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.”