In the comments to another post on this blog, there was some debate about whether Christians are actually discriminated against in the academy, or if they merely fail to succeed academically because they are not very good scholars, they do not understand the assigned material, or their arguments simply are not very good.
That is a possibility. It would, however, seem odd that the same faith that inspired the establishment of countless major private universities in this nation now cannot produce believers smart enough or disciplined enough to succeed in the universities established by their faithful antecedents. Even so, Christians and others must be careful not to seek some sort of religious affirmative action to excuse scholarly mediocrity from criticism.
Nevertheless, there remains an issue to address: will the plausibility structures of the gatekeepers of academia permit the arguments of true-believing religious students and professors to receive a fair hearing? Will they even consider the arguments that tend to prove truths consistent with Judeo-Christian values but not with the secularist academy? J.P. Moreland touched on this point in his article, Academic Integration and the Christian Scholar:
A person will never be able to change his/her life if he/she cannot even entertain the beliefs needed to bring about that change. By “entertain a belief” I mean to consider the possibility that the belief might be true. . . .
A person’s plausibility structure is the set of ideas the person either is or is not willing to entertain as possibly true. For example, no one would come to a lecture defending a flat earth because this idea is just not part of our plausibility structure. We cannot even entertain the idea. Moreover, a person’s plausibility structure is largely (though not exclusively) a function of the beliefs he or she already has. Applied to accepting or maintaining Christian belief, J. Gresham Machen got it right when he said:
“[G]od usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion.”
If a culture reaches the point where Christian claims are not even part of its plausibility structure, fewer and fewer people will be able to entertain the possibility that they might be true. Whatever stragglers do come to faith in such a context would do so on the basis of felt needs alone and the genuineness of such conversions would be questionable to say the least. And believers will not make much progress in the spiritual life because they will not have the depth of conviction or the integrated noetic [knowledge] structure necessary for such progress. This is why integration is so crucial to spirituality. It can create a plausibility structure in a person’s mind . . . so Christian ideas can be entertained by that person.
For the critics that have been commenting on this blog, the relevant question is not whether Christian scholars on the whole have the goods to succeed in academia. The relevant question is whether they could succeed even if they do. If the plausibility structures of the overwhelming majority of academics will not even tolerate the suggestion that Christianity is true, or that common secular beliefs are insufficient to explain reality, Christians will always be excluded by such narrow-minded academics no matter how valid or truthful their arguments are. And if that is the case, the academy is not worldview-neutral, but anti-faith.
Thus, while Christian scholars should not shy away from the opportunity to integrate their faith and their field, and they are responsible for their choice to do so, the narrow plausibility structures of academic gate-keepers cannot be held blameless of hindering the pursuit of knowledge. It is certainly no coincidence that in many top-ranked law schools in 2005, over 90% of the professors donating to political campaigns “just so happened” to donate to Democrats. Political position is not the equivalent of religious belief, but it goes to show that academic institutions prefer to hire their own kind.
The fact that university professors are so out of step with the public is plainly the result of institutional bias and narrow plausibility structures. Academics are more impressed with their own than with those who disagree, and they naturally favor other professors who “fit in” when reviewing and hiring graduate students and more junior professors. If a religious student is hoping to break into those major institutions, it requires a great deal of fortitude for him or her to tell the decision-makers that their theories and publications are wrong. It will obviously be easier to get in by adopting their worldview, telling them how wonderful their work is, and explaining how one hopes to use that work to springboard to new areas.
Where public universities are concerned, our government school administrations ought to have very broad plausibility structures, not narrow ones. That is not to say that individual professors should not be able to teach consistently with their worldviews. They should. But when it comes to allowing other graduate students and professors into the field, narrow plausibility structures have no place. There is no reason to shut the door on scholars with new (or ancient) ideas. One way to broaden the plausibility structures is to strictly guard against worldview discrimination in grading, not to mention the censorhip of campus speech. Professors generally ought to grade students based on whether their conclusions follow from their premises, not whether the argument fits the status quo.
As my alma mater’s affirmation statement emphasizes, “Truth has nothing to fear from investigation.”