Category Archives: Academy
The prominent sociologist Christian Smith has written a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education that is an absolute must-read for anyone who remotely cares about the contemporary debate over same-sex marriage. I could summarize every single paragraph here (because they’re all important) or I could just tell you that you need to read the whole thing. I’ll do the latter. Read the whole thing.
But for those of you who refuse to click on another link, here are the main points.
Smith’s article calls out his colleagues in his own field, pointing out just how much solid academic research in this area is being avoided and even smothered by the overwhelmingly liberal guild of sociologists. Smith writes,
The sociologist Mark Regnerus, at the University of Texas at Austin, is being smeared in the media and subjected to an inquiry by his university over allegations of scientific misconduct.
Regnerus’s offense? His article in the July 2012 issue of Social Science Research reported that adult children of parents who had same-sex romantic relationships, including same-sex couples as parents, have more emotional and social problems than do adult children of heterosexual parents with intact marriages. That’s it. Regnerus published ideologically unpopular research results on the contentious matter of same-sex relationships. And now he is being made to pay.
Regnerus’s study, Smith explains, is solid methodologically, and Regnerus’s own credentials are impeccable.
But never mind that. None of it matters. Advocacy groups and academics who support gay marriage view Regnerus’s findings as threatening…
Regnerus has been attacked by sociologists all around the country, including some from his own department. He has been vilified by journalists who obviously (based on what they write) understand little about social-science research. And the journal in which Regnerus published his article has been the target of a pressure campaign.
So what is going on here?
The Regnerus case needs to be understood in a larger context. Sociologists tend to be political and cultural liberals, leftists, and progressives… Many sociologists view higher education as the perfect gig, a way to be paid to engage in “consciousness raising” through teaching, research, and publishing—at the expense of taxpayers, donors, and tuition-paying parents, many of whom thoughtfully believe that what those sociologists are pushing is wrong….
The temptation to use academe to advance a political agenda is too often indulged in sociology, especially by activist faculty in certain fields, like marriage, family, sex, and gender. The crucial line between broadening education and indoctrinating propaganda can grow very thin, sometimes nonexistent. Research programs that advance narrow agendas compatible with particular ideologies are privileged. Survey textbooks in some fields routinely frame their arguments in a way that validates any form of intimate relationship as a family, when the larger social discussion of what a family is and should be is still continuing and worth having. Reviewers for peer-reviewed journals identify “problems” with papers whose findings do not comport with their own beliefs. Job candidates and faculty up for tenure whose political and social views are not “correct” are sometimes weeded out through a subtle (or obvious), ideologically governed process of evaluation, which is publicly justified on more-legitimate grounds—”scholarly weaknesses” or “not fitting in well” with the department.
What Regnerus is experiencing, in other words, is simply the tip of the iceberg.
[T]he influence of progressive orthodoxy in sociology is evident in decisions made by graduate students, junior faculty, and even senior faculty about what, why, and how to research, publish, and teach. One cannot be too friendly to religion, for example, such as researching the positive social contributions of missionary work overseas or failing to criticize evangelicals and fundamentalists. The result is predictable: Play it politically safe, avoid controversial questions, publish the right conclusions.
The whole field, in other words, is skewed. The quiet pressure on graduate students that never comes to the point of conflict or controversy is just as effective as is the browbeating and the decisions about publishing and tenure.
It’s not just traditional marriage that’s at stake. The whole academic enterprise, the very integrity of the university, and the best interest of the public is in severe jeopardy.
Smith is no minor sociologist, and from my own private conversations I know that he is not the only prominent sociologist who holds the views he here articulates. The academy needs to decide whether its mission is fundamentally one of science or whether it is one of ideology. We will see what happens.
In my doctoral program at Emory University I have come into contact with many graduate students who consider themselves pacifists. Some of these individuals consider themselves liberals, but many more self-identify as Evangelicals. The most prominent Christian ethicist in the academy today is a sharp critic of liberalism as well as of the Christian Right, and although he is no ordinary Evangelical he is highly influential among Evangelical students and scholars. He also happens to be a strong defender of the Anabaptist tradition of nonviolence, which he learned from the Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, and he is the leading representative of the school of thought many have taken to calling Neo-Anabaptism.
Why is it Neo-Anabaptism? Over at the blog of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) Mark Tooley explains,
A consistent pacifism, aligned with Anabaptist tradition, would disavow all interest in government, as Mennonites and their brethren in past times typically did. They refused to serve in the military, or in any form of government. They usually did not dispute that government was God ordained. Nor did they criticize others’ involvement in it. They largely lived as separatists, accepting the government without trying to influences its policies.
Modern day neo-Anabaptists are less consistent. They adamantly reject, for themselves and for everybody else, all “violence” and force, disputing the civil authorities’ vocation especially for military action. Often they are vaguer about domestic police.
Tooley goes on to point out some of the absurdity of the Neo-Anabaptist position, noting how odd it is for someone who opposes coercion to support the government’s coercive suppression of the right to bear arms.
In my experience in the academy Tooley’s critique here is spot-on. Virtually all of my pacifist friends insist that while war is wrong, and even the violent suppression of criminals is wrong, the basic functions and work of government do not depend on these immoral practices. Both Yoder and Hauerwas, in various places, suggest that it is a myth that civil government depends at all on violent coercion, or on the use of the sword. They use this basic claim to defend various forms of involvement of Christians in civil government. Yet as Tooley writes,
All government is premised on force. Every government everywhere, at all times, if it has any power, will dispatch armed individuals to apprehend any persons who violate its laws and, ultimately, detain them in places surrounded by armed individuals empowered by lethal force.
In that sense the basic flaw of Neo-Anabaptism is its wishful thinking. The early Anabaptists may have condemned the involvement of Christians in violence, but while they recognized that civil government is outside of the perfection of Christ, virtually all of them insisted that it was nevertheless legitimate, ordained by God, and had the right to use force. They never suggested that the basic functions of government could proceed without such coercive force. And as a result, they usually abstained entirely from involvement in the work of civil government.
In fact, early Anabaptism relied heavily on its insistence that all of life should be interpreted through the lens of the conflict between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Satan. There was no room for compromise in this conflict, and therefore while Christians could recognize God-ordained purposes for the state, they could not participate in its methods.
Although it is often forgotten in contemporary debates, Calvin articulated the Reformed two kingdoms doctrine in part to demonstrate the problem with Anabaptist views of the state. While he agreed with the Anabaptists that churches should discipline Christians to ensure that they live consistent with God’s moral law, and while he agreed that the kingdom of God becomes increasingly manifest in the life of the church even in this age, he utterly rejected the idea that the kingdom could be realized to the point that civil government would not be both necessary and good. Because he recognized that Christians still live in the present age, and that God still orders the present age morally, he argued that Christians function in two kingdoms, the spiritual kingdom and the political kingdom. In their vocations in the latter, including political and civil vocations, they might sometimes do things that will never take place in the kingdom of God – such as take up the sword.
One of the reasons why many of my own professors at Emory are interested in my project on the two kingdoms doctrine is because they recognize that the two principal trajectories dominant in academic Christian ethics – the first being that of the social gospel and liberation theology, the second being that of Neo-Anabaptism – fail to take seriously the character of Christian life as lived between two ages. Both the liberals and the Neo-Anabaptists abandon realism at key points in order to stress the immanence of the kingdom of God. There is a desperate need for a new ethical paradigm, and the resources in the Reformed tradition for this new paradigm, particularly in its two kingdoms doctrine, are impressive.
Critics of the two kingdoms need to take seriously the major alternatives out there. For years Christian ethics has been dominated by the social gospel and liberation theology. Now it is becoming dominated by Neo-Anabaptism. Is returning to the Reformed two kingdoms doctrine really such a bad way to help us avoid these two options?
One of the tendencies of culture warriors is that in the midst of all of their passion and energy about the need to fight for the future of our country, ensuring that it conforms to basic Christian or conservative principles, they are guided by a distinct form of pessimism. Consider it the “refuse to compromise because those secular elites will never be won over anyway” mentality. At a very basic level this mentality doesn’t make much sense. If persuasion will not succeed in winning America over to traditional morality, limited government, or free market economics, why would uncompromising rhetoric backed by power politics have any better effect?
While phenomena like the acceptance of gay marriage across the United States tends to reinforce the assumptions of the culture warriors that we need to take a martial attitude into our politics, other indications suggest that over the long term, the hard work of persuasion and solid scholarship pays off. For example, for those who are paying careful attention to what goes on in the academy or among the elites in this country it is not hard to see that just this sort of approach is winning ground in the abortion debate. Despite the ongoing hostility of the Democratic Party to the pro-life cause, among the intellectual elites and even among Americans in general, it is becoming a lot harder to identify oneself as pro-choice than it once was.
In recent years there is increasing evidence that the elites in this country are waking up to the importance of marriage as well. Greg Forster notes a number of articles and posts that have appeared in the past few weeks in sources as respectable as The Atlantic, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. For instance, Garance Franke-Ruta writes in a post at The Atlantic,
What if the goal of women’s equality within the American political system is partly dependent on the persistence of marriage as an institution here? The rise in the percentage of women who have kids outside of marriage in the United States without a concomitant transformation of unmarried mothers into more engaged political participants suggests that, far from experiencing a long-forecast and organic increase in political power in the years ahead, women will actually see it decline.
And Jason DeParle wrote this weekend in the New York Times,
Estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — as opposed to changes in individual earnings — may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality. Long a nation of economic extremes, the United States is also becoming a society of family haves and family have-nots, with marriage and its rewards evermore confined to the fortunate classes. …
About 41 percent of births in the United States occur outside marriage, up sharply from 17 percent three decades ago. But equally sharp are the educational divides, according to an analysis by Child Trends, a Washington research group. Less than 10 percent of the births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while for women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 percent. …
Slate has also been running a debate among various scholars, the most recent contribution of which comes from the excellent sociologist at the University of Virginia, W. Bradford Wilcox. Wilcox writes two paragraphs that summarize some of the most important issues surrounding the decline of marriage in America today.
The decline of marriage among poor and working-class Americans is partly a consequence of changes in the American economy. In today’s postindustrial economy, it is harder for less-educated Americans, especially poor and working-class men, to find stable, decent-paying jobs. This makes these men less attractive as marriage partners, both in their own eyes and in the eyes of their partners. Hence, less-educated Americans are less likely to get and stay married, even when they are having children.
But my research also suggests that changes in the culture—the kind of changes that Roiphe largely applauds—are implicated in the growing marriage divide between college-educated and less-educated Americans. Specifically, the growing secularization and liberalization of American society seem to be playing out differently by class. Surprisingly, college-educated Americans are now more likely to attend church than their less-educated fellow citizens, and they have also become more marriage-minded since the 1970s—in their attitudes toward divorce, for instance—whereas less-educated Americans have become less marriage-minded over the same time. These cultural changes are only reinforcing the marriage divide in America, insofar as religious attendance and marriage-minded norms tend to strengthen marriage.
So it turns out that according to the data the cultural elites are more faithful to traditional morality and even to traditional religion than are poorer Americans. And now the elites are waking up to the fact that, as Charles Murray argues in his fascinating book Coming Apart, they need to start preaching what they practice. Christians who care about marriage should be encouraged by this. We need to stop being so pessimistic about the power of persuasion and about the importance of engaging in constructive dialogue with those conservatives so often write off as the left-wing crazies who want to ruin America. We share this country with the secularists and the Left, must as we often hate doing so. We have the same prosperity and cultural stability at stake, much as we disagree about what that means. For all of our conflict, we need to remember rule #1 about any body politic, a rule invoked by the Apostle Paul with reference to the Christian church: No part of the body can say to another, I have no need of you. In the end, as Americans realized even after the brutal civil war of the 1860s, we are in this together.
In a thoughtful response to David Blankenhorn’s change of position on same-sex marriage Blankenhorn’s friend and former employee Maggie Gallagher offers a sobering explanation of why Blankenhorn changed his views. It is an explanation that squares with what Blankenhorn himself said in his New York Times op-ed. In the Times Blankenhorn wrote that he still believes marriage only really makes sense as the union of a man and a woman and that it is inextricably related to child rearing. Yet, he says, he does not want to continue to oppose same-sex marriage because:
I have no stomach for what we often too glibly call ‘culture wars.’ Especially on this issue, I’m more interested in conciliation than in further fighting.
It is easy to criticize Blankenhorn for simply capitulating to the elites (as I myself did in my post yesterday), but Gallagher helps us to see just how great was the personal cost of Blankenhorn’s testimony in defense of California’s Proposition 8, the most famous state attempt to defend traditional marriage. You should really read Gallagher’s whole piece if you want to get a pulse on the conservative view of the marriage issue, but here I want to quote Gallagher’s comments on Blankenhorn at length:
The Prop 8 trial turned out to be a serious trial for David, as Mark Oppenheimer’s interview [in the New York Times] makes clear:
After his testimony was over, Blankenhorn was attacked in the media, accused of being unqualified, ignorant, and bigoted. Frank Rich of The New York Times wrote one of the most scathing columns. “You can’t blame the Prop 8 advocates for wanting to keep Blankenhorn off camera,” Rich wrote. “Boies demolished him during cross-examination.”
So I expected that Blankenhorn would not want to talk about that episode. But when he and I sat down on May 9, he said that he actually enjoyed testifying in California.
Blankenhorn: “Well, the best time I had was at the trial itself. Because that was when I was actually on the stand and I got to say what I believed.”
And Blankenhorn said he did not feel particularly ruffled under cross-examination by Boies.
Blankenhorn: “He had a high old time saying that I didn’t have a PhD and that I was just some bumpkin who wrote a book …”
Blankenhorn: “I competently made an argument that he was unable to punch many holes in. Although, of course, if you ask him about it, he says he punched a million holes … and if you ask the Prop 8 plaintiffs they’ll say this was worst witness in the history of witnesses and too stupid to walk and chew gum at the same time, and so on. But I felt good about it. It was only after the trial — it’s like living two realities.”
Oppenheimer describes the attacks:
It wasn’t just journalists who went after Blankenhorn. The marriage equality camp includes plenty of famous people, Hollywood stars. …
Blankenhorn: I had an old community organizing buddy who wrote a note to me after the trial and said how does it feel to be America’s most famous bigot? I used to think you were a good person. Now I know you’re a bad person. How does it feel to know that your tombstone will read that you’re just a bigot? My response to him is not repeatable on radio, but I told him what I thought he could do with those thoughts … but it was very painful. Now, you’re asking is there a fear that it’s true? Well, don’t you think any person who is at all self-reflective would have to worry about that? Sure, I think anybody would, and so I think I probably do, too. Sure, wouldn’t anybody if people were saying this about you? … I don’t lose sleep over that because … I’m not saying everything I did was right, but I’m saying that I feel a sense of integrity about the things I’ve done on this issue all along. I feel I’ve tried my best to act with integrity. Does it mean I’ve always done that? No. Does it mean I’ve worried about this? Well, I guess, yeah. Not just the reaction, but is it true? Yes. Because how could you not? How could anybody not?”
“After the trial, something changed in Blankenhorn,” according to Oppenheimer, “He does not entirely know how to describe what happened. Maybe it was some cocktail of the fame, the public abuse, or just getting older. Maybe it’s that he began to fear for his legacy, for how the world would remember him. He definitely saw that gay marriage was happening, and it was likely to spread and wasn’t going away. There was no turning back the clock. Is it too cynical to say that nobody wants to be on the wrong side of history? Maybe that’s not a fair way to put it.”
This is not a tale of public reason in action. It is not a story that suggests that the elites of this country are interested in having an honest and open debate about what it would mean to affirm same-sex marriage. It suggests that these same elites view those who oppose same-sex marriage like Protestant liberals once viewed Evangelicals (whom they then called Fundamentalists): as a bunch of ignorant country bumpkins with the intellectual capacity to react viscerally but not to think, a mass of terrified individuals who cling to their Bibles and guns in fear of the unknown.
The Christian Right gets a lot of criticism for its methods and for its role in provoking the culture wars. But it is stories like this that demonstrate just how hard it is for thoughtful conservatives to engage in public conversation in any other way. The Right has contributed to the culture wars but it did not invent them. It takes two to Tango.
I recently spoke with a scholar at a major research university who described to me just how difficult it is for a scholar who has spoken in defense of traditional marriage (or traditional sexual morality) to achieve tenure. As he told me, if you speak out openly on this issue tenure is virtually impossible. The academy simply has no “stomach” for thoughtful discussion on this issue. (This rings true in my experience. Another professor at a different mainstream research institution told me how hard it was for him to achieve tenure given his pro-life views. And being pro-life is a lot less controversial than being pro- traditional marriage.)
The question is, when will thoughtful liberals begin to speak out in defense of open and honest debate even on controversial issues like marriage? When will liberal academics, professors, and graduate students begin to walk the talk of liberal values: participation, deliberation, reason, an equal voice for all? How do you want to change the world? Is it by browbeating us into submission or by actually changing our minds? Do you want a conversation or do you want a culture war?
For all sorts of legitimate reasons, many conservative Christians are suspicious of mainstream institutions of higher education, particularly those institutions that have departments devoted to the study of theology or religion. So often it seems that pastors, churches, and denominations are corrupted by the learning or the liberal agenda that flows out of these places. Frequently men and women who seem to be solidly orthodox Christian believers enter a seminary or university and leave several years later with little left of their faith. Numerous leading liberal theologians grew up in evangelical or pietist homes, all following the same sad story.
Given such history, thoughtful Christians reason, why attend these schools at all? There is virtually nothing to gain from them, and yet there is everything to lose. Better to ignore what the liberals are doing and only read books or associate with people who make an unofficial list of approved sources.
There is a significant degree of plausibility to this reaction, but ultimately it is fraught with danger. It is not that the story told here is false. On the contrary, in the case of far too many pastors and theologians it is tragically true. However, the conclusion drawn from it is false and ultimately damaging to the truth. Let me provide several reasons why.
First, it is the very withdrawal from the academy, and the refusal to engage it constructively (and critically) that makes conservatives so vulnerable to it. If I sit in church for 18 years, attend a Christian college, and perhaps even a Christian seminary, and am never forced to take liberalism’s arguments seriously, by the time I get to a liberal university or seminary I am extremely vulnerable. My version of Christianity will be built on an untested foundation and my account of liberalism will be a caricature rather than the reality. I might enter the classroom determined to stand up for my faith, but I have no idea what is coming. My cardboard faith will easily be cut to shreds.
On the other hand, and second, it is engagement with the academy that makes orthodox Christian theologians so effective. Think of John Calvin or, more relevant to our time, J. Gresham Machen. These men were powerful and persuasive (and their theology was deep) for the very reason that they took their opponents seriously, and wrestled with the foundations of their own commitments. They acknowledged the most troublesome challenges to the Christian faith, and respected them enough actually to try and understand them and demonstrate why they were wrong. Just think of Machen’s defense of the virgin birth. Would the church have been stronger had Machen never gone to Germany to study in the world of Protestant liberalism?
Third, and perhaps most controversially, we actually do have something to learn from liberal theology. Yes, I can read Schleiermacher, or James Cone, or Paul Tillich, and learn something about the gospel that I would be far less likely to learn if I only ever read conservative theologians. Let me illustrate from my own experience.
One of the efforts I determined to make a few years ago was to take liberation theology seriously enough to engage it. I read much of the work of Gustavo Gutierrez and James Cone, wrestled with their claims regarding Scripture and history, and considered thoughtfully their criticisms of traditional expressions of Christian thought. I noted where they disagreed with mainstream conservative theologians, and why, much of the time, they were wrong to do so.
Then something surprising happened. I looked up what older theologians like John Calvin, Thomas Aquinas, or Augustine had to say about many of the same matters, and found that not infrequently they agreed more with the liberal theologians than with contemporary conservatives. Repeatedly I found that Gutierrez and Cone offer criticisms of conservative thought that were right on the money, and that would have been shared by some of the greatest (and most orthodox) theologians in church history. That was an eye-opener.
For instance, seeing how seriously Gutierrez takes Scripture’s teaching regarding the poor and the oppressed woke me up to how casually conservative Christians usually use (or ignore) these texts. Where a conservative might spiritualize the beatitude regarding the poor in Luke 6, Gutierrez refuses to do so. Whereas a conservative might describe those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” or who are persecuted for “righteousness’ sake” as those who yearn for justification or are believers, Gutierrez demonstrates that these verses actually refer to a basic yearning for justice, and to the suffering experienced by those who fight for the cause of the oppressed. And in every one of these cases, when I turned to Calvin’s commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, I found him closer to the interpretation of Gutierrez than to the assumptions of many conservative Christians. Without Gutierrez I would not have noticed that.
Or take another example. James Cone’s most poignant criticism of “white theology” is that white American theologians have interpreted the Bible in such a way as to maintain the economic and political status quo. For instance, Presbyterian theologians defending the spirituality of the church in the 19th Century ensured that biblical teaching would not challenge racial slavery, and deferred to the interests of slaveowners rather than leading their congregations to discipline those who abused their slaves. Cone sees this, and he demonstrates how theologians can allow their own social interests to dictate their reading, interpretation, and proclamation of Scripture.
While Cone’s rejection of traditional Christian theology goes too far, far too much of his criticism of conservative American theology is legitimate. I discovered this when I turned to James Henley Thornwell’s defense of slavery. Although Thornwell claimed that his arguments rested on Scripture alone, he argued that loving your neighbor as yourself does not require asking yourself whether or not you would want to be a slave, and he insisted that racial slavery was defensible based on the conclusions of science regarding the slower development of the African American race. Read in the context of theologians like Thornwell (or R. L. Dabney, who viciously opposed allowing blacks to serve as Presbyterian pastors or elders in white churches) James Cone is humbling in the best sort of way.
These are just a few examples. I could provide many more. The reality is that it is easy for conservative Christians to fall into a ghetto mentality, a form of fundamentalism that makes it difficult for us to perceive our own errors. Reading those we regard as our opponents, and loving them enough to take their criticisms of our positions seriously, can help us to escape this mentality. It can force us to re-examine our own assumptions and commitments in the light of Scripture. It can remind us that to be conservative is not to be Christian. Sometimes the liberal position is actually the Christian one.
We should not imagine that our preaching is somehow improved when it simply reflects the assumptions of conservative fundamentalism. It is not good for the cause of Christ when the poor come into our churches and notice how slightly we pay attention to what Scripture says about their plight. It is utterly disastrous when an African American visits a Presbyterian church in Atlanta and hears the white pastor declare that Ephesians 2 has nothing to do with racial reconciliation. Far too often I have heard the full gospel of Scripture reduced by a conservative pastor to a few cliches of piety rendered unthreatening to American middle class apathy. Yet when we only read or engage our own people, this is often what happens.
We may think that the dangers still far outweigh the gains of engaging the academy, and there is no doubt that for many individuals this is in fact the case. I would never encourage a Christian with no theological training at an orthodox school to enter a liberal school with an open mind. But Christians can never abandon the academy. We need our sharpest critics. We have much to learn even from those who abandon the Christian faith (and who are well aware of the areas in which we are most hypocritical). We must continually allow ourselves to be challenged: are we really following Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Are we really proclaiming the whole gospel?
The media sometimes talks about the public’s growing disillusionment with science, but as Walter Russell Mead points out, the disillusionment is not generally with science itself, but with its abuse.
Some of the skepticism is skepticism of journalism rather than skepticism of science proper, and it is heartily deserved. The legacy media loves to report sensational conclusions based on tentative research, and is usually much less careful than scientists about qualifying and conditioning its reports.
And there is also the problem of hactivism: people so devoted to some great cause (often environmental) that they twist, distort and overstate scientific conclusions to score points. One can never forget in this context the ineffable Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN’s climate panel, who notoriously scorned opponents as “voodoo scientists” because they refused to swallow his bogus claims about Himalayan glacier shrinkage. There are a lot of people out there who aren’t skeptical about science per se, but are increasingly skeptical about the abuse of science at the hands of pamphleteers and cause junkies.
The problem is not simply with the way in which science is being abused by journalists and activists, however. The academy itself is suffering from a significant loss in credibility both due to academic corruption and to politicization. After noting several examples in the field of psychology Mead writes,
Corrupt, incompetent scientists? Lax research standards? Systemically flawed peer review processes? These problems, alas, are anything but rare. Stories like Stapel’s, plus reports on the findings of the evidence-based medicine movement about the unreliability of much medical science, and studies like Leslie John’s in Psychological Science (which revealed that the vast majority of psychologists engaged in questionable research practices and that one in ten falsified data)–not to mention the various alarmist exaggerations of some climate researchers–demonstrate that in many cases scientists have no one but themselves to blame for the loss of public faith in their work. Through laziness, politicization of findings, and outright falsification, the practitioners of some of our most important sciences have discredited their disciplines. Every Stapel and Hauser strengthens the voices of science skeptics — and rightly so.
In the years I have spent in the academy I have not engaged the hot-button issues of global warming or evolution, but in the few areas in which I have explored the use of science by ethicists or political theorists I have not been encouraged. Perhaps the most obvious example I have seen is the use of highly problematic scientific data to defend same-sex parenting or to minimize the importance of traditional marriage. To put it simply, scholars seem far too willing to use science for their own agendas rather than to follow the data where it leads. The politicization of the academy is a genuine problem, and it is a problem that lies at the heart of our nation’s culture wars. As Mead puts it,
when scientific data becomes putty in the hands of unscrupulous researchers seeking not enlightenment but personal or political advancement, its entire foundation and rationale is undermined. And that too often is where we find ourselves today.
Serious soul-searching and house-cleaning must take place if the academy is to rehabilitate its reputation. Standards must be tightened, publication of experimental data must be made mandatory and peer review in the soft sciences must mean something. We hope that the documented loss of public trust in science serves as the much-needed wake-up call for reform, because until our elites acknowledge that they have a problem, there can be no solution. That acknowledgement begins with the acceptance of a truth as simple as it is deeply disquieting[.]
The academy needs to view itself less as the bastion of a reforming (or revolutionary) intelligentsia and more as the trust of a society with tradition and history. It needs to restore the faith of the public by showing that it has the concerns of the whole community in view, not simply the agenda of one side of the political spectrum.
In my view, this is an area where Christian scholars can lead the way. We shouldn’t pander to the right any more than so many academics pander to the left. Serving our neighbors for the welfare of the community is the way of love. Building trust even with those who disagree with our work is the place to start.