Saturday, January 12, 2013

Philosophy and Faith

Cedarville University, a Christian (or as they like to say “Christ-centered”, as institutions cannot technically be Christian) university, is considering the termination of their philosophy program.  I graduated from Cedarville with a philosophy minor (I actually considered being a philosophy major), and I oppose the termination of the philosophy program.

A philosophy program is a program designed specifically to deal with thinking.  With the mind.  With how we as human beings make sense of the world around us.  You might think that a Christ-centered university would be excited to have the opportunity to think about thinking in a uniquely Christian way.  You might think that Christian parents would want their children to have the advantage of engaging with some of the world’s deepest thinkers from a solidly Biblical perspective, taught by professors who are passionately committed to Christ and to the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.  You might think that Christian students would want the opportunity to pursue an ever-broadening spectrum of knowledge guided by mature, committed, intelligent Christians, to enhance their learning through a philosophy minor, as I did, or to pursue the full-fledged major, without having to fear that their faith will be torn down along the way.   You might think all of these things, but it appears that some people in positions of authority at Cedarville do not.

The very existence of a Christian university is a declaration that Christianity is fully compatible with critical thinking, with the acquisition of knowledge.  Why back down from that bold declaration, Cedarville?  Why say, “thus far will God’s power take us, into theology, into psychology, into literature, into engineering and nursing and pharmacy, but in the region of philosophy we can no longer trust His Spirit to guide and protect us”?  Is not all truth God’s truth?  Why then should we not pursue this particular field of study that is obsessed with truth?  Is there someone out there who has thought deeper thoughts than God?  Who knows more than God does?  Who can legitimately disprove God?

If there’s a deep, dark part of you that thinks all this God stuff is nonsense, that thinks Christ never rose from the dead, that thinks Christianity isn’t actually true, then you do have a reason to fear people who dare to think.  If your faith is a blind acceptance of what you’ve been told, then you definitely do want to keep other people from opening their eyes and deciding things for themselves.  So if that’s true, Cedarville, if you don’t really believe any of the things you’ve been teaching and proclaiming so proudly for so many years, then go ahead.  Get rid of the philosophers.  But let me tell you this: faith is not lost by the pursuit of wisdom, knowledge and truth.  More often, faith is lost when people see hypocrisy, deceit, and dishonesty in the Christian community.

Are you trying to bolster peoples’ faith, to help them grow in Christ as they acquire a good education?  Then be transparent.  Be honest.  Be open about your failings, be open about your journey, be open about where you’ve been and where you’re headed.  Do everything you can to encourage genuine intellectual inquiry.
I had one class with Dave Mills, and I took basically every class in my philosophy minor from Shawn Graves.  If you want to learn philosophy from Christians, these are the men you want to be learning from.  They are committed to truth, and they are committed to Christ.  And they are committed to academic excellence.  The most challenging classes I took at Cedarville were in the philosophy minor (to be honest, I think I got in over my head when I decided to take metaphysics).  And although I never knew Dr. Mills very well, I got to know Dr. Graves and his wife Marlena and they are the sort of Christian role models every Christian young person hopes to find.  The philosophy professors at Cedarville University have proven that critical thought and faith can not only coexist, they can thrive together and feed off one another.  These aren’t just fancy words to Dr. Mills and Dr. Graves, they are a lived reality which is evident in every class, every interaction with a student, throughout their lives.

If Cedarville University can look at their philosophy program, professors, and students, and say, “You’re just not part of who we want to be anymore,” I am sincerely frightened for Cedarville’s future.

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