EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Against All Gods: What's Right and Wrong about the New Atheism by Phillip E. Johnson and John Mark Reynolds. This chapter is written by John Mark Reynolds (IVP).
A Wonderful Education
The best thing about the new atheists is that they are starting some good conversations. For too long "religion" has been treated as totally private and not subject to scrutiny inside of education. That is too bad, because it infantilizes religion and cuts off a great many interesting conversations.
Conversations about religion can be wonderful and help us all shape a better life for ourselves.
Writing for outlets like the Washington Post leads to lots of interesting email. Some critics claim that my job as an educator at a religious institution is hopelessly impractical and a bad deal for my students. Whenever a critic wishes to really let me have it, he or she will point out that I work at Biola University (formerly the Bible Institute of Los Angeles) where the faculty is required to agree with a creedal statement. How can I do philosophy or even real education in such a constricting environment?
Leaving aside the fact that Biola University has not been a Bible institute for over half a century, the critic is really concerned about the compatibility of faith with reason. Isn't faith the opposite of reason? As one email put it: Christians believe things despite the evidence. If true, that obviously makes living a rational life impossible. For the critic, faith is a set of opinions, and though you can repeat opinions, perhaps in a clever way, you do not need an education to have them.
The critic of religious education argues that it is impossible to be educated without cultivating a spirit of skepticism, but skepticism is antithetical to the religious spirit. Skepticism needs doubt, and doubt is the opposite of faith. Science, philosophy and reason require a Doubting Thomas, while religion wishes to cure Thomas of all his doubts. In the Los Angeles Times, biologist P. Z. Myers put it this way:
It's hard not to take seriously a bizarre collection of antiquated superstitions that are furiously waved in our faces in our schools, on television, in our politics and even on newspaper editorial pages. That we take the intellectually bankrupt beliefs of religion seriously is precisely why we do question it, and will continue to question it, in our boring way: by simply speaking out.1
If this series of insults directed at the very idea of religious knowledge and an education with a basis in religion were not enough, there is the idea that education should be practical.
The practical person points out that in the modern world most people get education for good jobs or to open up opportunities for better jobs. Religion is not very practical, and at least for most people, it is not very lucrative, and so the practical person pushes it to the side. College is too expensive to spend good money thinking about religion.
Students are reduced to mere consumers in a university dominated either by skepticism or an obsession with moneymaking (or both). There is no energy or time left for faith. But this very combination of critics and their ability to live cozily together should make us consider whether there is not a better way. Surely there is more to life than cynicism, debunking and anger. Most of us know from bitter experience that this "something more," happiness, cannot be found in accumulating things. If he who dies with the most toys wins, then it must have been a pretty stupid game to play.