Friday, December 18, 2009

Kelly Clark and Brian Leiter on anti-theistic bias in philosophy departments

Towards the end of this thread, Christian philosopher Kelly Clark raises the question of anti-theistic bias in getting philosophy jobs. This is of interest to me, because I never got a permanent philosophy position back when I was job-hunting. I think it didn't help me, back then, to have my CV covered with paper presentations at the Society of Christian Philosophers and references to C. S. Lewis in those presented papers and in my dissertation description. (Of course, every person's job search experience is different, and many factors are involved). If I had it to do over again, I probably would have done it with a lower Christian profile.

Many secular philosophy departments have plenty of people in them who not only think theism is false, but think of it as a philosophical nonstarter and evidence of some sort of failing in a philosopher. They believe, with Russell, that it is not only false, it does harm. They might recognize that Plantinga is really, really smart, but kind of weird because he's a theist. Do they have an obligation to help to create an open intellectual atmosphere in their universities?

People like Dawkins walk a fine line. They feel they ought to talk about religion, yet long for the day when it can be dismissed with a horse laugh.


Dan said...

Funny thing is, I've had a few philosophy teachers throughout my life, and you were the only one who I couldn't peg (in terms of thoughts on theism) right away. Until I bumped into you at church the first time, I still had my doubts.

Each of my other philosophy teachers were atheists and it was immediately apparent. I wish, if someone were to teach philosophy, they could all be as objective as you were in your teaching. Even as the classes devloped and your theism became more apparent to the class, you were always fair about presenting the different positions and allowing for reasonable discussion (much like you manage this blog). Can't say that for any of my other teacherss. (That, and they all seemed rather pompous about their athesim, which never boded well toward the belivability of arguments.)

Steven Carr said...

Dob't forget that there has been a revolution in philosophy with theism now becoming respectable in a way that was unimaginable 50 years ago.

Invaded by theists

'[T]oday perhaps one-quarter or one-third of philosophy professors are theists, with most being orthodox Christians.'

Steven Carr said...

By the way, it is logically invalid to conclude from the fact that Christians are routinely not hired, that Christians are discriminated against.

Thanks to Professor Plantinga , we can refute this allegedly logical argument by postulating an imaginary world where demons force people to reject CVs from Christians.

So the conclusion 'Christians are discriminated against' does not logically follow from the premise 'Christians never got jobs in philosophy departments'.

Plantinga's arguments are the Doomsday device of Christian apologetics, taking all rational discussion down in his attempt to save his view that God is good.
Just ask Plantinga!

normajean said...

Steven, that was actually funny. Thanks!

Clayton Littlejohn said...

Hey Victor,

I don't know what sort of evidence there is for systematic bias. I remember that Keith DeRose suggested that theists might be overrepresented in top 40 departments and we all know that there are plenty of schools that only hire theists as a matter of policy or appear to favor theists insofar as they expect faculty to support their religious mission.

I'm sorry to that you didn't land a permanent position in philosophy back when you were job hunting. As you note, there are many factors involved. It seems that pedigree is a significant factor in hiring. I think that we're both in the same boat on that score, neither of us received degrees from institutions that will give us an advantage. As for the CV, it may well be that presentations at SCP didn't help much on their own, but if not coupled with presentations at things like the APA it might hurt. Also, given that C.S. Lewis wasn't a highly respected philosopher among those you were trying to get jobs from, that won't help either. If I had written a dissertation on Russell's philosophy of religion and made it patently obvious that I was an atheist, I think that wouldn't impress many hiring committees. I'd need publications in top journals to do that.

I think theists can take some comfort in this fact. Look at the Phil Papers survey and you'll see that there's not a huge difference between % of atheists and theists as graduate students and % of atheists and theists that are faculty. I'm sure there will always be individual cases of discrimination and that's bad, but I don't think there's much evidence that has yet been made available that it's widespread or that there's any reason to hide your theism on your CV.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Wow. This was an eye-opener to me. Having had zero contact with the world of professional philosophy, I had alway just assumed that nearly all were theists (hate that word). It must be pretty boring to be an atheistic philosopher. What would be the point?

Unknown said...

I can see it. As a purely anecdotal example, I have a friend that is working on his doctorate at a highly respected university that shall remain unnamed. He was accepted on a dissertation regarding Charles Taylor, but was informed by the head of the philosophy department that he was not going to permit it as Taylor was "too Christian." The school itself has no policy regarding religion, but the head of the department apparently bars any theistic subject from being entertained at all.

Gregory said...

The terms "theist" and "Christian" are not synonymous. A person who is a Christian is, of course, a theist. A theist, however, is not necessarily a "Christian". In fact, a theist could be ardently "anti-Christian".

Therefore, positive strides made in "theistic" Philosophy of Religion does not, in itself, entail that Christians are, somehow, better off in the Academy.

Atheists naively assume that the term "theist" is synonymous with "Christian". You might have noticed that their polemics against religion are, almost always, indictments of "theism".....except, of course, when it becomes convenient or entertaining to take superficial swipes at distinctively Christian teachings (i.e. the Bible).

Ben Stiller's film "Dismissed"....even if it's mistaken about the rationality of certainly correct in it's assessment of so-called "academic freedom".

The Academy is simply the catechetical arm of the State. The State only cares about preserving a "secular" ideology and a "secular" science, not because the State cares whether these provide true insights into reality, but because they provide "results". End of story. And, by "results", I mean to say "power" and "authority". Make no mistake: John Dewey is king in America. Pragmatism is king.

It's not surprising that secular idealogues, both academics and layman, often refer to the achievements and successes of the sciences as an a fortiori justification of secularism.

But if a person today is to be a rightful heir of Socrates, and to don the true mantle of Greek "freethinking", then he/she most certainly must be a Christian.

Steven Carr said...

Perhaps Gregory is right.

I had never thought about that.

Perhaps all these non-Christian theists are Jews or Muslims, discriminating against Christians.

But many Muslims work in American philosophy departments?

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps all these non-Christian theists are Jews or Muslims, discriminating against Christians."

The most "theist" philosophers who I know, are not supporters of ANY (official) religion. They just believe that there is a purpose in the world or that it has had some kind of first mover. But as an European I haven't ever been in USA, so I don't know how it is there.

Anonymous said...

Vic, I too was never hired as a full time professor such that I even gave up being an adjunct (for now). I'm sorry for you. I think you would make a great full-time professor. I think you should have gotten a teaching job within your own denominational colleges. But that didn't work for me either. As a no-name person without a Ph.D. it would be very difficult if not impossible now. There is a glut of Ph.D's. In the smaller community colleges they are looking for professor who can teach in two different areas. I was over-looked in two local colleges because one was replacing a retiring professor who taught both philosophy and economics, while the other needed a professor who could teach in philosophy and anthropology. I could not teach in two areas.

I don't know if what you say is true. I myself have no hope even if I get a Ph.D. as an published atheist I could become a full-time professor.

I would think with your contacts you could do so even now. Why don't you tap them and try again?

Anonymous said...

Regarding the relationship that Christian academics have with professional philosophy careers, I have lived by the philosophy 'not too much salt'. As in: a little salt is good on food, or as a preservative, but too much salt will ruin it. Likewise, don't be too obvious with your background.

Victor Reppert said...

I think secular universities want to see that you have philosophical interests that are independent of your religious beliefs, so that you could talk about epistemology, or metaphysics, or political philosophy without putting Christianity in their faces at every step.

When I was in grad school what we might call the Plantinga revolution was in full swing. I think I might have overestimated it.

Even though I don't do the heavy advocacy thing in the classroom, it has always irritated me that were I to use my classroom as a platform for Christian apologetics, I got the feeling that this would get me in trouble with the college, while a systematic attempt to break the faith of Christian students is something no one would bat an eye at. I always love doing the Craig-Parsons and Craig-Jesseph debates in class, because then each side can say that they were strongly represented.

I think of myself as there to teach philosophy first and foremost. The most I can do for Christianity is to give it a fair hearing. I have enough faith in its credibility that it will do just fine if I just treat it fairly, without any unnecessary table-pounding from me.

Clayton Littlejohn said...

"Even though I don't do the heavy advocacy thing in the classroom, it has always irritated me that were I to use my classroom as a platform for Christian apologetics, I got the feeling that this would get me in trouble with the college, while a systematic attempt to break the faith of Christian students is something no one would bat an eye at. I always love doing the Craig-Parsons and Craig-Jesseph debates in class, because then each side can say that they were strongly represented."

Hey Victor,
I've never had that feeling. I remember that my experience at Nebraska was that if you said anything that offended the religious sensibilities of the students, you were probably going to have to answer for that and administrators would prefer not to be bothered by students and parents complaining about professors and graduate teaching assistants that attacked the religious beliefs of the students. I remember TA-ing for a professor who did a lecture on the problem of evil that went like this. Step One: Leibniz's argument that this is the best of all possible worlds. Step Two: Note that this means that the things we would want to change wouldn't make the world better off overall. Step Three: students freaked the f out and many of them had their parents call the school to complain.

I don't recall any complaints when any of the teachers presented arguments for God's existence and left it up to the students to see if there was anything wrong with them. That's just one person's experience, but that's what my experience has been at secular universities. Of course, most of the universities I've been affiliated with have been (at least nominally) religious. That's a whole different kettle of fish.

guy said...

i'm a first-year philosophy grad student at the University of Oklahoma. i've had a conversation with both an atheist professor and a theistic one about whether my religious convictions would hinder me. Both of them told them they thought that if i do good work, it really shouldn't matter. In fact, the atheistic professor was the one who encouraged me the most to be confident in applying to the grad program there. Have they misrepresented the situation to me? Is it worse that they made it seem?


Victor Reppert said...

Every program is different. It certainly didn't hinder me at all as a grad student. I did get my Ph.D for a dissertation on the Argument from Reason at a very secular state university.

There are people in the profession who think that theism, and/or Christianity, is both irrational and harmful, and I do think those kinds of beliefs spill over into hiring decisions. Someone who might be fair to you as a student might not want an evangelical Christian as a colleague.