I grew heartsick on hearing that Cedarville University is considering dropping its philosophy major and cutting a position. As a philosophy professor at a sister evangelical university, I cannot help but find such a prospective decision to be short-sighted and deleterious, not just for Cedarville, but for the evangelical community as a whole.
At a time when we are so often perceived as none too rigorous, uninterested in the life of the mind and lacking in intellectual curiosity, for a significant evangelical institution of higher learning to make such a decision sends a horrible message whose reverberations will ring loudly and only reinforce the worst stereotypes.
Cedarville claims to take seriously its task to promulgate a Christian worldview, yet every question that a worldview is designed to answer - What is real? How is knowledge possible? What is right and wrong? - is profoundly philosophical in nature. Etymologically and at its best, philosophy is the love of wisdom, and wisdom, the Bible makes clear, is not optional for Christians. Wisdom beckons from the marketplace, and our call as Christians is to hear and to heed it. Christian worldview is not promoted by teaching students to rehearse the litany of standard Christian beliefs and teachings, but by training students to demonstrate with logical rigor that the Christian worldview as explanatory hypothesis is neither suspect nor evidentially subpar, but second to none.
At its best, philosophy is the love of wisdom, and wisdom, the Bible makes clear, is not optional for Christians.
Philosophy is often not a big money-maker, it is true, but value is not reducible to a monetary matter. Philosophy majors and minors tend to be a special breed, but nearly every one of the world’s greatest Christian apologists - William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, Gary Habermas, to name a few - is extensively trained in philosophy. The great C. S. Lewis was trained in both literature and philosophy, and the first course he taught at Oxford was in philosophy. We would not have his apologetic works today, nor would his imaginative pieces of fiction feature such rich texture, had he not received the philosophical training he did. It was Lewis who once said that good philosophy must exist if for no other reason than to answer all the bad philosophy out there.
If Cedarville makes this decision – which comes before the board of trustees at their Jan. 24-25 meeting - it does not bode well for the future of American evangelicalism. The irony is that we live at a time when Christian apologetics, spearheaded by thoughtful believing philosophers, is flourishing. To abandon the field now, of all times, is a baffling decision. To be motivated by economic factors, if that is the case, is beyond inexcusable. That a university that prides itself on excellence could think it could continue to qualify as a university at all, much less an excellent one, without a robust philosophy program bespeaks a profound loss of vision of what higher education is about.
Charles Malik has said that the most pressing problem confronting American evangelicalism is its anti-intellectualism, and Mark Noll has written that the biggest scandal of the evangelical mind is that it does not have one. I earnestly hope Cedarville knows better.