Tactics and Tools

People Believe What They Want

Author Greg Koukl Published on 02/26/2013

My mind's made up. Don't confuse me with the facts. Come again? Don't get caught with this wrong-headed attitude!

People believe what they want to believe, much of the time. I don't mean to say that they believe things without any reason, but they believe, oftentimes, without good reason.

Most people will give some reason why they believe something. But an indicator of the fairness of their point of view is how they respond to even-handed, fair criticism of their view and to evidence for an opposing view. Lots of people have reasons for what they believe, but when those reasons are refuted—when they're taken away or weakened by other evidence—do they still stand on their point of view, or are they willing to adjust their view based on the evidence that comes in?

Sometimes the evidence people are initially faced with seems compelling. We were talking this morning about the Mars rock. As far as I've been able to tell, I think the Mars rock is much ado about nothing. NASA wants to send a probe to Mars and they don't have the money for it. All of a sudden this rock makes it into the news. They see a couple of forms one-hundredth the width of a human hair through an electron microscope. Scattered around it are some chemicals that are sometimes, but not necessarily, associated with life. As one person pointed out, if this had been found on earth, no one would have ever drawn the conclusion that this was life.

Indeed, these shapes you read about in the paper weren't even mentioned in the peer review piece sent to Scientific America—the one reviewed by the scientists, so it must be more careful and rigorous. The reason they weren't mentioned is that these shapes were not good indicators of life. It sounds good in the press to the rank and file, but apparently no scientist in the field would take those shapes seriously. They were interested in the chemistry.

The point is, the evidence for ancient life on Mars wasn't conclusive in any way, shape or form. Yet those who want to believe in life on other planets or in evolution—and even if there was life on Mars, it wouldn't prove evolution, as I pointed out—they seize on this scanty evidence.

So, people will say, "Life on Mars! It's already been proven." Well, it hasn't.

Another example of this is, "Everybody knows that homosexuality is genetic; it's constitutional. Science has proven it." But science hasn't proven it. There is some indication that there may be some physiological factors contributing to a person's homosexuality, but no one has demonstrated any necessary genetic link.

Here's an example to give you an idea how careful you've got to be in drawing some conclusions. I was challenged on this issue by someone who pointed out there were enlarged hypothalamus in one study of homosexual cadavers. I asked, "How do we know that the enlarged hypothalamus in the homosexuals was the cause of homosexuality and not the effect? These men were dead. Their lives were over. What evidence justifies our presumption that an enlarged hypothalamus was their in the beginning, causing the homosexual behavior? Why not rather presume that it was the homosexual behavior that caused the enlarging of the hypothalamus later in life?

To be honest, I don't know one way or another, because I'm not an expert in this field. I'm just raising the issue to show you how you can't simply jump to that conclusion. Those who are careful about the scientific evidence haven't come to that conclusion. The ones who have are those who are not in the field, who are not careful, yet who have something at stake in making the case for constitutional homosexuality.

I actually don't care if it turns out that homosexuality is genetic. It's irrelevant to the moral question. Just because homosexuality may come naturally for some doesn't mean it's moral to practice it. Indeed, one could say that the difference between just doing what comes naturally and principled self-restraint is called civilization.

Do we want to argue that whatever we "naturally" feel like doing at any moment ought to be morally allowed? That's the same as living like animals, because animals always obey their base physical impulses. Human beings are different. They have moral rules that constrain their behavior.

The point I'm making here is that, even if homosexuality did turn out to be hard-wired into the physiology, it still wouldn't begin to answer the question of whether it is moral to act on the desire. That's a different issue entirely.

My point is that people seize upon scanty evidence to justify something because they want it justified, not because they've examined the issue carefully. They'll say animals practice homosexuality. How do they know that? Because they see male dogs mounting other male dogs, or licking them in their genital areas. See? It's obvious: homosexuality is natural.

But it's not so obvious. Think about this for a second. If you ever had a male dog, you know that they don't just mount other male dogs. They also mount sofas, and trees, and will mount the leg of your guests if you're not careful. This is not homosexual behavior. This is auto-eroticism.

The only way one could show this behavior was homosexual is if one could demonstrate that the dog was desiring the male gender of the animal he was mounting. One can't conclude from the observed activity alone that any animal has homosexual desires. This is just another example of a hasty judgment.

Christians are also capable of hasty, unbalanced judgments. They often hold points of view that are not well justified or even are consonant with the full counsel of the Scriptures.

I get frustrated when people proof-text their pet point of view, but are unwilling to look at any other texts against their view. They just want to keep citing their pet verses, even when those verses are equivocal.

I've faced this in my teaching on Decision Making and the Will of God. For those who disagree with my particular approach, please take the time to look at my biblical assessment and critique the verses. Frankly, after I've given the talk I've had people come up to me and say, "That's pretty thorough. I think you're wrong, but I can't find any arguments against your biblical analysis."

Why would someone say such a thing? That's pretty good evidence I'm right, not wrong. I could be mistaken, but the way to correct me is to show how my treatment and assessment is not legitimate, given the texts I cite.

Here's what bothers me. We've talked a lot here about the issue of salvation, and whether God is the ultimate author of it or man is. This is the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate. I've noticed a tendency of people who argue against my view—that God chooses man for salvation—and they simply keep going to their texts that talk about man choosing God.

Those verses do have to be taken into consideration in any overall assessment. Sometimes, though, it's like they're saying, "Where are Koukl and the rest of these Reformed guys getting this stuff? They're just making it all up, because here are my proof texts that are so clear."

Friends, what I'm trying to do is to make sense out of the whole Bible. It's my job to construct a way of viewing any particular doctrine which does the best justice to the most verses and references. I can't just camp on my pet verses and say, "There it is, plain as day. What's wrong with you?"

What bothers me is that many won't take the time to construct a theological point of view that attempts to integrate all the verses pertaining to an issue. I want to ask them, "If your point of view is correct, then make sense out of this verse, and this verse and this verse... and I'll give you hundreds for my side. I could be wrong about my view, but you're going to have to work a lot harder at making sense of verses for my view in light of your theology."

I work hard at integration. This includes trying very hard to make sense of verses that seem to be contrary to my point of view. Anyone who does not do that simply is not interested in the truth. Anyone who sits on his verse and doesn't try to carefully deal with contrary verses—doesn't try to offer an explanation of them that fits in with his overall view of the issue—is not taking truth seriously.

I'm not saying that if you disagree with me then you're not taking truth seriously. I'm also not saying that you've got to be able to explain every single verse, because I can't do that either. Every point of view has its problems.

What I'm saying is this. If you're even-handed and fair-minded, you have to say: "I've looked at all the verses, and here's my understanding of it. This verse seems to state my view rather clearly, and here's a verse that seems to contradict my view, but there may be something else going on in this second passage. Here's what I think it is, and here's why I think it's stated in this particular way, so it gives the appearance of a contradiction, but it isn't really a contradiction. Here is a way to solve the apparent contradiction."

That's called scholarship, ladies and gentlemen. That's called even-handed Bible study. That's called clear thinking. And if all you're willing to do is sit on your own verses, you have no guarantee you aren't going to be completely wrong in your view. You can only have confidence if you're careful to integrate into your particular point of view, as much as you possibly can, even those verses which seem contrary to it.

This is very important. It doesn't matter whether you happen to agree with me or not. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about care in study, whether it's Bible, or science, or Mars rocks, or homosexuality, or whatever. It's a willingness to engage all the facts, and try to integrate them as even-handedly as possible into a theory or view or hypothesis so you have the least amount of conflict with all of the facts concerned.

Those people who use the scientific method in the best sense are people who try to fit all of the facts in and not just grab onto those facts they like. They don't play, "Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil" with facts they don't like.

This is bad scholarship with scientists, but it's reprehensible for a Christian when you consider what's at stake, the source of the information (the Bible), and that it's the most important truth we could ever be thinking about. We'd better be giving that kind of issue our best shot.

[The above is a transcript of a radio commentary by Greg Koukl.]