Tactics Chapter 12: Rhodes Scholar
guest blog by David Stoecker*
Recently there have been a rash of articles, generally right before Christmas and Easter, that look at the history of Christianity and it’s events. They tend to have juicy titles, like “What really happened (fill in the holiday title here)” or “The untold truth about (impending holiday belief here).” The authors take a “what-scholars-say-that-your-pastor-does-not-want-you-to-know approach.” Then there are various academics cited who have used the historical scientific approach to debunk all of the false thoughts held by those poor, sad, foolish faith having few.
These stories tend to sell a lot of magazines while discouraging Christians. People look at the big picture and large font on the cover and wonder how did they never hear of these “facts?” Suddenly, some of those who have faith are suddenly unsure of what to believe and those without faith feel justified. After all, how can you argue with the consensus of academic opinion?
Gregory Koukl calls this tactic the “Rhodes Scholar.” This is a way of knowing if the academic is a legitimate authority or not. What we do here is look at the difference between educating and informing. You are informed when the article tells you the belief of the author. You are educated by the article when you are let in on why the particular view is held. This is a very important difference. Remember chapter 4, the reason why a belief is held supports the beliefs of the person. If the walls are weak, the whole house collapses.
Most articles inform while not educating. Without the education piece, you can’t evaluate the conclusion of the author. How do we know? For starters, no matter the credentials of the author, never be satisfied with the conclusion without first asking for the reasons. NEVER SETTLE FOR OPINIONS!!
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Don’t be victimized by the “fallacy of expert witness.” Appealing to authority is okay, but it has to be done right. Always ask, “Why should I believe this person’s opinion?” This question can be answered in two ways.
First, the scholar could know the facts due to a special position. IF he possesses that special info he must be able to use that evidence to convince you. For example, imagine an economics professor discussing the ethics of stem cell research and a cancer researcher who tells us about the dangers of the middle East. They may have degrees and intelligence in their field, but is outside their realm of expertise. Might as well let your mechanic remove your gall bladder and the mailman give you a hair cut and manicure. A Nobel Prize in biology hardly makes one an expert in economics.
Even if the scholar is speaking in their field of expertise, we still have the right to see how they came to their conclusion. Norm Giesler says, “All appeals to authority ultimately rest on the evidence the authority has. The letters after his name don’t mean a thing without the evidence to back up his position.”
Second, on occasion a scholar can be in a unique position to give judgment. They have the facts but then have the expertise to render judgment. Here we face another issue. Their judgment could be clouded by “philosophical considerations that are not always on the table” for you to see. Sometimes the scholar already knows where he will end up and looks for the “facts” that will allow him to reach his destination. If I am already convinced for or against something it makes it difficult for me to see otherwise. This is particularly a problem seen in science.
Science itself has two completely different definitions. The first is the most know. It is a method that involves observing, experimenting and testing with an open mind to discover facts. If the view doesn’t follow this method, it is not science. Second is the philosophy of naturalistic materialism. Phenomena has to be explained within the parameters of energy and matter that natural law is governed by. If it doesn’t fit into this second definition it is also, not science.
Using these two methods, we generally reach non-conflicting conclusions. Answers that are consistent with these two definitions are produced through good methods. Sometimes they aren’t compatible. Evolution is that way. Koukl says, “When there is a conflict between methodology and materialism, the philosophy always trumps facts. Modern science does not conclude from the evidence that design is not tenable. It assumes it prior to the evidence. Any scientific methodology (first definition of science) that points to creation is summarily disqualified by scientific philosophy (second definition of science) as religion disguised as science.”
You don’t always have to see forces to acknowledge they are there. If a dead body is discovered, there is generally an unbiased investigation. That investigation may rule that it wasn’t an accidental death but was instead a homicide. If there are multiple bullet holes in the body, the investigator may come to the conclusion that it was indeed foul play. This is the same way that unbiased scientific evidence could find that chance is not how life came about, but instead had “an agent in creation This is not faith vs evidence but evidence vs evidence.”
In closing, a scholarly opinion may be a great way to make a point. But this is sometimes not the case. First, we must always insure that the scholar is talking about their field of expertise. Second, remember that WHAT they believe is not what you are after. You want to know WHY they believe that way. You want to hear the scholars reasons, not their opinions.
*Written for TPE by David Stoecker of Spiritual Spackle.
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