What is a Degree?

What is a Degree? March 26, 2015

The discussions about my recent post on the topic of university education (which has since become a letter to the editor and posted online by The Collegian) reminded me about this topic that I had saved as a draft blog post to come back to later.

NBC and Hemant Mehta covered the attempt of a Bible college in Illinois to get the prestige that the label “degree” brings, but while bypassing the standards that accreditation seeks to ensure. I find that as despicable as when young-earth creationists cheapen the meaning of the word “museum” by trying to cash in on the authority of the word while abandoning everything that it stands for.

John Loftus suggested that accreditation should be withheld from some institutions that currently have it, such as Biola, which has a stance at odds with the conclusions of the biological sciences.

I would be in favor of denying accreditation to any school that requires one to sign in advance that one will not draw certain conclusions. If anti-science creationist views cannot survive in a context in which they are able to be examined and challenged, they should be allowed to wither and die. Not only will the meaning of words like “degree” and “university” benefit, but so too will Christianity.

On this, see Rachel Held Evans’ article for CNN, about being strong enough to be self-critical. And Christopher Skinner and Pete Enns drew attention to an article by Stephen L. Young that examines the rhetoric and other strategies used in inerrantist “scholarship.” Skinner writes, “At the end of the day, these “protective strategies” that Young identifies are a means to guarding the claims and status quo of inerrantist evangelicalism, and to a much greater degree, preserving the entire culture. The type of special pleading and question begging that are so obvious to those on the outside are missed by the inerrantist insiders because of a certain strategy that is rooted in the practice of impressing consumers with seemingly erudite claims.”

Of course, it should go without saying that what I am talking about is protecting the academic system that both develops consensuses and provides a mechanism for their being challenged in ways that are themselves held rigorously accountable. Without that, we will get people like John Stonestreet tying to appeal to past ideas about genetics in an attempt to justify their rejection of the indisputable wealth of evidence for biological evolution.

Of related interest, the New York Times recently discussed the issue of online degrees carrying the same weight as those delivered in the traditional manner.


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • John MacDonald

    I got my Master’s degree in philosophy about 12 years ago. I defended my thesis on Heidegger and his interpretation of ancient Greek philosophy. It was one of my proudest moments.

  • Marcus Maher

    I think certain online degrees should carry the same weight. E.g., I’m applying to Colorado St. to do a Master’s of Applied Statistics fully online. They say the courses are identical in terms of content and assignments and whatnot. Often courses are joint where distance and onsite are even evaluated together. My degree won’t even say that it was online (though anyone looking at my resume would know since I live in Illinois). I’ve taken some classes there already and think the educational experience has been great. I see no reason why that type of online degree wouldn’t be given the same weight. I know my employer treats it the same. However, if it’s credentialing a series of MOOC courses from a variety of institutions through something like Coursera I could see that being harder to assess.