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Christian universities are necessary

A Trinity Western University professor responds to the charge that religious universities are incompatible with academic freedom.


 

The “long war” between reason and faith, to which Todd Pettigrew alludes in the debate over Trinity Western University’s status as a university, has generated more heat than light over the proper relation between a liberal and secular society on the one hand, and religious universities on the other. Since liberalism is the semi-official ideology of the university community, it is appropriate to reflect on what the liberal approach to education actually teaches.

Related: Academic freedom at Trinity Western? Also see: The end of the religious university? And: TWU in its own words: special no-straw edition

Seventy-five years ago, the philosopher George Santayana zeroed in on the often contradictory nature of liberalism in this vein when he distinguished between a liberal “method of government” and a liberal “principle of thought.” The first calls on all of its citizens to accept only liberalism while rejecting all other rivals to its hegemony; the second “throws the mind open to all alternatives.” Santayana implied that this was a classic case of wanting it both ways: if a liberal mode of government expects us all to be liberals, then how can we be allowed to consider all other alternatives to liberalism? “In this way,” Santayana wrote, “liberalism as a method of government may end by making liberalism difficult as a method of thought.”

Santayana’s diagnosis of liberalism’s incoherence lies at the heart of the flawed attempt to censor Trinity on the grounds that it insists that all employees sign a Statement of Faith as a condition of their employment. Is it liberal, however, to impose secular liberalism on Canadian universities? If that is the case, then any real attempt at censorship would have to monitor every single university in the nation for its adherence to completely unrestricted inquiry into all fields. Santayana himself doubted that any institution or society would ever tolerate totally unrestricted questioning, since this attitude “would smile on all types of society, as on the birds, reptiles, and carnivora at the zoo.”

I personally have never encountered any university anywhere that “smiles” on every point of view; few schools, after all, have hired open Holocaust deniers. Do the censors expect only Trinity Western University and its sister religious schools to live up to an ideal that no one else is truly expected to fulfill, namely the absolute suppression of any restrictions whatsoever on academic freedom?

Once upon a time there were liberals who welcomed, or at least did not object to, the existence of religious universities on the grounds that they too contributed to the marketplace of ideas. True liberty, as James Madison and other Enlightenment liberals understand the concept, required that a society tolerate ideas which may conflict with mainstream opinion. A pluralism that tolerates all ideas, even illiberal ones, widens the conversation over the life of the mind. To be sure, these liberals still demanded that these universities adhere to the highest standards of academic excellence. Nevertheless, they spied no contradiction between this excellence and the maintenance of a Christian tradition in these schools.

Pettigrew may well respond that secular universities do a better job of preserving the marketplace of ideas so beloved to liberals, past and present. I have grave doubts about the accuracy of this (hypothetical) claim. Trinity would not be necessary if Christian scholarship enjoyed an equal hearing on the Canadian university scene. I can point to a great deal of evidence that suggests that most academics typically go out of their way to demonize Christianity as a bigoted, irrational, and oppressive force.

One of the paradoxes of historically Christian nations like Canada or the United States is the length to which opinion-makers and academics single out this faith as the source of the gravest evils in the world today, a phenomenon which Paul Gottfried ably documents in his work Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Toward a Secular Theocracy (2002). It is ironically illiberal that nations with Christian roots so easily tolerate the vilification of a faith tradition that helped to found Western civilization.

If we truly lived in a liberal society, the current debate over Trinity Western University’s status as a university would not be necessary. Since we do not, it is all the more necessary to preserve the distinctive contribution that our school makes to the wider university community in Canada.

Grant Havers is chair and associate professor in the Department of Philosophy at Trinity Western University.


 

Christian universities are necessary

  1. Dr. Havers: I’m glad to see Macleans has turned the podium over to the other side for comment. You write:
    “True liberty, as James Madison and other Enlightenment liberals understand the concept, required that a society tolerate ideas which may conflict with mainstream opinion. A pluralism that tolerates all ideas, even illiberal ones, widens the conversation over the life of the mind.”

    My question (and it is sincere):
    Is it the case that what Madison describes here of “true liberty” in the macro society is in practice in the micro at TWU? More directly, does the requirement that you sign the Statement of Faith uphold and strengthen the mind-widening pluralism in the “mainstream” of the TWU “society,” especially in so far as the faculty are concerned? Or (picking up on your Santayana point) is there a different notion of “academic freedom,” under which TWU’s SoF requirement can plausibly–and if so, one would hope, successfully–be defended ?

  2. It is mighty ironic that Pettigrew demands toleration through being intolerant of TWU. Oh to live in a self-contradicting world.

  3. Even if the argument above is valid, it still doesn’t explain why a Christian university, in particular Trinity Western University, is legitimate, just that it can’t automatically be ruled out – unless you’re saying that every institute with restrictions is just as entitled to call itself a university.

    What do we make of a Mormon university that requires its faculty to uphold the inerrancy of The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price and the official declarations of the Church’s Prophet(s)? I haven’t read BYU’s guidelines, but I would guess they’re something like that. Would you say that a scholar studying the LDS Scriptures under such restrictions had academic freedom? (Not to mention the implications such a view would have for history, science etc.)

    I don’t see a difference between that example and a Christian university that forbids its professors to deny the inerrancy of the Bible. These are real practical issues I just can’t get around.

  4. Rattigan,

    Why do you insist on a brutally literalist reading of the concept of “inerrancy”? You seem to demonstrate a willful ignorance as to what is involved in basic reading comprehension and interpretation (!). You no doubt subscribe to the simplistic view that “because slavery is mentioned in the Bible, then no doubt Christians approve of slavery” – never mind the fact that slavery is mentioned as an historical fact and not an ecclesiastical admonition. Judas hanged himself; do Christian’s approve of suicide?

    How many times do wearied Christian academics have to tell your kind that the Bible is not nor ever was intended to be a scientific textbook? Nor do Christian academics (worthy of the name)claim for the Bible lofty aspirations to absolute archaeological or historical inerrency. Perhaps a Bible scholar can help me out here, but I believe inerrancy refers mainly, if not exclusively, to basic tenents of Christian belief and moral principals.

    Regarding the basic belief of the historical existence of Jesus, I believe the jury is still out and will probably remains so for as long as the attempt to prove empirical non-existence remains logically impossible (non-contradiction principal notwithstanding). In other words: show me the internal contradiction in the existence of the historical existence of someone named Jesus and maybe I’ll cede your point. Heck, then show me a convincing argument that YOU yourself exist. See what we’re getting at here…?

    Finally, (regarding moral principals) what part of Love your neighbour and Love the Lord your God do find offensive and inaccurate (if a moral principal can be called erroneous at all?) This, after all, is the sum of the Old and New Testaments, if Jesus is to be taken at His literal word.

  5. “Why do you insist on a brutally literalist reading of the concept of “inerrancy”?”

    I don’t. I’m more than aware of the range of views on inerrancy within evangelical scholarship. I wrote 25,000 words on that very subject for my degree in theology.

    I don’t insist on a brutally literalist reading of “inerrancy.” I don’t hold the view that because slavery is mentioned in the Bible, therefore Christians approve of slavery. I don’t believe the Bible is a scientific textbook, and I don’t allege that all evangelicals believe so. Nor do I believe Jesus never existed.

    Since your whole response to me is basically a list of (hysterical, intemperate and bizarre) unfounded allegations about what I believe, there really is no response I can give.

  6. Hysterical or not – I was referring to your equating of the Christian view of inerrency with a presumably literalist and extremely narrow view of inerrancy that may or may not be espoused by Mormons and other cults:

    “I don’t see a difference between that example and a Christian university that forbids its professors to deny the inerrancy of the Bible.”

    Moreover, you have failed to indicate (given the elastic interpretation of inerrancy you yourself have ceded) how exactly disallowing any denial of Biblical inerrancy is as doom-laden as you insinuate: “Not to mention the implications such a view would have for history, science etc”

    I may be hysterical but I would hazard that your insinuations are far from charitable. What exactly do you suggest would result from a Mormon hegemony of historical and scientific inquiry? Or perhaps a Muslim hegemony? Is there really no difference between these various understandings and practical applications of “inerrancy” ?

  7. “I was referring to your equating of the Christian view of inerrency with a presumably literalist and extremely narrow view of inerrancy that may or may not be espoused by Mormons and other cults.”

    Who’s insisting on a “brutally literalist” interpretation of inerrancy now?

    There are different views of inerrancy within other religions, such as Mormonism, too, but no matter how “elastic” those views are, they still have a bearing on matters of history and science (for example).

    In evangelical scholarship, even within a relatively flexible definition of inerrancy, it would still usually entail that certain biblical events were actual, historical events, eg Adam and Eve, the Fall, the Noahic Flood, the Exodus, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection of Jesus. (Some of these are explicitly mentioned in TWU’s Statement of Faith, too.) There may be some room for manoeuvre in the details, but fundamentally there are conclusions about history that cannot be avoided if you take an inerrant view of Scripture.

  8. David, please point out where in the TWU Community Agreement or in the Statement of Faith it declares that every professor must hold to the strict belief of biblical inerrancy as you have defined it and applied it to TWU.

    This is what I found, “The University’s acceptance of the Bible as the divinely inspired, authoritative guide for personal and community life…” (Community Agreement).

    “We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings.” (Statement of Faith)

    I can not see in either one of those statements something which states that you must believe that Adam and Eve were literally created 6000 years ago or that the flood was an actual universal flood.

    Note the nuance in the Statement of Faith where it states that “the Bible is without error in the original writings.” As a biblical studies student you should know that we don’t have the original manuscripts, which is why there is a field called text criticism that actively seeks to construct the best readings of biblical texts (which is why we have apparatuses in our Greek, Hebrew etc. texts).

    I think your argument may be both a straw man (since you have nothing but a caricature to defend your arguments) and tautological. You’ve assumed what you’ve set out to prove and look at your conclusion or at least what I think you may be concluding (TWU profs are forced to be biblical inerrantists and are thus incapable of legitimate scholarship and therefore TWU is an illegitimate institution because profs can’t operate in an environment of academic freedom).

    I am an alum of the biblical studies program at TWU and I can tell you that many of the profs (at least ones I spoke to) there would consider the Noahic Flood story as allegorical.

  9. Logan, please show me where I caricatured inerrancy in the way you describe, as I think like Theresa you have in fact caricatured *my* words.

    Here is the full section from the TWU Statement of Faith:

    “We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the
    ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavour should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.”

    How have I defined it differently?

    I certainly did not say what you allege, ie “you must believe that Adam and Eve were literally created 6000 years ago or that the flood was an actual universal flood.” I didn’t say anything about Young Earth Creationism (6,000 years) or a universal flood. I deliberately didn’t go beyond the very broad description “Noahic flood,” which allows for a local as well as a universal interpretation. As for Adam and Eve, the Statement of Faith seems quite clear to me: “We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image, but they sinned when tempted by Satan.” Am I misinterpreting it by supposing it requires a historical Adam and Eve and an actual, historical Fall? I assumed nothing more than that – nothing about the precise details, and certainly nothing about 6,000 years.

    What is there to disagree with in the definition I gave above? I repeat it here with caps to emphasize the nuances you didn’t seem to notice:

    “In evangelical scholarship, even within a relatively flexible definition of inerrancy, it would still USUALLY ENTAIL entail that certain biblical events were actual, historical events, eg Adam and Eve, the Fall, the Noahic Flood, the Exodus, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection of Jesus. (Some of these are explicitly mentioned in TWU’s Statement of Faith, too.) THERE MAY BE SOME ROOM FOR MANOEUVRE IN THE DETAILS, but fundamentally there are conclusions about history that cannot be avoided if you take an inerrant view of Scripture.”

  10. David, you continually insist that certain Biblical narratives which have long been accepted as metaphorical anecdote by the vast majority of Christian scholars, including many if not all at TWU, ARE treated by all Christians as historical fact. This is just simply not the case. You are, unfortunately, still working with a straw man. Then, when we call you on it, you accuse us of not reading your statements with any sort of understanding or deliberately misconstruing your meaning. If you were in fact a theological student you should KNOW this! The creationist / literalist perspective is a tiny little niche within a huge body of Biblical scholarship. The reason, I can only guess, that you do this is because you need to attribute the wackier literalist beliefs to the entire institution in order to discredit TWU.

    Trinity Western’s Statement of Faith is exactly that: it holds to tenets of FAITH, not contradictory versions of historical or scientific fact imposed through some sinister dogmatism. The Virgin Birth, Resurrection of Jesus, etc., can never be proven on empirical grounds nor does the school insist that they do. Ergo, I fail to see how this affects serious scholarship in any of the sciences and even humanities. I also fail to see how it so ominously leads to “conclusions about history” as you state.

    If you are so very concerned about radical revisionism being applied basic historical fact for the purposes of oppressive propaganda, I suggest you turn your guns on those that truly deserve them: namely the Maoists and Stalinists and other (ironic!) atheistic regimes. And again, I ask you: what negative implications can you describe as flowing from our statement of faith? Please do not simply insinuate.

  11. O, one other quick point to close a hole that I left by reading hastily:

    ““We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image, but they sinned when tempted by Satan.” Am I misinterpreting it by supposing it requires a historical Adam and Eve and an actual, historical Fall? I assumed nothing more than that – nothing about the precise details, and certainly nothing about 6,000 years.”

    I would say that even this insistence on an historical Adam and Eve (far removed in the distant past… even if it were a couple hundred thousand years ago…) is still building a straw man. The point, again, of this symbolic passage in the Bible (yes, Symbolic – not strictly historical) has primarily to do with morality and faith and not empirical history. Whether or not Adam and Eve were the first “sinners” is not so important as the very obvious fact that no human being since “then” is free of sin or error. If there is historical truth to the Fall narrative, you need not look any further in the past than a moment ago to see the truth of the matter.

  12. “David, you continually insist that certain Biblical narratives which have long been accepted as metaphorical anecdote by the vast majority of Christian scholars, including many if not all at TWU, ARE treated by all Christians as historical fact. This is just simply not the case.”

    Theresa, I am genuinely baffled.

    I have never once said that allegorical or metaphorical biblical narratives are treated by all Christians as historical fact, much less all TWU professors.

    In fact, I explicitly denied I was accusing TWU professors of being creationists. I am well aware that scientific creationism is a minority position in evangelical scholarship, and I haven’t once accused TWU professors of holding to it.

    Which of the “wackier literalist beliefs” have I applied to “the entire institution in order to discredit TWU?”

    Where are you getting this from? Please show me a single statement where I have said any of the things you attribute to me.

    I am eager to have a mutually beneficial discussion about the TWU controversy, but I don’t think that can begin as long as these accusations continue. I get the feeling you decided from the start I was a certain “type” (you said as much), and then thought you could read between the lines and conclude what I believed.

  13. Theresa, can I ask what your connection is to TWU? I’m not bothered that you’re connected, but it would be useful to know whether you’re interpreting the Statement of Faith from the point of view of a student, a member of faculty etc. Your interpretation would certainly carry a lot more weight if you were a member of the teaching staff who was bound by it, for example.

    A strictly symbolic interpretation of Adam and Eve does not seem consistent to me with the Statement of Faith. While it allows for a variety of broadly evangelical beliefs (that Adam and Eve were the first hominids to bear the image of God, for example), it still appears to be speaking of a basically historical event:

    “We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image, but they sinned when tempted by Satan.”

    Just as when the Statement of Faith describes the death and resurrection of Jesus, it appears to be speaking of a historical event:

    “We believe that Jesus Christ, as our representative and substitute, shed His blood on the cross as the perfect, all-sufficient sacrifice for our sins. His atoning death and victorious resurrection constitute the only ground for salvation.”

    I can’t imagine TWU would accept a symbolic interpretation of the Atonement and Resurrection. Am I wrong?

  14. Re: Adam and Eve, what puzzles me about the symbolic interpretation you offer is that it is so loose an interpretation that even I could agree to it. I have difficulty believing that an evangelical university would interpret its own statement of faith so broadly that it could accommodate even a liberal agnostic.

  15. To Kara: good question about the micro vs. the macro level of tolerance. In brief, traditional Enlightenment liberals like the American founders and the social contractarians did not oppose religious schools as long as citizens had a choice whether to attend them or not. If any single school enjoyed a monopoly position, then one’s autonomy would be compromised. Thus, freedom was preserved while these schools existed. If people found them to be intolerant, they could leave or refuse to attend them. Of course, they never anticipated the day that the state would take control of higher education and force private schools on the defensive (through public funding, etc.). I doubt that they would consider that to be a policy which promotes true freedom, given the uneven playing field that now exists between the state and religious schools (at least in Canada).

  16. To David: the analogy you draw between allowing a Mormon school and a mainstream Christian university does not hold. Whatever one thinks about Christianity, it is a founding tradition of the West. (The other great founding tradition is Greek philosophy, which is in no danger of disappearing from the classrooms of our nation, one hopes at least.) In other words, it is not just another religious perspective like Mormonism. It is impossible to understand the West without knowing and appreciating the Christian tradition. As I pointed out, since most universities in Canada do not extend to Christianity sufficient and respectful recognition of its historic importance, it is all the more necessary to have universities that accomplish this task.

  17. Grant, I’m not arguing against “Christian universities” (whatever that would mean). Isn’t it possible to “extend to Christianity sufficient and respectful recognition of its historic importance” without requiring inerrancy and adherence to several other specific doctrines? You seem to concede that with the preface “Whatever one thinks about Christianity.” I don’t think there’s any disagreement there.

    But no one approaches Greek philosophy with the assumption that the writings of the philosophers are inerrant. It wouldn’t be accepted. Does that compromise our recognition of its historic importance?

    The analogy with Mormonism doesn’t rest on it being as influential or as important to understanding history. I’m not arguing that Mormonism deserves the same attention as Christianity. I’m talking about the study of documents with the presupposition of inerrancy. I’m not sure how any historical document, however influential or important, can be approached in that way.

  18. David: I have yet to meet a colleague in the Humanities at my school who denies that the Bible is a human book in any sense (that is, literally free of all errors). I have also never met anyone at TWU who takes all of the Bible as literal truth in the vulgar empirical sense. The paradox about the Bible is that it reveals the relation between God and humanity; since all human beings sin (including those who read the Bible in self-serving ways), Scripture must reveal the sinfulness of those who speak (falsely) in the name of God. This is what the Bible condemns as idolatry. To paraphrase Spinoza, the Bible is inerrant because it reveals its own (human) errors. And it can only reveal these errors from a vantagepoint of truth: truth is its own standard (Spinoza).

    As for the Statement of Faith, like any document it still requires interpretation (just as ideas like freedom, tolerance, and diversity do). An idea like inerrancy still requires a non-literal (non-idolatrous) hermeneutic that recognizes, in the light of Christian charity, the difference between the spirit and the letter. The Bible demands its own interpretation, given the human propensity towards sin. Fundamentalists and secular skeptics alike ironically are at one in failing to understand this truth about the Bible.

  19. Grant, I appreciate the engagement on this.

    I have no problem believing you have “never met anyone at TWU who takes all of the Bible as literal truth in the vulgar empirical sense.” This has been the contention between me and previous posters in this thread. I am aware of the nuances of evangelical interpretation of “inerrancy,” and have never suggested TWU professors don’t share the nuanced view; nor have I said anything about literalism, which I agree is an assumption (and a distraction) shared by fundamentalists and skeptics alike.

    What I’m having difficulty grasping is just how open to interpretation TWU’s Statement of Faith is. In my reading, even though it leaves many hermeneutical and biblical issues open to question, it still requires certain very specific beliefs. I mentioned a few above: the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Jesus as literal, historical events. I think I’d be right in saying that while a TWU prof might be free to argue, say, that Jonah wasn’t really swallowed by a large fish, he would not be free to say that Jesus’ resurrection is merely symbolic. Am I wrong?

    Also, for Trinity Western while in its many details the Bible can be called allegory, poetry, symbolism, metaphor and such, the professor is never allowed to say “The Bible is wrong on X.” Or again, am I wrong? He must always conclude either a) X clearly says Y and must be accepted as truth (whether literal or figurative) or b) X needs to be reinterpreted to fit with the truth, but never c) X clearly Y and it is also clearly wrong.

    This would never be regarded as compatible with academic freedom in any other discipline, would it?

  20. Just to make my above argument a bit more concrete (and this actually was an issue with Paul K Jewett at Fuller Seminary some time ago, I believe), suppose the subject was Paul’s views on women.

    To be consistent with the Trinity Western Statement of Faith, a Bible scholar would have to conclude some variation of:

    a) Paul taught God-given male headship, and forbade women from leadership; and this should be observed today;

    or

    b) Paul made certain prohibitions, but they were specific to his time, and aren’t to be directly observed today;

    or

    c) some other interpretation that essentially says, “Paul was right THEN.”

    But what can never be concluded is (some variation on):

    d) Paul taught God-given male headship and forbade women from being leaders AND HE WAS WRONG.

    Am *I* wrong? Would d) be within TWU’s concept of inerrancy?

  21. David: since my school allowed the creation of a new Gender Studies Institute recently, which encourages critical dialogue among feminists on Paul’s thoughts on gender roles in the church (as well as the very nature of identity), I am confident that there is no inevitable conflict between the Statement of Faith (as the admin. understands it) and this new program. Besides, Paul himself was the first to admit, as a flawed human being, that not all of his judgments were inerrant!

  22. “… as a flawed human being, that not all of his judgments were inerrant!”

    I am puzzled then where this leaves the TWU Statement of Faith. Could we not then say that Moses, the Prophets and the Evangelists were flawed human beings, and therefore question all of Scripture? This is precisely the liberal position.

  23. It all depends on what we mean by “questioning”. As Spinoza, the very first defender of what you call the “liberal” approach to the Bible relentlessly points out, every act of questioning still presupposes some standard of truth (otherwise one is stuck in the bog of skepticism). And that standard of truth, for Spinoza, is biblical (the spirit vs. the letter, the tares vs. the wheat, idolatry vs. truth, sin vs. charity, etc.)

  24. By questioning, I mean that you can challenge its authority and its truth. It seems that at TWU authority and truth are an aspect of the Bible that can never be challenged (except in a very general way that allows some debate as long as you come back to the same conclusion, ie truth and authority).

    This is a privilege that no other set of documents has. In any other field, it would be considered incompatible with scholarly investigation.

    Every act of questioning may still presuppose a standard of truth, but still scholars are free to return to those presuppositions, question them, and if necessary change them and start again. At TWU, surely that can never be done without compromising the Statement of Faith?

    It would be one thing for a scholar to come to believe in authority and inerrancy through scholarly investigation. But she would always be free to reject it, or go back to the beginning and come to different conclusions. The essence of academic freedom is not that she *does* hold different views, but that she *can*, if led there by the evidence. And again I return to the observation that this can apparently never happen at TWU without compromising the Statement of Faith that binds all faculty.

  25. David: as mentioned in my article, I seriously doubt that any secular university encourages such an unlimited and unrestricted mode of inquiry as you describe here. Surely at UBC or the U of T there are settled questions too (is slavery unjust? for example) If it did allow this degree of freedom, I assume that it would have to hire a Holocaust denier who claims to be “led there by the evidence” to challenge conventional assumptions that this mass murder actually occurred. I would hope at least that even secular schools retain a standard of truth from which questions can be posed. The real issue here is whether scholarship is truly stifled at TWU due to the Statement of Faith; as far as I can tell, it is not.

    Regarding Spinoza: his two major works are the “Ethics” and the “Theologico-Political Tractatus.” I also highly recommend Brayton Polka’s two volume study, “Between Philosophy and Religion: Spinoza, the Bible, and Modernity” (Lexington books, 2007), which targets the conventional modern view (held by his sympathizers and detractors) that he is a foe of biblical truth.

    Cheers,
    GH

  26. I’m a little skeptical of the holocaust denial example.

    I am against a ban on Holocaust denial because, even though it is quite ridiculous, it not only limits free speech, but in theory everything should be open to critical scrutiny.

    I share your doubt that any university would accept a Holocaust denier, but in my view that would have to be on the basis of bad scholarship, and not because of a politically prescribed absolute belief in the Holocaust. In theory, if incontrovertible evidence came along that the Holocaust was a hoax, the historical record would have to change change. That’s not to say I ever believe that would happen, but if it did, we would have to bow to the evidence. The same goes for evolution – if scientific evidence came along that turned evolution on its head, it would have to be incorporated, and the paradigm would have to change accordingly. The same would apply for any paradigm: gravity, the Big Bang,

    I can say quite confidently that Holocaust denial is always either motivated by political ideology, antisemitism etc, or based on incredibly bad scholarship. And for this reason universities should reject it, just as they reject the theory that the Moon is made of cheese, that the Illuminati rules the world and that the ancient Egyptians worshipped flying saucers.

    Is that the same as having an unchanging presupposition that the Bible is true and authoritative? I wonder if you even believe yourself that affirming belief in the Bible (as a foundational belief, an unchanging presupposition) is as legitimate in a scholarly context as affirming belief in the historic reality of the Holocaust?

    Having said all that, I am interested in the broader issue of ideological bias in secular universities. It would be sad, but it’s possible that TWU’s bias is legitimized by the fact that “everyone does it.” If you can recommend any other reading around this subject, please do. Critiques of academic freedom in the US and Canada etc, though preferably not too partisan or polemical.

    Thanks for the Spinoza tips.

  27. Dr. Havers, thanks for the reply. I’m still wondering if there’s a possible analogy to be found between a liberal state and its form of governance (the macro), as you have described it, and a university and its governance (the micro). It appears that CAUT expects this. So in the case of TWU, might the analogy be that in the place of the hegemony of the ideology of liberalism, TWU “calls on all of its [faculty] to accept only [Christianity] while rejecting all other rivals to its hegemony.”

    Is it the case that “academic freedom” and pluralism can flourish under Christian ideology as much as under secular liberal governance? That seems to be the crux of the issue for CAUT. And if the answer is that “academic freedom” is more restricted under the Christian ideology, is the loss of freedom utter, or is it by a certain degree–and defensible for some other virtue that is gained?

  28. Kara: another good question. As I understand liberalism, the Statement of Faith need not force on faculty a dualistic choice between Christianity and liberalism (btw, many 20th c. thinkers consider liberalism to be a secular version of Christianity), provided that one can interpret this Statement in a manner that does not discourage the practice of charity; one must do justice to opposing perspectives, in other words, as one would demand the same from one’s critics. In brief, that is Spinoza’s approach to the Bible. As for your 2nd query, no, I doubt that TWU could ever permit perfect pluralism. However, as a professor who has taught at other universities, I have never heard of a perfectly pluralistic school.
    Incidentally, one question that I’ve never seen raised in this blog discussion is: why is CAUT going after TWU now? What is special about the current age that makes it so essential to put the spotlight on TWU now, especially if religion is on its way out anyway (a dubious leap of faith here)? Why do so-called liberals today pursue a war that their ideological ancestors would have considered absurd? Somehow I doubt that a new birth of tolerance is the reason behind this unprecedented assault.

  29. I wish to address the following:

    “As I pointed out, since most universities in Canada do not extend to Christianity sufficient and respectful recognition of its historic importance, it is all the more necessary to have universities that accomplish this task.”

    One wonders what constitutes “sufficient and respectful recognition” to Christianity in a country where publicly-funded institutions with strong religious affiliations are actually quite common. Without attempting to form an exhaustive list, I’d mention the federated colleges of Waterloo, Western, and UofT, along with Laurier (formerly Waterloo Lutheran), to say nothing of most schools in the Maritimes. The Atlantic Baptist Convention still appoints members of the Board of Governors of Acadia, and there are similar organizational links at schools with Catholic or Anglican affiliations.

    Now, you might say that these are just organizational links, and it’s true that none of these schools requires that faculty sign a bizarre “statement of faith”. They are, however, free to believe as they would and take part (or not) in spiritual life on campus as they see fit. I’m not exactly sure what “Christian scholarship” is, but I sense some overestimation of its importance to academic philosophy or political science on your part.

  30. I’m somewhat confused by the number of comments suggesting committed Christians cannot be counted on to perform honest research on the Bible. After all, the knife cuts both ways. If an atheist studied the Bible, could we count on her to come to the conclusion that there is a God? Or that, say, the resurrection is a historical accuracy? The claim that anyone studies from a neutral point of view is silly at best.

    Furthermore, passion does not discount honest research. The number of Jewish scholars pursuing holocaust research points to this. We do not call their work inaccurate, rather we respect their passion. We should give Christian researchers the academic freedom to pursue their passion and give them as much leeway as we would give any other researcher committed to an aspect of their field (which I bet would be every researcher on the planet!).

  31. Ziggy, the concern is not so much about what happens when a Christian scholar undertakes research on the Bible, but rather what happens when a scholar is required, by the terms of her employment, to accept certain things about the Bible. A biblical scholar at TWU who conceives of a convincing argument or who discovers historical documents that lead her to deny the existence of God or the inerrancy of the Bible would face a dilemma. She could ignore her findings or lose her job. This is what is commonly called a conflict of interest, and universities usually tend to try to avoid conflict of interests like these.

    I for example, am both a faculty member and a member of our Board of Governors; when the board came to vote on a new contract for faculty, I was required to absent myself from the discussion and the vote because otherwise I would be voting to put money in my own pocket. In theory, one could say I could put aside my own financial interest, but the conflict of interest might compromise my judgement without my realizing it. Moreover, the reasonable perception of conflict might harm public confidence in the board.

    For similar reasons, professors, in my view, should not be in a position to evaluate their own children who attend their university, nor should they participate in the tenure decisions of their husbands or wives. Nor should they accept corporate funding if it comes on the condition that they end up with results favourable to the corporation. Nor should a university insist that faculty have to accept and maintain certain views of history or philosophy that they may not change without losing their posts.

  32. Christian Universities are welcome to study the Bible in any way they deem fit. Anyone that argues on some philosphic ground that TWU doesn’t deserve to be a university is wrong.

    However, as an institution, to have a statement of faith is a slap in the face of Canadian and academic values. Ditch the statement of faith or forever be stigmatized by it. It’s a simple fix.

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