Today, someone who watched my debate with David Smalley emailed me to ask if I could provide a more fulsome reply to his suggestion in the debate that New Testament scholars draw positive conclusions about Jesus (e.g. his existence, resurrection, etc.) because they are constrained by the requirements of institutional doctrinal statements. Here is my reply.
Thanks for your email. First, let me point out that my new book Conversations with My Inner Atheist addresses this general topic in chapter 2 titled “How can a Christian academic have intellectual freedom?” And it’s only $4 on Kindle. So I suggest you look there for a general response to the topic.
Specifically, however, that kind of comment is problematic for multiple reasons. First, the skeptic who raises that issue needs to identify how many academic posts in the field include orthodox requirements. I suspect that most posts are at public universities which include no doctrinal requirements at all. Many more are at mainline Protestant and Catholic institutions which offer wide latitude. So really, the focus is on schools that are conservative Protestant evangelical or fundamentalist. That’s a relatively small percentage.
Second, the mere fact that these schools have requirements does not entail that the faculty who teach at them are pressured or have their scholarship altered. In cases like that, a self-selection process occurs in which faculty will apply to teaching and research posts where the doxastic expectations of the institution are consistent with what they believe.
Finally, every institution has expectations. For example, if you want to teach geology at a public university, you ain’t getting tenure if you claim the earth is 6000 years old. But that “constraint” on scholarship surely doesn’t undermine the consensus on the age of the earth.