Archive | Philosophy RSS feed for this section

Our Natural State is to Believe in Eternity

3 Feb

In Philippians 1:21, the apostle Paul says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

As Christians, we have no need to fear death. What we are, our soul, continues on for eternity with God. And we know that forever is true because it is part of our being. When God made us in His image, eternity was placed on our hearts (Ecc 3:11). To believe anything counter to this truth is to deny something our Creator has infused into us.

monksIt’s no surprise then that this recent study, shows that Tibetan monks, who spend years meditating and learning the teaching that the self is an illusion, are those who wind up being most afraid of death (by a significant margin). Without hope, fear takes over, and no matter how many times you tell yourself the lie, deep down, if God placed it on your heart, you’re going to know the truth.

Christ is the answer. He is our hope. Eternity is found only in Him.

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

A Short Post on Poor Reasoning

22 Dec

I am shocked at the number of times I’ve read or heard someone use these words in the last few days:

Jesus never said _______ was wrong.

The statement is followed by an assertion that if Jesus never said it was wrong, then it must be okay. Folks, this is just stupid! Sorry to be so frank, but I just get so tired of bad logic. Jesus never said rape was wrong either. That doesn’t mean He thought it was okay!!! There are alot of actions Jesus didn’t address, but that doesn’t mean He condones them. Please stop using this absurd argument.

Trancendent Relativism? part 3

18 Feb

No more philosophy for a while after this one, I promise.

 A TRANSCENDENT STANDARD

A key problem with arguments attempting to find objective morality without something to ground it in is that they are really just dealing with descriptive ethics. They are only stating what they see. For example, when someone argues that morality comes from our genetic code, he is only stating something about morality. The real issue faced by proponents of views like those of Kai Neilson and Michael Shermer (see previous post) is how one can justify a statement of morality – why one ought to do something. This is the realm of prescriptive ethics and as I demonstrated in the last post, has no room for middle ground.

For a value to be prescriptive, it must be transcendent. For if it does not transcend us to some ultimate standard, there is no absolute reason to follow it. I might have reasons to follow some ethic, like my own personal preferences, or it might get me something I need, like a meal, but ultimately, there is no reason that makes it truly right or wrong if there is not something transcending it. Values which are not based on a transcendent standard are empty. Again, there is no justifiable reason one ought to follow them.

This leaves us with two possibilities: values either are just brute fact in our universe or they come from a transcendent God. That’s it. J.P. Moreland labels the first possibility the “immanent purpose”[1] view. According to this view, “the scientific account of the origin and nature of life is not all there is to the universe. In addition to natural properties, there are non-natural properties that exist as part of reality. So there is such a thing as goodness.”[2] Moral properties and value properties exist as a part of the universe. From this it follows that we ought to prescribe to these properties because it is rational to do so. However, there are several problems with this view.

A notable problem to begin with is that the immanent purpose view seems “counterintuitive and puzzling.”[3] Why in a godless world would these properties exist? In a universe where evolution accounts for our existence (if atheism is true), there is no reason for these properties. To claim that they are just there is simply ad hoc. It seems far more reasonable to think that there is something behind them. Well known atheist J.L. Mackie agrees when he writes, “Moral properties constitute so odd a cluster of properties and relations that they are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events without and all-powerful god to create them.”[4]

A second problem is that even if these properties do exist, why do they have anything to do with us? We are but a small spec of the universe, existing only for a short time in the grand scheme of things. Why would these properties exist for us in a universe without a God to explain them? Again, moral values only really make sense if they are from an all-powerful God.[5]

There are several other reasons for rejecting this first option, and like those just discussed, many of them point to the necessity of having a Creator behind them. In the immanent purpose view, there is no ultimate reason for morality. On the other hand, it is quite plausible to suggest, as C.S. Lewis has, that our moral intuitions come from “somebody or something beyond the material universe.”[6] In a theistic world, one would actually expect to find moral law. And where God is the absolute standard, one has the basis for prescribing morality. The prescriptive ethics in such a system are grounded in an infinite God that is the true objective and independent standard.

Christian theism offers a specific example of an ethical system based on a transcendent God. This view is well summarized by Moreland:

“According to Christian theism, the cosmos exists to glorify God and to promote the good of God’s creatures, especially man. Human history has a purpose and can be seen as a struggle between good and evil, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness which moves toward the vindication of God, justice, righteousness, and the reward of those who have trusted Christ and lived in accord with the dictates of morality (which come from God). Humans are creation of God, they have value in that they bear his image, they are objects of God’s love and affection, and there is life after death. Values exist, they come from God, they can be known through intuition in the natural law and through inspection of Holy Scripture.”

The existence of absolute moral values only makes sense in a world in which God exists. He is the foundation of morality and ethics.

Some have attempted to argue against this view of moral absolutes by posing the classic question, “Is it good because God wills it or does God will it because it is good?” About this, two points should be made. First, for the purpose of demonstrating an absolute standard, it matters little. For in either case, a standard exists that transcends us to something infinite. The standard is grounded in an infinite God whether by his will or his being, but nevertheless grounded. Second, and perhaps more important, is that the question is not a true dilemma. Moral values are not just God exercising his volition or a property beyond God. They are part of his nature. God does not will something because it is good and things are not good because God wills them. Rather, goodness is God’s moral attribute. It is simply the way he is.

Another possible objection to the Christian view is that it offers no ultimate reason for why one ought to be moral, but instead (like other views) offers only motive for being good. The argument is that the Christian is motivated to do good out of personal concerns for preservation for eternity. However, there are two problems with this objection. One, there are other reasons for Christians to be moral including love of God, moral duty and the rational idea of obeying a benevolent Creator. (Much more could be said about our desire to honor God for what He has done for us, but it is outside the scope of this post.) And two, Christianity teaches that we are creatures of value. It would be rational to pursue desired ends because it demonstrates the worth of persons.[7] So while there may be motivation to be good, it is also quite rational to do so as well.

Rape is wrong. However, rape is not wrong because it is better for our species or because it is based on some special ideal of humanity. It is also not wrong because of some brute fact of our universe. Rape is wrong because there is an independent transcendent standard by which we are to judge right from wrong. And that standard is God.

hands


[1] Moreland, 122.

[2] Moreland and Nielsen, 113.

[3] Moreland, 124.

[4] J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), 115.

[5] Moreland, 125-126.

[6] Lewis, 22.

[7] Moreland, 130-131.

Works Cited in the 3 posts

Beckwith, Francis J. and Gregory Koukl. Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998.

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1952.

Mackie, J.L. The Miracle of Theism. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982: 115.

Moreland, J.P. Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987.

Moreland, J.P. and Kai Nielsen. Does God Exist?. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1993.

Pojman, Louis P. “Ethical Relativism: Who’s to Judge What’s Right or Wrong?” Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong. 2nd ed. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1990: 18-39.

Rachels, James. “Morality is Not Relative” In Philosophy: The Quest for Truth, edited by Louis P. Pojman. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002: 369-78.

Shermer Michael. The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Share, Gossip, and Follow the Golden Rule. New York: Times Books, 2004.

Thornhill, Randy and Craig T. Palmer. A Natural History of Rape: Biological Basis of Sexual Coercion. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001.

Trancendent Relativism? part 2

13 Feb

Part 2 – WARNING: Comes with a good dose of philosophy. Proceed with coffee.

CAN THERE BE A MIDDLE GROUND?

A number of philosophers, scientists and others recognize the problems with moral relativism. But not wanting to make the leap to true objective morality because of it’s theistic implications, they’ve tried to find some middle ground. Yet, the middle ground turns out ultimately to be just different forms of relativism (which was shown in the last post to be an insufficient basis for morality).

One attempt comes from atheist Kai Nielsen who labels his approach “wide reflective equilibrium.” He argues for limited objectivity in ethics. Nielsen says, “Take something like ‘It is wrong to torture people.’ Some beliefs like that cut across cultures; they are not just ‘part of our tribe.’ To say that it is wrong to torture people would probably never drop out in the reflective equilibrium.”[1] This point is similar to what someone who believes in moral absolutes might argue, though Nielsen offers nothing to ground his view in. He just says that’s the way it is. Then he admits it is logically possible for this idea to drop out of his “reflective equilibrium,” but he asserts that it’s “not worrisome,” suggesting sarcastically that it is also logically possible that he would begin shrinking right in front of his audience. But this is much more problematic for Nielsen’s view than he admits! The fact that it is possible for something to drop out of his equilibrium is precisely the problem with his view because it demonstrates that his ethical system is not based on an objective standard. And therefore, there is no reason one ought to follow it.

His argument is based on an internal system of “considered judgments”[2], or intuitions, which are open to constant revision. Nielsen claims, “Just as sensory experience is to science, so in morality we start with considered judgments…and then try to get them into a coherent pattern with everything else you know.”[3] But he still gives us no reason why we ought to follow those values or morals that come out of this thought. Nielsen’s attempt to ground morality in these “considered judgments” really turns out to be personal preference.

At the root of his ethical system, Nielsen argues that morality comes out of our need for a system of justice in this world. He claims that “justice hardly requires God.”[4] He stresses that “there can be purposes in life, even though there is no purpose to life”[5] and suggests examples of purposes that remain intact in a godless world including “love, friendship, caring…[and] pleasure in life.”[6] However, these are just functions of utility, and cannot be objective in and of themselves. One persons’ pleasure in life certainly may be different than another’s; a hermit may prefer not to have friendships, while a gregarious person may desire them; and so on. Again, Nielsen’s ethics have no objective ground to stand on. While he demonstrates that there are motives for why one would follow his ethics (such as a system of justice that makes life easier), he does not give us a rational explanation for following the system. There is no reason one ought to follow his ideals!

Another attempt at grounding morality argues that it is based in the human species. A popular author who has written on this subject is Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine. In Shermer’s book The Science of Good and Evil, he argues for what he labels “provisional ethics.”

Shermer, a self-proclaimed agnostic nontheist, argues that since we cannot know God (a transcendent objective standard) exists, we must follow “provisional ethics” for the betterment of the species. He argues that we should follow his ethical system because it “enhances the probability of the survival and well-being of all members of the species.”[7] Yet, if there is no transcendent objective standard (God), then again why ought we? Claiming that it is for the betterment of humankind may sound appealing, and even noble, but, without a standard by which to judge, how can we even say what is noble? And further, how are we to impose our view of what is noble on others? Noble to Shermer is simply his idealistic view of humanity – which is a subjective viewpoint.

Shermer tries to ground morality in science, arguing that morality developed through our DNA, as genes that were beneficial to persons and cultures survived. He believes that “evolution generated the moral sentiments out of a need for a system to maximize the benefits of living in small bands and tribes.”[8] In some cases, Shermer offers strong arguments that evolution is responsible for some issues of morality. For example, the basic idea that parents have deep caring feelings for their children, and believe it right to care for them, could be explained by the fact that parents who did not have this gene trait, merely did not care for their children, who thus died before reproducing, and so their trait died with them. On this, one might agree that Shermer has a valid point. On the other hand, it could also be just one way to explain the observation. There could be other reasons for the behavior. And what about when it comes to other issues such as altruism, or when entire cultural views are involved? Those seem counter to evolutionary theory. And ultimately, to avoid falling into moral relativism, Shermer still has the philosophical challenge of grounding the morals in some objective standard. But none exists for him!

Shermer wants morality to be objective in some sense based on a transcendent value of humanity. He contends that morality is transcendent “by virtue of the fact that the deepest moral thoughts, behaviors, and sentiments belong not just to individuals, or to individual cultures, but to the entire species.”[9] Yet, how can humanity truly be transcendent? Whether Shermer likes it or not, there will come a time when humanity will not be here. (Does Shermer think we will evolve into gods?) We are not infinite. Claiming as he does that whatever evolution decides is moral, is simply moral relativism.

Because these ethical ideals are relative, there is no reason we ought to follow them. If there is no “ought” beyond ourselves, how can Shermer claim there are objective ethics? There can be none in his system.

Recall in the first post that I discussed author Randy Thornhill’s contention that rape is a beneficial biological impulse in our species as a mechanism for broadening the gene pool. But we know that rape is wrong for all people, at all times. The problem for Shermer is that if his justification of morality is that it is grounded in the transcendence of the human species, then Thornhill’s thesis of rape being part of the genetic code would find itself becoming a moral good. What if it were discovered that torturing babies for fun was somehow built into the genetic code? Shermer’s moral reasoning just doesn’t work. Trying to ground it in humanity will run him into problems like this. But as I noted above, grounding it in humanity doesn’t work anyway because humanity is not transcendent. So if there’s no ultimate basis for his morality, then like Nielson’s “wide reflective equilibrium,” it turns out to be just a form of relativism.

So if we actually have morals that we ought to follow, then what could be their basis?


[1] Moreland and Nielsen, 107.

[2] Ibid., 106.

[3] Ibid., 107.

[4] Ibid., 105.

[5] Ibid., 104 (emphasis in original).

[6] Ibid., 104-105.

[7] Shermer, 263.

[8] Ibid., 149.

[9] Ibid., 10.

Trancendent Relativism? part 1

31 Jan

One morning in January of 2000, shortly after the birth of my first child, I tuned in to NBC’s Today Show. After witnessing one of the most amazing miracles of my life, I was especially appalled to hear this evolutionary psychologist Randy Thornhill promoting the thesis of his book he’d just released. Dr. Thornhill contended that the idea of rape was something that is in our genes. He suggested that it had evolved as a beneficial biological impulse in our species as a mechanism for broadening the gene pool. In essence, he said the desire to rape evolved in us so that men could pass their genes onto as many offspring as possible![1] Far from politically correct, and not without controversy, this idea nevertheless points out a serious flaw that people make when they attempt to ground morality in something other than a transcendent standard.

If Thornhill’s thesis is accurate, could our society even condemn rapists? If the desire to rape is in our genes, can it be morally wrong when it is acted out? If the moral values that we espouse are manmade and relative, who are we to say that the rapist was wrong?  Or even if our morals are “bigger” than manmade and could be grounded in our species, how could society justifiably condemn the rapist who is simply a victim of his genetics?

There has long been debate in morality and ethics that either moral values are independent of the human mind and belong to something transcendent, or they are ideas constructed by man. Harvard evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson puts it,

“Either ethical precepts, such as justice and human rights, are independent of human experience or else they are human inventions.”[2]

If moral principles are independent of our experience, they transcend us and are grounded in something bigger: a transcendent standard. If they are constructions of our mind, then they are relative. There is no reason we ought to follow them. Again, debate between a transcended standard and moral relativism has been the historical argument, but some authors have attempted to find some sort of middle ground, with labels including “wide reflective equilibrium”[3] and “provisional ethics,”[4] and even certain nuances of the term “moral objectivism.”

Here, I will offer a brief critique of moral relativism. Much more can be found in the reference works below. In a future post, I will be critiquing some more popular ideas which attempt to find a middle ground between moral relativism and true objective morality. In a final post, I will show that the most rational position to hold is moral objectivism that is based on a transcendent standard.

MORAL RELATIVISM

Moral relativism is the idea that no objective moral truths exist for all times and all people. Instead, morality is relative to people and cultures. Morality is either the product of individual choices, or collectively it is “the set of common rules, habits, and customs that have won social approval over time.”[5] The moral relativist, believing that morality gains its authority from the culture’s acceptance, argues that because we observe so many differences in cultures, therefore there are no right or wrong ethical systems.

While moral relativism is widespread in modern thought, it contains several flaws. To begin with, one argument in support of moral relativism is the one just mentioned – observation. The argument is that since we see so many different cultures with different moral values, then no true objective moral values exist. Yet, this is not a sound argument. The premise concerns what people believe, while the conclusion tries to clam therefore this is actually the case. But this does not follow. From the mere fact that some people may believe the earth is flat, and others that it is round, it does not follow that it has no shape, only that either someone (or possibly everyone) is wrong about what that shape is.[6] So observing that cultures are different can show us that we don’t know which morality is right, but it doesn’t show us that there isn’t a right one. The observation of different cultures is merely descriptive. Nothing normative follows from the simple fact that cultures vary.

This clearly shows that moral relativism does not follow from one of its main premises. Still, it doesn’t offer positive support against it. Therefore, a few additional brief points in that regard need to be made.

hobbsRelativism has several problems which demonstrate that as a logically coherent explanation for morality, it just doesn’t work. Among them are:

  1. Relativism offers its proponents no means by which to criticize others. If morality is relative, they simply have no grounds to criticize. Even something like Nazi Germany is just relative. Yet, surely the Nazis were wrong in their policies toward Jews! Still, if one follows the rational of moral relativism, Hitler would be the moral equivalent to Mother Teresa, but that conclusion is absurd!
  2. Relativism denies the possibility of improving on morality. If no one way is determined to be better than another, then how can morality be improved? If you can’t have a measure how can anything be assessed as better or worse? Certainly the modern day southern United States is improved from its days of slavery.
  3. Finally, a major doctrine of relativism, that of absolute tolerance is self-refuting. Be tolerant of everything? Even views that are not tolerant? That’s like saying “I cannot speak a word of English” when one just spoke those words in English. If morality is relative, no general principle can be used to govern all people equally. You can’t use this as your standard while saying there aren’t any standards. So, the belief in absolute tolerance falsifies itself.
    The actions of moral relativists further demonstrate this in their violation of their own principle. While absolute tolerance suggests that moral relativists are tolerant of everything, in truth moral relativists do not accept the view that morals are absolute. They do not tolerate it![7]

Moral relativism simply does not work if you want to say there are any morals. Sure it might be fine if we say it’s anything goes for everyone. But don’t say its wrong when someone steals your bike, punches you for taking their parking spot, or even goes shooting on a school campus. If we want to say something is right, or make a law, or even just better ourselves, moral relativism has nothing to offer. It is completely bankrupt.


[1] Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer, A Natural History of Rape: Biological Basis of Sexual Coercion. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001).

[2] E.O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (New York: Knopf, 1998), 238-65 as quoted in Michael Shermer, The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Share, Gossip, and Follow the Golden Rule. (New York: Times Books, 2004), 18.

[3] J.P. Moreland and Kai Nielsen, Does God Exist?, (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1993), 106-7.

[4] Michael Shermer, The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Share, Gossip, and Follow the Golden Rule. (New York: Times Books, 2004).

[5] Louis P. Pojman, “Ethical Relativism: Who’s to Judge What’s Right or Wrong?” Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong, (2nd ed. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1990), 22.

[6] James Rachels, “Morality is Not Relative” In Philosophy: The Quest for Truth, edited by Louis P. Pojman. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 372-3.

[7] Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 61-69.

A Stupid Pro-choice Argument

11 Oct

Joe Biden said tonight something similar to what many politicians have said. Biden stated, “With regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a — what we call de fide doctrine. Life begins at conception. That’s the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews and — I just refuse to impose that on others.”

This just makes no sense at all. When a politician says something like this, they’re trying to gain capital from both sides. But if you just think logically about the statement, it’s stupid. It’s like saying that he’s not prejudice against a particular race of people, but that he would never impose that view on others. Therefore, other people should have the right to commit genocide if they think its right. He wouldn’t impose. Seriously! Either the action is wrong or its not.

He’s treating it as if its a fish taco. “I like ’em, but I wouldn’t make someone from Kansas eat them.” But that’s totally different. That’s a personal preference. Who cares? There’s no objective value involved. But with abortion its either the killing of an innocent human person  in which case we should defend it, or its not in which case we should allow it.

To further illustrate, let me put Biden’s comments another way. I’m just going to remove the statement “Life begins at conception” and replace the word abortion with a couple other words. What would you think would happen if Biden was asked about Jerry Sandusky and said: “With regard to child sex abuse, I accept my church’s position on child sex abuse as a — what we call de fide doctrine… That’s the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews and — I just refuse to impose that on others.”

If he said that, it’s see you later Biden. You just lost the election. The point is a moral issue is not about personal preference. Its right or its wrong.

So the next time a politician (or anyone else for that matter) says something like this, point out to them that there is simply no middle ground that they can stand on. Either the action of abortion is wrong, or it’s not. It’s as simple as that.

Update: I saw this related post by Scott Klusendorf. He points out how the popular bumper sticker “Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one.” is just like someone saying “Don’t like slavery? Then don’t own a slave.” Or, “Don’t like spousal abuse? Then don’t beat your wife!” Great point. See his full post here.

Intellectual Dishonesty

21 Apr

There’s a phrase that I’ve really come to dislike when I hear it, particularly from Christians. The simple phrase that literally causes a tense pain to run down my back is: “I’ve studied both sides”.

It seems like I hear this phrase often when I’m in discussion with people about everything from theological to political issues. The person often appears to be trying to communicate something like this: “You can trust me as an authority on this issue because I am open minded and have come to a conclusion based on a balanced approach to the issue, carefully researching all the arguments”. If that’s the truth, then great! I want to talk with you more, and learn from you any knowledge you may have to share to help me be more discerning about the topic. Iron sharpens iron. (Proverbs 27:17)

However, what I’ve found that it actually means is more along the lines of either:
(a) “I’m insecure about my knowledge of this issue, so I’m throwing this statement out hoping you will just believe me” or
(b) “I really believe that I’ve studied both sides because I’ve read authors that support my position and they quote from the opposing views, and then demonstrate why those views are wrong, so I must be educated on the opposite position too”.

The first one doesn’t really concern me near as much. For one, I certainly understand motivation that is derived from personal insecurity, as I struggled with it for many years. And two, that person really doesn’t actually believe what they’re saying, so hopefully they can learn from the experience of being challenged, and study the issue further (and also hopefully eventually apologize for lying).

Its the second one that really makes my skin crawl. When someone says to me “I’ve studied both sides” I admit, I get very frustrated because of my past experience with this phrase. I still always try to be gentle and kind, as Christ would want me to be, but I usually (though not always) try to challenge them. Not to win the argument, but to point out the intellectual dishonesty. It’s a simple challenge, I just ask “What authors have you read on the subject?” Rarely does someone recall them. I get all kinds of excuses usually around them not remembering the names because its been so long, or they weren’t paying attention, etc. So then, I typically offer a way out and ask “How many books or papers promoting the opposite subject have you read?” If I take it to that question, I have almost always discovered that, just as I noted in the second motivation above, the person has only read what advocates of their view have written criticizing the opposing view. (By the way, I try not to feel a sense of satisfaction as I listen to the person stumbling over their words. God is still helping me work on that one.) Once in a while, I get someone who then admits that they’ve read very little of the other side. This is at least a step in the right direction.

“Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.” (Proverbs 10:14, NIV)
                                                                                                                                    .
The reason I get so frustrated is that its just a big fat lie. And as a result of that lie, a number of things could happen. Here’s one example: The person we say it to may trust us on the issue, perhaps because we have been trustworthy and knowledgeable about other subjects as well. The person then becomes an advocate for the issue. Then time goes by and the person begins reading more about the subject and dialoging with us; then they learn that we lied. And what if this person also just so happens to be on the fence about becoming a Christian, and we have been the main witness in their life. Ouch. This is a pretty extreme example, but as often as people use the phrase or some variance of it, no doubt this situation has occurred.
Take perhaps the other extreme, maybe the person is even right about the position they are arguing for. Does that make the harm done any less? No because that still doesn’t make the lie ok. The fact is they don’t know that they’re right, but they are making a false statement and not speaking the truth when they say they’ve studied both sides.

There’s probably one other motivation going on as well. It always gives us more confidence in something we believe in, but maybe have hidden doubts, when it is believed by others. We probably (though fallaciously) think that the more people that believe it, the more trustworthy it can be. But that still doesn’t make it right.

Not only are we attempting to fool others when we use this phrase in this way, but we are also fooling ourselves if we actually believe that we’ve studied an opposing point of view by solely reading criticisms of it. The only way to really understand both sides of an issue is to study both sides of the issue! In fact, if I know I’m heading into a debate, I often try to make sure I know the other side as good, or even better than I know my own view.

I’m not saying we need to study every little issue, because some views are just intuitively stupid. If someone came to you today advocating that the earth was flat, you don’t need to spend any time reading their arguments. But Paul said to “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess 5:21, NKJV). He meant that we should put to the test what we see and hear by examining it, and when we find truth, we should hold on to it. How can we really test things if we only come at them from one side?

Finally, I should note that I probably use the phrase myself. I know I have in the past, most likely for the first motivation I mentioned, but probably at some point for the second as well. Yet, now if I do ever use it, I would hope that I only do when I mean it. I try to follow the Bible’s advice “The simple believes every word, but the prudent considers well his steps.” (Proverbs 14:15 NKJV)

The bottom line is we can’t be effective lights of truth if we can’t even be honest amongst ourselves. So the next time you think about saying “I’ve studied both sides” please only say it if you really mean it.