Skeptics Are Not Gloating Over the Treatment of Michael Licona

Randall Rauser, a Christian scholar who I respect, has just weighed in on the Michael Licona situation on his blog (see here). I want to comment on just one part of Rauser’s post.

The image of a witch hunt has been bandied about by many commentators. One could just as well speak of an academic lynching. But regardless of the chosen metaphor, it is difficult to calculate the egregious impact this kind of fierce attack on honest scholarship will have on the intellectual freedom and credibility of the evangelical community. I have already read about it on several atheist and skeptic websites as a prime example of the lack of free thought in many evangelical institutions. Sadly, they’re right.

Incidentally, where the gloating skeptics go critically wrong is in thinking that this opposition to free thought is tied to religion in particular. On the contrary it is tied to ignorance, fear, and power politics. And the same problems can be found in the secular university or the back benches of most political parties. You just have to find the right issue to feel the sting of public censure from the powers that be.

I have no idea if I am one of the skeptics Rauser refers to. If I am, however and for what it’s worth, I want to go on record to make it clear that I, for one, am not “gloating” about Licona’s fate in any sense whatsoever. I wish no ill will to Licona personally; I respect him as a scholar; I think he’s gotten a raw deal; and I do not feel any joy from the fact, if it is a fact, that Evangelical institutions have some sort of doctrinal position which is contrary to the ethics of belief required by freethought.  On the contrary, I think that fact, if it is a fact, is a sad one.

And I hope it’s not a fact. I personally have benefitted greatly from reading the writings of several Evangelical scholars. (To cite just one example, I assume that David Baggett and Jerry Walls are Evangelicals and I think their book Good God is a very impressive accomplishment.) Although Evangelicals and I disagree and although they (apparently and incorrectly) assume that my nonbelief, like that of all nonbelievers, is due to some moral failing, I believe we can all benefit from the insights provided by anyone, including Evangelicals, who has written thoughtfully about life’s big questions. It would be a shame if the intellectual insights of Evangelicals were stifled because of some self-imposed censorship based on a particular viewpoint about the role of faith and reason, itself rooted in the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.

I’ve previously asked any Evangelical readers to chime in if they disagree with Geisler’s and Craig’s religious epistemology (see, for example, here). The last thing I want to do is to criticize a straw man version of Evangelicalism. So I am very interested in Rauser’s statement:

“Incidentally, where the gloating skeptics go critically wrong is in thinking that this opposition to free thought is tied to religion in particular. On the contrary it is tied to ignorance, fear, and power politics.”

I agree with Rauser that “ignorance, fear, and power politics” lies at the root of much opposition to freethought and that that opposition is not tied to religion in particular. Again, my point was different. My worry is that one branch of one religion, at least, apparently and as a matter of doctrine, is opposed to freethought. I am not aware of any analogous normative principle for atheists, but if one existed, I would have the same worries and would be equally critical of that “doctrine.”

Atheist philosopher George H. Smith put it best when he wrote: “We have nothing to fear, and everything to gain, from the honest pusuit of truth.”

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