Saturday, July 12, 2008

Christianity, Unbelief, and Advocacy Teaching

Anonymous" If this is an intro to philosophy class that you teach in a secular institute, then your textbook is quite inappropriate. It is too slanted to the Christian perspective. If my child attended said institute I would most loudly complain about the misuse of public funds to further a Christian apologetical agenda.

VR: I didn't choose the text myself, and this particular class is at a Christian institution.

But I don't know about objecting to the apologetical agenda. My own personal approach in classes tends to downplay any apologetic agenda I might have. I'm not much of an advocacy teacher in the classroom. Teaching the subject is more important to me than defending my own positions. I usually just refer students to my blog if they want to know my own positions.

However, I have seen plenty of philosophy teachers with explicit anti-religious agendas who push their non-belief on students. They make it a mission to destroy the faith of their students. It seems hypocritical to criticize advocacy teaching my Christians but not by non-believers.


jaap said...

You note that you "have seen plenty of philosophy teachers with explicit anti-religious agendas who push their non-belief on students." I have no doubt that this is probably true. I have also seen plenty of economics teachers who will point out economic fallacies that very well may be the precise ones that a student's favorite politician uses on a daily basis. It's called education.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I thought you taught at a secular institute. Sorry about that. Now I understand why that particular textbook is being used.
I have no problem with Christians trying to push their religious agenda. What would bother me is if such apologetical work was being funded by taxpayer dollars.

Victor Reppert said...

I teach at two institutions, one Christian and one secular. I don't choose the textbooks in either institution. I wouldn't choose Nash's text for a secular classroom myself. But I wouldn't "loudly complain" about someone who did.

But jaap's point is significant here. A proper education should include exposure to Christian apologetics and anti-Christian arguments. Therefore, although my own teaching philosophy limits the extent to which I advance an "agenda" in my classroom, I think that teachers should have quite a bit of latitute in advancing what they think is true in their classroom, whether it is theism or atheism. I know fellow Christian teachers with more aggressively Christian approaches to classroom teaching who work in secular schools, and if they were to get in trouble for doing what they do, I would just say you can't criticize them without also criticizing aggressively secular teaching. You can't have it both ways, and I am leery of "political correctness" making it difficult to speak frankly about highly controversial issues. You can't call secular advocacy "education" and Christian advocacy "propaganda." Both advocates are advocating for what they believe to be true.

I personally like to use videotaped debates in introductory classrooms, because you get to hear the Christian side forcefully presented and the opposition side also forcefully presented. Then, whatever they think about my position, students at least know they got a competent presentation of both sides.

jaap said...

I agree with you to some extent. Feigned professorial neutrality is not the be-all and end-all of college teaching. Sometimes, juxtaposing one opinionated professor and another is the best thing to do. Most importantly, different people teach most effectively in different ways. Some are naturally inclined to be Socratic and confusing, and others are better at advocating for one point of view or the other. As long as the students come out with a better ability to think clearly and an augmented knowledge of the main arguments that have been historically relevant, I think you've got a good philosophy class.

At the same time, I do not think that it is fair to completely erase any questions of whether a given argument is actually correct from the consideration of whether it should be taught. There is only so much time in the curriculum, and we cannot very well fill it with mostly nonsense. And whether a particular point of view is sufficiently nonsensical to be excluded from college teaching is not determined by popular opinion. If that were the case, we would have to teach astrology, too. I would agree, though, that the particular topic of Christianity is an interesting topic to teach... if only because it is a wonderful example of the transmogrification of the not particularly well thought out belief system of a cookie-cutter mystery cult into something almost plausible, if barely recognizable, by immense amounts of scholarship. Why anyone would, in this day and age where atheism is socially quite acceptable, continue the traditional theological activity of finding interpretations of Christianity that stay true to the original mystery cult without directly and embarrassingly clashing with modern secular philosophy and science—now that is beyond me, but there is no accounting for taste.

Nullasalus said...

And so it goes. Aggressively push the philosophy and politics that someone agrees with, and that's education. Push philosophy and politics they disagree with, and that's propaganda.

With respect to Victor Reppert, who frankly I often agree with, the world would do better to regard professors with quite a lot of skepticism. I'd say blog commenters too, but one look at jaap's replies is all the evidence needed to shore that observation up.

jaap said...

Nullasalus, could you clarify what you mean by the last sentence? I honestly can't figure it out. Should blog commenters regard professors with skepticism, or should the world regard blog commenters with skepticism? In either case, how are my comments relevant to shoring up what observation?

Anonymous said...

"I teach at two institutions, one Christian and one secular. I don't choose the textbooks in either institution. I wouldn't choose Nash's text for a secular classroom myself. But I wouldn't "loudly complain" about someone who did. "

Another factor that plays into this is that said textbook is being used in an introductory class.
Isn't the primary goal in such a class to provide a student with the tools to understand how philosophy is conducted and the different approaches to it that have been made over the centuries?

Seems to be jumping the gun for either a secularist or a Christian to be using that kind of setting in order to try and push across his idea of what the truth is. Shouldn't that be saved for more advanced classes in philosophy?

Nullasalus said...


I'll spell it out: I found your take on christianity's intellectual status hilariously biased and insular. So, I encourage skepticism both to commenters and professors, however much of a perceived gulf there is between them. Especially when it comes to matters of philosophy or politics. That people so often try to pretend they're merely 'educating' when in reality they're pushing a questionable, flawed position on a given subject just makes it a bit more worth of some eye-rolling.