Why "Higher Education" Does Not Truly Serve the Nation

Why Universities Must Reject Their 'Enlightenment'

Foundations in Order to Move Forward Again

"Think how many text books in so many subjects will need to be rewritten when we are finally forced to admit the fallacy of following the enlightenment-inspired thinkers, people like Hume, Hutton and perhaps most notably Darwin, down their intellectually empty blind alley."

S tephen Vicinczey, born in 1933, is a Hungarian writer whose books I don't much care for but Stephen, who wrote, 'In Praise of Older Women,' has made one very perceptive comment which attracts my attention. He is credited with the following observation,

"Strange as it seems, no amount of learning can cure stupidity, and higher education positively fortifies it."

Stephen Vicinczey, the Hungarian writer.

I think there is a sort of noble folklore out there which presents us with this romanticized picture that higher education will always be a true servant of the people. The idea is that when reasonably intelligent people get to university, they may experiment, research and study and continually open new doors of understanding which will benefit all of the human race. Of course, this has happened, but it is not the norm, indeed, I would suggest that such a schema has been rare and, probably for at least the last hundred years, most exceedingly rare.

Perhaps the reader has heard a saying (which I, the writer, have also heard), which goes something like this,

'Modern higher education only teaches people how to pass examinations; to a very large degree it teaches students what they should think and what they should say.'

I have thought about this claim (a claim which I probably first heard about 25 years ago) quite a lot and I think that my own going to university, coming quite late in life, gave me valuable insight. I went to university when in my 50s and I noticed many things which might well have escaped the attention of much younger students (embroiled, as they often are, in an exciting world of peer pressure and a youthful exuberance to "do well"). I noted that it really is true that students are mostly taught how to pass examinations, that is: what to think, what to say, in terms of the generally accepted academic opinions of the time. PhDs, for example, are earned, sure, by doing some extra research and coming up with one or two new insights, but usually only within the general parameter of the accepted academic opinion in their particular areas; very rarely are they ever earned by going 'off piste' in some new direction and by challenging the status quo opinion. In most cases such thoughtful and experimental students are going to have their marks downgraded with examination paper markers feeling that they need to 'rein in' such outspoken and challenging views.

University of Wales, Cardiff.

This is where Mr Robin Brace achieved his theology degree. But all such authoritative, government-run places of higher learning in Europe and North America are locked into all the assumptions of the enlightenment. The child of that movement was modernism. Even though this worldview is now rapidly dying, it's death throes are sometimes especially painful and aggressive, a la Richard Dawkins et al. Nurses in the UK are now even warned that if they offer to pray for sick patients they will be immediately suspended.

The irony is that there is now little doubt that many of the anti-God influences and teachers of the enlightenment were very clearly wrong. Whether we speak of Locke, Hume, Voltaire, or later enlightenment influences such as Hegel, Freud, Nietzsche, Darwin and Marx, we can now say that these people were often bigoted, frequently slanderous and often operated with enormous prejudice and little regard for logical argument. Several such influences seemed mainly concerned with making their own names famous and were quite prepared to suspend the laws of logic if it would serve their purpose.

Within 50 years we believe that such influences will have little or no credit left and that a thoroughgoing review of all higher education assumptions will necessarily have to occur in many countries.
UK Apologetics, October, 2009.

When I took my theology degree, one of my first modules was called, 'The History and Religion of Ancient Israel.' Unfortunately our lecturer, back in the 1990s, was still full of an approach which was pretty old-fashioned by then, based on the views of such Old Testament sceptics as Von Rad and Wellhausen. This man had obviously gone to university many years earlier and had seemingly taken no steps to keep himself up with newer opinions in his field (believe me, this a very common problem among lecturers!). The sceptical teachings of Julius Wellhausen were accepted more or less without question by our lecturer. When I raised my hand on a number of occasions and suggested that surely the time had arrived to question some of the conclusions of such academic Bible sceptics of the 19th century, our lecturer looked at me (and from that point forward, treated me), as though I were something which had just crawled out of the woodwork!

When the examination for this particular module came up I was determined to challenge our lecturer's general view although several fellow theology students - yes, including two evangelical ones - had warned me that this would be a risky approach, saying things like, "It's best to stick to old crusty's general view" ('old crusty' is, I think, not the actual nickname that we gave this lecturer because I now seem to have forgotten it, but it was something like that).
I knew that my work had to be academically strong to challenge his generally old-fashioned 19th century-early 20th century view of the Old Testament so I studied even harder for this module's 'final.' Yet I knew I would be marked down and I certainly was. I achieved a 'C.' When I later told another academic how I explained my exam 'discussion' (answer) to the questions on the paper, he thought my work worthy of at least a 'B' if not more but was unsurprised that I was marked down - this was not an evangelical college. Yet my work had been more 'open' to newer understandings of the Old Testament than those held by our seriously out-of-date lecturer. Unfortunately he did not like my views because he was an utterly confirmed Bible sceptic (amazingly, he was also a priest). But I was distressed to later learn that my fellow evangelicals on this module (there were about seven of us) had all apparently followed our lecturer's views in their responses to the challenging exam questions.

It is the same for young students of the various scientific disciplines who want to challenge evolutionary dogma (encouragingly, I am told that such students increase year by year), they are usually soon warned of the serious consequences of doing so for their future career prospects. Is this not an amazing fact? One guy who confided in me about two years ago said that he was plainly told, "Conform or you will be thrown off the course. How would your parents react to that?" That is a most malicious threat! The young man had said that, following up principles in the work of biologist Michael Behe, he wanted to ask some serious questions about what purpose, if any, evolution continued to serve. That is obviously up-to-date with some of the latest thinking but it was unacceptable to the university 'establishment' who believed that evolution must not be challenged.

So we should understand that higher education - a lot of the time - really does teach students how to pass examinations and frequently bars truly investigative and innovative 'new thinking,' or anything in support of such new thinking, that is, if the establishment view travels in another direction. Isn't that practically the very opposite of what the general public believe about the "advantages" of higher education?

Vicinczey said that increased learning 'often makes the stupid even more stupid.' He meant that it can serve to reinforce error rather than to expose error. If you have opinions which become acceptable and fashionable and "authoritative" (like macro-evolution), despite the fact that those opinions are, frankly, quite amazingly crass and stupid, again, a la macro-evolution, then more and more "education and learning" will only increase that stupidity and spread it throughout society. Of course, our Hungarian friend - in all probability - was not quite referring to the same areas which I refer to, but his quote is very apt!

The fundamental problem is that modern secular education has been built upon some very flawed foundations.

So what are some of the foundations, or pillars of modern 'higher education'?

The True Origin of Modern Western Higher Education

Sometimes it is claimed that modern western education is built upon a foundation which was established by the Greeks, with some later Islamic influence. Well, that is certainly not entirely wrong, but that was much more of an original influence than a current one. Truth is: our system changed course circa 1750-1850. The Greek model seems to have been more genuinely open and investigative whereas our modern model operates with many pre-set biases which are considered authoritative. In fact, the true origin of modern western education may clearly be found in the 'enlightenment.'

The Age of Enlightenment, or simply The Enlightenment, which may be loosely dated to a period around 1700-1850, but perhaps most focused on that year of 1750, is the term used to describe a time in Western philosophy and cultural life in which human reason was advocated as the primary source and legitimacy for authority. The term "Enlightenment" came into use in English during the mid-nineteenth century, with particular reference to French philosophy, as the equivalent of a term then in use by German writers, Zeitalter der Aufklärung (Age of the clarification), signifying the general anti-supernaturalist and man-centred philosophical outlook of the eighteenth century. However, the German term ,Aufklärung, was already the common term by 1784, when Immanuel Kant published his very influential essay, "Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment?"

David Hume (1711-1776), one of the 'darlings' of the enlightenment, was a fierce opponent of 'natural theology,' laying a philosophical framework which provided an easy entrance to Darwinism in the next century. Hume was passionate to throw out any concept of an omnipotent God, or of a supernatural world. Yet Hume did not entirely reject the concept of God, just the concept of the biblical, omnipotent God.

So we need to understand that the term 'Enlightenment,' or the 'Age of Enlightenment,' does not represent a single movement or school of thought, for these philosophies were often mutually contradictory or divergent. 'The Enlightenment' was really much less a set of ideas than it was a set of values which would start to place mankind, and human learning, upon a pedestal . At it's core was a critical questioning of traditional institutions, customs, morals, and probably particularly a critical questioning of the Christian Church and of Christianity. The new climate of pride in human intellectual capability is also sometimes known as the Age of Reason, or the Age of Rationalism. From a clear origin in countries like France, Germany and, perhaps to a lesser degree, England, this influence would spread around the western world within quite a short space of time. But we need to understand that the 'enlightenment' was not an original influence in either Europe or the Americas; those early educative influences were based upon the Grecian school, but strongly influenced by Christianity. In Britain many institutions and laws were originally based upon the Ten Commandments and the 'Golden Rule.' In the United States, as Walter Maurer has pointed out,

"Historically, the motivation for establishing American public schools was to promote literacy in order to read the Word of God and laws of the state." (source: http://www.smartvoter.org/2004/11/02/ca/kr/vote/maurer_w/paper1.html).

The influences of the enlightenment gradually spread out to attack these early Christian ideals. In Great Britain this all reached a sort of crescendo in the 1960s/1970s when Labour Governments opened a door which allowed these influences to affect great swathes of British society, so that Marxist social theory replaced Christianity-influenced behavioural standards, homosexuality became legal, divorce became easy and abortion started to be widely-offered. A little later British schoolgirls would be offered contraceptives without their parent's knowledge or permission even being required. Within the last few years my wife and I heard of a 14 year old girl involved in a love affair who was kept supplied in contraceptives by liberal 'social workers' who refused the suggestion that they should intervene in order to stop it. Such loose and liberal attitudes are the direct product of the "enlightenment" 'thinkers.

It is essential to understand that prior to our western educational system's choice to throw in their lot entirely with the enlightenment's philosophy and ideals, science - to take just one discipline - had been moving forward at a breathtaking pace, but the later acceptance of the late enlightenment's 'adored child' of Darwinism, has caused genuine scientific enquiry to be stifled and to subsequently founder ever since, since the latter soon became a revered holy mantra which must not be challenged. It was the enlightenment which encouraged the complete rejection of supernaturalism in favour of the naturalism ('there is nothing beyond the physical realm of things'), and leading enlightenment thinker and philosopher David Hume, who laughed and sneered at the concept of an onmnipotent God, or of the biblical miracles, was the main influence in this area. This embittered Scot largely layed the foundation for the Darwinism which would come along around a century after his death.

Putting all of this together, it is clear that modern western education is philosophically compromised because of various assumptions (always unprovable) which came from several major enlightenment 'thinkers.' We also need to be clear how strongly the repudiation of Christianity operated as a major pivot of the so-called 'age of reason.' The result of all this is that modern education now effectively serves a failed worldview, that of 'modernism,' and that as this worldview gradually loses ground (which it will, and is already doing), our educationary system is going to find itself in an increasingly large credibility crater. The problem, as one science lecturer expressed it to me, is, "Think how many text books in so many subjects will need to be rewritten when we are finally forced to admit the fallacy of following the enlightenment thinkers, and most notably Darwin, down their intellectually empty blind alley."
Robin A. Brace, October, 2009.