Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The latest on the APA petition controversy

Over at First Things, Keith Pavlischek reports on the reactions of various Christian colleges to the American Philosophical Association petition controversy. (Pavlischek had reported earlier on the controversy here.)


  1. Well, that's discouraging.

  2. Thanks for calling my attention to this ongoing debate about something that does, indeed, seem like it might eventually have some potentially troubling broader implications.

    Keith Pavlischek's post - "Where do the Stand?" - and the attitude it reflects, however, seems to be reflective of exactly the wrong sort of intervention - indeed, an intervention that seems more concerned with venting some personal animosity than moving the discussion forward.

    I'm especially troubled by the rather backhanded tone of the post. At the end of the post, he includes of a few paragraphs at the end about our inability to know the reasons individuals have not signed these petitions and the attendant need to withhold judgment. In spite of these caveats, what comes before this seems to proceed with exactly the opposite intent. Pavlischek seems bent on concluding the worst about the intentions of non-signatories in these philosophy department - that they either suffer from a lack of moral courage and/or act only in regard to their future career prospects.

    I'm especially troubled by the rather uncharitable and inexplicable aside from some unknown personal vendetta on his part way that he singles out Calvin College (Where he refers to "inside baseball" it seems clear there's something subterranean going on in terms of his relationship to Calvin to which he doesn't let on). Its here that I start to think Keith Pavlischek strays from the somewhat reasonable into the incredibly destructive. Despite the fact that the response record of Calvin professors is pretty much in line (go through the list that he lays out and you'll see what I mean) with the other named departments, his post goes off on some sort of odd incredibly generalized and ad hominem tangent about the "typical Calvin professor" and its wannabe cosmopolitanism, etc., prefacing it all with an attack on Dutch-Calvinists in general (despite the fact that he is associated with and employed by the Center for Public Justice, an organization that has its origins in the Dutch Reformed tradition). What's his problem with Calvin? Why single them out? If he does have one, he should have the moral courage to come out and tell us what it is instead of using this controversy as a veil for his some unrelated animosity towards Calvin and the Reformed tradition in general. Surely, this isn't at all close to the mantle of charity he claims for himself at the end.

    All in all, what Keith Pavlischek ignores in order to levy an attack that allows his to vent some ostensibly personal or preconceived animosity is the fact that there are other legitimate reasons that one could use to justify not signing the petition. Two stand out in particular. First off, as evidenced by your encounters with Leiter, et al., they really just aren't capable of engaging in anything resembling constructive dialogue. As a result, it may be that those not signing the petition have chosen that approach because they don't foresee any sort of constructive outcome that would outweigh the legitimacy that it grants to the original Hermes-led petition. This is especially relevant because, as has become clear to me in conversations with colleagues from other departments, the list of signatories on Hermes petition is, in fact, highly dubious, especially in the case of some of the more prominent members of the profession who are listed. Thus, to respond in kind, may in fact just give the ill-constructed document a degree of legitimacy that it does not deserve.

    Second, they may not agree with all or some of the language of the petition. That, as Pavlischek seems to think, certain prominent Christian philosophers have signed on isn't in itself enough justification of the conclusion he draws from this: that it must be a document upon which all Christian philosophers of any personal and moral integrity would be able to sign. For every prominent Christian philosopher that did sign the document, there is at least one - and probably a great deal more - that chose not to sign it. Because homosexuality is a complex issue that has many different facets, it makes perfect sense that academics - especially those who teach, study, and write philosophy for a living - would have a variety of different of understanding and beliefs that they may not feel are reflected in the Hermes' authored counter-petition. The document may, as I personally think, have a great degree of merit and warrant signing by those who are in agreement, but to impugn someone's reputation because they may have a different opinion or understanding of the issue is beyond the pale.