Darryl's thoughts on the Christian Faith, Facts, and World Events
Recently I have been seeing a lot of "Hoax Alerts" in my Facebook feed. I also have seen a lot of "news" reports that are based completely on anonymous sources (gossip). As an apologist, it is part of my job to evaluate sources of information for credibility. The Bible is my ultimate filter of truth. Some people refuse to use the Bible as their filter of truth but my many years of research into the truth claims of the Bible have confirmed for me that the Bible is worthy of my complete confidence. Here are just a few passages and principles that help me to filter out "fake news" and hoaxes that I come across on a daily basis. I hope that you will find these helpful as well.
1. Be a Berean
Acts 17:11-12 says, "Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men."
The Bereans were commended because they did not just take Paul's word for it, even though he had the authority and high position of an apostle, instead they checked Paul's sources to see if he was telling the truth or not. Two common sources of fake news and hoaxes is 1. the Argument from Authority Fallacy and 2. the Appeal to Popularity Fallacy. Sometimes these two fallacies are combined.
Statements like these can seem convincing (and intimidating) at first glance but on deeper analysis they can be misleading. Just because a famous person (or even a lot of famous people) says something does not automatically make it true. Here are some questions to ask and answer for ourselves to help us be better Bereans.
1. Is the statement outside of their area of expertise?
2. If it is in their area of expertise, is it just their opinion of what the data says instead of what the data actually says? It is important to check the data for ourselves.
3. Has the data itself been corrupted? When I was a political science student, I was taught a lot of ways that opinion polls etc. can be corrupted by personal prejudices. Presuppositions and assumptions can corrupt scientific data.
4. Have the interpretations, conclusions, and proposals based on the data been influenced by their own worldview and prejudices (not to mention financial, social, or political pressures)?
5. Does the popularity of the statement prove its truthfulness? Truth is not based popularity. What is popular is not always right and what is right is not always popular.
Remember, the purpose of fake news and hoaxes is to get you to unquestioningly (and rapidly) accept an idea as true and the take some action or form an opinion before you have time to think it through. In other words, it is an attempt to mentally bully you into a desired mindset. Unethical salespeople use similar techniques to try to get you to make "impulse purchases" before you have time to really think it through. By forcing ourselves to calm down, take a breath, and ask (and answer) good questions for yourselves, we can overcome our impulses and think more clearly. Ultimately truth is truth no matter who says it and truth is truth even if no one has the courage to say it.
2. Reject Gossip
Here is a basic definition of gossip that I found on Google: "casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true."
The Bible has lots of verses condemning gossip. For example: www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/bible-verses-about-gossip/
Proverbs 26:20 says, "Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down."
The Biblical standard for the establishment of facts is two or three witnesses. bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Three-Witnesses In the Bible, witnesses were never allowed to be "anonymous" they always had to go public. It is impossible for the accused to cross examine or refute the statements of "anonymous sources." Ultimately, there is no way to distinguish between an "anonymous source" and an "imaginary source (the reporter just makes up a lie and attributes it to some anonymous person to avoid responsibility)." Therefore, I believe that we should treat all reports from anonymous or "unnamed" sources as gossip.
3. Listen to All Sides
Proverbs 18:17 says, "In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines."
It is easy jump to conclusions when we hear just one side of an argument but it is not the right way to go about discovering the truth for ourselves. Instead, we need to research the various ideas, claims, and evidences presented by all sides of a debate (not just both sides, sometimes there are valuable insights to be gained from lesser known participants.)
4. Satan is the Accuser
Revelation 12: 9-10 says "The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down."
Ad Hominem (fallacy) attacks are common ingredients of fake news and hoaxes. Accusations of racism, sexism, bigotry, homophobia, islamophobia, transphobia, fascism, etc. are leveled at opponents to discredit their ideas before they even have an opportunity to speak for themselves. Many of these accusations are made without evidence and are therefore nothing more than lies, insults, and innuendos meant to cause prejudice and hostility. As Christians, we should be wary of false accusations because they prevent us from #3. bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/False-Accusations
Jesus Christ himself was falsely accused of cooperating with Satan. Matthew 12:24 says, "But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”
I myself have been falsely accused of racism, bigotry, and fascism completely contrary to reality, without any evidence, by people who have never even met me in real life (on social media) just because they could not logically refute my ideas. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you too.
Now, when I hear accusations against others I do not believe them unless I can see sufficient credible evidence to convince me of the truth of those accusations.
For example if I hear that someone is accused of being a racist, here is what questions I ask and answer for myself before I believe the accusation.
1. Are there multiple pieces of recent evidence (accurate quotations/recordings of multiple clearly (that I personally can agree are racist on face value--not "dog-whistle" nonsense) racist statements. If there is only 1 statement or it is not absolutely clear, it could just be that the person is confused or said something racist by mistake. If the evidence is not recent, then it might indicate that the person was a racist but they may not be a racist anymore. By God's grace people change.
2. Has the person stood behind/refused to apologize for or clarify those statements?
3. Even if the person is actually racist, does the charge of racism have any relevance to their statements/ideas on other topics? For example, Hitler was a racist. Racism is false/bad. I reject racism in all its forms. Hitler believed the 2+2=4. Does that mean that 2+2=4 is bad/racist? Should I reject 2+2-4? Hitler loved his pet dog. Does that mean owning a pet dog is racist? Should I reject pet dog ownership?
Ultimately, the Bible helps us to have discernment whether we are dealing with news reports or in church. I hope that this article will help you to engage with media with more discernment, logic, and a systematic thought process which will help you to avoid being deceived or distracted by fake news and hoaxes.
Here are a couple of more passages to consider:
1 John 4: 1-3 says, "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world."
2 Corinthians 10:4-5 says, "The weapons we fight withare not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."
A Christian Apologist, Author, Missionary, Husband, and Father. Darryl has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University (CA), an MA in TESOL from Azusa Pacific University (CA), and a BA in Political Science from Truman State University (MO).