More on liberals in academia

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Andrew Sullivan, continuing his in-depth coverage of liberal dominance of academia, dug out this letter from September 2002:

In seeking faculty, universities look for people who can analyze and discuss matters of some complexity, who are unafraid to challenge the wisdom of simple solutions, and who have a sense of social responsibility toward those who cannot buy influence. Such people tend to be put off by a political party dominated by those who believe dogmatically in the infallibility of the marketplace as a solution to all economic problems, or else in the infallibility of scripture as a guide to morality.

In short, universities want people of some depth, subtlety and intelligence. People like that usually vote for the Democrats. So what?

Lawrence Evans
Durham

The writer is professor emeritus of physics at Duke University.

Why do I get the feeling this guy hasn't met any sincere Christians or any Republicans who are Republicans on the issues rather than out of party loyalty?

1. Those who believe dogmatically in the infallibility of scripture as a guide to morality should of course have a sense of social responsibility toward those who cannot buy wisdom, since it's commanded by Moses, the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles.

2. Those who believe dogmatically in the infallibility of scripture as a guide to morality should also be unafraid to challenge the wisdom of simple solutions, since the Bible doesn't fit neatly into a system of thought and requires constant sophistication and sensitivity to nuance, paradox, and apparent (though I would argue not real) contradiction.

3. Those who believe dogmatically in the infallibility of scripture as a guide to morality should be able to analyze and discuss matters of some complexity, since there's plenty of complexity to discuss on theological, ethical, and pastoral issues within Christianity.

So much for his explanation of why Christians don't tend to be in academia. The real reason is that evangelical Christians left mainstream academia when it became clear that academia had adopted Darwinism as an untestable premise, forming separate institutions of higher learning and are only starting to come back in.

What about Republicans? I know many Republicans who also do all those things. Many of them happen to be evangelical Christians, but many aren't. Are there Democrats who tend not to analyze and discuss matters of some complexity, who are afraid to challenge the wisdom of simple solutions, and who have no sense of social responsibility toward those who cannot buy influence? I'm sure there are as many as there are Republicans. These things don't run on party lines. Even if Republicans are wrong about the effect of their policies, Evans' argument fallaciously assumes that the result of someone's policies is the intent of those policies. Republicans (at least the ones who are Republicans on principle) sincerely believe that their views will help those who can't buy influence. I happen to think that they often do result in that if left to work. Most libertarians, who are far more common in academia, also think that, which also creates problems if this is supposed to explain why conservatives aren't in academia.

I also think Evans himself fails to analyze and discuss the matters of some complexity involving actual Republican beliefs. Republicans don't believe dogmatically in the marketplace as a solution to all economic problems. They believe that the marketplace needs to be guided by certain actions to steer it in the right direction (e.g. incentives for businesses, tax cuts, interest rate changes, government spending decreases). They believe that governmental policies have a big effect (but the opposite effect to what Democrats tend to think). It's Democrats who seem to have a history of thinking the solutions are simple -- throw money at it. Many of the Democratic candidates this year have fallen victim to such simplistic thinking, though not on every issue. They also seem to think they can balance the budget when proposing far more spending than the current president would dare imagine (and he's being criticized for spending too much). If that's not a simplistic solution, I don't know what is.

Finally, I'm not even sure most evangelical Christians (never mind anyone else in the so-called religious right) believe dogmatically in scripture as an infallible guide to morality. It's certainly not seen as an exhaustive guide, but infallibility doesn't imply that of course. Many of its principles are hard to figure out how to apply in other contexts (check out this doozy, if you don't believe me, but there are far more mundane cases on which two biblical principles might suggest different directions, and one must weight which principle is more important, which is more relevant, etc.).

Another issue is what he means by dogmatism. If he means that no evidence will sway one, then scripture actually contradicts that, since if Christ is not raised it's all for nought, as Paul points out in I Corinthians 15. If he means that one believes it despite little positive evidence or maybe even some evidence to the contrary, then most of us are dogmatic about lots of things.

So what is the explanation for why there aren't many Republicans in academia? Well, it's a complex matter. The claims from liberals that it's because stupid people are conservative is about the most simplistic answer I've ever seen, not to mention not even close to a sufficient reason anyway. There is some desire to avoid an atmosphere where liberalism is normative, though that doesn't explain how it got that way to begin with. The same is true of the tendency to hire those who are likeminded -- it happens, but that only would explain why it continues to be that way, not how it got that way. I've seen lots of explanations as people have been discussing this, and there's probably some truth to most of them. Do they all add up to enough reason altogether? I don't know. I'm willing to admit when something is more complex than a single human being can explain with a simple answer. Apparently many liberal professors willing to chime in on this issue are quite content with such answers. What does that reveal? It doesn't prove that liberals are stupid (see, I'm not setting myself up for a trap). It does, however, show that these particular liberals are content to allow stupid answers to satisfy them.

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