**NOTE: Open Letters hosted on Let There Be Light reflect the express views/concerns of the author(s), and not necessarily those of our entire organization.**
To whom it may concern:
My name is Blake Hereth, and I am a 2011 alumnus of Cedarville University. Having received my B.A. in philosophy from Cedarville, and owing much to professors David Mills and Shawn Graves, I write to you to express my displeasure at your recent decision to end the philosophy major. The public relations ‘black eye’ Cedarville has already received from this, in addition to a sizable student outcry (it is sizable: roughly a third of your students signed a petition to restore critical thought to CU via the philosophy major), among other things, are suggestive that the board’s decision was not in the best interest of the university. It would be a mistake to regard this observation as an appeal to popularity. It is, rather, an observation that thoughtful students, alumni, and persons not directly associated with the university, regard this decision as misguided and worthy of retraction.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the recent decision carries with it a deep moral cost. Certain upper-level philosophy courses (e.g., Epistemology, Metaphysics, Senior Seminar) would no longer be offered if the major were dropped. But it is precisely to these courses that a great many of us owe our Christian faith. On a consistent, yearly basis, students struggling with their faith take these courses and, in nearly all cases, come to have their faith restored or, in some cases, come to have Christian faith for the first time. Nearly all of us come to have this faith because of what we learn in certain upper-level philosophy courses. The tools acquired in those courses (unique to the courses — e.g., Richard Swinburne’s Principle of Credulity), as well as specific content in those courses (e.g., Alvin Plantinga’s modal ontological argument or Reformed epistemology, Jerry Walls’ defense of the traditional Christian conception of hell, Keith Yandell’s defense of religious exclusivism), contribute to and sustain the Christian faith of many of us. Due to prior patterns, it is likely there will continue to be students whose spiritual needs would be assisted by these courses. It is also likely (again, given prior patterns) that these students would not have their spiritual needs met without these courses.* Consequently, it is likely that, if these courses are no longer offered, a handful of students will abandon the faith. It follows from all of this that, if you decide to end the philosophy major, you’ll be responsible for students leaving the Christian faith. My guess is: you think that would be really bad. You’d be right. So, if you take that seriously, you need a really, really, really good reason to end the program — something considerably stronger than “it saves us a little money” or “if we reallocated funds over here, we could double the size of this class!”
There are other objections I could press, but I think I’ve offered a pretty strong reason to keep the major. I’m under the optimistic assumption that I’m writing morally decent people, so I expect this objection to have considerable force. If it doesn’t have such force for you, either you’re immoral or you have a really, really, really good reason to end the program. But if you have such a reason, then (in the absence of extremely good reasons to keep quiet) you owe it to students currently doubting the faith, and students who did doubt the faith and would likely have abandoned it had you cut the program years prior to now, to explain exactly why you’re cutting the program, and likely their faith with it.
*It might be objected that some other means of securing their faith might substitute for the relevant upper-level philosophy course(s). But there’s no reason to believe that is true. It’s like putting your hand on a hot stove, knowing it will burn you, and then saying, “Hey, for all I knew, if I didn’t put my hand on the hot stove, I would have touched something hotter!” Or: “I figured that, if I didn’t educate my kids, they would somehow educate themselves on their own.” Consequently, it’s more likely that students would be far, far worse off without these courses.