Intellectual Honesty vs. Statements of Faith

This coming academic year I will be teaching a class that runs in parallel to an annual public lecture series. The coming year’s topic is “Religion and Freedom of Speech.” It will look at the first amendment, specific examples related to Islam and to Russia, and academic freedom. In relation to that last point, here are some thoughts that were recently posted on the Patheos blog Cross Examined, related to the recent experience of Mike Licona, which parallels that of many others:

Let’s grant that a university can dismiss a professor for breaching a contract, even one so odd as the one at Licona’s former home. What’s rarely discussed is the consequence of these mandatory statements: they mean that Christian scholars at evangelical institutions are unable to be objective. With their job on the line, their hands are tied. They can’t always follow the facts where they lead. The public pillorying of Licona shows the consequences of intellectual honesty.

I have said before that having a statement of faith that faculty are required to sign is incompatible with the aims of research and teaching that should characterize any university worthy of the name.

See also David Williams blogging about his Westminster experience. And as I mentioned that we’ll be starting off the series looking at the distinctive approach to religious freedom in the United States, setting that in a historical and global context, a recent post on the blog of the Rationalist Association of the UK will give American readers a sense of just how different things are even in a nation with a significant shared heritage to our own.


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  • itsRodT

    Can’t wait to read more on your take on religious freedom and academic freedom, James!

  • James Dowden

    Are statements of faith bad in themselves, or is it just the sort of deliberately anti-intellectual hot-topic items that people are apt to put in them? I mean, if they were restricted to the historic creeds, they could be argued to be pretty harmless.

    • James F. McGrath

      Well, one can certainly make the case that the more extensive and detailed a statement of faith is, the more constricting it will be, by definition (since presumably that is the whole point of going into such detail). But there is also a sense in which stating in advance that one is not allowed to draw conclusions that disagree with X, even if one is persuaded by the evidence that X is incorrect, is in tension with the academic aim of pursuing truth and seeking to follow evidence where it leads.

  • Tony Springer

    James, looking forward to the discussion. I have taught at a few Christian colleges and universities and found as much interesting in what the statements do not say as what they say. In a few schools, in reaction to liberalism, the statements made many points on the deity of Jesus and nothing on the humanity. A docetist might have taught at those colleges.

    • James F. McGrath

      Thanks for making that point! It is something that does not get explored as often as it should!