I spent all day Saturday listening to fun lectures and an audio book, (“The Divine Conspiracy“), from Dr. Dallas Willard, a professor of philosophy at USC. (This is why I’m not responding to any of your e-mail or writing any long posts about courting and apologetics).
Here are a couple lectures he did in 2002 at Ohio State University about what it means to be human.
You may have to download them twice, I notice that the first time I try to download lectures that it gives me some short little 250Kb file which isn’t the whole lecture. The second time it works fine.
Anyway, he talks a lot about the work of a Harvard professor named Julie Reuben, who wrote a book called “The Making of the Modern University”. I hunted around and found a three-part book review that I have summarized for you below. The book review is by Mark Hansard at Christian Leadership Ministries, which is the faculty ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
Here’s part 1 of 3.
The first chapter, entitled “The Unity of Truth,” explains the educational philosophy of the early 19th century, and how it fell apart near the end of that century. What caught my eye was the robust view of knowledge that professors and university presidents believed at that time. According to Reuben, they believed not only that all knowledge in different fields could form a coherent whole, but also that its pursuit would lead to a good and more virtuous life. All knowledge led to better action. In fact, she says, university leaders at that time believed that the “the good, the true, and the beautiful were interconnected, and that successful education promoted all three together” (12). All knowledge inevitably lead to worship of God and an understanding of his wisdom.
Part of this 19th century construct was natural theology, which in this case was not merely the admission that design was detectable in nature, thus pointing to a Creator. It consisted of stronger claims such as: the harmony of nature reflected God’s wisdom, that the more we understand of nature the more we can understand God’s character, and that, as one professor put it, “the knowledge of God, derived from the study of nature, is adapted to add greatly to the impulsive power of conscience” (20). In other words, a study of nature would strengthen virtue in the student.
This is why the first scientists (and some today) are Christians. They were trying to find out something about God’s existence and character by looking at nature. They wanted to see what God was communicating to us through the natural world.
And one more:
But even more serious is the loss of belief that moral knowledge is possible. There is no wisdom (in the ancient sense which Plato and Aristotle discussed) in the universities today, because there is no way to know what the good life is, how life ought to be lived. Such things, since they no longer constitute part of the curriculum, have simply been lost. Is it any wonder there is so much moral confusion among us?
This is really what Willard is concerned about in the lectures. If there is no God to create and design the universe, then there is no objective way we ought to be. And when the university stopped doing theology (or insulated it from critical inquiry), they stopped having a foundation for robust morality. Morality is hard. It’s not the kind of thing you can do if you have to take it on faith. Sometimes, moral rules go against our selfish desires, and it’s those times where you really need to know if these things are true.
Here’s part 2 of 3.
According to Reuben, Darwinism brought with it a new, revolutionary view of science that viewed scientific knowledge as imperfect but progressive, always seeking to correct itself through further research and experiment. The new science relied on hypotheses, theories, even imagination as it attempted to explain the world, and a good scientific theory would have practical, measurable results.
[…]Eventually scientists came to view theology as a meddlesome interloper who made a priori pronouncements about truth that simply got in the way of free inquiry and scientific advancement. Theology would have to be abandoned if the new, modern university founded upon the progressive philosophy of science would be allowed to pursue scientific research unfettered. But how could this be done, while maintaining the importance of Christianity? According to Reuben, the solution of scholars and administrators “was to distinguish theology, defined as a mode of inquiry and a set of doctrines, from religion, which was left largely undefined as sentiment, experiences, ritual, and ethical values” (57).
Theology is a knowledge tradition, which purportedly carries authority because it consists of truth claims that carry weight in describing the real world. However, in teaching religion, the knowledge conveyed was not about doctrines of God, man and salvation, but instead a set of propositions about what religious people believed, how they worshipped. In short the study of religion conveyed knowledge about how religious people acted apart from asking the question of whether their beliefs were true. Theological knowledge, and with it moral knowledge, was permanently lost. Instead of strengthening Christianity with science, the new religious studies departments actually weakened Christianity by taking away its authority, an authority that is based upon knowledge. Not surprisingly, administrators could not get students to be interested in their new religion classes.
If Christianity is just a set of beliefs and rituals designed to make people feel good, act morally to please parents, and to have a sense of community, then it is worthless. As the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
Either Christianity is a knowledge tradition, or we are wasting our time with yesterday’s fashions. If Christianity is about our feelings, then it will die, because we can always to make us feel better. What will happen is that you will have people jumping around in church singing songs on Sunday morning, then having abortions and divorces on Monday morning.
Here’s part 3 of 3, but I didn’t find anything earth-shattering in it. It sounds like Christians were too authoritarian and dogmatic in responding to science’s desire for increased autonomy. You cant make an argument from dogma – it just makes people dislike your dogma. What we ought to have done is what we’re doing today: doing good science and good history without any pre-suppositions and seeing if what we find in cosmology, biochemistry, ancient history, etc. confirm or deny Christianity. The lesson to be learned here is that when you insulate your faith from rational inquiry, you reduce it to personal preference and you lose your authority – authority that comes from knowledge.
It’s interesting to think about how different things used to be just a few decades ago when people were not so different to throw off the constraints of knowledge and the obligations of morality in a desperate pursuit of pleasure in this life.