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The history of the Science vs Religion Myth

10 May

From The Gospel Coalition:

Ronald Numbers grew up as the son of a fundamentalist Seventh-day Adventist minister, attending Adventist schools and being taught young-earth creationism until adulthood, where he lost his faith and became an agnostic. Today he is perhaps the world’s leading scholar on the history of the relationship between science and religion.

If you were to ask Professor Numbers for the “greatest myth” about the historical relationship between science and religion, he would respond that it’s the idea the the two “have been in a state of constant conflict.”

Timothy Larsen, a Christian historian who specializes in the nineteenth century, agrees: “The so-called ‘war’ between faith and learning, specifically between orthodox Christian theology and science, was manufactured . . . . It is a construct that was created for polemical purposes.”

If these two historians—one an agnostic, one a confessional Christian—both agree this is a manufactured myth, then who is to blame for inventing it?

That distinction falls to American scholars from the nineteenth century: (1) Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the founding president of Cornell University, and (2) John William Draper (1811-1882), professor of chemistry at the University of New York.

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Lest we forget about the last 8 years regarding religious liberty. A summary

19 Jan

From Andrew Walker and Josh Wester in the National Review:

For eight years, the Obama administration brought fundamental change to American life. As the administration comes to an end, it is appropriate to evaluate its legacy. And though many such assessments will be written, among the most important issues to consider is the Obama administration’s record on religious liberty. As we’ll argue based on episodes throughout President Obama’s time in office, this administration oversaw an unprecedented effort to intentionally malign and dethrone religious liberty as a central pillar in American political and civil life. Notwithstanding this overall record, and though neither of us is a political supporter of Obama, we applaud the efforts made by the administration in a few areas to champion religious liberty. In 2008, Obama was a U.S. senator and presidential candidate publicly opposed to same-sex marriage. Much has changed in eight years. For the foreseeable future, the legacy of the Obama administration will rest on two alliterative, colossal initiatives that have left an indelible crater on the landscape of religious liberty: Obamacare and Obergefell v. Hodges.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/443933/obama-administration-has-troubled-religious-liberty-legacy

Two Americas

20 Oct

Gertrude Himmelfarb in her book One Nation, Two Cultures (2010) argued that America is comprised of two distinct cultures.  A traditionalist one (conservative, Puritan heritage) and a dissident one (counterculture of the 1960s).  She wrote:

As a minority, the traditionalist culture labors under the disadvantage of being perennially on the defensive.  Its elite — gospel preachers, radio talk show hosts, some prominent columnists, and organizational leaders–cannot begin to match, in  numbers or influence, those who occupy the commanding heights of the dominant culture; professors presiding over the multitude of young people who attend their lectures, read their books, and have to pass their exams; journalists who determine what information, and what ‘spins’ on that information, come to the public; television and movie producers who provide the images and values that shape the popular culture; cultural entrepreneurs who are ingenious in creating and marketing ever more sensational and provocative products.  An occasional boycott by religious conservatives can hardly counteract the cumulative, pervasive effect of the dominant culture.

To Christianity from China: conform or else. To Christianity from American government: conform or else?

3 Aug

Broadly speaking, in China there are two versions of Christianity. There is the one that is officially tolerated, accepted, celebrated, subordinated to, and accommodated by the State in public life. Then there is the one that is officially not tolerated, prohibited, discriminated against, and shunned by the State. Why the unequal treatment? In the former version, the State has determined that it poses no threat to national ideological and cultural orthodoxy and State power. It’s a version of Christianity that will comply with the reigning political elites and their ideological creed, even affirm them. As such, it is rewarded for good behavior with public accommodation. But the latter version, the underground version, has done what all authentic Christian communities have always done on their better days: bend the knee only to the Kingship of Jesus Christ and His Word. They fear God rather than men. It isn’t surprising that such a dichotomy in the 21st century, where a religion is accommodated only in so far as it conforms to a State sponsored creed, exists in communist China, where religious liberty and separation of church/state have never been a fundamental right/principle of the political system. We expect the State to maintain a “conform or else” attitude towards religious communities there. But in America?

Evidence?  Where to begin.  How about California Senate Bill 1146:

http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/08/03/briefing-08-03-16/

 

Do Christian colleges have a right to be Christian colleges?

5 May

From Adam Macleod:

Gordon College is still under attack for being an intentionally Christian college. For nearly two years, cultural elites in Massachusetts, led by The Boston Globe, have been waging a sustained campaign of accusation and coercion in an effort to force the college to abandon the self-consciously Christian identity expressed in its life and conduct statement.

The attack appeared existential at one time, when the New England Association of Schools and Colleges announced that it would review Gordon’s accreditation. Yet to its lasting credit, the college has remained steadfast in its witness. After a well-organized and vocal objection by the college’s supportersand other friends of conscience, the NEASC quietly backed down.

Still the attacks continue. Most recently, a former Gordon philosophy professor, Lauren Barthold, has filed suit against Gordon alleging unlawful discrimination. Her complaint is signed by lawyers of the American Civil Liberties Union. The college denies her allegations, explaining that she was disciplined by her colleagues on the faculty not on a legally prohibited basis but because she wrote in a newspaper calling for outsiders to impose economic sanctions on the college. She encouraged others to pressure the college to abandon its Christian moral ideals.

The ACLU’s complaint does not contradict that account. And if recent history is any indication, the full facts will vindicate Gordon College once they surface. None of the accusations leveled against Gordon over the last two years has turned out to be true, except the charge that members of the Gordon College community choose to live biblically. Gordon has not discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation. Indeed, Professor Barthold acknowledges the “many . . . LGBTQ-identified students who have found deep friendships, intellectual growth and spiritual support [at Gordon].”

So, this case is not about Gordon discriminating. This case is about Gordon’s right to be excellent in ways that other Massachusetts colleges and universities are not. The issue is whether Massachusetts courts will preserve the liberty of Gordon’s faculty, staff, and students to maintain an educational community that is unique in its moral commitments. On this point Gordon College can claim an unlikely ally. If the judges of Massachusetts read the writings of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then they will learn that Gordon College has the right to be differently excellent.

The Constitutional Right to Exclude

In its 2010 decision in the case Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Supreme Court of the United States declared and upheld the right of a state university to discriminate against unwanted student groups by excluding them from campus life. The unwanted student groups in Martinez were (who else?) religious groups that require members to live according to moral truths.

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WSJ: Campus Unicorns: Conservative Professors

29 Apr

From Shields and Dunn at the WSJ:

Everyone knows that academia is predominantly liberal: Only 6.6% of professors in the social sciences are Republicans, according to a 2007 study. But what is life like for the pioneering conservatives who slip through the ivory tower’s gates? We decided to find out by interviewing 153 of them.

Many conservative professors said they felt socially isolated. A political scientist told us that he became a local pariah for defending the Iraq war in his New England college town, which he called “Cuba with bad weather.” One sociologist stated the problem well: “To say a strong conservative political opinion with conviction in an academic gathering is analogous to uttering an obscenity.” A prominent social scientist at a major research university spoke of the strain of concealing his political views from his colleagues—of “lying to people all the time.”

Some even said that bias had complicated their career advancement. A historian of Latin America told us that he suffered professionally after writing a dissertation on “middle-class white guys” when it was fashionable to focus on the “agency of subaltern peoples.” Though he doesn’t think the work branded him as a conservative, it certainly didn’t excite the intellectual interest of his peers.

A similarly retrograde literature professor sought advice from a colleague after struggling to land a tenure-track job. He was told that he had “a nice resume for 1940.” As Neil Gross has shown, liberal professors often believe that conservatives are closed-minded. If you got to choose your colleagues, would you hire someone you thought fit that description?

Yet the professors we spoke to were surprisingly sympathetic toward their liberal colleagues. “The majority always thinks it’s treating the minority well,” said the tormented social scientist mentioned above. “That’s a basic psychological trick we all play on ourselves.” Reflecting on bias in the peer-review process, a sociologist told us: “I don’t think there is conscious bad faith going on. I think when people read things they wish to politically sympathize with, it adds brightness points.”

Some professors suggested that there are compensating benefits to being out of place. For one, it’s easier to make innovative contributions. “I really do feel sorry for your absolutely conventional liberal scholar,” a political scientist told us. He imagined that it must be difficult to discover something new from “within the framework of their thinking.” Another made the point by posing a rhetorical question: “I mean, how many ways can you talk about inequality?” Other conservatives appreciated being held to a higher standard. “You can’t be lazy. You can’t—you’re not going to be cut any slack,” a philosopher said. “I think that’s a real advantage insofar as it makes the work better.”

That underlines an important point: Political bias expresses an intellectual orientation—one that inclines us to find some questions more important and some explanations more plausible. Because of this, none of us can rely on our fellow partisans to identify flaws in our thinking. Building an academic community with varied biases, then, is essential to the very health of the social sciences. Political uniformity makes it difficult to converge on the best approximation of the truth.

It’s true that in some happy cases social science is self-correcting. But it can take a very long time. Sociologists spent decades playing down the importance of two-parent households before finally admitting that family structure matters. As a conservative in the field told us: “Basically, sociology had to be dragged kicking and screaming until it recognized that broken families aren’t a good thing. It’s like, if you have to spend decades and millions of dollars in [National Science Foundation] grants to convince astronomers that the sun rises in the east.”

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What does the Christian church really face after Obergefell?

22 Apr

From Jake Meador:

Hope, History, and the American Church After Obergefell
It’s a truth universally recognized by anyone who has ever talked about the BenOp that a person who expresses concern about the church’s future is in want of a person to quote Tertullian at them.

Sorry, is that cheeky? Here’s the quote and we’ll get to why it grates on my hear so in a moment: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

The problem isn’t that Tertullian is always wrong. The problem is that this quote has become a sort of truism reflexively recited by American evangelicals who can only imagine that government-sanctioned opposition to the church will be a good thing for the American church. And while there will likely be some benefits to come from opposition, it’s essential that evangelicals not be overly sanguine about the American church’s short-term prospects.

The Historical Precedent for the Death of Regional Churches

The first point we need to get clear is that, historically speaking, it is simply not true that persecution always helps to strengthen and refine the church. Sometimes persecution simply destroys a church. Once upon a time there were thriving churches in northern Africa, the Middle East, China, and Japan. Then they died. (You can read about them in this fine book by Philip Jenkins.)

Those churches were all either destroyed (in the latter cases) or driven to the very edge of society (in the case of the two former groups). Indeed, what little remained of the historic churches of the Middle East has been largely eradicated by ISIS.

Thus we need to first figure out why these churches were destroyed or simply made into permanent extreme minorities. There are a number of factors in play:

In some cases, the church was closely tied to a ruling elite and when that elite was overthrown the church lost its standing and was crushed.
In other cases, the faith was actually only professed by a small minority of social elites and never penetrated into the mass population.

Finally, in still other cases, Christian identity has become conflated with a set of other characteristics or cultural values which, over time, erode the distinctly Christian characteristics of a people. So there is still a superficial Christianity, but it is badly compromised by its close ties to nationalism. Greece is a good example of this as somewhere between 88 and 98% of the population profess to be Greek Orthodox but only 27% of those people actually attend church weekly. Elsewhere in Europe the numbers are even more dire. In Denmark, 80% of the population is Lutheran but only 3% attend any kind of church service weekly. This critique also applies to cities and states in the USA that are historically Catholic, such as Chicago or Boston. The gap between those who claim to adhere to a specific faith and those who attend church weekly is enormous.
What all this means is that there are a number of conditions that have historically caused local churches to crumble and regional churches to disappear or lapse into a kind of permanent minority status. And the key thing to get clear is that this is very much a live possibility in the United States.

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