Starting With Faith…

Over at Faith Promoting Rumor G Wesley has up a post critiquing BYU’s scholarship. The main bone of contention was a talk by Elder Bednar regarding scholarship at LDS schools. Wesley responds that BYU should “first and foremost places set apart for critical thinking and the scientific method.”

That does not mean universities must eschew faith, revelation, and the like, but they must begin with scholarship, reason, and so on. If they don’t, then they are not universities. Period.

Elsewhere, beginning with faith, revelation, and the like is by no means necessarily a bad thing to do – it’s just not the thing that universities do, or at least not what they should do.

If the Church does not want its universities to begin with critical thinking and the scientific method, the Church needs to get out of the university business. It’s as simple as that.

My problem is making heads or tails of what on earth it means to begin with revelation versus scholarship or reason. It just seems a deeply problematic criteria. That’s not to say one should in the least eschew reason or scholarship (by which I assume he means library searches) let alone empirical research. Those are essential.

The sense I have of his argument is that dogma shouldn’t be the starting point. Yet he doesn’t say dogma but “faith and revelation” which isn’t the same thing. Of course the cynic among us might suggest that ill informed dogma rules many disciplines in secular universities. But let’s leave questions of political dogma in certain disciplines’ “scholarship” alone.[1] My problem is that he raises this criteria scholarship/reason versus faith/revelation. I’m just not sure this works for reasons that go back to the possibly apocryphal “Eureka” of Archimedes.

Consider a mathematician who has equations and solutions to theorems come to them in dreams. Now is that starting with scholarship and reason or is it starting with something more akin to faith and revelation? This isn’t a minor point as quite a few physicists and mathematicians have their Eureka moments in a fashion they see as transcendent. The famous mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan is but one example.[2] This isn’t just in the past. (Although heaven knows there are lots of examples there) One of the top contemporary mathematicans, Michael Atiyah, makes the same claim.

Dreams happen during the daytime, they happen at night. You can call them a vision or intuition. But basically they’re a state of mind — without words, pictures, formulas or statements. It’s “pre” all that. It’s pre-Plato. It’s a very primordial feeling. And again, if you try to grasp it, it always dies. So when you wake up in the morning, some vague residue lingers, the ghost of an idea. You try to remember what it was and you only get half of it right, and maybe that’s the best you can do.

That ought to sound rather familiar for those who feel inspiration while giving a blessing or otherwise have inspiration.

What makes an university scholarly isn’t the starting point but rather the argument. How you start doesn’t matter. It’s how you finish. Can you provide a rational argument for your position with premises that can empirically be agreed upon? It doesn’t mean everyone will agree with your argument. Just that the standards of reason are used. By making the issue how one starts rather than how one finishes I think G Wesley misses the broad range of ways hypotheses get generated by scientists. More significantly though he attempts to exclude things that have always been part of inquiry and more importantly progress in science.

Now of course religious people and more secular skeptics can disagree upon what actually constitutes Eureka moments. A skeptic is apt to think it’s unconscious reasoning by a human brain that may be more effective than conscious deliberative reasoning. A religious person might think that’s a part but that divine inspiration can play a part as well. Ultimately though what counts is the product – how a scholar ends not begins.

1. I might be inclined to agree with G. Wesley if he were to broaden his critique to include non-religious schools and how political dogma shapes what gets published or counts as acceptable in many disciplines. Heaven knows that’s been a topic in higher education a great deal of late. It’s not at all uncommon to find people saying professors should inject their politics into their scholarship. But my real issue is his criteria rather than his broader critique.

2. Ramanujan attributed his deep mathematical insights to revelation from the goddess Namagiri. (Ramanujan was a devout Hindu) His mentor, G. H. Hardy, attributed it “deep intuition” yet Ramanujan, one of the most important mathematicians of the 20th century, saw it as revelation.

62 comments for “Starting With Faith…

  1. Jerry Schmidt
    May 4, 2018 at 11:48 am

    Clark Goble, in my older years I have chosen a dialectical approach to logic, more like Hegel and Chinese philosophers. Western logic tends toward either this or that, which informs the original contention you cover in your OP.

    Both sides, faith and reason, held in orbit to each other should allow understanding more transcendent to emerge. I believe this is the fruit that “beginneth to be delicious” spoken of by Alma in the B of M.

    Thanks for the OP.

  2. tomwheeler
    May 4, 2018 at 11:57 am

    This is a great response, thank you.

  3. Andy
    May 4, 2018 at 1:25 pm

    “Wesley responds that BYU should ‘first and foremost places set apart for critical thinking and the scientific method.'”

    I’d like to ask first off, why does it have to?

    It’s a private institution. Yes, it’s an accredited college which means that it should and does pass standards for being a college. That doesn’t mean 100% of the institution has to look like a state run college. If you want a state run college, go to a state run college.

    Should every Book of Mormon class be forced to meet the rigors of the scientific method? What’s the point of having a religious school?

    Dale Martin at Harvard laments in his online class that the major Pastoral colleges are teaching Biblical Scholarship and not teaching Biblical Interpretation.

    Now if you want to publish a paper and expect it to be taken seriously, then you conform to scholastic standards but that shouldn’t mean that everything coming out of the institution needs this.

  4. ahjeez
    May 4, 2018 at 1:25 pm

    Clark,

    BYU has been a university for a long time. How exactly is faith and revelation working out for it in terms of what is quantifiable? It definitely makes its modest contribution to the academy and the growth of human knowledge, but it isn’t producing the quality or quantity of scholarship that one might well expect if its faculty are indeed receiving direction from the heavens (of course, BYU is more geared toward undergraduate education but it claims itself to be a university and that means research and discovery). Those secular universities, eschewing faith as a methodology, seem to be cleaning house when it comes to Nobel Prizes, patents, research grants, and such. But this really isn’t the point anyway. The point is that E. Bednar wants BYU’s faculty to publicly defend church policies. And I imagine you would probably readily grant that policies, as our church defines them, are not always and maybe not even usually the stuff of divine revelation. E. Bednar really is saying, “Here is policy X that may not make much sense to most people and is not popular. Scholars, find arguments to make it sound reasonable and palatable. And do this publicly, trading on your standing in your given field.” That’s not scholarship. It sounds like some other things, but definitely not scholarship.

  5. Clark
    May 4, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    Ahjeez, I’m certainly not saying everyone is driven by revelation. I’m just saying that Wesley’s argument seems problematic. Heavens, it’d be nice if all the physicists and mathematicians at BYU received ground breaking revelation that would revolutionize their fields. I’m certainly not expecting it though. The thing about revelation is that God’s in charge of it and he seems to have different priorities than we often do. However surely I can criticize someone arguing that starting with a revelation is inherently illegitimate for an university.

    Certainly Elder Bednar wants conformity with the teachings of the church. But I’d imagine that’d take the form of accepted argumentation. If they do so with really bad arguments then that’s not scholarship. However to say that asking (not requiring) people to defend things they presumably believe is bad strikes me as itself rather bad.

    But maybe I’m just missing what you are arguing.

  6. ji
    May 4, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    Let’s cut to the chase — what does G Wesley really want? Does he want to shut down BYU? Does he want to separate BYU from the Church? Does he want to disconnect BYU students from their faith? Does he want to unlock BYU’s hidden potential? Something else? His argument is noise until I know his underlying motivation — if I knew that, then I might be better able to address his argument.

  7. g.wesley
    May 4, 2018 at 7:01 pm

    Thank you for your response here, Clark, and your comment on FPR.

    About beginnings and your example of a dream that sets off a line of mathematical research — If I understand, you are suggesting that the dream could be classified as divine revelation / inspiration and thus the example might be one of faith and scholarship going hand in hand. Yes?

    If so, I would agree that a lot of research and scholarship in many different fields may well be done in part thanks to dreams or other flashes of intuition. But I would disagree that *university faculty* could or should assume those dreams or intuitions are necessarily coming from the LDS God or other deity.

    To go kinda meta … I think that any given academic at any given university should approach dreams as follows. They should begin with critical thinking and the scientific method. So they should first ask questions such as: What evidence is there that dreams come from the most obvious source, namely the human (sub)conscious?

    Now, I’m not saying they must top there. But they should begin there and take that as far as it will go.

    If critical thinking and the scientific method leave anything unexplained, then an academic who is, let’s say, into the paranormal, might then ask the question: Could there be another, less obvious source of (some) dreams too, besides the human (sub)conscious? Could there be, perhaps, other life forms in the universe that are somehow involved in the human process of dreaming?

    Or as a Mormon academic at a Mormon university might put it: Could God or the Spirit somehow be involved in the human process of dreaming?

    But no academic at no university should begin with that question much less assume a positive answer while disregarding evidence that dreams come from the most obvious source.

  8. g.wesley
    May 4, 2018 at 7:28 pm

    Andy,

    I think the BYUs and any university should talk about and reflect on religion as much as they want.

    In fact, I think there should be 10x more talk and reflection at all universities than there is now. Religious literacy and understanding is far too low in the US and throughout the world, leading to poor treatment of this group by that group.

    It should be a priority of every university to ensure that every student has the cultural competence to discuss religion rigorously and respectfully with any and all people, be they religious or irreligious, theist or atheist.

    But academic settings should not be theocratic. That’s the difference. And that’s the problem at the BYUs as well as some other faith-based institutions.

    Faith-based academic institutions are a misnomer. All accredited academic institutions should be academic-based, i.e., they should begin with critical thinking and the scientific method.

    Then, building on that academic basis, if, say, a religious group wants to run a university, they can add faith and revelation onto that foundation, they should absolutely be able to do that. It would be great if that’s how the BYUs were run!!!!

    But they’re not run that way. Instead, the ‘balance’ between faith and scholarship, reason and revelation, at the BYUs is typically this: Add the academic stuff in where you can, without upsetting the assumptions of faith and the power and authority of the Church, whether the Church happens to be right or wrong in the case of any given policy, past or present.

  9. Jerry Schmidt
    May 4, 2018 at 8:13 pm

    g. wesley, you defend your initial argument well, and you ask valid questions of a university that boasts scientific minds like the Eyring family among its alumni.

    Elder Bednar, if I recall, had his profession in the LDS Church Educational System, so he may be seeing BYU as a religious seminary primarily. Certainly most LDS apologists appear to have used BYU as an academic/theological home base, including one of my inspirations, Hugh Nibley.

    Theological scholarship has its own professional rigor, but it seems to lean heavy with Constantinian Christian bias. Perhaps BYU does need to focus on theological academics, and allow state universities to provide secular academic rigor.

  10. p
    May 4, 2018 at 9:38 pm

    Ahjeez, exactly! – like you read my mind. How many DECADES have we been hearing this stuff? Meanwhile BYU seems to be moving down, not up, in all respects including, incredibly, the athletic. And, as you observe, this particular talking pt is nothing short of odious: “4. Encouraging BYU faculty and other employees to offer public, unassigned support of Church policies that are challenged on secular grounds.” I arrived at BYU in the homosexual shock treatment days. I assume there was tons of prayer applied to those medical “advances.”

  11. Jerry Schmidt
    May 4, 2018 at 10:47 pm

    Unfortunately, the LDS church seems to be having its own growing pains similar to the Constantinian Christian tradition during the period called the Enlightenment in Europe. Sir Isaac Newton, credited with establishing modern physics, held dual titles in his career simultaneously, “Chief Scientist” and “Defender of the Faith.”

    Perhaps the LDS church unwittingly inherited this difficulty with duality from those Europeans who made up its ranks as they concentrated in the Utah territory. So we get to go through a regionalized version of Dark Ages through Enlightenment in a terribly ironic twist of circumstance. “This has all happened before and it will all happen again.” (new “Battlestar Galactica” series)

    Or not.

  12. Clark Goble
    May 4, 2018 at 11:33 pm

    G, I think you’re still conflating two issues I was attempting to separate. The question of beginnings or how we get started on a project ultimately doesn’t matter. What matters is the product and how rational it is. So I’m confused as to why you keep getting so fixated on “beginnings.” My sense (perhaps completely wrong) is that what you really object to is simply administrators telling professors what to do. That is a model of the academy in which professors are totally free with no pressures on them. After all it’s hardly just “theocracies” running colleges that put limits on hires or tell professors what they should or shouldn’t talk about.

    I’ll confess that seems a utopian dream unrelated to the current realities at universities but even their history. I’d hope that you’d at least object to other types of pressure such as political or the like that have captured so much attention of late. (I’ve no idea of your opinions on such matters) The reality is that there are always academic fads that put a great deal of pressure on professors (or those hoping to get tenure) I’d confess that given the recent discussion at Nous on how Mormon hires are viewed prejudicially that there are much bigger issues in the academy than Elder Bednar asking that professors at BYU defend their faith.

    Put simply I think you’re wrong to focus on how the sausage is made rather than the final product. That said, I actually suspect yours is a common view of how universities should be. Perhaps a followup post going more in depth as to why you think that would be good. I’d certainly be interested since my intuitions definitely go the opposite direction.

    As to how to treat dreams, you are of course fine to treat them that way. My point is that rather well regarded scholars are not generally treated that way. (Which is not to say people like Hardy bought into revelation – he was after all a rather opinionated atheist) I named just two extremely famous examples. The point is that you have a view of how you’d like the academy to be, but it simply isn’t like that. I’ll confess my own bias of hoping it’s never like that. (Not that I have much influence – and of course I have my own views of what’s wrong with BYU and universities in general)

    P, in what regards is BYU moving down? (Outside of football although hopefully this year will be much better than last) I’ve been a big critic of some choices at BYU such as making certain curriculums easier or getting rid of the honors department. However BYU, with a few exceptions, has long had an emphasis as a liberal arts feeder to prestigious universities. So in some ways to judge BYU one has to judge what the students do upon leaving BYU. That said, the business and accounting programs still seem prestigiously ranked. Accounting was 3rd in the nation when I was there and still is. This last year BYU got it’s highest rank ever from the US News and World Report ranking. Don’t get me wrong. I think there’s plenty to criticize at BYU. It’s just that oddly what gets criticized seems questionable.

    Jerry I think the Church is struggling to figure out how to deal with certain gender issues like homosexuality. We have the problem of not wanting to blame someone for things out of their control yet unable to find a way to integrate them into our theology given our commitments. To a somewhat lesser extent we’re unsure how to maintain or increase ourselves in a growing secular west. Those are both real struggles but I’m not sure it’s as critical of a period as some do – looking back at the period of 1890 – 1920 or of course earlier in the Missouri period or late Nauvoo era.

  13. May 5, 2018 at 12:46 am

    I smile, wearily, when I encounter the “universities must follow my definition of a university or they are not real universities” argument. I used to believe it myself. But look around more broadly. There are all kinds of universities with all kinds of missions out there. Or take a look at history; the modern research university is a recent phenomenon. There’s nothing at all wrong with research universities, but it’s silly to think they’re the only thing that counts as a university. Why shouldn’t universities be theocratic? They spent the better part of a millennium that way. They still managed to graduate pastors and lawyers that met the educational demands of the time.

    (“Oh yeah?” one might say. “If you like it so much, why don’t you go study or teach at a faith-based university?” I’ve done both. It was nice in some ways, irritating in other ways, and better overall than a lot of places I’ve been.)

    After hanging around a variety of universities, Elder Bednar’s talk feels familiar to me. Elder Bednar wants the church’s universities to serve the church’s needs, just like state governments usually want their universities to serve the state’s needs. Sometimes this leads to friction with faculty members who also have commitments to their disciplines. But contributions like Elder Bednar’s are important parts of a necessary and ongoing conversation about how teaching and research can be best aligned with an institution’s identity and mission. I might wish more BYU administrators were champions of the liberal arts, but I could say the same thing about my own state government and university president.

    As for the controversial point #4, I think a charitable reading would be that Elder Bednar is saying no one is going to be forced to say anything, but people with relevant expertise and an insider perspective have a certain obligation to explain things that they are uniquely positioned to explain. If you’re a BYU faculty member, it’s what your academic friends are looking for anyway, and shrugging your shoulders and begging off that you just work there is just so lame.

  14. AM
    May 5, 2018 at 4:32 am

    Clark, I don’t think there is a problem with how one starts out when approaching a problem. If I remember correctly, Feynman’s problem solving approach was something like: first look at the problem, second write down the answer, third explain why that’s the answer. The flash of inspiration has been felt by many, regardless of background. I am sure that many at BYU have felt that.

    The problem, in my opinion, is that Elder Bednar has prescribed the outcome of some possible studies. He wants BYU personnel “to offer public, unassigned support of Church policies that are challenged on secular grounds.” What happens when impartial research does not support the Church policy? The researcher is not being told to follow their inspiration to see what outcomes deity might want to reveal. They are being told to start with the firm conclusion that Church policies are proper. I note that he does not even restrict the domain of dogma to doctrines.

    So, to talk about possible problems with where the research begins seems to me to be a red herring. BYU faculty are being told where to end their research.

  15. Anonymous
    May 5, 2018 at 12:16 pm

    Thanks, Jerry.

    Yes, a compromise position would be to start with faith, revelation, and the like, BUT then actually allow that to be modified by scholarship, reason, and so on, which is arguably not what Bednar is saying and also not what typically happens at the BYUs. It would be a significant improvement if it were.

  16. g.wesley
    May 5, 2018 at 12:18 pm

    (Doh, that was me, g.wesley. I hit ‘post comment’ too fast.)

  17. g.wesley
    May 5, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    Hi Clark,

    About the end not the beginning, product not process — it’s an interesting position.

    So if we were to judge university products based on their level of rationality (which I concur is a great measure, by the way), what do you think that would look like? Where would that leave theory and method? Are they not important in academic disciplines?

  18. Nathan Whilk
    May 5, 2018 at 12:31 pm

    Prominent, well-respected people continually call upon academics to put their skills to work in defense of this or that cause, but only only when the cause is the Church does the FPR crowd interpret the call as an attack on truth and reason.

  19. g.wesley
    May 5, 2018 at 12:41 pm

    Hi Jonathan,

    What a delightfully patronizing statement!

    Auto dealers should abide by certain (agency) standards. But not all auto dealers do so now or have done so in the past. Therefore, it’s absurd to insist on standards. Clearly that follows.

  20. g.wesley
    May 5, 2018 at 12:58 pm

    Hi Nathan,

    I don’t think all causes are created equal, generally speaking. In academic settings they should stand or fall and thus be given support based on — you guessed it — critical thinking and the scientific method together with ethics and basic human decency.

  21. Clark Goble
    May 5, 2018 at 1:33 pm

    G, (referring to the last comment) I think an unaddressed issue is precisely this “not all causes are created equal.” Again there appear to be assumptions here. Assumptions I suspect not all would agree with. Rationally. Ethics, for instance, is infamously thorny when it comes to rationality to the point many say one can’t truly address ethics since there is no way to really ground them empirically. (Here thinking of the positivists in the middle 20th century – hardly an uninfluential movement) Again turning to contemporary controversies many current battles in the university end up being so emotional precisely because they can’t be grounded empirically. It’s interesting to me that you add to critical thinking and science ethics as a separate category. But of course then the question becomes whose ethics since that’s precisely what people don’t agree upon. And, as I said, can’t be established empirically.

    Without putting words in your mouth I wonder how much of this doesn’t just reduce to preferences that can’t be decided via scholarship and empirical science. Put an other way, aren’t we merely discussing prejudices that can’t be formally decided between?

    To your earlier comment about deciding things by rationality, I fear such an university would consist of the hard sciences and little else since of course reason is limited. Most of the humanities would be excluded. So I’m not saying that’s necessarily a good thing even if using empiricism and rationality is extremely important. My concern is that people simply apply “it’s not rational” to the things they irrationally don’t like but refuse to apply them to the things they do like. That is reason is used to hide an entirely irrational set of criteria.

    As for theory and method, those are themselves always open to continue critique and inquiry. Theories change and often – especially outside of the hard sciences – theories are themselves rather weakly supported. Which ought make us question how much of an appeal to a theory is due to academic fad and how much to science. The replication crisis current in the soft sciences is a very good example of this.

  22. Jack
    May 5, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    I think a disciple cannot help but have in mind an eschatological view of things–and it doesn’t matter what her profession may be. It could be anything from driving a garbage truck to teaching Shakespeare at the university. And when we sense that everything we do is known to a Living God we cannot help but be shaped by that understanding. Essentially, we need to be disciples first and everything else second.

  23. May 5, 2018 at 6:38 pm

    I went to BYU. Wilkinson was president and the religion dep’t was out of control. I don’t brag about my undergraduate degree.

    Mormons are well educated and well endowed with brilliant members. So why don’t the vast majority of these very bright members want to work at BYU? The tattle-tell environment, lack of academic freedom, goofiness in the religion dep’t, lack of freedom of expression, failure to have tolerance for faith crisis, poor leaders, poor treatment of women and gays, etc.

    There is an easy solution: move the religion dep’t off campus. Improve the religion dep’t. Come up with a better religion curriculum. Don’t confuse testimony and academic chops.

  24. Anon
    May 5, 2018 at 6:55 pm

    Tolerating faith crisis is very different from being asked to endure a list of grievances you disagree with while bring asked to hold your tongue.

    It’s just another form of silencing those you disagree with. Feel free to speak your mind about a faith crisis. But don’t see righteously invoke a morn with those that morn crisiscr that requires the faithful to silently not their heads in agreement even though they know you’re wrong.

    The only way out of our mess is more dialogue and persuasion. Not asking those who disagree, and may very well be right to yield the floor.

    This comment thread is pretty much a positive example of debate. The moment you open your mouth, you just of necessity invite and be willing to listen to a response that disagrees.

    So if you have a faith crisis and want to be vocal about it (via rhetoric), don’t accuse others of intolerance when they use their own rhetoric to deconstruct that crisis and disagree.

  25. Clark Goble
    May 5, 2018 at 7:04 pm

    Roger, not being at BYU any longer I really have no insight to the current status of the religion department. When I was there in the early 90’s I was not terribly impressed and usually took my religion classes from the honors department. Typically the people teaching those were either in the hard sciences or ancient studies. They were all excellent. The classes I took from the religion department were pretty depressing. Usually asking inane questions about irrelevant minutiae from the texts one was to read without any focus on their meaning. And the lectures were like bad Ted talks often confusing motivation with spirituality. However I’ve heard from many people it’s improved a great deal. Although losing the honors department was a hard hit to religious education. But I just have little ability to say much about the contemporary religion department. I certainly hope it’s not just a seminary (in the LDS sense) program.

  26. May 6, 2018 at 1:13 am

    G. Wesley, there certainly are all kinds of standards that universities have to comply with. Schools have to be accredited and follow government regulations and all that. There are also disciplinary accreditation standards. It’s just that no accreditor or law demands that any university act like you think they should. Faith-based universities can live quite well, usually, within the existing accreditation and regulatory framework. Your idea of what a university should be is fine, but it’s nothing more than your personal definition, and there’s no obvious reason why BYU should feel compelled to follow it. The sheer variety of missions is one of the strengths of the US university system, and forcing every school to conform to a narrow definition of what a university is would leave us worse off. Having a unique identity and mission is one of the best things BYU has going for it, and it would be stupid to give that up.

    RDH, Ernest Wilkinson was president of BYU until 1971. Maybe things have changed in the meantime? Maybe what was an easy solution in 1971 isn’t exactly what’s needed today?

  27. Not a Cougar
    May 6, 2018 at 6:31 am

    Anyone care to hazard a guess as to which specific policies Elder Bednar was referring? I have to assume the policy on children of same-sex members is on the list. My gut reaction then is to ask how you would even go about conducting research to support that policy.

    I also assume Book of Mormon historicity and Church history have to be on the list. But there are already plenty of apologists for both fields.

    This appears to be a call to action for a fairly narrow slice of BYU professors. I seriously doubt that most of the hard sciences and engineering departments, fine arts, business school, andost of the liberal arts departments are going to have much to say or do.

  28. g.wesley
    May 6, 2018 at 10:47 am

    Hi Clark,

    About ethics, yes, I agree that there is and will be debate surrounding what is ethical and not, and who gets to decide. But I think a rather straightforward baseline is that the ethical thing to do is not to threaten human safety, human life. That should be a given. The principle of not threatening human happiness or emotional / psychological well-being goes further and might encounter more opposition, as might also the principle of not threatening the stability of the eco-system. But I think those should be given too. Applying them will, of course, not always be easy in this or that specific situation. In many cases, though, I suspect that it would be quite simple.

    Let’s go ahead and consider the case of same sex marriage, which is what Bednar and Oaks seem to have foremost in mind when he/they issue his/their apostolic commands for BYU faculty to “offer public, unassigned support of Church policies that are challenged on secular grounds.” Does the Church’s policy threaten human safety and human life not to mention happiness? Arguably, yes it does a great deal. Whereas, if the Church were to change its policy and allow same sex marriage at the BYUs (and elsewhere), would that threaten anyone’s safety or life? Arguably, no, not one single person’s. So I think it’s simple, ethically.

  29. May 6, 2018 at 11:31 am

    “…and you ask valid questions of a university that boasts scientific minds like the Eyring family among its alumni.”

    Jerry, neither the famous chemist Henry Eyring (University of Arizona undergrad and Univ. of California PhD) or his son Pres, Henry B. Eyring (Univ. Of Utah undergrad and Harvard MBA & DBA) attended BYU.

  30. g.wesley
    May 6, 2018 at 6:34 pm

    I agree with much of what you say, Jonathan. And I would not want to suggest that BYU jettison the LDS aspect of its identity. I just don’t think that should be the controlling aspect, nor should it be in the hands of a few omnipotent controllers who seem to me to operate entirely outside the realm of critical thinking and the scientific method.

    I think you underestimate the following:

    1) How much unilateral power the Church and BYU admin wields and unabashedly exercises not only over the faculty in general (as well as the students) but also over the lower-level administration in the various departments, schools, colleges.

    2) How utterly unaccountable the Church and BYU admin are to their stakeholders.

    3) How begrudgingly the Church and BYU admin approach accreditation.

    4) How much contempt the Church and BYU admin have not only for ‘the world’ as a whole but also civil rights law like Title IX and watch-dog groups like the American Association of University Professors.

  31. g.wesley
    May 6, 2018 at 6:51 pm

    rogerdhansen,

    You raise important points that need to be raised again and again.

    About the College of Religious Education, let me say that I think many of the faculty have their hands tied tighter than the rest. I think the blame for the problems lies mostly with those at the upper levels. For instance, as you may know already, Rel Ed faculty have very limited autonomy in shaping the curriculum, to that extent that they have any autonomy at all.

  32. Clark Goble
    May 6, 2018 at 8:20 pm

    G. Wesley, I think a rather straightforward baseline is that the ethical thing to do is not to threaten human safety, human life. That should be a given. The principle of not threatening human happiness or emotional / psychological well-being goes further and might encounter more opposition, as might also the principle of not threatening the stability of the eco-system. But I think those should be given too.

    Which is fine but you realize that there is huge disagreement on precisely those points. The emotionally riled debates over abortion, conditions for war/military action, and even rules for police deployment of force are examples of this. Further most formal ethical systems don’t give unambiguous conclusions for these points. So what we have are the intuitions of some people that “these should be givens” that clash with the intuitions of others that disagree. It’s fine you might have strong opinions on these matters — many do. Do you at least see why it is deeply problematic to take these personal givens as a base for universal judgment? I’m sure it’s simple to you simply because they are already your intuitions. I’d just say that part of critical thinking is not stopping with intuitions.

    As to Bednar’s aims, I confess they’re not as obvious to me as they apparently are to others. I just reread it to be sure. I took it to be more formal things tied to BYU which the marriage issues don’t seem to be. Apologetics might be part of that I’d admit. But more or less it sounded like him saying BYU had aims and they need help to do them. I don’t think it implies one should give a formal apologetic for the baptism of gay members’ children.

    To you rejoinder with Jonathan I think we all acknowledge there’s a lot of power. Further it’s not democratic power (at least that’s what I assume you are getting at with “unaccountable the Church and BYU admin are to their stakeholders.” I’d just note that outside of perhaps public universities that’s true everywhere. People who donate a lot get more influence at all universities including unfortunately BYU. Again, it’s fine to have a utopian vision of what an university ought be and see it as more egalitarian and democratic – if that’s what you’re saying. However that’s certainly not the world we live in for a variety of practical reasons. Nor would everyone agree with your vision for an university. Heck, I’m pretty critical of the status of how universities have evolved – particularly unfortunate changes over the past 30 years. I’m not sure my views ultimately matter much though.

    To the second point, I think you might have an overly rosy view of how power operates at other universities including public ones. Either because the exercise of power doesn’t affect you or you even agree with it, or merely because you don’t see it. (I’ve no idea if you are a professor or if so where you teach) This seems an issue in many places and not merely religious universities. A bad President of an university or undue pressure from outside can really undermine an university. That’s not to say there can’t be tensions. As I said there are academic fads and people who don’t fit into a departments presuppositions typically get excluded. Good universities avoid that. Many don’t.

    To your other points, I think it’s a bit more complicated, but I think you might be underestimating our knowledge of such things. To curriculum, again that gets back to the issue of whether the religion department is more like CES or a pure academic situation. (Although I also think you underestimate the feedback loop on curriculum in other departments and colleges – while some liberty is given there are limits on what texts or approaches are acceptable when say teaching undergraduate physics) I certainly favor religion being more like general academics and having the flexibility the old honors religion courses have. However part of the problem, in my experience, is feedback from parents of BYU students who tend to put enormous pressure on the university and Brethren. (Thus undermining somewhat your comment about stakeholders)

  33. ji
    May 6, 2018 at 9:21 pm

    Okay, now I think I know G Wesley’s end purpose.

  34. Aaron
    May 7, 2018 at 12:11 am

    Perhaps the root of the problem is that Wesley appears to be academically ashamed of his Mormonism. From his comments at FPR. “At BYU, the Book of Mormon is taught as an ancient text in the Department of Ancient Scripture. No other accredited university would do that (with the possible except of SVU?), and neither should BYU.

    If the Church wants to claim that BYU is a university, then there are two options when it comes to the Book of Mormon …

    Option one. It should be taught within the Department of Church History and Doctrine (for example) as a 19th-century work of religious literature, because that is where the preponderance of evidence places it.

    Option two. It could be taught as ancient scripture within a religious institute but not an academic college or department.”

  35. g.wesley
    May 7, 2018 at 2:01 am

    Clark,

    About things that I think should be givens in ethics, note that I did not use the word intuition. And I *did* go on to say: Applying those givens will, of course, not always be easy in this or that specific situation. In many cases, though, I suspect that it would be quite simple.

    Such as the case of the Church’s policy regarding same sex marriage.

    Do you think the policy threatens human safety and human life, or not?

    And, on the flip side, do you think that if the Church were to change its policy and allow, say, LGBTQ students at the BYUs to have loving, committed relationships and get married if they wanted to — do you think that would threaten anyone’s safety or life?

    About elsewheres and utopias and the abuse of power generally, let’s suppose that all universities are run just as badly as the BYUs. I do not at all accept that as fact. But let us suppose. Why/how would that mean it’s OK at the BYUs?

  36. g.wesley
    May 7, 2018 at 2:03 am

    ji,

    Do elaborate.

  37. g.wesley
    May 7, 2018 at 2:05 am

    Aaron,

    Don’t forget that I also said this in the very next paragraph:

    I am not saying that the Church must abandon BoM historicity in LDS religious settings, like branches, wards, stakes, seminaries and institutes. I am saying that universities (should) have certain basic rules, and if you want to compete in the university game and thus be able to tout your status as a competitor, you (should) have to play by the rules *while you are playing that game.* You can play other games with other rules in other venues, of course. You can even invent your own game with your own rules. But that’s something else.

  38. KLC
    May 7, 2018 at 9:22 am

    “…let’s suppose that all universities are run just as badly as the BYUs.”

    I don’t know what ji was referring to but this pretty much shows me what g’s motives are. First assume that BYU is run badly, then run with it in whatever direction you want. If you assume the worst then the field is white and ready to harvest for the armchair critic. What does “run badly” even mean? That blanket statement dovetails neatly with another statement he makes,

    “In many cases, though, I suspect that it would be quite simple. Such as the case of the Church’s policy regarding same sex marriage.”

    Yes, it’s such a simple thing. No one has ever disagreed about same sex marriage, no one on lds blogs has spent any time debating it, everyone in Washington is of one accord on it. It’s all cut, dried and transparent, same sex marriage is a simple issue and BYU is run badly. Maybe FPR can now move on and solve Israel/Palestine, Iraq, and our trade imbalance in a few pithy blog posts.

  39. g.wesley
    May 7, 2018 at 11:46 am

    Haha. I love it, KLC!

    There are problems and issues. People have been discussing them for a good while now, but alas they don’t agree. Therefore, it can’t be because people are irrational and need a solid education in critical thinking and the scientific method together with ethics and basic human decency. No, it must be because there is no solution to this or that problem or issue, and none of the solutions could be rather simple. Moreover, to suggest as much in. the. context. of. a. discussion. about. what. a. university. should. and. should. not. do., how. it. should. and. should. not. be. run., is naive, indeed. Let’s just all carry on, status quo.

  40. Nat Whilk
    May 7, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    Apparently, g.wesley believes as much in unwritten rules as Elder Packer did, since there’s no authoritative source that says the 2 options with respect to the Book of Mormon are what g.wesley says they are. In particular, there’s no evidence that BYU’s accreditors support g.wesley’s claim.

  41. Clark Goble
    May 7, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    G, I used the word intuition as that’s the normal term in philosophy. At some point you have an intuition of what’s right. Now of course we could adhere to some formalized ethics ala Kant/Rawls or Utilitarianism. But then you still end up going to intuitions to justify that embrace. The other approach is to just look at social norms, avoid the question of grounds, and simply look for implications or contradictions. Which is again fine. I’ll admit to being pretty deeply cynical about ethics and appeals to some common ethics “given.” To the degree I dare say I embrace ethics it’s probably a more a virtue ethics tied to a Levinas like ‘demands of justice that cries out.’ But the problem with that sort of ethics is that it famously doesn’t give you answers of what to do in a particular situation.

    More or less I just am deeply skeptical of your starting point for ethics. So I recognize it’s a generalized ethical value you hold. I just don’t think it can be held in a generalized form the way you are using it. It’s getting a bit afield from the topic, but I’d be fine giving examples of why I find that problematic. Since that’s your premise the rest falls apart for me.

    To the “others are bad isn’t an objection” objection, I’m pretty sympathetic to that. However my objection wasn’t that they were all bad. Rather my objection was that they don’t all share your intuitions of what an university should be. It’s really your assumptions that I’m critiquing, not attempting to justify BYU being bad.

    Again, you have some strong views on universities and that’s completely fine. I’m just suggesting that these views aren’t as universal as you think they are. Ditto for your ethics.

  42. g.wesley
    May 8, 2018 at 8:56 am

    Hi Clark,

    If you want to side step the question, it’s alright. I’ll drop it. The conversation’s prolly gone about as far as it can anyhow.

    Thanks for the back and forth.

  43. g.wesley
    May 8, 2018 at 9:48 am

    Hi Nat,

    Accreditation is about standards and processes. There are many of them, but they tend to be general. Even at the level of this or that academic discipline, the standards and processes are still rather abstract. They are to be followed and applied, then, like the rules of a game, in all specific plays, if you will. And one of those countless possible plays would be: teaching the BoM in an academic setting.

    For more info on the institutional and specialized accreditation of the BYUs, search here: https://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/Index.aspx

    As for basic rules of the game in the academic discipline of biblical studies, I recommend the brief essay on “Strategies for Reading Scripture” by Barton in the HarperCollins Study Bible edited by Attridge. In less than five pages, Barton effectively summarizes the rules. They are not unwritten.

  44. Aneem N
    May 8, 2018 at 10:45 am

    “Ramanujan attributed his deep mathematical insights to revelation from the goddess Namagiri”

    So this means that Namagiri exists and gives revelation? You’re Mormon, Clark. You can’t possibly maintain belief in the goddess of Namagiri. Or do you?

  45. May 8, 2018 at 11:52 am

    BYU needs a women academic as president.

  46. Clark Goble
    May 8, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    Aneem, I’m speaking to the broader point about revelation. I think academics should have a tolerance to such matters, particularly the origin of belief. What ought count is the argument. So whether I think Ramanujan correctly identified the origin of his experience is irrelevant. What counts is what he produces which is unarguably profound. That kind of tolerance to thinking with critical analysis of product is more or less what I’m arguing for and that G. appears to disagree with.

    Roger, I agree BYU would benefit not just with women in positions of power in the administration but also more women academics as professors. While again it’s been a while since I’ve been at BYU from those I’ve talked with there are definitely things they could do better structurally to encourage that such as daycare.

    G, I’m open to the side question, although it’s really getting into the philosophy of ethics rather than arguments about the role and structure of the university. My point is primarily that these foundations you appear to take for granted probably shouldn’t be assumed as correct. At minimum there’s far more diversity of thought on these points than you appear to realize.

  47. Aneem N
    May 10, 2018 at 3:03 am

    Overall you’re missing Wesley’s point. Faith/revelation-based claims are beyond question because they are supposedly established by some god or gods. They are true because a god said so, not because they were arrived at on the basis of reason (thought experiments, empirical observation, etc.). Critical thinking cannot apply to these claims because such a method would have to give weight to the idea that the supposedly revealed claims are wrong. In LDS tradition, the Book of Mormon wasn’t established as true because of critical thinking. It was established as true because Joseph Smith supposedly had a series of revelations that you can only know are true through revelation.

    That Ramanujan claimed to have arrived at the theorems because of revelation from Namagiri is a false equivalent. He never claimed that others should believe the theorems because a god said so. Others accepted the validity of his thinking on its merit, not because they also claimed to have a revelation from Namagiri that they are true. Besides, you don’t really believe that Namagiri is behind Ramanujan’s ideas, now do you? So how can you maintain that Ramanujan actually received revelation? Simply because he thought he did doesn’t mean that he actually did. Another way in which this is a false equivalent is that the Book of Mormon and other Joseph Smith revelations have never been validated outside Mormonism. No one accepts the Book of Mormon as historical except Mormon believers. And this isn’t due to lack of exposure or attention. The Book of Mormon is widely studied and its claims are widely known. By contrast, Ramanujan’s theorems have widespread acceptance among math scholars across the world. More so, mathematicians who do not fully accept the validity of his theorems accept the method by which he arrived at those theorems as the product of critical thinking, not revelation.

    The problem with BYU is that it does not allow for any of its employees or students to draw conclusions that are at variance with the central truth claims of the LDS church, especially when many of these truth claims are hugely challenged in academia outside BYU. BYU scholars and students should hypothetically have the freedom to explore the idea that the Book of Mormon is a 19th-century text written by Joseph Smith and other ideas and not have their admission to or employment at the university threatened. And this is because of the notion of faith being the starting point of any scholarship on the Book of Mormon. In other words, BYU is mandating that students and employees first accept the veracity of the Book of Mormon on faith and then if they must subject it to scholarly analysis do so in a way that does not challenge such a premise. This is not creating an environment in which critical thinking about LDS truth claims is allowed to prevail.

  48. Clark Goble
    May 10, 2018 at 10:41 am

    Aneem that’s a fine angle to pursue but it’s not what he wrote. That’s why I emphasized the difference between beginnings and endings. Talking about endings (what you write) would take care of that objection quite well. By emphasizing beginnings you also exclude things that can be legitimately defended empirically and rationally. So you’ve effectively missed the critique I was making. I’m fine excluding arguments by appeal to dogma from the academy. G. was going well beyond that.

  49. Aneem N
    May 10, 2018 at 4:51 pm

    Clark, your entire critique is 1) taken out of context and 2) based on a strawman. The context is Elder Bednar’s words in which he indirectly cautions academics against spreading any ideas that could be construed as out of line with LDS church’s main tenets (BYU mission is Lord’s way, align work with what god supposedly says through the LDS leaders, and support church policies against secular critiques). Wesley claims that faith/revelation should not be the starting point of scholarship at universities, but instead critical thinking and reason. What Wesley clearly means by faith/revelation (which of course can be widely interpreted and Wesley would have done well to be more specific as to what exactly he meant by faith and revelation) is a body of institutional doctrine and policies claimed to be true because of divine revelation promoted and defended by church leaders, not a Eureka moment.

    The idea that what Wesley means by faith/revelation in what he wrote can be construed to be something as general as a Eureka moment is the strawman of your argument. Your idea that it shouldn’t matter if a scholar came about an idea because of what he or she claimed was a revelation from some god or gods as long as its conclusion is carried out through critical thinking and reason and not continued appeals to authority, tradition, and revelation is correct. But that isn’t what Wesley is criticizing. He is saying that scholars at universities shouldn’t have to begin their scholarship based on the premise that the LDS doctrine and policies are correct and true and that secular critiques of these doctrines and policies are inherently wrong. He says that the LDS church should sell the BYUs so that the scholars at these institutions aren’t so encumbered by the expectation to produce faith-promoting scholarship and not publish things simply because it may be construed as being out of line with what the LDS church leaders teach. Consider this quote here: “University faculty are not troops to be marshaled and commanded by religious leaders in various culture wars.” University faculty members should have the freedom to critically say on a reasoned basis what they want in regards to various LDS doctrines and policies. It is this sort of freedom of speech and thought that is the bedrock of universities. Yes, dogma does create environments of social pressure at certain university departments that take away from that freedom, but this dogma much different from a body of religious leaders saying that there is a body of knowledge informed by divine revelation that is morally wrong to challenge. Besides this is another strawman in your argument. Wesley says nothing of dogma and clearly does not mean faith/revelation as dogma.

  50. Jerry Schmidt
    May 10, 2018 at 10:15 pm

    Aneem N, you have a distinct bias regarding relgious belief in general which informs your arguments in this conversation as well as the “Loving my prosperity gospel” conversation.

    While I admire the consistency, the bias is going to inform every argument you bring in a religious context. Is g wesley willing to own this bias with you? I’m unsure about that.

    G wesley wants a segregation of secular and religious, but Jonathan Green (got your name right this time) has already pointed out that at least the European tradition of academia has included both kinds of education.

    My dialectic reasoning is making me rethink my position on this segregation at BYU, but I believe the expectation as to apologetics and hard science working together may require a stretch of even Elder Bednar’s CES thinking, not to mention LDS members at large.

  51. Clark Goble
    May 11, 2018 at 11:23 am

    Aneem Yes, dogma does create environments of social pressure at certain university departments that take away from that freedom, but this dogma much different from a body of religious leaders saying that there is a body of knowledge informed by divine revelation that is morally wrong to challenge.

    I think you’ve created a difference without a difference. The whole point of dogma is that it’s morally wrong to challenge. If you look at contemporary University controversies over dogma, the defenders of the dogmas always make appeal to morality.

    My whole point is that once you start making moral (ethical) claims you’re outside the realm of empirical scholarship. So to start with an ethical claim for scholarship is ironically doing the very thing criticized. Wesley’s moral starting point is as deeply problematic from a scholarly view as any revelatory claim of Bednar. The difference is just what community it is a social norm for.

    Now what I think you and Wesley might want to argue is that there are strong social norms in the academy which ought to exclude certain types of religious discussion. That’s of course deeply problematic historically but you could argue that they’ve emerged in recent decades. The question is the next move of why we should agree with you. Heaven knows there’s deep dislike and often outright hostility in the academy towards religion particularly those that don’t allegorize away interventionist beliefs. So I’d probably agree there is as a practical matter such norms. How dominant they are then becomes the question. That is on a national level, how much diversity outside of such norms is permitted.

    That’s not what Wesley discussed though. He seemed instead to be making a more moral argument for what an university ought be like. But of course as soon as you start making moral arguments then all those problems of the non-empirical nature of morality arise. They tend to only work on those who already agree with your starting points.

  52. Aneem N
    May 11, 2018 at 12:50 pm

    Clark, you’re making another false equivalence and failing to separate between dogma and faith/revelation (which is odd, because in the OP you claim that dogma and faith/revelation are different). Are there examples of tenured professors at secular universities who are losing their jobs because they express beliefs in the supernatural or some particular religion? Not that I know of. At the BYUs, if a professor says something that can be construed as challenged central LDS doctrinal points or the authority of the leaders, they can easily be expelled. In fact, at the BYUs, there is no tenure per se, but only continuing faculty status.

    “Heaven knows there’s deep dislike and often outright hostility in the academy towards religion”

    There are many, many religious scholars of all sorts of different religions who teach in various university departments and who publish works expressing a great deal of views about their respective religious beliefs and personal attachments to them. Mostly, their jobs are not threatened because they do this.

    What Wesley means by faith and revelation (and, yes, he should have clarified what he means) is the organized body of doctrine in the LDS church. He is not equating this with dogma. The prevailing dogmas existing in different academic departments aren’t like organized religions. Here is how they are different:

    1) No centrally recognized authority, who define and establish doctrine, in dogmatic trends.

    2) Believers in these dogmas aren’t initiated by ritual into a followership, like the LDS church does with baptism and the temple.

    3) Dogmas in academic departments may be established because of moral claims, but not because of direct revelation from some deity or because of a prophet claiming such. Dogmas are more likely to be established on the basis of reason and critical thinking, not because some god supposedly said something to someone.

    4) Dogmas shift more rapidly than religious traditional teachings.

    5) Those going against the prevailing dogmas, if well established in a job with tenure, are unlikely to lose their jobs. Very different in the case of the BYUs.

    I get your point that dogmas can undermine freedom of thought and critical thinking at universities, but it really isn’t the same as the LDS church telling BYU faculty to defend its doctrines and policies.

  53. Aneem N
    May 11, 2018 at 12:54 pm

    Jerry Schmidt,

    “Jonathan Green (got your name right this time) has already pointed out that at least the European tradition of academia has included both kinds of education”

    That time has now passed. Most universities in the West are markedly secular. They don’t mandate the teaching of a particular religious group. They arguably have become centers for critical thinking and reason that are separate from a requirement to defend traditional religious teachings. Clark mentioned dogmas, but the nature of whatever prevailing dogmas exist in university disciplines is far, far different from a religious organization mandating the propagation and defense of its teachings.

  54. Clark Goble
    May 11, 2018 at 2:00 pm

    Aneem Are there examples of tenured professors at secular universities who are losing their jobs because they express beliefs in the supernatural or some particular religion? Not that I know of.

    Typically they aren’t hired. This will of course vary from discipline to discipline. The more empirical disciplines where there are actually clear right and wrong answers like physics this doesn’t matter much. However I’m rather surprised if you don’t have Mormon friends for whom this is a problem. Now of course people can transcend this. Mark Wrathall for instance is a well known and respected Heidegger scholar. But it’s putting your head in the sand if you think this isn’t an issue. And of course beyond just getting hired (and those pesky internet searches) there’s the issue of getting tenure or its equivalence.

    But to your direct point, of course professors are fired because they express particular religious beliefs. Kenneth Howell is a well known example, although he didn’t have tenure. (Although I’m not sure that matters to your argument) But there are plenty of others, often with Universities settling lawsuits. A little google will help you here. Move beyond purely religious beliefs and things get much, much worse. Don’t cross the established secular dogma at contemporary universities.

    So if that’s your criteria color me unimpressed.

    Aneem At the BYUs, if a professor says something that can be construed as challenged central LDS doctrinal points or the authority of the leaders, they can easily be expelled. In fact, at the BYUs, there is no tenure per se, but only continuing faculty status.

    Yup. BYU requires Mormon professors to be active and faithful and prefers not to hire non-Mormon professors. And if you dislike that I can understand it. The question is the argument for why that is illegitimate. So what’s your argument or is this just a preference or an intuited moral position?

    Aneem the nature of whatever prevailing dogmas exist in university disciplines is far, far different from a religious organization mandating the propagation and defense of its teachings.

    But just looking at your list I just don’t see that as clear at all. At best you could make an argument against centralization – but then that runs aground against decentralized religions like Orthodox Judaism or Evangelicalism. It only really applies to groups like Catholics or Mormons. So your (1) fails as a criteria. It’s not at all clear what ritual has to do with anything so I really don’t quite understand your (2). For your (3) you haven’t really established why direct revelation is somehow more problematic than moral intuition. The claim that “dogmas are more likely to be established on the basis of reason and critical thinking” seems particularly dubious given that they typically aren’t empirical (and often are anti-empirical). (4) why on earth is the rate of change of a dogma relevant? But further I’m not at all sure it’s even true. Look at the rate of acceptance of LGBT issues in religions (particularly among the young) contrasted with say many secular dogmas. At best this claim needs empirical evidence.

    Again, if you have an argument for why we should accept dogma but not religious dogma I’m all ears. But the differences you bring up seem either superficial or irrelevant.

  55. Aneem N
    May 11, 2018 at 4:57 pm

    First response: Yes, university professors tend to be more secular and less religious. Still, there are plenty of religious profs: http://religion.ssrc.org/reforum/Gross_Simmons.pdf. Part of the reason may be bias of hiring committees, but part of it has to do with the fact that the more education a person has, the more inclined they are to doubt religious tenets. Even if they are religious, their interpretations tend to be more allegorical. Universities have long been bastions of critical thinking (where theoretically speaking all ideas can be questioned and challenged), whereas religious claims tend to be based not on critical thought, but tradition, revelation, and faith. Also, Howell was an adjunct prof, which is very, very far from tenure (note that I said tenured professor). Even if you argued that Howell’s firing was an instance of some secular dogma prevailing at the university, it is still a false equivalence to what BYU does. It is reasonable to believe that Howell could have expressed all sorts of other Catholic beliefs at the university and not have been fired. Plus, he could have arguably expressed such a belief at other secular universities and not been fired. There is a much wider range of beliefs that you cannot question at BYU and keep your job. Plus, there is a near guarantee that you lose your job if you question things like the historicity of the Book of Mormon. I have been googling instances of fired university profs (looking at those with tenure) for religious views, and haven’t really found many. Now professors have been argued to cross a line when they preach religious views and federal courts have backed up universities cautioning them against that. But that is far different from secular dogma prevailing. Plus, I support the idea of there being some limits to what professors can teach and advocate at universities. For instance, I support the firing of professors who advocate fringy conspiracy theories (earth is flat, chemtrails, etc.) and violent and racist political ideologies. I think Howell was indeed pushing the limits, but I wouldn’t necessarily support his firing (although I would probably refuse to hire him to teach additional classes since it is important to have professors who make arguments on the basis of critical thinking rather than reactionary phobias). Still, his firing seems like a rare exception rather than the rule itself.

    Second response: The thrust of Wesley’s argument isn’t so much what universities should be but that strong oversight and censorship from the LDS leaders because of a body of ideas established on the basis of divine revelation violates an environment of critical thinking. Your point, it seems, is that different secular dogmas in universities do the same. I concede that to some extent, but with emphasis on extent. There is simply more freedom of expression granted at secular universities than at the BYUs and arguably other religious universities (although not all religious universities are the same) and discovery and knowledge are best attained in environments where people are the freest to explore and debate, don’t you think? I also think you are overemphasizing this distinction between what is and what should be. Many a moral claim can be justified on the basis of reason. I.e., humans should have access to clean drinking water to have better health and survive longer. We can do empirical research to show that human health deteriorates with consumption of polluted water and figure out ways to increase access to clean water.

    Third response: the dogma I mention (and I maybe should have clarified this more) is what I am inferring from what you are saying when you mention dogma that is supposedly present in different university disciplines and supposedly inhibiting free thought. In other words secular dogma. So if I could edit the response, I would add secular dogma to each time I mention dogma (since dogma can be religious as well). Second, the comparison is more apt when specifying Mormonism in particular, since we are comparing BYU to secular universities. Although, the comparison could be to other religions as well. To reiterate, 1) even when comparing secularism with religions that are highly unstructured and decentralized, such as Evangelicalism and Orthodox Judaism, secularism is even more so, since it has no authoritative texts, such as the Torah or the Bible. On that basis point 1 stands. 2) Answer this question, what makes one Christian, or LDS, or Muslim? This is often some sort of ritual or saying that makes a person an affiliate of that religion (such as baptism or the shahada). In most religions the regular performance of rituals (the Muslim prayer or partaking of the LDS sacrament) reaffirms that status as an affiliate. What rituals do you need to perform to be a secularist or reaffirm your status as one? Nothing. I can sort of grant your point in that not all religions are alike and some are fairly stripped down of ceremonial rituals. But ritual is a strong component of most organized religions. 3) Tell me a secular dogma that is established because of a claim to divine revelation? 4) Secular dogmas are more malleable and less rooted in tradition than religious tradition. Empirical evidence? Are you kidding me? Just look at how different scientific theories are today than they were in the past 50 years? This is because in secular environments questioning and challenging prevailing ideas are more allowed and acceptable than in religious environments. This should be a fairly obvious point.

    I am honestly perplexed and baffled at your disagreements with my ideas, and also those of Wesley. My best guess as to why this is occurring is because you are desperately trying to hold onto the untenable idea that religious claims are fully consistent with reason and critical thinking. The most central claims of Mormonism are not. Joseph Smith claimed all sorts of things on revelation and he and his followers claim that you can only know this through your own personal revelation. That is not knowledge based on critical thinking. It just isn’t. And this fact is so blatantly obvious that your objections to any suggestion that these revelatory claims are not based on reason cannot be understood as reasoned but instead the product of a psychological denialism that you feel no shame in defending with a dizzying array of logical fallacies (red herrings, false equivalences, etc.). Your critique of Wesley and my thoughts reveals a cluttered mind that is driven to expression not so much out of a desire to clarify and identify truths but by a sort of personal thrill that you derive from playing of a perpetual game of gotcha to deal with years of emotional insecurities about your own intellectual capabilities (couldn’t quite cut it in academia so you went into the chocolate business but so desperately wanted the former). It is nearly impossible to have a productive conversation with you.

  56. Jerry Schmidt
    May 11, 2018 at 9:53 pm

    So, faith is ultimately the result of a frenzied mind. Heard that argument, wasn’t persuaded. But I will never bring the superior argument in these conversations; I learned that lesson six months ago, and I’m frequently reminded lol. I concede that I will not persuade those certain of their certainties.

    Seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing (“The Santa Clause”). But that’s the problem, isn’t it. Seeing what others will not see is hallucination, therefore it can be dismissed easily, so there’s no bother to analyze it with reason or attempt to measure it; we know we’ll find a tumor (It’s nottaa toomah!) or some other neurological disorder. No need to waste precious thought, time, and resources on what cannot be measured, so doing so is foolish.

    Except minds like Einstein’s weren’t quite persuaded that reality was only what could be rationalized or measured. So, I’ll take my chances with faith.

  57. jpv
    May 13, 2018 at 1:59 am

    Credit to the blog’s tolerance you don’t censor intellectually dishonest, ad hominim-resorting comments from the likes of Aneem.

  58. Clark Goble
    May 13, 2018 at 10:00 pm

    Aneem, the issue of how secular professors are seems irrelevant to the discussion that I can see. I don’t think it terribly relevant for my questions and claims unless you are saying the practical norm of the majority ought determine the limits on everyone. (I hope you aren’t saying that)

    Regarding whether there is more freedom of critical thinking, I think we have to unpack that. Certainly there are some topics touchy at BYU you could get fired from. But I think I agreed on that from the beginning. The issue is the argument for why that is wrong, which you’ve still not really supplied. If your argument is simply that freedom of expression should be maximized, that’s fine. But we have to have an argument for why. The reason I brought up various dogmas was simply to show that many don’t agree with that view. (It wasn’t a “we’re no worse than them” sort of argument as I’d tried to make clear)

    To the issue of dogma and centralization, it’s still not clear to me why that matters. If a Marxist for instance adopts a few key texts, surely that’s not practically different is it? It seems to me the key matter is empirical evidence, not what texts influences one. Especially since there’s the classic issue of hermeneutics which lets texts be read in many ways. i.e. a liberal Christian is likely to emphasize different passages than a social conservative Christian and both will tend to neglect passages that go against their political presuppositions. So ultimately this seems a difference without a difference. Especially given the history of Marxism in the academy. (Admittedly less an issue today since most who like Marx now are neo-Marxists who reject a lot of Marxisim – but again I’m not sure that’s much different than how religions operate)

    As for being confused, it’s simply because we view things differently. I’d like diversity in the academy by having different universities each with different biases and approaches. So long as the scholarship is well done I have no problem with them – although I’d add that I think the humanities have some big problems there at times. While I dislike the bad incentives of “publish or perish” the reality is that the one thing it does provide is a strong incentive for all professors, including BYU ones, to produce work others accept. The prestige of publication matters a great deal everywhere. Now I’d complain that there’s not enough emphasis on teaching skills – with students often getting the short stick in these discussions.

    Ultimately though I’m bemused that someone who simply holds to different premises is so hard to understand that you are reduced to insults. Surely in a discussion like this there’s no need for “years of emotional insecurities about your own intellectual capabilities.” Especially when speaking out of ignorance of my background.

  59. Anonymous
    May 17, 2018 at 6:55 pm

    I did not attend BYU. I attended the University of Utah for my BA in math and JD at the law school. I do note, though, that BYU’s law school is ranked about #35 in the US, above many long established law schools. I also saw a report a year or so ago that, among universities whose Bachelors graduates go on to earn PhDs in the sciences, BYU ranks 7th in the US, ahead of Yale. I believe the business school has a very good reputation, especially because of the multilingual abilities and experience of its students. The growth of software companies in Utah County is a direct reflection of the computer sciences program at BYU. So I don’t buy into the general denigration of BYU’s function as a university.

  60. Clark Goble
    May 18, 2018 at 11:08 am

    I think there tends to be a bias in these sorts of criticisms towards the humanities. I tried to bring more of an emphasis to the sciences particularly the harder sciences where there are more obvious right or wrong answers.

    My sense, perhaps wrong, is that where there aren’t obvious right answers you have far more pressure towards the norms of the majority and more policing of group boundaries and attacks on those who don’t fit into the norms of the majority. The other clear bias is towards research and not teaching. So in that sense producing students who go to prestigious graduate programs or are successful in skilled careers is irrelevant (to those making these sorts of criticisms of BYU).

    So I think you’re completely correct, but because the examples you give are either more objective (hard sciences, mathematics) or more practical (law, engineering) they almost are irrelevant to those attempting to police other areas which have become more politicized. That’s why I think it’s useful to try and break out the underlying often irrational assumptions people bring to bear. (And I don’t mean irrational here as a criticism – however not recognizing it’s irrational and pretending it’s part of rationality is problematic)

  61. Chet
    May 18, 2018 at 5:51 pm

    Is a degree even necessary? See the Wall Street Journal opinion piece “Degree Inflation and Discrimination” from 03 April 2018.

  62. Clark Goble
    May 20, 2018 at 7:17 pm

    Really a different topic Chet. I think for many fields degrees are essential. I also think many of the skills one learns at college are quite important depending upon what one does with ones life. However employers tend to use degrees primarily as a signal that a person is contentious and a good worker. In that sense broadly speaking it’s a way for employers to have a better chance of hiring good people although the degree itself is irrelevant outside of that signaling.

    For some people I’m not sure going to college is helpful. However for many of those people I’m not sure the alternative choices are that great.

    This post is more about research done by professors and the social conditions of where they work.

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