I have claimed that we ought to take seriously the consensus of experts on the New Testament just like we take seriously the consensus of experts in climate change or evolution. The Atheist Missionary replied by stating that the consensus of New Testament scholars is indoctrinated. He then focused in on one of the scholars I mentioned, Ben Witherington, with this pointed question:
“Do you think he (or you) would hold the academic position he does now if he frankly admitted at his job interview that he was skeptical of the existence of god?“
No he wouldn’t. He teaches at a seminary. (Duh.) But so what? Is TAM really suggesting that religious institutions of higher learning are unique in having an orthodoxy that constrains them? Now that is deluded.
How many junior biologists applying for a position at a public university would have gotten that position if they told the interview committee they were skeptical of Neo-Darwinian theory? When Jonathan Wells speaks at public universities and graduate students in biology want to share their misgivings about various aspects of Neo-Darwinian theory, he always advises that they meet covertly off campus where they won’t be seen. Why? Because a biology student being seen talking with Wells is like a member of B’nai B’rith being seen talking to Norman Finkelstein. (That of course is another whole can of worms. Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul University, hardly a bastion of religious conservatism, because of his outspoken stance against Israel.)
But I digress, so let’s continue. How many junior climatologists would get the position if they told the committee they were skeptical of human-induced climate change? How many junior analytic philosophers would get the position if they told the committee they were conservative Christians? (J. Budziszewski got his first philosophy position precisely because he was a nihilistic atheist. That was what the committee was looking for and that’s what they hired. Needless to say the department was less than happy when Budziszewski later converted to Catholicism!)
I was just speaking last week with a friend who did a Masters degree at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton Ontario with world-renown New Testament scholar Stanley Porter. He then applied for PhD programs in New Testament, and even though he was at the top of his class he couldn’t even get considered. Why? Because he had gone to MacDiv, an evangelical seminary. So he went to McMaster University and did a second Masters degree. Upon completing that degree in New Testament from a secular school, he applied and suddenly found himself receiving not only acceptance at a number of programs but also very generous scholarships. And that’s in New Testament.
So this brings me to my conclusion. It is deluded to think that orthodoxies do not reign in every school of higher learning. They clearly do. (Indeed, schools with their dependence on external funding are by nature very conservative and beholden to many orthodoxies, some internal to the departments, some imposed from external funding agencies.) Thus, the question TAM uses to marginalize Ben Witherington could be used to marginalize any university department, scholar or any scholarly consensus.
Since I don’t think (a) TAM wants to advocate a sweeping skepticism toward all institutes of higher learning and scholarly consensus or (b) that he would want to be inexcusably inconsistent in his skepticism, I suggest he drop his grounds for a priori dismissing Ben Witherington.