Every apologetic argument? Well, perhaps that’s an exaggeration. But if not universal, it’s nearly so. The bias is this: Christians want to interpret or spin the facts to support their preconception. Instead of following the facts where they lead, these Christians would prefer to select and interpret them to show how they can still justify their worldview. They don’t want to follow the evidence where it leads and they certainly don’t want to question their position; they want to stay put and shore up their position with sand bags.
Consider these examples
- Are we talking about the good and bad that happens in life? They’ll tell you how the good in the world points to God’s love or God’s perfect design, but don’t blame the bad on God. That’s from Man’s fallen nature.
- Are we talking about the reliability of the New Testament? They’ll show you how their preconceptions can be maintained by reinterpreting the dating evidence to support an early date for the gospel of Mark.
- Are we talking about the Amalekite genocide in 1 Samuel 15? They’ll want to take this one slowly, to show that the plain interpretation is wrong or that God must’ve had reasons that we are simply unable to understand.
- Are we talking about God’s not lifting a finger when a tornado destroyed a church in Wisconsin? They’ll ignore the church and focus instead on the three crosses that were left standing. About that, the pastor said, “It has been a powerful sign, and it speaks volumes to us about the presence of Christ among us.”
- Are we talking about gay marriage? They’ll tell you how Leviticus is plainly against homosexuality even though the sacrifice of Jesus dismissed the other ritual abominations like kosher foods, animal sacrifices, and mixing fabrics.
- Are we talking about morality? They’ll tell you how morals are objective and unchanging, and they’ll handwave away God’s support of slavery and genocide in the Old Testament.
- Are we talking about Bible prophecy? They’ll ignore how they would reject popular Bible prophecies if they came from any religion but their own.
- Are we talking about the value of science? The Creationist will emphasize the consensus view in the area of cosmology (“The Big Bang points to a beginning!”) but dismiss it in the area of biology (“Evolution argues, ‘from goo to you via the zoo’!”).
- Are we talking about the age of the earth? The Young Earth Creationist will tell you how radioisotope data is flawed and rock strata can be interpreted to show that Noah’s Flood happened.
Special pleading vs. following the evidenceThis is the fallacy of special pleading—having a high bar for evidence from the other guy’s worldview but a lower one for yours. And if you want to argue that the Christian god could exist, don’t bother. I grant that. What I want is positive, compelling evidence for your position.
I’ve heard these arguments called “zombie arguments” because, after you kill them, they just pop back up again. They’re not defeated by reason because they weren’t created by reason.
Ray Comfort is an example. The profile of his anti-evolution blathering is high enough that he’s gotten the attention of some of the world’s most prominent biologists, and they’ve corrected his childish “Well, why don’t we see a crocoduck?!?” arguments. Maybe Ray is too stupid to understand, or maybe he simply knows that his anti-evolution argument doesn’t need to be correct to satisfy the flock.
The problem, of course, is that no open-minded person interested in the truth comes at the question with a bias that they’re trying to support. Rather, they set their beliefs and assumptions aside and go where the facts lead. Whether they like the consequences of that conclusion or not is irrelevant. The solution is easy: go with the flow. Follow the facts where they point, and the problems answer themselves.
Christians, be honest with yourselves. If your worldview is nonnegotiable, admit it—to yourself at least. In this one area of life, you don’t much care what the evidence says. But since you didn’t come to faith by evidence and don’t have much use for it to support your position, don’t pretend to be an honest participant in the intellectual debate.
Or, if this is precisely what you don’t want to do, approach discussions or new ideas openly. Don’t be quick to rearrange or reinterpret the facts to show how your presupposition could still be true. Be aware of this potential bias in your own thinking and ensure that you follow the facts.
This is related to the Hypothetical God Fallacy.
You will not find an American astronomy, a Baptist biology,
a capitalist chemistry, a mammalian math, or a feminist physics.
There’s only one worldwide version of each, because they’re all based on facts,
not accidents of birth or matters of opinion.
which is why anybody’s word on religion is just as good as anyone else’s
(to wit, no good at all).
— commenter Richard S. Russell
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 8/19/13.)
Image credit: Luis Marina, flickr, CC