Look, Kids, a Real Live Conservative…

The ad hit the Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday.

The University of Colorado at Boulder is looking for a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy.  Chancellor Philip DiStefano disputed criticism that this move was either a sop to politically powerful conservatives or a strategy to hire one “token” conservative on a liberal campus.

The original plan to fund a full Chair has been scaled back to a three-year pilot program to bring in prominent visiting scholars, according to a school news release.  The program hopes to bring in a prominent intellectual, not necessarily an academic, to provoke intellectual ferment on the beautiful mountain campus.  Will it work?

As we’ve discussed here recently, the notion that many public universities have been captured by the cultural, intellectual, and political left resonates strongly with many conservatives.  But we’ve also noticed that such “secular” universities are also often home to many conservative students and faculty.

Whatever the true purpose for this new program, I can’t wait to see who takes the job.  Would a young-earth creationist–no matter how distinguished–be considered intellectually respectable enough?  Or, if a young-earth thinker lays beyond the pale, could someone such as Alvin Plantinga or Darrel Falk fit the bill?  Or would the campus powers-that-be prefer a more secular thinker?  How about Paul Gottfried?

Though the university insists it would be open to a scholar as well as an activist, it seems they would prefer someone who speaks as a conservative, not just about conservatism.  That’s too bad.  Some of the most interesting university interactions might come from hiring a scholar of whatever personal beliefs, someone whose work illuminates conservatism in America.  Maybe someone like George Marsden?  Or Ron Numbers?

We’ll be watching to see what shakes out with this position.  Who do you think it should go to?  For those conservatives and scholars of conservatism out there, would you want the job?

Required Reading: Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies

Required Reading: Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

For a quick preview of the book, see John Wilson’s interview with Plantinga in Christianity Today.

In this interview, Plantinga’s quiet insistence on the compatibility of Biblical Christianity with human evolution raises once more the old question: Do the LOUDEST people insist on the fact that evolution and biblical religion are incompatible, while the SMARTEST people find  lots of room for the two to agree?

As Plantinga puts it:

There’s no real conflict, [between religion and evolution] even though conflict has been alleged by people on the Right as well as on the Left. Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and a host of others claim that there is outright conflict between evolutionary theory and belief in such a person as God, who has created and designed the living world. At the other end, there are Christian thinkers, too—like Phillip Johnson—who think there is irreconcilable conflict between the scientific theory of evolution and Christian belief.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Richard Dawkins and Phillip Johnson are both smart people and terrific polemicists.  But in his other works, Plantinga’s brand of careful consideration and his thorough, quiet, deliberative method have resonated with me in a much more profound way. When in doubt, it seems to be a fairly reliable guide that the person with the greatest certainty is usually not the most careful, most dispassionate seeker of truth.

As Plantinga says in this interview, “to argue for it [the relationship between evolution and naturalism] properly is quite complicated; it’s hard to do in a brief compass.”  So maybe the best thing for all of us to do is to quit talking so much about it, and start with a more careful reading of books like Plantinga’s new one.