In the April 20th edition of the Col­legian, Anders Hagstrom writes that Chris­tians should cite facts, not scripture, to justify political policies.

This is false.

Hagstrom argues that citing scripture is ille­git­imate because it con­sti­tutes a fal­la­cious appeal to authority: “Basic logic says that appealing to authority is a fallacy,” he writes.

This is incorrect. Appeals to authority are fre­quently not only acceptable, but actually the only sort of argument that one can legit­i­mately make.

Witness tes­timony is an example. A witness is an authority. He has special knowledge. For that reason, it is per­fectly rational to make one’s case by appealing to his authority.

Citing scripture is an instance of citing witness tes­timony.

Scripture is typ­i­cally cited as an authority on ethical truth. The reason is simple. The moral law is defined by the char­acter of God. God is scripture’s author. To cite scripture is to cite God as an expert witness on his own char­acter. This is not fal­la­cious. It is per­fectly rational.

Here Hagstrom claims that “sta­tistics” and “data” make the Christian case better than scripture. Chris­tians “need to stop citing Dad in pol­itics and start proving that He’s right. The evi­dence is there.”

For example, Hagstrom cites sta­tistics indi­cating that faithful het­ero­sexual mar­riage is tied to pros­perity and desirable out­comes for children, con­cluding that gov­ernment should encourage tra­di­tional mar­riage. Scrip­tural cita­tions are super­fluous.

I pro­foundly dis­agree. Empirical data will never yield a value judgment, and what gov­ernment should do is a value judgment.

Hagstrom may think the benefit to children jus­tifies banning same-sex mar­riage. But others may believe the emo­tional trauma this inflicts on homo­sexuals is the greater evil.

Empirical evi­dence never speaks for itself. It cannot tell you what balance of costs and ben­efits is correct. That judgment must be based on beliefs about the moral good. If Chris­tians do not base their beliefs about this on scripture, they are likely to make moral judg­ments on the basis of unjus­tified assump­tions.

The point Hagstrom intends to com­mu­nicate may be a true one: Chris­tians should refrain from citing scripture to non-Chris­tians who do not accept its authority. Doing so is rather pointless. Hagstrom’s last para­graphs indicate this may be his concern.

But we should be clear about why this is true. One must some­times refrain from quoting the Bible as a prag­matic, rhetorical matter. The reason is that one’s goal is to con­vince, and one’s audience will not find scripture con­vincing.

The reason is not that appeals to scripture are ille­git­imate, and that one ought therefore to appeal instead only to “the actual evi­dence.”

  • Common Sense

    I have a video at that very likely changed the mind of a Cal­i­fornia Uni­versity to become a free speech College again.