Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Patrick Henry College

Someone asked in the comments on another post about this LAT story regarding Patrick Henry College, about which I know a bit.

Here’s an earlier story covering some of this ground, as well as another from the same source (a local Virginia paper).

You can read the article that caused some of the brouhaha here. I regard it as unexceptionable.

PHC’s new president is Graham Walker, author of these books. PHC’s new academic dean is Gene Edward Veith, who blogs here. I wish them all the best as they navigate through a rough patch in PHC’s development.

Update: There’s more on this issue here. Unfortunately, another article that is, shall we say, of interest, "Of St. Augustine and Politics," originally published here in a PHC magazine, is no longer available on the web. If anyone out there has a copy they’re willing to send my way, please do so.

There is one misleading feature of the piece in CT. I’m not altogether certain of the timing, but the search for an academic dean long antedated this particular controversy, and while there is some coincidence in Michael Farris’ announcement that he was stepping away from the college presidency and the publication of the currently unavailable article, I suspect (but do not know) that the change in roles had to be in the works long before the article was published. In other words, even if this controversy hadn’t broken, PHC would have had a new president and a new academic dean.

Update #2: Here’s a re-posted version of an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, otherwise available only to subscribers. Hat tip: Michael DeBow.

Discussions - 26 Comments

A "rough patch"? What does that mean? What are we to make of this? Of course, no one is forced to attend Patrick Henry, or to teach there. It is a free country. But Professor Knippenberg had harsh things to say about the Harvard Business School, based upon news of one professor’s errant opinions. Here, in contrast, we get him referring to "a rough patch in PHC’s development." This college seems to be based upon principles contrary to the article that Knippenberg finds "unexceptionable". Students there are being denied -- are they not? -- the education that readers of NLT embrace. What am I missing? Is this a case of a generous hope that an old-fashioned Bible college will turn into a real college? What is the principle that underlies Professor Knippenberg’s extraordinary discretion? What is the evidence that "development" is likely to occur? His implication -- perhaps I am alone is being ignorant of such things -- is that a new president and a new dean will be able to open minds and wean the place away from its board and its founding expectations.

The LATimes article states that "[F]ive of the school’s 16 faculty members have left, saying the school’s approach is too doctrinaire to prepare students for the realities of American politics.

One faculty member was fired and four others resigned in protest, saying the administration prohibited free-ranging discussions at what has been called the "Evangelical Ivy League."

But I thought such schools were a place where Mr. Knippenberg would recommend a student could go to escape the alleged leftist indoctrination attempted by professors at so many secular colleges and universities across the nation. Here we’ve got the ADMINISTRATION of an evangelical school saying that some kinds of discussions are verboten. So, is it that a conservative Christian indoctrination is the one acceptable kind of indoctrination?

This tidbit from one of the Leesburg articles says plenty, too: "The private evangelical Christian college initially focused on providing higher education opportunities to students who had been taught through homeschooling." As tempting as a shiny apple - the indoctrination that begins at home should continue well into a child’s early adult years in college. Who needs all those pesky questions and freethinking?

Exactly Craig. Everyone knows that indoctrination is the only thing that goes on when a child is home-schooled. Only religious parents home-school their children. Free-thinking only takes place when everything taught is secular in nature. There’s nothing dogmatic in any topic outside of religion. Well said!!!


...except that I "said" none of that, Fred. Your sarcasm -thanks for pointing it out- doesn’t make it so. Were you aiming for a definitive straw man there, or what?

I worry about developments like those at PHC and hope that the college can come to a conception of genuine liberal education that is faithful to its religious commitments. I don’t think that the these two things are antithetical. I don’t think faith and freedom, not to mention reason, are at odds with one another.

Were Misters Thomas and Scanlon apparently more willing actually to explore these questions in a spirit of open inquiry (as opposed to looking simply to score points), I’d be happy to initiate a frank conversation, but at the moment I don’t see how that could happen.

As it happens, Mr. Knippenberg has misunderstood both my comment and my views. As to the latter, he seems a bit quick on his trigger. My questions to him were meant to seek clarification, though I admit his patience with PHC (the news from PHC was a mere brouhaha) seemed to me at odds with his impatience with the Harvard Business School (on the basis of one faculty member’s views). So let’s start a frank conversation by stipulating that exploring the limits of both faith and reason is our common curriculum, though not that of PHC. I gather that we also agree that Biblical literalism and the conceit that all truth is discoverable as the revealed will of God, knowable by human beings -- that these are not the curriculum we call genuinely liberal. I’ll try hard not to make a caricature of Mr. Knippenberg if he will return the favor.

I agree faith and academic freedom should not be at odds with one another. All truth is God’s revealed truth, the Bible is silent about gravity but the fact remains that gravity is truth.

I’m concerned about the lack of integrity that appears to be at the center of this mess. Professors who read and agree to a statement of faith and mission statement and then publically criticize the institution, the statement of faith and the mission statement. The fact that they chose to involve the student body in their dissent is bothersome, as is the public response to that dissent from the adminstration. Were internal communications so irrepairable that noone bothered to seek reconciliation as mandated in Matthew 18?

Apparently Wheaton is setting the pace for self defeating intolerance. The "Harvard of the Evangelical World" fired their medieval philosophy professor for converting to Catholicism, and now it looks like PH is imitating Wheaton. When faced with the shallow soullesness and nihilism of modernity, the administration of Evangelical College confront the dangerous premodern Greeks! Way to pick your battles....

PHC can define its mission any way it likes. Still, you have to have a subtler theological mind than I have to discern the ways in which this piece, to which I referred above, is inconsistent with these statements. I’m open to, er, enlightenment on these points.

After reading the article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, I would have to agree with Mr. Bonicelli, the former academic-affairs dean. It appears that Farris wasn’t truly committed to Liberal Arts. Graham Walker has his work cut out for him, especially with Farris peering over his shoulder.

Well, I spoke at PH before the recent troubles. Nobody’s mentioned the biggest problem I saw there: It was way too uniformly REPUBLICAN. I spoke right after the 04 election, and it was clear that almost every student had been deployed (for credit) to work on some Republican campaign or another. Now I’m basically a Republican and all, but the right-wing political correctness there exceeded any form of the left-wing variant I’ve seen on other campuses. I visited a class on American institutions, and virtually every student had the same opinion on why Bush won etc. The few dissident students (who were still for Bush etc. but somewhat more skeptically) had to approach me with caution. The comparatively lefty students there called themselves the Tocqueville society! So the disease I saw was less religious dogmatism than the political form.

Peter Lawler brings some welcome fresh air to this discussion.

It is good to know that there’s a Tocqueville society at PHC. Reading Tocqueville carefully will do the students a lot of good.

We are members of the Home School Legal Defense Association and of the Presbyterian Church in America, which happens to be the denomination of one of the faculty members at PHC who is resigning. It isn’t exactly a liberal denomination, but it is Reformed, which seems to pose problems at PHC. My wife and I also teach at a liberal arts college and are deeply committed to liberal education, understood as the pursuit and examination of the truth.

At the moment, PHC stands at a crossroads. The incoming president and dean seem to have a record of commitment to liberal education in a religious context. Both have high profiles and impressive scholarly accomplishments. Under their leadership, PHC could make good on its initial promise. Or it could become a narrowly sectarian (in both the religious and political senses) bible college. It’s not my place to tell the folks there how to be faithful to their mission. But I can say that, were my children old enough (they’re 8 and 10, going on 16 and 85), and able enough (who knows?), I wouldn’t at the moment encourage them to attend PHC.

I should add that a few of the students (the Tocquevillians) at PHC knew more than most Harvard students not only about Tocqueville but about contemporary currents in thought--Heidegger, Girard, Strauss, Manent, Baudrillard, Kojeve, etc, etc. (They were exposed to more of that kind of high-level diversity than students usually are in Straussian-dominated departments.) They had some great classes with Mark Mitchell and Bob Stacey.

Peter Lawler’s comments, taken together, suggest that the problem for the students at PHC is that many of them do not get the "high-level diversity" on the spiritual side that they get on the philosophical side. Reason gets a work-out, but faith is pre-packaged and cramped, in accordance with the college’s mission (which of course it is free to define as it chooses). The right-wing political correctness that Peter describes is evidently the result of self-selection. It is an interesting experiment in a broader culture that has almost always seen "declension." (Are the Mormons and the Amish exceptions?) Will this be a problem for the students? Will their received religion survive?

So I told them when I was there:

1. Stop talking about "worldviews" and start talking about what’s really true for anyone with eyes to see. Do as much as you can with natural law and let your goal, at the highest, be the education of the St. Thomas for the evangelicals.

2. Read Chesterton, Thomas, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor, especially Percy and O’Connor.

3. Remedy this situation: Evangelical book is still far too close to an oxymoron. Until you do, you have to get your theology (and philosophy) someone else.

Mr. Knippenberg, you said that "[you] don’t think faith and freedom, not to mention reason, are at odds with one another."

Well, I can agree with that to a limited extent but, looking at the two items you linked to in comment 9, it seems to me that a school which has, as part of its founding principles/mission statement the following:

Any biology, Bible or other courses at PHC dealing with creation will teach creation from the understanding of Scripture that God’s creative work, as described in Genesis 1:1-31, was completed in six twenty-four hour days....PHC in particular expects its biology faculty to provide a full exposition of the claims of the theory of Darwinian evolution, intelligent design and other major theories while, in the end, teach creation as both biblically true and as the best fit to observed data.

is not a school which honestly values reasoned inquiry (could a student ask, for example, "What is the observed data to show that God made the world in six twenty-four hour days?" and expect to get a reasonable answer?). Requiring biology teachers to believe in Earth’s creation in six 24-hour days does not seem compatible with the instructor and/or student following a trail of rigorous scientific inquiry in determining "is this true?" (as the Source article authors put forth as being of foremost importance within a liberal education). Here, surely, one must make a choice between either following observed/observable data and evidence (via reason) or the text of the Bible (and one’s faith in such, as PHC mandates, as "the inspired word of God, inerrant in its original manuscripts, and the only infallible and sufficient authority for faith"). Surely, Darwinian evolutionary theory, gaps and all, has more observed data going for it than the claim that the Earth was created in six days. And surely there are some persons who believe in God who find that particular detail to be questionable and debatable.

Likewise, can it be said that reason and reasoned inquiry are truly valued when both faculty and student MUST believe, from the get-go, that Jesus was born of a virgin, that "Jesus Christ literally rose bodily from the dead," and that "Satan exists as a personal, malevolent being." These are beliefs that require faith, not reason, to maintain. If a student, or teacher, questioned any of these things, would this be grounds for expulsion or termination?

Of course this college can do whatever it wants, but it sounds like a place where the answers to a lot of the big questions are laid out at the beginning (Earth was created in six days, Jesus is coming back, and God prefers capitalism!), not a place where students are actively engaged in asking questions and looking for answers, and thinking independently. Only certain questions and certain answers are acceptable at this institution. The place sounds more like a theological seminary, where you can study Christian faith as a Christian, with the supplementary advocacy goal of making the government more explicitly (Christian) faith-based, by "encourag(ing) government to adhere to principles of biblical morality."


Immanuel Kant, no holy roller he, sought in the Critique of Pure Reason to limit the claims of reason to make room for faith, specifically in God, freedom, and the immortality of the soul. All three of these things aren’t, he says, observable or empirically verifiable, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. Unless, of course, you begin by defining existence in terms of what you can perceive with your senses, which is a posited, rather than a simply rational, beginning. To define what is simply in terms of what we can observe with our senses is a kind of act of faith, so to speak.


I know very little about Kant, or metaphysics in general, but my own personal prejudices lead me to think that anything other than empiricism, while fun, does not produce much knowledge (though I certainly do not mean to offend you or anyone else). When I read your post I thought of Descartes’ opening to his Meditations, where he states he wants to use reason to prove that God exists, etc. Let’s pretend he is sincere, and that he suceeds (contrary to Kant and whoever else). He can prove God, but not Jesus, or Moses, or Mohammed. It seems once you stray away from the empirically verifiable you get a lot of opinions and grand systems.

It would seem that "natural philosophy" has produced a lot of wonders since it was engaged in. People can fly, use nuclear bombs, go to the moon, etc. That is a real increase in knowledge. Do you think (and I am being quite sincere) that mankind’s understanding of God has advanced any since theology was began by Homer and Hesiod and all of the other ancient writers? Aristotle lead to computers, has the first theologian lead to any remarkable discoveries of that sort? If not, then I think it is becuase the lack of empiracism prevents true progress from being made, and while something could be true, I do not think we would ever know it for sure, and this uncertainty prevents progress from being made.

More on Patrick Henry: I got a couple of fine emails from students and faculty. Let me say that I forgot to mention Eric Root as another very impressive professor of political philosphy there. He wrote me that he tried to get students to think about the limits of the word "worldview" in their empirical methods class, which is exactly where they should be thinking about it.

Yes, Erik Root, who said and wrote something on St Augustine that evidently offended. His article has disappeared from the online magazine. I hope he has not.


Your standard--worldly success--precludes by definition an answer. Some might say eternal life is quite an advance, but it’s not empirically verifiable.


I guess I meant knowledge of the thing studied. Natural philosophy studied nature. There is no dispute that we know a lot more about nature. No one disputes that gravity is real, or that atoms exist. Theology studies God. I do not think it has produced any real knowledge about God. I guess it has gone from the idea of multiple gods to one God, and I guess that is an improvement, but outside of that I see no real substantial gains. I think most people would agree that if you have a discipline that has been around for many years, and it has produced no real, concrete, verifiable knowledge, it has been less than succesful, and probably never will be succesful. I guess this brings up the question, what is the purpose of study? If its purpose is to have fun and be interesting then theology is great, if the purpose is to gain useful knowledge and apply it to solve problems then it does not seem to be an efficient use of our finite time.


Once again, by your standards, only "scientific" knowledge is knowledge (and only provisional knowledge at that), and even political philosophy is only so much inefficient blathering.

That’s an assertion or article of faith about the sufficiency of the world (the only one we can know by our senses).

I don’t see how you can regard monotheism as an advance, on your own terms, since we can’t "know" that there’s only one God.

In response to comment 6, as one of those departing and quoted once or twice in the articles, I have never privately or publicly criticized the content of PHC’s statement of faith (I have disagred with wording, preferring the Nicene Creed or Quicunque). You will look in vain for any such criticism. The point is that there is a gross discrepancy between private and public images.

On the topic of Matthew 18, that has been tried. I take that seriously, as a Ruling Elder in the OPC (one of Knippenberg’s sister denominations). The other side has proven intractable.

When I said that I agreed to a certain extent with the idea that faith and reason aren’t at odds with one another, I guess I should have specified that I agreed with this for individuals on a personal basis. One can place the greatest value on rationality, reason and science in their day-to-day lives, but still believe that a supreme deity that is beyond human comprehension might or does exist. In other words, a scientist can be religious. That’s fine, it’s a deeply personal decision (or endless series of decisions). And perhaps, in some cases, this situation could serve as a productive kind of cognitive dissonance, who knows?

But in pointing out what I did in comment 17, I was trying to point out that, on an institutional level, there is a big problem in prioritizing the Bible as the ultimate source of truth, and simultaneously having students seek the truth as an educational journey. In other words, regarding your comment 9, I think that there is inherently significant conflict between reason and faith, particularly the (obviously narrow) institutional Christian faith codified and mandated by PHC.

Of course, as an agnostic, there’s MUCH I would disagree with Kierkegaard about, but at least he did acknowledge the chasm between faith and reason and "faith’s independence from compelling proofs." Saying that just because "God, freedom, and the immortality of the soul" "aren’t...observable or empirically verifiable" "doesn’t mean that they don’t exist," well, that’s incredibly unhelpful, to put it mildly. Not to inflate Rumsfeld’s intellectual stature to even a remotely similar vicinity as that of Kant, but such talk brings to mind his rambling remarks about "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns." Need it be pointed out that just because many people have certain, faithful feelings about God, that doesn’t mean that God DOES exist, either. It’s a personal belief. Frankly, as a student, who could trust an educational institution that claimed to facilitate the pursuit of genuine knowledge while REQUIRING the biology staff to teach Bible-based creationism and the entire college community to accept the virgin birth of Jesus?

Also, I’m not sure I agree with the idea that freedom isn’t "observable or empirically verifiable." Freedom can be defined within language and empirical standards can be elaborated to determine if people within given situations are, indeed, free - the problem of course, comes in the definitions of freedom, and who is making them. Of course, the more abstract one’s definition, the more difficult it would be to verify and identify its existence. NLT’s pals at Heritage find a way to determine one sort of freedom when they see it and another organization, that I suspect has few friends among endorsers of embedded journalism has quantified another aspect of freedom. Now, God and the immortality of the soul (assuming it exists) are a different matter.

I honestly hate to think it could be true, but I sometimes wonder if the White House’s insistence on the existence of WMDs in Iraq (and the support the administration received here, with great enthusiasm, for an invasion which was primarily based on those claims) was at least partially a faith-based initiative.

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