I have gotten into trouble with some Christians for several of the opinions I expressed during my interview with Ben Shapiro on the Sunday Special. This is the segment that seems to have caused the most blowback. I contend that Christians should not appeal to the Bible when arguing with unbelievers about political and cultural topics. There is no need to quote Scripture when trying to explain, for example, why it’s wrong to kill babies. You don’t need to pull out Genesis to convince someone that a man in a dress isn’t a woman. It’s not necessary to mine the Epistles in order to advocate for free speech rights. And if your interlocutor doesn’t believe in the Bible, then this appeal to authority is not only unnecessary but counterproductive. You have now turned a conversation about logic, reason, or science, into a theological debate with a person who rejects the entire premise of your theology.
Naively, I thought this was a rather obvious point. Apparently not. I have since been accused of “abandoning the Bible” and “denying the Bible’s authority” and “surrendering to the world.” I have also been informed, multiple times, that I am an “idol worshiper” who has made a god out of science and logic. Christians are often accused of being anti-science and anti-logic. I have always rejected this claim. My inbox over the past few days proves that sometimes it’s much closer to true than I would like to believe.
This is a sad state of affairs. Christianity has a rich intellectual tradition, claiming many of the greatest philosophical, political, and scientific minds of the last 2,000 years. Some Christians today, though, think that the very act of thinking is tantamount to blasphemy. All we are allowed to do in any discussion is quote the Bible, they say. Thomas Aquinas weeps from Heaven.
A purported “Christian apologist,” Sye Ten Bruggencate, responded to my comments on the Sunday Special and laid out the case for beating atheists over the head with bibles. In a blog post, he took Ben and me to task, arguing that the Bible is an authority whether a secular person recognizes it or not, therefore it is always legitimate to cite it in any discussion. He then proceeds to pose one of the most bizarre analogies I’ve ever seen:
Imagine if someone were to attack Matt and his family, and Matt pointed a gun at the attacker. Now imagine that the attacker shouted: “I don’t believe in your gun!” Does anyone think that Matt would worry about the “extra step” of getting the attacker to believe that his gun was real? Would Matt throw down his weapon based on the objection of his attacker? Of course not! Yet that is exactly what Mr. Walsh says he would do when arguing with a person who didn’t believe the Bible; He would discard his authority!
The difference between a discussion and armed conflict should be obvious, especially to an apologist. Though it is more than a little revealing that Bruggencate equates articulating an argument with shooting somone in the head. A gun is a physical object, so is a bullet. That physical bullet will enter into a person’s chest and kill them without stopping to consider its victim’s point of view. But an argument — an idea — is not a physical object. In order for an argument to have an impact on the person to whom it is presented, that person must willingly receive it and understand it. I could make the greatest and profoundest argument in the world, but if I’m speaking English and the other guy only knows Chinese, there is no chance that anything I have said will make an impression. How could it? On the other hand, a bullet will kill him whether he speaks my language or not.
In order to persuade someone, you have to connect with them on a level they understand and use arguments they find convincing. If you appeal to an authority that they do not think is an authority, your argument will succeed in making you look pious but it will fail to persuade. And if you are not interested in persuading, then the discussion is nothing more than an opportunity for you to show off your holiness.
I believe that the Bible is an authority. But if the person I am addressing does not share that conviction, then, if I want to prove my point by referencing it, I must first convince him that it is an authority. That is an entirely different subject, and a difficult one, and not one you are likely to settle with one conversation. Why go off on that track if you can make your case honestly and persuasively and without having to wait for your opponent to get baptized?
If you are trying to convince a secular person, for instance, that sex is not changeable, that a man can’t be a woman just because he wants to be one, you can go one of two ways: appeal to science, logic, and reason, which are all true, thus Godly, and hopefully connect with him and persuade him by appealing to those authorities which he supposedly respects, or you can throw Genesis into the mix and give him the chance to escape and change the subject. If you go through Door B, your argument about transgenderism has just turned into a debate about biblical cosmology. That is quite a windy road to take when you could have just pointed out that men have penises and women don’t.
In a similar way, if you want to convince someone that it’s raining outside, you could take one of two approaches: quote the Bible to prove that God makes rain, and then cite Revelation 21:8 where it says that liars go to Hell, and argue, based on this exegesis, that your claims about rain are theologically sound and can be trusted given your personal opposition to burning in Hell, or you could just open the curtains. The latter strategy seems much more direct. But I suppose it would be idol worship, according to certain critics of mine.
At the very least, a Christian who takes the Bible-thumping approach ought to be well-equipped to then explain and defend the Bible. If you bring it up, you should have something more to say about it. Inevitably, this is not how it works out, because you can’t defend the Bible if all you do is quote the Bible. A person cannot be convinced to believe the Bible based on the fact that the Bible says you should believe the Bible. That is circular reasoning, a fallacy. To convince someone of any proposition — including the proposition that the Bible is true — you must be able to do more than simply restate the proposition in different forms. For the Bible, this requires the introduction of philosophy, reason, science, logic, and history. But this sort of Christian eschews all of that. So he is stuck spinning in circles, convincing no one, accomplishing nothing, and embarrassing the rest of us.