiry? For another: how can a university contend that it seeks to promote open and liberal inquiry while at the same time declaring that it already has the answers?

    The most common response has been an appeal to what academic life at TWU is really like, whatever the official documents say. According to commenters, students, in actual fact, are encouraged to keep an open mind about God and the Bible. So yes, I really would like to stop in a TWU and hear more. Though I have a feeling what I think constitutes open-minded might be different than what most of the commenters do. And I was heartened to hear that at least one student felt free enough to become an atheist while at TWU. But if these commenters are a fair sample, it suggests that professors are widely ignoring the official positions of the university. That is, they seem to feel that their duties as scholars trumps their duty to their institution. Thus they do not insist that the Bible is necessarily inerrant, or that it is the ultimate source of truth. I gather that they do not see it as their jobs to make Christians out of their students or keep them in the faith, despite what their university’s various statements might say. In short, their practice tacitly acknowledges what I have been contending all along. That at the end of the day, you can’t provide a sound university education on religious principles. Not even TWU is doing it.

    In the original post, a TWU faculty member asked me whether I would allow Erasmus to teach at my university. Of course I would, if it were up to me. But I can’t help but notice that he could not say the same about, say, Aristotle who, as a pagan, could not teach at TWU. Nor could Rumi, or Bertrand Russell, or Albert Einstein, or Ghandi, or the Dalai Lama. Or, for that matter, me (I’m not saying I’m Einstein, but I have my moments).

    Which brings us back to the statement of faith for professors. If the aim is NOT to curtail free inquiry, why exclude from faculty everyone who doesn’t hold to your viewpoint? Put another way, why isn’t opposition to the statement of faith coming from within Trinity Western?

  16. Todd

    You start with two base assumptions – that all religions are equally valid (which is questionable since many say things directly contrary to one another) and that the bible is essentially flawed and contrary to reason and truth

    if you assume those things, then of course basing a school on it would seem horrible, yet you offer no evidence to support these assumptions, and in doing so makes the same error you believe you are arguing against

  17. To address every one of Professor Pettigrew’s points would prove tiresome to the brave soul’s slogging through the comments section, so I will restrict myself to a few comments. I hope that Mr. Pettigrew will take a moment to consider them, but they are mainly directed at those who have taken the trouble to read his recent posts on religion, and remain on the fence as to the viability of the Christian University.

    The first point is rather simple: within the Western tradition, the university began as a profoundly Christian endeavor, dedicated to understanding the nature of God’s creation. While many universities have secularized since their foundation, the pursuit of higher learning in the West was, from its inception, wedded to Christianity. Galieo, Kepler, and Newton, to give only a few examples, were all profoundly religious men who sought to glorify God through their work. While it can be argued that higher education has tended away from Christianity, to argue that the two are antithetical is disingenuous and is soundly refuted by even a cursory glance at the history of education.

    The second point is that, either by accident or design, Professor Pettigrew has confused both different understandings of truth and the concepts of formal and efficient causation. It requires no great imagination to grasp that the truth revealed in the bible is of a different sort than, for example, the truth of gravity’s existence. Christians are not required to assert that God is pushing objects down with an invisible hand. To imply that Christians are required to answer every question only through reference to the Bible is absurd, and I am sure that the professor knows it.

    A look at one of Prof. Pettigrew’s questions also reveals his misunderstanding of different forms of causation. Yes, a Christian would assert that God created life. They might go even further and assert that God was the formal cause, and that, as far as we know, the efficient cause is evolution. I am sure that the professor knows better than to imply that the Christian answer to every question is that ‘God did it’, and is simply overreaching in order to score as many points as possible.

    As a final point, it is worth noting that despite Prof. Pettigrew’s take on the statement of faith, passages such as this:

    “Therefore, the faculty and staff of Trinity Western University strive to encourage confidence in the authority of the Bible and respect for its beauty, truth, and unique and divine character. We deplore an indoctrination approach that discourages authentic investigation, but we are satisfied that the truth of the Scriptures can meet any challenge.”

    do not state that the Bible cannot be questioned. Read in the correct light, it actively encourages that questioning, as it affirms that the Bible is capable of meeting the challenge.

    All inquiry begins from first principles, whether stated or implicit. Professor Pettigrew appears to disagree with those of TWU, which is fine, but his misreading of the statement of faith and the lack of effort in his critique of Christian education is unworthy of a serious academic.

  18. I’ve seen much greater evidence of “open-mindedness” from Trinity professors than the school I transferred from the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba. I hold Asper in high regard.

    I found a well argued opinion in opposition to a professor’s to receive harsher criticism at Asper (not related to faith). I’ve strongly disagreed with many professors at Trinity, where more professors will remember me as a pain in the ass than at U of M, and have done well. Or poorly. Either way, I’ve never felt intimidated or “evil” for bringing up an opinion or thought that goes against the professor or school. Ironically, I didn’t feel as free to disagree in Winnipeg (related or unrelated to faith). Professors have give me a good grades followed by “I guess you’re lucky your argued that well. Good case, though I personally disagree”

    Before anybody stretches to assume that this means TWU hands out good grades, consider that my gpa dropped from 3.5 at U of M to 3.0 at TWU (don’t tell my parents), despite trying harder. Then I could mention the good academic record at TWU.

    This all could be just my experience, and nobody else’s. But I never felt forced to subscribe or believe any faith at TWU. I was challenged, and encouraged, but never was my freedom encroached. And I use that freedom well.


  19. Hi Todd,

    Previous snark on my part aside, thanks for the willingness to dialogue on these issues. I am glad to hear that you feel you’re not making personal shots, although I think your comments such as “no one in their right mind” would sign TWU’s Statement of Faith did come across as personal and caustic.

    As a working prof at TWU in a department that deals with subject matter often of concern to evangelicals, let me try to answer these questions you raise:

    “… I still feel that few if any have addressed my main points directly. For one: how can the emphasis that religion places on revelation and faith be squared with the rational processes of academic inquiry? ”

    Your question seems to play reason and faith against one another. I suspect you view reason and faith as something of polar opposites. This need not be the case, however, if one holds that faith and reason are both to be pursued to their fullest – i.e. that it is never acceptable to short change reason using “faith” as a mental cop-out. The motivation for this “both and” vs an “either or” approach is the conviction that reason is a God-given means to investigate the natural world. If all truth is God’s truth, then faith has nothing to fear from reason, nor reason from faith.

    “For another: how can a university contend that it seeks to promote open and liberal inquiry while at the same time declaring that it already has the answers?”

    My first comment on this one is that you also seem confident that you have your final answer – some form of relativism as others have commented on. You also seem confident enough in this answer to claim that my institution has no right to be called a university. I don’t say this as a “tu quoque!” but merely to point out that we all teach with certain assumptions. At my alma mater, those assumptions were seldom, if ever, disclosed openly. At TWU we are quite open about the perspective we teach from.

    A second comment would be that there is a world of difference between someone who blindly accepts a position statement and one who holds that same position having been exposed to other ways of thinking and having wrestled with the difficult questions. Again, the outcome for the student is not mandated or prescribed: anything less than fully honest inquiry, whether in biology class or in religious studies, would be a hindrance to faith, for in that case it would not be faith fully informed by, nor sharpened with, the gift of reason.

    Hopefully that’s both a gentler, and more informative, answer.



    Dennis Venema
    Associate Professor and Chair
    Department of Biology, TWU

  20. Wow. Long responses. Too long, didn’t read! Maybe I can summarize?

    An atheist thinks the world just happened.
    A Christian thinks an invisible sky wizard with a zombie son did it.

    A university dedicated to the sole pursuit to confirm one or the other is pointless. Correct?

  21. As a non-Christian currently finishing up an honors Undergrad degree in Developmental Biology, I have enjoyed more religious freedom of expression and intelligent directed religious discussion here than at any other institution I’ve studied in, and TWU has been my first “religious” institution. Personally I’ve found TWU students and profs’ concentrated lack of religious apathy most refreshing.

    Futhermore, maybe since I’m in sciences mostly this whole Philosophical side of this debate affects me less, though I must say the branding of TWU as fundamentalist or close-minded smacks more of stereotyping and rush-judgments more worthy of Family Guy than of an intelligent evaluation. I may not agree with all that TWU supposedly stands for, but that hasn’t stopped me from pursuing whatever I want to know about to the very best this school has to offer.

  22. Prof. 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.

  23. Well done Steve, you’ve impressed us all with your excessive brilliance. Bravo. Maybe Professor Pettigrew would let you write as a guest in his blog sometime! I’ll put in a good word if he requires a reference, as I’m certain you share the same gift of logical reasoning.

  24. It amazes me how the question of religion so often makes people turn malicious. With the exception of a few, there are a remarkable number of personal attacks directed at DOCTOR Pettigrew (again, as I commented on the previous blog covering this topic, Dr Pettigrew has long ago obtained his PhD after much hard work and should thus be addressed as such). Maybe all you out there making this personal should be asking yourselves how you’re helping your point, if all you can do to defend it is make mean-spirited, very UNCHRISTIAN comments rather than making reasoned arguments?

  25. Stephanie, I apologize that you unfortunately read several comments that were in fact emotional responses and lacked reasoned arguments. I suppose this is always an issue with attempting discussion over the internet – intention and meaning can sometimes be lost through a lack of tone and body-language.

    However, if you were to look at the majority of the comments posted, you would note well thought and well reasoned answers which have successfully refuted and/or defended the points that Dr. Pettigrew has made.

    On the other hand, you should note that the article is signed by a “Todd Pettigrew” and in fact does not denote his doctoral degree. It may simply be a case of responders lacking this information.

    I submit to you that while many posts and comments on the internet may indeed evoke strong emotional response, it is in our best interest to brush it off and simply add well-thought feedback to the discussion.

    Ironically, I have yet to respond to the article, but I believe that my responses to Dr. Pettigrew can be summed up in the recent comments by Caleb Ratzlaff or Dr. Venema.

    Spencer Andres
    Current TWU student

  26. First, I would like to second Stephanie’s comments. Second, I commented on the previous post prior to reading this and would like to reiterate my first comment (especially after reading some of the universities documents). In spite of many of the TWU’s faulty and alumni comments that TWU is a place where one obtains an outstanding liberal arts education, the university philosophies contradict this. Specifically, they speak more to the certainty of a maintained status quo than to various beliefs and values being pursued (or supported). I would also like to touch on a point made by Dr. Pettigrew concerning his likeness of the “freeness” that some students (and possibly faculty members) have felt in expressing views seemingly contradictory to the universities philosophies. Here’s the problem with the argument “even though it seems like our philosophy says this_____our faculty actually teach this _______ and our students actually learn this _________. In times of public disagreement, a university administration will vehemently defend it’s policies (and philosophies) in a manner that protects and benefits the university-not its faculty and students. There are no shortage of cases in universities where professors have lost their jobs and students have been required to withdraw for making statements contradictory to the universities philosophies. Thus, how could anyone feel “free” at TWU(or another university requiring a statement of faith) to disagree or offer a contradictory opinion in the face of such a one-sided philosophy?

  27. Prof. Pettigrew

    I’d firstly like to point out a few corrections in your little scenario from your previous blog!

    1.) One of the qualifications of being a teacher is the ability to grade assignments! Teachers do not discuss and deliberate the grades that a student deserves on an assignment with God—it’s really a waste of time, why not talk to him about more interesting things. I mean how often does one get the chance to talk to God ;)
    2.) Many rational teachers do not use red pens for marking anymore because it can be found offensive to the person’s work! It’s a phenomenon growing within the educational system, but I’m sure you knew that because you know so much about educational institutions right ;)

    The reason that I wanted to point out some flaws in your little scenario is that for someone as educated such as yourself, you really could’ve chosen a better scenario than one so absurdly pathetic and filled with flaws. Your opinions, which you are entitled to have, are quite disappointing, which was of no surprise to me because of your previous accusations and debatable arguments launched against TWU. You do not really have much that you’re basing your arguments on. Perhaps a proper deconstruction of your critique is in order:

    I’m a second year university student pursing a double Major in Philosophy and Political Science, and, to your surprise, I am one of the many students here that is not a Christian. As a matter of fact, I’m a devout Muslim believer, and I fully support TWU as an institution that educates ambitious students in a liberal arts education.

    I would like to turn your attention to one of the quotes that you have attempted to manipulate so beautifully:
    “We base our teaching and scholarship on revealed truth, and encourage our students to consider carefully the basic worldview tenets of a biblical Christian faith.”

    –Not to force, but to send a suggestion. This means there is room for other consideration like the ones you have on your own! It’s an option and an opinion, it is not a must have!!

    TWU is open to all kinds of debates, and I am the living proof of it—I debate and question everything all the time with everyone, and so far I haven’t been kicked out! Why? Perhaps it is because I live in a tolerant environment that recognizes my views, respectively, as my opinion, as I do theirs. And this may bring some peace to your mind that there is opposition to the statement of faith coming from within Trinity Western, one of those oppositions would be me! And yet for some odd reason I am loved by many Christians despite being that opposition against their faith statement. Funny eh?

    In short, your intentions maybe noble when trying to differentiate between a bible-thumping church and an institution where free thinking is most definitely allowed and encouraged in all classrooms! I guess you’ve just pick the wrong university to insult.

    Nevertheless, I appreciate the debate that you have brought to our attention and I truly hope that you have the opportunity to come to our campus and experience that we can offer you!

    May Allah bless us all,

    Asiba Naibkhil

  28. Stephanie, what is offensive here? What is Unchristian? At trinity we are taught to challenge and question each other constructively so we can all benefit together. Like Dr. Spencer said on another post, Dr. Pettigrew is an academic, he can take the heat, he is very able to defend himself. I think we should read all comments made and do some reflection here, some great comments have been made!

  29. It is illogical to move from a professor having beliefs to their inability to mark papers that disagree with them. My professors hold credentials from mainstream universities; they have the same education as professors from UBC or SFU. I know I am evaluated on the strength of my arguments and analysis because my professors are not lobbyists. They promote dialogue… they are professors! I have taken courses such as “Reason and Belief in God” and “Suffering and Belief in God.” We studied the strengths and weaknesses of arguments from both sides.

    I don’t understand how people can claim “truth is relative.” This is like saying there are absolutely no absolutes. You are claiming a contradiction.

    TWU student

  30. Stephanie and Jessi,

    Yes, he’s a doctor. I’m sure he worked hard. That phd doesn’t give somebody the right to publicly trample on an entire school population on unfounded grounds. There is a prejudice in the Dr.’s words that does not reflect the intentions of higher education. Common decency was tossed aside. Just because we’re Christian doesn’t mean that we A) have to like what he’s saying or B) Shut up and keep our feelings inside. I’m surprised that you’re surprised that TWU is so bothered by such harmful depiction.

    The reactions from TWU staff and students are much milder than the implications made by Dr. Pettigrew, so I think “malice” is the wrong word here. In fact, one could argue that this entire article is laced with a hidden malice, but it would be a stretch to confidently make such an allegation, so I’ll refrain. Not that many reading this blog weren’t thinking so already. And if you want to talk about respect, you might as well request him to rewrite this entire piece. Do you realize how one-sided your demand for respect is?

    If you claim that we are being mean-spirited, I can refer you to Maruschla’s comments. Or the Dr.’s (again, cannot claim that with certainty). Read the professors’ responses. They are rational and well constructed, articulately addressing Dr. Pettigrew’s opinions.

    It seems that you two are frustrated to discover that we don’t let anyone just walk over us. You guys may not be Christians and that’s fine, but I’ll assume both of you would proclaim you subscribe to “common decency”. There was nothing decent or professional about how TWU’s staff and students were represented, no, attacked.

    And a little thing regarding marketing. Just because Trinity emphasizes its faith background more than anything, doesn’t imply it cannot achieve academic excellence. However, the faith background sets it apart from most other schools, and appeals to many demographics. It in no way suggests that academics take a back seat to faith. The two are integrated. Integration does not imply compromising either. If you are ultimately reducing your opinion to the “God vs Darwin” argument, then you’re neglecting the broad span of both faith and education.

    Another problem is that you’re making incorrect assumptions about Trinity’s position. To cultivate a christian’s mind and heart does NOT mean to shove views down their throats. In order for Christianity and its followers to succeed in University and the professional life thereafter, Christians need to be honest with themselves. Basically, a Christian environment that does not question itself or engage in challenging dialogue will never thrive. We’re not scared to challenge ourselves, our views and our school because as Christians we believe in seeking truth, and are not scared of finding answers. Therefore the university happily allows people to engage and disagree, because it has strengthened the school and fortified its mission.

    Regarding “freeness”: There are many students of different faiths who attend Trinity by choice. Opinions from students have always been welcome. Chances are, my opinions as a Christian would receive less welcome in my previous school (U of M) than atheist opinions at TWU, where dialogue and understanding are encouraged.

  31. Thanks Tipi. So… you agree with me?

  32. Jessi–I am looking forward to reading how others respond to your re-posing of the question Prof. Peddigrew has asked in this blog, now twice (see his Jan 28 post). I think there is likely a wide spectrum of interpretation of the Statement of Faith among the faculty at TWU, and that, perhaps the way that things have been worded by administration on the website is not the way the learned professors would choose to articulate things.

    But, in fairness, even at a secular university, though there is no apparently prescribed “official” statement of belief, there are certainly intellectual positions that would be considered beyond the pale, and would put your job, or at least tenure, in jeopardy. There are ideological lines that are “towed” and “problematized” at every institution. For instance, I hear in Zimmermann’s point in “the other blog” about the pressure on universities to conform to “professional schools” an echo of something Derrida was on about in “The Future of the Profession or the Unconditional University.” There D. raises the spectre of economic and political ideologies controlling the university. Maybe one ideology (not using the term pejoratively) helps to resist other ideologies that seem more oppressive? Now that might make for an interesting blog by Dr. Peddigrew…

  33. I have no issues with debates that take place in a public forum, and Dr Pettigrew is more than capable of taking the heat. But what is going on here (with the exception of some comments from people from the institution in question which I have read with interest) is personal attack. To the commenter above who didn’t leave a name: Todd has just as much right to post, on his own blog, his own opinion of what he thinks based on the information that he has. He stated himself in the comments section that this was not intended to be a personal attack, and has expressed appreciation for the comments which were expressed in a fair, non-attacking way. To be snarky, mean, and to make personal attacks on someone’s opinion, which Dr. Pettigrew has NOT done, is severely unchristian. Christians, particularly those who are coherently supporting TWU, should pride themselves on supporting logical debate without tearing someone down. In short, christian or atheist, the art of arguing without hurting is an art which everyone should excercise. Those of you who are making mean-spirited comments along the lines of “You’re wrong, my institution is more open-minded than yours” are akin to kids in a playground claiming “My daddy’s logic could kick your daddy’s logic in the ass.” Grow up.

    And to those who have posted reasoned arguments, I thank you. You represent your institution well.

    As for Dr. Pettigrew’s credentials, they are easily found on this very blog by clicking on the author’s profile. Maybe you should all learn even a little bit about the author before attacking his opinions. He, at least, looked at TWU’s publicly-available web page before making any statements of opinion – the least you could do is return the simple favour.

  34. I appreciate the comments made by everyone associated with TWU. The remarks show not only the professionalism, understanding, and knowledge of TWU professors but also the incredible academic level of the alumni and undergraduate students who have made their thoughts public as well.

    I feel that more than enough has already been said about the issue, so I will simply make some comments to Todd Pettigrew:

    Mr. (Dr., Professor, whichever you prefer) Pettigrew, first I would like to apologize if you felt personally attacked by any of the comments made by individuals associated with TWU. Personally I did not see anything in the comments that attacked you personally (save perhaps Paul Gottfried’s “ant” comment ), but if that was what was communicated can assure you that it was not intended.

    However I’m sure you can understand why those associated with a Christian university might be upset with what you have written and responded with equal passion. Although you may not have intended it, you have made a personal attack on the thousands of people who have been or are currently located at Trinity Western. You have called into question the validity of someone who is religious to also be a competent person within academics (not directly, I understand, but the concept of a Christian University being unable to pursue rational truth and academic freedom relays to it’s professors and students), as well as denoted that the institution we attend is not fit to be an accredited University. This delegitimizes us as students (alumni, professors, etc.) and reduces the work we have done in our undergraduate studies to the place of being trivial. Though you may not have intended to directly criticize Trinity Western, your constant citation of the university in your previous article combine with a lack of reference to other highly regarded Christian institutions such as Azusa, Biola, Regent, Concordia, or Seattle Pacific (among others) may have implied otherwise. This is part of why people are offended.

    I understand that this is your personal opinion in a blog, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. However, I believe that “Stephanie” gave a perfect example of why you are being taken so seriously in this setting while she was defending you. She vigorously attested that you were “Dr. Pettigrew” and should be addressed as such. Even though you are just giving your opinion as an individual, because you are a Ph.D people are going to, and apparently have, take your words as the thoughts of someone in the highest academic standing. Even though you may have written this article as an opinion, your status, whether fair or not, holds you to a higher standard of understanding on an issue. Writing for a highly regarded media outlet such as Macleans also implies to the reader a high level of understanding of an issue by an author.

    As your response in this comment thread has revealed, you have essentially posed an impossible question for anyone to answer in a way you do not agree with. The premise of the article was that Trinity Western could not seek truth or academic freedom while working under the Christian principles Trinity applies present. When, by your own admittance, Trinity professors responded as more than competent scholars, you said it automatically negates the principles that Trinity requires. This is a circular logic that cannot allow for a “Christian scholar”, and as previous commenters have cited I feel that history would disagree.

    The comments made by Dr. Pettigrew, “Stephanie” and “Jessi” are disheartening to me. Statements that marginalize Christians as academics reveal a discriminatory view against people of a certain religion. Searching for truth does not require a lack of bias, rather an understanding of where your bias stands, how it affects your perspective and what you can do to negate the affects of said bias. To say that we as Christians cannot be open-minded because of our religious bias is a narrow minded view itself, since if it is impossible to seek truth while working with a religious bias it is impossible for anyone to seek truth as we are all biased in some way.

    I think the problem with this discussion is the understanding that we each have about the University’s Statement of Faith versus the ability to seek academic truth. Mr. Pettigrew feels that as he reads the TWU Statement of Faith it is incompatible with being able to openly seek truth in an academic setting. Those who are associated with TWU on the other hand, have not responded to this aspect of the question because we (myself included) have not experienced a conflict between the University’s Statement of Faith and our ability to seek truth and have academic freedom. I have felt more than free to holding any opinion in my classes and not be criticized or marked poorly, in fact my opinion has never once affected my mark.

    In the end I feel that the entire debate is superfluous. TWU is an accredited University. Period. If someone feels that we do not deserve to be given that title, challenge us. However, I ask that we would not be judged only by the fact that we are Christians. I would ask that instead we be inspected by the merit of our programs in developing competent, free thinking and valuable minds to our society. If anything I feel that Trinity broadens the perspective of students and plays favorably to their overall development as academics.

    Dr. Pettigrew, I understand that you may not want to spend the money on a plane ticket to inspect a university you wrote about in a blog, that makes sense. But I would encourage you to, if you ever find yourself on the west coast, take a walk through our university. Talk to some students, professors, maybe even sit in on a lecture or two. Having made these claims I challenge you to at some point in the future put those views to the test. I promise you that what those associated with TWU have said will be echoed in reality when you investigate. Personally I would recommend attending a lecture in RELS 224 New Testament Theology, where Prof. Casey Toews uses a fine tooth comb to investigate and critique the entire New Testament. I found that to be a very challenging course for my faith.

    Please correct me if I am wrong or have misinterpreted anything you have stated, I would be interested to hear your thoughts on what I’ve said as well.


    Curtis Dueck,
    TWU ’11

  35. For the record, there is nothing on that readily indicates Dr. Pettigrew holds a PhD. If you read his profile, it simply states:

    “Todd Pettigrew is Associate Professor English at Cape Breton University. He blogs for Maclean’s OnCampus on university issues.”

    If anyone wants to check out his credentials, you can read his faculty page on Cape Breton’s website: . I would encourage you to do so.

    For more of Dr. Pettigrew, feel free to check out his personal blog. In particular, his entry on a Facebook conversation seem relevant in light of the current comments.

    His university offers this disclaimer so I feel like I should repost it.

    Warning: this blog is Todd’s personal comment and may confuse or offend. It is part of an external site does not represent the official position of any institution or group.

  36. BRUTAL argument!

    “…We deplore an indoctrination approach that discourages authentic investigation, but we are satisfied that the truth of the Scriptures can meet any challenge.”

    Maybe you should read this a little more carefully. Read slowly, if necessary.

    The education is great over here, Bud. Thanks.

  37. Curtis, I appreciate your thoughtful comments, and since you have asked me to respond, I will. You ask if you have misinterpreted me, and I think in a few places you have.

    You write, “Even though you may have written this article as an opinion, your status, whether fair or not, holds you to a higher standard of understanding on an issue.” Fair enough. But I’ve read all the responses and am not convinced that I have misunderstood very much. I still disagree with the TWU faculty and students who have responded, but that is not the same as misunderstanding. But disagreement is good. It’s healthy. I can’t understand why TWU folks have been so insistent that everything about religion is fair game at their university and yet so mad at me for questioning what, I’m told, you are encouraged to question at your school. Is this a family thing? You can take criticism from each other but not from outsiders? If it helps, Maclean’s consistently ranks my university the worst in the country. I don’t think it’s entirely fair and I don’t like it, but, you know, free country and all that.

    You write, “Although you may not have intended it, you have made a personal attack on the thousands of people who have been or are currently located at Trinity Western.” I think this is incorrect by definition. A personal attack is an attack on a person, and that I have not done. But institutions should not be beyond attack. Look at the state of First Nations University, censured by CAUT. Is that an attack on First Nations people? No, I don’t think it is. On this blog I have criticized my own university, it’s administration and its faculty association. Am I attacking myself? I did make that crack about “no one in their right mind” signing the statement of faith. But what I said there was that in a non-religious FUTURE no sane person would sign it. I’m not saying all TWU faculty are crazy. Some probably are, but that’s just university life.

    You go on to suggest that “You have called into question the validity of someone who is religious to also be a competent person within academics.” Not so. I have called into question the validity of a university that expects ALL its faculty to be Christian, and a particular KIND of Christian. Even Northrop Frye, one of the greatest scholars Canada has ever known, and devout Christian, did not take such an old-fashioned view. In any case, I have known many fine Christian scholars. I take CS Lewis to have been one of the most brilliant men of his generation.

    You say, “TWU is an accredited University. Period.” Not so. Canada does not have a formal accreditation program. If it ever does, things at TWU could get really interesting. In the meantime, membership in the AUCC counts as an informal accreditation process here and it’s worth noting that Article 3.1 (h) of AUCC’s institutional eligibility requirements lists respect for academic freedom. Is TWU in violation of this policy? Well, that’s a good question. One that we’ve been debating here and one I cannot answer. But this is what citizens in a democracy should do: discuss tough issues in a public forum. Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong. Readers can decide for themselves.

    Along the same lines you say, “if someone feels that we do not deserve to be given that title, challenge us. However, I ask that we would not be judged only by the fact that we are Christians.” Well, someone is challenging you, besides me. It’s the Canadian Association of University Teachers and TWU is understandably worried. But remember, it was CAUT, not me who decided to make an issue of TWU’s statement of faith policy. I just decided to comment on a current event. And I did so in a rough-and-ready, slightly ironic way. That’s what makes blogging interesting. It’s not journalism for crying out loud, nad I’m not quite sure why everyone seems to feel so threatened by me. As for being Christian, bear in mind that being a Christian is a choice: a choice to believe deeply in a particular set of things about the world. Don’t expect that people will not judge you for what you strongly believe. God knows people are judging me for being an atheist (and yes, that’s deliberate irony, Bob the Advertiser).

    Finally, you accuse me of using circular logic: “you have essentially posed an impossible question for anyone to answer in a way you do not agree with.” I don’t see the circularity in my position. My point was that it seemed impossible to responsibly deal with certain issues if one was to take seriously TWU’s published statements about its educational philosophy. Over and over again, TWU faculty have said, by implication, that they do not teach according to such statements. If that’s true, then they are doing what I think all university faculty should do: not close off the big, unanswered questions. Frankly, this makes me a whole lot less uneasy about TWU because, it turns out, it’s just like every other university: the faculty routinely ignore what the administration says and do what they think is right. Fight the power, TWU faculty!

    Despite all that, I’ve grown very curious about the lived experience at TWU, and I would like to visit there. I would like to chat with students and faculty there. I would like to ask why they are Christians and why they chose TWU. I would like to ask what they see as the best arguments against the existence of God and how they have overcome them. I would like to know how they have gotten around the problem of evil and the problem of the scale of the universe, and whether they see God as a person. And how they respond to arguments that the very notion of God is not tenable.

    Sadly, my university is about as far from TWU as is possible in this country, so it may not happen soon. But I have been in touch with some profs there and there are murmurings about a conference on the future of higher education in Canada. So I may get out there yet. Or maybe Maclean’s will pay my way there since I seem to have helped increase their traffic on this web site this week.

    But all those TWU folks who have expressed a desire for me to come and see for myself? Well, careful what you wish for. The truth is, I’ve been holding back out of respect for your feelings.

  38. Mr. Dr. Pettigrew,

    Let me start by saying that your comments have impressed me for being extremely sincere, sober and respectful. That is a good quality in a man: to be respectful of others especially after having unintentionally offended some. Forgive me if I unintentionally fail to do the same. Also, thank you for providing me with the opportunity to rethink my choice. I hope this will aid you in understanding why we believe in the Christian academy. In all that has already been said, a few of important points were missed, and I find them to be the source of your lack of knowledge about Christian scholarship at TWU.

    You have misunderstood what TWU means by “Church.” You have made this clear when you referred to this “Church” as an institution. When Christians refer to Church (capital C), they are speaking of the Body of Christ, id est, all those who believe and have been redeemed by the sacrifice of the Christ on the cross. While this is an actual entity, a reality in this world, it is not an institution in the physical sense of the word. Thus, when TWU refers to itself as an arm THE Church, it is does not mean, in any way, the arm of A church (Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, Catholic, etc.). That is to say that TWU is to Christianity (or the Church) as a secular university is to secular modern humanism.

    You have also misunderstood what Christian discipleship entails. Christ’s discipleship involved laying out what one’s options were – which path’s were available – followed by His teaching of what the proper path was. He then proceeded to invite people to follow Him. Invitation implies freedom of choice, by definition. Many chose not to follow Him, including one of His twelve. That is what TWU’s mandate of discipleship means. However, for one to properly invite His students to follow Christ’s teaching, that person must not only have a good understanding of what it means to follow, but also have a personal experience in doing so. Christian discipleship is invitation by the teacher, not brainwashing or unquestioned, authoritative commands. This is why you have failed to understand the reasoning behind the Statement of faith and also how TWU Professors can at the same time uphold their Statement of Faith and practice their scholarship properly and freely.

    As Christians we are inevitably both an arm of The Church and disciple-making individuals, and in this case a group of academics. Christianity is holistic. If someone believes Church and discipleship are a threat to freedom, they should deny us not only the right to university scholarship, but also the right to work in any general public institution, or, for that matter, to live among those who are not Christian. You can see where this could go, and I’m certain you would not want that. However, what you are essentially arguing (by saying we should be denied the status of a university, based on the Statement of Faith) is that Christians should be allowed to teach in whichever way they want, as long as they keep it among themselves. True Christianity does not work that way, and, unfortunately many Christians have missed that. True Christianity cannot be kept in the private.

    Another issue that follows is this: you have rightly concluded that Aristotle could not teach at TWU. Nor could any of the other great minds you mentioned. However, they would be more than welcomed and highly attended for guest lectures. Unlike other institutions I have attended, TWU is not afraid to have different opinions voiced in its classrooms. That is true freedom. TWU is confident that the principles it stands for can withstand the test. While you have said that you would allow Erasmus to teach at your university, let me ask you this: would you allow him to teach anything he wanted, including that which refers to Christianity? If you would, and do not think it infringes on what your institution stands for, then you have understood TWU.

    That being said, I would also like to warn you of a bias you may not be aware of and offer you my humble advice. Public opinion is a very dangerous thing. I have had my eyes opened to this, and I hope to share what I have seen with you. While in times of oppression and centralized power people have been blatantly denied the freedom to express their individuality, in our age people are seemingly encouraged to do so. I say seemingly because this process, which has been named by that Danish scholar mentioned earlier as “leveling,” uses the language of freedom, individualism and equality to in fact curtail certain individuals’ true freedom, individuality and equality. Even the greatest minds have fallen victim to this great sham. They have failed to recognize the wolf dressed up as sheep. May I suggest you add to your list of books to read “This Present Age,” and evaluate your arguments and this debate in light of it. I hope you will make some startling discoveries.

    If you do come to TWU, I will be at the front row. I agree with you, disagreement IS good (how’s THAT for deliberate irony?).

    Jessie Dias
    TWU ’11
    B.A. Environmental Studies and Linguistics

  39. Dr. Pettigrew,

    Why did you only respond to Curtis Dueck? This is not a slight against Curtis (I appreciate his comments), but I think he would agree that there have been some important and legitimate questions raised apart from his own post. Why have you chosen not to address them?

    I appreciate that you have been in private email conversation with Dr. Zimmerman and perhaps a few other professors from the TWU community. That is encouraging. But it is not enough.

    I could understand if you decided to altogether avoid entering the madness that is otherwise known as an online forum. is hardly the conference on higher education you mention and I would not fault you if you chose to refrain from this discussion. But you have not.

    By my count, you have responded three times to the 70+ comments between your two blogs. The first was to express your interest in visiting TWU. The second was to clarify your earlier remarks and to respond to the nature and tone of your comments and those of others. And then this.

    Why? I can’t help but wonder why someone with a PhD would choose to pick apart a response from, by all observations, an undergraduate student in his third year? Why not respond publicly to the questions raised by Zimmerman? Or Spencer? Or Havers? Or Sikkema? Or Venema? Or anyone else? Of course, you were not obliged to respond at all. But you did, and I can’t help but wonder why.

    I have been monitoring the campus section of for some time. You are correct. You have increased web traffic – there appear to be more active readers on your blog that the rest of the entire site. But when you choose not to directly respond to a single academic, you are doing every one of those readers a disservice. I believe that, behind the passion of some TWU students and the irrelevance of some trolls, there are some important issues. And you must believe the same, otherwise you would not have devoted your time to write two blogs on this topic. Why not address these issues?

    Personally, I could care less about the differences between misunderstanding and disagreement. The same applies to what constitutes a personal attack, blogging, and journalism. Urging TWU faculty to fight the power is also unimportant. Your curiosity of the TWU community is admirable but irrelevant.

    Instead, what do you have to say about the relationship between faith and reason? What should be the ultimate pursuit of a university? You seem to think it is the rational pursuit of knowledge and truth. Unpack that for your readers. How does that play out both historically and philosophically (as Zimmerman questions)? Is there a relationship between academic freedom and academic responsibility? The responsibility of professors as it relates to their students, their institution, and their research appears to be an overlooked dynamic in this discussion of academic freedom. Maybe you could write on that. If you do not feel equipped, or interested, in discussing those particular topics perhaps there is something else you can add to the conversation. Surely you have more to contribute than a string of online citations and an imaginary conversation. In the interest of the rational pursuit of knowledge and truth, I certainly hope so.

    You say the truth is you’ve been “holding back.”


    I, like Curtis, am interested to hear your thoughts. Not because I want to see you disrespect the feelings of TWU folks (I think they can handle it). I want you to respond freely because if you do not, you insult their intelligence (and that of every other reader) by not addressing the important issues. Scholarship is an endless cycle of research and discovery, question and answers. You have raised some real questions. Others have offered real responses. When it comes to academic culture, I am admittedly an unpolished schoolboy. But even I know that in this game of scholarly tag, you are it.

    I look forward to hearing your response.


    Andrew Fergus McPhee

  40. Dr. Pettigrew, no need to hurt feelings. I encourage you to respond to the many Dr’s you have responded to your post instead of the student who graduates in 2011(not to discredit him) But for the benefit of all I would greatly appreciate more response to some of their comments.

  41. and seriously Stephanie, don’t read online debates if you can distinguish the morons from the serious people.

  42. Here are some questions posed, explicitly or implicitly by Dr. Pettigrew’s comments and some of the rejoinders:

    (1) Does TWU uphold academic freedom?

    The answer to (1) is “sort of.” I think it’s fair to say that if a faculty member’s research or beliefs indicated that she no longer could, in good conscience, endorse the distinctive qualities of TWU, then she would not be free to remain a part of TWU. So, academic freedom at TWU is not unfettered. It’s seriously fettered. However, it does not follow from these constraints on academic life at TWU either that TWU research is suspect or that TWU students suffer in any way academically. In fact, there is ample empirical evidence to suggest that the contrary is true on both counts. Freedom, academic or otherwise, comes in degrees. In some respects, TWU professors are less free than our counterparts at public universities. But in other respects (based on anecdotal evidence from some of the comments on this and related blog posts), some TWU professors seem to enjoy a greater amount of freedom to pursue their scholarly interests than some scholars at public institutions. The fetters on freedom at TWU are several, but at least they are explicit. The fetters on freedom at public universities are varied in number, but implicit–enforced in practice, but not in policy. And in some respects, that would be a much more challenging, and constricting, landscape to negotiate.

    (2) Is TWU’s version of academic freedom legitimate university practice?

    There’s no good argument to the conclusion that the answer here should be “no”. It would perhaps be inappropriate for TWU to practice its version of academic freedom if it were a fully publicly funded institution, but it’s not.

    (3) Is it possible for critical and inquiring students to get fair assessment of their work if they disagree with TWU’s institutional goals and values?

    I think the fairly obvious answer here is “yes.” Again, lots of empirical evidence to suggest that our students across all majors get an extremely high quality education that is in many ways superior to what their peers receive in public universities. A large part of that is fair and rigorous assessment of student work by faculty. Pettigrew’s obvious (initial, though perhaps revised) assumption that the answer to (3) is “no” is demeaning, unfair, and in my view, worthy of the scorn he received in the comments to his posts.

    (4) Does the practice of TWU faculty of not penalizing students for holding views divergent from TWU’s governing documents indicate a discrepancy among TWU faculty between what they ‘officially believe’ and what they actually practice?

    No. Pettigrew comes to learn (perhaps) that TWU professors can award fair grades to student work based on merit and not based on ideological conformity. Pettigrew’s mistake is to think that this is evidence that TWU professors don’t practice what administration preaches. However it’s not evidence for that at all. In fact, it’s not even relevant. Administration does not require that TWU faculty assess student work based on ideological conformity. What our university does require is that we teach according to the standards and within the acceptable parameters for curriculum and methodology set out by our respective guilds (philosophy, in my case).

    (5) Is it rational in any meaningful sense of the term for people to believe in God and core Christian doctrines?

    It would be exceedingly obtuse to assert that the answer here is obviously “no.” It would be more accurate to claim that for every informed objection to belief in God, there are thoughtful, informed, and by philosophical standards, successful, defenses against those objections.

    So, where have we come? Pettigrew began with a snarky blog post that tried to score some cheap points at TWU’s expense, and was based on a false assumption–namely, that TWU prof’s couldn’t assess student work fairly because of the professors’ stated theological commitments. A justifiable flood of responses from TWU prof’s, students, and alums, attempted to show (in part) that the assumption was false. Pettigrew then shifted the focus to a perceived disconnect between stated commitment and practice among the faculty. But the apparent evidence Pettigrew cites in support of this alleged disconnect suffers, evidentially speaking, from the defect of not providing any rational support for the conclusion for which it’s supposed to be evidence.

    So we’re still waiting for some kind of plausible argument in support of the negative claims Pettigrew is making about TWU. Ahhh, that’s right–he must be holding them back out of respect for our feelings….

    Myron A. Penner
    Assistant Professor of Philosophy
    Trinity Western University

  43. My main concern is that a professor at Trinity Western is, according to the Statement of Faith, not free to follow where the evidence leads. If anyone at TWU wants to contradict this, surely they have to explain how that squares with the requirements?

    For example, what would happen if a professor’s research led her to conclude that the Bible contained errors? She is required “without reservation” to affirm that the Bible is inerrant. How is that possibly consistent with academic freedom? This allows research only as long as the conclusions fall within very narrowly prescribed bounds.

    By all means argue that it works differently “on the ground,” but then there is a major problem with the Statement of Faith.

  44. It seems that there are two kinds of comments, here: half want me to shut up, and have want me to say more. Half of you are getting your wish.

    Andrew McPhee poses fascinating questions:

    “what do you have to say about the relationship between faith and reason? What should be the ultimate pursuit of a university? You seem to think it is the rational pursuit of knowledge and truth. Unpack that for your readers. How does that play out both historically and philosophically (as Zimmerman questions)? Is there a relationship between academic freedom and academic responsibility? The responsibility of professors as it relates to their students, their institution, and their research appears to be an overlooked dynamic in this discussion of academic freedom.”

    Phew. On the question of faith and reason, I would say that in any action where there are potentially serious effects on other people, a good person should take care to ensure that he has good reasons for his belief. I suggest that religious views, as widely practiced even today, tend to have effects on others and tend frequently to be based on slim reasons or none at all. As Bertrand Russell points out, the vast majority of religious people adopt the religion most prominent in the area they were raised, suggesting that people frequently do not choose religion as a matter of deliberate thought but as a consequence of socialization. Many people continue to claim that their religious belief is based on apparent design of life, an argument long-ago discredited. Still others tell me that they believe because they FEEL God exists, or that they don’t WANT to not believe because the world would seem cold to them otherwise. But I don’t think any of these constitute valid reason for belief. And if religious people didn’t bring their religion into the public sphere, I wouldn’t care. But they have for centuries, and they still do.

    Let me put it another way. If people were to apply religious sensibilities to other areas of life, we would think they were crazy. My own research involves Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Is the play anti-Semitic? There are arguments on both sides, but one I cannot accept is that “the play is not racist because I don’t like the idea of Shakespeare as a racist.” Wanting it to be so doesn’t make it so.

    As for the rest of Andrew’s questions, I will leave them for another entry on personal bias among professors. But Andrew also faults me for responding to students and not professors. So let me address some of the professors who have commented.

    Professor Giacumakis: “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.”

    Yes, but that’s a pretty big “if.” But why should I, or anyone, accept it? Apart from a pre-existing faith, why should I, or anyone, accept the Christian account of the universe and not the Hindu one? Why should we not take it as an unanswered problem?

    Professor Zimmerman:”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.”

    This point has been made several times and should not be left at least with strong qualifications. First, while medieval scholars may have valued reason, that value was heavily influenced by Aristotle and other classical, pagan, philosophers. So the implication that Christians created the idea of rational inquiry is misleading. And if we are talking historically, despite the invention of the university, Christianity has traditionally been a strong enemy of free intellectual discourse. Consider the case of poor Giordano Bruno, hounded out of universities across 16th century Europe because of his radical ideas about an infinite universe. Bruno was eventually arrested and died at the hands of the Inquisition, as did thousands of others. Readers will have no trouble supplying other examples, I am sure.

    But in any case, the historical arguments seem tangential to me. My interest has always been in what the university should be, not what it has been. Admittedly, this is my own vision and not one that I expect to come to pass any time soon. See my post on varsity sports for another ideal view unlikely to come to fruition. And don’t get me started about business schools.

    Professor Grant Havers: “Can anyone imagine Abraham Lincoln’s campaign against slavery without study of his knowledge of the Bible?”

    This is the problem with taking the Bible as the source of ultimate truth. No one has ever seemed to be able to agree on what that truth is. Lincoln may have cited the Bible in an attack on slavery, but many pro-slavery advocates cited the Bible in its defence. It’s also worth noting that Darwin was committed to ending slavery, too, a conclusion bolstered by the notion of common ancestry of all humans and animals — a notion not easy to find in the Bible.

    Professor Wilkinson: “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?”

    I agree. There needs to a vigorous national dialogue on the nature of higher education in this country. Without a coherent vision, the goals of universities are being shaped by small changes in government funding policy, moving us evermore towards a valorization of supposedly practical disciplines and away from the liberal arts and sciences. Maybe this slide is inevitable, but it should be opposed in any case.

    Professor Gottfried: “I suspect Pettigrew’s knowledge about the great theologians of the Christian tradition could be fitted into the brain of an ant.”

    See, now that’s just silly. I’m not an ant. How could an ant even press down the keys of a keyboard?

    Professor Venema: “Do you seriously think we respond to student questions on these topics with ‘God said it so that settles it, no discussion permitted’? Please.”

    No, I don’t think you respond that way. But I do think that if you are following the stated goals of your university, you will feel that at the end of the discussion, the Bible should be vindicated whatever the discussion contained. Your university calls for an environment that says, “let’s have a wide ranging discussion so that in the end, we can all come to same basic conclusions.” Let me put it another way: in your open discussions, in what specific ways do try to LEAD students to the truth of the Bible, as your university says you should?

    Professor Sikkema: “My rubrics consider neither conformity nor regurgitation, but coherence of argument, engagement with opposing views in the academic literature, nuancing of positions, depth of thought, etc.”

    I’m glad to hear it, but then here is my question: in what specific ways does your grading encourage students not just to consider Christianity, but to EMBRACE it, as your university says you should?

    Finally, I am glad to note that some TWU faculty do oppose the statement of faith and similar policies. I wish some of them would post here.

  45. Dr.Pettigrew, do you not hold your own personal beliefs? You must believe something about something. Are all of your beliefs entirely rational? No, they can’t be, as any system of logic must have a few axioms that are assumed to be true otherwise there must be circular reasoning and so the system is flawed. Additionally, there is no way to deduce these axioms from the system, so they are essentially an assumption without reason.

    So you have beliefs, and some of them are not rational. Do you use this against your students when they contradict your beliefs? I would think not.

    Why is it then that TWU’s professors’ beliefs are so much different? They too are academics who would hold themselves to a similar standard of objectivity as yourself.

  46. “Why is it then that TWU’s professors’ beliefs are so much different? They too are academics who would hold themselves to a similar standard of objectivity as yourself.”

    David, if Dr Pettigrew founded a university whose professors were allowed academic freedom only as long as their conclusions did not contradict with his beliefs, you would have a point.

    A scholar with academic freedom can always come back to his presuppositions, challenge them, examine them, change them and come out with radically different conclusions if the evidence leads there. How can he do that if his institution’s policy specifically forbids conclusions that fall outside a set of very specific doctrines? (And no doubt about it, particular beliefs about inerrancy, the afterlife and the person of Christ are very, very specific, and go far, far beyond vague ideas about whether something called “God” might or might not exist.)

  47. David–do you really think that signing a statement of belief has kept the professors of TWU from revisiting their presuppositions any more than the ideologies that dominate at public universities keeps professors there from doing so? Refer to Penner’s comments above, esp. this, which has been raised a few times in other posts: “The fetters on freedom at public universities are varied in number, but implicit–enforced in practice, but not in policy. And in some respects, that would be a much more challenging, and constricting, landscape to negotiate.”

    I raise Derrida’s dream again: the unconditional university (the essay is worth a read). It’s an impossible ideal, as is presupposition-less inquiry. So what are the dominating ideologies of our time, and what ideologies and presuppositions best help a thinker to do the work of resisting thought-control or torpor. How do you we define freedom? Is there such a thing as “unconditional” freedom? (I’m not sure it would involve the annoyance of other humans and nature and all that stuff of being that gets in the way…)

  48. And Dr. Pettigrew, you have done a fundamentalist-literalist reading of Gottfried’s comment. In general, it seems in keeping with your reasoning–you seem to assume that you are dealing with fundamentalist-literalists. Do you recognize your presuppositions? Are you willing to revisit them?

  49. Well, Kara, the issue is not so much whether professors actually do revisit their presuppositions, but that they can. Without a policy that lays down very specific doctrines that must be followed, it is possible. With a policy that lays down very specific doctrines, how is it remotely possible? Sure, examine your presuppositions, but come to the wrong conclusion and you’re outside the policy and out of a job.

    Bear in mind, with the TWU Statement of Faith, we’re not even talking about a broad ideological or philosophical foundation. We’re talking about (and I know I am labouring this, but it is crucial) very, very specific doctrines, such as the inerrancy of Scripture. How can you approach the historical study of the Bible with the presupposition that it is 100-percent without error? No historian approaches any document that way. No scholar would take seriously a university history department that required an a priori judgment about documents x, y and z being totally infallible.

    How is this different from, say, a Mormon historian being required to study her faith only with the presupposition that the Book of Mormon and the D&C are inerrant documents?

    Yet when it comes to the Bible, this is an acceptable presupposition? I am baffled that this is considered a reasonable position, or one considered compatible with academic freedom.

  50. In response to Dr. Pettigrew’s reply to my statement on Lincoln’s biblical critique of slavery. Yes, it is correct that both sides during the Civil War used the Bible for their own purposes (as Lincoln famously put it, “both sides prayed to the same God…”). However, that should not lead to the conclusion that there is no ultimate truth in the Bible. Agape ( tolove human beings as you would want to be loved) is, as Christ always teaches, that ultimate truth. We must read the Bible according to the spirit (not the letter) of Christian love. As Lincoln also taught, the fact that human beings (even those who professed to be Christians, like the slave-owners) dishonor and disobey that ultimate truth does not mean that we can deny its existence.
    The point about Darwin is interesting, although one should take into account that Social Darwinists (who perhaps misused and misunderstood Darwin) favored rapacious capitalism (akin to slavery for the poor) over Christian love for all of humanity.

  51. Honestly, David, you pose a good question, and I look forward to hearing from others that have given this more thought. As I see it, when a thinking person asks that fundamental question, “Why is there something, rather than nothing?” (however it might occur in the given circumstances), he or she begins a journey that involves a multi-faceted reasoning. Some come to naturalist materialism, and land on that as their presupposition, taken in faith (based on certain empirical evidence). Others land on the idea of God, and go on from there. This “going on” may involve the reasoning required to interrogate (not necessarily suspiciously) the faith they are familiar with, and to test other ones out. It involves a great deal of rational inquiry, along with other ways of reasonably testing out if something is true (it’s a whole-person concern).

    If the Bible is taken as “inerrant” among Christians, to me (I don’t know about the admin at TWU) it means that it is truthful “testament” given in context (as all truth is) to be fathomed and interpreted, the latter being an ongoing work that has occupied scholars and theologians for thousands of years. The presupposition is that the Bible is “telling the truth”–which is sometimes expressed as literal meaning, sometimes mythological, sometimes metaphorical, etc. Therefore, inerrancy is not delimited to a modern “scientific” methodology, contrary to fundamentalist thinking, though it does include it among other truth-tests. It depends on which methodology is called for (the hard work of interpretation). Seems to me this is why Gadamer, Polanyi, et al have been brought into the discussion very early on…

    As for academic freedom–I reiterate that the big question is getting bigger for me: how do we define freedom in the university? And what definition best moves reason forward in its pursuits?

  52. Kara, I think the journey of rational inquiry you described is precisely what can’t take place if a particular conclusion is prescribed for you.

    It’s one thing that the students are allowed to inquire for themselves and reach different conclusions, which it appears most current students are arguing, but clearly professors at TWU are not free to take that journey for themselves. (If anyone argues that they are, what on earth does it mean to be bound by the TWU Statement of Faith?)

    I’ll add at this stage that I can believe TWU students get a good education. My own degree in theology and biblical studies was from a conservative Bible college, and I too was exposed to the full array of critical views. So I’m not unsympathetic to the many students who have come here to defend their education.

    But teaching is only one aspect of a university. A major aspect is research. Academics are expected to engage in debates, write papers, attend conferences, argue positions, publish findings and contribute to current research. How can they do this with integrity when they are in an institution that requires them never to reach conclusions outside a very tight doctrinal framework?

  53. David, I hear you saying (forgive me if I’m misreading) that rational inquiry for the profs. is inhibited if they presume that the Bible is telling the truth. But why is it so, if they have a critical hermeneutic of recovery, rather than one of pure suspicion, and if the “truth” of the Bible is given a more capacious meaning. Apparently, at TWU both the physical and human sciences are able to move forward in their inquiry quite effectively–look at the original Macleans article and see how much research money TWU is awarded. If you’re really interested, I guess you also could go on the website and look into the scholarship that’s going on there…

  54. Kara, the same applies if you assume *any* document is 100-percent truthful. It just isn’t a scholarly presupposition. Like any document, it is a bunch of claims, and needs to be critically examined to determine the truth or otherwise of those claims. If you are obliged to believe a document is inerrant (even if you have a “capacious” definition of inerrancy), it must be interpreted a certain way.

    Imagine the implications if I insisted, for example, that the only way we were allowed to interpret the words of Dr Pettigrew, the author of this article, were with the assumption that his words were wholly without error and completely authoritative. There’s only so much nuance you can give a position like that, and no matter how nuanced your definition becomes, you’re still approaching human words from fundamentally unscholarly assumptions. And my conclusions would be fundamentally flawed, possibly irredeemably nonsensical, as a result.

  55. Last post: if you claimed that Dr. Pettigrew’s document was inerrant, and tried to found a university with that being one of your cornerstone presuppositions, I suspect you wouldn’t get very far. But, for some reason, history shows that taking the inerrancy (truth-telling quality) of the Bible has led to the extremely successful founding and sustaining of universities around the world. I’m just truly curious about why that is…

  56. “But, for some reason, history shows that taking the inerrancy (truth-telling quality) of the Bible has led to the extremely successful founding and sustaining of universities around the world. I’m just truly curious about why that is…”

    I would point out a few things in response. First, one could also find instances where belief in the inerrancy and authority of the Bible has had very destructive effects.

    Second, one could find many instances in theology and biblical scholarship (I’m focusing on this because it’s my subject) where the assumption of inerrancy has led to unscholarly conclusions or obscured the actual meaning of the text.

    Third, “history shows that X has led to Y” is an interpretation; history might show that X was followed by Y, but it would be a fallacy to assume X caused Y.

    Fourth (related to the third), inerrancy has not been the only quality of Christianity that could have led to successful universities. And it’s quite possible Christians have established good universities *despite*, rather than *because of* inerrancy.

    Fifth (again related), you point to universities that have been sustained. How many of those that have lasted have done so retaining a conservative view of the authority of Scripture (inerrancy)? What does that tell us?

  57. Granted–perhaps I should have said “allowed” for the extremely successful founding and sustaining of universities, rather than “led to”! But this is the whole issue at stake with CAUT. The implication is that it is not possible, when apparently, it IS possible for a university to hold these presuppositions and not be in contravention of a form of “academic freedom” that is fruitful. See Kelsey Haskett’s new post on the other blog site…or John Stackhouse.

    Thanks for this exchange, and all the best.

  58. Cheers, Kara. I’ll check out the other blogs. Best.

  59. Pettigrew: “I cannot see how, in general, a student can pursue a skeptical, open-minded course of study on these vital questions when the university itself proclaims these questions to have been settled.”

    I think what Prof. Pettigrew is saying here is that TWU professors lacks *psychological objectivity*–a certain detachment or absence of bias on certain questions (e.g., whether theism is true). Is psychological objectivity a virtue? It can be. But if the evidence one possesses is strong enough, it can actually be a serious mistake to remain unbiased in an area. For example, is Prof. Pettigrew unbiased and detached in his belief that AIDS is a disease, that 7+5=12, that child slavery is immoral, or that women are not intellectually inferior to men? I should think not. And that’s a very good thing too.

    Clearly then, there are some things for which it would be an utter mistake to claim that we are or even ought to be psychologically objective. But notice that this doesn’t in any way preclude us from exercising *rational objectivity* — i.e., discerning good from bad reasons/evidence on a given topic, and holding our beliefs for good reasons. The professors at TWU may not be psychologically objective about (say) the question of whether truth exists–just as Prof. Pettigrew isn’t psychologically objective about the rights of the disabled, or the humane treatment of animals. It doesn’t follow that he (or they) cannot *rationally* assess all of the arguments that bear on a given question.

    In fact, I’ll bet there are any number of questions like this that “have been settled” in his own thinking, and on which he is no longer psychologically objective. But then how can he help his students at Cape Breton “pursue a skeptical, open-minded course of study on these vital questions”? Answer: in the same way that TWU professors do: by focusing his students’ attention on the objective evidence for and against various ideas, as opposed to his professorial opinions. This is just the way things go with professors.

    Richard Davis, PhD
    Associate Professor of Philosophy
    Tyndale University College

  60. Dr. Pettigrew,

    Please, correct me if I’m wrong in saying this but perhaps the issue that you have the greatest difficulty is with the fact that all TWU faculty members, both new and old to TWU must sign the statement of faith. Well what if the issue can be resolved by having a non-Christian professor at our school. How would you then feel? Supposing that one day Trinity got rid of that old “tradition”? How would you respond if Trinity decided to hire a professor who wasn’t a Christian to teach a class about…hmm… the New Testament?

  61. I would appreciate it if Dr. Pettigrew addressed the questions posed to him by Dr. Davis here and in his other article.

  62. Dr. Pettigrew,

    Since it has been established that you should be addressed as “Doctor”, I feel that our Professor’s who have earned the same degree of merit (most of which have come from secular universities) should also be given the same respect.


    Maria Rempel
    TWU Student

  63. Pingback: Margin Notes | A test of faith at Trinity Western | University Affairs

  64. Dr Davis makes a fascinating argument and one that I will consider as I write my next entry on professor bias.

    But in this context, I think it misses the point. TWU’s published philosophy calls for its faculty to LEAD students to EMBRACE Christian doctrine (their words, not mine). So, I will say again to Dr Davis, Dr Spencer and any other faculty members from TWU: please provide specific ways in which you do that. How, specifically, in the course of rational assessment of your students’ arguments do you work to lead them to embrace Christian doctrine? If you don’t, will you publicly state that you think TWU’s policies should be revised?

    Perhaps I have not been clear: I have no problem with Christian professors teaching at universities in general. But to insist that all professors be Christians and that they all be a certain kind of Christian seems to me like bad institutional policy, no matter what the practical realities on the ground might be. Even if the heroic faculty at TWU have universally maintained high standards despite their institution’s policies, the potential for abuse is never far. And if the faculty there are not leading students to embrace a particular faith, why advertise that they are? More worrisome: what could be done if any professor decided to take TWU’s stated policies at face value?

    As for Maria’s concern, I take “Professor” to be a title equal in respect to “Doctor.” “Mr” is another matter, and before I addressed any academic as “Mr” or “Ms” or the like, I would want to be certain that he or she was neither a professor at rank nor held an earned doctorate. If I have applied a title to any faculty member at TWU that is inconsistent with his or her rank or qualification, please know it was unintentional and that I would be happy to set the record straight.

  65. I suppose this is where we all disagree. We believe that our university thrives in part because of our institutions policies.

  66. Prof. Pettigrew: “TWU’s published philosophy calls for its faculty to LEAD students to EMBRACE Christian doctrine (their words, not mine).”

    Looking at the TWU language: it doesn’t say “LEAD students to embrace,” it says “INVITE them to consider and embrace.” And of course there’s a big difference between *leading* someone to say or believe something–which has a decidedly negative connotation (e.g., ‘leading the witness’)–and *inviting* them to first *consider* (i.e., assess and evaluate), and then if the evidence warrants it, embrace (i.e., believe) that very thing.

    No doubt *leading* students to *embrace* propositions is improper and coercive, but it’s also an uncharitable interpretation of TWU’s expressed position. However, if the evidence warrants it, I see nothing wrong with inviting students to consider believing something.

    For example, let’s pretend it’s 1605 and that you’re Johannes Kepler. You’ve just put the finishing touches on your three laws of planetary. Your mathematical calculations are flawless; further, they’re grounded in detailed astronomical observations. You can see that you have a proof and, if sound, that it shows the geocentric models of Aristotle and Ptolemy to be badly in error.

    And now suppose you were speaking to a group of Aristotelian astronomy students. Question: would it be improper, unscholarly, or otherwise immoral for you to invite them to consider embracing your new astronomical model? I cannot see that it would. How otherwise could science make any progress?

    Richard Davis, PhD
    Associate Professor of Philosophy
    Tyndale University College

  67. Dr Davis is correct that TWU does not put “lead” and “embrace” together in the same sentence and I did not mean to imply that it did. But the TWU language does say lead in a related context:

    “Faith-based and faith-affirming learning intends to lead students to know God.”

    More over, TWU does not say that students should be asked to “consider embracing” Christianity (Dr Davis’ version in his Kepler example), but rather to “consider and embrace” evangelical faith. The “and” is not trivial, in my view. “Embrace” comes up again in another context, too:

    “we gladly embrace it [scripture] not only for our doctrinal commitments, but also for our daily lives.”

    So already, Dr Davis’ collegial, open-minded language (“invite them to consider embracing”) is a long way from the TWU language which moves from “consider and embrace” to “gladly embrace”.

    As for the larger point, I promise I WILL have a comment on professors and personal views, soon. In the meantime, I would say that scientists have often been in a position where they were reluctant to consider abandoning old views which were firmly held, but then did change their views (often radically) when the evidence was too convincing to be ignored (the circulation of the blood, which contradicted a centuries- old ancient belief seems like an instructive example). In this way, scientific truths are always tentative, not ultimate (another TWU word). But I doubt that most religious scholars are so willing to revise their accounts of the universe or to see their positions as so provisional.

    The Dalai Lama has said that he would seek to change the Tibetan Buddhist doctrine of reincarnation if it could be scientifically disproven. I would be willing to change my view and accept the existence of God, provided I was given enough evidence. Is Dr Davis willing to concede that if enough evidence was presented to him, he would abandon his faith in the Bible?

  68. Prof. Pettigrew: “Dr Davis’ collegial, open-minded language (“invite them to consider embracing”) is a long way from the TWU language which moves from “consider and embrace” to “gladly embrace”.”

    Whenever possible, I try to interpret the statements (/arguments) of colleagues in a way that represents their views in the strongest possible light. I think my “collegial, open-minded” interpretation, as Prof. Pettigrew calls it, is an attempt to do that. On the other hand, his strikes me as rather uncharitable.

    Perhaps we can save a general discussion of the importance of holding beliefs *tentatively* in academic contexts for Prof. Pettigrew’s new blog post on professorial bias. This is a deep and important topic, and I look forward to hearing his views on the matter.

    A quick final word. Prof. Pettigrew asks about my decision procedures for theory (/belief) rejection. This, too, is a complicated matter as recent work in the epistemology of science has shown. But if a short-and-sweet guiding principle is wanted, it would be this: “A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence” (David Hume, Enquiry, Sec. X). The implications should be obvious.

    That should do for now.

    Richard Davis, PhD
    Associate Professor of Philosophy
    Tyndale University College

  69. Thought Experiment:

    There is a Muslim university that requires all faculty to sign statements of faith. These statements would, in no uncertain terms, regard the writings of the Quoran as facts.

    Something like: “We believe the Quoran, to be the inspired Word of God, without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for the salvation of men, and the Divine and final authority for all Muslim faith and life.”

    Would anyone honestly believe that academic freedom actually existed in a university like this?

  70. Other thought experiments:

    String Theory University
    Big Bang University (rival of the cross-town Steady State University)

    String theory, Big Bang cosmology, and Steady State cosmology are claims about how the universe is, just as (for example) Christian doctrines are. If they’re controversial, then they’re to be investigated and argued about, not treated as bedrock principles of an institution devoted to discovery and education. If they’re not controversial, then likewise we don’t found a university distinctively premised on them: Air Exists University? 1=1 College?

    Challenge: Explain why my parodies wouldn’t count as genuine institutions of higher learning and yet universities premised on religious claims do.

  71. just when you think mankind has finally left behind that ancient way of thinking… in 2000 years even mormons will be able to justify their religion as facts and because of it’s age it won’t be disputed. Just like this fairy tale of a school. If you want to go to church on Sundays, fine. University is not bible school, and please stop making sports teams pray it seriously ostricizes the non-fundamentalist/non-psychotic students.