By Dave Armstrong (6-29-10)
This question was raised anew, due to the latest post on James White's blog (7-6-10): The Truth About Education and Accreditation, written by "new member to Team Apologian, Jamin Hubner." He has made flat-out amazing claims in the obvious attempt to shore up White's own bogus doctorate. In a particularly revealing tack, he actually attacks the very notion of accreditation of universities and seminaries ("what is 'accreditation,' and what is it really worth?"). I shall interact with a few of the more remarkable points, with Hubner's words in blue:
Reasons to (and not to) Obtain a Formal Education
. . . Doctoral: A person should get a doctoral degree for (a) training for ministry/teaching/leadership roles (i.e. job as researcher, apologist, professor, etc.), especially those in the academic and scholarship world. A person should not get a doctoral degree because . . . (b) "I want to be called "Dr.",
Exactly. Yet the anti-Catholic Reformed Baptist apologist James White has gone around the world proclaiming himself "Dr. James White" for years now. Obviously, he thinks this grants him a higher degree of credentials (looks great on debate announcements, doesn't it?), and he knows full well the prestige associated with the title; yet it is bogus, because it came from non-accredited Columbia Evangelical Seminary (see the school's lengthy defense of its stand on this score).
It's false advertising, and an insult to all the thousands of men and women who have done the necessary hard work of achieving a real doctorate degree. How ironic, given White's persistent and ongoing critique of a certain figure in the evangelical world, for allegedly falsely presenting his own background on a number of fronts. I am making no judgment on that affair, by the way; if anything I am inclined to agree (from my heavy skimming of it) with the substance of the case that that White has made. But I have not thoroughly read both sides, and so make no final judgment at this point in time. I'm simply noting the irony of criticizing one man for "false advertising" while doing the same in one's own glorious title of "Dr." -- without having written a genuine doctoral dissertation (and that term means something very specific, too) for an accredited educational institution.
(c) "I want to be accepted in the academic community," etc.
There is such a thing as an academic community, and it sets standards for membership: legitimate scholars vs. ones who merely proclaim themselves to be so. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with seeking to be part of this class, and therefore, abiding by its membership requirements.
Completing doctoral studies demonstrates (should) that a person is capable of being a scholar through demonstrating scholarship in one particular area, and demonstrates that a person is prepared to take Christian ministry (i.e. elder, professor, apologist, etc.) seriously.
"Demonstrates" is a malleable, subjective term. Who determines that? This is precisely why accreditation exists in the first place: to ensure certain educational standards. One is not a "scholar" simply by proclaiming himself to be one (such as, e.g., Presbyterian polemicist Tim Enloe has done, before even obtaining an advanced degree of any sort). If White has "demonstrated scholarship," who determined that? His rabid followers? A majority vote from same?
According to his own online listing of his publications, White has been published many times in the Christian Research Journal, which is not a "peer-reviewed academic publication," but merely an arm of the evangelical cult-watching organization, the Christian Research Institute: founded by Dr. Walter Martin. It's a great evangelical magazine (I've often benefited from it, particularly in my cult research), but it's simply not formally an academic one. It is on the same (popular) level as Catholic apologetics journals like This Rock or The Catholic Answer or Envoy Magazine: publications I've written for, myself, many times.
His articles have been in TableTalk Magazine on three occasions. Ditto the above: it is the "devotional" publication of Presbyterian author and radio preacher R. C. Sproul's ministry, not an academic, peer-reviewed journal. He has another in Modern Reformation Magazine, which is of similar nature, flowing from Sproul's ministry.
He has four articles published in Reformed Baptist Theological Review, which appears to be (at least prima facie) legitimately academic and peer-reviewed (though edited by those who teach at the non-accredited Reformed Baptist Seminary), but of course that is merely part of his own small wing of both Reformed Protestants and Baptists, so he can expect to get a minimal amount of scrutiny, preaching to the choir. Thus, he has a total of four articles in one (ostensibly) peer-reviewed academic journal that derives from his own theological school. This is hardly impressive academically, and does not suggest the peer-reviewed work commensurate with a true doctorate.
His many books are written on a "popular level," precisely as my own are. They aren't "academic books" and all are published by evangelical or specifically Calvinist publishers. His initial publisher, Crowne (sometimes called Crown) Publications, appears to have folded. I can't find anything about it online. There was a huge controversy between Crowne / Crown head George Bonneau and Robert Morey: a rabidly anti-Catholic apologist who was also published at Crown / Crowne, with Morey being charged with everything under the sun as a most unsavory, wascally character. And so it goes in the world of anti-Catholicism
White has at least taught at accredited institutions: Grand Canyon University and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (see some courses he has taught by scrolling to his name, and notes on accreditation).
None of this, however, magically transforms him into a "Doctor."
Granted, White has learned lots of stuff. He knows Hebrew and Greek. He does have a legitimate seminary education. He has learned exegesis (though he often applies it in a thoroughly fallacious manner because of his highly tendentious and dubious anti-Catholicism). He knows a great deal of theology and theological history. He may know any number of things (and I think he does). For all we know, he might be the world's smartest and most knowledgeable man. But that is not the same -- sorry -- as acquiring a doctoral degree.
I actually agree with one key premise of the article: education and acquiring of further knowledge (especially for the right reasons) is a wonderful thing in and of itself. In my own case (as I have openly stated many times), I have no formal theological education. I have studied the Bible and Christianity and Christian history and apologetics and philosophy for over thirty years, for use in my vocation as a full-time apologist.
I'm all for learning: whether informal or formal. A great deal of my own (and all of my theological study) has been informal. No one need be ashamed of that. G. K. Chesterton, for example, never obtained any college degree. Yet few (in the Christian and especially Catholic world) would question his learning or even wisdom.
What I object to is the false advertising of claiming to have a doctorate and proudly bearing the title of "Dr." when one has not done the work that is required to achieve that goal and honor. It's an insult to those who have done so. I don't call myself an "academic" or a "scholar" because that would be a lie. I do call myself a Catholic apologist because that is the truth. "Apologist" is a larger, more inclusive category than "academia" or "the scholarly world." It always has been and always will be.
C. S. Lewis was a Christian apologist, but he didn't have a theological degree. The man was an English professor. I don't go around saying I have a "Ph.D." (or Th.D.) when in fact I do not. White should not do so, either. He has a legitimate Masters degree (MA in theology, 1989) from the legitimate school, Fuller Theological Seminary. That is what he can properly claim.
If a person gets, for example, a doctoral degree from an institution, this means (if the above assertions are true) that the person has demonstrated himself/herself to be a scholar in a certain area, and thus, is (hopefully) capable of being a scholar in almost any area. Doing so requires nothing more than that: a demonstration.
The same muddleheaded fallacy is presented again: the "demonstration" is merely subjective rather than based on proper accreditation and academic, peer-reviewed standards.
If a person or group of people decided to recognize some degrees as being "real" and others "not real" for reasons other than this demonstration, it obviously has nothing to do with the doctoral degree - the demonstration of being a scholar.
To the contrary, it has everything to do with what a degree is, and whether it is legitimate or not. Granted, there are plenty of abuses in the academic world (heaven knows that I know that full well, in all of my apologetics debates and studies). But having problems does not mean that one should ditch the very notion of accreditation. We don't, for example, get rid of all traffic rules and thumb our noses at them because some routinely abuse them (e.g., speeding on the freeway or not using a turn signal when changing lanes). We don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Indeed, the "degree" has everything to do with reaching a certain degree - getting to a point where one can earn the letters (BA, MA, Ph.D, etc.) indicating such accomplishment.
By this absurd reasoning, anyone can read a bunch of books, get several folks to say that he or she has reached an appropriate "degree" of knowledge, thereby entitling them to add titles to their name. I've been told myself by many people (including those with real doctorates) that my learning indicates a knowledge commensurate with those who have obtained those degrees. I take that as a high compliment and am honored and humbled by it, but I would never dream of calling myself "Dr." simply because of those observations. Yet that is what Hubner's "thesis" (no pun intended) seems to amount to. It's subjective and arbitrary and wishy-washy, rather than objective.
A person can obviously have the knowledge of a degree without actually formally earning the degree and having it recognized; . . . an athlete is no more competent a runner after he has obtained a running reward than before he received such formal recognition. . . . just because a person doesn't have the formal degree doesn't mean that person can't have the same abilities and knowledge.
I agree (this is what many folks have kindly said about me); but it doesn't follow that we can proclaim ourselves "Doctors" without following the proper, required, understood process by which we can attain to that title and honor.
Thus, to "demonstrate" what one must demonstrate in any particular degree, is to earn "the degree." So, for example, in a doctoral program, demonstrating scholarship = degree; the "degree" = demonstrating scholarship.
Again, who decides who has demonstrated this level of accomplishment or not? If anyone can do so, then it is completely subjective. If "academics" do so, then we are right back to the question of legitimate credentials and educational requirements, which is accreditation. Hubner is painting himself into a corner by his own flawed logic.
In fact, absolutely nothing about the cheeseburger (i.e. origin, taste, nutritional value, physical weight, smell etc.) would change if every single CEO, manager, and cook of every restaurant in the world endorsed the cheeseburger through paper packaging, labels, and formal institutional recognition. So it is with educational degrees. Accreditation is supposed to mean something, but it can often mean nothing - at least when it comes to getting to a certain degree of academic ability and accomplishment.
I see. So let's dispose of it altogether and regard diploma mills as the equivalents of accredited universities . . . Again (let it be plainly known what the nature of my argument is), I am not even opposed to some schools doing what they do without being accredited, if they perform a valuable teaching service. All I am opposing is the false advertising of claiming that they grant doctorate degrees and that these degrees are the same in essence as those from the accredited institutions.
Since some people have created degree-mills which give the recognition (i.e. Ph.D) without the actual demonstration of reaching a degree of ability and accomplishment, the academic world has come together to establish standards for what a "true" degree is and what it is not.
Exactly. Now we need to determine what a "diploma mill" is and isn't. Hubner apparently thinks there are three categories:
1) Illegitimate non-accredited "diploma mills."
2) Legitimate non-accredited schools.
3) Legitimate (though questionable in several ways) accredited schools.
Who decides which is which, with regard to #1 and #2? At what point does the "diploma mill" cease to be illegitimate and become a legitimate non-accredited school? Hubner doesn't inform us. He then goes on to note some abuses in the accreditation process (inclusive language). I agree, but this has no bearing on my viewpoint one way or the other.
The purpose of accreditation should be to do just that: to associate a degree with an actual demonstration, not to make unnecessary rules that have no effect upon the actual education and quality thereof.
Bingo! So why wouldn't White's school seek this?
A doctoral degree at, for example, Columbia Evangelical Seminary,
. . . that just happens to be White's alma mater, by the merest of coincidences . . .
is not accredited by any agency. There is no golden stamp on the outside of the cheeseburger bag. But, if one compares the fruit of the doctoral degree (the actual demonstration of scholarship) with that of an accredited institution and there is is no difference, then simply put, there is no difference in the degree - except the packaging, of course.
How is "scholarship" graded, in order to determine "fruit" and "quality" -- if not by accreditation and the peer-reviewed process of journal articles and academic books?
If we are willing to assert the opposite and say, "but the academic world says its not real, so it's not," we are only fooling ourselves. We are saying the cheeseburger isn't real until an organization says it's real. We're saying a man who can lift 40lbs really can't lift 40lbs until he has formally done so in the presence of an approving body.
This forces us to stop and think: Who is determining the value of the accreditation institution anyway? If one institution can validate another, what makes accreditation institutions exempt? If there are "degree-mills," why not "accreditation-mills"? What is to prevent their false education, except yet another, higher accreditation institution?
In conclusion, high standards of accreditation does not always mean high standards of education. The fruit of one's labor is the true test of academic success, not the letters after one's name. If that's true, then term "scholar" should be more broadly used.
Right. As I stated above, obviously, Hubner is eschewing the entire edifice of accreditation, which is a ridiculous thing to do. If it isn't necessary for legitimacy, it isn't necessary. A=A (rule number one in logic). This is its own refutation.
Some of the non-accredited institutions that offer demonstrated superior education (at a fraction of the cost) include Columbia Evangelical Seminary, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, the Midwest Center for Theological Studies, and Reformed Baptist Seminary.
We shall eagerly watch to see what new "scholars" and "doctors" emerge from these wonderful institutions. I say they should continue doing what they do (again I am not opposed to that in and of itself, being a great advocate of more informal education, myself), but drop the pretense of the granting of "doctorates" and churning out "scholars." Words (and titles) mean things, and we have no liberty of redefining terms at our own whim.