Liberty University Jettisons Entire Philosophy Department


Yesterday, Liberty University, a Christian University founded by Jerry Falwell, told its philosophy faculty that the their department and their jobs were being eliminated as of June 30th of this year.

The news was shared on Facebook by one of Liberty’s current philosophy professors, Mark Foreman, who wrote:

Liberty University has chosen to completely dissolve the philosophy department. As of June 30 I am unemployed.

There was no advanced warning that this move was being considered, according to Professor Foreman. There is no tenure at Liberty University. Nor is there any retirement program.

Details are still unclear, as there has been no official announcement from the university. However, it appears that all of the professors whose primary appointment was in philosophy were fired, which I believe is 5 of the 7 faculty listed here.

UPDATE: The Lynchburg, Virginia ABC news affiliate reports:

President Jerry Falwell said the department is being dissolved and students will not be able to receive a degree in philosophy from Liberty. Dr. Scott Hicks, interim provost for the school, said they could not keep an entire department going on how few students were seeking the degree. “We didn’t have a lot of students in that field to sustain the number of faculty we had,” Dr. Hicks said. Liberty University added a lower level philosophy course that many students can now take in hopes that this will spark interest and later they can re add the department as an option.

(via Michael Kremer)

 

guest
76 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Thomas Riggins
Thomas Riggins
11 months ago

Well, Liberty University acted unethically, to say the least — but how can one do philosophy at all at a place based on this: “We affirm that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, though written by men, was supernaturally inspired by God so that all its words are the written true revelation of God; it is therefore inerrant in the originals and authoritative in all matters. It is to be understood by all through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, its meaning determined by the historical, grammatical, and literary use of the author’s language, comparing Scripture with Scripture.” Since the Holy Spirit will still be illuminating the understanding of the students of LU they won’t be suffering from the loss of the philosophy department since philosophers would like to, but can’t actually attain inerrancy (St. Paul indicated that the Holy Spirit doesn’t really favor philosophy at all).Report

AD
AD
Reply to  Thomas Riggins
11 months ago

@Thomas Riggins: It looks like you — and perhaps most of those commenting on this thread — should probably take an intro to philosophy of religion course, so that you can avoid saying such stupid things in the future. Report

SolarxPvP
SolarxPvP
Reply to  Thomas Riggins
11 months ago

Hi Thomas, I would like to add on to Nancy’s great comment in the hopes that you will change your mind. Many great philosophers of history and today would affirm the statement you have quoted whose loss or absence would be a tragedy for the discipline. William Lane Craig, for example, has made important contributions in the form of the Kalam Cosmological Argument and would wholeheartedly agree with the statement.

Further, you claim that “St. Paul indicated that the Holy Spirit doesn’t really favor philosophy at all.” The verse that I assume you are referring to is Colossians 2:8. In the New Revised Standard Version, this verse can be quoted as:

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.”

Many times, the Bible can be quoted literally, directly, and out of context without misunderstanding. However, as any historian, Biblical scholar, or anthropologist will tell you, this is not the best way to read a text – especially an older one. The Bible was written in what we call a high-context society whereas most western countries would be low-context. Therefore, we often mistake the intentions of authors due to reading it with our cultural lens whereas his contemporary readers would have knew what he meant. If you would like a different and more charitable interpretation, read this post by Dr. Moyer Hubbard, a New Testament scholar at Biola University.

https://www.equip.org/article/is-colossians-28-a-warning-against-philosophy/

And if one ought to believe the truth, and Christianity is true, it seems that we ought to not be held “captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.”

Report

Elliott
Elliott
Reply to  SolarxPvP
11 months ago

I disagree with Solarx, Riggins may not have been so much concerned with captive atheism but instead is more concerned that the “handwriting of requirements” dilutes the SacrificeReport

Gordon
Gordon
Reply to  Thomas Riggins
11 months ago

What a ridiculous comment. Try learning something about Christian philosophy and the use of the mind to glorify God.Report

T
T
Reply to  Gordon
11 months ago

there’s an oxymoron if I ever saw one, emphasis on you know which part of that word. Report

Thomas Riggins
Thomas Riggins
Reply to  Gordon
11 months ago

I have studied so called “Christian philosophy”– it’s just apologetics, it’s ridiculous to think otherwise. What kind of “God” needs “gorification?” Real philosophers don’t go to the Bible to find “God”, they prefer to read Spinoza. Anyway, my comment was restricted to the nonsense taught at places such as Liberty University.Report

Wes
Wes
Reply to  Thomas Riggins
11 months ago

Thomas, this is an extremely uncharitable comment. There are terrific contemporary Christian philosophers whose work goes far beyond apologetics. Think of Alvin Plantinga, Keith DeRose, (the late) William Alston, Peter van Inwagen, Helen De Cruz (who contributes here from time to time), and scores of young Christian philosophers (the past decade seems to be a renaissance of great Christian philosophy). This isn’t even to mention the rich history of Christian philosophers like Descartes, Berkeley, Aquinas, etc.

Even if the philosophers at Liberty are completely committed to the statement of faith, that doesn’t mean they cannot accurately teach students how to analyze and criticize arguments. In what other departments will Liberty students be able to learn these skills better than they would in philosophy classes?

My philosophy professors at my fundamentalist college are extremely disappointed with my “apostasy,” but it was in their classes that I learned what premises and conclusions even were, what formal and informal fallacies are (even if I now think they were making many of them while teaching me).

Liberty must be doing something similar, as we even have the testimony of another (non-Christian) philosopher on this post who has first-hand experience with a couple of their graduates and says that they are doing good work in graduate philosophy.

Is it really so hard to empathize with five professors who will be out of work because of this decision? Isn’t it reasonable to think that Liberty students are worse off without a philosophy department than they would be with one? This seems like a no-brainer to me. We should be sad to hear that Liberty doesn’t value the contribution of their philosophers and sad to hear that they don’t think philosophy is valuable to their students.Report

AD
AD
Reply to  Thomas Riggins
11 months ago

Thomas Riggins has published 2 things in his career. 1 of them a review. I don’t think his view of philosophy, Christian or otherwise, is something to be taken seriously. Report

Wes
Wes
Reply to  AD
11 months ago

Your comment seems equally uncharitable.

I’ve published nothing. After I finished my dissertation, I started teaching philosophy at a community college, which I’ve done for over a decade. I don’t feel that my views on philosophy at an evangelical college should be dismissed because of that. Do you?Report

Thomas Riggins
Thomas Riggins
Reply to  AD
11 months ago

You can find more than 2 articles if you look on the internet but, regardless of this stupid ad hominem, any comments or articles should be judged by their content and logical consistency. Your use of such an elementary fallacy as the ad hominem suggests that you didn’t take a logic course. This can remedied by ordering Logic for Dummies from Amazon.Report

AD
AD
Reply to  Thomas Riggins
11 months ago

My bad. It appears you have *2* book reviews. Report

Thomas Riggins
Thomas Riggins
Reply to  AD
11 months ago

More like several dozen.Report

Hayden Stephan
Hayden Stephan
Reply to  Thomas Riggins
11 months ago

And what exactly is your argument that a person who accepts the implications of their religious faith cannot do philosophy?Report

Thomas Riggins
Thomas Riggins
Reply to  Hayden Stephan
11 months ago

I made no such argument. Read what I actually said.Report

Craig
Craig
Reply to  Thomas Riggins
11 months ago

What you say here is a bizarre interpretation of the statement, which invites the student to philosophical reflection and method within the statement itself: “its meaning determined by the historical, grammatical, and literary use of the author’s language,”

The position is that the Word is inerrant; and that people are not. Losing the philosophy department is losing a significant part of that determination of meaning. Report

Thomas Riggins
Thomas Riggins
Reply to  Craig
11 months ago

What does this even mean? People have decided the “Word” is inerrant (even when thee are contradictions in the “Word” itself) and if people are not inerrant they could be errant about this. The “Word” that LU thinks is “inerrant” could be bunk and it’s really the “Word” the Ayatollahs over in Iran think is “inerrant” that is the true “Word.” Unless a philosophy department teaches that the “Word” of the Koran has as much going or not going for it as the “Word” of the Bible, since all this sort of stuff has to be decided by un-inerrant people, it’s not doing its job.Report

Jean
Jean
Reply to  Craig
10 months ago

Crazy statement. Philosophy is a God-given gift throughout the history. The decision only means that Liberty is just a school without philosophy!Report

Nancy
Nancy
11 months ago

Hi Thomas. It would appear that you are not an LU student, because if you were, you would be required to take Intro to Philosophy and possibly have a different opinion. I am, and have, and do! I thought the same thing at first – until I took the class. I thought the same way as you. The course is taught from a Christian worldview by profs who are believers. What I learned from the class confirmed what I already knew to be true – that God does exist, He is sovereign, and He is unending, loving, and real. Most importantly though, it strengthened my Christian apologetic in a way that I totally didn’t expect. It taught me how to engage in a dialog with those who are not believers, and prepared me to refute their logic in an equally passionate way. I wouldn’t have voluntarily taken the class, but I’m glad I did! I’m sad to see the department get the ax, but in these difficult times, unfortunately, cuts have to be made. Have a blessed day brother! < Report

Wildcat
Wildcat
Reply to  Nancy
11 months ago

“What I learned from the class confirmed what I already knew to be true – that God does exist, He is sovereign, and He is unending, loving, and real. Most importantly though, it strengthened my Christian apologetic in a way that I totally didn’t expect. It taught me how to engage in a dialog with those who are not believers, and prepared me to refute their logic in an equally passionate way.”

I hate to break it to you, but you took Intro to Sophistry, not Intro to Philosophy.Report

Alexander Avni
Alexander Avni
Reply to  Wildcat
11 months ago

I couldn’t agree with you more. A philosophy department that aims to confirm your pre existing beliefs instead of teaching critical thought is a farce.Report

Art
Art
Reply to  Nancy
11 months ago

If you know it is true, then you must have some proof. i challenge you to call into the atheist experience, talk heathen, or any of the other shows that invite religious believers to call in, explain what they believe, and why, and defend what you “know.”Report

eye roll
eye roll
Reply to  Art
11 months ago

Knowledge is psychological certainty, Art. Don’t you know?Report

AD
AD
Reply to  Art
11 months ago

: I challenge you to take an intro to epistemology course, so you can avoid saying such stupid things in the future.Report

Jason Burke Murphy
Jason Burke Murphy
Reply to  Nancy
11 months ago

You are going to get a lot of snipe-y snarky comments. This page has a lot of self-appointed “philosophers” who know the vocabulary taught in that major but have no commitment to dialogue. Sorry about that. The same thing happens with other posts that are very different.

I do have a question. You value the philosophy class (or classes) you took. Those are gone now. You say that the budget mandated this. I can assure that there were other places to go. LU’s on-line classes had a huge profit margin. Don’t you think the school is poorer now?

Will you let the school know that they have made a mistake?

I don’t know these scholars but students are getting less now. Report

Thomas Riggins
Thomas Riggins
Reply to  Nancy
11 months ago

Nancy, I’m happy your “philosophy” course has enabled you to be ready to “refute” the arguments of your opponents before you have even seen them.Report

Jack Himelright
Jack Himelright
11 months ago

While I have no sympathy for Liberty University ideologically — I’ve never been a conservative Christian, and I’m no longer Christian at all — I do find this to be a loss. You see, my father earned his accountancy degree later in life by doing remote classes at Liberty, which to honor his memory I should mention he attended much more because of the convenience than the worldview. One class he took was an intro philosophy class. I discovered philosophy by looking over his college textbooks: the philosophy one (“Questions that Matter”, what edition I don’t recall) caught my eye and I read through the whole thing voraciously. It started a life-long love of philosophy, and I was quickly pouring through the Cambridge Dictionary and SEP — obviously struggling at times, armed with only one intro textbook of exposure and no teacher — to get a lay of the philosophical land. It’s hard for me to imagine how I would have even gotten interested in philosophy if I hadn’t discovered that textbook. So the effects of these sorts of things can be quite surprising, and I don’t think that should be discounted.Report

g
g
Reply to  Jack Himelright
11 months ago

I’ve taught at a couple of Christian colleges…none as hardcore conservative as Liberty. What I found was that the philosophy department was very much engaged in critical appraisal of theism in general and Christianity in particular. I hate ‘faith statements” but from what I experienced colleges with these statements still have philosophers who, well, are philosophers.. critically engaging important issues whether about Christianity or anything else.
It is also totally true that there is an atheist bias in philosophy—years ago a fellow grad student told me one reason reject candidate x for a tenure track job was that x was a christian. Report

Jack Himelright
Jack Himelright
Reply to  Jack Himelright
11 months ago

Edit: I meant “pored over”, not “poured through”. That’s what I get for posting before my daily coffee.Report

Furry Boots
Furry Boots
11 months ago

Are people really so opposed to Liberty University that they don’t see this as a bad thing? It looks like five people are now unemployed, yet another school has axed its philosophy program, and a large university is going to be worse than it was before. Report

TT
TT
Reply to  Furry Boots
11 months ago

Though I’m sympathetic to these considerations, they are consequentialist considerations. And are we so certain that Liberty with a philosophy department produces better consequences than Liberty without one? After all, Liberty without a philosophy department might very well attract fewer students or be less able to influence young minds through apologetics courses disguised as philosophy courses (these are just examples). These questions are of course empirical questions, but my point is that consequentialist considerations of the sort you point to don’t obviously trump consequentialist considerations on the other side.Report

Jacob
Jacob
Reply to  TT
11 months ago

” And are we so certain that Liberty with a philosophy department produces better consequences than Liberty without one?”

Wtf is wrong with you?Report

TT
TT
Reply to  Jacob
11 months ago

See above. Can you reply with more than rhetorical questions?Report

Kevin
Kevin
Reply to  TT
11 months ago

You don’t have to endorse consequentialism to think it is a bad thing when people lose their jobs.Report

Wes
Wes
11 months ago

I fell in love with philosophy at a school with a very similar statement of faith. The philosophy department was hard-line, conservative, and not open to questioning the truth of Christianity in any way, but my philosophy classes taught me to be a careful reader and covered some basic ideas in philosophy fairly well.

As I look back on my classes now, as an atheist philosophy professor, I know that these classes were more apologetics than philosophy, but there is value in that too. Students learn to analyze arguments and read carefully, even if there isn’t much room to question certain ideas.

I think it is a loss for Liberty students, and I feel bad for the professors.Report

Michael
Michael
11 months ago

I wonder what the Society of Christian Philosophers will do (if anything), in addition to what the APA will do (again, if anything). I think what this evinces is that universities like Liberty likely don’t seriously care about offering a well-rounded university education, and supporting research of those in the humanities that they don’t see as directly serving their ends. For example — and this is just my conjecture — if the various humanities departments at Hillsdale did not retain their various non-Hillsdale private funding sources and did not have as much “media outrearch” as they do (recently the Government or Politics department made a high production “course” and they’re buying a lot of youtube ad space), I would think that they’d eliminate them just as quickly and non-procedurally as Liberty has here if they are negatively impacted by COVID.

I think all academic Christian philosophers (all academic philosophers really) should be asking themselves whether the majority of Christian universities and colleges really deem philosophy and humanities at large as valuable and needed for a university/college education. If the answer is no, or even close to no, then the clear upshot seems to be that Christian philosophers ought to not generally support Christian universities and colleges.Report

Led
Led
Reply to  Michael
11 months ago

By that standard we really shouldn’t support basically any colleges and universities, since the vast majority evince no appreciation whatever for philosophy, and have it only because it’s one of those things they are expected to have in some form. Report

Severus
Severus
11 months ago

I find many of the comments on this post disingenuous. Yes, Liberty University requires their faculty to agree to a statement of faith. But let’s not pretend that left-leaning philosophy professors don’t also propagate their own unquestionable, theological dogmas, e.g. “Dinosaur cancer is socially constructed.”Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Severus
11 months ago

If you look at the thread in which that example was discussed, it wasn’t ‘unquestionable’: indeed, it was questioned pretty vigorously, with the very strong majority view being that it was wrong. And given the readership of Daily Nous, I’d guess the substantial majority of the questioners, were ‘left-leaning philosophy professors’. Come to that, the original suggestion of dinosaur cancer as obviously not socially constructed was mine, and I’m a left-leaning philosophy professor (emphasis on the ‘leaning’).Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Severus
11 months ago

Severus, I take your point. But I think there’s an important distinction between professors who hold views dogmatically, and professors who teach their students through indoctrination. I think the latter is unprofessional, but the former might not be, insofar as we’re just considering the professor qua teacher (and provided that the professor is able to rise above his or her dogmatism to the point where it doesn’t seriously compromise the genuine teaching goals of philosophy).

I also think there’s an important distinction to be drawn toward departments whose professors happen to include those who (unprofessionally) teach through indoctrination, and departments who intentionally promote this unprofessionalism through holding their faculty to declarations of faith. The latter are even worse, even if the pressure to maintain certain views is implicit.

I think Wes makes a good point that a talented-and-dedicated-though-dogmatic philosophy professor might be able to help prepare students well even though a course on dogmatic subjects, so long as the professor has the students carefully examine arguments in the process. There are risks in exposing students to that, in that the students might come to believe even more strongly and inflexibly in the dogmas, under the illusion that they have seen the best of the other side. I’m not sure what to think of such cases on balance. However, those cases seem quite different from other cases in which students don’t even analyze any arguments, and are instead subjected to straight-up appeals to shame, guilt, and other forms of emotional manipulation, along with indecipherable or unclear blathering. I don’t know enough about Liberty University’s former philosophy courses to be able to judge where they fall in this taxonomy.Report

Diotima
Diotima
Reply to  Justin Kalef
11 months ago

Justin,

Is there evidence that LU faculty were indoctrinating their students? Professors from the ND philosophy department, my friends included, often adjunct for LU philosophy courses, running extremely high-quality classes. If the department were trying to purely indoctrinate, I doubt they would allow these classes to be run as they are. Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Diotima
11 months ago

Oh, I don’t know at all, Diotima. I was just commenting on the general issue of dogmatism, whether on the right or the left. I don’t have much knowledge at all about Liberty University in particular. If they were, as you say, running high-quality classes, then I think it’s a real shame that the department is being shut down.Report

Diotima
Diotima
Reply to  Justin Kalef
11 months ago

Gotcha. I seriously doubt they were all high-quality. But I know at least a few of them were. And aside from particular instances, the nature of the discipline makes it perhaps the only domain that could not be completely smothered under the the Falwell curtain. Report

Jon Light
Jon Light
11 months ago

It’s pretty sad to see such hostility to our Christian philosopher friends. I’m certainly not a Christian, but still empathize with a department getting closed, faculty losing their jobs, students unable to study what they might have come to Liberty to do, and so on. None of that’s good, at all. Report

NoName Grad Student
NoName Grad Student
Reply to  Jon Light
11 months ago

I think you’re uncharitably conflating hostility towards Christian philosophy as practiced at Liberty with hostility toward all Christian philosophy. My department in undergrad had many philosophers of religion, all of whom were Christians, but they were willing to critically examine their beliefs, and treated non-believers with respect. However, this does not seem to be the case with philosophy at Liberty. Report

AD
AD
Reply to  NoName Grad Student
11 months ago

“However, this does not seem to be the case with philosophy at Liberty.”

Is there actual, good evidence for this? I don’t understand how anyone could possibly know this that hasn’t taken a bunch of philosophy courses at LU. It’s like critical thinking has gone out the window here, in an attempt to PWN the philosophers at LU.Report

Alan White
Alan White
11 months ago

My undergrad was at an evangelical college with one full-time philosopher. I was there as a religion major training for the ministry. I had to take philosophy , and that changed my life. The professor–a committed Christian who was a pastor and late in life got a PhD from Boston U at the age of 55!–largely taught philosophy through its history. So 10 courses from one person. I did not learn modern logic, and almost no contemporary philosophy, but of course I would only appreciate those deficiencies in grad school (lots to make up!). But did I ever get a thorough training in its history, which served me well throughout my 40-year career (now retired). And as it turned out by my second year I became a non-believer simply because the combo of studying the history of Christianity and philosophy revealed to me that it is a human invention, just as are all major and minor religions, and I have never, ever regretted that gift of getting enough education to decide things for myself. I had a passionate professor–he molded my own classroom persona, no doubt–who simply taught thinkers and what they believed, even though he also stressed errors of non-believers and not those of believers. Did they at least do that at Liberty? I don’t know. But I can say that that Prof produced at least four career philosophers (all non-believers including me) in a period of just ten years. So my take is–if a philosopher teaches the material well–even though with bias–the material might talk louder than any propagandistic agenda. Report

John Schwenkler
11 months ago

My department has had at least two very good graduate students (one PhD, one MA) in the past two years who did their undergraduate degrees at Liberty. This, together with the thought of our colleagues there who are simply losing their jobs, makes me very sad. (So does the hostility toward Christians in philosophy shown in the comments above, but various replies have handled that pretty well.) I hope that others will join me in praying for those affected.Report

John Schwenkler
Reply to  John Schwenkler
11 months ago

*That second occurrence of ‘two’ was meant to be ‘few’.Report

Mark van Roojen
11 months ago

I’m sorry. That’s super shabby treatment. And it is no better when they don’t have tenure. In the midst of a pandemic with depression-level unemployment. People should be just as upset here as if it happened elsewhere. For one thing a bit of kindness and empathy goes a long ways. For another if we let every disagreement become a reason not to care about someone we are all hosed.Report

William Warren
William Warren
11 months ago

I don’t think itis in the interest of faculty to support accreditation for institutions that do not have tenure or other faculty self government rights. If Liberty University still turns out good preachers or auto mechanics let them certify as a bible college or a trade school.

Report

AD
AD
11 months ago

*Philosophers when Liberty University’s philosophy department closes:* LOLZ, stupid philosophers doing apologetics. They’re so dumb.

*Philosophers when any other university philosophy department closes:* OMG the world is ending. We must stop this affront to humanity.Report

TT
TT
Reply to  AD
11 months ago

Strawmanning aside, do you evidence that the first group of philosophers is the same as the second?Report

Jeffrey Levine
11 months ago

And Reverend Falwell’s timing is impeccable as well, in the present job market.
I’m wondering if they will replace it with a Department of Presuppositional Apologetics. Gotta teach students essential reasoning skills, such as “Contemporary Fallacies, and How to Use Them”, and “The Gish Gallop” and other compelling forensic methods. Report

Milton
Milton
11 months ago

I don’t know Thomas Riggins, but I’m sure he has intelligent things to say on many subjects. Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to be one of them.

I don’t know much about Liberty University, either, though I confess that I do have some negatively biased assumptions about it. I shouldn’t draw conclusions based on these assumptions, obviously, and neither should anyone else. So my concerns about Professor Riggins’ comment is based not on any familiarity with LU, nor on any sympathy for the institution. (I do feel sympathy for the persons whose lives just became dramatically more difficult. Here as elsewhere, I find grave-dancing distasteful. But that’s another matter.)

My concern, rather, is with the inference that Professor Riggins feels entitled to draw simply from LU’s statement of faith. Setting aside his tone, the idea seems to be that if an institution has a statement of faith like this–and if faculty sign on to such a statement–then one cannot “do philosophy” there. Maybe that’s true, as a matter of empirical fact. But it doesn’t follow from the fact that it has this statement of faith.

For one thing, there are all sorts of topics about which the statement of faith says nothing. Surely one can “do philosophy” about these topics. But even on issues about which the statement takes a position, are we sure that one cannot “do philosophy”? Is that the right thing to say? To take just two big names, it seems to me that Anselm and Thomas Aquinas were committed to the view that God exists. Suppose this was non-negotiable for them, and that they then went about mustering the best arguments they could in support of this view, answering arguments against it, etc. Were they ipso facto “not doing philosophy” simply because they were committed to the view for which they were arguing? (If it turned out that Philippa Foot was committed to a view according to which abortion should be legal–that this was non-negotiable for her–and that she came up with her violinist argument for the sake of defending that view, would it mean that she wasn’t “doing philosophy”? As far as I know, she was committed to such a view–non-negotiably–but it would be silly to draw from this the conclusion that she wasn’t really doing philosophy.) Based simply on the fact that they are arguing for views to which they are committed, I don’t see why it would follow that they are not doing philosophy. I might draw that conclusion if they accepted any old argument for their already-accepted view, for instance, or if they simply ignored the relevant counter-arguments, but there’s no reason to assume that those who argue on behalf of already-accepted views are necessarily doing this. So I don’t think Professor Riggins’ inference is a good one. Better, I think, to say that in such cases philosophy is being done within certain boundaries, than that it isn’t being done.

Professor Riggins’ inference might be a good one IF “Illumination” was supposed to work the way he apparently thinks it does–that is, if illumination were the sort of thing that (a) insulated one’s views from rational scrutiny, and (b) applied to a very wide range of topics, and not just those addressed explicitly by scripture. But this is not the way illumination is customarily understood within the Christian tradition–in that tradition, it is understood as applying only to scripture, and it is not understood as insulating one’s views from rational scrutiny. (I can cite some of the relevant precedents if you don’t believe me.) And while I don’t know how it is understood at LU, the fact that it isn’t understood that way in the Christian tradition means that one cannot move confidently from its assertion in a statement of faith to the conclusion that one cannot “do philosophy” in a a place which contains such an assertion.

In sum, I don’t think Professor Riggins’ inference is a good one. I am disappointed that he thinks it is. And I’m a little disheartened that so many readers seem to agree with him. Report

ehz
ehz
Reply to  Milton
11 months ago

I think you are misrepresenting Riggins’ inference. You are objecting to an inference of the form: “If philosophers are already committed to a view about X, they cannot do philosophy or engage in rational argument about X”. I very much agree that this would be a bad inference to make — indeed we would have to rule out many philosophers as engaging in philosophy. But I don’t think that’s the inference in Riggins’ comment, if there is one.

Instead, I take the inference to be something like this. Philosophers who fully endorse LU’s statement are not simply committed to a certain religious stance; they are also committed to certain standards of reasoning expressed in the statement. Therefore, philosophers who are committed to those standards of reasoning cannot really do philosophy or engage in rational argument about those matters. Is that a fair inference to make? That all depends on those standards of reasoning. This is probably where Riggins and those who agree with him see the problem. It’s not the fact that the statement commits one to a certain view on X; it’s that the statement commits one to a certain view and a certain way of reasoning about it. The question then is whether that way of reasoning about X precludes doing philosophy or engaging in rational argument about X. Here we might disagree, but to my mind it does.

(A different problem here is whether it’s fair to infer that philosophers at LU actually endorse that statement; perhaps they don’t. I don’t know any of them so I can’t say.)Report

Adam Omelianchuk
Reply to  ehz
11 months ago

“Philosophers who fully endorse LU’s statement are not simply committed to a certain religious stance; they are also committed to certain standards of reasoning expressed in the statement. Therefore, philosophers who are committed to those standards of reasoning cannot really do philosophy or engage in rational argument about those matters.”

Even on that more charitable interpretation, that is still an invalid inference to make. One can certainly “do philosophy” about those things stated in the faith statement. Lots of Christian philosophers and theologians (and beyond) have tried to work out models of inspiration that preserve God’s authorship and human free will in the process of generating sacred text. Granted, it may not be the kind of philosophy most philosophers who read DN care about, but it is philosophy nonetheless (and some of it can get pretty interesting). Taking the time to study serious topics in the philosophy of religion from the medievals to today’s analytic theologians who hail from all sorts of confessional backgrounds should impress at least that much on those who find any kind of religious belief utterly bewildering.

What I take to be the primary objection to this sort of thing is that faith statements function as a limit on academic freedom, specifically the freedom to endorse philosophical arguments incompatible with the faith statement. That’s a different subject, however, than whether one who agrees with the statement can “do philosophy” about the content of the statement. Report

Milton
Milton
Reply to  ehz
11 months ago

Dear ehz,

Thanks very much for your response. In light of Professor Riggins’ other comments, it seems that the relevant inference is pretty simple: if (or insofar as) some endeavor is ‘apologetics,’ it is not philosophy. (Note well, though, that he couples this with the claim that “Real philosophers don’t go to the Bible to find ‘God,’ they prefer to read Spinoza.” I’m not sure that this sort of claim fits very well with your more charitable interpretation of him.)

Perhaps ‘apologetics’ is his way of talking about the “standards of reasoning” that you think are implicit in this statement of faith. So what do we mean by ‘apologetics,’ and why is it incompatible with philosophy? I take it that ‘apologetics’ refers to the practice of defending something—in this case a particular version of Christian faith—by means of argument. (The OED offers “The argumentative defence of Christianity” as part of its definition of the term.) From a philosophical perspective, then, the problem with apologetics might be that it does not follow the arguments wherever they might lead, but designs them precisely to lead to a prearranged destination.

Sometimes this sort of approach leads to some really bad reasoning. And sometimes it leads to intellectual dishonesty. In such cases, apologetics is philosophically suspect, though it’s not clear whether we should then say it is *bad* philosophy or *not really* philosophy. This is a tricky issue, and I don’t propose to offer a solution to it here.

The point I want to make is that apologetic approaches don’t always lead to bad reasoning, much less intellectual dishonesty. Some work by the figures Wes mentions above (Plantinga, Alston, van Inwangen) surely counts as ‘apologetic’; to this I would add some works by Robert and Marilyn McCord Adams, Eleanore Stump, and Nicholas Wolterstorff. Insofar as they are developing arguments for the sake of defending certain articles of faith, are they ipso facto not doing philosophy? Are they ipso facto guilty of bad reasoning or bad faith—to such an extent that they are somehow beyond the pale of philosophy? I assume that the answer to these questions is no, though I guess I could try to convince you if you disagree.

Suppose, then, that the problem is not in the reasoning itself, but in an apologetician’s unwillingness to change their mind about whatever it is they are defending: perhaps their arguments have all been soundly defeated, and yet they refuse to give up on the view they were defending. I’m not sure this is unphilosophical, either; after all, there are plenty of philosophers who respond to such defeats not by giving up their position but by going back to the drawing board to come up with new—and hopefully better—arguments. It seems to me that a lot of creative work emerges from such efforts. So I have a hard time believing that an unwillingness to change one’s mind about what one is defending puts one beyond the pale of philosophy, either.

One thing that would put one beyond the pale, I think, is if one were unresponsive to counterarguments, especially insofar as one either failed to see the force of these arguments or took them to be refuted simply in virtue of the fact that they did not support the view one was defending. In that case, I would say that one is doing something other than philosophy. But I don’t think that everyone who is doing ‘apologetics’ is guilty of such unresponsiveness, such that I remain unwilling to grant that apologetics is necessarily incompatible with philosophy, nor, therefore, to grant that insofar as one is doing apologetics, one is not doing philosophy.

All that to say, I still have a hard time seeing why we should think that one cannot do philosophy at an institution with a statement of faith like that of LU.

I should add that I agree with both of Adam Omelianchuk’s major points: first, that even the more charitable interpretation doesn’t demonstrate that “real philosophy” cannot be done at an institution with a statement like LU’s; and second, that the more important issues here concern academic freedom. The problem I have seen with such statements is not that they make it impossible to do philosophy, but that they can too easily be weaponized against faculty whose views ruffle administrators’ feathers (or, worse, those of alums). That’s a serious issue, and I appreciate Professor Omelianchuck’s raising it.
Report

Marcus Arvan
Reply to  Milton
11 months ago

Milton: my friend David Killoren has argued that robust moral realism is a religion: https://philpapers.org/rec/KILRMR

I happen to agree. Robust moral realists do ‘apologetics’ with respect to commonsense moral intuitions and the ‘face value’ of moral discourse. Does that mean that robust moral realists aren’t doing philosophy?

On that note, philosophy in general seems to be based on controversial intuitions–since, in just about every area of major philosophical debate, the premises that some take as starting points are simply denied by others. Sure, Christian philosophers may base their philosophical investigations on their intuitions–but how how is that fundamentally any different than what philosophers in general do?Report

Marcus Arvan
Reply to  Marcus Arvan
11 months ago

I would also add that in many areas of philosophical debate, this seems true as well: “One thing that would put one beyond the pale, I think, is if one were unresponsive to counterarguments, especially insofar as one either failed to see the force of these arguments or took them to be refuted simply in virtue of the fact that they did not support the view one was defending.”

Whether it’s compatibilism vs. incompatibilism or libertarianism about free will, the hard problem of consciousness, or robust moral realism versus moral naturalism, etc., one *routinely* sees philosophers on both sides of a given debate just not seeing the force of the other side’s arguments and/or rejecting the other side’s arguments because they’re incompatible with the views one’s own side defends.Report

Milton
Milton
Reply to  Marcus Arvan
11 months ago

Dear Marcus (if I may),

Thanks for offering these examples! With respect to the latter, if your characterization of these disputes is correct, then it seems I ought to be even stingier in my formulation about what would qualify something as “not philosophy.” That’s helpful.

With respect to the former, I would be more comfortable if the claim were something like, “robust moral realism shares non-trivial features that are ordinarily associated with religion,” but I gladly take the point–namely, that ‘apologetics’ is fairly widespread in philosophy, and that it is not usually regarded as entailing that something is “not philosophy.” If it’s acceptable for the moral-realist goose, then it should be acceptable for the Christian (or Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, panpsychist, etc.) gander.

Thanks once again. I hope you are doing well.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Marcus Arvan
11 months ago

I think the focus here should be at the level of the dispute or subdiscipline, not the philosopher.

Suppose Professor Smith and Professor Jones are forever arguing back and forth, Smith being a moral realist and Jones being a moral anti-realist. The psychological facts about Smith and Jones are that Smith is utterly incapable of becoming an anti-realist, and that Jones is utterly incapable of becoming a realist.

Must it follow that what Smith and Jones do in their disputes is not philosophy? I don’t think so! For Smith and Jones will both want to vindicate their views and persuade others, and — so long as the practices of their discipline demand argumentation and rigor — they will both be inclined to work hard to come up with arguments and objections, each building off the other. Smith and Jones might be so dogmatic that they are incapable of ever learning the truth or even approaching it reasonably. But the audience of their dispute might be less dogmatic and sophistical, and that audience can benefit greatly by hearing the strongest reasons that can be given on one side or the other.

However, if Smith and Jones were to just scream at each other, or try to get each other fired, or bully journals into retracting their work after publication, rather than engaging with each other’s reasons or coming up with any new evidence or arguments, then they would not be engaged in genuine philosophy at all.

If the philosophy of religion consisted only of believers in the hypothesis of Christianity, then there would be a real problem: they’d be entrusted (as part of their role as professors) to do the hard work of generating and critically assessing the best arguments for and against Christianity (say), but they would not be able to function effectively as a courtroom where such arguments can be judged and the worst arguments, at least, can be dismissed. In fact, though, there are many nonbelieving philosophers of religion, and the exchanges between them and the religious ones help ensure that all the arguments are assessed more fairly. Just as a law-court is not biased merely because the prosecutor and the defense counsel are determined to maintain their respective sides, the philosophy of religion cannot qualify as a sham merely because some of its practitioners are dogmatic and inflexible. Similarly, the dogmatic professors themselves can be legitimate philosophers, provided (and only provided) that they are kept honest by disciplinary practices that require them to engage rationally with the best arguments from the opposing side.

The same principle is true in any other subdiscipline. If, say, feminist philosophy were to consist entirely of feminists, and if all the conversations were to assume the truth of (for instance) the patriarchy hypothesis, then it would not be a legitimate subdiscipline of philosophy. But if one can be a feminist philosopher without accepting the doctrines of feminism (just as one can be a philosopher of religion without accepting any religious doctrines), and if the practices of feminist philosophy involve regular, reasoned, argument-based engagement between believers and nonbelievers in these core doctrines, then there is no problem. And if there happen to be some feminist philosophers who are psychologically incapable of doubting the truth of the patriarchy hypothesis, they might still be perfectly legitimate philosophers, so long as they are compelled by their disciplinary norms to engage rationally with the arguments and objections of those who doubt that hypothesis.Report

Alastair Norcross
Reply to  Milton
11 months ago

Milton, I think you are confusing Philippa Foot with Judy Thomson. Foot invented (as far as I know) the Trolley Problem. Thomson wrote the famous abortion paper with the violinist example. What might be confusing you is that Foot’s paper with the Trolley Problem in it was, ostensibly, about abortion (“The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of the Double Effect”). To add to possible confusion, Thomson wrote many papers (and book chapters) on the Trolley Problem. As far as I know, Foot didn’t write about the violinist example (but I may be wrong).Report

Milton
Milton
Reply to  Alastair Norcross
11 months ago

That’s embarrassing. I knew very well that the violinist example came from Judith Jarvis Thomson. I added that parenthetical at the last minute and obviously wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have been. I truly regret the error, just as I truly appreciate your pointing it out! Thomson deserves the credit.Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
Reply to  Alastair Norcross
11 months ago

To be pedantically historical: Philippa Foot gave an example, in the paper Alastair mentions, involving a trolley. But in this example the person who can turn the trolley is the driver. Since Foot thought the driver would be killing someone whatever he did, she thought it permissible to turn the trolley. (Better to kill one than to kill five.) The trolley *problem* is only introduced when the person who can turn the trolley is a bystander at the side of the track, because if he doesn’t do the turning he’ll only let the five die yet the turning seems permissible. The variant with the bystander was introduced, I believe, by Thomson.

And Foot did discuss Thomson’s violinist example, critically, at the end of her “Killing and Letting Die” paper, if not also elsewhere.Report

Keith DeRose
Reply to  Alastair Norcross
11 months ago

I believe JJT can be said to have popularized the trolley problem — and given it its name, as in Foot’s original paper, it was a “tram”?Report

Alastair Norcross
Reply to  Keith DeRose
11 months ago

Tom and Keith, you are both correct that Thomson both popularized and named the trolley problem, while acknowledging its origin in Foot’s paper. Tom is correct that Thomson introduces the bystander variant, which is now the standard way to present it. However, the problem was there in Foot’s paper. The problem wasn’t, and hasn’t ever been, about figuring out what the driver or bystander should do. That was assumed to be clear–choose the course with fewest deaths (though Thomson’s most current view recants that). The problem was always about why it’s permissible, even obligatory, to choose the fewest deaths in the trolley (or tram) case, but not in various alternatives in which the outcomes were similarly few deaths versus many (usually one versus five). Foot’s paper had a number of cases. The one she contrasted most with the tram case was that of a judge contemplating framing an innocent person in order to save more innocent persons. Foot’s original answer was that the tram case involved killing one or killing five, but the alternative cases involve killing one or letting five die. Hence, the distinction between killing and letting die is what supposedly solves the problem (because, supposedly, it’s worse to kill one that let five die, but better to kill one that to kill five). Thomson’s introduction of the bystander version of the trolley case shows that killing versus letting die doesn’t solve the problem, because the bystander is also faced with the choice between killing one and letting five die. She also introduced the now standard comparison cases of transplant and pushing the gravitationally advantaged person off the bridge. Her latest view solves the problem by claiming that there isn’t one. The correct course of action in each case is structurally similar. You can’t kill one to avoid letting five die. She is correct, of course, that the correct course of action in each case involves the same number of deaths. She is incorrect in her claim about what that number is. 🙂Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
Reply to  Alastair Norcross
11 months ago

If we’re discussing the history of examples, Steve Sverdlik has a terrific paper on the origins of the example mentions, where you frame an innocent person in order to prevent several other innocent people from being killed. He shows that the example was developed in a series of writings by A.C. Ewing., E.F. Carritt, and W.D. Ross between 1927 and 1930. In “Two Concepts of Rules” Rawls attributed it to a 1947 book of Carritt’s; Anscombe used essentially this example in “Modern Moral Philosophy” but, being Anscombe, didn’t attribute it to anyone.Report

Alastair Norcross
Reply to  Tom Hurka
11 months ago

Yes, Steve is definitely the go-to guy for interesting historical stuff. I’m looking forward to the many stories about Bentham that he is digging up in the course of writing his latest book. He is also the one who introduced me to both of the (unintentionally) funniest bits of moral philosophy. The first was, of course, Kant’s wonderfully hilarious claim that masturbation is worse than suicide in the section of the Metaphysics of Morals “On Wanton Self-Abuse”. The second was Leon Kass’s priceless screed against eating ice cream (or anything else) in public. It’s in the Hungry Soul (pp. 148-9). If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and read it. After laughing uncontrollably, then take time to weep over the fact that Kass wasn’t just a harmless nutter, but was head of George W. Bush’s Presidential Commission on Bioethics, and basically shaped policy on such consequential matters as the use of stem cells in research for treatments for horrible diseases. Report

Aaron V Garrett
Aaron V Garrett
Reply to  Alastair Norcross
11 months ago

“Worst of all from this point of view are those most uncivilized forms of eating, like licking an ice-cream cone – a catlike activity that has been made acceptable in informal America but that still offends those who know why eating in public is offensive.” Thank you, this made my day. It should be read aloud when ever anyone threatens to take his views about disgust seriously. And it shows an unfortunate Bradley-like disdain for cats.Report

Alastair Norcross
Reply to  Alastair Norcross
11 months ago

In my book, there are few higher compliments than “catlike”. The pirates are not ashamed of their behavior when they sing “With catlike tread, upon our prey we steal”.Report

Tim Hsiao
Tim Hsiao
11 months ago

The hypocrisy in some of the comments is astounding. It’s not “real philosophy” if it’s being used in service of Christianity… and yet nobody is batting an eye to the various programs, departments, and endowed positions within philosophy that focus on studying preordained conclusions.Report

Diotima
Diotima
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
11 months ago

cf. Severus’s above post on the dogma of social construction. Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Diotima
11 months ago

cf. David Wallace’s reply to the above post…Report

Mike Morris
11 months ago

I swear, Liberty University is God’s gift to satirists that just never stops giving. See “Domino Effect” on UNIVERSITY LIFE, the humor blog devoted to higher education: https://universitylife.michaeladrianmorris.com.

Report

B
B
11 months ago

Eliminating the Philosophy Department suggests that Liberty’s administration rejects the reason part of the faith and reason relationship. It also suggests that they reject the shared part of shared governance. In my view, faith without reason is suspect, and so too are universities and colleges without shared governance. Mr. Warren (see above comment) is right that faculty should not support accreditation for universities and colleges that do not have tenure or other ways for faculty to participate meaningfully in the governance of the school.

On a different note, I agree with those above who have said or at least implied that it is both normal and fine in philosophy to have a settled conviction or view (e.g., that Christian theism is true, or that metaphysical naturalism is true, or that Marxism is true, or that utilitarianism is true) that one is arguing for, so long as one tries hard to be fair to those who disagree with one’s settled conviction or view. Signing a statement of faith does not block one from trying hard to be fair in the required way.

As a final point, it does not seem true to me that atheists are any more (or less) fair when teaching philosophy than those committed to a religion. When I think back on my time as an undergraduate at Notre Dame and a graduate student at Georgetown, I see no general difference in how hard my atheistic professors and my theistic professors tried to be fair while teaching: they were pretty much equally good in this respect, and in general I think all of them did a nice job in this respect. It could be that my sample size is too small, but I doubt it. I suspect that I can generalize to the profession at large: atheistic and theistic professors (and those who embrace third options) are generally equal in terms of how fair they are while teaching. Granted, there might be some exceptional cases here and there, but even so, I believe that the generalization holds.Report

Patrick Lin
11 months ago

…aaand Liberty just posted a job ad for philosophers today. Lol.

https://www.higheredjobs.com/faculty/details.cfm?JobCode=177263110Report