October 17, 2023

CHANCELLOR | The Foolish University

Print More

There seems to be many questions and confusion concerning my last column, “The Godless University,” including a particular guest column in response to the piece, “Stay Godless.” Before clearing up any concerns about my original piece, it would be wise to first address the title of this new column. It is a play on the scripture in Psalm 14:1, which reads, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” The title is not meant to call atheists fools, but rather that the university who refuses to acknowledge the idea of God in their academics is foolish. 

This brings up the biggest question from the last column: What is meant by the idea that God should be taught in the university? Those who asked the question were comfortable with God being taught from historical perspectives, like discussing God’s influence on figures such as Sir Isaac Newton, or major events like the Crusades. But, put simply, incorporating God into the university means providing a fully rounded education by addressing the idea of God in all relevant fields such as philosophy, history and the sciences. And this should not be construed to mean turning the university into a religious school, merely teaching the point of view a believer would have and the evidence for it and in the case where there is no evidence, then it should not be taught. If students are never taught differing perspectives, then what is there to think about?

As such, it is wonderful that the column garnered a response — this is the way the university was meant to be. This column will attempt to address said response. Attempt is apropos because to adequately reply to each claim would be much longer than one column. To start, the use of statistics in “The Godless University” should not be taken as an argument for God’s existence; they were simply to further the piece’s argument. The “snickers from relativists” should not be construed any further than the fact that God is not taught in the classroom, even in subjects where God would seem prevalent, such as morality. 

The guest column asserts Aquinas’s five arguments for God were debunked because they are a semantic trick. If one were to change the wording of argument two to “every observable natural thing that comes into existence has a natural cause” instead of the original “everything must have a cause and there must be a first cause, that first cause being God” it would debunk argument two. But changing the claim to a more milquetoast wording does not address the core component. Since scientific discoveries like the Big Bang Theory have proven that nature was created, there must be something to cause nature. Because nature cannot be its own cause, there must be something that is, by definition, supernatural, and since all effects are ultimately caused by God, God is supernatural. In response to this line of thinking, atheist thinker Richard Dawkins raises the question: If everything must have a cause, what caused God? The answer is that God Himself is existence, meaning that there is nothing outside of God.

Another argument made by the response piece to refute the existence of God is the lack of acceptance of God in the academic community. This itself does not determine the veracity of a fact, but even if it did, such a claim would be misleading, as there are several academics,  including those found on Cornell’s campus, who believe in God. One such Cornell professor was quick to remind me that he himself is a believer. Also the head of the Human Genome Project and former Director of the U.S. National Institute of Health Francis Collins, who is an Evangelical Christian. Neither time nor ink would permit naming the countless number of academics of the past who would view the current university’s stance on the teaching of God as ludicrously as some view the teaching of God itself, if not more.   

Now to my favorite part of the response: the logic argument. The argument is that one only needs the assumptions of logical reasoning to disprove God and that one only needs biological adaptations toward survival to explain the origin of  the laws of logic. This is quite a large concession because, unlike bipedalism or different parts of the cell, logic is intangible, something that would seem almost impossible to develop, no matter the mutations in DNA. That evolutionary logic developed for human survival can lead to discovering objective truth is not logical. There does not seem to be an evolutionary benefit to knowing when the Big Bang occurred, so why would evolutionary logic provide objectively true insights about such things? Applying evolutionary logic derived from biological observations to discussions of the universe’s origins is akin to thinking you can swim across the ocean because you didn’t drown in a kiddie pool. 

The university should teach about God because the tenets of the university depend on deism at their core. In the words of Prof. Emeritus John C. Lennox, mathematics, at Oxford University, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” The fact that man can discover truths about the universe implies that the universe is not a chaotic existence, but an ordered one. And to be clear, this column is not about definitively proving the existence of God — if that were so, there would be much more scientific and historical evidence to present. Rather, I’d like to argue that the university should not dismiss the idea of God with the blind faith and dogmatic belief of even the most devout religious fanatic. The university should help students develop how to think by teaching various ideas,including those about God. The Godless university is a foolish university.

Armand Chancellor is a third year student in the Brooks School of Public Policy. His fortnightly column The Rostrum focuses on the interaction of politics and culture at Cornell. He can be reached at [email protected].   

The Cornell Daily Sun is interested in publishing a broad and diverse set of content from the Cornell and greater Ithaca community. We want to hear what you have to say about this topic or any of our pieces. Here are some guidelines on how to submit. And here’s our email: [email protected].