Article ID: JAS280 | By: Kerby Anderson
This article first appeared in the Viewpoint column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 30, number 1 (2007). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal please click here.
Turn on the television or open a newspaper or tune in to talk radio. Within a few moments you will be confronted with ethical issues and topics. Daily we face ethical choices that are enshrouded in controversial moral complexity, including abortion, euthanasia, cloning, genetic engineering, race relations, drug abuse, homosexuality, gambling, pornography, and capital punishment. The rise of technology and the fall of ethical consensus have plunged our twenty‐first century society into a cauldron of moral debates and dilemmas.
Never has our society found itself in greater need of a biblical perspective with which to evaluate moral issues, and never have Christians been less equipped to address these topics. Two years ago, the Barna Research Group found that only nine percent of born‐again Christians base their life decisions on the biblical principles of a Christian worldview.
How do we begin to evaluate the complex social and political issues of our day from a biblical perspective? How do we keep from being carried away by the latest cultural trend that is blowing in the wind? Here are some key biblical principles to apply and faulty logic to avoid.
Biblical Principles. A key biblical principle that applies to the area of bioethics is the sanctity of human life. Such verses as Psalm 139:13–16 show that God’s care and concern extend to the womb. Other verses such as Jeremiah 1:5, Judges 13:7–8, Psalm 51:5, and Exodus 21:22–25, give framework and additional perspective to this principle. This can apply to issues ranging from abortion to stem cell research to infanticide.
A related biblical principle involves the equality of human beings. The Bible teaches that God has made “of one blood all nations of men” (Acts 17:26 KJV). The Bible also teaches that it is wrong for a Christian to have feelings of superiority (Phil. 2). Believers are told not to make class distinctions between various people (James 2). Paul teaches the spiritual equality of all people in Christ (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). These teachings can apply to our views of racial relations and of government.
The third principle concerns the biblical perspective on marriage. Marriage is God’s plan and provides intimate companionship for life (Gen. 2:18). Marriage provides a context for the procreation and nurture of children (Eph. 6:1–2) and a godly outlet for sexual desire (1 Cor. 7:2). This principle can apply to such diverse issues as artificial reproduction (which often introduces a third party into the pregnancy) and cohabitation (unmarried couples living together).
The fourth biblical principle entails the boundaries of sexual behavior. The Bible teaches that sex is to be within the bounds of marriage, as a man and a woman become one flesh (Eph. 5:31). Paul admonishes us to “flee” (1 Cor. 6:18) and “avoid” (1 Thess. 4:3) sexual immorality and to control our own bodies in a way that is “holy and honorable” (1 Thess. 4:5 NIV). These values can apply to such issues as premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality.
The fifth principle commands obedience to the authority of government and civic bodies. Government is ordained by God (Rom.13:1–7). We are to render service and obedience to the government (Matt. 22:21) and submit to civil authority (1 Pet. 2:13–17). There may be certain issues, however, that force us to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). This can apply to war, civil disobedience, politics, and government.
Biblical Discernment. Often it is difficult to determine what is true and what is false in a world that offers a puzzling array of solutions across a broad spectrum of belief systems, most of which contradict each other and, as such, underscore the crucial need for Christians to develop godly discernment. Discernment is a word that appears fairly often in the Bible (1 Sam. 25:32–33; 1 Kings 3:10–11; 4:29; Psalm 119:66; Prov. 2:3; Dan. 2:14; Phil. 1:9). Colossians 2:8, similarly, reads, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” Because so many facts, claims, and opinions are being tossed about, Christians need to develop discernment to avoid being taken captive by false ideas. These often appear in the form of fallacies. A fallacy, by definition, is a mistaken idea, an error, or a flaw in reasoning. Here are a few of the more popular fallacies often encountered in the heat of debate:
The Fallacy of Equivocation: the use of vague terms. Someone can start off using language we think we understand and then veer off into a new meaning. Readers of the Christian Research Journal are well aware of the fact that religious cults are often guilty of this. A cult member might say that he believes in salvation by grace, but what he really means by that is that you have to join his cult and work your way toward salvation according to the dictates already established by the cult. It is helpful to ask a person to define whatever vague terms he or she is using so that you can avoid being caught by the fallacy of equivocation.
Equivocation is used frequently in bioethics issues. Proponents of stem cell research often will not acknowledge the distinction between adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells, and those trying to legalize cloning will refer to it as somatic cell nuclear transfer. Unless you have scientific background, you may not understand the difference in stem cells and the fact that cloning advocates are using complex terms to confuse you.
The Fallacy of Card Stacking: the selective use of evidence. Many advocates are guilty of listing all the points in favor of their position while ignoring the serious points against it. Don’t embrace or jump on the latest intellectual fad without checking the evidence.
The most common biology textbooks in high school and college never provide students with evidence against evolution. Jonathan Wells, in his book Icons of Evolution, shows that the examples used in most textbooks are either wrong or misleading. Some of the examples are known frauds (such as the Haeckel embryos) and continue to appear in textbooks decades after they were found fraudulent.
The Fallacy of the Appeal to Authority: reliance on authority to the exclusion of logic and evidence. Just because an expert says it, doesn’t necessarily make it true. We live in a culture that worships experts, but not all experts are right. Hiram’s Law says: “If you consult enough experts, you can confirm any opinion.”
People who argue that global warming is caused by human activity often say that “the debate in the scientific community is over,” but an Internet search of critics of the theories behind global warming will show that there are many scientists with credentials in climatology or meteorology who question aspects of the global warming scenario. It is not accurate to say that the debate is over when the debate is still taking place.
The Fallacy of Ad Hominem (Latin, “against the man”): an attack against a person rather than the person’s argument. People who use this fallacy attack the person instead of dealing with the validity of the person’s argument simply because the argument is a threat to them. Often, the more sound the argument, the more vitriolic the ad hominem rhetoric. If there is evidence for the validity of the position, proponents usually argue the merits of the position; when evidence is lacking, they attack the critics.
Examples of this fallacy abound. Citizens who want to define marriage as occurring between one man and one woman are called bigots. Scientists who criticize evolution are subjected to withering attacks on their character and scientific credentials. Scientists who question global warming are compared to holocaust deniers.
The Fallacy of the Straw Man: the mischaracterization of an opponent’s argument in such a way that it is easy to attack and knock down. Liberal commentators say that evangelical Christians want to implement a religious theocracy in America; even though this is rarely the case, the hyperbole works to marginalize Christian activists who believe they have a responsibility to speak to social and political issues.
The Fallacy of Sidestepping: the evasion or dodging of an issue by changing the subject. Politicians do this in press conferences when they do not answer the question a reporter actually asks, but instead answer a question they wish someone had asked. Professors sometimes do that when a student points out an inconsistency or a leap in logic.
Ask a proponent of abortion whether the fetus is human and you are likely to see this technique in action. He or she might start talking about a woman’s right to choose or the right of women to control their own bodies. Perhaps you will hear a discourse on the need to tolerate various viewpoints in a pluralistic society. You probably won’t get a straight answer to an important question, however.
The Fallacy of the Red Herring: the use of a tangent to distract an opponent from the issue in question (from the practice of luring hunting dogs off the trail with the scent of a herring fish). Proponents of embryonic stem cell research rarely discuss the morality of destroying human embryos; instead they will go off on a tangent (employing another oft‐used fallacy, that of the Emotional Appeal) and talk about the various diseases that could be treated and the thousands of people who could be helped with the research.
People may change the subject in debates because they want to argue their points on more familiar ground or they know they cannot win their argument on the specific issue at hand. Be on the alert when this happens.
A person with discernment will recognize these tactics and beware. We are called to develop discernment as we tear down the false arguments that people raise against the knowledge of God. By doing this we will learn to take every thought captive to the obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 10:4–5). — Kerby Anderson
Kerby Anderson is the national director of Probe Ministries International. He has been featured on a number of radio talk shows, including “Point of View” (USA Radio Network), “Open Line” (Moody Broadcasting Network), and “Fire Away” (American Family Radio). He is the author of several other books, including Genetic Engineering, Living Ethically in the 90s, and Moral Dilemmas.